Chapter Five

Saturday, December, 12th, 2015

Sasha toppled into the motel room, one arm wound around her waist, the other connected to the doorknob she was using for support. Her knees wobbled beneath her, threatening to drop her on the unforgiving floor. Her axe fell heavily from her grasp onto the carpet. She slammed the door behind her before she gave in to the agony and let gravity crush her. Her newly bruised knees screamed…

No, that was her.

She kept her mouth shut the best she could and dragged herself toward the bathroom, Garrett’s license and newly crumpled wedding photo falling from her hand in the bedroom. Blood dripped behind her, leaving a trail, smeared by her pants. Even crawling was becoming impossible. She stripped herself of the mask she detested, throwing it onto the nightstand.

She would not die from this. In comparison to the cuts and bruises Sasha had acquired throughout her adolescence, when she was just throwing herself into the field, these were tame. They still stung like all holy hell. She would need to rap herself up to immobilize her broken ribs, and just hope that one had not punctured anything.

She was not looking forward to the evening she would be spending in the bathtub, icing herself. She dreaded it almost as much as the call she would have to send her father, telling him that she was out of commission for the next few days…weeks? She was not all that excited to tell him that she had failed again, if he even picked up.

He would never believe her. If he listened long enough to make it through the ghost that had knocked her off her feet, he would laugh in her face hearing about the superhuman healing abilities she had witnessed. A man who defied everything she knew as normal. What was he? How did he do it?

The door was open when Sasha finally found the bathroom. From there it was easy to start the tub with only frigid water and crawl in, fully clothed. She kept a roll of gauze, medical tape, and Ace bandages on the back of the toilet for situations such as this and she made use of them. Sparingly. Medical supplies were expensive. With today’s injuries, she was not sure when she would get back to work to get the money to afford them.

A collection of first aid equipment lined the rest of the room. Scissors. Needles. Thread.

The bath water ran crimson. She could not stomach looking at her ribs, already turning a deep purple. She lifted her shirt and pulled the bandages tight over herself, steeling herself against a wince. “Christ,” she grunted at the monstrosity.

Her mind wandered elsewhere while she worked. The image of the beast’s injuries closing up of their own accord played in her head over and over again. Such an ability would be useful, but it was impossible. There had to be an explanation for what Sasha had seen that made sense.

Above all, she hoped it was not a result of her own delusion. She was not crazy; she could not be crazy. But she doubted it was the dark playing tricks on her…

She would find him again. Once she was healed enough to stand a chance, she would track him down with that driver’s license and she would make sure that he suffered tenfold for every bruise on her body. She would only need to wait a few days to exact that revenge. For now, she needed rest.

Her eyes slid shut. The night’s excursions had taken a hefty toll and she fell, unwittingly, into sleep.

There was no pain in unconsciousness, a feeling she relished for as long as she could. There was no thought. No questions of the inhuman acts lingered, or thoughts of the dangers of lying in a full bathtub. When she slipped into the waters, it was only a relief. Comfort unlike anything she had ever encountered washed over her, filling her eyes, her mouth, her nostrils.

Poppy…

The coherent thought was unwelcome. Weak, she kept her eyes closed, shunning the light and the outside world.

Not again…

Sasha groaned. It was difficult to piece back together where she was and how she had gotten there. The dark had not yet lifted.

The vaguely familiar voice spoke up again. “Please, wake up, baby.”

Garrett Daniels sat crouched on the bathtub rug beside her. Sometime between her falling asleep in the tub and waking, she had ended up stretched out in his lap. He retained that look of unabashed concern, but this time she could feel his breath on her face.

Sasha screamed.

Garrett had the decency to back away, albeit because he was shocked into falling onto the floor. She fell, too. Her arm bent at an unnatural angle as it caught her on the floor and her soaked bandages fell away.

Sasha was still screaming, much to his apparent dismay. Despite her weakened limbs, she crawled back, landing a useless kick to the side of his jaw. She debated whether he felt it at all.

“Baby, baby, baby, shhh,” he hissed, stroking her face.

Recoiling from his touch made her stiffen. Every muscle, bruise, and cut about her body protested with a vengeance. “Stop touching me!”

“Baby, it’s me! I’m so sorry for—”

“Stop calling me that!”

Despite her frantic orders, he continued to stroke her hair and face, pulling her closer to him. Every slight movement was torture for her beaten body. “I didn’t know it was you, I swear.”

The screaming was wearing on her throat. “How…how did you get in here?”

“Just when you found me,” he added, “I wasn’t expecting you. I’m just so glad to see you.” He held her face between both of his hands, keeping her pinned in place. A smile spread across his face. Tears welled in his eyes. Giving her no warning at all, he yanked her face closer, smashing his lips against hers.

She sank her teeth into the bottom lip assaulting her, drawing blood that only she seemed to be able to taste. He did not acknowledge it.

It was not until he was spent that she was able to reclaim her face. He kept her within his grasp, smiling at her like she had not just tried to fight him. The taste of his bloody lip loitered on her tongue.

He hugged her, ignoring her obviously injured ribs. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

Her vocal protest shocked him from his romance. The swift kick Sasha sent to his groin sent them both sailing to the floor. Flattened against the cold tiles was far better than his embrace.

He swore under his breath. “Why did you do that?”

“You should not be here!”

He looked to be confused. “I should be wherever you are. Wasn’t that the deal?”

“There is no deal,” she growled, pushing herself away with her feet. “This is breaking and entering and if I cannot kill you, I will have you arrested.”

She could not call the police, they would take her away before she could get a word in about her stalker. She was supposed to be lying low. This guy was making it very difficult.

He chuckled. “I think they’ll understand.”

“Understand what? This is illegal!” He matched her movements backward, getting too close again.

