Author’s Note: I just really like writing Joe’s verbal torture of Ryan.
Summary: A one-shot set just after Sarah’s death in which Joe Carroll uses too many descriptive words, mimics a high-pitched scream, and Ryan Hardy can’t think about anything except breaking a few more of the man’s bones.
If asked beforehand, Ryan Hardy wouldn’t exactly be able to explain why he was there.
He had given a bullshit answer to the warden who questioned him—he can’t remember his reason even now—and he knew it wouldn’t matter if he could. He didn’t come here with a plan. He didn’t have a strategy or a method of attack. All he knew was that Joe was here, sitting across from him with a gauze-wrapped hand from the fingers Ryan himself broke less than a day ago, and he had all the answers Ryan needed.
He knew he should ask about the case—press about Joey and why he was taken, try to figure out how many other followers are out there—but he had only one person on his mind. One woman.
It hasn’t been more than a day, and though he knew her screams wouldn’t—couldn’t—had faded from his mind that quickly, he couldn’t help but hope that maybe—maybe—a little bit of vengeance would’ve helped. Maybe ease the pain, and possibly silence the screams. But, as he studied Joe’s calm, brilliant face across from him, he knew nothing had changed. He stared at Joe’s bandaged hand, zeroing in on the pristine white linen its wrapped with that’s just begging to be stained with red blood, and still he felt nothing. No satisfaction. No triumph. Just that hollow sense in his being that comes with grief. And guilt.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, that he felt nothing. He had failed Sarah. He had failed her and Joey and Claire and all the others. It made sense that he would feel nothing but defeat. Emptiness.
He just wished—right now—that he had something to make him feel better. He supposed that’s why he showed up—because the only balm he’s discovered for his wound was hurting Joe for what he’d done… And even if it only made him feel good for the most fleeting second, it’s better than nothing.
He stared at Joe across the table and he wondered if it was worth it—again—to risk it, just to feel good for a moment or two more. Just to hurt Joe a little bit like he’s hurt so many innocent people. He wondered what sort of damage he’d be able to inflict before the guards managed to pull him back.
The thought stirred something in him—just a little something, but something nonetheless. And he’ll take it. He’ll hurt Joe to feel something even if it means he’ll be blocked from visiting the convict or suspended from certain aspects of the case. He’ll do it to feel something. He’ll do it for Sarah.
His eyes fell shut as he thought of her. He still can’t get that image of her suspended, eyeless body out of his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter, trying to eradicate the image from his mind. For the stupidest moment, he wondered if she suffered. What a horribly simple question. Of course she suffered. Joe would have made sure of it. Joe would have dragged it out. She was his prize and he would’ve taken his time with her.
Ryan lifted a hand to his brow, massaging it. He needed a drink. Badly. He needed to go home, finish off another bottle of vodka, and then crawl inside the glass and die. He didn’t want to do anything else. He didn’t want to chase after Joe. He didn’t want to find Joey. He didn’t want to comfort Claire or protect the other innocents that are, without a doubt, going to be slaughtered in the weeks and months to come. He didn’t want to go to Sarah’s funeral or visit her grave to pay his respects…
No, he just wanted to die. He wanted to escape all of his responsibilities, crawl into a ball, and just… die…
He supposed that if he really wanted to feel something besides nothing—if he wanted to be really tortured (as he later realized that’s what this exchange amounted to)—he could’ve just called up Claire. Her judgment and devastation would have been enough, and he wouldn’t be risking anything he hadn’t already lost with her. But Joe, after all, had always been the one who knew how to torture Ryan Hardy like no one else.
“I made sure it was the same knife, you know.”
The moment Joe spoke, Ryan knew he’d come to the right man. Joe grinned, and Ryan suspected that he was purposefully showing so many of his teeth for effect. Hardy wondered how many he’d be able to knock out before the guards grabbed him.
“I think she recognized it, too,” Joe continued, barely glancing at him, “judging from the way her screams went up an entire octave.” He smirked, looking down as he traced random designs with his index finger on the metal tabletop. “I wasn’t sure she’d recognize it. It would be wasted symbolism if not—not to mention a wasted break-in into the FBI’s evidence locker—but there Sarah goes, surprising me again.” His eyes flickered to Ryan’s. “I don’t like surprises, do you know that, Ryan? But hers—for once—was a welcome one.”
