Disclaimer: I claim ownership to absolutely nothing, not even the idea for this story. Well, okay, maybe the idea.
Author's Note: I'm debating whether I want this to be a one-shot or a continuation. Right now, I'm leaning towards continuation, but you all let me know what you think too, mmk? Enjoy!
Lisa Reisert was surprised at how neatly and succinctly Jackson Rippner and the events on the red-eye had been erased from her life.
Three months had gone by since that fateful flight, and already the media had stopped calling. The news stations had moved on from reporting about the attack on the Lux Atlantic. The "Terror Alert" had gone down. The police no longer knocked on her door. Her father limited his calls to once or twice a day rather than once or twice an hour. She no longer cried herself to sleep every night.
And Jackson Rippner was gone. Literally gone, from every facet of her existence. He had never appeared on the news, had never received any media attention with relation to the destruction of her hotel. No passengers on Flight 1019, not even Sheila with the neck scarf, could give a clear and accurate description of him to serve as witness for a trial that had, ultimately, never occurred. Lisa had endured rounds and rounds of questioning, during which she detailed the occurrences of that day to the best of her abilities, until she finally realised that they had no interest in Jackson Rippner, but in her. Why had she made the call? What was her relationship with the Keefes? How long had she been working at the hotel? What was her affiliation with the Russian terrorists whom they had managed to apprehend? It had taken exhausting, gruelling sessions of maintaining her innocence as well as the Keefes' support of her to finally get them all to back off. In the process, she had almost lost her good name, a multitude of clients to her hotel, and her sanity. What was left of it, anyway.
A brief investigation had been conducted to locate the whereabouts of Jackson, but Lisa knew it was in vain. Knew by the looks that the FBI agents exchanged, the knowledge they shared about "cases like these". Jackson may not have been CIA, but he was certainly someone whom they knew of—maybe not his exact identity, but his type. A government-terrorist player, the kind that worked with both sides and so was valuable to both sides, but trusted by neither. A good guy and a bad guy, so to speak.
At the same time, justice had to be served—Lisa had been terrorised and violently assaulted, the house destroyed. While they gave her false promises of continued investigation, it appeared as though the real retribution came in the form of insurance and government payments of medical bills and the clean-up of the Reisert's house. The clean-up of their lives.
It took her a much shorter time to recover from this attack than it did her previous one. Maybe because she hadn't been as thoroughly violated. Maybe because she had been moreso. She was back to work immediately, falling effortlessly into the same old routine. She still glanced over her shoulder now and then, but that was nothing new. Locked all the doors as soon as she entered the house. But now, she wasn't spending so much time by herself. She made an effort to get to know people better—befriended Cynthia, went on dates, got to know her neighbours for the first time in three years. Partly because she wanted, needed to maintain a sense of normalcy. Partly because she was sick of being alone.
Yet despite these transitions, she was not a fully changed woman. She still came home alone every night, went to bed alone every night. She told herself it was still too soon.
She knew she was lying.
Yes, the red-eye flight had reopened old scars and created new ones, both figuratively and literally speaking. She was already trying to recover from her old assault, and now had a new one to contend with. The unfairness of the situation was what really got to her, the feeling that she had almost, finally, had her life stumbling back into place only to have the pieces scattered once more.
However, the fact that she spent her nights alone had nothing to do with the freshness of the attack, nor did it stem from her assault trauma, both the sexual and physical that she had experienced on separate occasions. No, it had to do with the quicksilver blue eyes and maliciously gentle smirk that swam before her blackened vision every time she closed her eyes. The face that she hadn't seen for months and yet could not stop seeing. The disgust she felt with herself and the ache in her gut and in her heart is what made her fall asleep crying.
Even this was fading, though. The tears still came, sometimes when she least expected them, most times when she didn't want them, but they were fewer and farther in between. She started gaining some weight, finally able to get food to stay in her stomach. The Lux was slowly regaining the clientele it had lost. Her life was, once again, attempting to recreate itself.
So of course it needed to be shattered once more.
Lisa had been getting sick of anniversaries. Her parents' would-be thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, the two-year anniversary of her parking lot attack, the three-month anniversary of her grandmother's death, and the three-month anniversary of Flight 1019 all fell on top of one another as luck would have it. Not on the same day, of course, as that would be a coincidence even beyond Jackson Rippner's proportions. Not even the same month, for the most part. But it just seemed as though it was one anti-celebration after another, all collapsing onto themselves and onto her.
If she had to peg Jackson as anything, it would be a details man. So when the first month since the attack came to a close, she expected to see him. Forget that he might be dead, forget that if he wasn't, his injuries were extensive enough that it would take longer than a month to heal. He was superhuman to her. If he had wanted to see her, he would have appeared. The second month passed in much the same way. On the final day, she double-checked her locks and kept the field hockey stick in her hand as she slept. She had taken it from her father's house that ill-fated day, feeling a perverted sense of protection from it. When she woke up, the doors were still locked, the stick still tightly gripped in her cramping hand.
