A/N: Apologies for anyone who got excited and thought I'd uploaded a load of new chapters. I was reading through and noticed I'd somehow managed to miss an entire chapter. I am officially an idiot. It's Chapter Forty Five (numbered by as 46). Hopefully it'll fill in a big gap between Ashleigh, Jasmin and James.
To make up for it, I've published this chapter. Brand spanking new.
Seriously though, the tone is getting darker and will remain dark from this point on.
Ashleigh had given up trying to track time. Every time she tried, she lost her concentration. She felt exhausted despite managing to sleep and she had developed a hacking cough that had forced its way into her lungs and seemed to have filled them with liquid. Still she managed to put on a stubborn display of defiance every time the hatch opened, snatching at the food with indecent haste. She would not show them how damaged she was.
At some point they had taken away her heavy parka, leaving her in a thin, sleeveless t-shirt. The blanket she had in the cell with her provided her with the only source of warmth. Sometimes, if she was lucky, the wind stopped howling long enough to let the faint sunlight filter in a small amount of warmth and she would shuffle over to the small patch of yellow light and turn her face towards the sun, enjoying the feel of it upon her damaged skin as much as she could in this twisted situation.
She had not seen Merkalov again since his visits days ago. In a way she was glad as the man evoked such feelings of hatred within her that it was all she could not to scream his name aloud and list the ways she planned to kill him at the top of her lungs. She had resisted so far. She didn't know how much longer she could hold off that temptation.
Hopes of rescue were slim. She had realised this quickly on, and now a faint sense of panic was kicking in. Somewhere, hazily at the back of her mind she would daydream idly about Alec storming in, throwing punches before scooping her up and taking her to safety. She didn't know if she was awake or asleep when she entertained these subconscious thoughts but they always left her feeling as if hope was slipping away. Thinking of Alec was painful, she realised. Since Merkalov had told her that Natasha was with her father, she had become calmer. In a perverse way, she was almost happy, rather than angry at the thought. At least it meant that she was safe. It was one of the few things that Ashleigh could count on in this twisted world – Alec loved his daughter and would kill rather than have her harmed. No matter how angry she was with Alec himself for withholding this information, the knowledge that her daughter was safe calmed her somewhat.
Though she was beginning to have her doubts if she would ever see her child again.
As the hours passed, Ashleigh became more calm. She needed to conserve her energy for numerous reasons, and if needs be, she needed her strength to take on Le Loup. If she couldn't kill the bastard outright, she would leave her mark on him in one way or another.
There was the clang of the door and the small hatch was opened. Food was pushed through, none too gently, by a booted foot. Accuracy of placement wasn't top priority of the guard and his boot ended up halfway on the thin slab of hard black bread they offered and the jerking movement caused the thin, weak gruel like broth to slop slightly. Ashleigh didn't care. Reaching for it, she pulled it over, and despite her initial reactions of disgust, began to eat.
She needed the nutrients. She needed every scrap that came through that door.
In his control room, Merkalov watched as the agent eagerly spooned the gruel into her mouth. It seemed to be some effort to swallow, but Kain managed it.
'Look,' he gestured at the soldier to come closer. 'The food is disgusting, yes?'
The soldier nodded.
'Yet she eats every mouthful...'
'Yes, sir' the soldier decided it was easier to just agree.
'Why do you think that is?' Merkalov seemed thoughtful.
'She's hungry, sir?'
'Perhaps,' Merkalov was generous for once, allowing the soldier to voice his own opinion. 'But usually don't prisoners refuse the food in the beginning?'
The soldier grinned. 'Yes, sir. Until they get really hungry!'
'That's right, boy. Until they get really hungry. Yet this woman has never once refused the food. Tell me why, boy?'
The young soldier couldn't think of an answer. He simply shrugged and hoped he didn't get beaten for insolence.
Merkalov was distracted. He was flicking through the surveillance tapes of the cell. He seemed fascinated by the young woman.
'See the way she sits?' he pointed to her. The soldier leant in closer, noting nothing unusual. The woman was leaning back against the wall, staring up at the window. Her hands were wrapped around herself, her knees drawn up.
'Sir?' the soldier asked, confused.
Merkalov grinned darkly. 'She's hiding something.'
