Jonathon spent the morning familiarizing Clarice with the cabin and surrounding grounds. He pointed out a man made hiking trail that led away from the rear of the cabin and disappeared up through the trees. He explained that the path led up the mountain to a gorge which had a rope bridge that stretched across to the other side. The path on the opposite side of the gorge then wound back down into civilization.
Standing at the head of the path, Clarice asked, "Why are you telling me this?"
"I want you to know the layout." He said. "When it comes right down to a face off, we can't know what's going to happen. We'll make our plans and prepare to fight...but if things go wrong, you need to know how to get out of here, and where to go."
"If things go wrong." Clarice whispered and looked at Jonathon. "You mean, if you get killed."
Jonathon stared back at her. He could feel how much that prospect terrified her. She loved him more than life, and would give hers to save him. And that was something he couldn't allow her to do.
"Yeah, that's what I mean." He said. "And if that happens, you grab one of the guns if you possibly can and get the hell out of here. Can you shoot?"
"No." she said quietly, a numbness to her voice.
"I'll teach you." He said. " Now if Alec comes after you, shoot him in the head." He tapped his temple. "The head. Don't waste ammo on body shots."
Clarice turned away. "Stop it." She whispered. "I don't need to hear this because you're not gonna die. You'll be right here with me all the way."
Jonathon grabbed her arm and pulled her around, a bit forcefully. "You do need to hear it, Clarice." He insisted tightly. "You have to be prepared for anything. Because I can die just as easily as you."
Her eyes slowly watered as she stared back at him, hard and determined. "Are you sure about that?" She whispered thickly.
"Sure about what?" He frowned, uncertain.
"That you can die as easily as I can?"
His frown deepened. "What are you talking about." He asked slowly, cautiously.
"What am I talking about?" She grabbed his arm and shoved up his sleeve, pulling the bandage down to reveal smooth skin, no wound. "I'm talking about this." She released his arm suddenly and took a step back, her hands shaking. "I saw the gash....and all the blood. But now, there's nothing. No sign you were ever cut by that knife. People don't heal like that."
"Clarice..." Jonathon stepped towards her.
She took another step back. "I'm not stupid, Jonathon." Her voice trembled. "I can see that things don't add up with you. The way you convinced that guy to change rigs with you. How you knew Alec was coming when we were leaving the campground." She licked her lips and hugged herself tightly. "The way you look at me so intently sometimes, like you can see my thoughts...feel what I feel." The tears began to slide down her face. "How...how you were there twenty years ago, in our house, at just the right moment to save us from those men."
Jonathon could only stare at her. How had he not picked up on this? That she was figuring him out more and more by the moment?
"Did you really expect me to think you were simply an average man trying to save me?" she shook her head slowly as more tears spilled down her cheeks. "You can't really believe I'm that naïve."
Jonathon held her eyes for a long moment then spoke quietly. "No, I don't." He combed his fingers through his black hair. "There are things I should have told you before now, and I was going to get to it. But I guess there's no time like the present."
"No." Clarice said thickly. "It isn't necessary. You don't have to tell me the details."
He swallowed tightly. "But you have the right to know who I really am."
Clarice stepped forward. Her hands were still shaking when she took hold of his. "I know who you are, Jonathon." She whispered. "All I need to know, anyway. It doesn't matter to me why you're the way you are, or why you can do the things you do. You've proved to me over and over again that you're someone I can trust." She stepped closer till her body was touching his. She looked up in his eyes. "That you're someone I can love. I've lost everything that mattered to me in this life. And I refuse to lose you too just because you're not like other people. I don't want you to be like other people." She slid her arms around him and pressed her face into his chest. "You make me feel safe."
His arms wrapped around her and pulled her tight against him. He kissed the top of her head and closed his eyes. You make me feel safe too.
She tilted her face up as he looked down at her. "It scares me when you talk about dying. Please tell me that you can't die as easily as me. That you're...as indestructible as Alec is."
"Clarice." Jonathon shook his head slowly. "I'm not like Alec. I can heal from non fatal wounds, and perhaps even bullets to the body. But if I get shot in the head..." He released a slow breath. "I'm not coming back from it, whether the bullet is removed or not."
Tears trickled down Clarice's face. "Then don't get shot in the head."
The corner of his mouth twitched with a smile. "I'll do my damnedest to avoid it." He promised as he leaned down and kissed her lips.
