Daniel Soames was refreshingly ordinary. Ordinary height. Ordinary weight. Ordinary build. Ordinary looks. Ordinary job. Haley supposed he could blend in with a crowd and never be noticed. She was surprised that she was attracted to such an average man, one that she would have never given the time of day to while in high school or college.
It was such a nice change. Aaron had pursued her with a dogged determination - he seriously had been the worst Fourth Pirate in the history of the Pirates of Penzance - but he had always been so confident and secure about himself. Aaron could have his pick of girls, but stayed loyal to her... except for that whole thing with Kate Joyner. Haley had gotten him back for that, though, in the end.
Daniel alternated from self-assured to a nervous wreck; she often wondered where he had found the courage to ask her out in the first place.
He never made promises to be perfect and perhaps that was part of the allure. The first time they had sex had been disastrous, but Haley had managed not to laugh. She didn't really tease him about anything else - and there were lots of things she could pick on - and he seemed to appreciate it; in turn, he worshiped her like she was a goddess.
It was nice to be the center of someone's universe, even if she knew it wasn't going to be a long-term thing.
Daniel was waiting for her at her townhouse, and she couldn't help the broad grin that spread across her face. She parked the minivan inside the garage and bounced out to meet him. God, she felt like a teenager again.
"Hello there, handsome!" she called and kissed him full on the lips for all the neighbors to see.
"Er... Hi," Daniel said, looking around with embarrassment. Clearly, he wasn't expecting her joyous mood.
"I just have to pick up my bag inside and then, viola!" She tapped the tip of his nose. "You. Me. The weekend. You do remember I don't ski, so no making fun of me!"
He laughed a little. "I don't ski either."
That made her pause - he hadn't mentioned that before - but she still grinned merrily. "Then we can learn together! Massanutten awaits!"
Haley quickly went inside, checking that the back and front doors were locked. She set the thermostat and grabbed her weekender. She retrieved her purse from the minivan and then hit the garage door button, dashing out as the door closed.
She couldn't help but giggle. "I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this!"
Daniel's lips curved up. "Neither can I." She handed him her weekender and he seemed genuinely surprised that she had only one piece of luggage. "That's it?"
"I travel light."
"And the ex... didn't give you any problems? No third-degree or anything?"
"All he knows is that I'm going away for the weekend," she said triumphantly, unsure why she was so pleased. "It's none of his business, Daniel. If there's a problem," she patted her jeans pocket, "he can call my cell phone."
Haley knew she shouldn't have had that third glass of wine. She was more than a little tipsy and whenever that happened, she was careless with her words. God knows Aaron had learned early on to be wary when she had had just a bit too much.
Daniel had tried so hard, starting with the little cabin on the edge of the Shenandoah National Park. However, it smelled musty and was run down just enough that it didn't qualify as romantically quaint.
Haley hadn't minded because, well, at least he'd followed through on the whole "weekend together". The cabin was quiet and away from the crowded ski lodges of Massanutten; Daniel had proudly declared it was ten miles from what passed for civilization in this part of Virginia. Her cell phone couldn't make up its mind whether she had service or not.
She didn't care.
Friday night had been a mess, from dinner at the diner to Daniel skittish about the state of the cabin. She assured him everything was okay even when sex had been... well... less than satisfying. It hadn't been the first time she'd faked her pleasure.
On Saturday morning, Daniel had burned the bacon, overcooked the eggs, and brewed watery coffee. No one had ever tried so hard with such pathetic results to impress her; it had been charming instead of annoying.
It felt good.
Their attempt at skiing had gone much the same way as breakfast: a comedy of errors. While Haley had gotten the hang of it rather quickly, Daniel had been a mess. He had reminded her of a newborn colt, all wobbly. She hadn't laughed once, just kept reassuring him. Not everyone was built for skiing. She had even said that they didn't have to ski; they could snowshoe instead.
Daniel had refused.
And when the frat boys had made fun of him, she had immediately come to his defense by delivering scathing comments about their sexual proclivities.
Haley Hotchner knew how to defend her man, although she never had to with Aaron. Well, not like that.
Daniel had finally given up around 3 p.m. and they had headed back to the cabin. She had tried to lighten the mood by having them shower together, but the hot water had run out while she still had soap in her hair. They had attempted to have sex again and it had been slightly more successful. Daniel didn't have any lasting power and she had to coach him on just how to touch her.
