The Witching Hour, October 12, 2019
She spent an entire five minutes standing in the woods a short walk from her house, screaming. It doesn't matter. Screaming her pain into the void has only resulted in something happening once over the last two years she's done it when the night has been particularly bad. And in that moment, there had been a gorgon. But tonight, with the worst news she's had in three years, Bryce needed to do something - even if it's entirely futile - to let it out.
That was a half an hour ago. Now, she's sitting in the treehouse, burrowed in her insulated sleeping bag with half a bottle of whiskey left and no end to the misery. But a crisp, clear October night means the stars are out and beautiful against the dark sky. So Bryce stares at it as she takes pulls from the bottle, body warm but face cold against the air, and she remembers.
Early Evening, January 17, 2016
The kitchen was grungy and the air smelled of chemical. No one in the presence of the house could make any assumptions that it was anything but what it was - a meth kitchen. And, in this particular case, the actual kitchen. Lee stood at the sink, tossed the bloody knife in, glanced over his shoulder at one of the other two men in the room. His face, marked with some scars from fights and some from either sickness or teen acne, was set with determination and some satisfaction. "We're done here."
The man on the left, white, large, mid-fourties with arms comparable to tree trunks and the build of a football jockey, shuffled with obvious discomfort. He glanced at the kitchen table, looked away. "Just gonna leave the body here, boss? And does Da-"
"Shut the fuck up," Lee snapped. "When we get out of here, we'll light the place up and it'll just be another fucking meth accident and Katie's the cook."
The two looked at each other, shifted uncomfortably again, but shrugged and started to work their way out of the kitchen towards the front door when it flew open. Another man, also large but not as big as those two, with dusky skin, dark short-cropped hair, and bright blue eyes, burst through the front door of the house with a look of annoyance and concern. "Hey. Have any of you seen Katie? She's not answering her pho-"
He halted, hissed out a breath as he entered the kitchen, and the room went absolutely silent. His eyes settled on the table, on the blood all over the room, the pool of black hair coming away from the mutilated face. But a man who's seen more violence than most doesn't stay in shock for long, and his face twisted into rage as he rounded on Lee, cornering him against the sink,"¿Qué chingados? What the hell did you do to her, pendejo?"
Lee was smaller than him, smaller than the other two men in the room, but he didn't flinch. His eyes, dark brown in contrast to the vibrant blue, locked on. Then he lifted his hands and took the man's face in a firm grip, forearms resting hard against his shoulders. "Darren, Darren, stop and think for a moment before you punch, you fucking brute. She betrayed us."
He turned Darren's face back to the table to look at the body there. "Betrayed you. She's a fucking cop." He spit, snarled, and turned the face back to his. "A motherfucking cop."
The muscles in Darren's arms tensed underneath the leather jacket, veins in his hands popping as they balled into tight fists and the other two men started to move forward to surround and pull him away from Lee if needed. He didn't move, didn't seem to care.
"You didn't have to gut her like a fucking pig!" He shouted. "There's barely anything left of her!"
Lee's face was calm, voice cold, and he dropped his hands to gesture the men back before saying cooly, "Better than she deserved."
Darren's face flushed with fury and his eyes darkened like a storm as he started to shout, "Better than sh-"
Before he could finish the statement, a middle-aged blonde woman opened the front door and shouted urgently, "Fuck! They're here! They're fucking here! Everyone out, they're going to fucking surrou- FUCK!"
The door slammed shut again and the two men in the kitchen pulled guns from their belts, followed by Lee, who cursed under his breath. "Shit." He looked at Darren, shrugged. "You're with us, or you're fucking not, so you can go down with your bitch of a girlfriend if you want or you can leave."
He pushed past, shoulder-checking Darren on his way. "Your choice."
The kitchen was silent for a long moment, the only sound being Darren's thick breath as he tried to calm himself before he walked over the table, looked at the body of the woman he'd spent the last five years with and barely recognized. He touched her arm, lifted her hand and felt against her wrist. Nothing. He sighed out a frustrated, angry whisper, "Katie, mi vida, how can you be such an idiot?"
