21...Not An Option...
The unbearable pain ripping Jonathon's head apart suddenly disappeared. He lay on his back on the porch, gasping, his heart thumping fiercely in his chest. Tears of pain wet his face. He stared up at the underside of the porch roof, disoriented and dizzy.
He could hear footsteps climbing the porch. Then Orlando was standing over him, staring down at him thoughtfully.
"What..." Jonathon gasped, his body still in shock. "What the hell did you do to me?"
"Do you really think I would come all the way out here..." He raised his hand, he was holding a device small enough to conceal in his palm. "Unprepared?"
Jonathon frowned. He tried to move but his limbs felt heavy, sluggish. "What the...hell is that?"
"Just a little side experiment." He said. "It took awhile to perfect, but with Alec's help I worked out all the bugs."
"What?" Jonathon rested his head against the porch. "Alec?"
Orlando raised an eyebrow. "I had to test it on someone. And since I was primarily creating it for you, I couldn't let you know about it." He smiled. "Alec was the perfect specimen. He was a great help. Admittedly it wasn't enjoyable for him, he nearly died a time or two...but we got it worked out."
"You sick fuck." Jonathon spit out. "I hope Alec...rips your fucking head off."
Orlando clucked his tongue. "Vicious." He smiled. "Maybe your kind isn't as docile as I thought."
Clarice trembled. She stared at the monitor. Jonathon was laying on his back but he didn't seem to be in pain anymore. What had the man done to him? Whatever it was, Jonathon seemed to be at his mercy, and the man didn't appear to be the merciful kind.
She searched the other monitors for the sniper, but he was gone. She wondered where Alec was. He was there, somewhere, she could feel him as surely as if he were standing right next to her. She shuddered and looked around the basement with unease. Could he be down there with her, cloaked and invisible to her eyes? But surely he would've killed her by now if he was there. She turned back to the monitors and that's when she saw it - a ripple across one of the screens, like a reflection on water.
"Alec." She trembled again and looked at the screen that showed Jonathon and Orlando. Jonathon couldn't defend himself. Whatever Orlando had done to him, it had weakened him physically and mentally. If Alec attacked now...Jonathon would be helpless.
Steeling herself, Clarice gripped the Beretta tightly in her fist. With her other hand, she hit the button that opened the steel door and ran up the stairs, ignoring the voice in her head telling her to stay put.
Jonathon could die without her help. And for Clarice, that was not an option.
Orlando stared down at Jonathon. "Where is she?"
"Go to hell." Jonathon's eyes were full of pure hate. Orlando expected no less.
He ran his thumb slowly over the tiny device in his hand. "Do you need a little help in remembering where you stashed her?"
"She's of no use to you." Jonathon groaned tightly. His head still throbbed. "Take me, but just leave her alone. What could you possibly want with her?"
Orlando stared down at him thoughtfully. "I don't want anything with her." he said. "It's what I want from her."
"What?" Jonathon looked uncertain, even fearful. Orlando had been right. That was his sole purpose for being here - to stop Hunter from killing the woman. He had thought she was just an unnecessary distraction for Jonathon, but as it turned out...she had become an experiment as well. One that Jonathon had performed without even realizing it.
"I was always curious." Orlando spoke low. "If the two could reproduce. You discovered that answer for me."
Jonathon tried to lunge at Orlando but the older man shoved him back down with his foot. Jonathon had no strength and he fell back to the porch.
"You fuck!" Jonathon spit again. "You're not taking them."
Orlando crouched down on his heels and fingered the device in his hand. "Where is she, Johnny?"
"Kill me if you want." He growled. "But I will never give them up."
"Where is she?" He spoke slow, stretching each word.
"Right here, motherfucker."
Orlando's head snapped up to find the Beretta Storm aimed at his face. And behind the gun - an extremely pissed off woman with no reason whatsoever not to blow his brains out.
"I'd say just give me a reason." Clarice whispered dangerously, fingering the trigger. "But you already have." She slowly drew back the hammer.
Orlando rose slowly to his feet, his hands slightly raised. "Take it easy."
"Fuck you." Up close like this, that first sense of recognition she'd had in the basement returned. She swore she had seen this guy before. But it didn't matter now. She was going to kill him.
