Location Unknown; June 27th, 2012
Don’t put me back in the tub. Don’t put me back in the tub. Don’t put me back in the tub.
The words replayed themselves in her head, over and over again, but she could only rock herself quietly while she shook the water from her hair. It hadn’t been the first time she’d been returned to her lonely cell after another session in that terrible room. The evil woman who’d dragged her underwater the first time, and every time thereafter, had been gone for the last few sessions, but Janie hadn’t been reprieved when there were so many ready volunteers to take her place.
She never cried. She’d been in this cold prison long enough to realize that tears did no good and she couldn’t afford to waste the limited water she was given. After enough time, Janie eventually lost the need for the pathetic process. Now, when she suffered through nightmares of drowning, she only screamed when she woke, and tried to ignore the pain.
Janie was aware that her stay with the assassin and her team had been extended indefinitely, but she didn’t know how long it had been since she’d last seen sunlight. Each minute, hour, and day blended seamlessly into the next since she did nothing but lie on the frigid concrete and nurse the leg she knew was broken at the shin. Long ago, it seemed like forever she‘d lain there, the woman had broken it in one of their sessions; the bone protruding from her skin made any movement she dared another fresh, crippling dagger to her abused flesh.
The infection that followed from her deplorable conditions had been serious enough that a doctor was brought in to help her, but the sessions had begun with a new passion shortly after. Unfortunately, the doctor had been hired only to take care of the infection, and the leg had been left to heal in all the wrong ways. She couldn’t have hoped to stand on it the way it was, let alone try to escape again.
Janie had begun estimating how long she’d been locked down there by the feel of her scarring skin and the growth of hair on her legs. Her wonderful hair, braided to her waist when she’d first arrived, fell below her hips in wild disarray around her horrendously filthy face. The face in question was pressed completely to the floor. Sweat, polluted water, and blood mingled on her emaciated face, outlining her newly concave cheeks. Her once glowing Texas tan was ghostly pale now and brown hair sprouted from her legs like a man’s, pushing through the thin material of her leggings; she could guess that she’d been there for a few months at least. There seemed to be no end in sight.
She felt nothing now, since she’d resigned herself to the realization that she would die there, whether from starvation, drowning, or a particularly cruel blow to the head. The picture she hid was pressed into her flat chest, burning a hole through her skin whenever her interrogator demanded it. She would have given the picture, and the location of the others, if only to bring an end to the infinite suffering, but she’d developed such a deeply rooted resentment of the people holding her captive that she would rather die slowly from starvation than give them the satisfaction.
Her tongue found the abyss in her mouth where she’d recently lost two teeth from a particularly violent encounter with her captor. The total was nearing five now that she’d lost and another two that had chipped and cut up her mouth. Nevertheless, she lived through each day with just enough slop to keep the breath in her body and just enough will to keep swallowing it. She consoled herself with the knowledge that she was losing weight fast.
She wouldn’t be going on very much longer, whether she wanted to or not. Under her shirt, she could feel her ribs pressing out from the rest of her, her breasts having flattened almost entirely, and between her hips the skin sloped inward. The athletic legs she’d once prided herself on back home were crippled and void of all the strength she could have possibly mustered. She was a shadow of her former self, nothing more.
Don’t put me back in the tub. Don’t put me back in the tub. Don’t put me back in the tub.
Sighing, she rolled closer to the corner of the room, wishing that if she could flatten herself against the wall, she would disappear completely into the darkness. A low hiss echoed through the cell from betwixt her teeth as her leg protested and she collapsed against the ground again. A growl of frustration fell into a tearless sob before she bit her lip to silence it. She didn’t know where the blonde assassin skulked around most of the time, but Janie knew that the woman enjoyed the sound of her cries. The last time she’d heard the captive wallowing in self pity, the older woman had dragged her out of the cell by her hair for another hour in the ‘pool.’ She’d never cried again, even when she felt like her leg was being crushed beneath a steady stream of traffic.
The scraping of metal on metal made Janie scream and reel backward as she pulled herself toward the wall with her hands. Her crippled leg dragged behind her despite the pain. She caught her mistake immediately and threw her hand over her gaping mouth. Her other hand wrapped tenderly around the back of her knee, daintily propping it up to alleviate some of the pain, to no avail, and waited for the invisible force in the dark that would inevitably pull her up and drag her away. Shockingly, the muffled cry filling the room from the shadow obstructing the light in the doorway suggested otherwise. Still, Janie didn’t permit herself to make a sound. A loud thump followed shortly after, and she made out the faintest outline of something writhing on the floor.
She watched whatever it was for another few minutes, as far from it as she could manage, until it finally emitted a bitter snap. “Son of a bitch!” a masculine voice finally screamed, throwing away what could have only been rope; a thin, frayed piece slapped her in the face. Slowly, the figure staggered into a standing position and pulled something from the pocket of his pants. A dull glow flooded up into the face of the newest addition to the cave in an orange halo, blinding her for a short moment. When her eyes finally adjusted to the change, she saw him.
