Prairie’s hand lingered on the knife handle. The gained trust of her daily domestic duties afforded her the time to conceal it easily. She could wait, bide her time until Hap was completely absorbed in his work. It rarely took long before it consumed him. Silent hours had passed between them, as she had cooked and cleaned without interaction, bar the distant sense that came fleetingly that he was looking at her. A simple turn of her head in his direction was enough to send him back into his work. Once consumed, Prairie imagined his thoughts and vision were entirely focused on his studies. His headphones were the final invisible barrier between them. They would block the sound of her footsteps as she approached him. The almost companionable silence they had fallen into was the perfect cover.
It was no more than he deserved. He had taken her, taken them all and imprisoned them in the dark, killed each of them over and over without the slightest hint of remorse. The gas meant he didn’t even have to look them in the eye as he did it, he didn’t have to listen to their screams. Perhaps that was her secret weapon, to silence him and close her eyes. Years without vision gave her the ability to rely on her other senses. She tried to convince herself she could do this, she could end this and free Scott, and Rachel and Homer. Homer, she should do this for him.
The violent image of plunging the blade into his stomach or chest, perhaps his back if she could creep up behind him, accompanied her increasingly staccato chopping. The blood would spread slowly; a crimson Rorschach test of her own strength and sanity. She wondered what it felt like to stab someone; her fingers instinctively tightened around the handle until her knuckles were white. Would the knife slide in smoothly, the way it slipped through butter, or was it a blunter more forceful act that would take brute strength to drive it into him? Was she weak for believing it was hard to kill a man? Was she weaker still for knowing it would be even harder to watch him die? It would be slow, she knew that. He would bleed out, fall to the ground, probably pass out in agony. Aiming for the jugular was the most efficient method, but the thought of the blood drenching her clothing, spraying out around the room was too dark to even contemplate. Perhaps his eyes would meet hers, silently pleading for mercy, yet believing she could not see his suffering.
The soft sound of footsteps behind her forced the image to blur and Prairie busied herself at the counter, swallowing down and endeavouring to focus on her task. A small sigh forced its way out accompanied by a wave of strong emotion: guilt; the named guilt that swelled from contemplating the murder of a man who stood not three feet away from her and another un-named guilt, buried so deep she could barely register it, let alone acknowledge it. Somewhere deep-down Prairie was vaguely aware she wasn’t just unable to kill a man, any man, she was unable to kill Hap.
Hap had stood silently observing her, until her lack of acknowledgement drove him to clear his throat and announce his presence. Despite knowing he was there the sudden sound startled Prairie and the knife slipped from her hands, clattering to the ground.
“Here, let me,” he said closing the remaining space between them. His voice was hoarse, as if he hadn’t spoken for days.
He drew himself slowly to his feet. Even at such close proximity, Prairie remained still, relieved that his continued belief she was blind negated any obligation to make eye contact. The soft draw of his breath at her neck and ear made her shoulders tense involuntarily. Hap gently placed the knife back into her hand. She shuddered at the depth of trust he placed in her, felt shame as he unknowingly placed the possible instrument of his death back into his potential killer’s hand. The final soft brush of his fingers over her knuckles, though the finest of touches, lingered a second longer than it should. It was accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. She ground down on her back teeth. Prairie rationalised after so long, living in a glass cage, denied the warmth and touch of another human being, even such a delicate contact would be a sensory assault. It was more than that and she knew it.
Hap couldn’t fail but to be keenly aware of her physical response. His eyes closed tightly and in a slow and controlled action he slid his hand away, returning it to his side, before he balled it up tightly into a fist. The accompanying wave of anger only ever meant for himself.
“I’m sorry. I must disgust you.”
Why wouldn’t she be disgusted? He was an intelligent man, a man of science more than capable of recognising correlation and cause. He had promised her answers and truth, offered her kindness and sold her lies, silenced her beautiful music forever and kept her in a cage. Hap knew he deserved nothing more than her disgust, whatever claim he laid to a greater good. He had never cared what they others thought of him, never gave their derision and hatred a second thought. Prairie was different.
She sighed again, this time a long and deep sigh that shook her still tensed shoulders.
“No, Hap, you don’t”
Both now stood frozen in the moment. He was no more than an inch away from her, yet each of them were captured on either side of a dusty sunbeam that had burst through the glass in the kitchen window, a formless barrier between captor and captive, man and woman, enemy and…
Prairie battled to silence her own unwanted thoughts; the swell of guilt at her own designs on murder only moments ago and the louder drumming of a very different thought. Even the faint pressure of his hand on hers had left a mark. She dare not look down in fear that his fingerprints would be there burnt into her skin, imprinted on her forever. Shock and shame flushed across her cheeks with the realisation that she already missed the feel of his skin against hers. Rising want fought with the temptation of the knife handle she still gripped tightly. Her internal battle raged; to kiss or to kill?
“I should…let you get on.”
It was Hap who shattered the painful silence and started to retreat from the space in the kitchen, a space that was now hers in his mind. Prairie didn’t need to turn around to know the sad and dejected look in his eyes, or that his gaze had fallen to the floor, or that he had sighed silently. It should have meant nothing to her, yet she felt a pang of sorrow.
He stopped. He did not dare to be hopeful.
‘Wait’ had stuck in her throat. Prairie closed her eyes, pressed her lips together hard and allowed her hand to trail out behind her, reaching blindly for Hap’s hand until she felt his fingers lightly dust over hers before finally gripping hold for dear life. They wordlessly hung on to one another, neither even daring to breathe, as if the sound of either one of them exhaling would break the spell and cruelly remind them of who they were and how they had come to be here.
The space closed between them and Hap’s arms curled around Prairie’s waist until the length of his body was pressed against her. He tipped his head until it rested gently against hers and his breath softly tickled at her ear. Without her even realising it her grip on the knife had loosened until she had let it go completely and she now wrapped her own arms across his, idly stroking his forearms, intermittently squeezing his wrist to urge him not to let go. Time became meaningless: instead Prairie immersed herself in the overwhelming sensation of so much physical contact; the layered scent of coffee and tobacco and soap; the sharpening rise and fall of her chest and his that slowly found a shared rhythm and the thumping vibration of a heartbeat she could barely identify as his or her own.
Prairie banished any thought but the here and now. She had no explanation as to why she wanted to hang on so tightly to him. There was no rational and reasonable way to justify the feelings of warmth and safety she felt, held still in his strong arms, yet it felt perfectly natural and right.
Hap knew the bubble would burst; he knew this moment could not last forever and when it was over he feared it would never come again. He knew he should break away, that it was wrong, but he couldn’t help himself. The soft warmth of her body tucked so neatly into his was so much more than he deserved. Every time he fixed himself to move away, the grip of her fingers into his skin urged him to stay. No good would come of this, only pain. He dared to press a soft kiss on the top of her head. She did not flinch, instead tilting her head to offer him the tempting pale column of her neck. Unable to reconcile her willingness to be close to him, he wondered if this was a trap, a means to distract him and escape. For a moment he did not care. She was so beautiful. He couldn’t help but imagine more, wonder if her lips would part softly for him, imagine how she would taste, how it would feel to touch her, to move inside her and hear her moaning gently underneath him. It was too much.
Suddenly struck with embarrassment at his own growing need, fuelled by the images he was creating, Hap knew it must stop. If not now, he feared he would reach a point of no return where his hunger would override everything that was right. With a heavy heart he finally forced himself to break away.
Another wave of guilt washed over Prairie: Homer.