The call came at six that evening, as she prepared dinner for herself, all alone in her apartment. She jumped as the phone rang, and laughed nervously at her reaction; every unexpected noise, now, affected her that way. Someone had dropped a book next to her yesterday, in Barnes and Nobles, and she had been unable to stifle a shriek.
Well, she had an excuse. What had it been— ten days? No more than that. Her father was living in a hotel room while the front of his house was rebuilt— there had been a hassle over insurance with the people who owned the car she drove into the building. She should have expected that, anyhow. The insurance companies were rather nonplussed when confronted with the details of the situation— however, rallying magnificently, they eventually classified it as theft and subsequent vandalism. Vandalism— yes, she thought, she supposed running a car into a person and a house could possibly qualify as vandalism.
She let the phone ring twice more before she picked it up. The voice on the other side was a vaguely familiar one, that of a nurse she'd talked to once or twice before. A gentle, professional voice, just the sort for delivering this kind of news. Lisa listened patiently, thanked her, and hung up.
She was left staring blankly at the wall, thinking about what had happened three days ago.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes— I'm sure." They stood for a long moment outside the hospital door, she and her father, leaning slightly towards the opening, then leaning slightly back. His hand on her arm, he looked at her with such sadness and worry in her eyes that she felt like she was a child again, and any moment he would sit down and take her on his knee.
She shook off the rush of longing that this feeling created, and stepped into the room, moving automatically to place the small bouquet of flowers she'd brought on the shelf just inside the door. A gesture that was entirely out of place in this situation, she knew, but she'd been compelled somehow to do so.
He lay there, his face sunken and his eyes closed, his body seeming strangely small beneath the sheet. His wrist was handcuffed to the rails on one side of the bed, although it was perfectly clear that he was nowhere near strong enough to stand. She stopped just inside the door to look at him, not wanting to move any closer. Even unconscious, even as beaten down as he was, something about him was still a force to be reckoned with. She had flashes of his brilliant eyes dance in her vision, raised a hand to rub at the bruise on her forehead, allowed her fingers to drift to the scar just beneath her collarbone—
What he'd nearly done was unforgivable.
To try and kill her father, and try and seduce her mind.
She stepped back against the wall, her eyes drifting down his comatose form and then back up again, and she screamed when she saw his eyes open, fixed firmly on her.
Well. He was dead now, and nothing could bring those eyes back. They were gone forever, apart from the very real possibility that they might haunt her dreams. She shivered at the thought, and decided to abandon dinner. It had been a long day, and she was tired; the morning would bring another long twelve hours of fighting with smarmy, wilfully stupid insurance people, an emotionally exhausting visit with her father, a few phone calls to the contractors— and who knew what else. Early as it was, she would benefit from extra sleep.
She turned off the stove, put the salad things away, and walked the hall, trailing one hand down the wall behind her as she went. It was support if she fell; something she'd learned the use of, this past week or so. She'd collected more bruises as she went along, to add to the ones she'd sustained during the actual events. Bruises on her side overlaid the ones where his fingers had gripped her; she'd puzzled over a bruise on her hip until she realized that it had actually been caused by his own sharp hipbone, pressing into her skin and flesh as he held her up against the wall, an arm under her neck, his eyes so—
She found that she had slipped into bed and nearly drifted off, and she roused herself just enough to switch off the lamp on the bedside table. Her eyes drifted closed and she lay for a while in the warm darkness before she realized that the slight motion of the bedcovers was caused by her shivering, and it wasn't as warm as she'd thought—
She opened her eyes and saw that the clock read some hours later than she had supposed. As her glance was drawn up towards the window, she saw that it was open and the curtains blew slightly in a directionless breeze. She blinked puzzledly at it, and wondered a bit why it was open; wondered a bit more why, when it was so cold in front of her, there was a definite heat behind.
She rolled over and her eyes looked directly into a pair of ice-blue, unblinking, heavy-lidded eyes that she thought were long gone.
Her scream was cut off by his hand, long-fingered and thin, clapping over her mouth and biting into her face with his grip. The other hand slipped underneath her back, drawing her sideways and upwards till she lay crossways across his chest, cradled in his arms, while he bent close to her to examine her features in the dim light.
