With thanks to my beta reader Roa1

WARNING: This contains a considerable amount of violence.

The Hard Way

"So Mr Stirling, you were stupid enough to walk into my trap. Now you'll find out the hard way why it's such a bad idea to piss me off."

Craig kept silent.

"Tie his hands good and tight."

Two of the men kept their guns trained on Craig while one of the other three started to bind Craig's hands.

"No, not that way - behind his back," the first man said impatiently, "very tight," he continued.

The man pulled the rope around Craig's wrists so tightly he couldn't move his hands at all.

"Now a little tighter."

The rope was yanked even tighter and it cut into Craig's flesh.

The man in charge walked behind Craig to check the cords, he saw the blood welling up around the rope and smiled to himself.

"Soon, Mr Stirling, you are going to tell me everything you know but I can wait a little while for that. First, I'm going to have you punished for all the trouble you've caused me."

Craig just looked at the man, his expression unchanged.

The man turned to his five minions, all very large, muscular men.

"Ten minutes," he said, "oh and try and keep him conscious."

He walked out of the door closing it behind him.

Craig repressed the physical signs of the fear he felt as the men moved towards him menacingly. With his hands tied so tightly there was very little he could do to defend himself and no chance at all of fighting back. He twisted and turned, trying to deflect a little of the power of each punch and kick, but most of the blows landed with full force. One of the men kicked him at the back of his knees and Craig landed heavily on the floor onto his shoulder, unable to do anything to break the fall. As they began to kick him he curled himself up as tight as he could to protect the more vulnerable areas of his body. At this point they stopped laying into him and stood back, looking down at him.

"Not enough target area, stretch him out," said one.

Two of the men took hold of Craig's shoulders, two others grabbed his ankles and between them they forced him onto his back, his legs spread-eagled, and held him down. The fifth man dropped to his knees and punched him in the groin, causing him to gasp in agony. The man watched Craig's face closely and, just as the pain began to subside a little, stood up and kicked him in the same area. Craig tasted vomit and swallowed it back desperately. The man stepped back.

"Get up!" he commanded.

The other four men released their grip on him. Craig was in so much pain he hardly understood the command as he lay there panting for breath.

"Too slow, much too slow," said the man and drove his fist into Craig's solar plexus as hard as he could, "I said GET UP!"

Craig made a superhuman effort and struggled to his feet, breathing hard.

The man immediately hooked Craig's legs from under him and he fell to the floor again.

"Now do it properly! Stand up!" he said, smiling sadistically.

Craig managed to get himself upright again.

The man hooked his legs from under him once more.

"On - your - feet!"

Painful and humiliating though it was for Craig, knowing he was almost certainly going to be knocked down again the moment he stood up, the time it took did give him a short respite from the punches and kicks and ate into the 'ten minutes' the men had been allocated for the beating.

As soon as he was upright the man toppled him.

"UP!" laughed the man and stood back watching Craig battling to get himself off the floor.

Craig struggled to his feet, his breath coming in short gasps; he didn't know how many more times he could do this. It wasn't easy to get up without the use of his hands and it was getting increasingly more difficult as the pain in his shoulder, from repeatedly falling onto it, intensified. The mocking laughter of the men told him that they were enjoying this, which meant it was unlikely to stop anytime soon.

The man approached him and swept his feet from under him

with more force than the previous times. Craig crashed to the ground, badly winded.

"And up again!" commanded the man.

Craig wasn't sure that he could get up this time and thought it preferable to just take the punishment for not making the attempt. He wondered how much of the 'ten minutes' was left.

"So you haven't learned obedience yet?" the man asked rhetorically.

"Stretch him out."

They stretched him out and this time all five took a turn in punching him while the others held him still. They targeted the areas of his body that they knew would hurt the most. He took blows to his ribs, his stomach and his diaphragm. One of them hit him in the jaw and Craig tasted blood as the other men remonstrated with their colleague,

"The boss wants him conscious, remember? Keep your fists away from his head."

Then the last man gave him another punch in the groin. Engulfed with pain, Craig couldn't stop himself from crying out.

"Now, get up!" said the man.

This time when they let him go Craig doubled up on his side, moaning in agony, taking very short, shallow breaths.

"I TOLD YOU TO GET UP," roared the man, at the same time kicking Craig, "NOW!"

Craig tried desperately to struggle upright but couldn't raise himself from the floor, the pain was too intense.

The speaker nodded to the other four men and they hauled him to his feet. Two of them held him upright while the other three pummelled him with their fists. Then they loosed their hold and he fell to the ground. All five gave him a kicking while he lay there, then two of them pulled him up so the other three could punch him again. They continued to repeat this procedure, hauling him upright so he could take their punches then letting go of him so that he'd fall to the floor within easy reach of their vicious kicks.

The men were so engrossed in what they were doing that they didn't hear the door open or see the boss walk in. For a few moments he stood smiling, watching his men dishing out a very thorough beating while Craig, bruised and bloodied with his breath coming in ragged gasps, was being held upright, his groans of pain almost drowned out by the sounds of powerful fists slamming into his flesh.

"Lesson over," he announced, at last. He saw the look of relief that Craig was unable to suppress and added, "for the time being."

"Now, Mr Stirling it's time you gave me some answers."

The men let go of him and, unable to support his own weight, he sank to the floor and lay looking up at the boss saying nothing.

"I suggest you start talking now," said the boss in a dangerous tone of voice.

Craig continued to look up at him in silence.