The tension of the topic filled them with the desperate need to be close to one another, to make each other forget for a space the horror that lurked so close and threatened everything they held sacred.
In the large king sized bed in the master bedroom, Jonathon made love to Clarice again. And somehow, it felt even more intimate, more passionate, more free than anytime before. But he realized that this time, there were fewer secrets between them. She was beginning to understand who and what he was, and it wasn't driving her away from him but rather drawing her closer. And that understanding linked him to her in a way that wasn't there before. It opened the door to their passion and fueled it as powerfully as gasoline on an open fire.
Long after the heat of their hunger had been cooled, they laid together on top of the blankets, naked and sweaty. They said very little, simply held each other, lightly caressing one another's body, savoring the taste of their love still on their lips, the feel of their love still echoing through them, the scent of their love still strong on the air.
Clarice turned and pressed her damp, heated body against Jonathon's. "I love you." She whispered against his damp chest.
It was the truth. The sweet, mind blowing truth. And that's all he needed to know to win this battle. To win the war. It wasn't his weapons or his abilities that would bring them victory. It was her love for him that would give him the power to save her. To save them.
His arms tightened around her. "I love you, too."
The boy whimpered in his sleep and tossed and turned, his face pinched with tension. His body trembled and a fit of shakes hit him. Foamy saliva formed at the corners of his mouth and trickled out. Johnny crept across the floor of the boy's room, trying to be as silent as possible. He couldn't let Victor find out he was coming in here at night. Victor didn't want him to be friends with the other kids.
The boy's shakes worsened and he began to thrash a little. Johnny crawled on the bed and grabbed the younger boy, hugging him from behind in a protective, soothing embrace. He held the boy tight around the chest as he shook and thrashed. "It's okay." He whispered. "He's not here. He can't hurt you right now."
The younger boy slowly began to calm until he was laying still in Johnny's arms, his breathing leveling out as a fitful sleep came over him. Johnny closed his eyes and let his mind go, drifting away with the boy to where the girl was. They stood together and watched her sleeping peacefully, snuggled deep in her soft blankets, her family in the rooms next to hers. The boy walked into the room and looked down at her, then raised his eyes to Johnny. Johnny could hear his words though he never spoke.
Something bad is going to happen to her.
"How do you know?" Johnny whispered.
I feel it. It's coming...soon.
"Can you save her?" Johnny asked as he looked at the innocent girl sleeping, a tiny smile on her lips. Johnny had come here with the boy before, he had watched the girl sleep. He was only twelve, and she was just ten, but he loved her already. When she slept, he could see the beautiful woman she would grow in to.
Johnny looked at the boy, fear settling in his heart.
But you can.
"How?" Johnny asked.
You have to learn how to do it first...then you can save her.
The shooting range out behind the cabin was small, the targets barely fifty feet away. But if it came down to a shooting match, Jonathon didn't expect that Clarice's target would be any further away. In fact, he would likely be much closer. He handed her the Beretta Storm Px4. It was a small, compact handgun with a powerful punch. The size would make it easier for her to grip and handle more accurately.
"I've never shot a gun before." Clarice held the subcompact gun tentatively in her hands.
Jonathon positioned it in her grip, showed her how to hold it properly and pointed it towards the target. "Just aim and shoot. Line up the sights with the area on the target you want to hit, keep your grip steady and squeeze the trigger."
Doubt darkened Clarice's eyes as she attempted to follow his instructions. She raised the gun and aimed it at the target fifty feet away. Her hands wavered as she pulled the trigger. The gun fired and bucked in her hand. The shot went awry, missing the target altogether.
Clarice lowered the gun slowly and stared at the untouched target. "If it comes to shooting my way out of this." Clarice looked up at Jonathon. "I'm a goner."
He grinned and shook his head. "No, you're not." He had her aim the gun again and stood behind her, his hands covering hers, helping her keep them steady. His lips were close to her ear and he spoke to her softly. "Just imagine for a moment that someone has a gun pointed at my head. The only thing standing between me and a bullet in the brain...is the accuracy of your shot. You're my only hope. If your shot isn't dead on...then I'm dead." He drew his hands away from hers and stepped back just a little. "Hold the gun steady and squeeze the trigger with only your finger. Don't use your whole hand to pull back, it'll throw off your shot. That target out there...that's my executioner. Now, if you really love me the way you say you do...you're not gonna let him take me away from you the way your family was taken away. You can save me. I have faith in you." He stepped in close and whispered sharply in her ear. "Now kill the motherfucker."