"Not so different after all," he said, his voice still harsh and raspy. "I should have expected you to pull through your ordeal with this sort of grace. No screaming, now. You'll regret it if you do."
Slowly he let his hand away from her mouth; she gulped in air like a landed fish and stared wildly up at him. Her struggles to get away from his arms were quickly matched and conquered as he wrapped his other arm around her body, holding her in a tight, vise-like grip. The strength of his arms startled her.
"I thought you were dead! They told me you were dead!"
He tipped his head to one side, his half-smile familiar in all its cruelty. "I hate to disappoint you, Lisa, but its beneficial for me to disappear every once in a while. It's a story that has been told many times."
"How—" she panted, still panicking, still breathless, unable to form an entire sentence, but letting her face create the question. "How—"
"Lisa, you know full well that I was part of an organization; do you think they'd just leave me in there to rot? What are employers for? What sort of business relationship would it be if they left me in the lurch?"
"Please," she whispered, because his arms had grown so tight she could barely breathe. Her lips shook so her words emerged tumbled and hard to understand. "Please let me go."
She realized, somewhere deep within, that as the edges of her vision darkened, one of his hands had crept up to caress her hair, the fingers moving lightly, barely felt. His face was still close to her own, and her breath left her entirely as he leaned even closer to whisper something unheard in her ear.
Suddenly her support was gone and she lay across his lap, his arms once again at his sides. Still in panic, she scrambled away from him, bumping into the night table and knocking the lamp down. She found herself huddled in the corner of the room, watching him wordlessly as he rose from the bed and stretched leisurely in the semidarkness of the room. His eyes glowed slightly in the dark, luminescent, like a cat's.
"I came back for you, Lisa," he said. "Like I told you I might. I thought about it, lying there in the hospital bed, surrounded by morons in stupid gowns. I thought about what you'd done to me— and I thought about what I'd do to you."
She shook harder as he stepped closer to her, going to his knees in front of her and turning her chin up to face him.
"I brought you something," he said, and gestured with a jerk of his thumb at her vanity, where a vase of flowers was placed. "You brought me those, in the hospital. Its actually kind of funny, how incredibly tactless you are. I'm just returning the favor, you see."
Inexorably, his hands closed over her throat and he pulled her up against him, both of them kneeling on the ground, bodies pressed close from chest to knee.
"Now, I know I've hurt you, Lisa," he said, and she sensed that he was irritated that he couldn't make his voice louder than it was. "And you know you've hurt me. Lets compare scars, shall we? Come on— I want to see."
His hands pushed her pajama top up and over her head as she whimpered in protest, still not daring to let her voice be too loudly heard; sparing hardly a glance for her body, he eagerly searched out the bruises he'd made, on her arms, on her side; even finding the one on her hips, thrusting the waistband of her pajama pants downwards slightly. A strange quest, she thought, to find evidence of pain that he'd inflicted— entirely in keeping with his character. Fingers deft, brushing gently over bared skin, and digging into the bruises as he found them so she cringed away from him, tears starting in her eyes at the added pain.
His hands stilled on her side, fingers moving in a slight circular motion that he didn't even seem to realize, paused just over the largest of the bruises on her side, his eyes trained on the scar on her throat.
"Well, I'm satisfied," he said hoarsely. "What can I do for you?"
For a long moment she stared at him; then, with sudden determination, she dashed the tears out of her eyes and ripped his collar away from his throat to see the large, red scar she'd created just beneath his Adam's apple. Her fingers echoed the motions of his as they probed at the skin, digging into his throat almost to the point of choking him; his eyes closed and his chest heaved as he breathed hard past the pressure. She let her fingers slip away from the scar and span his neck, feeling what it would be like to choke him as he had done to her. His hands closed over her wrists suddenly, and she saw the slit of light that was his eyes fixed on her once again.
"Its not a professional job any more," he said quietly. "Now, its personal. Because of you, I failed in my assignment. I won't let that happen again."
When the shove of his arms came, she was ready and waiting for him.
