Summary: You do what you can to protect the ones you love. Even if it means sacrificing yourself. This story builds off of the ‘relationship’ established between Roderick & Claire in Just Between Friends.
Author’s Note: For any number of reasons (fandom, pairing, warning), I know people will be averse to reading this story. I just ask that you give it a chance before denouncing it. An insane amount of
Special thanks to asis_w for the idea & prompt: I agree that Roderick wasn’t attracted to Claire, per se… He just gets off on the idea of forcing someone to do something so intimate as a favor to keep secrets. Something also tells me he might not have asked for that sexual favor once. “Did you really think once would suffice?” Thank you, my friend, for sparking my rather terrible imagination! This was quite an experiment and I owe its existence to you. Epigraph credit goes to the brilliant Thomas Harris.
He took a single sip of her pain and found it exquisite.
–The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
She’d been at the mansion for almost two weeks before anything happened. At first she’d thought she was imagining things because—well, she had to be. She’d expected something like this coming from Joe—but not from him.
And maybe that was why he relished it so much, she figured later—because even though she’d made a point to steer clear of him, even though she’d said aloud, We’re not friends, she hadn’t heeded her own advice. She’d been so busy trying to avoid Joe—thinking he was the one to fear—that she’d fallen right into Roderick’s hands. In other words, and ones that he was rather fond of using—fond of whispering in her ear while he was forcing his way inside her—she’d done this to herself.
“You know that, don’t you? You know why this is happening.”
She supposed she should’ve known that, when Joe didn’t immediately come after her, there had to be worse things coming. But she’d been too surprised—and too relieved—that he wasn’t interested to keep an extra eye out for the man whose offer of friendship she’d thrown in his face. She and Joe had had dinner together a total of two times in those first couple of weeks and he had been nothing but a perfect gentleman. Polite almost to a fault—or so Roderick would’ve likely commented if he’d been there. He hadn’t attempted to lord Joey’s capture over her, hadn’t once mentioned Ryan, hadn’t even tried to kiss her goodnight. Wasted opportunities, Roderick would’ve smirked, hardly bitter because he knew Joe’s missteps would be his opportunities.
When she’d questioned her ex-husband about it, torn between running out the door and knowing what was really going on, he’d shrugged and smiled, asking her why it mattered. They had all the time in the world together now—why not take things slow, dear?
She couldn’t argue with that and so she didn’t. She left, went to bed, and slept as close to peacefully as she’d managed in weeks.
She’d look back on that night, later, and remember with a terrible, gut-wrenching longing what it had felt like to know that no one was going to hurt her. What it had felt like to go to sleep alone and know that she would wake alone.
The feeling of security did not last. The longing she felt for it, however, would go on forever.
Strangely enough, things with Roderick started almost exactly the same way she’d imagined things with Joe would start.
He touched her now and again—innocently—on the shoulder, the waist, the middle of her back. He did it sparingly and in rooms full of people, usually as they were moving from one location to another, and so she hardly thought anything of it.
It didn’t take very long for his hands to start migrating to more intimate areas, but by then it was, as his mischievous grin told her, much too late.
The first time he put his hand on her ass, she was so shocked she didn’t even think twice before shoving him away.
“Hey!” She stepped back immediately, her eyes narrowing in anger and outrage as she glared at him. “What the hell?”
Her indignation received little but a small smirk and hands half-raised in surrender from someone she knew was laughing inside. “Oh… Sorry about that,” he drawled, not sounding the least bit sorry at all.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He raised his right hand in a half-salute. “My bad, ma’am. Mistake on my part.”
Her eyes flashed, anger fueling her confidence. “If you ever touch me again, I’ll—”
“What? You’ll what?” he prompted, leaning forward with interest. That easy smile appeared again, spreading wide over his tanned face. “What are you doing to do, Claire?” She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could even think of a proper threat, he brushed her off: “Or, I suppose I should be more realistic. You aren’t going to do anything, are you?” He grinned, leaning closer, and lowered his voice to a loud whisper. “So… who are you going to tell?”
In the empty and silent kitchen, his words hung in the air long after he’d finished speaking. They surrounded her, choking off every option she’d so foolishly thought she’d had left.
Almost in slow motion, she realized he was right. She didn’t have to tick names off her fingers to know there was no one to tell. She didn’t have to try hitting him to know there was no way to fight him off.
They both knew there was no one to tell.
And against him, there was nothing she could do.
