Chapter 27: Alone

He couldn't stand being around them.

It wasn't that he was angry with them, or upset. It was that they all seemed like they were going about their everyday business with what seemed like normalcy, when for him the world had stopped revolving, stopped moving.

He simply didn't know what to do without her anymore. It had never hit him, while she was there, just how much of a role she played in his life. While there had been the inevitable times when duty drew them apart, they had spent almost all their spare time off-duty and as much of their time on duty as they could together. She was his voice, he was her silence. She was his life, and without her he didn't know how to live anymore. With her not by his side, the world suddenly seemed…empty.

When he walked into a room he missed her cheery voice saying hi to everyone. Before, he'd barely had to lift a finger to sign anything; she knew what he wanted almost instinctively and would ask for it for him—or get it for him herself. Now he found himself having to put his meal tray down in the mess to sign his choices to the servers; had to put his tray down in order to ask if a seat was taken. Had to sign his name to the base mail clerk so that he could get his mail, which, after the first week back, he didn't bother to get.

His own quarters suddenly seemed very spare, Spartan; foreign and alien. He hadn't even spent a lot of time in it; he'd spent as many of his nights as possible with her, in her room; talking with her, spending time with her, learning from her, loving her. Not just physically; lovemaking had been, while not necessary to their relationship, a part of their fun together and he missed her so fiercely he ached for her. But the stash of communal porn that made the rounds of the guys didn't hold any appeal for him; he didn't want anyone but Shana.

He spent most of his time in Shana's quarters, keeping things dusted and tidy, looking over her things almost obsessively to see that everything was in place and kept the way she liked it. Her presence here was strong, an aura of 'I just left for a minute, I'll be right back.' He'd found an unfinished letter on her desk, addressed to one of her brothers; the page didn't have more than Sean's name and a 'how are you doing' on it, but he left it exactly where it was, vowing to himself that he would bring her home to finish that letter.

He took his time unpacking her things, taking out soiled items and sending them to laundry, hanging clean clothes in her closet and putting things in her drawer. When there was nothing else left for him to do, he lay in bed and thought about her. He closed his eyes and remembered her smile, her laugh, the feel of her long red hair gently brushing his skin as they curled up next to each other. He remembered her silky skin sliding under his hands; tasted over and over again the slight salty tang of her skin when he licked and kissed and nuzzled her in bed; he even tried to pull out the calendar each one of The Girls had given Their Guys once after having lost a bet with them; but the sight of her posing for him on the pages of the calendar almost made him ill as he imagined her forced to pose for some nameless faceless human trafficker in the same way, and that was the last time he pulled that out from under his mattress.

He spent a lot of time flipping through the photo albums he'd painstakingly created of both of them over the years; having lost his family, and his twin sister Theresa, in a car crash when they'd been on their way to pick him up from the airport one day, he'd gotten a sense of just how precious life was, how fleeting, and he'd taken up photography as a way of capturing every fleeting moment. He dug out all of those photo albums, now; Shana was his favorite subject to photograph. Not only when she was aware of it and actively posing for him; his favorite photos were those where he'd caught her off-guard and unaware, when she wasn't Scarlett but just simply Shana. The most recent shot was of her, dancing on the floor at Europa with Alex. And the next shot, which was his new favorite set of pictures—screen clips from her stunt, dancing on the floor at Medellin's Club Mangos with Alex and Courtney. It was odd; although none of the three ever took their clothes off, it was one of the most erotic videos he'd ever seen of her.

Shana at Coney Island once when they'd had a three-day pass; Shana in front of the 9/11 memorial; Shana on a Ferris Wheel, her face alight with laughter. Lots and lots and lots of pictures of Shana at his cabin in the mountains—not his only, but hers too. When they'd made renovations to the original structure (another album full of photos) his intent was to build a place that would be truly their own, and certain design elements were as much her idea as his. There was one little detail that he'd never consciously thought a lot about, and now did; her name wasn't on the deed.

He would correct that at the very first opportunity he had.

More pictures, filling other albums; he had a whole library of them, after having spent ten years by her side. Shana curled up asleep on the couch in front of the fireplace one evening, having read herself to sleep as he'd been down in town picking up supplies. Shana in tank top and panties, cooking on the stove early one morning before she'd even brushed her hair. It was that Shana that he loved the most; the one who was just being herself, not the Shana that was who her training had made of her.

Her training.

That had startled him, when Hawk told him about Shana's classified secondary MOS. Shana was one of the most open people he'd ever met; what you saw of her was what you got. She was an open book. You could ask her practically anything and she would give you an answer—and she was truthful, too. She didn't try to sugarcoat anything, hide anything.

And yet, for all her openness she wore an air of mystery. While Snake Eyes had known her for years, even he had never found out what her secondary MOS was. He'd heard the story; she'd had a gun in her hand when Clayton asked her about her MOS, and she'd spun so fast that the slug had buried itself in the concrete wall behind him. Clayton said later only half-jokingly that she could have killed him and he wouldn't have known it. And despite his joking, Snake Eyes could see Shana doing just that. He'd never known about the narcointerrogation.