Afterwards, Daniel decided to build a fire. However, the wood was damp and refused to burn without a healthy dose of kerosene. Once they got the flame going, Daniel realized that the flue hadn't been opened, so smoke poured into the cabin and they had to open the doors and windows to clear the room. The evening culminated by Daniel trying to broil steaks, roast potatoes, and serve bagged salad.
The only thing palatable about the meal had been the wine, and even that was suspect.
She could see how stressed the whole thing had made Daniel. Haley tried a few times to assure him that it was the thought that counted even if the results weren't ideal, but he would hear none of it.
"Will you just lighten up?" she finally asked as she swirled the wine in her glass. She watched as he paced in front of the fireplace, wringing his hands. "It's okay." Daniel stopped in mid-stride and fixed her with a stare. She couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled up. "Shit happens, Danny Boy."
"Don't call me Danny Boy."
"Ooohh. Okay." She rolled her eyes as another snicker escaped from her. "I'm just saying that..."
"You're laughing at me."
"What? No! I'm laughing with you!" Haley told him as she stood up. "You have to admit this is pretty funny. I mean. Murphy's Law strikes!"
"And that's amusing to you," Daniel's voice became hard. "Just like last night. Just like today."
"Today? So you can't ski. No big deal!"
"It's supposed to be a skiing trip."
"It's supposed to be a weekend together. Really, Daniel. The moment I saw this place, I knew you had something other than skiing on your mind."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Quiet cabin? In the middle of nowhere? It's romantic albeit a bit too... rustic, perhaps?"
"It's not good enough for you."
She took a step backward, the mood change penetrating the warm buzz of the alcohol. "Wait one second. I didn't say that. It's just that this whole thing is supposed to be about us spending time together. Skiing? I could care less. I'm with you."
"A pathetic loser."
"Daniel. Please. I don't date losers." Or so she thought. At least it was Saturday evening and they were due to leave at noon tomorrow. She could probably talk him into leaving earlier, citing some cozy little restaurant for a late breakfast and a leisurely drive back.
Aaron would drop Jack off precisely at 5 p.m. - he was punctual about that sort of thing - and she would have to hear all about Jack's adventures. Funny, she was actually looking forward to it. She'd then invite Belinda and her kids over for dinner and would regale her with stories of the weekend as their children played. Belinda would be laughing her ass off over the whole thing. From Stud to Dud, she would say.
Still, Haley knew she had to salvage the evening. "Daniel. Listen. Nothing is perfect. Nothing in my life has ever been perfect. But you tried. You honestly tried and that's more than I can say about a lot of people."
"Your ex would have made it perfect," said with such jealous petulance it was comical.
She barked out a laugh. "Aaron? Good Lord, Daniel. He wouldn't have even made it this far! His work would have called thirty minutes after he left the office and he would have had to leave." She gave him a lopsided smile. "At least your work is nice. Safe. Like you."
"I didn't say that." She searched for another word and then giggled unexpectedly. The words spilled out. "Ordinary. You're wonderfully, positively, exceptionally ordinary."
Suddenly, he slapped her hard across the face, her wine glass flying from her hand. The force of the blow caused her to stumble backwards.
"You arrogant bitch."
Haley had always been in control of who touched her and how. Aaron had been her first, yes, and he had been kind and respectful and all the things that Good Guys were supposed to be. Even her subsequent lovers - the two she had during that brief breakup during her sophomore year in college, the one at the end of her marriage, and the two after the divorce - had always allowed her control.
Never. Ever. Had she been tied to a bed. Forced. Oh God forced.
How could she have been so stupid? All the signs had to be there.
Even her son knew that there was something wrong, but Haley had been hell bent on being worshipped.
Jack. Thank God Jack was safe. Thank God.
"It's good, isn't it? Good now. Feel me, Haley. Feel what you do to me."
She had her eyes closed and face turned away. She felt the knife blade slide from under her left breast to her right hip. The son of a bitch had tied her legs to the bedposts as well.
Exposed. Raw. Open.
She'd given up Aaron for this.
"Your ex fuck you like this? This good? This long?"
He wanted praise. Praise for doing this to her. Play the role, Haley, she told herself. Play the role. "No." Her voice was even. She supposed the next words sounded like a compliment instead of the insult she wanted them to be, "Never like this."
