Unremarkable anything bu.., p.10
Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 10
When he was positive the apartment was clear, Isaac dropped his hands, the weight of the gun too heavy in the face of what had come to pass. One or both of them was wounded or dead, possibly taken by UDKs per August’s orders. If the alternative was that, dead was better than wounded.
His chest gave a twinge and Isaac closed his eyes until it passed. I should have been here. Always too late—I’m always too late. He went still, James’s words echoing through his head. Ultimate killing machine. What if the destruction had been the result of Honor and not August’s henchmen? Tight-lipped, he refused to believe it.
He hurried from the apartment complex, thoughts on finding Honor and not his immediate surroundings. Uncontrollable fear prodded him on and he couldn’t shake it, no matter how hard he tried to. If he had been paying attention, he would have noted the red vehicle parked in front of the door that hadn’t been there when he’d arrived.
Isaac was grabbed from behind; a fist slammed into his face, bone cracking and blood spurting from his nose. Another blow had his upper front tooth bite into his lower lip, breaking the skin and filling his mouth with the taste of metal. An elbow to his back had him on his knees and a boot to the stomach doubled him over. The moves were too fast to respond to, making him think they were administered by a UD and not a UDK. He looked up, swaying where he knelt, and saw August’s grinning face before his foot connected with Isaac’s cheek.
“I always liked you, which is why I won’t wait too long to kill you,” was the last thing he heard.
He awoke in a cold cell, chained to a wall. A strong mildew scent encircled him, making his empty stomach roil. His face felt swollen and his body ached, reminding him of the previous events that had brought him to where he was. August had taken him on like a much younger man, or like a UD. How is that possible?
Isaac sat up, wincing as the movement caused fire through his many wounds. He cast bleary eyes around the small structure, noting the jagged rock walls, cement floor, and the bars beyond him. Why was August even keeping him alive? What was the point?
“You were one of my best, Nealon.”
He looked up, squinting at the man standing on the other side of the bars. He was dressed in a black suit, every part of him orderly. His blue eyes hinted at sorrow he was not capable of feeling. The man was empty, devoid of human emotions.
“I’m sure you’re real beat up about this.”
“I am. You were like a son to me and now you’re an enemy. It saddens me.”
“Why don’t you just kill me and make yourself feel better?”
“All in good time.” August flashed a grin, his mouth all teeth. “You’re the bait. I have to keep you alive, for now.”
“For what?” he demanded, trepidation washing over him, heavy and inescapable.
“You’ll see.” August walked away, leaving him to his uneasy thoughts.
Days were spent like that, then a week, then two. Isaac was given just enough sustenance to remain alive. August’s good mood deteriorated as the time grew and he punished him more as the days went, leaving fresh bruises on his face and upper body daily. It wasn’t hard to glean August’s agenda. He was searching for Honor. He had to be. That was the only person unwise enough to give herself up for him.
Even as he thought it, he hung his head in gratitude that she would care enough to do such a thing, no matter how infuriating it was. He had no family left, no one to care about him—no one but a headstrong teenage girl.
Each day August beat him was a good day. But then, after being locked up just over fifteen days, he showed up smiling, and fear froze Isaac, so cloying he had to choke air into his lungs.
“You have a guest,” he announced, briefly nodding to someone out of Isaac’s view. He turned his gaze back to him. “You took the tracking device out. I’m impressed.”
“And pissed, right?” he said through a swollen mouth.
“I don’t get pissed, Nealon. You should know that by now. I admit I was starting to get upset as the days went on without her return, but now, all is well.”
Honor was ushered into the cell, dirty and fierce, her eyes finding and staying on him as she was chained to the wall across the small room. Relief and resignation pulsated through him—and fury. Fury for her, at her, dominated over all other emotions.
What had she been thinking? She should have ran and kept running. She was a fool; an annoying, selfless, brilliant, brave fool. His throat was thick as he silently watched the person who’d somehow wiggled her way into his heart, into his being. She stared back with luminous eyes, unapologetic of her actions.
“You were supposed to find me,” she accused when they were left alone, though the cameras trained on them proved they were never really alone.
“You were supposed to run.”
“I did.” She opened her mouth, closed it. Her shoulders slumped. “Talley?”
Isaac looked down. “I haven’t heard. I showed up at the ransacked apartment and was attacked outside it, then brought here.”
“Who beat you up?”
A scowl took over his features. “No one beat me up.”
“Tell that to your face. I went back to the apartment.”
“Because you never found me. Talley told me to run, so I ran, but I always thought you’d find me, and when you didn’t, I knew something was wrong. So I went back. I waited. For almost a week, I waited in that apartment, waited for you to show up. I had to know you were okay, Nealon,” she whispered, the space between them too wide, too much, and never enough.
“You gave yourself up for me.”
His voice turned harsh as he said, “You sat in that apartment and waited for them to come get you.”
“That was unbelievably stupid.”
