A/N: Can you believe it? I'm updating! Now that classes are over, I actually have time in my life to work on this! You have every right to hate me for taking so long, but I will do everything in my power to make it up to you. My goal is to finish this before the summer is over, but it's not near over yet, so expect a lot of chapters coming your way soon! The only thing in my way at the moment is that I'm working 40 hours a week, but I usually get a couple days off in a row, so that will be my main writing time. Well anyway, A LOT happens in this chapter. It might even be too much, but I figured I'd start it back up with a bang! :) And I'm really going to slow down the next few chapters, so they won't have quite this much going on. I wish I could write a long summary for you in case you forgot what happened, but I have to leave for work soon...so basically we left off at Aunt Doris' house, where McLaughlin's guys were coming, and a battle was about to take place. Okay. Sorry I suck at the recap thing. Thank you for all those who have read and reviewed and stuck with me! Enjoy! :)
"Daddy! Look at me!" I twirled my eleven-year-old body on the ice, making sure to keep my balance as my father watched on. The smile that had been on his face since we reached the ice rink widened.
"That's amazing honey! Where'd you learn to do that?"
"I've been practicing!"
"Great job, Em."
I beamed up at him. There was no better feeling in the world than making my father proud.
"I think I'm ready for hot chocolate now," I told him. It was tradition to get hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and marshmallows after ice skating. I began to skate toward the edge of the ice rink. A shadow darkened over the entire room. I stopped, noticing for the first time that nobody else was here. And my dad wasn't behind me. I quickly turned around on the ice. Where was he? He had been right behind me…
…a hole opened up in the ice. A pair of arms shot up from the ice. It was him. My dad. I tried to scream, but no sound came from my mouth. I tried to move, but my skates were frozen to the ice.
"Emeline!" he yelled. "Emeline! Help me!"
The water beneath the ice sucked him in. The hole closed. He was gone.
I woke up, startled.
The ground beneath me was cold and hard. The room was dark except for a small lamp that illuminated a single corner. This wasn't anything I had ever seen before.
"Morning," a deep voice said. I looked around but didn't see anyone. I knew that voice though…
"Wha…who…" I began. My mouth felt surprisingly dry.
A figure appeared in the light.
I looked around, panicked. Where was Evan? And Gracie…Charlotte…Kevin…Andy….How was I alone in a room with a guy who wanted to kill me?
…we had been at Doris' house. There was going to be a fight. I was hiding in a room that had bright white carpet. A gunshot had went off. I strained my brain, trying to remember more. But that was it. My memory went blank.
I glared at Jake, unsure whether I should be feeling fear or anger toward him at the moment. Maybe both. "Don't come near me."
He laughed. "What are you going to do? Give me the evil eye?"
I ignored him and tried to stand up, but a lack of feeling in my right leg prevented me from doing so.
"You were shot," Jake said.
"What!?" How could I not remember being shot?
"Shot. In the leg," he explained. I grimaced. I had already figured that one out.
"Jake…where are we?"
"McLaughlin's compound. Captured, unfortunately."
"But you…you work for him," I pointed out.
"You sure know how to state the obvious." There was nothing pleasant or humorous in his tone. He sounded…bitter. Angry. Vengeful.
"Then why are you here?"
"Gracie," Jake stated simply. His tone had changed slightly at her name. Gracie? What did she have to do with this?
"Is she okay?" I questioned.
"How the fuck should I know? I'm locked in here," he said angrily.
"How long have we been here?"
"Almost a day. Are you done with the fucking questions?"
"Jake, I need to know what's going on."
For several minutes, he didn't say anything. I sat up as far as I could. My leg had been bandaged. I touched the bandage, where I must have been shot. I couldn't even feel any pain…it was just numb.
Where was Evan? He wasn't here…so either he was also captured and taken somewhere else, or he got away, or he was…
"You don't remember anything?"
I shook my head. "Nothing."
He sighed. Instead of saying something, he grabbed something from the floor and handed it to me. A water bottle. I fumbled with the lid for a moment before opening it, then drank it greedily.
