His steps were small but fast. Several times he could feel himself start to stumble because of their limited movement and Nick had to force himself to slow back down. If he fell that could cause a lot of noise. Noise was the last thing he needed. Time escaped him and he could only guess at how long he’d been “running” away from his captor. The only way he had any idea was to judge by the setting sun which was now down to its last rays of light. In the gaps visible between the tops of trees as he navigated through the heavy woods, he could spy the first starts beginning to appear in the darkening sky.
Lauren, I’m coming baby. Please don’t give up on me! It was a silent prayer his mind screamed over and over again. He needed her to believe he was alive. As long as she did, people would still be looking for him. Police officers could be combing these very woods. Every bit of luck possible had to be on his side. The odds were against him otherwise. And he might lose everything he worked so hard for in life.
That wasn’t even including his career.
He wanted to have that dream life he’d been denied for so many years – a stable family. He wanted all the years ahead to live with Lauren, have kids, maybe even one day grandkids. Nick would give all the love his parents failed to give him once money came into the picture. He could do everything right. Make sure his someday family never turned into the wreck the one he grew up in had been. They’d have the fellas as their uncles, their kids as cousins. He never told anyone how often he daydreamed about this stuff because it was simply too personal. He felt vulnerable anytime he’d watch the others and wish for it himself. Now he was a married man to the love of his life…
The crazy bitch wants to take everything away. I won’t let her!
“NICKOLAS!!!” Her voice shrieked through the trees, birds scattered at the sound. It was brutal, wild, an animal like howl that chilled his very soul.
Fuck! Shit! Fuck! Nick’s mind screamed, it took everything he had not to make any noise as he ducked behind a tree. He had to listen, he had to be sure that she wasn’t too close.
“You will come back to me!” Raven’s cry echoed about him as he prayed yet again for the distance between them to stay as it was. “If I can’t have you…Nickolas…NO ONE ever will again!”
She’s going to kill me. She’s going to kill me. Oh my fucking god she will actually kill me. That same thought ran through his frantic mind over and over in a constant loop. His gaze darted around in desperation, continuing his shuffled run. Beads of sweat covered his pale and battered face despite the cold in the air. Nick didn’t let himself wonder why his hands shook so violently from within their cuffs.
“Ready or not…here I come…” Her voice didn’t sound far this time.
Swallowing back the vomit that wanted to come forth, Nick picked up the pace as best he could. Fear controlled his every decision, every step, and every thought. He didn’t have the slightest clue where he was going nor did he care in that moment. That was something that could be sorted out later. When he was safe. A thought that suddenly seemed laughable. Would he ever be safe again? He just knew escape was the only option he had. Sooner or later, his captor would surely murder him for not playing along into her twisted deluded fantasies. Raven would only be content if she got to play out the daydreams in her head. Something Nick knew he could never do. He ducked behind a massive tree as his lungs screamed for air. His bruised ribs couldn’t take much more of this.
“You can’t hide from me.” She said softly, completely calm and devoid of any emotion.
Those words brought only more haunting memories.
“You can’t hide from your family Nickolas!” His mother shrieked over the phone. It’d been his eighteenth birthday and rather than throw a party or celebrate it, he’d done the best thing for him – he’d moved away from home. He needed a life as a person, instead of an ATM machine for his parents. Still, despite encouragement from Kevin and Brian…the guilt gnawed away at his aching heart.
“I’m not hiding.” Lies. “I’m giving myself space. I still love you mom.”
“So you’ll still help.” Also known as spending all of his hard earned money on anything and everything his parents and siblings wanted. He only wished he could protect Aaron who he knew had a chance of suffering the same fate with his fledgling career. Aaron, the brother he liked to call his “mini-me” might become so, in more ways than one.
“Mom, I…” He sighed deeply. “I’ll still help but I can’t keep funding everything. And you have the book.” A tell-all essentially, written by his mother about her eldest son. How twisted was that?
“We helped get you to where you are Nick. Remember that. You owe us for it.”