When she looked up into his face, she could see the suggestion of their agreement lighting up his eyes, brightening the satisfaction of his smile. She knew as well as he did, then, that she didn’t have a choice in the matter. She did know, though, that if she kept quiet, he would too.
That was why she didn’t scream when she woke up a few nights later and found him standing there in the darkness, his shadow looming over her bed.
She didn’t scream at all throughout that entire night, in fact, despite wanting to every second he touched her.
If I keep quiet, so will he.
It didn’t surprise her to see him there, not truly.
She’d always held out that one vain hope that things would never get this far, but her life had been dominated by worst-case scenarios, and this fit along with all the others. At least that’s what she told herself, in some pathetic attempt to offer comfort where no comfort could be had.
“Did I frighten you, slipping in unannounced like that?”
She clenched her teeth together, trying desperately not to hear the double meaning his words would soon hold. His wide grin made that impossible.
“A bit,” she answered, only half-truthfully, as she sat up in bed. Her ill-fitting tank top shifted as she moved, and she watched as his eyes fell to linger over the exposed half of her right breast.
It took all of her willpower not to move it to cover herself. It went against every instinct she felt, but she squashed the urge nonetheless. She knew what would happen if she prohibited him from looking—he would take what he wanted without a second thought. But if she let him look…
Maybe that’s all he wants, a little voice whispered in her head. Though she knew better—she truly did know so much better—she still clung to that hope. Maybe he wants to ‘take things slow’ too.
“I hadn’t realized you slept alone.”
“Who did you think was going to be here? Joe?”
“Yes,” he replied at once. His immediate answer caught her off guard, and she stared at him in surprise, and momentary confusion, before everything slipped into place.
That’s it. That’s why.
That was why he hadn’t come yet, why he’d waited all those days and nights—because he’d expected to meet his maker here, too, and not just her. But she was alone in here; alone in this bedroom without even the sleeping presence of her son to offer her temporary deliverance.
He could do whatever he wanted to her here, because who would protest on her behalf?
Not me, she thought to herself, hardly processing the words before they were drowned out by her thundering heart. It was banging against her ribcage, so loudly she thought he must be able to hear it. She wondered if it excited him.
Her stomach turned at the thought and she began speaking so she wouldn’t start throwing up.
“There are probably cameras in here.” She spoke quickly, her voice louder than his, as she hurried to breach the silence. She struggled to fill it—with words, with anything—and not let the silence fall again. She knew what would happen the next time they stopped talking. She searched her mind for a viable threat—for anything that might scare him off, or at the very least give him pause—and her mind offered one up at once. There were only so few threats that existed to these people, that struck fear in the dark caverns that had once—however long ago—held their hearts. So she picked the scariest of the lot, hoping the mere mention would make him rethink things. “Joe will see you. He’s not here,” she allowed hurriedly, “but he’ll see you when he goes through the footage; I know he does that.” He’s too controlling not to. “He’ll see you here, with me, and then he’ll—”
“There aren’t any cameras in your room, Claire.” He smiled pleasantly as he crushed her one defense to dust, and she had no choice but to stare at him in horrified disbelief. “The surveillance room is manned in shifts, by all of us.” His teeth seemed to shine in her darkened bedroom, and she stared at them, transfixed, unable to stop imagining them tearing into her flesh. “Did you really think your husband would allow just anyone to look at his wife?” He shook his head then, but soon smiled, as if remembering something. “Except, of course,” he added, lowering himself down to sit on the bed beside her, “our friend Mr. Hardy.”
Don’t talk about Ryan. She tried to say the words but they wouldn’t come out. She couldn’t even wrap her mouth around them.
She had spent so long trying not to think about him that she hadn’t even noticed just how much time had passed. It had been three weeks since she’d last seen him, talked to him. Kissed him.
Three weeks since she’d bit the bullet, took the plunge, and told him she was in love with him.
Three weeks since she’d run away, leaving him standing there, powerless and alone, in Tyson Hernandez’s driveway.
Tyson Hernandez, who’d survived witness protection only to have a gunfight brought to his front door. All because of her.
Oh, god, Ryan… I’m so sorry…
“He watches you on the news, you know.”
His casual admission made her galloping heart stop for a beat—and then pick up, quicker than before. “He does?” she asked before she could stop herself.
“All the time,” Roderick replied softly, glancing over at her. He smiled the way a friend might, for comfort.