"I don't know a lot more than you do," Jake stated.
"Is Evan okay?" I questioned before taking another drink.
"I don't know."
"You don't know anything? If he was hurt, if…"
"I don't know."
"I suggest you forget about Evan and focus on getting yourself out of here alive," Jake stated sharply.
I narrowed my eyes. "I would have been dead a long time ago if it wasn't for Evan, so don't ask me not to worry about him."
"Is that what you think?" Jake asked.
"You think…hon, if you knew the truth about your little boyfriend, you'd think twice about ever wanting to be in the same room with him again."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I'm willing to bet that he hasn't told you everything. Everything about his past. Everything about what he did."
"Trust me, I know Evan, and nothing you say can change what I think of him. So instead of trying to get me worked up, how about you fill me in on what's going on?"
"Why should I do anything for you?"
"Because you're locked in here, too. And you're not going to be able to get out alone." I stared him down, dared him to deny that he would need me to escape. Jake's eyes hardened.
"Let's get one thing clear," he said. "I will only help you to help myself, and I will sacrifice you for my life at any moment. So if we do get out of here, don't rely on me for anything. The only thing your good for is as a bargaining tool. That's it." There was no ounce of humor in his tone. He could care less what happened to me as long as he got out of here alive. That was fine with me. I just wanted to be out of this place.
"Okay," I told him. "But can you at least tell me what you know. Why is Gracie the reason you're in here?"
Jake looked at the ground. "They wanted to kill her."
"So you stopped them?"
I nodded. That made sense. If McLaughlin's guys had tried to hurt Gracie, there was no doubt in my mind that Jake would try to stop them without a second's thought. And of course, that meant he would be perceived to be a trader.
"So what happened…I mean, how did this happen to my leg?"
"You were shot."
"I know that. But did you see it happen?"
"So a guy just walked in and shot me?"
"Not just any guy. Derek."
I stared at Jake, trying to process his words. Derek? Derek, my ex-boyfriend…shot me. To be honest, I had nearly forgotten about him-forgotten that he had been involved in this whole thing.
"Derek shot me," I finally said out loud.
"Yeah. Pretty bad aim, too. It's not like you were a tough target or anything."
"What do you mean?"
"You had been passed out when he shot you."
My eyes widened. As if it couldn't get any worse…
…but it made sense. After that first gunshot went off, I couldn't remember anything else. And I had just had a full-blown panic attack before that. It's very likely that I would have fainted after hearing the shot.
Talk about pathetic.
Evan had mentioned once that every single time he left me alone, trouble followed. This wasn't any exception. Though this time…well, the trouble was at a whole new level.
Because I was alone this time. Really alone. Jake didn't count considering he would throw me under a bus as soon as he got the chance. And the numbness in my leg wasn't comforting. I studied my surroundings as my eyes had adjusted to the dark room. It seemed mostly bare and definitely dirty. I would have assumed with all the money and power that McLaughlin had, he would have at least used some of it to furnish his prison. Guess not.
I slunk back against a wall. This really wasn't the time to be thinking about decorating prisons. They would probably be taking me soon to try to find that code that is supposedly on my head. If it was there, then they would take it, and then there'd be no more use for me. They could just kill me. And if it wasn't there, then they would assume that I know where it is. What would happen then? Most likely, they'd torture me. But I couldn't tell them about Christopher. They could never find out about him.
My fingertips grazed my right leg. There was nothing-not even a slight acknowledgement in my leg that something was touching them. It was as if I didn't even have a leg. If McLaughlin's guys took me after I was shot, had they even tried to fix my leg at all? Had they taken the bullet out? What if they did something…what if they purposely made sure that I couldn't use my leg to ensure I wouldn't escape? Even if Jake figured a way to get out of here, I would be more of a hindrance than a help to him. As much as I wanted to think that he would need me, he wouldn't. He'd be much more capable without me.
And I still didn't know if Evan was alive.
My eyes prickled hot with tears.