“I gotta go.” Without waiting for a reply, he hung up. How much was he expected to repay? Where would it end? He wanted the world for his family, but was it going to be at the cost of his own happiness? When does he stop being a brother, a son…and become only a means to an end?
Nick shook his head as he caught his breath. Now wasn’t the time to get lost in the past. He bet his mother was having a field day with his disappearance though. Sick as it made him, he bet she made a nice chunk of change selling her so-called heartache to the tabloids without checking in with those who actually did love and care about him. He knew his siblings were likely worried though. Even Aaron. His relationship with his little brother was complicated and troubled, but there was always love there.
“Olly olly oxen free…” Raven called softly out into the air.
She was close.
Oh god. He felt panicked as he started running as best as his chained feet would allow. The surroundings became a blur as his reasons for fleeing flashed before his eyes. Lauren. The fellas. His friends. The fans. His siblings. All the things he’s ever done. Everything he’s never had a chance to do. What he’d accomplished and goals yet to be reached. There was just so much more. Life had so many opportunities for him and he refused to go out like this. No. Not after fighting so hard for everything he’d finally been able to achieve and look forward to.
I will beat you!
He never felt the tranquilizer dart pierce him in the side.
Only as everything began to fade into darkness did he realize what had happened.
“Oh Nick, stay with me. You can’t leave just yet.”
Light burned against his eyes, causing him to immediately close them again. Everything felt muddled and dulled as his mind struggled to catch up on what happened. He remembered falling to the ground as the world faded around him. Raven’s voice hauntingly attempting to calm him as she dragged him towards the cabin. Every rock and bump kept him from passing out completely. She’d laughed at his pain, calling it karma. Only once he was thrown into the bed and bound back down did oblivion finally take him into its dark embrace. He blinked again, albeit more slowly that time.
“So you are awake.” Raven’s blue eyes were dark and cold as they stared him down. “Good. We can start.”
His eyes widened at the TV tray at her side, littered with various medical instruments. “Start what?”
She smiled but it went nowhere near her eyes. “What comes next. You have to learn Nick. If you don’t then I have to keep punishing you and…I don’t like punishing you.”
God, please let someone find me! He’d blown his one chance at escape.
“This is a surgical knife.” The metal sparkled in the morning light. “It can do a lot of damage if it’s used for the wrong reasons…or if the patient isn’t properly doped up.”
She moved to crawl on top of him, the weight of her causing waves of pain to radiate along his ribs. He clenched his teeth, refusing to give her what she clearly wanted. Staring her down he maintained his silence as his brow began to glisten. Raven stared back without even a single reaction to his evident agony. “Don’t worry Nick, I won’t let you die. But you should cry if you want…that way I know when to stop.”
No, I won’t give you this. I refuse!
Her work is slow as the knife carves into his flesh unforgivingly. Blood follows though she doesn’t slow. Nick’s crumbling will finally fell to pieces, screaming as she hums to herself contentedly. She had a specific plan in mind. All Nick could focus on was the horrible burning that stabbed through his chest. They weren’t terribly deep cuts, but they weren’t shallow enough either. As a nurse – if she really was one once, Raven must have known how far to go to really drive home the agony without causing him to bleed to death. Tears were flowing from his eyes. Tears that he couldn’t control and hated himself for it. Because he knew, deep down, they wouldn’t gain any sympathy. His keeper would get off on this, and see it as a win.
“I read this in a fanfic once, and I never forgot it.” She said to him as everything began to feel far away. “Maybe now you won’t forget it.” She giggled then, almost like a teenager. “I’d give you drugs…” Raven climbed off, tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulder as she walked to the doorway. “But then it wouldn’t be a punishment. I made sure you won’t die from this, don’t worry. But, if you pass out, I hope you have a good nap!”
He glanced down and immediately felt the vomit rise to his throat. It took everything to force it back down. “You crazy fucking bitch!”
“I’m not crazy! YOU’LL SEE! One day you will love me!” The door slammed behind her. It was only a small win as Nick fought the throbbing pain and gazed back down at himself.
MINE was carved in bloody letters along the center of his chest.