"Such ugly words." Orlando said quietly. "And from such a pretty mouth. I can understand what Jonathon sees in you. Beautiful but tough. Nice combination."
"Shut up." Clarice snapped. She glanced at Jonathon. "Can you get up?"
Jonathon moved but he was having a difficult time.
"What did you do to him?" Clarice demanded, her eyes drilling Orlando.
"Just a little assurance on my part." He said calmly. "Your lover is much more dangerous than you realize."
"Shut up." Jonathon choked out as he managed to get to his knees and sit back on his heels.
Orlando's hand twitched. Clarice narrowed her eyes and steadied the gun. "Drop it." She said.
"Do you really think..." Orlando murmured. "That you can shoot me before I can kill him? Because you see, sweetheart, he can die. And I will kill him. Granted, I don't want to. He is rather irreplaceable, but I will do what I must do."
Clarice held the gun in place, unwavering, but a rush of uncertainty coursed through her. She glanced at Jonathon.
"Shoot him." Jonathon whispered, barely able to stay on his knees. "Even if he kills me...he'll still be dead."
"Jonathon..." Clarice felt tears burn her eyes but she blinked them back. She wouldn't let this bastard see her cry.
"And our baby will be safe." Jonathon finished weakly.
"Wh-what?" Clarice faltered. "Our...baby?"
Jonathon closed his eyes briefly then looked up at her. "You're pregnant, Clarice." His eyes turned to ice as he shifted his gaze to Orlando. "And if you don't kill him...he's going to take our child. Like he took Alec from your mother...and you know what he did to Alec."
Despite her willing them to stay back, the tears spilled from Clarice's eyes. "How do you know I'm..."
Jonathon met her eyes. There was so much love for her and their child in those eyes that it nearly broke her. "I know, baby." He swallowed thickly as he gazed at her like she was the most amazing sight in all the world and beyond. "If you love me, Clarice. If you love our baby...you'll kill this motherfucker right now."
Clarice was shaking, but she held the gun in place. Hot tears filled her eyes and flooded down her cheeks as she gripped the gun more firmly. "I do love you, Jonathon." She whispered.
"You sure you want to do this?" Orlando murmured, his thumb resting firmly on the device.
"I'm sure." Clarice shifted the aim of the gun suddenly and pulled the trigger.
Orlando cried out and stumbled back, falling to the porch as the bullet cut through his hand, blasting the device to pieces. Blood gushed from the hole in His hand as he crumpled on the porch, hugging it to his chest. He looked up at Clarice slowly, his eyes watering from the intense pain.
"He's not even human." Orlando choked out thickly as Clarice advanced on him, the Beretta realigned with his forehead.
Clarice's hand wavered, but only for a moment. She stretched out her arm, pointing the gun in his face. "Go to hell."
"I wouldn't do that, honey."
Clarice spun around, startled by the new male voice. Her heart shuddered. The sniper was standing over Jonathon, the muzzle of a gold handgun pressed to Jonathon's temple.
"Be a darling." He said gently. "And drop the Storm."
Clarice stared at Jonathon. He swam before her eyes as fresh tears swelled.
"Do what he says." Jonathon whispered and there was a defeated tone to his voice that terrified Clarice.
She lowered the gun and let it slip from her hand. It hit the porch with a dull clunk as the swollen tears in her eyes spilled over. They had almost made it...just like Jonathon had promised they would.
22...Don't Fear The Reaper...
Hunter stepped back as the woman walked calmly to Lancaster and knelt down before him, wrapping her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. He looked at Orlando who was slowly, painstakingly crawling to his feet. "I charge extra for saving your ass."
Orlando's face was twisted in a grimace of pain and anger. "I oughta have you kill the bitch as planned."
The woman hugged Lancaster more tightly. She whispered her love to him, telling him to be strong and not give up. She had guts, he had to give her that. She was crying but there was no surrender in her. He had to admire that.
Hunter turned his attention to Orlando. "As planned?" He raised an eyebrow. "Has the plan changed?"
Orlando walked a bit stiffly towards Lancaster and the woman. He cradled his bleeding hand against his chest, his usually immaculate clothes now soiled. He reached out with his good hand and grabbed the woman by the hair and ripped her back away from Lancaster. She cried out as he threw her down on the porch. This was the first time Hunter had seen Orlando lose his composure. He was no longer the sophisticated, debonair doctor he showed to the world. His face twisted again as he held out his bloody hand. "You're gonna pay for this, you bitch. Believe me, I can cause you all kinds of pain without harming the child."