She stared at him, torn between too many conflicting emotions to even count them. She knew she should have immediately regretted asking him about Ryan, but she couldn’t make herself feel that. All she felt was relief—relief that he was still alive and, presumably, okay. For this very moment, at least.
“He misses you. He’s worried about you.” Roderick looked down, and for a split-second before he moved, she thought he was being polite and respecting how personal this subject was for her. But then he put his hand on her bare leg and she remembered that he did nothing if it did not serve his own personal agenda.
His hand was lean, like the rest of him, and surprisingly soft. She supposed it fit—it matched the gentle exterior he used to hide what she knew must be a raving madman within.
A raving madman who had his hand on her leg. A raving madman who was going to do only God knew what to her.
She wanted to tell him to stop, to take his hand off of her—again—but she knew better than to push him away. She didn’t want to bring his wrath down upon her prematurely by rejecting him, but moreover… She didn’t want him to stop talking. He was the first person who had bothered to speak to her about life outside the mansion since she’d gotten here. And he was the only person to ever speak to her about Ryan, to give her information about his well-being. Joe still avoided speaking of him, for whatever reason, and she was not stupid enough—nor yet suicidal enough—to come out and ask him about Ryan herself. She still had her son to protect, and so long as he was alive she would not go around bartering her life so readily for so little.
“As I’m sure you expected, he’s been drinking more.” The hand slid up her leg, atop her thigh, and over the curve of her ass. He moved with such exaggerated slowness that she was half tempted to just lean forward and kiss him, if only to get this part over with. But she held onto herself, trying not to flinch as his hand continued moving, higher and higher… “He probably can’t stop thinking about what terrible things your husband must be doing to you…”
“But Joe hasn’t done anything to me,” she reminded him, as if the mere fact might influence his own decisions. Her words were shaky, scared. They were the pleas of the powerless to be spared: “Nothing, nothing at all.” He didn’t even kiss me goodnight after dinner.
“No…,” Roderick murmured, leaning closer and closer as his hand continued rising towards her chest. If it had been physically possible for her breasts to shrink away from him, they would have. Her entire body would’ve imploded on itself if it meant she could escape his touch, escape what he was going to do to her. “He hasn’t laid a finger on you, has he?” He smiled his slippery smile, the smile that could disappear and reappear in the blink of an eye, and then caught her gaze. Though she had no desire to look at him, he somehow forced reciprocation out of her; he didn’t speak until they were eye to eye. “That’s his loss,” he whispered quietly, like yet another secret, as he leaned forward to begin exacting the very same type of welcome she’d expected to receive from Joe on her first night at the mansion.
He wasn’t as violent with her as she’d feared—and therefore expected—but he wasn’t anything close to gentle, either. She felt it the next morning—felt the space inside herself that he’d carved out for himself and claimed as his own—and that wasn’t only because it had been a significant while since she’d last shared a bed with someone.
She spent many hours after he left taking slow, deep breaths as she sat back against the tiled walls and floors of her private bathroom, her forehead bowed against her bent knees. She tried again and again not to think of it, not to dwell on it—not now that it was over and done—but it was impossible.
“You’re so warm.”
He pressed his face close against her bare abdomen, breathing in her scent, and she had to squeeze her eyes shut to block him out. She turned her face to the side so she wouldn’t have to look at him, wouldn’t have to watch what he was doing to her.
“For such a cold woman, you really are just so…” He paused, trailing off, and she gasped—too loudly in the silent room—her body jerking when she felt his tongue on her skin. He licked a wide curve, orbiting her belly button, before pressing a kiss beneath her breast and finishing in a heavier whisper, “Warm.”
She still didn’t look at him, but she could feel him looking at her. His words echoed in her mind, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he liked her warmth so much because he was accustomed to doing this with corpses.
Visions swam through her mind, of what he’d do with her body once it was no longer truly hers, and as much as she tried to force them away, she could not erase them. Something told her that all the things he would do to her when she was dead, he would first do to her while she was alive.
She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the thoughts and the visions away. Willing her mind to go blank. She felt she had almost managed it when the wind shifted, and the breeze slipped through her partially open window, ghosting over her naked skin… She became aware all at once of the feeling of his saliva, now almost entirely dry on her skin. It made her usually soft, smooth skin grow dry and taut, like it was covered in a thin film of glue, and even before he spoke, she had had to begin fighting back the urge to vomit.
“Is that what Ryan Hardy likes about you, then, Claire? Your warmth?”