Honor stiffened, her eyes spitting fire at him. “I had no choice. I was told if I went with them, they would spare your life.”
“And you believed them?”
“I had no choice,” she repeated.
“You always have a choice.”
“No. I didn’t. Even the hint of a chance that you would live if I went with them was enough to make me go. I didn’t even have to think about it. I just went.”
The silence grew, became uncomfortably tense with all that remained unspoken between them. Isaac finally broke it, unable to stand it any longer. “And now look at you, stuck here with me.”
She pressed her lips together.
“I’m still going to die.”
Honor flinched. “You’re not.”
Isaac chuckled, warmth expanding his chest even with the eminence of death upon him. “I’m sorry, Honor.” And he was. He closed his eyes and inhaled slowly. He was so very sorry.
“Bringing you in. It never felt right. It felt like I was clipping the wings of a bird, stealing her freedom. Harnessing in something meant to be unrestricted.”
“You were just doing your job, what you thought you had to do. I don’t blame you,” she told him softly, her eyes touching him in a way hands or words never could. Those eyes told so many things, forgave too much, never stopped seeing the good in a world with too little of it.
“You should. I was unfeeling for so long. I didn’t even care about what I was doing anymore,” he admitted, running a hand through his short hair, bumping a cut on his temple.
“It doesn’t matter.”
He ground his teeth together, glaring at her. “It matters to me.”
She slowly nodded. “Good. I’m glad. That means you’re not so unfeeling anymore.” Moving to her knees, she said, “There’s so much I want to tell you, about what happened while I was gone—”
Isaac jerked his head back and forth, pointing to the camera with the blinking red light. “Not here.”
“So what do we do then?” She sat back with a sigh, drawing her knees up and resting her forearms on them.
He flashed a grin that hurt his face to form.
She wrinkled her nose up, like the notion was absolutely repulsive to her. “About what?”
“Anything. What do you want to talk about?” As soon as he said it, he regretted it. Isaac watched Honor’s features transform into an expression of intense seriousness.
“I want to know about you.”
She shrugged. “You’re an interesting guy.”
He snorted. “Do you know how bad I wish I was boring?”
Laughter, short and surprised, burst from her, causing his lips to curve up. “Tell me about it, Nealon.”
They shared a smile until Isaac got his wits back and looked away. He cleared his throat. “There's something I've been wanting to ask you.”
“What?” she asked with raised eyebrows.
“When you hit me; I told you to think of something I'd done to piss you off. What did you think of?”
She grinned, her face lighting up. “How you kept insisting I call you Agent Nealon during training. It was really annoying.”
He snorted, a small smile hurting his lips. “How evil of me.”
“It was.” She tapped her fingernails against the cement floor, watching him. “I know some things about you; the important things.”
“You’re brave,” she said without hesitation. “Fierce. Loyal. Admirable.”
“You’re crazy,” he scoffed, feeling the tips of his ears warm up.
She shook her head, mutely refuting his denial. “But I don’t know the small details. I’d like to know them. People matter to me. You matter to me. Tell me something.”
He shifted his weight, causing his sore shoulder to burn as it scraped the rough wall behind him. “What do you want to know?”
“Favorite color,” Honor said, eyebrows lifted.
“Really? We’re going to do this?” He sighed when she just looked at him. “Green. You?”
“Orange. Favorite movie.”
“The Shawshank Redemption.”
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Food?”
“Mine used to be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
“Used to be?”
“Yeah. When I had an appetite.” She said it without inflection, without any kind of emotion, her eyes downcast.
He studied the young woman across the room, wondering what she was thinking and feeling about all the changes she had no control over, nor knew the extent of. Her dark head was bowed, her long hair a curtain against her features. He didn’t know what had been done to her, not completely, but he felt like he should warn her in some way. Of what, he wasn’t sure. But he wouldn’t be around much longer and then there would be no one to tell her what she needed to know.
Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself against what he was about to say. “There are some things—”
“Will you tell me about her?” she interrupted, her curiosity too great to shove aside any longer.
She gestured to her ragged and torn clothing. “Whoever these clothes belong to. Cross-dresser you may be, but even I can see these clothes are too small for you. So? Whose are they and what happened to her?”
It probably didn’t make much sense that the predominant thought she’d had during everything that had come to be was wondering about the woman who so obviously had had, or still had, Nealon’s heart. Honor told herself it was mild curiosity, but that wasn’t entirely true. It was a need, an almost infatuation, to know.
She didn’t understand it, couldn’t really explain it, and yet she couldn’t stop dwelling on it; she had to be a spectacular woman to mean so much to him. A spark of emotion she didn’t want to name swept through her, making her uneasy. Why did she care? And still she did.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I know. But I’d like to know more about you, seeing as how we’re both about to die. And you said we could talk about anything.”
“Then what’s the point in knowing? And yes, anything meaning you, not me.”