"Someone's coming," Jake said in a low voice. Through my blurred vision, I could make out two rather large figures walking toward us. There was something oddly familiar about them.
"Well look who it is," one of the guys stated. I wiped the tears away from my eyes.
"Remember us, love?"
The two guys who had held us up at the wedding-the ones we had escaped from. One of the guys-the one I had kicked in the leg-approached me. He smiled.
"Wh-what do you want?" I asked uneasily.
"Well, I'd like to teach you a lesson, but that'll have to wait 'til the boss is here." He smiled as he looked down at my leg. "Karma's a bitch, ain't it?" He kicked my leg a few times. I didn't feel a thing. Then he bent down and touched my leg with his grimy hands. His fingertips traced my knee. I tried to scoot away, but there was nowhere to go.
"Stop messing around. We're here for a reason," his partner told him.
"You're ruining my fun," he replied.
"You can have fun later. We're here for business."
"Right." His hand moved from my leg and encircled my neck, pulling me closer to his face. His eyes held an intense hatred that I had never seen before. My body involuntarily began to shake. This seemed to please him. "Don't worry, hon. I'll be back."
He stepped away and joined his friend. My body still shook. Surprisingly, they turned their attention away from me and onto Jake.
"You're coming with us," one of the guys stated.
"Why can't we just do it here?" the other asked. "The girl can watch."
"Because the other guys want a shot at him, too."
"I guess you're right," he agreed. Then he looked at me. "You know what we're about to do to this guy? It'll be far worse for your friend Evan once we get our hands on him."
They grabbed Jake and dragged him out. My eyes widened.
…once we get our hands on him…
That could only mean one thing. They didn't have Evan. He had to still be alive.
Would he know where to find me? And if he did, would he be able to get past everyone? If anyone could, he could. I had faith in him.
But if he couldn't, then I had to rely on myself. And, weirdly enough, Jake. As much as I didn't want to need his help, he knew this place a lot better than I did. Plus, I couldn't exactly walk on my own. But after what those guys said…he might not be in any condition to walk soon either.
For what seemed to be the next few hours, I was alone. There was no sign of Jake or any of the other guys. I had no choice but to just wait. My stomach grumbled with hunger. My head had begun to feel light. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the wall. If I just died now, this could all be over. I wouldn't have to be scared anymore. No more worrying, no more running away. It would be so much easier.
I couldn't give up. My parents wouldn't have wanted me to give up. And Christopher needed me. And Evan…he had done so much for me. I couldn't just throw it all away.
Footsteps approached. I opened my eyes and looked to where they were coming from. The guys were back. They dragged Jake behind them; he looked limp in their arms. They threw him on the small bench on the side of the room, ignoring me, and left. Jake didn't move.
"Jake?" I asked hesitantly. He didn't respond. Was he dead? I couldn't walk, so I scooted myself across the floor using just my arms. The faint light illuminated his face. There were cuts all along his face, and bruises were already forming on his cheeks and on both eyes. I didn't know what to do.
"Jake…" I said softly as I sat beside him. He could barely lift open his eyes. I looked down and noticed blood soaking through his shirt. "Jake…I'm going to try to help, okay?" He responded with a grunt. I sighed. This definitely was not my area of expertise. I had never been the nurse type, and the fact that my patient was a guy who hated me didn't exactly boost my confidence. But I needed Jake…he was my only chance for escape. I lifted his shirt to find a giant gash on his side. Blood spilled out from it. I cringed and bit my lip. There was nothing in the room to cover it with. I had a tank top on under my t-shirt, so I slipped off my shirt and pressed it against the gash. It was all I could do to try to stop the bleeding. Jake seemed to be unconscious.
He slept for the next few hours. I had no idea if it was day or night; I only knew that despite my hunger and fatigue, I had no desire to sleep. Why were they keeping me in here? I would have thought McLaughlin would have had me in some room searching for that code as soon as I got here.
Jake began to stir. I looked over and watched as he tried to open his eyes. His face looked pained. He turned his head to look at me.
"Water," he croaked. I reached quickly for the water bottle and brought it up to his mouth. He drank nearly all of it. "I'm not dead yet?"