Hunter stared at Orlando. The child? He looked at the woman. She curled away from Orlando, hugging her stomach protectively. She was pregnant? His eyes slowly turned back to Orlando. Was that why his plans had changed and he now wanted the woman alive? What did he care if she was...
Hunter's attention was pulled back to Lancaster. Orlando wanted the baby because it was Lancaster's. Was this just another experiment to him?
This isn't your business, just do your job and be done with it.
But what, exactly, was his job now? Only thirty-four and he was already getting too old for this shit. Maybe he should have just stayed at the motel with Charlie and let this job go. He'd never had a job go so haywire as this one had gone. Maybe it was a sign.
Orlando was pissed. He drew his foot back and nailed the woman between the shoulder blades. She cried out and gasped for air. Lancaster shouted curses at Orlando and tried to reach for the woman. Orlando's foot cocked again when hunter stepped forward and planted a firm hand on Orlando's chest, halting him. "If you want her dead." Hunter spoke low, dangerous. "I'll put a bullet in her. Otherwise, knock off the bullshit. I don't do messy jobs. If you want to beat a pregnant woman like a fucking coward, you're not doing it on my time. I hired on to do a nice, clean job."
"Is that so?" Orlando's eyes were wide and his nostrils flared. He looked like a wild animal gone rabid. The calm, cool doctor was nowhere to be found. "I was watching. You had her in your sights. You had the perfect shot, but you didn't take it."
The woman crawled to her knees and worked her way back to Lancaster.
Hunter stared at Orlando. He had the sudden urge to shoot the man in the face. But this time, he knew it wasn't anyone else telling him to do it. This time, it was all him.
"When they were fucking in the bedroom." Orlando rasped. "You were lined up perfectly with her. I saw your aim, you could've taken her head off right then and there."
He could feel the woman's eyes on him. She was only just now realizing how close she'd come to dying in her lover's arms.
"What does it matter?" Hunter said slowly. "You wanted her alive, and she's alive."
"Yes." Orlando's eyes narrowed. "But you didn't know I wanted her alive, and still you didn't pull the trigger. Why is that? I've never known you to choke on a job before."
It had always been a gift with Hunter to keep his emotions out of his job. It had never mattered to him whether the one hiring him was decent or not. He did his job, he got paid, and that was it. He didn't ask why he was hired to kill someone. It wasn't his job to ask why. It was his job to pull the trigger and collect the money. And he'd always been very good at his job. Some even called him the best. But Orlando was right. He had hesitated, even opted out of the shot. Yet another first to add to his rapidly growing list.
Hunter ignored the man's questions and inquiries. "What do you want done with them?"
A look of pure evil entered Orlando's eyes and Hunter had to consider that the man might be possessed. He wasn't certain if he really believed in all that, but the evil and hate resonating out of Orlando was nearly enough to make him a believer.
"What do I want?" Orlando rasped thickly as he took a stiff step towards the couple. "I want to show the cunt just what kind of thing she's been letting inside her." He looked coldly at Hunter. "Get them inside." Orlando turned and walked stiffly into the cabin,
Hunter looked at the woman. "Get up." He said, not harsh. "Help him inside."
The woman looked up at him. "Why didn't you take the shot?" She whispered thickly.
Hunter didn't answer. He didn't have an answer. He motioned towards the doorway with the handgun. "Inside."
Jonathon could feel Clarice nearly buckle under his weight as she helped him inside. His mind felt disoriented and in pieces, and he couldn't read her thoughts as clearly, but he could feel her fear. She'd never seen him this weak and it terrified her. It terrified him too. He couldn't protect her this way.
An even deeper fear gripped him, though, a fear much more paralyzing. He had seen her hand waver when Orlando told her he wasn't human. She'd come to her own conclusions that he was like Alec, infected with the foreign alien genes, and she'd accepted that. She still loved him even though he was different. But this...it was something altogether different.