Clarice's face hardened as her hands steadied and she squeezed the trigger. The gun blasted. A hole ripped through the forehead of the paper target fifty feet away.
"Now that's what I'm talking about." Jonathon nodded and smiled. "See, you just needed the proper inspiration."
Clarice lowered the gun and turned to face him. "I could do it." She said slowly, her voice numb. "I could really kill someone...if it meant saving you."
"That's what I'm counting on." Jonathon leaned down and kissed her, then drew back and turned her back towards the target. "Now you're gonna show me again how dedicated you are to keeping me alive."
Two uniformed officers stood nearly chest deep in the freezing cold muddy flood waters working together to dislodge the dead body from between the limbs of the fallen tree. Grant and Davie Williams stood far back on the bank watching as more officers waded in to help.
Lieutenant Norman Ackles barked an order at one of the officers still on dry land. "Call the coroner's office! Get him down here now!"
The officer nodded and spoke into the radio attached to the shoulder of his uniform.
From atop the steep embankment that the flood waters had eroded, Victor Orlando stood in silence among other onlookers, watching the activity, eyes narrow and interested.
The officers finally worked the body loose and hauled it back to land, laying it out on the bank.
Orlando gazed down at Alec's motionless, seemingly lifeless body. Three prominent holes were evident in his forehead. Jonathon had been taking no chances. Alec stared blankly at the sky. Even from the embankment Orlando could see the milky glaze over his eyes. If he hadn't known better, he could have believed he was truly dead. But soon, when the bullets were removed, Alec's eyes would be clear again, and his mind would lock onto the girl...and he would lead them straight to Jonathon.
"Soon." Orlando murmured as he gazed down at Alec. "Soon you'll be on your way again, sniffing them out like a good little blood hound."
A female onlooker standing a few feet away glanced at Orlando and frowned as if the man were out of his mind.
"What are we going to do when he finds us?" Clarice asked with a faint tremor to her voice. "I feel like we should be doing something."
Her and Jonathon were on the front porch of the cabin. Jonathon rested against the railing as Clarice leaned against him, her back to his chest. His arms were around her waist. He wore his shoulder holster with the 9mm tucked in snugly.
When Jonathon didn't answer immediately, she turned her face up to his. "Do you have a plan to..." She faltered. Alec had brutally murdered her family, and was now hunting her. But she wondered whose fault it really was. A part of her pitied him. After all the horror he'd brought to her life...she still pitied him.
"A plan to what?" Jonathon asked low.
Clarice blinked away the thoughts and added thickly, "To kill him." She looked away, staring out at the thick trees surrounding them. "Do you even know how?"
"Yeah." Jonathon whispered. "I know how. And the plan...is just to get him here."
Clarice sat forward and turned her body so she was facing him. "That's the extent of the plan?" She asked doubtfully. "Shouldn't...shouldn't we have some kind of alarm system to let us know when he gets here?"
Jonathon touched a fingertip to her lips and smiled. "Now you're thinking." He stood up off the rail. "Come with me. I want to show you something."
He led her inside the cabin, through the kitchen and into the large walk-in pantry. At the far end was a shelf with items of food on it. Jonathon reached into a concealed crevice and she heard a latch pop. The tall shelf popped forward an inch or so and Jonathon pulled it open like a door. He reached inside and flipped a switch.
Bright lights illuminated a set of concrete steps that led down into an expansive basement.
The full length of one entire wall was nothing but a mass of video screens and computer panels.
"What is all this?" Clarice looked at Jonathon.
"State of the art security system." He said. " Every inch of this property within a five mile radius is being monitored as we speak. Anyone or anything of human origin pass though the radar system, and the alarm is triggered." He turned away from the monitors and indicated the rest of the large basement. "This can also serve as a panic room. At the top of the stairs is a steel door that will close when programed to. This entire basement is impenetrable. The cabin could burn down around it and anyone inside this room would remain unharmed. He turned and nodded towards a set of computer screens apart from the ones monitoring the grounds outside. "These screens here are for interior surveillance. If you were locked down here, you could keep an eyes on anyone in any room within the cabin."