I shook my head. "Afraid not."
"God is cruel." He closed his eyes; it seemed to hurt him too much to keep them open.
I resisted the temptation to ask how he was feeling. It was quite obvious I would receive a negative response. "Is there, um…is there anything I can do for you?"
"Sorry, can't do that."
He groaned again. "You can't walk. I have no strength. I wouldn't count on the two of us escaping anytime soon if I were you."
"Do you think…does Evan know where this place is?" I questioned.
"Do you think he'll try to come here?"
My eyes widened. "Really?"
"Don't get your hopes up. It would take a miracle for him to get past security."
"But could he do it?"
"They'll be waiting for him. He has a 1 shot of making it."
I nodded. It was ridiculous for me to get excited with the odds so stacked up against him. But it could happen…maybe.
"And if he does get here," Jake continued. "He would have to somehow get you out of the building with nobody catching you. It isn't going to happen."
"So what hope do we still have?"
"I don't understand why they're just keeping me here. They finally have me, but they're not doing anything about it."
"You want them to torture you?"
"No. But it doesn't make sense that they're not."
"There are probably a few reasons," Jake stated. His words were quiet and muffled. "For one, McLaughlin's been out of the country for the past week. He'd want them to wait to do anything until he gets back. They know that there's no way for you to escape, especially with your useless leg, so they don't have much to worry about. And if they keep you in here without feeding you or giving you any kind of comfort, you're bound to get weaker. The weaker you get, the more likely you are to talk."
"Talk? I don't know anything that would be useful to them."
"I bet you know a hell of a lot more than you think."
It made sense. They had me; they could hold me here for however long they wanted. I was just a caged animal now.
Jake and I didn't talk much after that. I spent most of my time thinking about Evan and Christopher and Gracie and all of the people who had helped us. Kevin, Charlotte, Andy, even Aunt Doris…I'd give anything to be back with them. They had given up so much to help me, and I had no way of knowing if they were okay. It was all I could think about as I laid on the hard ground. My back ached. I had no strength to move; the only time I ever tried to sit up was to check on Jake's gash. He slowly started to regain some of his strength, though it was nowhere near the level it used to be. But as he got stronger, I felt weaker and weaker. We were out of water, and I hadn't eaten since my last dinner at Doris' house.
We had to have been in there for days before another human being came back. I looked up to see one of the big guys-the one who had traced his finger against my leg-walking toward me. He kneeled on the ground next to me.
"You look like death," he observed. I didn't respond. "Guess what, love? You're going to be out of here soon. The boss is coming back today. If you thought you had it bad here, you're going to be aching to come back here when he's done with you."
I stared up at the guy…I didn't even know his name. "Why do you hate me so much?" I asked quietly.
He looked slightly taken aback by my question. "You have no idea what hell we've been through with all of your antics. The boss wasn't happy that you got away at the wedding. We've spent every second of every day trying to find you. How would you feel wasting your life trying to find a stupid little girl?"
"Why do you do it?"
He glared at me. "Stop with the fucking questions." He grabbed at my leg. I tried to pull back, but his hand kept a tight grip on me. "You're one lucky little girl right now. I can't do anything to you until they've found that damn code. But once McLaughlin's done with you, I get my turn. You're out of hope, darling." He towered over me, his face inches away from mine. Once again, my body shook.
"Please…" I said weakly. He smiled brightly, gaining satisfaction from my begging. I closed my eyes and turned my head.
"What's wrong? You look a little…argh!" I opened my eyes in time to see Jake lift something and hit it against the guy's head. He was immediately knocked unconscious.
"It's our only hope," Jake said, nodding toward the door that had been left open. Jake reached into the guy's pockets and pulled out a set of keys. He then took a gun from the guy's holster. I stared at Jake, who seemed to be invigorated with a newfound strength.
"Jake, I can't even walk…"
"You can lean on me. Come on." He held out his hand for me to take. I looked at it in surprise. I was just going to slow him down; why would he want to take me with him. As if reading my mind, he said, "It's going to take the rest of my life to get Gracie to forgive me. If I show up without you, I don't even have a chance." I nodded; that, I could understand.
