Jaiden hangs from a rope, dressed in a shirt soaked in crimson. Large, blue and black bruises cover his forearms, legs, and neck. His cheek carries an ugly, red cut, and his entire body is thin and pale, as though it’s sucked of life. Seeing him looking so broken and limp makes me forget my injuries entirely, and the pain in my hands is nothing compared to the ache in my chest. The fucker glances back at Jaiden for half a second, then turns to me with a new gleam in his eye.
“Not as godly now, is he, hun? He was so strong, at least at first glance, but so easy to crush!” He chuckled to himself, a slimy, chocked voice that slithers down my back. I shiver again. “It wasn’t hard, although, I admit, he did last longer than we expected. Physical…persuasion couldn’t do it, but once we told him you were blindly crawling, bleeding and sweating and hoping and crying as you were and that you hadn’t lasted a night, the brave exterior just vanished, and-” His hands pinched together, then spread out. Leaning closer, nose nearly touching mine, he spat, “It’s interesting that such a weak, little girl like yourself would move him. I guess he cared for you more than we thought. I have no idea why. You’re pathetic, really.” Goddamnit, he’s still unnerving. Still, he's sort of right. If I didn’t exist, Jaiden wouldn’t, couldn’t have been beaten down. He’d’ve stayed defiant, until they killed him from boredom, maybe. The League doesn’t care for death and avoids it when possible. It’s not juicy enough, or amusing enough, because once you’re dead, there’s no further pain. Family members might grieve, but you’ll be safe from them in a way no living human can be.
Jaiden’s head moves slightly, causing the rope that suspends his body to sway. Only now do I realize his hands, after being strung up for god knows how long, are a deep shade of purply-red, from lack of circulation. My chest twinges. They’re only a short way away from requiring amputation. He slowly opens his eyes, and lifts his head, squinting and wincing in pain. It doesn’t take long for his eyes to land on me, and when they do, his weak state disappears. Relief washes over his face, then, seeing my hands and the various splotches of rust, yells, and whips back and forth on the rope. His voice begins to crack from emotion, and his gaze turns almost animalistic. Wild and furious.
“Don’t touch her you bastard. Not one finger. Do you hear me? You fucking hear me?” The League member flashes a sickly grin his way, then slaps me so hard I fall to one side, my vision turning blurry. Jaiden screams an earsplitting scream of hatred and anguish all at once.
“No! You motherfucking piece of shit. Leave her alone.” This last word ends in a broken cry. “Just leave her alone, please.” When my sight stabilizes, tears are streaking down his face, and I simultaneously feel one drip off my chin. The League member rolls his eyes, thinking our overdramatic antics absurd, then radios the others, gives directions into it. He then yanks me to my feet and pulls me over to a barred cage in the corner. Before I know it, two men appear out of camouflaged doors, cut Jaiden down, then drag him over as well, landing several punches just for pleasure. All three give us one last look of loathing, stalk out, and shut off the lights on the way.
Plunged in darkness, I breathe once. Twice. I’m convinced they’ve truly left. I feel around the cold ground for Jaiden’s hand, and as soon as my fingers brush against it, he turns and grabs me, wrapping me into a hug more warm and comforting than anything else in the world. He buries his face into my hair and shudders.
“They told me you died, and I didn’t believe it, but you didn’t come back for days, and I didn’t know what to fuckin believe.” He squeezes me tighter. “Oh my god, you can never leave me again, okay?” I already have a lump blocking my throat, so I just nod in response. He moves back, and holds my face in his hands, trying in vain to see me through the dark.
“What’d they do to you?” Recalling all the misery from the past few days, I try to sugarcoat where I can, but I know he sees through it. He stays silent for a second once I finish.
“So your hands are-?“
“Yeah. Nothing really like they used to be. Only ripped shreds on bone are left.” He shakes his head.
“Those were your hands. You can’t paint anymore, or draw, or-“ He leaves off, but we both know what he’s getting at. I can never be an artist now.
“Hey. It’s okay, I can be something else, that doesn’t matter.”
“No, Kat. It matters. They took your goddamn dream away. They took every fuckin thing away.” I snuggle in, trying to comfort him the best I can.
“I want to be with you. I want you to be safe. And happy. That’s my dream.” He moves me to his lap, holding on fiercely like he’s afraid to let go.
“That’s what I want, too,” he whispers, “and we are getting out. I’m making damn sure of that. If not us, you. They aren’t gonna be the ones that take you.” A few lingering tears make themselves known, and I lean in closer.
“Jaiden? I love you.” He sharply inhales, plants a soft kiss on the top of my head.
“I love you, too.”
Author Notes: This is Part 2 of a larger piece. As always, any and all feedback is welcome!