He led her to another area and pressed a button on the wall. Panels slid open revealing a variety of weapons, handguns mostly with a couple rifles and a shotgun. At the bottom of the panel below the weapons were hand radios that looked very expensive. Jonathon picked one them up.
"You can reach out of the mountains with these. Call for help if necessary."
"Who is this friend of yours?" Clarice murmured. "And why would he have all this up here in the mountains?"
"He likes to be prepared."
"For what?" She asked quietly. "World war three?"
Jonathon shrugged. "If necessary." He met her unyielding eyes. "He's from the Institute. And when you spend your life working for people who won't think twice about erasing you if they decide you've become a security risk...you want eyes in the back of your head and weapons in your hands."
"I get it." Clarice murmured, looking around. "Does your friend know you're here now?"
"Yeah." He looked at the concrete floor then back up to Clarice. "He suggested I come here. It's secluded, and it gives us extra eyes to warn us when anyone gets near."
Clarice met his eyes. "Can he be trusted?"
"Yes." Jonathon said firmly, without a shred of doubt in his voice.
15...Like Sands Through The Hourglass...
The morgue was dim, quiet. The only light drifting out of the small office adjacent to the autopsy room was from a small desk lamp. The assistant M.E. sat at the desk filling out forms, hunched over, head down, thoroughly focused on his task at hand.
Orlando moved quietly past the small office and through the autopsy room to the examination table in the center. A white sheet covered the dead body laying on the table. Orlando peeled the sheet away from the cadaver's face.
"You've been at rest long enough." Orlando murmured. "But just so we don't lose track of you again..." He withdrew an instrument that resembled an injection gun, but with a wider circular tip. He snapped a tiny round, flat object no bigger than a small watch battery into the tip, carefully turned Alec's head to the right and pressed the tip of the gun against the nape of his neck and squeezed the trigger.
Orlando turned Alec's head back to its original position and pocketed the instrument. He glanced towards the office. The assistant was oblivious to his presence. Orlando looked at the tray next to the exam table. A variety of surgical instruments were laid out on the tray. He picked up a pair of toothed forceps and leaned over Alec's head.
"Time to wake up." He whispered as he slowly inserted the forceps into one of the bullet holes, digging down deeper and deeper until he reached the bullet lodged in Alec's brain.
Clarice awoke with a tightness in her chest, her head throbbing. Beside her, Jonathon slept soundly. As she turned over, he shifted and she knew he would be wide awake in a moment's notice if she needed him.
She let him sleep and crawled out of bed. A dark grayness covered the open grounds between the cabin and the tree line, and beneath the trees a heavy darkness. Clarice stood at the bedroom window, staring out at the tall trees, just shadows against a dark gray sky.
Her heart thumped violently against her ribcage. She could feel Aaron again, the way she did back at the campgrounds. It had went away for awhile and she hadn't felt anything. She'd thought that was worse than feeling the bad stuff...but she wondered now if that were true. The anger and rage and torment she could sense in him was tearing her apart. What was happening to her? Was she really feeling what Aaron was feeling? Was he really in hell?
She glanced at Jonathon's sleeping form. He'd said what she was feeling was just her own grief and pain...but she knew the difference between grief and the intimate connection she'd shared with Aaron. And if it wasn't Aaron she was feeling then...
A shuddered rippled through her and she hugged herself tightly. The air inside the bedroom was cold, but it wasn't the chill of the winter night that had her shaking. Was it possible that she was connecting to Alec as she had with Aaron? If Jonathon was right and they had been triplets, then it could happen. But if that was what was happening here...then Alec was the one in hell. His own personal hell. But why did he hate his family so much? To the degree of brutally murdering them? And relentlessly hunting her down?
"Baby, what is it?" Jonathon mumbled, sleep still grogging his senses.
Clarice returned to the bed and crawled beneath the warm blankets, cuddling close to his body. She kissed his forehead and laid his head down on her chest. "Nothing, darling. Go back to sleep."
"You sure?" He managed softly as sleep drew him back into its embrace.
She held him close and pressed her lips to his hair. "I'm sure." She murmured. "Everything's fine." But laying there awake alone, without Jonathon's assurances to comfort her, a numbing fear gripped her heart. Would they make it out of this alive? Or would the nightmare swallow them up as it had Aaron and her parents?
Why, she wondered again, would Alec want to hurt them? How had he even been aware of them?