Ryan Hardy was barely listening anymore. Where before he couldn’t feel anything, now all he could feel was his heart, pounding in his chest and beating beneath his skin. He felt like his blood vessels were about to burst and rip his skin open, like his anger was going to tear him apart from the inside. In that red-hot moment of realization, he realized that that was exactly what Joe wanted: to destroy him from the inside.
That was why he’d toyed with Sarah like a rag doll.
Why he kept bringing up Claire.
He seemed to know Ryan Hardy didn’t fear death—or maybe he knew that Ryan had been dead too long himself—and so he tortured him with his emotions instead. Claire. Thrusting the knife deep into his chest. Sarah. Twisting the knife, pushing it deeper and nearly pressing it onto the wall of his left atrium, but not quite enough to puncture that thin layer… Most likely Joe knew that, after a time—and that time would most likely come soon, after all that had already happened—Ryan would push the rest of the knife into his heart himself, just to end things.
Exactly like Sarah had tried to do.
“Do you want to guess what she screamed for, Ryan, when I pulled that knife out? Do you think you know?”
Hardy felt his blood pumping in his veins again and he knew it was working. He felt the eyes of the extra security guards around him, but he didn’t care. Maybe they’ll be able to grab him before he broke a few more of Joe’s hands or maybe not. Either way, at least he would by then that he was back into the game, ready to strike. He’d know that he was still alive, and as long as he was alive he was going to put an end to Joe Carroll and his insanity.
Joe grinned lazily, eyeing him across the charged air that floated between them. He tapped his gauze-strapped hand against the metal table. “Don’t you want to guess?” He paused a moment, his smile widening now that he realized he had Ryan’s full attention. “No? Really? Well, that’s disappointing. Not much fun, really.” He regarded Hardy with a mocking smirk for a moment before clapping his hands together. Ryan heard a guard start behind him, but he didn’t spare a glance. He’d been around Joe long enough to memorize his mannerisms. The man liked to catch people off-guard, and Ryan had spent a very long time training his muscles not to jump at Carroll’s sudden movements. It was the little battles that counted with Carroll, more so than the wars. Intimidation and manipulation were his favorite tactics, and Ryan had spent a lot of time building up his defenses.
“Ah, well, I suppose I’ll just have to tell you anyway!” Joe rubbed his hands together, licking his lips as if preparing to devour a singularly delicious meal. “All right, then. Well, I can tell you she didn’t ask for a quick death. Smart girl, I’ll give her that. Didn’t waste time with impossibilities.” He lifted up his unharmed hand, twisting his wrist to examine his nails. The clatter of his handcuffs was the only sound in the room. Ryan Hardy wasn’t even certain he was breathing anymore. He could even feel his head starting to grow light. “She didn’t ask me for mercy, either.” Joe frowned, picking at his thumbnail, as if that fact dismayed him. It probably did. “No, she didn’t plead to me at all, actually.” He sighed, finally looking across at Ryan, a disgruntled expression causing creases to appear on his pallid forehead. “You think she would, wouldn’t you? A young woman, facing death… It makes sense that she’d sob for the end, pray for a swift deliverance. But she did neither of those things. She didn’t scream for God, at all, or her Mommy or her Daddy…” He shifted, propping his chin up with one hand. “No, Ryan, she screamed… for you.”
Ryan Hardy felt his entire body tense at those words, felt even the guards tense behind him, but he didn’t make a move. He didn’t lunge at Joe. He just held himself in place, glued himself to his chair, and stared at the man that ruined his entire life. He waited for the perfect moment.
“It was sweet, really,” Joe admitted, letting out soft sigh. “I think she looked up to you very much. Saw you as her own father, almost; her personal savior… I could hear it in her voice, you know. The way she called out to you—cried for you to save her, to help her, to take the very bad man and his very sharp knife far, far away from her.” He tilted his head to the side as he considered his own words for a moment. Ryan felt his blood literally boil beneath his skin as Joe’s mouth stretched into a smile. It took every ounce of Ryan’s self-control not to jump across the table and throttle Joe Carroll in that moment. He saw it in his mind’s eye—his body flying, falling on top of Carroll’s… Maybe he’d be able to smash his head into the linoleum floor enough times to kill the madman before the guards pulled him. Maybe. Maybe not. He didn’t want to chance it. For now, he bided his time, conserved his strength. He would strike when he was good and ready, and only after Carroll was finished. He knew Joe was nowhere near done yet.
