Alrighty, here we go with my story for this week! I haven't really edited most of it, and I just tacked the last scene on at the last minute. So...yeah. Here we go.
She lifted her face into the cool breeze coming in through the small square window, smiling and closing her eyes. "That's beautiful," she murmured. "Doesn't it take you back, John?"
He didn't answer. It was pretty hard to talk at present. Instead he just watched her, waiting to see what she'd do next.
She sighed. "I've been alone so long. I guess I've been…waiting. Stupid as that is." Her grey gaze settled on him, enjoying one of its silver-rain moments. He'd always loved her eyes in those moments. But that had been then. This…well, this was now. "I'm stupid, aren't I John?"
Did she really expect him to answer? Or maybe she thought she could read his thoughts, like the olden days. Except his thoughts were so far from her by now. That old ability didn't hold, not when so much had gone between them. So much.
She was the President's daughter, and a dangerous woman for that reason alone. When you took her in her own right, she was downright deadly. Especially when her eyes turned from silver-rain to winter-chilled steel.
They hadn't changed that way yet. Not today.
But it was only a matter of time.
"Once upon a time, I thought you and I would be together for ever." She shook her head. "I was a complete fool then. And I'm a fool now, to bother with reminiscence. But…those are some of my fondest memories."
She'd always enjoyed monologues. At least when she was the one speaking them. She had never been a good listener. But talking…oh, that was something she did well.
"I pictured what our babies would look like."
He suppressed a shudder.
"And I had our wedding day all planned out."
Now she was the one to shudder. That surprised him. As did the look of loathing on her face. She'd always been overbearingly clingy and suffocating. Now it looked like maybe she was the commitment-phobe. The men of the world would be fortunate in that, if it were true.
But then she looked at him, and her eyes were still silver-rain. They held hope, and something like longing.
"Did you ever think it might…work out with us?"
He shook his head. That was all he could do, under the circumstances.
"Care to elaborate?" she asked. Her eyes now glimmered with amusement. Cruel amusement. Oh yeah, she was laughing at him.
He just looked at her. It was all he could do.
"So," she said, clapping her hands down on her knees and leaning toward him. "The day has finally come. I never thought I'd actually see you die. But there's no going back now." She eyed him up and down, an unmistakable look of appreciation in her eyes. "Pity. You're top grade meat."
He didn't even bother to get angry. It was far too late for wasting energy on that. He did however feel momentarily resentful that he was spending his last moments alone with her. Her. She had been the bane of his existence for the first half of his life. When he'd finally escaped her, life had truly begun. But he'd made the mistake of growing complacent; of thinking that maybe, just maybe, he was meant for some kind of happiness.
Tears stung his tired eyes as he pictured another woman's face in his head; the face of his dead love.
"Don't cry," his gaoler murmured, shifting forward and lifting a warm hand to his stubble-dark cheek. He flinched in spite of himself, trying to pull away. His bonds held him where he was, no matter how his muscles trembled with effort. There wasn't much effort left in him to expend. He'd wasted it all trying to escape during the ambush.
"I hate to see you cry," she whispered, and her words actually seemed to tremble in the air. He saw tears welling in her eyes too. She truly was psychotic. "Even now."
For a moment they stared at each other, and then she pulled away, regarding him from a greater distance. Her scarlet-painted lips pursed as her mind churned in thought.
"I'd love to hear your voice again," she said at last. "It was a very nice voice. But…" She frowned. "Papa did say…"
Papa. The President. The man who had ordered his death tomorrow morning. The man responsible for every hardship he had ever endured. Whether at his hand or his evil daughter's. Either way, the President.
Papa's evil daughter shrugged, and smiled, and bounded forward, tugging at the strip of fabric binding the gag in his mouth. The fabric loosened, fell away; then the evil daughter plucked at the gag and yanked it out. He very nearly choked, and instead fell into a coughing, spluttering fit that leeched out much of the last of his strength. Eventually he hung there from his shackles, gasping for breath and closing his eyes. He had given up caring where the evil daughter was, what she was doing, whether she was threatening to touch him with her evil hands. There came a point when a man just grew too tired to care.
He frowned, opened his mouth, tried to form words and went off on another coughing fit.
"Okay. Water. Good thinking."