He reached for her face. “I don’t think they’ll see me as much of a threat for visiting my wife, Pop. I’m not all that worried about it.”

Her eyebrows knit together. “What did you just call me?”

“You sound different.”

“I asked you a question. Did you just call me your—”

He caressed her face with his own. Sasha could have sworn he was inhaling deeper… smelling her? “I’m liking that accent you’re doing, Poppy, it’s sexy. Where’d it come from?”

“You will stop calling me that.” She pushed away as hard as she could, but it was not enough. The ache in her chest got worse. She wanted to make him pay for her ribs. Now, she swore she would make him pay for kissing her against her will. She would kill him.

“Sexy? I could stop but I’d be lying.”

“Get off!” Sasha snapped at him with her teeth. This gave him pause.

The two of them stared in silence. There was no way she would be able to fight him when it came down to it. She was reluctant to speak, though every fiber of her being begged her to taunt him. To hurt him. To end him.

“Where did you go?”

The voice was so soft and so unlike all that she had heard from him thus far that, had she not been watching his lips move, she would not have believed he was the one who had spoken. His voice cracked.

It made her angry. Did he not have a brain? Why would he ask such stupid questions?

“Go?” Sasha snapped. “I didn’t go anywhere. This is my apartment. You’re the one who needs to go.” She searched for a way out, but he was between her and the door.

“You have every right to be angry with me. I caused you so much pain. You have no idea how much I regret—”

She looked down at herself pointedly. “Your regret doesn’t fix my ribs. Leave.”

“But you’re back now. And now I can have my second chance! I’ve been praying for so long, baby, and he finally answered me.”

“Is this some kind of pick-up line?”

He laughed and forced another kiss on her lips. Her hands bounced off his chest. “Don’t touch me,” she said, voice muffled.

He pulled away from her for a second to breathe. “What’s the matter, Pop?” He returned to assaulting her with his tongue.

“My name is not Pop!”

He smiled against her face. “You always liked when I called you Pop.”

“I do not know who you are talking about! I do not know you.”

Garrett stopped his efforts at seduction and grabbed her face in one of his beefy hands. He studied her intently. “Yes you do,” he finally insisted. “I’m your husband.”

“I have never seen you before today! I am not your wife. Get out of here!”

He smiled. “There’s no way it isn’t you. You cut your hair, clearly, but the rest of you is all the same. Exactly the same.”

“My name is not Pop, or Poppy, or baby, or kitten, or whatever the hell you called me. I do not know you.”

His face dropped the slightest bit. “Do you really not remember?”

“Believe me,” Sasha said, “there’s no way I would forget a freak like you!”

He visibly deflated. “Freak?”

“You are right,” she bit back, “maybe freak is not the right word. You are a monster! A god damn monster!”

He never took his eyes off her face. “What’s wrong with you? You’re not acting like yourself.”

She laughed; it was the cruelest sound Sasha could find in herself, given her own pathetic state. It did its job well. “Apparently a stupid monster at that! I am not your wife! Maybe you should go looking for her somewhere else! Unless she ran away from you, too—”

Her head snapped to the side, the same unseen force having struck her. If his arms were not wound so tightly around her slight figure, Sasha would have been sent back to the floor. She tasted blood again.

“Better?”

Her eyes narrowed to slits. “How are you doing that?”

“We’ve been through this before.”

Perhaps it would be beneficial to humor the delusion. “Indulge me.”

“My powers. I’m sure you remember.”

She shook her head, if only to collect her jumbled thoughts. “How could I forget?” Crazy? I’ve seen it. He’s definitely out of his mind, but how can I possibly ignore this?

Hope rose on his face again. “Is it coming back?”

“Oh, of course,” Sasha insisted, batting her lashes theatrically, like she had done many times on assignments. To look normal. “Poppy. Say it again.”

While he repeated the foreign word, her eyes flickered around the room, looking for something that could be used as a weapon. She hid her gasp at the sight, returning her gaze to the beast. She lit her face up with a smile as blinding as his. “Yes, I think it’s starting to come back!”

“Thank God,” he yelled, embracing her tighter.

She did not have to fake the pained groan that escaped her. “Baby, baby, baby, take it easy,” she pleaded, holding herself. “You did a real number on me earlier.”

He looked her over, eyeing the maimed skin of her abdomen when he lifted her sweater up the slightest bit. Even he made a face, wincing like the pain was his own. “I’m so sorry for that. I didn’t know it was you! It was impossible. I thought it was impossible.”

“It is alright, sweetheart. Please, just help me up.”

He did as he was told, placing Sasha delicately on the edge of the tub. “Thank you,” she said gently.

He kissed her cheek and forehead. “Why didn’t you go to the hospital?”

“Unnecessary,” was all Sasha said.

“You look like you need it.”

“No,” she shook her head. She reached for the metal shelves hanging from the shower head. “No, I’m fine. Watch, I’ll stand.” She closed her fist around the lowest shelf.

“Please, let me help,” he begged, moving to grab her.

“No, please, sweetheart, I can do it myself.”

Sasha tore the shelving unit from its place above them, throwing the heavy material into his face. Her scream of pain was drowned out by his when his face opened up into numerous gaping gouges. Blood poured down his cheeks and neck like a liquid mask, hiding him. He fell back, far away from her, clawing at what had once been the skin of his face.

The instant she could force her body into motion, she grabbed for the shower rod, pulling one end from the wall it was installed in. Tile rained down onto the floor but the other end did not free itself from its home, even when she yanked it toward his weak body. Sasha plunged the rod through Garrett’s chest, pinning him to the wall. He screamed in protest, grabbing for the pole penetrating his body, but it was to no avail.

She had finally beaten him.

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