It was her own fault, then, that she didn't pay enough attention to the anniversary of the third month. It had been a strenuous, gruelling day at work. Patrons were surlier, plumbing more finicky, workers more careless, and mistakes happened. Plenty of mistakes that required plenty of ass-kissing, plenty of free rooms, and plenty complimentary keys to the mini-bars. So when she finally stumbled into her apartment at just past eleven p.m., after having worked an almost sixteen-hour shift, she forgot to lock the door behind her, forgot to double check the windows, forgot to do everything except trip over her shoes as she took them off and fall face first onto her bed.
Not that locked doors or windows had ever stopped Jackson before.
She dreamt she was trapped in a room with no windows or doors, and the walls were closing in on her. She could feel them pressing against her body, suffocating her, pressing her more firmly onto the other side. The pressure on her chest was building and she slowly awoke in her efforts to try and take deeper breaths. She could feel her pelvic bones cutting into the wall, the moving, solid, warm…
Her eyes focussed and she blinked, not believing what she was seeing, horror slowly dilating her pupils.
And she screamed as loud as she could.
Jackson covered her mouth and her nose with his large palm, not un-gently, but effectively cutting off her terrorised scream.
"Shh, Lise, shh… You'll wake the neighbours," he rasped in her ear, a mocking lilt to his voice. His hot breath caused her entire body to rise in gooseflesh.
She willed herself not to cry, even as heated tears raced down her temples and into her hairline. She hated not being strong, and she had been strong, once. It seemed like centuries ago. Then, months ago with him, she had become strong again. He had stripped her down, taken away the final pieces of the broken shell that she was, so that she had no choice but to rebuild. She hated him for making her weak, but she hated him even more for making her strong. Most of all because she had needed him to do that; she had needed him to give her that strength.
And she hated needing him.
He pressed her more firmly into her mattress, shifting his weight so that his body was more evenly distributed across hers. He wasn't much wider than her, but she could feel the muscle mass through his crisp dress shirt, the steeliness of his torso and legs, could feel the sinew shudder through his arms as he slowly repositioned his hand so that it no longer covered her nose and she could breathe again. She took in deep, jerking breaths, eyes still wide and watery, locking onto his. Both sets appeared silvery in the moonlight although his had a more wolf-like sheen, a predatory intensity that her doe-eyes could never achieve.
Suddenly, the weight on her became too encompassing, too horrifyingly familiar. She began thrashing her head from side to side, trying to let out another scream that was easily muffled by his hand. She bucked her hips underneath his and tried to untangle her legs from the sheets. She was still in her work clothes, and her tight, knee-length skirt restricted most of her movement, however.
"Hey, hey, hey, hey-hey." He brought his other hand up to the side of her face, cradling it almost tenderly. "Stop moving around like that." His eyes warmed with a compassion that was belied by his smirk. "You're kind of turning me on."
She glared at him, hatred burning in her eyes, and tried positioning her knee to hit a particularly sensitive part of his anatomy the next time she jerked her body. He would have none of it, however, and quickly used his brute force to get between her legs once more. She let out a low, horrified moan. This could not happen again, she wouldn't survive it this time, she couldn't, she just couldn't…
"Would you relax?" he told her with an exasperated tone. "Jackson Rippner does not force himself on unwilling ladies, alright? I just need you a little pliable is all. I also need to be able to protect the parts of my body that come in handy from time to time." He stared at her again for a beat, contemplating. "If I take my hand off, will you scream?"
She gave no indication of her response, merely let her eyes roll away from his and squeezed them tightly shut, causing more tears to leak out.
"Hmm. I guess I'll just have to trust you, then. A little ridiculous, I know, what with all the shooting and stabbing I endured at your hands, but what can I say? I'm not the kind of guy to hold a grudge." He paused, then chuckled softly. "Wait, of course I am. Which is why I know you'll be a good little girl when I remove my hand, right? Because, as you well know by now, my retribution is quick and it is fierce. Am I right?" She didn't move one way or another. "Yes, I am. Now, be brave, little Lisa."
He slowly took his hand away from her mouth, and she let out a loud, shuddering gasp before sucking in a large amount of air. "Isn't that better?" he murmured, placatingly.
"Get off me," she whispered, still not looking at him. "Get off."