She laid back on the pillows and stared at the dark ceiling, her fingers slowly stroking through Jonathon's hair. What had they done to Alec that he was in so much emotional and mental torment? She realized that she needed Jonathon to tell her the rest of the story before time ran out. And she could feel time slipping away, faster and faster with each passing moment, like sand in an hourglass.
She wondered, if she could feel Alec so strong...could he feel her too? Could he sense how scared she was? Is that how he kept finding her...by the link through their minds? That wasn't something she could turn off. There was no switch.
Clarice shoved the dark thoughts away and slid down in the blankets, pressing up against Jonathon. Panic pulsated at the edge of her mind, but if she let it in, it would consume her and she would be no good to Jonathon. She had to be strong and keep her head in the game. If she sacrificed faith for hopelessness, she would lose her will to fight, to survive. And in turn, lose Jonathon. And losing Jonathon was not an option.
"What do you mean he just disappeared?" Harry Olson had been a medical examiner for over ten years and not once had a dead body just disappeared from his morgue without a trace. "A dead body doesn't just get up and walk out."
His assistant, Kenny Mayes, looked dumbfounded as he tried to make sense of the missing body. Kenny was young, early twenties, and had been working with Harry for barely two weeks now. So far, this was the first body Kenny had lost.
"I-I don't know what to say, sir." Kenny was flustered. "I was here all night, right there in the office."
Harry looked at the empty exam table, then at the tray of utensils. The toothed forceps were laying askew from the other instruments and had blood on them. Three bloody bullets lay on the tray as well.
Harry frowned. "Did you remove the bullets from the body?"
"Huh?" Kenny followed his boss' eyes to the tray. "I didn't do that, sir."
"Well, someone did." Harry said slowly. "And I don't think it was the corpse."
The uneasy feeling settled deep in Jonathon's gut the moment he opened his eyes. He knew the source and that put him even more on edge. He looked at Clarice asleep beside him. The sense that her sleep had been troubled was strong with him. But it made sense if she was beginning to feel what he was feeling. He'd hoped they would have more time, but maybe it was better this way. Just deal with it and move on.
He refused to consider the reality that they might not be alive to move on.
The morning was cold and a light snow was falling outside the window. Jonathon considered getting up but the heat of Clarice's body convinced him to crawl deeper into the blankets. He slid his arms around her and pulled her against him. There was no way to predict how things would go down once the shit hit the fan. If after everything, he lost Clarice...
He forcefully resisted the thought and held Clarice tighter. He would save her. Again.
"Jonathon?" Clarice murmured and turned into his embrace. Sleep weighed her eyelids and thickened her voice. "Is it time to get up?'
Jonathon pulled her closer and kissed her hair. "Not yet, baby." He whispered. "Right now, I just want to be right here under the blankets with you."
Something in his tone cleared away the cobwebs of sleep and Clarice opened her eyes wider. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah." He kissed her lips. "Everything is fine. I just don't feel like leaving this bed, or you, just yet."
Clarice smiled and kissed the center of his chest. "What do you feel like doing then?"
With his fingertip, he tilted her face up and kissed her again, with more passion and conviction this time. When his lips finally left hers, he slowly drifted down her body, kissing and caressing her in places no man had touched in a very long time, driving her to the edge of ecstasy then drawing her back only to drive her there again. By the time he came to her, a flaming heat warmed her skin and her hungry body was arching to him, welcoming him in.
They clung to each other with their hearts as well as their bodies, the fear of losing out on the chance to spend a lifetime together heightening the force of their lovemaking.
Jonathon wasn't aware of Clarice's tears until he shuddered with sweet release and sank down against her body, his own body damp and trembling.
She touched his face, caressed it with her fingertips and kissed his mouth with trembling lips. "I'm so scared." She choked softly, her throat swollen with tears. "I'm so scared I'm going to lose you."
He kissed the tears from her cheeks, and caressed her face with his hands. "You're not going to lose me." He whispered with a rough hoarseness to his voice. "And I won't lose you. We're going to make it, Clarice. We're going to come out of this together. And I plan to spend the rest of forever holding you in my arms just like this, and loving you for all I'm worth." He kissed her mouth lightly, tugging gently at her lower lip. "Sound good to you?"
Fresh tears slipped from her eyes. "I like that plan."
"That's my girl." He murmured, dropping a warm passionate kiss on her lips. Clarice's arms slid around his waist and held him tight as their kiss deepened with an assurance of a future beyond this moment.