Ducking to one side out of his way, she rolled away from him, wincing at the sound of his head hitting the wall. He collapsed in a heap on the floor, and she got to her feet, reaching blindly for her pajama shirt and pulling it over her head.
He lay on his back, eyes half open, breath coming staggered and uncertain. She put one foot on either side of his body and looked down at him.
"I know you see me," she said, "and I know you hear me. And its me left standing this time, Jack, just as it was last time. Its you on the ground, at my mercy."
Very delicately, she placed one foot on his throat, not bearing down, just enough pressure to let him know beyond a doubt that it was there.
"Consider this a friendly warning," she said. "If you ever come here again—"
This time, she wasn't prepared for it, and it took her completely by surprise. One hand caught her ankle and twisted it viciously to the side, pulling her legs out from underneath her. Positions changed, things moved too quickly for her to comprehend. All she knew was that she was suddenly on her back, both legs up and hooked over his shoulders, and he had her by the hands, pushing and pulling her body into a back-breaking circle.
Face to face they stared, eye to eye.
"Consider this a friendly warning," he said quietly. One hand released her wrist, slipped backwards around the outside of her thigh and then crawled forwards again, up over her groin, fingers sliding as though they needed the support of her skin; his other hand pulled her towards him again, letting her legs fall to the ground on either side of him. He cupped her around the back of the neck and pulled her head forwards, taking her mouth with his own in a kiss so deep and so hard and so cruel that she couldn't stand to sit unmoved by it, and had to answer it as best as she could.
For a while they lingered, breaths mingled, their bodies shot through with pain.
"I'll see you again," he said, and moved to leave.
She bit him very hard on the ankle.
When she came to, she was still lying slumped on the floor, tangled in the bedclothes, her pajama shirt rucked up around her belly. She didn't understand the noise she heard; it took her a few moments to realize it was the telephone, ringing insistently. Pushing herself up and shaking off the clouds of sleep that fogged her brain, she stumbled towards it and picked it up.
"Lisa?" said the voice on the other side. A youngish voice, male, unknown. "Lisa Reisert?"
"That's me," she said, voice groggy and uncertain. "I think."
"This is Andrew Rippner."
For a split second, her heart stopped.
"You don't know me," the man said, sounding apologetic. "But I believe you knew my brother."
"Jackson Rippner? You— um, Ms. Reisert, I believe you helped to bring him in. At last," the man added quietly, and she was touched by the pain and relief in his voice.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I knew your brother. Mr. Rippner, uh, I'm— I'm sorry to be short with you, but I just woke up and I'm having a little trouble processing things. I— I didn't know he had a brother."
"We were estranged," said the voice. "For the most part. I knew there was so much wrong in his life that I couldn't be around him, couldn't let him draw me in. I have to say, Ms. Reisert— if its not too strange for me to tell you, I—" He took a deep breath and finished in a rush. "I'm glad you brought him in. I'm glad it is finally over."
"As am I," she said earnestly. "May I ask why you're calling?"
"Oh, yes. I hope you don't think this is too awfully odd, Ms. Reisert, but— I felt I should invite you to the funeral."
At the word, she flashed back to the events of the night before, gazing frantically around the room in bemusement. Funeral— but he wasn't dead, he'd been—
Dream. The window was closed, the lamp was in its place. It was a dream, a horribly realistic dream, as she'd expected would happen before too long. She sagged with relief and said, "Of course, Mr. Rippner, I will do my best to come. If you will let me know—"
"Yes, yes," said Andrew Rippner hurriedly, "its too early to have all the arrangements made, of course, but I will call you as soon as I know. Thank you, Ms. Reisert, and— just, thank you."
"Of course," she said, and hung up. She slumped back against the headboard of the bed with a sigh of relief, closing her eyes briefly. A horribly vivid dream, but a dream nonetheless, and— yes, those eyes were gone. She couldn't see them even when she closed her eyes. Maybe there wouldn't be any more nightmares. Maybe she could go on with her life.
Filled with the strange and unusual feeling of optimism, she glanced sideways at the vanity and her eyes fell on the steadily dying flowers that sat there, petals littering the wood around them like fallen hopes.
I'll see you again—