Chapter Six

Saturday, December, 12th, 2015

Sasha’s eyes roved over prisoner while she attempted to catch her breath. She admired her work, but the look on Daniels’ face unnerved her. She would have understood his anger at being outsmarted and outmatched, but he did not seem to possess the ability to turn a scowl on her. His eyes were glassy, awaiting tears, and his lip quivered. She turned away in disgust.

“Poppy,” he beseeched. His voice cracked.

She hissed back, “That is not my name.” Sasha leaned in close, brushing against his ear with her nose as she turned on the faucet, allowing the frigid water to spring free. He shifted uneasily beneath her.

“This is how it is going to go, my friend,” Sasha ordered sternly, biting the lobe of his ear. “I am going to ask you questions, and you are going to answer them truthfully, or I will drown you. Do you think you can remember that?”

“Please, let me out. I’ll tell you anything—”

She rolled her eyes and reared back her hand. She struck him across the cheek as hard as she could, but it only served to sting her own hand. Sasha bit her lip to mask the pain on her face; she could not allow him to see. “I will ask you one more time. Do you think you can remember that?”

Garrett’s heartsick eyes seized the opportunity to ogle her. “What happened to your scar?”

“What?”

He awkwardly tapped her hairline, just above her eye. “There should be a scar there. Why isn’t there a scar there?”

Exasperated, Sasha stretched her fingers as they rapidly turned red. “Do I have to ask you again, Daniels?”

He shook his head. “I understand.”

“Good,” she proclaimed, chipper façade firmly in place. As the water climbed higher in the tub, she entwined her fingers in his hair, yanking him toward the surface. He grunted as his hair was pulled, but put up no resistance while his body was indisposed by the shower rod. “And if you think about kicking me,” Sasha annunciated, cruelty making her accent thick, “I will show you just how badly I can maim you and keep you breathing.”

Garrett nodded.

“Now, why have you been looking for me, Mr. Daniels?” she inquired politely.

“You already know why.”

His head had been shoved into the tub before he could even spit the entire word out. Unable to catch a breath before he was plunged into the cold, Garrett floundered to no avail. His legs flailed, eventually leading to the kicking he had been warned against. His sneaker connected with Sasha’s hard abdominal muscles, but she was unyielding, keeping Garrett from moving an inch under the water. Her ribs ached in protest and she lost the ability to breathe for a moment. He had made a huge mistake.

Sasha grabbed for the pair of scissors she kept near the tub to assist with her stitches. She shoved the business end as far into his calf as she could reach, spilling warm blood over both of them. Unable to scream and unable to move, Garrett squirmed, inhaling water. He coughed, releasing a torrent of bubbles up to meet her. Still, she held him tightly beneath the surface, allowing his body to go slack. The bubbles stopped coming.

His head was dragged out of the tub. Vomit streamed into the water. His flesh healed around the blades of the scissors.

“That…was not a good idea,” Sasha scolded like a parent to a child. “Now, I want no lies! Tell me why you were looking for me!”

Through Garrett’s heaving, he pleaded, “Don’t put…me back…in the tub.”

She pulled his head back to look him in the eye. “Are you going to cooperate?”

Garrett nodded once. Sasha glanced at her captive’s face for less than a second. That lovelorn look was back, taking the place of what should have been rage. What was wrong with him? She split his lip with her fist before forcing him back into the icy depths.

Shaking with hysteria, he gasped for a breath and wailed over and over again when his face was brought to the surface, “Don’t put me back in the tub!”

“Someone sent you, did they not?”

He gasped heavily.

“Tell me!”

Wordlessly, he shook his head.

Clearly, the negative reinforcement was not working. Sasha smiled. On the strong of will, it hardly ever worked at first, but she was a patient person. She could wait.

“Tell me what I want to know and I will give you something to eat,” Sasha promised sweetly.

Garrett licked the droplets of blood and water away from his healing bottom lip, but gave no answer. His whole body stiffened, bracing itself to be submerged again. True to her word, Sasha pushed him under a third time. “What exactly is the problem, Mr. Daniels? Don’t you like me anymore? Don’t you want to talk to me?”

Garrett kept silent.

“Is your own welfare not motivation enough? Would you be willing to assist me if I told you I could track down your parents? Would you condemn them to this so that you could retain your martyrdom?” she snapped.

“Parents?”

“Ah, he speaks!” Sasha cheered, moving to sit on the edge of the tub. “That is funny. Usually I cannot get you to shut up. My baby, my wife, my Poppy.”

Garrett scowled weakly at her. “My parents are dead.”

She was unmoved. “Tell me why you are following me. Why me?”

Garrett stared into Sasha’s face for a long time. Eventually, he said, “You’re my wife. You don’t remember but you’re—” He was under again.

As Sasha felt the fight in Garrett begin to wane, she yanked him back up. “It is becoming difficult to tell whether you are a liar, or just out of your mind.”