Jake had me climb onto his back. I felt ridiculous, but it was the only way.
"Jake, how do you expect us to get out of here like this without anyone noticing?" I questioned.
"You forget that I've worked here for many years. I know everything about this place. But it will only work if everything goes just right." We went through a dark hallway. I could barely see the floor ahead of us; up until now, Jake could still barely open his eyes. However, he seemed to have found a new spark. I just hoped that spark would last long enough to get us out of here and far away from this place.
There was a door at the end of the hallway. Jake's hand reached for the doorknob, but then he hesitated. He looked at me.
"How's your upper arm strength?" he questioned.
"Good. I am a swimmer," I reminded him. He nodded.
"It'll be safer to go through the vents, but you'll have to pull yourself."
He walked backwards a few steps and reached for the vent up above, then opened it.
"I'm going to lift you up first," he stated. The next thing I knew, I was being lifted up to the vent and pushed inside. I pulled myself up the rest of the way and scooted up so that Jake would have room to get in.
"Will anyone think to look here?" I asked.
"Only a few people know that it's possible to get through these. Evan was one of them. McLaughlin knows; if he's here, he'll definitely have people looking up here. Let's just hope they haven't noticed that we're gone yet."
It was too narrow for Jake to pass me, so I led the way as he directed me. I couldn't move too fast using just my arms, but it was the best I could do. Neither one of us said anything save the occasional directions from Jake. My heart was racing faster than it had ever gone before. One wrong move, and we'd be caught. But still…if I was caught, what would they do to me that they weren't already planning to do before? But Jake…if they caught him, they'd probably kill him. Despite our mutual dislike of each other, I didn't want him to die. At the moment, he was my only ally, even if it was a shaky alliance.
After a while, my arms began to feel like jelly. How big was this building? I didn't think we'd be in the vents this long.
"Stop," Jake ordered very softly. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had just climbed over an opening in the vent; it had slits that allowed us to look into the darkened room underneath. I looked at Jake. He pointed at himself, then pointed down. He then pointed at me and motioned for me to stay put. I nodded; there was no point in questioning him at the moment. I had a feeling he wanted to make sure it was safe before bringing me down. He slowly opened the vent, then pulled himself down. I closed it once he was down and watched as he looked around the room. His hand remained close to his belt, where he had put the gun.
He walked out of sight. A few seconds later, a door creaked open, then shut again. Had Jake opened it, or was someone coming in? I held my breath. I didn't dare open my mouth to say anything. All I could hear were footsteps walking around. After a few more seconds, the door opened again. I bit my lip. What was going on this time? Maybe Jake opened it again…or the person who opened it the first time left…or a third person had come in.
"I'll be right there," a voice said-not Jake's. "I left some of the paperwork in my office. It should be right here." From my position, I could just make out the top of a man's head; he was talking on the phone. "Yeah, okay. See you in five." He hung up the phone and looked inside his desk. Jake must have found a quick place to hide because this guy didn't act as if anything was unusual. Maybe that also meant that they hadn't discovered we were missing.
"What the…" the guy said. He studied something on his desk, looking at it closely. Then he took a tissue and wiped it. I bit my lip. He pulled out his phone and started to dial.
"Put down your phone," Jake ordered. I couldn't see him, but I could imagine he had the gun out by now.
"How the hell did you get here?" the guy asked.
"Put down the phone, Tony," Jake repeated.
"You just made a big mistake. I saw the blood on my desk, but I didn't know it was your blood. Now everyone's going to know you're here." So that's what the guy-Tony- found…Jake's gash was still pretty bad; it wasn't a surprise that some of his blood would have gotten on the desk.
"Actually, you made the mistake," Jake said.
"Well, the way I see it, it's two against one."
I hope he wasn't counting me in that two…I was useless at the moment.