There was a loud crash in the kitchen as Orlando knocked pans to the floor as he searched for something to wrap his bleeding hand with. Clarice had been smart to take that shot. She'd been using her head. And in doing so, she had saved his life. Tears stung his eyes as she helped him down on the sofa. He loved her so much. She was the most amazing living breathing being he'd ever come in contact with. And for a time, she had loved him with all her body, heart and mind. Even if he lost her now, he would be forever grateful for the short time he'd been loved by her.
Another crash in the kitchen. Orlando was losing it. Jonathon had never seen him as anything less than suave. Rather than the scientific genius he'd considered himself to be, he now seemed more like a mad scientist.
Jonathon leaned back against the sofa and closed his eyes briefly. He tried to will the strength to come back to his body and mind, but Orlando's little experimental device had done a number on him that he couldn't seem to recover from. Another shot and it would have killed him...or at the very least turned his brain to mush.
He felt Clarice's fingers in his hair, stroking. Her face was close to his and he could feel the terror wafting off her. She might as well be alone in this now. There was nothing he could do to help her. If Alec attacked...
He shoved the thought away. He wanted to turn into her touch, hold her and feel her love once more before Orlando took her away from him forever, but his own fear paralyzed him. He couldn't look her in the eye. He hadn't been honest with her, he had been afraid to tell her the whole truth about himself. His own selfish desire to keep her in his life had kept him from telling her what she had a right to know. And now, his baby was growing inside her. How would she deal with that once she really understood? Would she want it gone?
A tear slid from the corner of his eye and he felt her wipe it away with her fingertips. "Please don't give up now." She cried softly in his ear. "Please."
She clung to him still. But was it out of love...or desperation?
The resignation in Jonathon was crippling Clarice. She could feel him letting go, feel him giving up. But why? Why would he just stop fighting? That wasn't Jonathon. He said he would fight to the death for her and he had meant it. She wiped away another tear that slid from his closed eyes. She touched her fingertips to his face. His skin was warm, even flushed. So like her own skin. Orlando had tried to shock her by saying what he said about Jonathon, but she already knew he had the foreign genes in him. How could she not figure that out? What did he think he was going to accomplish by telling her what she already knew? Make her stop loving him?
She glanced towards the kitchen. Orlando was wrapping his hand with a clean dish towel. Although his hair was short cropped and still neat, he looked wild and out of his mind. He hadn't foreseen this situation going this way. He hadn't expected her to get the upper hand. He was surely aware that if the sniper hadn't saved him, he would be dead now, his brains blown out across the porch. She didn't flinch or balk at the thought. She had been fully prepared to shoot him. The idea of killing Orlando filled her with no sense of guilt or remorse. She only wished she had been a little quicker at pulling the trigger.
The sniper stood in front of the fireplace, watching her and Jonathon. She couldn't read his eyes. They weren't emotionless like Orlando's, he simply had what was referred to as a poker face. She supposed that was necessary in his line of work.
Jonathon turned his head slowly. His eyes opened to slits as he tried to say something to her. She leaned closer. "Baby, what is it?" She whispered, turning her ear so she could hear him better.
"Don't..." He started thickly, faltered, then managed to get the words out. "Don't fear the reaper."
She frowned, puzzled by his words. The reaper? She drew back a bit and looked at him. His partially closed eyes moved past her to the sniper then looked back to her. He was trying to tell her something but she didn't understand. She turned her head slowly and looked at the sniper. He was still watching them. If it hadn't been for the gun in the sniper's hand, he wouldn't have appeared threatening at all. Had she met him in a social situation, or even in passing, the last thing she would've taken him for was a killer.
Was the sniper the "Reaper" Jonathon was referring to? And if so, why had he said not to fear him? The man had come there to kill her. The only thing that had prevented him was the change in Orlando's plan. The man was still very much a threat. Wasn't he? She recalled Orlando's accusations to the man about not taking the shot. Why hadn't he killed her?
But the reality was - their greatest threat was still out there. She'd seen Alec on the monitor. Hadn't she? Or had it just been a trick of the eye? But whether or not what she'd seen was Alec...he was out there somewhere. And close. She felt him. And when he came for her, she would be helpless. She had no gun, and Jonathon could barely move, much less fight for her.
She pressed closer to Jonathon and closed her eyes. Was all of this to be in vain after all? Had they fought to survive this far only to be violently killed, with no rhyme or reason to their existence at all? Was life really that unfair and irrational?