"Mr Stirling, you really do like to do things the hard way," remarked the man; then he addressed his men.

"You know what to do," he said.

The men stripped Craig down to his underwear, tearing his shirt off him rather than troubling to untie him. Then they dragged him over to a chair and bound him to it. The boss smiled as he looked at Craig's body and saw the numerous cuts and bruises his men had inflicted. He put his thumb on the bruise that was forming on Craig's diaphragm and pushed down hard, smirking as Craig winced involuntarily. He stood back abruptly.

"Get the equipment," he said.

Two of the men left the room and returned almost immediately, one carrying a bucket and the other a box. The man picked up the bucket and, without warning, threw the contents over Craig, who drew his breath in sharply as icy cold water cascaded over him.

"The water is a temporary measure," the man told him, "soon you'll be sweating so much it won't be necessary."

The man opened the box and took out some sort of device. Craig shrank back a little further into the chair as it was brought closer to his body but was unable to prevent it being applied to him. He gasped as an electric shock coursed through his body.

"Now, Mr Stirling," said the boss in a conversational tone, "I shall continue to apply this device to various parts of your anatomy until you tell me everything you know. It's pre-programmable and can be set to give shocks of varying intensity and duration. It is normally programmed to steadily increase the duration and intensity of shocks but I think that this time, in view of your extreme stubbornness, it might

add rather more fun and interest to what - for me - will be a rather boring procedure if I use the 'random' setting. Neither of us will know in advance how long each shock will last or how painful it will be. In between each application of the device you will have five seconds to indicate that you wish to talk. Failure to do this will result in a further shock. Do you understand?"

Craig didn't reply.

"When I ask you a question you damn well answer me!" yelled the man, white faced with fury.

He slapped Craig hard across the face and then turned a couple of dials on the device and applied it to Craig's abdomen. The shock seemed to go on and on. Craig writhed and squirmed on the chair screaming out. At last it stopped and his head sagged forward. The man grabbed a handful of Craig's hair and dragged his head upright. He put his face very close to Craig's and repeated through clenched teeth,

"Do you understand?"

"Yes," gasped out Craig.

"Right we'll start then, unless of course you want to save yourself a lot of pain and me a lot of time and start talking now?" He waited for a response.

"I…don't… know…anything," Craig replied, still struggling for breath.

And so it began. Shock after shock, after shock, after shock, which was bad enough, but not knowing how painful it would be until the device touched him and never knowing when it would stop was much worse. Craig's body jerked about on the chair uncontrollably, it no longer mattered to him that he was screaming in pain. On and on it went. The few seconds

respite in between each shock were barely enough to enable him to get his breath. Craig felt as though he'd spent his whole life in this chair, in this pain, with this man standing over him applying that infernal device over and over again to his sweat soaked body.

He was barely conscious when he heard the man cry out and abruptly the torture stopped. He became aware of someone bending over him. He looked up and saw the face of the person he loved best in the world, his blue eyes full of concern.

"Richard," said Craig and passed out.

Richard deftly unfastened the ropes binding Craig to the chair then bent him forward gently so he could release his hands. He gasped in horror as he saw the tightness of the rope and the blood coming from his friend's wrists. He knelt down beside Craig and took a penknife from his pocket. Craig moaned as consciousness began to return. As carefully as he could,

so as to minimise any further damage to Craig's skin, Richard cut the cords and freed his friend's hands. He stood back and, for the first time, took note of all the cuts, burns, and contusions on his friend's skin. Furiously angry he turned to the man who was still lying on the floor crying with pain from the

blow inflicted upon him. Richard didn't stop to think, he was so angry at the way his friend had been treated, he picked up the device.

"Let's see how you like it shall we?" he said.

He applied the device to the man whose body jerked as he screamed out.

"Richard, stop, you'll kill him," came Craig's voice.

"After what he did to you do you think I care?" asked Richard, reluctant to stop giving this thug a taste of his own medicine. This man had hurt the most important person in Richard's life and he was damn well going to pay for it.

"Richard, that's enough, we need him alive. You know that."

Reluctantly Richard put down the device and turned back to Craig. He saw the marks on his friend's body and the pain and suffering etched on his face and his eyes started to sting. He brushed the back of his hand across them impatiently.

"I hate missions like this one," he said, gruffly, "one of us having to walk into a trap with our eyes wide open just to buy time for the others to round up the rest of the gang."

"It worked didn't it?" asked Craig rhetorically.

"Oh, yes it worked, but all the same what you had to go through was..." Richard choked on the rest of the sentence and changed the subject rapidly. "Sharron's in the other room, the whole gang is incapacitated and the police are on their way here to round up this little lot."

The police had been and gone, taking all the thugs into custody. Although they already had more than enough to convict the gang, Sharron was searching through the house for any additional evidence. Richard had offered to help but she'd told him to stay with Craig.

"He needs you right now," she'd said, in a matter of fact tone.

The two men sat side by side on the small sofa in the living room. Craig was still in a great deal of pain but he felt stronger just for being close to his friend. Richard was gently stroking Craig's hair. He yearned to take him into his arms and hold him, but was afraid of causing more pain. Craig sensed Richard's hesitation; he looked meaningfully at his friend's mouth and leant towards him, his head tilted slightly upwards. Richard could no longer control his desire to comfort Craig. He took him in his arms, very gently, and began to kiss him.

Sharron paused in the doorway, smiled as she saw the two of them and retreated, closing the door softly behind her.