She headed to the small table in the corner, where a pitcher of water and a pair of metal cups waited. She poured him a mouthful of water and returned to him, tilting his head back. He opened his mouth and she poured. He gulped the water down and shuddered in temporary relief. It wasn't nearly enough, but it was something. Unfortunately, it started off another coughing fit. Weary tears leaked down his cheeks as he slumped again in his shackles, head lolling.
And she gave him more water, but he was too weak to help lift his head this time. She had to expend more effort, and even had to open his mouth for him.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her words trembling again. What was wrong with her? Evil people didn't say they were sorry. Not ever. Not and sound like they meant it, anyway.
"I wish it didn't have to be this way. I wish…"
"Bit late," he croaked after a moment. "Isn't it?"
"Of course it is." She sighed, stepping back and dropping her hands from his head, which stayed hanging backward. It wasn't very comfortable for his neck, but he hung there, suspended and aching beyond anything he'd known before.
"And I'm sorry about your wife. I hope you know that wasn't me."
Pain stabbed at him, but he ignored it. If there was one thing he didn't want to show this woman, it was the contents of his heart. His soul. Those things, he would take to the grave with him.
Lia. How he missed her.
But it wasn't much longer now.
He would see her soon.
"I did you wrong in a lot of ways," she said quietly. "And I have a lot of regrets. But one thing has always been true. You're the love of my life. And that'll be true forever."
And suddenly she was kissing him. If he'd had any food in his stomach, he was certain he would've chucked it up. As it was, his stomach heaved and he choked on a new set of coughs. She stepped back in alarm that quickly turned to anger. As his head fell forward again, he saw that the silver-rain grey was gone. All that remained was icy steel. Steel in winter. He felt a frost forming on his bare skin. And he shivered.
"Well," she said, her voice completely changed. Completely familiar. "Enjoy your last meal." And she laughed. It was that evil laugh, the one that had haunted his dreams for years before his reunion with her. The laugh that chilled him even more deeply than the cold steel grey of her eyes. "I think Papa's going to cook the rat for you; just for something special."
And she turned on her booted heel and headed for the door, slipping through it without a backward glance.
His head hung forward, and tears leaked out of his eyes, and he wondered how his youth had wasted away into this. This sorry, pathetic end, at the hands of a madman and his evil spawn.
"It's going to be all right, John."
His eyes widened, his body went rigid, and he lifted his head bit by agonising bit. There, in the corner of the room, stood an image he had longed to see with his own eyes these past four years, an image that had been lost to him. The image of his dead wife.
Lia smiled, and it was the most beautiful smile in the world. "I'm here. I'll be here when you die. And we'll be together again."
Again the tears came, and this time they were tears of joy.
At the last moment, she offered a reprieve.
He'd been smiling and crying and gazing at his dead wife, his ghost wife, and he'd known that he was going home.
Then the reprieve.
That cursed reprieve.
It was no such thing, really.
It only damned him to a lifetime of torment.
"I can't bear to see you die," she announced, and the thousands of people in the crowd heard her words. A collective gasp, a collective groan, a collective expression of disappointment. It was always annoying when some lady spoiled your fun with a stay of execution.
"I see you weeping," she said softly, kneeling before him. "I never wanted to hurt you. But now I see how hurt you are… Well, maybe there is some hope for us after all."
He stared at her in shock and amazement. Was she really this much of a fool? He hadn't known she had it in her. But he was used to being surprised.
"I pronounce this man a free one!" she called to the crowd, her voice echoing. People said her words were heavenly. She certainly had a velvety voice. But people didn't know her like he did.
People didn't know what was really in her heart.
They were the lucky ones.
The noose left his neck and his hands and feet were unbound. He straightened, and it hurt. He hadn't stood straight in what felt like years. He straightened, but only for a moment. Quickly he slumped on his feet, the weight of realisation pushing down on his shoulders. The weight of knowing how close he'd been to escape, and yet how far he now was.
But there was always the pistol.
She had it tucked in her pocket, the way she had since she was a teenager. She was nothing if not predictable, this woman.
She turned to face him, a beatific look on her face. "You have come home to me, John. After all these years. And you will be mine. You…"
He had eyes only for her gun. And she knew it. She frowned at him. He felt her frowning. Couldn't see it, because his eyes were on her gun.
"John. Are you quite—?"
And he lunged for that gun, seized it, heard her wordless cry, and the barrel was at his temple, and he began to cry again, tears of joy and relief.
His finger twitched, then made an even bolder move.