Garrett shook his head. The water from his lungs, along with everything he had last eaten, erupted from his throat, spilling across the floor. Sasha rolled her eyes but did not move, even when the nude chunks reached her shoes. “Feeling better?”

He took advantage of the air while he had the chance. “Proof—I can prove it.”

Sasha’s face betrayed her intrigue. “How?”

“The picture. You took it. My wedding photo. It’s in my back pocket.”

How could she forget?

Sasha was not at all reluctant to reach into his pocket; she groped for the photo she knew well. Seeing her face reflected back at her, happy and beautiful and veiled in white, she could not believe that it was the same person.

“Is this a trick?” she demanded, halfway between frozen in time and ready to drown him. She stared at the water, but did not move to throw him in.

Garrett shook his head, sending droplets of water in every direction.

Sasha crushed the picture in her hand. “No! Give it back! I need it,” he gasped, reaching for it to no avail. “Please.”

She dropped the worn paper on the bathroom floor, tainting it with the water Garrett had thrown earlier. She did not look back as she stood and practically ran from the room. He cried after her, calling that false name. Poppy. Poppy. Poppy.

As she passed her bed, she grabbed for the cell phone she had left behind on the nightstand and swept through the door of the motel room, slamming it behind her. She did not care about the noise. She did not care about her neighbors. She just needed a moment of silence, and Garrett was not going to allow it.

“It does not make sense,” she muttered to herself, striding into the sparsely occupied parking lot.

She kicked at stones, wishing she could find some kind of explanation in them.

Sasha opened her cell phone, dialing the familiar number of her father. With each ring, her voice grew more desperate. There was no voicemail, only a beep to signify his recurring rejection.

“Damn.”

She wanted to throw the phone. She did not. She wanted to drive her axe through someone’s back. She did not. All that she managed to do was pull at her hair and scream.

When she was spent, she looked around the parking lot, only to find that she was not alone. A child, no older than four, stood by the sidewalk, watching her. The girl’s face was pinched into a scowl.

“What are you looking at?” Sasha demanded.

The girl said nothing.

“Go back to your parents. It is not safe here.”

The girl said nothing.

“Suit yourself.”

The child’s eyes, Sasha could swear they glowed yellow, remained fixed on her. It had to be the amber of the old lamp in her window shining off of them. She could think of no other reason why such an unnatural look would be held in those eyes. She squinted after the girl and took a few unconscious steps forward.

“What are you doing here?” she inquired calmly, approaching her like a rapid animal.

The girl took a step back, into the street. Without a word, she broke their gaze and crossed to the opposite sidewalk. Sasha lost sight of her around the next corner.

This was a strange place. Sasha had never had to worry about men with superpowers and strange, yellow-eyed children skulking around outside when she lived in her apartment in South Plainfield. She never had to worry about anything then. Those were the times when she was the most terrifying being to walk the streets of New Jersey, the United States, and anywhere else she dared to go.

Sasha wondered what had become of her beloved home. Her lip curled into a snarl. The night it was taken from her was still fresh in her mind.

 

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

She held her tongue, bracing herself for another slap.

“—absolutely the most moronic thing you have ever done!”

Sasha bowed her head in shame, tightening her death grip on the envelope between her hands. She had been standing in the foyer of her father’s home for a half hour, suffering the endless rail of insults at his hands. For the last twenty minutes, she had ceased apologizing and no longer knew what to say.

There was nothing she could say. This was definitely the most moronic thing she had ever done. And she knew it. While she did not enjoy the torment he threw at her, she was perfectly aware that she deserved every second of it.

A growl from across the room stole Sasha’s attention. She barely looked up, only to meet the sight of Summit’s hand, momentarily staying his newest pet.

Canis stared her down, halting in his prowl toward her. His lips were curled away from his teeth in a snarl. Even as he set his sights on her for attack, Sasha admired the beast. He was a flawless wolf, perfectly grey and unnaturally tall with white fangs. He did not take his black eyes off of her.

“Why would you take off your mask, Sasha?” the older man growled through his thick accent, stalking back and forth. “Heel, Canis! What in God’s name made you think that you should be so arrogant?”

She said nothing. Canis stalked backward, resting on his haunches.

“Answer me!”

She still had no way of defending herself and the scolding was bringing her to the point of emotion, something she had been instructed to never show. It would only bring another torrent of vicious criticism if he saw it, so she kept quiet.

“Sasha, you do as you are told!” he continued. She heard, rather than felt, the slap he delivered to her cheek. The sting set in soon after but it was nothing in comparison to the rush of heat the blood rising in her cheeks made. Humiliation. Full, unbridled humiliation. It was not often she had the displeasure of suffering through it, but it was a feeling she had never really forgotten. It filled her entire being.

Then, there was no sound at all. Just the growl bubbling up in the wolf’s chest.

He whispered, “You do as you are told.”