Her head snapped up at that, and for the first time since he’d begun undressing, she made eye contact with him. “Don’t,” she bit out, her voice nothing more than a choked, powerless whisper. She pressed her lips together, digging her teeth into them, willing the tears she could feel building up in her eyelids away. She tried to deliver the word like an order when she repeated it, but it only came out sounding like a plea: “Don’t.” She might as well have whispered, Please, for all the good it did her.
“What?” Roderick wondered innocently, his eyes searching hers with what she knew was fake concern. “I’m just trying to have a conversation.”
“Don’t you talk to me about him.”
He smirked, laughing softly as he rocked back on his haunches to survey her. It might’ve been considered a casual movement—if it had been anyone else—but he was who he was and there was no misinterpreting his response to her order. His knees spread hers wide as he spoke.
“So, let me get this straight. I can talk about Hardy to get you into bed, but once we’re in the middle of it, he’s suddenly off the table? What gives, Matthews? When did—”
“Don’t talk about him ever.” She stared him in the face, ignoring the other parts of him, and refused to look away. He was going to do what he was going to do regardless of whether or not she talked. And she would not talk. She would not give him that and he would not take it from her. He couldn’t.
“Oh, Claire.” He smiled down at her like some sick perversion of a benevolent angel. “Come on. We both know you don’t really want that.”
She shut her eyes now, blocking out the rest that followed—or at least trying to. She saw flashes of it in her mind, and even now, she didn’t know what hurt more, what he’d said or what he’d done. Joe had trained him well—she had to give him that.
And as much as she tried not to think about Ryan at a time like this, his face still popped into her mind. Smiling, laughing… He’d been a relatively happy person when they’d first been together. She liked to remember him like that, especially now.
She’d be lying to herself if she tried to say she’d never thought that their had-been romance might still be rekindled—and that the next time she’d share a bed with someone, it would be him.
What if I told you I love you?
Now she felt like previously starry-eyed virgin whose picture-perfect first time had instead been obliterated by savage rape. Chances were she would never seen Ryan again, let alone have the freedom, the privacy, to make love with him.
Given Joe’s penchant for theatrics, the next time she saw Ryan would probably be when Joe deemed it time for one of their deaths.
Regardless of that, she was thankful, nonetheless, that this sick business with Roderick was all over. The deal had been made, and now it had even been consummated. He would not speak to Joe of what he’d seen in Pennsylvania, or what she’d so stupidly admitted in the kitchen, and in return, she would not tell a soul about what he’d done to her.
It was over.
“I don’t know about you, but it all sounds like a pretty square deal to me, Claire.”
If she was a smart woman, she would’ve avoided him. If she had proper survival instincts, she would’ve avoided him. If she’d been able to control her emotions—she would have avoided him.
But she was none of those things, had none of those things, could do none of those things—not until she knew the truth.
And so that was why she found herself, once again alone in the kitchen with him, just mere hours after he’d violated her—to find out the truth.
“Was everything you told me a lie?”
She watched his back stiffen for a second before he turned around, but by the time he faced her, the easy smile was in place once again. “Good morning to you too, Claire. You slept well, I hope.” His eyes twinkled as he held out his plate, offering it to her. “Would you like some toast?”
“I would like you to answer my question.” It took all of her willpower not to scream at him; she knew how rudeness turned him off. She stood still in the doorway as she spoke so she wouldn’t have to walk. She didn’t know if she could move without her body betraying her and she’d had more than enough of his grins thrown in her face for an entire lifetime.
“Lies…” He nodded along, taking a bite of his breakfast as he looked her up and down. “What am I supposed to have lied about?” he asked finally, after he’d finished chewing.
“About—” She swallowed. She didn’t want to say it, didn’t want to say his name—not now, not in Roderick’s presence, not so soon after…
Her hesitation gave her away, however, and Roderick’s eyes lit up as he guessed. “Ah, are you referring to what I said about Ryan Hardy last night?” The left corner of his mouth turned up in a smirk as he commented, “So you do want to talk about him, then?”
She ignored his second question, instead focusing on what she really did need to know. “I just want to know if you told me the truth,” she reminded him. “What you said last night—how do I know you weren’t lying to me? How do I know you didn’t make all that up just so—just so—” Another word she couldn’t say.