"Oh Haley, Haley, Haley." Daniel spoke her name like an invocation. She felt him climax. She willed herself not to vomit.
After all, Aaron was going to save her.
That's what he did.
From freaks like Daniel.
And Aaron was going to save her. Wasn't he?
Haley sat at the kitchen table, wrists and ankles cuffed to the chair. He's done this before, her mind whispered countered by, Just play the role.
Daniel had left her tied to the bed last night as he slept against her. This morning, he had given her a bath. She had tried to fight him but he smashed her face into the bathroom mirror and then kicked her hard in the stomach. She supposed she was lucky that the only bleeding cut she received was above her left eye.
Left eye. The same place where Aaron had his injury the night of the Christmas play. "The stairs on the fire escape collapsed," had been Reid's quick explanation and Aaron had refused to elaborate. Some things never really changed.
Thank God Jack was safe. Thank God.
She was now dressed in a long-sleeved, knee-length white cotton gown and she was cold. Still, it was Sunday morning. She didn't quite know what time it was but perhaps mid-morning. Only a few more hours. Aaron would be at her townhouse at 5 p.m. and when she was a no-show... well, Aaron was predictable. He'd call her and get no answer. Then, he'd repeat calling at 5-minute intervals.
Probably at the twenty-minute mark, Aaron would call Jessica to find out where she had spent the weekend and then start asking Jack about Mommy's friends. He'd start the calls to the police and hospitals at the thirty-minute mark. When those leads wouldn't pan out, he would break into her home and find the email from Daniel asking her out for the weekend posted on the fridge, complete with a photo of her captor and the details she insisted Daniel tell her.
It was weird the things she automatically did, things that Aaron had relentlessly drilled into her during those first two years he was at the FBI. Leave a timeline. Leave contact names and numbers. Leave photos. She had believed it to be paranoia on his part but had given in at his insistence. It had been one less thing to fight about.
The oatmeal was cold and pasty. She didn't fight as Daniel spoon-fed her. She wondered if he spiked it with anything. He only gave her twelve spoonfuls and then offered her a half-cup of tepid water.
"Aren't I good to you?"
"Much better than your ex."
"Tell me how much better."
Haley focused on the corner of the table. Vilifying Aaron was easy; she had done it so many times before. Yet this time, it hurt so much to speak the words and she fought back the tears. What she really wanted to say was: We made mistakes. We weren't willing to forgive one another. I expected too much out of him and never cut him slack for trying. He made promises because that was what he was supposed to do. Jack was an attempt to save our marriage. Our baby just made it worse.
Thank God Jack was safe. Thank God.
"He never paid attention to me."
"Not like I do."
"Not like you do."
When Haley was tied to the bed again, she hadn't resisted. It earned praise. Daniel then forced himself on her and he demanded she tell him how good he was.
Haley did as she was told.
Daniel ranted about how she should have been worshipped by her ex - he never used Aaron's name - and how he was taking much, much better care of her.
Haley agreed with every word.
She had a plan. Simple, yes, but feasible. Daniel's keys were in his jacket pocket. The jacket was by the door. The door had only one lock, a deadbolt that didn't require a key from the inside. The table lamp was right there on the nightstand. She could stun him, grab the keys, open the door, run to the truck, unlock it, get inside, lock the doors, start the engine, and then drive like hell.
Her plan hinged on Daniel's ritual. Each time after he... forced... her, he cleaned her up. She had been compliant since this morning. Maybe he'd give her another bath. She just had to ask him. Play up to his ego. Make him make a mistake.
My ex never bathed me. But you? You were so wonderful. I enjoyed it so much. Please. I would like that again. It was so good. You make me feel so special.
Daniel finished with a grunt. He petted her hair. He kissed her breasts. He sat back and admired her.
Haley forced herself to breathe. Get into character. Then, she said the words.
Daniel seemed genuinely surprised. He paused. Stared at her. Dared her to, perhaps, flinch.
She didn't. Instead, she repeated, "You make me feel so special."
His smile was wide. He untied her legs.
She didn't move.
He untied her arms.
She let them drop to the mattress. He waited.
She smiled. "You make me feel so special."
She grabbed the lamp. She swung hard. The blow connected. She ran. He bellowed. She grabbed his jacket. He grabbed her hair. She swung low, connecting to his thigh. He released her. She got the door open. He tackled her from behind. She fell into the snow.
He punched. She kicked. He hit. She bit. He surged.