He'd now found out not only what her secondary MOS was, but how she'd gotten it. He agreed completely with Hawk; it was barbaric and he couldn't imagine how Shana had gotten through it, but at the same time he was fiercely proud of her, of her grit and determination and willingness to take the hard road in order to be better, to do better, to be exceptional and stand out against everyone around her.

He spent his nights sleeping in her bed; the pillow, gently scented with the fragrance of the shampoo she used in her hair (peaches, like the peach trees in her beloved Georgia) soothed him; when he slept he felt like he was right there, that she was next to him and all he had to do was reach out and touch her. Her presence here in her quarters was strong and he felt closer to her here. He couldn't sleep in his room, couldn't sleep alone; he'd forgotten how to function without Shana. And his heart ached. When you get back I'm going to marry you so we'll never ever have to be apart again, he vowed fiercely to himself each night he curled up under her sheets, head on her pillow, breathing in the fragrance of her hair and desperate for the comfort all of that offered him.

What kept him going, when otherwise he'd give up, was the dreams. If he was thinking of her right before he fell asleep, sometimes he would feel…a vague something, a set of impressions; sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. He didn't know what to make of those; he knew that there were stories of twins who could feel the other get hurt even with miles between them, but he'd never heard of it happening to two people not related by blood but held together by bonds of love. However, disregarding the scientific evidence, he started to believe (although a small part of his mind told him it was probably wishful thinking) that those impressions he was getting actually were from Shana, and while they didn't offer concrete images, those impressions proved she was still alive.

She was alive; but her mind was fogged, as if by drugs; and she was in a lot of pain. Snake Eyes woke up from a nightmare one night and biting down on his lip to keep from screaming at the pain that sizzled down the nerves of his arm; a confusing, somehow alien pain; only as he regained full consciousness did he realize that if that impression of pain had come from Shana, then this likely was what forcibly being injected with drugs felt like. Could Shana—his strong, beautiful, tough, wonderful Shana—survive this?

She tried so, so hard not to scream as she swam up through fuzzy layers of unconsciousness to agonizing awareness. Her entire body was a complete mass of agony; there wasn't a part of her that didn't hurt. From her fingers and toes, numb from the shackles clamped too tightly around her wrists and ankles; the shackles themselves, cutting off circulation at the same time they were rubbing her skin raw from her almost constant movement. Muscle aches from that same constant movement as she thrashed in drug-induced hallucinations and delirium.

She'd lost all track of time; she couldn't keep track of days between the drugs and the constant darkness; her world had narrowed to this cargo container, the filthy stained boards under her. The drugs left her with a mouth so dry that she could barely croak; that in turn led her to gulp water thirstily whenever it was offered, and while she knew that the water was laced with more of the drugs, she needed that water so badly that she ignored it. She was never allowed up, her arms and legs never released. Not once. She was stiff and sore from lying in one spot, one position; her shoulders were raw and she was sure she had splinters in them from the rough wooden floor of the cargo container.

The only mercy was that the drugs helped alleviate her pain.

But if the men were cruel, the women were not. Two of the taller women, although Shana didn't know their names, seemed to have taken pity on her, and while a portion of Shana's mind was humiliated at the fact that they pitied her, another part of her mind welcomed the fact that they did. Although they didn't have the keys to her shackles, they would stretch out at the very limits of their own shackles and be able to reach her that way with a bit of tattered cloth and tried to massage cramps out of her arms and legs when her muscles locked and spasmed painfully from being stretched for so long. Whenever they could save a little water, they would stretch across the floor to her when the slavers were gone and tilt the fetid but mercifully drug-free water into her cracked, swollen lips; while they were fed three times a day Shana would have a tube shoved down her throat once a day and have tepid, thick mush poured down that tube into her stomach, and half of that she would lose when the tube was pulled back out of her stomach and she vomited when it hit the back of her throat. The women would clean her face and give her small bites of whatever they had left when the men were gone.

She slowly came to realize that while they pitied her, they also admired her. For most of them, their resistance had been broken before they even came on this cargo vessel; orders given them by the slavers were obeyed instantly, fearing punishment. The one time they took the gag out of Shana's mouth intending to force her to do the same she screamed as loudly as she could, and she surmised, when they stuffed the gag hastily back into her mouth and fled, that there were other people on this vessel, people who didn't know what cargo those container held. And they never tried it again.

Waking reality was unbearable; drugged semi-consciousness was a little better. Sometimes, even when withdrawal pain was the worst, she could almost feel him in her dreams; almost feel him reaching for her, see the love and anguish and haunted fear in his eyes. Over and over her mind replayed the last words she'd heard him say to her; I will never stop looking for you, hold on! And again and again she promised, sobbing his name in her dreams, her arms unable to reach for him but her heart and mind and soul yearning for him. She would try to talk to him, but she couldn't make any sound, and all she could do was read her name, shaped by his lips, over and over. Shana, Shana, Shana…

He was the first one she thought of when she woke, the last thought she had before going to sleep, and in between he haunted her dreams, so close to her yet so far away. But she could still feel him yearning for her, and each time she closed her eyes, she affirmed, I'll hold on for you…please, please find me, please…