When the door clanged open this time, Ashleigh was ready. She deliberately scrambled out of the way, heading into the corner of the room. Too often had the door opening meant another kick or a jab in the ribs and she was already aching enough. She was surprised, but not shocked to see Merkalov there with three or four armed guards. She wondered if she was ever going to see him on her own. If she would ever get the chance to see him on their own.
Merkalov smirked at her, as if he could read her every thought. The feelings she had towards him were so strong that they probably were blazoned across her face. Slowly she staggered to her feet, aware of how dirty, unkempt and battered she looked and not giving a damn at the same time. He had done this to her, he had tried to degrade her, and yet, she still stood and looked him in the eye.
'Please, make yourself comfortable, my dear,' he gestured towards the floor once more. 'No need to stand on my account,' his accent made his voice deep and melodious, a strange cross between Russian and French and English all at the same time.
'I'm fine,' Ashleigh felt lightheaded as she stood, she ended up with one hand pressed against the wall to support herself. She hated this show of weakness in front of him, but it was that or crash to the floor.
'I think it's time you and I discussed some very important matters,' Merkalov ignored her swaying stance. 'You killed one of my people.'
'She told me that you were going to kill her.'
'Jasmin was always paranoid.'
'So you deny it?'
He shrugged. 'She gave away vital information.'
'Then what I did could be considered small mercies. I've seen how you treat women here.'
'You're a foreign spy, don't tell me MI6 treat their enemies with respect?'
'They have some concept of human rights. Not to mention the Geneva Convention. '
'We have provided you with food. With shelter. '
'Shelter?' Ashleigh gave a theatrical shiver. She felt very exposed and vulnerable.
Merkalov seemed thoughtful. 'You are not the first British agent to be held here,' he said almost conversationally.
Ashleigh narrowed her eyes. 'That doesn't surprise me.'
'I told you that I met your father, didn't I? We held him here too.'
'My father? Here?' Ashleigh glanced around in confusion trying to imagine her father being held in this very room. She wondered if they had treated him worse than they had treated her, and then felt a terrible, crushing sensation swamp her. 'Here?' she repeated helplessly.
'Tell me,' Merkalov said gently, 'has Alec ever spoken to you about your father's death?'
Mutely, Ashleigh shook her head. The urge to vomit was rising rapidly; the room seemed to have tilted beneath her.
'It was some time ago now. We received word that there were English agents in the area. I was aware that MI6 were interested in the base, I suppose I was slightly arrogant in my activities and hadn't quite covered my tracks as well as I should have. I was younger then, more impetuous. You know the way it is,' he gave her an almost paternal smile. 'And as you must realise, I couldn't allow foreign spies to discover just who was recovering here. Not when he was supposed to be a dead man. If they had discovered Alec, well, his plan would have been over before it had even started. We caught them as they attempted a raid. The other agent was shot instantly. I can't remember his name, but he died almost straight away. Your father fought hard, even jumped from an upper window. Smashed his leg up rather badly, but never let it show how much it hurt him. You're rather like him in that respect.'
Ashleigh stared at him blankly.
'As I was saying, you're rather like him,' it was almost an indulgent smile that he offered her. 'We dragged him here, he fought all the way. You look so much like him. I can't quite believe the resemblance. He fought hard, like you did, but finally we overpowered him. He refused to tell us anything, such a brave, brave man. Still, I couldn't risk letting him go.'
He hesitated, enjoying the affect that his words were having on the young woman. 'So I brought him to the courtyard. Just round from here. By this point, Alec had found out. He was such a different man then. Burning with revenge. He hated England, hated anything to do with MI6. He was eager for such an opportunity. I knew then that I had to let him have that privilege. The chance to take his revenge. Your father was so shocked to see him.'
'Alec was there?' the words sounded as if they were very far away to Ashleigh. She licked her lips, she was dehydrated, and they were cracked beneath her tongue.
'Oh yes, he was there. I remember it very clearly.'
'At my father's death?'
'Dear girl, you must sit down,' Merkalov said in mock sympathy as Ashleigh sagged even further against the wall. He placed a hand against her shoulder and laughed as it was viciously shaken off. 'We wouldn't want you fainting.'
'Alec was there?' the words came from numb lips.