He pretended to think about it, biting his lip. "I don't know if that's such a good idea, Lise—"
"Get off," her whisper grew harsher, even as her head still remained to the side. She shut her eyes once more, seemingly trying to block him out. "Get off, get off, get off, get off get off getoffgetoff—"
A shadow crossed over his face as he looked at her, puzzled. Then realisation dawned. "Of course, the scar. This, me—on you. This does not bring up good memories, does it?" He opened his mouth to say something more, when the mocking light died in his eyes. She still hadn't looked at him, but he saw utter defeat cross over her face. Even in the plane, beneath the panic and the desperation, there had been steely resolve. Something that told him to watch out for her; that she was someone not to be tampered with. Now, she looked broken. Had he finally broken her? He was contemplating what this meant to him and why there was a niggling within him that implied he cared, when all of a sudden she shifted her weight and managed to slam him right in the groin with her upper thigh. He grunted in agony and his weight eased enough off of her so that she could shove him roughly to the side and squirm away. She rolled off the bed and landed on the floor with a thud, then dove underneath it to grab her field hockey stick. It was right at the wall at the head of her bed, and she wriggled further underneath to grab it. She was touching it with the tips of her fingers when she felt a steely hand wrap around her stockinged ankle and yank her violently out from under the bed. She let out a surprised shout and hit her head against the wood panelling underneath. Once she was entirely out, she drew in a breath to let out a blood-curdling, attention-getting scream, but Jackson's hand clamped over her mouth once more.
"You, my dear Lisa, are quite stupid. Guess what happens if you scream? Just guess. Come on, throw any wild suggestion out there. I'm all ears. Can ya guess?" He reached to his side and unsheathed a sharp, deadly knife. "Ding, ding, ding! That's right. You die." He placed the weapon against her neck and a shudder ran through her body. "So, do me a favour and shut the hell up. For once." He regarded the position they were in, him on top of her, knife at her neck. A slow smirk grew on his face and the maliciousness he had stifled earlier came out in full. "This seems a bit familiar, no? Here we are again, back where we started, but this time it's a little too similar, isn't it?"
The smirk faded when she began to heave.
"For the love of—" he bit off. He could feel her diaphragm and esophagus working underneath his body, knew the convulsions weren't being faked. In a swift motion, he dragged her up and into the adjoining bathroom, dropping behind her as she fell over the toilet and threw up the meagre contents of her stomach. He unconsciously collected her hair in his hands, holding it out of her face as she vomited. He clenched his jaw and looked away, disgusted at what he was seeing and disgusted with himself. He had, once again, let his emotions get the better of him. What a big man he was, terrorising a young woman into vomiting by bringing up memories of her traumatic rape experience. Jackson turned his attention back to Lisa. She was still heaving, but nothing was coming up anymore, her whole body shuddering with the force of her motions.
"Lisa," he murmured softly, letting go of her hair to rub her back. "Stop now, there's nothing left to throw up." He reached over her to flush the toilet and she scooted out from under his arms.
Her heaves had turned into slow, heart-wrenching sobs, as she buried her face in her hands and wept on the cold tile floor. He felt like scum. Nobody had made Jackson Rippner feel like scum in a long time. He sat there uncomfortably, the knife forgotten on her bedroom floor, with his knees up and his arms hanging limply over them. Lisa had curled into the fetal position beside the toilet and had now wrapped her arms around her legs and placed her head on her knees. Her shoulders shook with her crying, and he could hear the great, convulsing intakes of breath she took.
"I hate you, I hate you," she moaned after a long, excruciating silence, her voice muffled against her legs. "Why can't you leave me alone? I hate being weak, I hate what you do to me, what he did to me. I just want to be myself again, and I can't, I just fucking can't."
"How did I make you weak?" Jackson questioned sharply. "You beat the everlasting shit out of me. Listen to my voice, look at my scars! I've never fought anyone like you, so untrained but so damn relentless. That's not weakness."
"No, no, it is." She looked up at him, eyes swimming with tears, her face hot and flush. Her beauty knocked him out, like it had when he first started watching her, like it had when he saw her up close, like it had when she was kicking his ass. "I failed. I couldn't stop him, I couldn't stop you. Look, you're here now. You're in my home, in my room, attacking me again. That's not stopping you, that's not winning."
"Yes, but Lisa," he tried to reason with her, "you can't beat me. No one can. I work for too many powerful people. I am too powerful." Surprisingly, his last statement came out sounding more factual than arrogant, and she knew it to be true.
She shook her head. "Someone could. Somehow, someway. You're only human, after all. But I couldn't. I never could."
He shook his head right back at her. "You came closer than anyone," he admitted. "You were the first time I ever fucked up, and I paid the price for it, at your hand. Not even my superiors had that kind of retribution. After I failed, they gave me a warning: not to mess up again. They know me; they know how valuable I am to everyone. They knew they couldn't get rid of me."
She stared at him. "I thought you said you could get in a lot of trouble for this. For screwing up," she clarified, trying to recall his words during the flight.
He shrugged. "I thought I could. I guess I even underestimated myself."