“Just so I could fuck you?” he offered helpfully, and his unashamed use of the curse made her jump, both in fear and surprise. For someone who so valued interpersonal courtesy, she hadn’t thought him to be so crass. Then again, she wouldn’t think he was a sadistic serial killer, either, if she’d only met him on the street. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure there was no one listening in before reluctantly turning back to him. “Look, Claire…” He paused to chuckle, shaking his head. “I don’t want to offend you, I really don’t, but—let’s just be honest here—I pretty much have my pick of the litter in this house.”
Claire frowned, more confused than ever now. If he had others… “Then… why come to me?”
“Because you were a challenge,” he answered simply. He took another bite of his toast; the loud crunch acted like a permanent period at the end of his explanation. As if there was nothing more to say.
Maybe there isn’t, she thought to herself, remembering his surprise last night upon encountering her alone in her bed. It made sense now, and she heard clearer than ever what was between the lines: Because I was expecting to have to fight off Joe to get to you. She remembered the fears of Roderick that had struck her in this very kitchen just a few weeks ago… Were they already coming true?
Had he used her only as a steppingstone to overthrowing Joe? Shaming him—humiliating him—by accessing his wife where he couldn’t… Was that all this had been about? So that Roderick could hold her up later, as proof that he had succeeded where Joe had—for the time being, at least—failed?
Did this have nothing to do with their agreement at all?
Her pulse was quickening again, growing as fast as it had last night when he’d begun touching her. Was he still going to keep his end of things?
“Everything you said…” She shut her eyes, struggling to pull all her scattering thoughts together so she might be able to focus. Panic never helped—especially not with him. She had to hold it together. “Everything you said about—about Ryan, that was true? How did you know it all?”
Roderick finished his toast before answering. He gestured towards her, swallowing before he began, “You’ve already met your follower, haven’t you? Stands to reason Mr. Hardy would have one of his own, yeah?”
“So you’re… being informed, then? Of his…” She searched for the right word. “Whereabouts?”
“Whereabouts,” Roderick repeated slowly, nodding as he thought over it. “Yes, that’s an all-encompassing word, I suppose. Suffice to say, we have eyes on him.” Half of his mouth turned up in that mocking smirk. “And enough of them to make you jealous, I’d wager.”
Claire ignored his jab, instead focusing on evening her breathing. “In… In the FBI?” Please no. Please god no.
“Mm. And outside of it, too.”
She bit down hard on the inside of her lip to hold back all the terror she felt and wished to release. It wouldn’t do her any good right now. She still had yet to ask the most important question. “So… So he’s okay, then? Ryan, he isn’t—” Her throat caught around the word.
“Dead?” Roderick suggested with a smile. “No. Well, not yet, at least,” he qualified a moment later. He pointed up to the ceiling, and his eyes glinted tauntingly as he suggested, “Why not ask your husband when you see him next? I’m sure he has a timetable all laid out. You know how he likes to plan these things.”
As tempting as the suggestion was, Claire didn’t dare go asking Joe about Ryan. She knew it was foolish, but she felt like if she never spoke Ryan’s name aloud in Joe’s presence, maybe Joe would forget about him. Maybe he’d live. Maybe he’d get away clean.
Or maybe he’d just live a little longer before being viciously tortured and killed.
That way, at least, they could both add a couple more bullet points to the list of the so few things they had in common.
She was so lost in thought that she hardly heard the door when its lock clicked open. She was far away, mired in so many dilemmas she wasn’t even sure which to address first. She weighed the small gold band in her hand as she examined it. It looked exactly the same as the wedding ring she’d disposed of ten years ago. She looked at it closer, wondering if it was, in fact, the exact same. With the resources Joe had, it wouldn’t surprise her if he’d managed to find her old ring after so long.
“I just want you to take it and think about it. Don’t say anything. Just think.”
She shook her head, laughing humorlessly. What did he think she needed time to think about? Wasn’t there only one answer he’d accept?
“Should I offer you some sort of congratulations?”
The voice made her jump—she hadn’t realized she’d had company—and sent chills running down her spine when she recognized it.
She met Roderick’s eye only briefly before stuffing the ring in her fist and turning away. “I haven’t said yes yet.”
“Oh.” Roderick was silent for a second before adding, “I hadn’t realized he’d given you a choice. That was rather considerate of him, don’t you think?”
She ignored that—ignored the truth even she’d accepted—because it came from him, and sat down on her bed to take off her heels. They were a half-size too small and pinched her toes so badly that she’d spent nearly the entire dinner with Joe thinking about taking them off.