She opened her eyes slowly as warm tears slid down her face. She looked at the sniper. He was still watching her with the same indiscernible poker face.
23...What Meets The Eye...
Orlando rifled through a kitchen drawer, knocking utensils to the floor as he searched for something specific. Hunter turned his head just a hair and watched him. The kitchen and living room were separated only by a long counter, leaving the whole area wide open. What the hell was he looking for? He'd said he wanted to show the woman - or cunt, as he'd so crudely put it - what thing she'd been letting inside her. Hunter personally believed the man had gone over the edge. Hunter wondered why he was still even there. His job had been aborted - along with Orlando's sanity, he was beginning to believe.
Orlando yanked the entire drawer from its slot as it crashed to the floor. He left it and looked around. His eyes fell on the a butcher knife rack and staggered to it and began pulling out knives, dropping them on the floor until he found the one he was looking for. It looked to Hunter like a fillet knife and in his line of business, someone holding a fillet knife was never a good sign. He was startled when a deep anxiety began to twist his guts. What the hell was Orlando meaning to do with the knife?
"This will do." Orlando murmured then turned his attention to Lancaster and the woman.
Hunter tensed, although he wasn't sure why. None of this had anything to do with him. He'd become the best at what he did by not involving himself with anything apart from pulling the trigger. He had never felt anything - good or bad - about his targets. He took them out and walked away. No more, no less. So why was this job different?
The woman stiffened when Orlando came into the living room with the knife. "What the hell are you doing?" Her voice shook. She was terrified but determined to do everything in her power to protect the man she loved. He could see Charlie being as strong and devoted. It was admirable.
She tried to put herself between Orlando and Lancaster. "Don't touch him!" She cried and lunged off the sofa at him with no regard to her own safety, surely knowing she could easily be stabbed and slit open.
Orlando anticipated her action and hit her with the fist clutching the knife, knocking her back down. "Hold her!" He ordered Hunter.
Hunter's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing?" He asked low.
"Just hold her." Orlando snapped. "And I'll show you." He looked at the woman. "Ready to take a gander at what you been fucking?"
Orlando's crudeness left a vile taste in Hunter's mouth. Still, he found himself uncharacteristically curious about what Orlando was getting at. He went to the sofa and grabbed the woman, sliding his arm around her throat and holding her securely.
"No!" She choked out. She struggled and kicked at him, but couldn't free herself. She screamed at Orlando, "Don't you fucking touch him! Jonathon!"
Lancaster drew away from Orlando. "Don't..." He tried to resist but he clearly had no strength left in his arms. Whatever Orlando had done to him had truly fucked him up royally.
"Time to face the music, Johnny." Orlando reached out with the knife. "Lets see how unconditional your bitch's love really is."
"Jonathon." Clarice was shaking and couldn't stop. The sniper's arm was like a vice around her throat. She could barely breathe. Tears drained down her face. What was he going to do to Jonathon? She didn't understand Orlando's words, he wasn't making any sense.
"Check this out." He murmured as he touched the tip of the thin bladed knife to the side of Jonathon's neck just below his ear.
"No!" Oh god, he was going to cut his throat. Clarice jerked against the sniper's grip, but she couldn't budge his arm. Jonathon had healed from the cut on his arm, but it hadn't been fatal. He'd told her he could die from a fatal wound. "Jonathon!"
Clarice's cries echoed through Jonathon's head and heart. She thought Orlando was going to kill him. And in a sense, maybe he was. Because he might as well be dead if Clarice stopped loving him, stopped looking at him the way she did when he held her in his arms and made love to her. He longed for the strength to take the knife from Orlando and end the man's miserable existence. Everything was his fault. All the hell Clarice had been through, all the torment Alec had suffered...it had all been at Orlando's hand.
But maybe what Orlando was doing now was for the best. Jonathon wasn't certain he would've ever been able to confess the truth to Clarice. And it wasn't fair to keep the truth from her. Not when the truth was as big as this. He didn't fight when he felt the sharp tip of the thin blade touch his neck. He closed his eyes, he didn't want to see Clarice's face when she saw what he really was. He couldn't bear to watch the horror fill her eyes as the love drained away. Feeling it would be painful enough, he didn't want to see it too.
The tip of the knife broke the surface of his skin but went no deeper, then slowly began to slice downward.