"Is the little brunette tramp in here, too? McLaughlin will kill you in a second for helping her." I glared at him though the slits, though no one could see me. It didn't take a genius to figure out who he was referring to.
"That was the wrong thing to say," Jake stated. Since when was he so cocky? Tony didn't react. From my awkward angle, it seemed as if he was just staring Jake down. He put his hands on his hips, still staring ahead. Suddenly, he reached for his back pocket and drew out his gun. I gasped. A gunshot went off. But it wasn't from either of their guns. Someone had hit Tony in the back; he collapsed to the floor, hitting his head against the side of the desk on the way. I stared in shock.
What had just happened?
Jake came into view. He was looking at the person who shot Tony.
"I saw you come in just before Tony did. I was hiding over there; I wasn't sure if you'd react too well to seeing me." Then he pointed to his face. "As you can see, I'm not exactly in the inner circle anymore. I want to help you…I am helping you. I'm helping her, too."
"Where is she?"
My heart leapt. I knew that voice!
"Before you see her, you need to know-"
"Where the fuck is she!?"
"Evan…" I whispered. My hands shook as I reached for the opening, trying to open the cover. He leapt onto the desk below the vent and swiftly tore off the cover. I nearly let out a cry as I saw Evan-there, in front of me, not in a dream. He was really there. I nearly fell into his arms as he pulled me down. A sob escaped from my throat.
"She can't walk," Jake informed him.
"What?" Evan asked. His eyes were mixed with intense relief and worry.
"Derek shot her back at the house, and I don't think these guys tried very hard to heal the wound," Jake explained.
"I'm okay," I said unconvincingly.
"I don't want to break up the reunion, but we really need to get out of here. Those gunshots weren't exactly silent," Jake said. Evan nodded, still looking at me.
"Come on," he said softly, picking me up to carry me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and sunk into his chest.
"I'm assuming you got in through the west tunnel," Jake stated. "That's how I was planning on getting us out before you got here."
"Yeah. I had gone in Tony's office to use the vents."
"Guess we think alike. Would it be safe to go back through the west tunnel?"
"I think it's our only option."
They began to run through the halls, while darting in and out of offices. One office would lead to another office which would lead to a hallway which would lead to another office…the pattern continued. I would have been lost in a second trying to do this myself.
An alarm suddenly went off.
"Shit," Jake said from ahead of us. It sounded like they had discovered our disappearance. If it was possible, the guys seemed to run faster.
"They're going to be waiting for us!" Evan yelled.
"Get your gun ready!" Jake yelled back.
We entered what I assumed to be the west tunnel. So far, nobody else appeared to be nearby. The alarms were still ringing loudly.
"We need to stay close to the walls. It'll be easier to hide if we need to," Jake said. We moved along the walls. My arms kept a firm lock around Evan's neck, though it wasn't entirely necessary. Despite his running, Evan held on to me so tightly that I didn't once budge. We kept going for another few minutes before Jake suddenly stopped. Evan stopped behind him. Neither one said a word.
"It isn't safe this way," Jake said.
"Follow me." Evan led the way to a small alcove in the tunnel. We ducked down into it.
"I know another way," Jake told him. "There's a passage just ahead. I don't think anyone else knows about it. But it's going to be harder to get through, especially for her."
"Will we be able to get to it?" Evan asked.
There were voices above. We ducked as deeply into the alcove as possible. Evan held me up against him as he kneeled to the ground. They had caught up to us. Footsteps came nearer. I held my breath.
"Check every crack in this place. If they're here, we're going to find them! Johnson, I want you to lead a group through the southwest wing. If you see them, don't hesitate to shoot. We're not letting them get away again!" I listened as the guys ran around. Some of them came within feet of us before scurrying another way. The voice that was ordering everyone around was all too familiar; it was Derek's. The other guys seemed to obey him, so he must have had some kind of authority now.
I silently willed my heart to stop racing. It was beating so loudly against my chest that if anyone came near, they would probably be able to hear it. Neither Evan nor Jake budged. Their entire beings seemed to change; every bit of them was alert and focused. Still, Evan kept a tight hold on me, which I was grateful for. Even if I had two healthy legs, I wasn't sure I'd have any power over them at the moment.