'Oh yes, of course he was,' Merkalov laughed cruelly again, and the guards who surrounded him laughed, although clearly they didn't entirely understand the humour. 'Don't tell me that he never told you?'
'No,' Ashleigh whispered, although it was unclear if in protest or denial. 'No.'
'Alec was there, my dear. It was him who pulled the trigger. He killed your father, his friend. And you didn't know?'
This time the floor did crumble from beneath her feet. Ashleigh collapsed to her knees in a terrible parody of her father's final moments. Blackness started to creep in at the corner of her vision and she welcomed it, anything to escape the terrifying images that flashed into her mind. Her father, kneeling in the snow, Alec behind him, gun in hand. He had killed her father. He had killed his friend, her father. The words echoed again and again in her mind. She was too shocked, too stunned to even start to come to terms with these facts.
All around her there was laughter.
The man she loved had killed her father. She had given up everything for him, she had married him, he had given her their daughter, they had a child together, she had shared his bed for years, she had loved him and all this time he had known and never told. He had been the one to end her father's life. He had murdered his friend. She had been orphaned at thirteen because the man she would grow up to marry had killed her father.
'No,' she cried, and with a fierce desperation, she threw herself at Merkalov. 'I won't believe it!' she screamed, and she managed one good hit before the men surrounding him grabbed her and threw her bodily back against the wall. She hit the ground hard, instantly curling herself up into a tight ball her arms wrapped around her stomach.
Merkalov stepped over her, a huge vast figure who suddenly blocked out her entire world with his body. He dabbed at his mouth where there was a small cut caused by her single blow. It was nothing. He smiled cruelly. 'Oh yes, I've been meaning to discuss that with you too.'
She looked up fearfully. Dark shadows were hollowed out beneath her eyes, she looked gaunt. And suddenly, she knew that he knew.
'Your husband isn't the man you think he is,' Merkalov snarled, crouching down towards her. 'He has your daughter. He killed your father. And yet, you still try to protect him. You still care for him. You're a fool, Agent Kain. A stupid, English spy. I won't kill you, not yet. I have plans for you.'
She saw the madness in his eyes. She let out a brief, single high scream as his men grabbed her, pulling her from the floor. They held her tightly, each grabbing one of her arms, pulling them out straight from her body in a crude approximation of crucifixion, and Ashleigh knew what was happening and knew that it would crucify her. She tried to pull her body into herself, tried to twist away, but it was happening. And all her struggling couldn't stop it. They held her too tightly, too fiercely.
'I won't kill you,' Merkalov hissed. 'But I will break you.'
He lashed out then, a high kick, to his hip level, out straight, his booted foot hitting hard into her lower abdomen. The air was crushed from her, a sudden exhale of terror and the room was spinning, the pain was red hot and she fell to the floor.
He spat on her then, drove a boot into her ribs for good measure as she lay trembling on the floor. He stepped over her, ignoring the tiny whimpers that came from her as she tried to catch her breath. She heard the boots on the concrete as they filed out, the hollow thud of the door being swung shut and the final sound of the lock being slid into place.
Her stomach was a mass of pain. Somehow she managed to drag herself to the corner of the room, away from everything. She collapsed against the wall, turning her face to it, pulling the blanket up and over her body.
She had tried so hard to protect herself. Now the tears streamed down her face as she realised that he had known, that somehow he had figured it all out. She lay as still as possible, concentrating on the steady inhale and exhale of her respiration. She knew that she had bruising on her ribs at the very least, perhaps even some had cracked but she tried to ignore that pain.
She prayed to a God that she wasn't sure she believed in for a miracle. That somehow, somehow, it wouldn't happen.
That her body would be strong enough to cope.
She prayed and prayed and finally, she prayed with little or no hope.
She hadn't wanted to tell anyone. It had seemed too early, too uncertain to share with Alec. Then he had vanished and on that one night they had spent together, she had fiercely guarded her secret.
Now it seemed she had given herself away somehow.
She closed her eyes and gripped the blanket tighter. If she lay very still, perhaps, perhaps she could prevent it happening.
It wasn't instantaneous. At some point in the night she felt the cramps begin and the warm wetness between her legs. She had tried so hard to protect, to guard and now, here, it was all over before it had truly began.
Silently, in the darkness, with the salt from her tears on her face, Ashleigh miscarried.