“What do you want, Roderick? I’m tired and I don’t want to play games, so just tell me why you’re here so I can go to bed.”
“I’m here for you.”
She froze at his words—halfway through taking off one of her heels—and slowly lifted her head to look at him.
It was the first thought that popped into her brain, and was soon followed by others:
No no no nononononoNO.
“You don’t…” She swallowed, hoping to moisten her suddenly dry throat, but she felt like a fish out of water. Struggling for the sustenance she could not receive. “You don’t mean…” She shook her head, kicking off her shoes quickly now, not caring about them or her pinched toes. She knew some of the skin of her left heel was ripped off as she kicked the shoe off, but she hardly felt it. “We settled this,” she reminded him. “We settled this, you—you—you got what you wanted.” She ached to let the words out, to scream them at the top of her lungs: We made a deal! We had an agreement! And they’re both OVER!
“Oh, come now, Claire…” He walked towards her slowly, smiling pleasantly at what she knew must be her own unconcealed horror, as if she were nothing more than a passing amusement. “Did you really think once would suffice?”
He sat down on the bed beside her, and she felt his presence like a black hole—pulling her in even as she tried so desperately to escape.
“Our little accord has clauses that must be upheld continuously, doesn’t it? Our last meeting secured my confidentiality for some time, but…” He shrugged carelessly. “Well, to be honest, Claire, I don’t really see the point in helping you anymore if you won’t help me.” He looked over at her from beneath his perfectly combed blonde hair, his eyes searching, penetrating, ascertaining. His voice had lowered to a whisper when he next spoke. “But you wouldn’t want me running to your husband now, would you? The man proposed less than an hour ago, I hardly think he’d want to hear his wife is in love with someone other than him.” He smiled, and his eyes flickering to hers as he reached over to caress the side of her knee. “Lord knows what he’d do to you once he found out…” He slipped his hand beneath her dress, pulling up the hemline with him inch by inch until—Smack!—he jerked away.
Her ears rang—burned—almost as much as her hand did from hitting him. Her fingers still tingled from delivering the blow, and she stared at him as they sat, both frozen, both shocked into silence by her actions.
She recovered first, and before she could lose her nerve, stood to her feet and pointed to the door, ordering, “Get out.”
He stared at her for a handful of completely silent seconds before bursting out laughing. His response made her jump, but she stood her ground, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cower. Not again.
“You really think you can order me around, Claire?” He smiled as he looked up at her, still seated on the bed. “Do you really think I’ll listen?” He began rubbing the hand she’d slapped, massaging it, but the sight gave her no comfort, nor feelings of superiority. It looked more like he was gearing up for a fight than nursing his wounds.
“I want you to get out now,” she repeated through clenched teeth.
“And if I don’t?” he prompted, rising leisurely to his feet. “What are you going to do if I don’t get out?”
She had no threat, no answer. No counterargument. But it hardly mattered, because she knew he wasn’t expecting her to have anything. It wouldn’t have even made a difference if she had had something to say. All that mattered was what he had to say.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I am going to get what I want out of you—even if I have to handcuff you and tie you to this bed. Even if I have to beat until you can’t do anything but lie there.” For once he didn’t smile as he threatened her, and the dead look in his eyes was even more terrifying than his sadistic happiness had ever been. “I’ll give you one more chance to do this the easy way, Claire. If you refuse again, I am going to hit you very hard in the temple; this will cause you to black out instantly for a relatively short period of time. When you return to consciousness, you’ll find yourself bound to this bed. Hands, feet… Maybe your neck, too, if I have enough rope. You and I will have some quality time together, wherein which you’ll learn how friends treat one another, and then—quite a long time later, mind you—I’m going to leave and have a talk with Joe. And then I’ll bring him here and let him have some quality time with you too. And then, once he’s finished with you, we’ll all go from there. How does that sound?”
Seconds, hours, years of her life passed by. But even after all that time, when she opened her mouth, she had only one thing to say, one stipulation: “Joe will know if you’ve hit me. He’ll be able to see the bruises. Even if I try to cover them up with makeup, he’ll know.”
Roderick smiled his slippery smile then, but it didn’t reach his eyes. She stared into them, into those bottomless dark pits, and imagined being left there to die. Would it be worse than this? Could it? “Good try. I applaud your effort, Claire, I really do. But I should let you know… I learned at a very young age how to inflict pain without leaving even a single mark behind. It’s not a skill I employ often, but I can make an exception—for you, and for Joe, of course. I know he wouldn’t appreciate seeing his bride all cut up.”