After a while, the voices got farther and farther away. An occasional pair of feet would run by, but it seemed that they had decided we weren't in this area.
"We have to get a move on before they come back. They'll start rechecking everything," Jake stated.
"How far is this passage you mentioned?" Evan questioned.
"Just ahead, not far at all," Jake replied. He looked to me. "Will you be able to pull yourself again?"
"Can't I help her?" Evan cut in.
"It's too narrow," Jake said.
"I can do it," I said softly. Truthfully, I wasn't sure I could. Not a single part of my body wanted to use any strength. But if it was the only way we could get out of here alive, then I had to try.
"Are you sure?" Evan asked softly. I nodded. He stared at me for a moment as if trying to figure out if I was telling the truth. I attempted to give him my bravest face possible.
"Okay," he finally said. "Let's go."
Jake was right. The passage was just ahead of us. Evan carried me to it. Jake crawled in first. Then Evan helped me in and followed behind. This was much worse than the vents we had crawled in before. The air was musty and stale. Not a single part wasn't covered in dirt, and it was much narrower than the vents had been. I used my arms to pull myself forward, then did as much as I could with my one good leg to help me along. Each step forward felt like a work of labor. I could barely breathe without choking.
"We're almost out," Jake said after nearly twenty minutes. I could have cried from excitement. The passage started to get wider and wider. After a few more minutes, the boys were able to walk in it with lowered heads. Evan picked me up as soon as he could stand and held me to him. My throat felt hot and dry; I coughed uncontrollably as they continued to walk forward. Soon, soft light poured into the small tunnel. An opening was just ahead. It looked to be getting dark outside, though there was still enough light to see.
"Where is this leading us?" Evan questioned.
"About a mile out of the city. It's the middle of nowhere, really. There's a highway up ahead," Jake replied. "You stay here. I'll check the area."
Jake left. I breathed the fresh air in greedily in between coughs.
"We can rest soon," Evan whispered. "You just need to make it a little farther, okay? I'll do all the work. Just don't give up."
I wanted to say something, but my throat was so dry that nothing came out. From the way he was talking to me, I must have really looked like death.
Jake returned with the news that everything was clear. We continued out of the passage and into what really was the middle of nowhere. Dirt and trees made up most of the area. I closed my eyes and tried my best to suppress my coughing.
"We can't go much farther," Evan told Jake. "She's dehydrated. She needs water badly."
"I know. We don't have a lot of options, though. There's a motel up ahead…"
"That doesn't sound like a good idea."
"It's out of the city. It's not the best quality, but it's our only option if we want to stop soon."
"There's nothing else?"
"Nothing. We'll just stay for a few hours-long enough for her to get some water and rest. As soon as we can, we'll need to start moving again."
Evan gave in. I barely paid any attention as they continued their walk. Before I knew it, I was being lowered onto a soft bed. Jake came in a few minutes later with bottles of water. Evan tipped the water into my mouth. I drank it up, trying not to cough any of it out. Soon, he was opening another bottle and letting me drink from it. Nothing had ever tasted so good.
"You should get some rest, too. You don't look too great," Evan told Jake.
Jake shook his head. "I'm going to be outside on the lookout. I won't go too far. If anything looks suspicious, we're leaving." With that, he left the room. I finished drinking and laid still to catch my breath.
"Have you ate anything?" Evan asked. I shook my head. He stood up. "I'll get you something."
"Evan," I pleaded softly. He stopped. My voice was still weak, so I tried to show him with my eyes how badly I wanted him to stay. I had finally just gotten him back; he couldn't leave me again.
Evan seemed to understand. He dropped back to the bed and sat down next to me, then bent down and let his forehead rest against mine.
"I just want to fix everything," he said. I tried to smile at him, to show him that I was okay, but I couldn't. Maybe because I was still weak…maybe because I wasn't okay.
"I missed you," I said softly. Evan's moved his hand to rest against my cheek and kissed my forehead
"You'll never have to go through that again. I promise."