“Well, it appears I was wrong before,” Joe continued after a moment. He held a finger aloft as he spoke, and Ryan imagined himself snapping it in two. A clean break, this time. “I think she was screaming for her Daddy, in a sense…” He sighed, closing his eyes as he remembered, and drew in a deep breath in through his nose. “I can still hear your name on her lips, you know.” Joe’s eyes flickered open and filled with something vile as his voice rose to mimic a high-pitched female shriek. “Mister Hardy, please; Mister Hardy, help me, save me, please!” The sides of his mouth twitched into a smile. “Her screams, they sounded… almost like… music.” His grin widened, showing his teeth again. “Discordant and jarring, of course,” Joe allowed diplomatically, “but music nonetheless.” He smirked, nodding towards the silent ex-FBI agent as if to politely acknowledge his difference in opinion. “In a way.”
Carroll paused, surveying Hardy across from him for a long minute. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft and conversational. “She even… started calling you Ryan by the end, if you can believe it.” His voice softened theatrically around Hardy’s name, and that sick little smile turned up the edges of his lips for the innumerable time that night.
“You know,” Joe mused, turning his head to the side, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard her call you by your first name, Ryan. In all the days at court, all the interviews—and I’ve watched my fair share, believe me—it was always Mister Hardy this and Mister Hardy that and I would’ve died for certain if it wasn’t for the heroic Mister Hardy showing up when he did.” He tut-tutted, clicking his tongue. “That girl really loved you, you know? Shame she never quite got the chance to tell you before she, you know—” He made a slashing motion with two of his fingers as if to mimic decapitation, but he drew them across his eyes instead of his throat, punctuating the gesture with a short exclamation to cement his intent.
Ryan was across the table before he was even quite aware of what he was doing. His entire field of vision had gone red just seconds before, drenched with blood, and all he knew was that he wanted to do was make Joe suffer. Make him die. Ryan had wanted to kill him for years, but he felt that familiar want heightened now, and the desire became more acute than anything else he’d ever known in his entire life.
He wondered, in a separate part of his mind, if this was what Joe and his Followers felt when they zeroed in on a target. Did the want—the need—to kill overwhelm everything else in the world?
He could feel four pairs of arms clamp around him, dragging him back, but he fought, reaching for Joe with every ounce of fury and life he had in him. He felt skin collect under his fingernails, felt blood run across his skin, and it was then that he finally felt something. He could hear Joe shouting from surprise and pain and, yes, in a way, it sounded like music. The most wonderful music.
As he was forced back and to his feet, and shoved up against the far wall, he let the feeling overtake him. He clenched his hands into fists, feeling Joe’s blood run over his knuckles. He could feel his fingernails separating from their beds because of all the skin that was wedged under his nails. It made him feel alive. Carroll’s pain and suffering made him feel alive.
When Joe’s laughter hit his ears, he didn’t even flinch. He almost felt like laughing himself. He wondered if Carroll knew what he’d just done, the power he’d just given Ryan. The drive. It was unquenchable now.
“You do like choking me, don’t you, Mister Hardy?” Joe exclaimed, still somehow managing to cackle even as rivulets of blood poured down the sides of his neck. “Is this going to turn into a thing, Ryan? Because it’s quite kinky, you know. It might be a bit much.” His eyes glinted as the guards surrounded him and shepherded him to the door. “Even for me.”
Ryan Hardy barely heard Carroll’s taunts. His silly words didn’t matter anymore. Ryan had decided and his mind wasn’t going to change: he was going to beat Joe at his own game. He was going to uncover his followers and take every single one of them out—be it by handcuffs or bullets, it didn’t matter. Ryan would get it done; for himself, and for Sarah.
And when he was finished, he would visit her grave. He would apologize. But he wasn’t finished yet.
Author’s Note: Reviews/Comments would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read.