She shut her eyes, struggling to breathe as the panic rose within her. She could feel the tears coming on—feel the desperation threating to overwhelm her—and she forced them open again. He had yet to see her cry and she would not let him start now. “W—Why do you want me?” she couldn’t help but ask. If she was going to submit to this, she at least needed an answer—a reason—first. “You won, didn’t you? You beat Joe to me.” You even beat Ryan. “You win. What else do you want from me?” What else can I possibly give you?
“Oh, don’t sell yourself short now,” he comforted her. “Not everything I do with you is to get at Joe. You’re a very attractive woman. Not exactly my type, granted, but… Well, we take what we’re given, don’t we, Ms. Matthews?” He smiled warmly, his expression pleasant, before he leaned forward and whispered in her ear, his voice more menacing than she’d yet heard, “And we don’t complain.”
Though she’d promised herself she wouldn’t—sworn to herself that the madman would never see her cry—she couldn’t help it. Couldn’t hold back.
I thought this was over, she thought to herself again and again. I thought this was done. She knew they were stupid thoughts to have—especially as they were being proven untrue—but she was unable to think of anything else. Small whimpers—mixtures of pain and fear and grief—escaped from between her clenched teeth as he used her again and again and again. She tried to keep quiet, tried not to make a sound to apprise him of her level of torment, but it was as impossible for her to control herself as it was for her to control him.
It was nearly dawn by the time he finally moved off of her and got to his feet.
His body was slicked with sweat, his chest was heaving, and his hair was drenched and disheveled. Though his tanned skin was pristine, she had no problem imagining it soaked with her blood.
She watched with unseeing eyes as he methodically dressed himself and made his way to the door, and she didn’t think she’d ever laid eyes on anything more disgusting. She’d seen all of Joe’s crime scenes, seen people murdered before her very eyes—and he was still the ugliest thing she’d ever had to look at.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he called just as he was making his way the door. She looked up when she heard him coming back, fearing a continuation of what had so blessedly stopped, but he didn’t do that. Instead, he fished his hand in his back pocket, retrieved something, and held it out to her. “Meant to give this to you earlier.” That slippery smile again. “I guess I must’ve forgotten for some reason. Here.”
She stared at him for a tense second before reaching out for the piece of paper and picking it up delicately, like it was a live grenade. She turned it, and nearly dropped the photograph when she saw who it was of.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smile at her shock. She felt him brush her tangled hair behind her ear, too, and felt him press a kiss to her cheek, but she paid no attention. “Sleep well,” he whispered as he stepped away, but even that she hardly heard.
He was again at the door by the time she managed to call out.
“Where…?” Her voice was dry and croaked; her throat too sore from the endless sobs to finish the question.
But he understood what she was asking and smiled, answering simply, “Oh, a friend gave it to me. I thought you might want to have it. Goodnight, Claire.”
She pulled the sheets from her bed as if in a trance; tugging and yanking them with no discernible care for what worked better and what did not. Every few moments, her eyes darted to the photograph she’d left on the floor. She couldn’t look at it for more than a second or two, but nor could she go that long without looking.
Finally, when the bed was stripped and the soiled linens and her rumpled dress from dinner were heaped in a pile beside it, she collapsed on the floor beside the photograph. She picked it up gently, cradling it in her hands, as a thousand different impulses of what to do with it ran through her head.
She wanted to frame it, and keep it forever.
She wanted to rip it to shreds, and burn every piece until there was nothing left but ash.
She took it with her to the corner of the room—the furthest from the bed—and stared down at it was she sat there, the walls holding her up on either side. Her chin began trembling, then her hands, then her entire body. She crumpled the picture up into a ball and tossed it across the room before the sobs could escape.
She’d done enough crying over him.
But then the sobs did escape, and the shaking didn’t stop, and she went crawling after the photograph, too sore to get to her feet and walk, too desperate to leave it on the far side of the room while she recovered. When she retrieved it, relief and anger washed over her so strongly that tears sprang to her eyes.
She blinked through them, letting them fall, and she watched as they dripped to the floor. They fell and fell and fell, surprising her—she hadn’t thought she’d had any tears left to cry after tonight.
She stared down at the photograph, stared down at him, and as much as she wanted to hate him for not being here, for not protecting her like he’d always promised he would, she couldn’t. She couldn’t hate him. She had never been able to hate him. She would never be able to hate him.