"Good." I took a few breaths and coughed. "You're…st-stuck with me now."
Evan smiled. "I can think of worse people to be stuck to."
"Gracie and Charlotte and…"
"They're all okay."
"He's okay, too. I've been talking to him on the phone. He trusts me."
"Yes. We're all okay. Everyone's just worried about you."
"For what? For being shot in the leg, locked away, and starved for days? That's not exactly your fault." Evan looked away from me. I think he was trying to hide the anger that had started to build in his eyes.
I moved forward and kissed his shoulder. "Thank you for coming for me." That did the trick; his eyes softened as he looked back at me.
"Yeah, well, I've kind of gotten used to you," he teased. "If it had been up to me, I would have barged into the building and started shooting up the place the first day they had you. The others had to talk some sense into me."
"I'm glad you listened to them," I told him. "These past few days…it just feels like one big nightmare."
Evan's eyes turned serious. "I'm going to have to ask you what happened in there. You don't have to tell me now. I don't know how long we will be here, maybe just a few hours, so you should get some rest."
Rest sounded good. "Evan?"
"You're going to stay with me, right?"
He kissed my cheek. "Yes."
I smiled softly and let myself fully sink into the softness of the bed. Evan remained sitting next to me. I could still feel his eyes watching me as I drifted off to sleep.
I don't know how long I had been sleeping when I felt myself slipping back into consciousness. My eyes remained shut; I had no intention of waking up. All I wanted to do was sleep more.
"You don't have to trust me. I sure as hell don't trust you anymore. I just want to get to Gracie. That's it."
I sunk my head into my pillow. Was I dreaming that voice?
"I'll take you to Gracie. That's the least I can do for you for getting her out of there."
"I didn't do it for you."
The voices sounded distant…as if in another world. But they were here, in this room with me. I think. My entire body felt heavy.
"You've really fucked up, man." It sounded like Jake…
"You don't think I know that? Every time I try to make things better, it all goes wrong." And Evan…
"I don't see why you want to be the hero now. No matter what you do, if she finds out, she'll never forgive you…"
"It was a mistake. I didn't realize…"
"That's just it. You do things without thinking them through."
"Are you kidding me? I let you think for two years that I was on your side. If anything, I waited too long."
"So is this some guilt thing? You feel guilty for what you did now? It's a little too late."
"She might forgive me."
"Don't fool yourself. You're the whole reason she's in this mess. If it weren't for you, she'd probably be happy at home, and she'd have two living parents."
"Keep your voice down."
"She's out. She's not going to hear anything."
"Things are different now. I've dedicated every minute of the last two years to fixing what I did. Yeah, maybe at the beginning I was just doing this out of guilt. But now…"
"What? You love her or something? That's not going to bring her parents back."
"I know that. But I'm not fucking around anymore. I just need to find a way to take down McLaughlin. If I do, then this can all be over. We can start living a normal life again."
"That's easy for you to say. You've got this girl thinking you're some kind of hero. If this ends, she'll think she's indebted to you forever. What do I get out of it? I'm supposed to be married right now, and I don't even have her anymore. And it's all because you fucking couldn't tell me what was going on. You make me out to be some bad guy when all I was doing was my job. But you're the one she should be running from. You started it all."
"You don't know everything. There's more to it. If you knew the truth-all of it-you'd understand why I did it. I thought I had a good reason then."
"A good enough reason to kill her parents?"
"You didn't what? You didn't pull the trigger? You might as well have. You planned it all, you told McLaughlin about the code, you…"
"I thought I was doing the right thing."
"Well now she has no family and no life because of it. And I've lost everything, too. You, a hero? Give me a fucking break. Once you bring me to Gracie, I'm done with you. I won't tell your little girlfriend what you did, but don't expect my help anymore."
A door opened and slammed shut. I tried to keep my breathing steady. That had to be a dream…
To get this up before work, I can't do all the individual thank yous right now. But I plan on editing them in tonight when I get off, so check back for them! Thank you! :)