She underestimated him. The blow to her head dazed her.
"He's not going to save you," Daniel said, triumph glimmering in his eyes. The cuffs snapped around her wrists.
It wasn't fair.
He pulled her up. She stumbled, the cold suddenly biting her limbs, forcing the fight from her.
Ten miles from the nearest... No cell signal...
He pulled her towards the side of the cabin. She frantically glanced around, willing herself to remember the pristine snow. The glorious colors of late February, even if they were dull brown, silver and white.
Daniel opened a cellar door. He pushed her down the stairs. She tumbled, crying out as she ungracefully hit the wood steps and rolled to a heap at the bottom.
Lights flickered on.
Four women. All blonde. All wearing the same type gown she was. All lined up against the wall.
All very dead.
Haley was freezing. Her teeth chattered. Her limbs shook. She alternated from marching in place to crouching down and hugging herself with her right arm in order to keep herself warm. A shackle encircled her left wrist with the chain attached firmly to the wall of cinder blocks. At least the chain was long enough so that she could sit down. That was the only thing that was... tolerable.
Well that and knowing that Jack was completely and utterly safe.
Daniel left the light on. She refused to look at the bodies. Instead, she stared down at the ground... which was carpeted. Who the hell carpeted a cellar?
Aaron probably had some fancy term to describe just what type of lunatic that Daniel was. Reid probably had some fancy statistics on how many like him there were in the United States. Rossi probably had featured them in one of his books.
The door to the cellar opened. She almost called out, but something made her stop.
Daniel then bounded down the stairs.
What happened next was something out of a very bad, very terrifying horror movie.
Daniel introduced her to the corpses. Then, he served them tea.
Haley felt her mind shut down after Daniel had turned on the DVD player and insisted they watch a film together.
A film featuring his victims.
"Don't worry, Haley," Daniel whispered soothingly. "You'll star in the next one."
When he left, he turned the lights off.
The lights turned on.
Daniel served dinner. He played the DVD again. "You need to prepare for your role, Haley."
The lights turned off.
The lights turned on.
Daniel... did that to her. He apologized to the other women that he had a new favorite. He played the DVD again. "You need to prepare for your role, Haley."
The lights turned off.
The lights turned on.
Daniel served breakfast. He played the DVD again. "You need to prepare for your role, Haley."
The lights turned off.
The lights turned on.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs.
Noise. There was lots of noise.
It was different this time, but Haley didn't know why.
Then. It hit: it was time.
Oh God, it was time.
When warm hands touched her, she screamed.
She screeched, "I will never be your star."
Shouts followed. Her name was repeated. She balled her fist and punched, surprised when she made contact. She continued, because even if she did have one arm chained to a damn wall, she would still fight back.
"Not your star!" Her voice grew raw as she repeatedly yelled those three words. There was more shouting. She was jostled a bit and then she was swinging at air. If it kept him away, then fine.
No one called her Carrots. No one. But...
Her vision focused. She saw black with thick white lettering. It made no sense except...
"Please the carrots."
She forced herself to look up. Her hand fell to her side.
"Please the carrots." Said so calmly. So forcefully. So intensely. So...
"Oh God, Aaron."
The bandages on Haley's left wrist itched, as did the tape securing the IV tube on the top of her right hand. She didn't bother scratching them. She supposed it had something to with what was in the IV. She didn't particularly care.
She was on her side, facing the window. The drapes had been drawn open at her insistence even though it was gray and gloomy. Her feet were curled under her. The plate of peas and carrots sat on the rollaway table. She had no idea why she had insisted on them.
Still. It was quiet, finally.
A light yet firm knock broke the silence. It made Haley blink. No one had knocked before. Not the detective. Not the lab technician. Not the photographer. Not the slew of medical staff. Not even her sister, who had barged into the room and had demanded Haley explain exactly what had happened.
Problem was, Haley couldn't quite remember. She hadn't been able remember when the detective talked to her. When the lab technician had talked to her. When the nurse had talked to her. When the doctors had talked to her. When her sister had… well...
Jessica had been furious, cursing and yelling and finishing with "Oh my God, what do we tell Mom and Dad?"
Haley had screamed at her to leave. One of the orderlies had ushered Jessica out.
No one had talked to her since then. At least she'd accomplished something.
It was quiet, finally.