His fingers found her neck, pressed there for a pulse. "So much blood... Dios."
Mouth pulling into a fine line, he pulled his jacket off, tossed it aside, and walked to a cupboard to yank out some less-than-sanitized-looking towels. But it didn't matter. Shoving them against the wounds on her side, her kneck, her face, he kept whispering at her, "Hold on. Don't give up on me yet."
Outside there was yelling, the sound of gunshots, and he knew the clock was ticking, but even if it was, he couldn't move her. So Darren wrapped his fingers around the rosary hanging from his neck - one that matched the same one hanging by scraps from hers - and prayed even as the door swung open and armored people pushed through the house, calling out cleared rooms until a woman's voice echoed through the kitchen. "Hands up and step away from the body!"
Ignoring the voice, the armored SWAT members, and the guns, he pressed the bloody towels closer to the body, continued to hold onto the rosary. The voice called out again, this time in Spanish, "¡Darren Alvarez, levanta las manos y aléjate del cuerpo!"
Now he looked up, met the eyes of the Latinx woman pointing her gun in his direction and said clearly in English, "I'm not just going to let her die here. So shoot me if you want, but it won't save her."
Eyebrows drawn together, she started to bark out another order but instead looked past him to get a better eye on the body and her face went pale. "Oh God... That's... That's Katie." One hand moved up to the radio near her cheek. "This is Agent Sanchez. I need a medical unit here right now! We have an agent down. I repeat, agent down!"
"So she is a cop," Darren snarled without looking up from where he pushed pressure onto the wound. "Then if you want to save her, come over here and help me stop the bleeding. But I don't feel a pulse... it may be..."
He couldn't finish the sentence, even as the woman swore under her breath and carefully maneuvered her way to the table as she kept the pistol trained on him. As she got closer, her eyes closed before flashing back open to him, and she asked, "You didn't do this? Tell me you didn't do this, Darren."
"I didn't do it," he swallowed, voice thickening. "I would never... I would never have hurt her. Not even knowing she's one of you."
The judgment call said to wrestle him to the ground, cuff him, and drag him out of the building with the rest of the rounded up Mongrels. But seeing the bloody towels, his hands holding them so firmly against a woman who was both her colleague and friend, and the determination on his face made her set her jaw and cautiously holster her gun. When he didn't move, she rolled up her sleeves, pressed her own fingers against Katie's throat. No pulse. "Fuck."
It was a long few minutes. A long few minutes before the house was secure and EMTs burst into the kitchen. A long, long few minutes before Katie's eyes fluttered open, and her limp fingers that Darren had been clutching tightly after he dropped the rosary twitched in his. Her eyes, dull with pain and probably not even seeing him, shifted to his face, even though she otherwise didn't move. "Darren...?"
"Shh, shhh, mi vida. Don't speak," He whispered thickly, both hands moving to clasp the one he'd been gently holding. "You're going to be all right."
Her mouth felt thick and moving it was like speaking with her face dipped in mud combined with unspeakable pain. But her lips twitched and her fingers weakly squeezed his. "Darren... I'm so sorry..."
The blackness crept back over her vision and even though she could swear she finished the statement, Bryce still wasn't sure the words that had come out of "Katie's" mouth had been audible before she slipped back into unconsiousness.
I love you.
Pre-Dawn, October 12, 2019
Eyes fluttering open and a groan on her lips are her first defenses against a morning far too early to be awake in. The nausea and headache tell her that she drank too much, and the heartache tells her that she dreamt too much. A combination that Bryce Kenoyer is all too familiar with on a regular basis. Something that Glaw might mock her for, that Gene might pity her for, that everyone else just wouldn't understand.
She hates pity and mockery, although maybe one more than the other. Unless it's her own. Bryce drags herself to a sitting position only to see that the whiskey bottle is empty and on it's side. No puddle on the floor, so she must have drank it, which is why her head feels like it's been hit by a canon and her stomach like she just finished a pie eating contest at the Daisy.
With any luck, she can make it out of the treehouse before she vomits. But Bryce has never particularly believed in luck, so she doesn't count on it.