Her first taste of human contact, other than the beatings from people she wasn’t able to see, was a beautiful specimen. He was, perhaps, one of the tallest men she’d ever seen with an average, if not slightly above average, muscular physique. He was dressed well in a classic, black suit, complete with tie, and his brown hair was slicked back neatly with gel to showcase his chiseled face. His eyes were crazed, darting around the room with secret calculation as he surveyed his new surroundings, ready at a second’s notice to pounce. Janie was positive he couldn’t see her.
“Petrov!” the man snarled, scowling furiously at the door. “Kidnapping? I always thought petty theft was beneath you! Where are those morals now?” He waited for a moment, but when he received no answer, he kicked the door and cursed again. Exhaling deeply, he continued a bit softer, this time to himself, “I will get out of here, Petrov, and when I do, I’m gonna kill you.”
The door swung open, hitting the man in the face with a force that should have broken his jaw, and sent him flying into the opposite wall. The orange light fell to the floor, rolling toward the door and the woman’s foot, where it was crushed beneath her expensive-looking shoes. Then, it was merely a glowing liquid on the cement. “I would not sound so sure of myself if I were you,” she laughed. “After all, I am not the one in a cage; you are. I could kill you now if I had a wish to, Taran, but I have something better in mind.”
Janie couldn’t see it when the man, Taran, threw himself at the door, recovering so quickly from his recent head trauma that he had to be superhuman. The sound of a gunshot and a low grunt of pain, however, were difficult to miss. The dull flash of the gun illuminated the scene for the amount of time it took for the bullet to leave the gun and hit home in Taran’s chest, just below the collarbone, and throw him to the ground. Janie suppressed another scream while she shook against the cement wall.
“Pathetic, Taran,” Petrov tsked, shaking her head, “just like I remember.” Then, without another word, she slammed the door behind her, plunging them back into the pitch black, without even help from the glow stick.
The silence stretched on with only his staggered breathing and pained moans occasionally breaking it. Janie didn’t speak to the other prisoner for fear that he would disappear if she acknowledged him. She didn’t dare breathe too loudly.
“Stupid,” her companion whispered breathlessly to himself as he snarled through another wave of agony. “So stupid.”
Knowing that there was absolutely nothing she could do for him, she deadpanned, “You won’t die.” She cleared the hoarseness in her throat from lack of use. “She’ll want to keep you around.”
The gasping halted for a long moment. “Who said that?” the voice inquired evenly. His suit crinkled when he tried to reach his feet.
“Don’t get up!” she pleaded.
“I asked you a question!” he demanded, though his attempt to stand seemed to end. “Who are you?”
“My name is Janie; I swear to God, I was kidnapped, too!” she insisted, hoping this would silence his outburst before the woman came to investigate.
He breathed a long sigh of relief. “Thank God. Can you give me a hand with this?”
She gulped and tried unsuccessfully to move. “I can’t move,” she confessed, “my leg is broken.”
There was a crack and another glow stick sprung to life. At first he held it up in the air while he lay on his back, trying to get a better look at Janie’s face. After his first inspection proved nothing miraculous, if only for the amount of dirt smeared across her face, he held it before the bullet wound. “And you wouldn’t happen to have any peroxide on you?” he wondered aloud, chuckling to himself.
She rolled her eyes. “Nah, sorry. You’ll be sticking it out until she doesn’t need you around anymore.”
He gave a kind of grunt in agreement. “How long have you been in here?”
She shrugged, knowing he couldn’t see her. “I have no idea. What month is it?”
“June,” he answered reflexively, pushing his fingers into his shoulder to remove the bullet.
She gasped, staring at the bloody mess soaking through his white dress shirt. “That’s gonna get infected! Stop it!”
“It’ll get infected if I don’t,” he snapped, pulling the offending scrap of metal free. “That bitch!” he mumbled to himself, staring at the bullet between his thumb and forefinger. “Just an inch lower—” he shook his head in mock amusement. “She’s losing her touch; didn’t even lose movement like last time.”
“She knew exactly what she was doing,” Janie whispered. “She always does.”
He seemed unmoved by her palpable fear of Natalia Petrov, the assassin who’d been trying to catch him for years. She was slippery, yes, he could admit to that, but, in talent, she wasn’t nearly as skilled as others he’d met. As a fighter, she’d lost to him many times, but she’d always slipped away by the skin of her teeth. Then, their dance had begun anew. He snorted.
Janie’s eyes narrowed infinitesimally from behind the wet hair hanging in her face, “Something funny?”
“You shouldn’t be so impressed, miss,” he chuckled smugly, unfazed by her sudden venom. “I’ve been beating her in hand to hand for years now. She’s not as good at what she does as you think.”
Janie suddenly wanted to laugh, really loudly, but she resisted. “Then why are you here?” she snapped with dark humor evident in her voice.
Taran held his breath, biting his tongue so hard he tasted blood. “I was…distracted. Otherwise, Natalia,” he spat like a curse, “wouldn’t have had a chance.”