Now. Someone was knocking. Haley glanced over her shoulder and wanted to be surprised. Actually, she was. He had knocked. The only person in the whole goddamned place who had the decency to knock. "Aaron."
"May I come in?"
Haley stared. She felt the prick of tears as she nodded.
Aaron entered the room with that measured "I'm not here to start an argument" step of his. His arms were at his sides. He then gestured toward the chair, which was between the bed and the window. "May I sit down?"
So stalwart. So calm. So... Aaron.
Haley bit her lips and focused on the window. She then nodded once. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him walk around the edge of the bed and then sit in the chair. She felt a tear slip down her cheek.
"Are you here to question me?" she asked, surprised how rough her voice was.
"No." His tone was gentle as he added, "But if you want to talk, I'm here to listen."
She rolled her eyes. "You're not even going to say, 'I told you so?'"
There was another pause. He sounded genuinely hurt. "I would never... could never say that to you. Please. Believe that."
That made her look over and meet his gaze. Intense as always but she could see the anger brimming just behind that look of some thing else she didn't want to identify. It definitely wasn't love or pity... kindness? Sympathy? No. She didn't want to know. The anger was definitely, I'll make that son of a bitch pay for what happened.
She'd seen that look countless times.
She just never knew how to translate it.
She shivered. She blinked.
Aaron was dressed in what she used to call "the uniform": dark suit, crisp shirt, tie, matching pocket kerchief, polished dress shoes... She saw the gun peeking out from the gap of his pinstripe jacket and his white shirt. She knew there was a second one but couldn't remember which ankle he had it strapped to.
She wasn't talking to Aaron. She was talking to Hotch. She had always been able to recognize the difference.
Her mind promptly went blank. She struggled before finally spitting out, "You were the worst Fourth Pirate. Ever."
He snorted, a smile playing across his lips. His expression softened just a bit. "I know."
"You were supposed to say, 'peas and carrots', not 'please the carrots'," Haley chided, wondering where all this was coming from and just why her voice was shaking like it was. "We were stage left and you were supposed to say 'peas and carrots' so the audience thought we were carrying on a conversation."
She glanced back out the window. "Troublemaker."
He huffed a laugh. "I know."
She looked down at her bandaged wrist. "I don't remember."
He didn't reply. She inhaled sharply. Everyone else had spouted bullshit about PTSD and stress and trauma, which had been followed immediately by platitudes of how Daniel would never hurt her again, how she was going to be okay, how she was alive and how she should be grateful.
Aaron didn't say any of that. She recalled his words when he first came in, If you want to talk, I'm here to listen. It made her think of all those times he was late coming home, that mysterious "one last thing for the case" before he could leave. Haley swallowed hard. "Do you always visit... someone... afterward?"
"Sometimes." Blunt. No elaboration. Typical Aaron. Then again, she supposed she would be screaming at him to leave if he did launch into some explanation.
Yet if Aaron was here… "Where's Jack?" but it was a stupid question.
"Belinda is watching him."
Haley bolted upright, panic making her heart hammer. "What? Why? Why not..." It took a few tries to get her sister's name out. "…Jessica?"
"I don't think Jessica is the best choice right now. Jack needs someone familiar." Aaron then amended, "Someone familiar… and without judgment."
"Belinda knows?" Haley knew her voice shrilled.
"She knows that you were injured while on your skiing trip. Nothing more."
"But the press..."
"This has been kept out of the press."
She gasped. She met his look. "How? You can't..."
"This is an ongoing investigation," Aaron interrupted calmly. "Until we have all the details, the press has agreed to hold off." He leaned forward slightly, his forearms resting in his knees and his hands folded in front of him. "This is your story to tell, Haley. And when you're ready to tell it, I'll be here to listen. Not to judge. Never to judge."
Haley squeezed her eyes shut. Suddenly, she blurted. "I hated you."
"I didn't understand."
There was a slight pause before he exhaled. "I know."
Haley gasped at the stark honestly. She balled her fists. She could feel the tears pouring down her face. She knew she was shaking. Images flashed in her head. Her body ached in places that she didn't want to think about. Sobs ripped through her as she crumbled against the pillows.
"I understand now." She held her hand out, unsure of just what she wanted.
Aaron's grip was firm. Solid. He gently pulled her to an embrace, her face tucked beneath his chin. Haley could barely hear him over her crying.
"I wish you never had to."
***/ Finis /***