She regarded him warily. "Why are you here?" she asked finally. There was a single night-light in the bathroom that illuminated pretty much nothing. His face was cloaked in shadows. She could hardly see his eyes, let alone the colour that haunted her dreams. He was dressed in dark slacks and a light-coloured dress shirt, both rumpled from their ordeal, she assumed. He sat in front of the open door, back against the door jamb. She supposed she could try and fight. Kick him, punch him, scream her head off. The knife was safely out of his hands and his reach. She could cause a big fuss if she wanted to.
But she was so damn tired.
Tired of fighting, tired of being scared, tired of everything. Too tired to even hate him. All she could do was stare at him with a world-weary distrust that she reserved for all strangers.
As if Jackson Rippner was a stranger.
He shrugged again and spoke, breaking her out of her reverie. "Would you believe I missed you?"
She started at his words, then scoffed and looked away, not answering.
She missed the tightening of his jaw and the bobbing of his Adam's apple as he swallowed hard, then winced. It still hurt to swallow hard.
They sat like that in silence for a few moments. Her radiator turned on and hummed to life with a pop. She stretched her legs out in front of her, then withdrew them again to reach under herself to take off her torn nylons. He watched her do it and she tried to ignore him as she peeled them off and then threw them in the garbage.
He stared at her outstretched legs, then looked up at her. She met his eyes. "Nice," he remarked, approvingly.
She shot him a dirty look. "Why don't you just tell me why you're here?"
"I already did."
"Oh, are we going to play this game again?" she questioned, referring to the first time she asked him about his job, on the plane.
He cocked his head and regarded her with a half smile. "You didn't believe me that time, and I'd been telling the truth. Remember?"
She looked away and made a non-committal sound. Silence reigned once more before she broke it. "So, you're here because you missed me. Why? I didn't miss you. In fact, I never wanted to see you again, after I left you for dead." Her voice escalated at the end, fists clenching as she leaned forward slightly.
She saw his eyes moving over her searchingly and it unnerved her. "Yes, you did."
She let out a frustrated shout. "How would you know? You terrorised me, you tormented me. You said hateful things and made me feel—awful. You hurt me, you hurt my family. You chased me around my father's house and threw me down the stairs. You made the police question my motives and terrorist affiliations. You made me lose business to my hotel. How? How could I miss someone like that?" Her tirade ended with a genuine question, as everything she said fell upon itself and she realised that despite it all, she thought about him too much. Too much to say that she didn't miss him.
He said nothing for a long time. The clouds parted outside the open blinds of her window, and a stream of moonlight shone in, lighting his face and body so that she could see him more clearly. The glowing light gave him an ethereal quality, made moreso by his chillingly silver eyes. "Because we're the same person, Lise."
She shook her head, never breaking her gaze with him. "I'm not like you."
"Yes." He smiled, showing his straight, white teeth. "You are. You're exactly like me. You liked it when you were in control, you liked when you were able to stalk me, to hurt me like I hurt you. It gave you a rush that was more than terror. It was exhilaration. Fulfilment. You know what the chase is like and you thrive on it."
She shook her head again, her eyes slowly growing wetter. "You're wrong."
He shook his head back at her. "I'm not."
She still shook her head, but she was no longer looking at him. "I'm tired," she announced, finally. "Will you leave?"
He stared at her for a beat before smoothly getting to his feet. He held out his hand to help her up, but she grabbed the toilet seat instead. He hid his smile behind his hand and a small cough. She brushed past him, emitting a noticeable tremor as she touched him. He followed her back to her bed.
"I trust you won't call the police?" he wondered casually, swiftly picking up his knife as he saw her eyes trail to it.
She let out a short, mirthless laugh. "They won't do anything, anyway. They know who you are, what you are. They know that you're bigger than they'll ever be and work for bosses that they'll never meet. They've already proven their inadequacy. So no, I won't call the police." She crossed her arms and looked away. "I'll just spend the rest of my life feeling stalked. Unsafe," she muttered.
"Hey." He lifted her chin with his finger. She jerked it away. His eyes flashed and he grabbed it back, firmly but not violently. "As long as you don't give me a reason to hurt you, I won't. Our business regarding the red-eye is done. The mission failed, people were apprehended, life moves on. Our personal business, however… Well that, dear Lise, that is just beginning." He winked at her and released her chin, taking a step away from her.
"What 'personal' business?" she spat as he turned his back on her and began to leave.
He paused, back still to her, and turned his head slightly to the side so that she saw part of his profile.
"I did say I was going to steal you, didn't I?"
The words hung in the room as he took another two steps and was gone. She heard a click coming from somewhere near the kitchen and jogged out to see where he had come in from. The apartment was silent, all the windows and doors closed. He had vanished, without a trace. Lisa went back to bed on shaky legs and took off her work clothes, finally. Once she was freshly scrubbed, in her pyjamas and cradling the hockey stick like a stuffed animal, she got under the sheets and lay back down.
It was a long time before sleep came again.