Sasha bit her lip. Traitor moisture surfaced in her eyes, but there was no way she was going to let him see. Not now. Not after that. Her body suddenly felt heavy, the weight of the world dragging her down by the shoulders. Despite all of her effort, her voice shook with her quivering lip. “I…I have become careless. My pride influenced my judgment and my judgment was…wrong.”

He ripped the envelope from her hands, leaving long paper cuts behind. “You’re damn right it was.” His withering face was as red as hers and his lips were pursed, like he wanted to spit on her. He stared at Sasha for a long moment, his eyes burning her, but she still did not look up. He turned his back on her and started towards the stairs across the room. “Go home, Sasha.”

She had only cried once in view of her father. She was five, she was tired, and she was hungry, but it did not matter. Not to him, and not to her tutor. It was her first lesson in hand to hand combat, as well as her third day in a row being kept awake against her will. To top it all off, she had not eaten since breakfast the previous day. Still, they expected perfection. They had always expected perfection.

The young adult man shoved her back into a fighting stance for what must have been the tenth time, pulling at her arms and legs until they were in the position he desired. Summit was seated across the room, arms folded over his crossed knee, while he waited for the dance to begin again. Sasha had held her hands up, blocking her face from the strikes that would soon be raining down on her. It did not do much good when he announced the word she had quickly learned to dread. “Begin.”

Exhaustion had taken its toll; she was too slow. Two punches were all it took to beat her hands away from their place before her. The third stunned her, sending her young, thin legs a step backward. The fourth knocked her on her back on the hard, uncovered floor. Still, the strikes did not stop.

“Stop,” she had ordered, having learned from a young age that her word held much sway in the household. The staff had always feared and did whatever she said. This man, on the other hand, did not hesitate.

“Make me stop, Sasha.”

The punches were raining down harder than Sasha could see them. Even when she tried, his strength was too great, his motions too fast. “I can’t.”

“Can’t?” he had demanded, kicking her in the side.

She shrieked, curling into herself. Tears streamed down her face, born of her combined anger and desperation. Her small, childish body shook with her sobs. If not for the slam of the door, she would not have noticed Summit leave in disgust.

Standing behind him now, her head jerked up. She silently begged that she had simply heard him wrong. “But, sir—” she called, following him.

Summit Freeman stopped in his tracks and spun to face her, finger pointed accusingly into her chest.

“No!” he snarled, moving in so she would stumble backward. “Not now. What you’ve done has completely undermined our entire way of life. You have wasted every worthless moment I spent shaping you into a champion. You are an embarrassment to yourself and to me and I want you to leave.”

Canis responded to Summit’s tone by growling. The fury in his face made Sasha uneasy. Where had Summit found a wolf so big?

She shook herself free of the dismay sitting in her stomach. She should have been used to it by this point in her life. “But, sir, what does this mean for me?”

Summit was silent. She knew immediately that whatever followed this did not bode well for her, but she continued to wait for his answer. She counted the seconds they sat in silence.

1…2…3…

But it was not until she passed thirty that his laughter began. At first, it was merely a chuckle, but it built up to an inappropriately boisterous cry.

“For you?” he gasped.

She did not dignify his question with an answer.  Her body tensed, readying itself for the fight she would have started if it was anyone else. Her mind told her differently. She stayed perfectly still.

“For you?” he said as he calmed down. “For you. Sasha, until everyone in this world has completely forgotten your face, you are useless to me.”

It stung. His words created a physical pain in her that the earlier slap had no way of surpassing. Useless? No one had ever called her useless before. And no one but Summit would have gotten away with saying it, alive.

Sasha clenched her jaw. “With all due respect, sir, I disagree. I’m just as useful now as I was yesterday. I just have to be more careful.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Until further notice, you are to stay away. You will receive no missions. You will not communicate with anyone. You will not have an apartment. You will be completely alone. Is that completely understood?”

“Sir, where am I supposed to go?”

“What?”

Sasha gulped. “Am I to live here?”

“No! I said you were to stay away,” he snapped.

“Where will I go if not my apartment?”

“That is none of my concern. You will be alone. Is that completely understood?” he spat.

She chewed the inside of her mouth until she could taste the blood. “Yes, sir. Completely understood.”

“Good. Get out of my sight.”

She could not move, the weight on her shoulders was too great. She could only watch the floor, hoping vainly that it would swallow her whole. Her father, her boss, the only one in the world who recognized her existence was through with her. Would he ever change his mind? Would she ever be useful, again?

Summit turned his dark eyes on her once again. “Why are you still standing there you worthless girl? Go! Get out!”

Needing no other motivation, Sasha turned on her heel and stalked toward the door. The thump of the wolf’s massive paws against the hard floor as he followed beat a sad song after her. When she passed the threshold, the door slammed shut behind her. She did not need to see to know that it was Summit who had done it, so she gathered the remains of her pride, kept her head up, and faced the car.

She would have to find a new place to live. And a way to pay for it.

 

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