She spoke the words aloud to the picture of him, because she knew she would never again get the chance to see him alive: “I still love you, Ryan.”
She traced her eyes over his seated frame, and stared at him as he stared into nothingness, waiting, waiting, waiting—as if expecting him to be able to reply. After a very long time, she folded up the picture and tucked it away into her fist. She could not think of one place to put it where it wouldn’t be found, but at least this way, she would be able to hold onto him until he was taken from her. It was a poor apology for her desertion, but it was the best she could do.
She didn’t leave her room, or her corner of that room, all day.
When Joe came to visit around noon and ask what was wrong, ask why she was still in here, he froze in place when he saw her. At first she’d thought it was because he could see what had happened—could see the abuse as if it’d been tattooed on her skin instead of hidden beneath her flesh—but then she remembered that she was naked, and he hadn’t seen her naked in over ten years. This was probably a very big moment for him.
He snapped out of it rather quickly—probably because she didn’t—and brought her a blanket from the closet. He asked her again and again what was wrong, kept trying to get her to stand up and dress, or go take a shower, but she refused to move.
She balled up the crumpled photograph in one hand and fisted the blanket with the other and she did not move.
Eventually, after exhausting all his options and probably all of his patience, too, Joe got to his feet and headed for the door. She heard him turn the lock behind him after he left, but it was no consolation.
Roderick must have a key, and even if he didn’t, she knew he’d always be able to find a way in if he wanted one. He would always be able to get to her.
If Joe ever knew, ever suspected what horrors were befalling the wife he claimed to love so much, he never said a word about it—at least not to her. And for a while, as Joe had asked her again and again what was wrong, she had fantasized about telling him the truth, she really had. She imagined that he’d believe her, imagined that he’d care… Imagined that he’d go after Roderick like he had all those undergrads and cut him up so badly he wouldn’t even be recognizable afterwards.
But then she blinked and the fantasy passed and she knew that it was just that—a fantasy. A dream. Unattainable and foolish.
And as much as she wished telling Joe would solve all her problems, doubts nagged at her. What if he didn’t find Roderick at fault for what had happened? What if he thought this was somehow the same as what had happened with Ryan all those years ago?
The idea made her want to vomit, and she crushed the picture of Ryan more firmly in her fist, willing the nausea to subside. Throwing up would only increase the pain in her aching body, and she really could not handle any more pain right now.
By the time the queasiness passed, however, an even sicker idea occurred to her, and it kept her from ever mentioning a word about Roderick to her ex-husband: What if he isn’t angry at all, not at me and not at Roderick? What if he feels something else? What if he wants… to join in?
That thought did make her gag, but luckily she had so little food in her body after so many hours of isolation that the result was little more than dry heaves. She put her head between her knees to stop her stomach from turning, even as her head swam in circles.
What if his façade to recreate their had-been family was just a façade? What if all he wanted from her, like Roderick, were her blood and tears and screams?
And what if he wasn’t satisfied when he was finished collecting them? What then?
What if he was like Roderick, and came back for more? What if he never stopped coming back for more? While Roderick had other entertainments—he’d admitted as much—she was all Joe had. No one would scream the same way she did, and everyone knew it. No one bled like she did, cried like she did. There was no one else like her.
He’d told her that on their wedding day, I’ve never met anyone like you, and now she wondered if he’d been dreaming of killing her when he’d said his vows.
Was he dreaming of killing me when he proposed last night?
There would be no telling, she decided conclusively, her body still shaking uncontrollably, No telling at all. She would keep quiet and so would Roderick, until the day he didn’t. Then she would run to Joe, and exploit her own abuse for all it was worth because—here in this place, in this Hell on earth—no one could protect her better than the Devil himself.
No one could kill her quite so brutally, either, but she supposed that was a risk she’d have to be willing to take.
It wasn’t like there was anyone coming to rescue her.
This will never end
‘cause I want more.
More, give me more,
Give me more.
Author’s Note: Thank you for reading. I hope this turned out all right. The closing lyrics are courtesy of Fever Ray. Reviews are so very welcome; I would love to hear any and all of your thoughts on this story.
(You may remember this from the show. Beautifully haunting song.)
We Move Lightly by Dustin O’Halloran
(Discovered this through that Hannibal fanvideo I posted. It’s a beautiful piece; wonderful to write to.)