“It’ll pass the time between now and nothingness,” she said with a faint smile. “Come on, spill.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“How do you know I won’t and you will?”
“Because I won’t let that happen.”
“So confident. I always liked that about you,” Honor said.
“You liked something about me?”
“Shocking, I know.”
“You have no idea.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“So confident. I always liked that about you,” he softly mocked.
“August wants me alive. I won’t accommodate him unless you’re alive too.”
“He’s going to kill me. He told me as much. Don’t believe otherwise, no matter what he tells you to get you to do as he wants.”
“He won’t.” An ache formed in her chest and blossomed through her. “He told me he wouldn’t hurt anyone as long as I did what he wanted.”
“You really don’t believe anything he tells you, do you? You should know better than that.”
“This time, I have to,” she whispered.
Nealon didn’t say anything for a long time, and when Honor thought he wouldn’t speak again, he began.
“Her name was Demi. We grew up together; fell in love when we were sixteen. I was going to marry her. We were both eighteen when it happened. The virus triggered in her a few weeks after me, only it didn’t have the same results.”
“She was a UD,” Honor guessed.
“Yeah. She…it seemed like she adapted well. I mean, over the years I could tell little things were different, but she was still the girl I remembered, she was still the woman I loved. We existed as well as we could, keeping our relationship secret from almost everyone. I’m sure more knew than we realized, but we were naïve enough to think it didn’t matter, that the two of us were inconsequential in a world of UDs and UDKs. UDs and UDKs dating—not exactly celebrated. The situation wasn’t ideal, but it was working. I thought it was working. But about three years ago, I don’t know, it all changed.”
When he became silent, she prompted, “Changed how?”
“Demi was more aggressive, hostile. It was like part of her hated me and I didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand how it happened. She resented me, resented that I was what I was and she was what she was. I told her it didn’t matter. But to her, it did. She blew up over the smallest details. She became inconsolable when upset. I couldn’t calm her down, no matter what I tried. We split for a while and during that time she got even worse. It was like I didn’t know her anymore. I kept holding on. I didn’t want to believe the Demi I loved was no longer there, that she was gone. But she was.”
He paused, looking down. “She attacked me with a gun, there was a struggle, and it went off. No one was hurt, not yet, but I had the gun then. She told me to kill her, to end it, that she was turning bad. She begged me to, pleaded with me. I wouldn’t. I dropped the gun and told her she’d have to shoot me because there was no way I was aiming that gun at her. So she picked up the gun, pointed it at my heart, and at the last second, raised it to her head instead.”
In the silence that followed there was heaviness, the quiet full of sorrow and regrets and loss.
“You don't really ever get over something like that, seeing that.” His tone was defeated.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said when she finally found her voice.
“It was. I killed her.”
“There are other ways to kill someone than the obvious. She came to me for help on more than one occasion. She told me something wasn’t right. I ignored it. I waved her fears away. I told her she was fine. I didn’t help her. I didn’t even try to help her. I might as well have pulled the trigger. My indifference had the same result.”
“That isn’t fair to you.”
“Life isn’t fair.”<
Honor inhaled slowly, sliding down the wall and into a sitting position. The chain rattled as she moved. She watched Nealon across the room, his bruised and cut face a myriad of colors, his dark eyes bright with repentance.
“Don’t be. You have enough to worry about without adding me to the list.”
“Do you think something like that will happen to me?”
“What are you talking about?”
She shrugged. “The changes in me—what if what happened to Demi is happening, or could happen, to me?”
“You’re a UDK. She was a UD. It’s not the same,” he said slowly, but his eyes wouldn’t meet hers.
“You don’t know that, not for sure. What am I? Do you know?”
She blinked her eyes, the tightness in her throat painful. “That’s my name. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a name. It has nothing to do with what I am or am not. Please. I’m asking you and I’m hoping you’ll tell me the truth. What am I?”
“I don’t know. I wish I did, but I don’t.”
“But you know something. I can tell.”
“Yeah. I know something. But it isn’t anything you need to know, not really.”
“Please tell me.”
“Can’t or won’t?” she asked thickly.
“I won’t. I was going to, but now, I don’t think I should. And you want to know why? Because it doesn’t matter. This, you, what’s looking at me right now, this is what, who, you are. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter. Understand? It doesn’t control you, it has no direction over what you do or don’t do. You are responsible for your actions, not some label.”
“You really believe that?”
“I wish you wouldn’t. You’ll only end up disappointed,” she informed him.
“What does that mean? What do you mean by that?”
“August.” She swallowed; her voice lifeless as she continued, “He said if I go with him, if I do what he wants, my mom and sister will be released, and you. He said he’d let you go. They’ll be able to go home. He’ll tell them I—that I had an accident during training and died. They’ll be taken care of. My mom won’t have to work all the time. Scarlet will have a better life than she has now.” She smiled sadly.
by Lindy Zart have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes