"Gunshot wound to the left shoulder at close range. Possible damage to internal organs. Possible hemorrhaging."
He was moving; held down on some type of hard surface, bright lights whooshing past overhead. He jerked instinctively against the restraints, but it hurt too much to fight. His chest burned, a low and intense. It hurt to breathe.
Someone leaned into his view, face dark. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Na...ru..." he said automatically as a plastic cup was pushed over his mouth. It blew cold air at him until he took a deep breath, or what could pass as a deep breath.
"How old are you?"
He cast what he thought was a glare at that looming face, but didn't answer. What did it matter? Black dots swam in his vision.
"BP 141 over 93, patient entering hypertension." A voice droned somewhere out of view and the face suddenly moved away, leaving the bright lights to sear his sensitive eyes again. A wave of lethargy swept over Noll and the plastic cup fell slack around his mouth. "Heart rate's dropping — we're losing him."
5 months ago
When he woke, the sun was on his face. At first it was blinding; bright and hot on his cheeks, it seared through his eyelids. He opened his eyes and Mai was there. Leaning back against the bleak wall, Mai watched him with red-rimmed eyes.
He blinked. Was her voice real, or in his head? He didn't reply, studying her ripped skirt and dirty t-shirt. Was she wearing that when they got here? He couldn't remember. It was hard to remember much of anything.
This time her voice was very obviously in his mind. It held that hollow, bounce-around-your-head ringing to it that always came with their telepathy. He held that thought for a moment. Did Gene's voice ever ring in his head like that? He didn't think so.
Now that he knew it was in his head, it was hard not to hear the rest of her thoughts, buzzing just beneath his own. Images of himself bouncing around her mind. With his hair in stringy, oily clumps of black. His black button up was torn beyond repair, blood and bruises covering every inch of exposed skin.
Are you okay?
Her voice drudged up a lingering image of Annalise. His heart stuttered in his chest. She was dead. He… killed her. Like a tidal wave, grief and furious hatred washed over him. No, he was not okay. He hated himself. Mai gasped with the intensity of his emotions that pulsed across their bond. Did she already know what he had done? That he was a killer — no better than the people who kept them there.
Could she see it in his head?
Noll blinked, slowly, and shut the bond. He imagined the invisible wall erected in the space between him and her. Her voice faded almost instantly. He couldn't bring himself to look at her, but the sun was too bright to look anywhere else. He closed his eyes.
Footsteps sounded from somewhere too close and suddenly something sharp stabbed him in the shoulder.
James stooped over him, pushing the tips of a cold steel knife into the dip of his neck. "Wake up."
He watched the blood that beaded over the metal with bored curiosity. The boy made no noise. Not a whine or a groan that James had come to expect from his victims. The Davis boy didn't flinch. His dark blue eyes were hooded, sunken into his skull and fixated on something in the distance. He looked dead.
James wasn't entirely sure he was breathing until he felt rather than saw the rapid fluttering of his chest. He pulled the knife away and stood straight, wiping the blood off on the fabric of his jeans. "I said, wake up."
Noll stirred, just barely, his muscles answering to the silk in James' voice before his brain knew what was happening. He pushed himself off the floor, wheezing, forcing his legs to fold beneath him in any sort of comfortable manner.
More voices sounded from far away, echoing in the emptiness of the hallway, punctuated by the crisp click click click of high heels. Noll recognized Belikov's deep, Russian baritone. "Next is subject 85, Davis."
A soft, sultry female voice retorted with a blithe snort. "What's his talent?"
"Davis?" A lower, male voice interrupted, hesitant, "You mean Oliver Davis? That missing teenager?"
Noll didn't recognize the sound of his own name. He swayed, unsteady, wondering why he stayed in such an uncomfortable position when his toes had long gone numb and it felt as if his knees were going to shatter. He grumbled, leaning dramatically to one side.
"Myesto!" James spit in Russian. Noll had no idea what the word meant, but his body froze. James pushed a stony hand to his shoulder. "Pozirovat."
His body slowly righted itself, every muscle protesting as he centered his weight back on his heels. He felt as if he were in a vision he couldn't remember going into. As if he both was and was not himself, but like a spirit, watching from the outside. He frowned at the spot between his knees. Why wouldn't his body obey him?
"Precisely, Mr. Steffen," Belikov answered. They were closer; Noll could hear the muffled shuffle of papers just outside the open doorway. "He is the most recent addition to my collection."
"His disappearance has certainly made a wave in the news circuit. Don't you think you are unnecessarily running the risk of exposure by keeping him?"
"I don't see it as a problem," Belikov soothed. "It's only been a week and already the public is tired of it. Tomorrow there will be something new and everyone will forget about the Davis boy."
"Well, that picture they show on the news certainly does him no justice." The female clucked. Noll could practically feel her eyes on him as he watched the woman's silver high heels clack across the cement, followed closely by a short blue dress that stopped just above her knees.
She stopped and bent down to his eyes level. He didn't look up. "Oh," she cooed, reaching out to him, brushing the scarcely healed burn on the side of his neck. "What gave you this?"
"His training method was rather… intense."
She dropped her hand, turning slowly as if she had deliberately ignored him. "James," she said in a tone Noll knew well. Barely held contempt.
James forced a smile. "Pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Steffen. Mr. Steffen."
"What about her?" Mr. Steffen said, apparently happy to keep ignoring him. He gestured solemnly to the back corner of the room where Mai sat. Noll still refused to look at her, and he couldn't even feel her anymore, but he heard the shuffle of the handcuffs around her wrists as she cowered further into the wall. "Who is she?"
James didn't spare a glance at her. "Not for sale."
"I do wish you had stayed away from his face." Mrs. Steffen clucked, returning her attention to Noll. She slid a finger over his bruised jaw, lifting his chin. "He is quite handsome."
Noll met her gaze. Her face was unfamiliar, all golden tint makeup and red cheeks, but her eyes — her eyes were a conglomerate of blues and grey's, mixing in the diminishing sunlight to make a vivid purple. He held his breath.
Luella. It wasn't her — of course it wasn't her, but he so desperately wanted it to be. Her face was all wrong, her hair was too red, but his logical mind didn't care anymore. Tears pricked the corners of his eyes; his heart thumped hard, a drum in his chest.
James shrugged. "It couldn't be helped."
And just like that the spell was broken. Mrs. Steffen dropped his chin and took a step back, irritation in every sway of her hips as she sauntered back to her husband's side. "Of course,"
"Oliver," Belikov slipped just inside the door, placing a small metal object in the center of the desk. "Please, demonstrate for our guests."
Almost instantly Noll could feel the hum of power, agitated by the command. It buzzed at the tips of his fingers, obedient, and yet, hesitant. He fisted his hand. "…No."
He didn't think about what they would do to him. He didn't want to think about what they would do to Mai. He pinched his eyes shut, straining to remember the last time he had talked to his mother or his father. Hadn't he ignored them, shut them down at every turn when they were only trying to help?
"No?" Someone echoed him.
"Povinuysya mne!" James hissed in his ear. "Move it." It was smooth, tantalizing, but the lull was gone. Noll didn't feel the need to answer.
James landed a booted foot in the center of Noll's back; feeling strangely satisfied with the childish yip sound he made. James took a step back, then kicked again, listening for the sound.
Sometime in between the first blow and the moment Noll realized he was crumpled on his side, Belikov had escorted the couple out. He could still hear the fading click of Mrs. Steffen's heels on the concrete.
"Oliver" — kick— "Fucking" —kick— "Davis." James seethed, "You piece of shit."
Noll tried to remember to breathe but every hard-labored breath sending a jab of pain up his chest, through his ribs. Free from James' control, he felt relieved and regrettable. He laid in the strip of sunlight that stretched across the floor, catching the drops of blood splayed over the concrete. Was all that... his blood? The room was practically smothered in it. He stretched out a dirt covered hand, smearing one of those beads with his blackened fingertip.
James grabbed him by the hair, jerking him backward into a crude arch. "I should have killed you when I had the chance."
Noll scratched at his knuckles, twisting and turning; fighting. Every bone in his body screamed in protest, cracking and popping as he tottered backward. James suddenly pulled him to the floor, pressing the cold steel of the butcher's knife against Noll's laryngeal.
The bite of the blade only strengthened his resolve. "Just do it. Kill me already."
James glared at him, intent burning like fire behind his dark eyes. A smirk ate away at his lips and he laughed, loud and humorless, "No. That would be too easy," he said, then he released him, letting Noll fall brusquely to the floor.
"You're a smart boy, Davis ー at least they say you are," James mused. Noll held his breath, watching helplessly as James crossed the room in two quick strides. The butcher's knife glinted in the waning sun light as he sank down to his knees beside Mai. "Tell me: what is more painful than death?"
James watched him, expectant. Noll watched the knife, held steady in James' grip, sharp and dangerous. Mai mewed, nervous with its proximity to her pale skin.
Tentatively, Noll reached for their bond, all previous concerns forgotten. The link buzzed through his body from his fingertips to her ー but her thoughts were silent. He knocked, unable to force himself into her mind, but she hadn't opened the door. He growled under his breath. Now was not the time.
"Answer me, Davis," James snapped. He eyes Mai, tucking a lock of her loose brown hair behind her ear. She flinched away. "Don't make her hurt her."
James slid the blade the length of her bruised thigh.
"Life!" he croaked, speckling the back of his hand with blood. "Life is more painful."
James cocked an eyebrow, laughing. "Poetic, Davis. But incorrect."
With a flick of the wrist, he sliced a long incision over the soft stop of Mai's knee. She cried out, blood blossoming from the shallow cut. "It's love," James whispered. He ran the tip of his finger over Mai's trembling lips, forcing her to look at him. "Love is more painful than death."
Noll scrambled to his hands and knees, head spinning. "D-Don't touch her!"
He forced his body forward, inch by inch. He would stop James even if he had to crawl on his hands and knees. His ribs jabbed painfully into his lungs, He inched forward, but his body was done. There was nothing left in him. The weeks ー days ー hours of torture had finally caught up to him.
He collapsed to the floor, motionless.
Was this it? Was this all he had left? He'd fought so hard to stay sane, to keep his humanity despite everything they did to him. He refused to be broken… but it didn't matter. They couldn't break his mind, but they had broken his body. In the end, none of it mattered. He would die here in this concrete dungeon.
Why was this happening to him? To them? In the grand scheme of things, he had probably done something to deserve this. He'd always been told his specialness would get him into trouble, but Mai? She was only here because of him. An innocent bystander to his inevitable tragedy.
And James had his hands all over her.
Mai was crying, sobbing in between forced, sloppy kisses. She struggled to put distance between them, but James fisted her blouse, holding her close.
"Don't fight me, Mai," he growled, leading a trail of kisses down her neck.
Mai whimpered, "Ya-yamete…"
"Leave her alone!"
James tangled his free hand in Mai's hair, yanking her head back and exposing more of her collarbone. "Shut up," he said, tearing the collar of her shirt in two. The tattered cloth ripped easily, revealing a faded pink bra. James slid the knife over the fabric, chuckling, "Cute."
James' hand traveled over her hip and down under her skirt.
Mai cried, "Tasukete, N-Naru…"
Something primal snapped inside him.
"I said don't touch her!"
The small window suddenly bowed inward, shattering, showering James and Mai in tiny pieces of glass. The concrete building made a terrible sound, a cacophony of mental shrieks and groaning earth. Righteous fury drove him to his feet, the ground moving, quivering beneath him. As he stepped, the cement bucked, shallow cracks snaking in every direction. Every stride felt like a lifetime as he bested gravity and his smarting muscles.
When he reached James, he punched him. They made a mistake when they decided not to bind his hands, he thought, astonished by the gurgled sound James made when he whipped backward, smacking into the wall. He thought for a moment he had killed him, but the feeling was short lived.
James recovered before Noll had regained his balance, lashing out, knife first. The six inches of cool steel swished by his face, frighteningly close. Noll jerked back, but there was nowhere to go. His poorly thought out attack had landed him in-between Mai and James, wedged between Mai's warm body and James' boot clad feet.
"Naru…" Mai plead, pressing her shaking hands to his back. He still couldn't hear her thoughts, but through her hands he could feel her terror. It resonated within him, rocking him.
James rolled over, unable to get back to his feet. The cracks on the floor had ventured up the walls, spider webbing across the ceiling. It was going to collapse.
Mai, run, he thought as the wall beside them emitted a deep groaning. His own though bounced back at him. Was she shutting him out? …Or had he permanently severed their connection? Was that possible?
"Mai," he tried out loud, "run!"
He felt her press on his shoulders, moving behind him.
James had already made it to his feet. He thrust the knife wildly, grazing Noll's shoulder. It burned like hot coals, blood streaming from the deep gash, but Noll seized his chance. He lunged forward, colliding shoulder first with James.
They both tumbled to the floor, James pinned beneath him. Adrenaline pumped through Noll. He punched James hard in the cheek, satisfied with the gross crunching noise it made. James sagged, dazed. Noll pinned his arms to the floor, reaching for the knife ー it wasn't there.
Had he dropped it on the way down? Noll scurried back, searching. Where was it?
Noll jerked back, why was she still here? Hadn't he told her to run? "Maiー"
Mai was bleeding.
The breath caught in his lungs and for just a moment, the Earth had ceased to spin. Mai sat back on her heels, both hands wrapped loosely around the knife's plastic handle, blood seeping out from around it.
A bright, vibrant red.
For a second, he thought it was a trick. The angle was wrong ー his eyes were playing tricks on him. Mai was fine. But then she coughed, her abdomen spasming around the blade, and reality clicked.
How had this happened?
Mai whined, a soft sound, barely audible.
"Mai…" Noll breathed. He scuttled the few feet to her side, James forgotten. He touched her chin, hesitant, instinctively reached for the handle of the knife to pull it out.
"D-don't…" Mai squeaked, shaky, blood smeared hands pushing him away.
She sagged back against the wall, wheezing, blood dribbling over her lips. His vision blurred. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening. He still remembered what her mouth felt like against his. Soft yet firm, sweet with the lingering tang of the orange she'd had for breakfast. Mai wheezed violently, her eyelids fluttering.
Her lips quivered, but not sound came out.
This wasn't happening.
"Look what you've done!" James roared, yanking Noll up by the collar of his shirt.
He didn't struggle. Noll stared, captivated by the angelic look on Mai's face. Her head lulled to one side, her bangs shielding her eyes.
Was she… dead?
James threw him to the floor.
The sound of bone crunching filled his ears, but it didn't hurt. His whole body had gone numb and all he could see was Mai, blood soaking through her shirt, pooling in a shallow puddle between her legs.
She was dying. She was dead. He had killed her, too. How many people would die because of him?
James screamed, kicking him until all the air had been forced from Noll's lungs. He stomped on his chest, speaking Russian, but Noll couldn't hear it over the sound of the walls collapsing.