“If you say so,” she rolled her eyes. “How do you know her?”
He didn’t look highly upon a long discussion of their intertwining dark pasts. His face crinkled in distaste. “I guess you could call her a coworker of sorts.”
“Some work you must do together. Do you torture terrorists, bad men, and murderers? Or is it just me? Or do you only partake in the robberies?”
His face pinched, eyes staring down at the wound in his chest in disgust while he, absentmindedly, tore the hem of his suit jacket, looking for any reason not to answer. As he wrapped it tightly around his injured flesh, stopping the flow of blood, he mumbled, “You didn’t answer me.”
“About what?” she whispered, rolling onto her side in an attempt to alleviate the pain in her leg.
“How long have you been here?” he repeated politely, though he genuinely didn’t care much for the rude child.
She did the math quickly on her fingers. “Six months.”
He felt no sympathy, but he put on a brave face for the girl who couldn’t have been any older than thirteen. He estimated by the shape of her body that she had to be pre-pubescent. “Your parents must miss you,” he winced, realizing immediately that it was definitely not the best thing he could have said to a captive child.
“I moved out three years ago,” she confessed. “I hope they don’t miss me too much.”
“Moved out?” he questioned. “Why?”
“College,” she closed her eyes.
Taran began to rethink his assumption. “How old are you?”
“I guess twenty-one now. My birthday was in April,” she shrugged, immediately regretting it when her weakened bones cracked.
“Twenty-one!” he gasped. “You’re so small!” He sat up, with a small amount of difficulty, and crawled closer to her, placing his back against the wall beside her head.
“I don’t know when they feed me, but it’s not much,” she explained, her voice breaking with her effort to sit up.
“Don’t move,” he ordered. “You said your leg was broken?” She nodded. “Let me look at it.” As he moved to the other side of her body, his pant leg landed in something cold under her body. Before he made to move again, he resolved that he would kill her himself if it was piss. “Why are you all wet?”
She visibly flinched, even in the dark. “You don’t need to know what they do to me, here,” she said.
That was all she said on the matter.
A bit perturbed by her disagreeable remarks, he ignored her for a moment and focused on her leg instead. Taran was accustomed to disgusting injuries when on missions, but even he had to give a shudder at the state of her shin. The skin had grown over it in a bulbous, shiny scar, but the bone was clearly split, the bottom half pointing out over the top. He was surprised she could feel the leg at all in the state it was in. It would be a grueling process to fix it, and she would most likely never regain full use, but he wished to help her in any way he could. As unskilled as she was, he was fully aware of how malicious Natalia Petrov could be.
“Hey kid?” he murmured.
“Ya?” she mumbled, too exhausted to even ask him not to call her that.
“Why are you here?” he asked, thinking over ways that he could lessen her pain. Ordinarily, he would have knocked out whatever friend he was helping, but, given how thin the girl was, such a blow to the head could kill her.
“I caught that…Natalia…on camera after she robbed the British museum,” Janie explained, drawing a heart into the dust with her index finger.
“Hm…consider yourself lucky. Anyone in her place should have killed you.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind of that. Except, I still have the pictures. I hid them,” she grimaced unkindly. She hadn’t smiled genuinely since before her captivity and didn’t expect to ever again.
“And you don’t want to die? Even after being with Natalia for so long?” he inquired, prodding her skin while she hissed with each painful touch.
“I think it’s more that I just don’t want her to have them,” she amended quickly.
“She’ll make you suffer,” he warned, tearing the leg of her tights at the knee to prevent the fabric from sticking to the dried blood painting her shin.
“Believe me…Taran, was it?…I’ve been suffering every day since I got here.”
“What did you say your name was?” he inquired after a moment of mentally piecing together her face under the thick layer of grime. He suspected she could have been beautiful at one time, before Natalia’s malice had ruined her. He enjoyed her attitude about her situation and her own martyrdom.
“Janie,” she informed him.
“Well, Janie,” he admitted, “your leg is going to need to be re-broken if you ever want to walk again. I can do it now if you want me to.”
Her eyes shot open with panic. “Is it going to hurt?”
“Yes,” he answered without missing a beat, positioning his hands where he would need to push the bone back into place.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” she whimpered, flailing her arms around for something to hold on to.
“I saw worse as a Marine in Iraq for two years and I have a basic medical training. Besides, I’ve done it a few times,” he vowed, letting his eyes meet hers in the dim orange light, willing her to trust him.
Biting her lip, she nodded reluctantly.
Her bloodcurdling scream echoed off the walls, but Taran could expect no less as he broke her leg and attempted to fit the bone back to where it should be, binding it tightly with his belt and shoe so it would remain flat. He couldn’t tell if Janie was still conscious, her eyes heavy-lidded but glazed over, and the top half of her body was turned to the side. Her abdomen heaved with useless thrusts from the otherworldly pain, but there was obviously nothing in her stomach to expel. She didn’t seem to be aware of his arms sliding around her slim body, wrapping the suit jacket he’d stripped himself of around her shoulders while he rocked her to sleep.