FOUR

Her stomach was distended. Ironically, it filled her soul with bittersweet longing as she closed her eyes and momentarily pretended she was carrying a new life inside her. Pregnancy. A gift she would never even glimpse of. How she wanted someone to love and be loved in return. No complications. Just simple, plain, unadorned love.

She waited. Staring blankly at the man before her – he'd won, was there really any doubt in the first place? – waiting for the poison to kick in, lethargy to settle, malice or triumph to shadow his features. She'd given in. Crumbled. Resistance and determination melted away at the aroma of the clam chowder and sight of chunky slabs of wholemeal bread he'd brought with him.

Nothing. She waited longer. For a brief moment, she almost considered it worth the disastrous outcome.

Numb. A temporarily reprieve from the maelstrom that constantly threatened her emotions and unstable mind, or what's left of her sanity any way. She waited. And waited. And waited.

Matthew stood frozen, a statue, barely able to breathe. The room was suddenly too suffocating, claustrophobic…

Pain. So much pain. It was almost tangible in the air… To reach out and touch it. Grab it. Rip it into shreds.

Only one person in the room registered a beeper offsetting. Maria stood, impassive, slumping against the gritty stone wall, legs threatening to give out. No, she would fight. She wouldn't make things easy for him. If he wanted to rape her, she wasn't going down without a fight. She never did. Not that it did her any good. She never won. But defeat was always a bitter pill to swallow and to delay the inevitable was a trick she'd mastered long ago.

He left. Or rather, he stormed out and slammed the rusty metal door so hard, it clanged and the vibrations registered Maria's nervous senses.

She didn't understand. Her eyes couldn't see anything, just a faint outline of her body, trembling as she stood there in the darkness. Had he gone to fetch reinforcements? Perhaps he did get his kicks out of being watched or sharing her.

Seconds passed. With each one that passed, Maria's heart kicked into hypertensive mode.

It seemed forever, but still she didn't relax. What was taking him so long?

A yawn escaped her lips as she stretched stiffly, muscles and joints aching and creaking.

Suddenly, it was all too much. The sensation of rough cotton rubbing against her chaffed, prickled skin punched a catalyst. Gingerly inching her way to the general direction of where she thought the door was, she smoothed her hands over corrugated metal and searched for the door knob. It was locked. She had expected so but still, it gave her turmoil mind something to do. It felt good, rebelling, albeit uselessly. Briefly, she allowed her mind to imagine… Image escaping, being free, roaming in a beautiful country free from this life. Laughing. Being happy. Even the most desperate and hopeless could dream. It was a human flaw. And she dreamed, oh she dreamed.

-

"She's getting to you?"

Matthew snarled at the stupid question

He was obviously not a happy agent. As he faced his long time partner Wolf Branson, he almost itched to challenge him into a sparring match. Damn it, he had so much bottled up.

"You know, compassion won't hurt. She's vulnerable. Appeal to her, I don't know, feminine instinct."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Evolution. Primitive, biological instincts. The old find the biggest male around, the toughest fighter to defend you sort of thing.'

Matthew started at Wolf for a moment.

"If I remember correctly, you failed biology back in high school."

"Yeah, well my sister got an into honours remember?"

"And you guys, what, held intimate discussions on inherent dispositions of particular behaviours regarding ancient human civilizations over a period of time and trade opinions on their fixed observation patterns every day after school?"

"You're an ass."

"As someone once succinctly told me, life is all about ass. You're either covering it, laughing it off, kicking it, kissing it, busting it, trying to get a piece of it, being one or living with one."

"You're hopeless."

"And I question your sexuality."

"I hate to break up this flirting session but I need a report."

Both men instantly turned to see their superior Wayne Johnson glaring at them sternly. "Any progress?"

"Sorry, sir. None so far." Matthew forced out civilly.

"Yeah, he's busy terrorizing the girl." Wolf added in helpfully.

Had there not been a prime witness, Matthew would've slugged his so-called friend.

"Branson, give us some privacy."

Wolf nodded respectfully, grinning at a stony looking Matthew on his way out.

"Sit." Wayne ordered. "About this girl…"

-

The door edged openly slowly. Maria watched with dissociated fear as a silhouette strode into the room. Light flooded suddenly, causing tears to sting her eyes.

This man looked much kinder than the previous one, but looks could be deceiving, everyone knew that.

Soft brown eyes studied her as Maria stared back resolutely, eyes blank, heart pounding.

Slowly, as if not to startle her, he approached. An inch. Another inch. Pause. Another inch.

A gargle from Maria and he stilled instantly.

Holding out his hand, he simply looked at her.

What did he want? The girl looked at him in utter confused apprehension.

They stood like that for a long time. Maria staring. Every muscle in Wolf's left arm screaming.

You can trust me, his eyes beckoned her.

Don't be suicidal, Maria's inner voice berated.

"Please." Wolf said slowly, deliberately exaggerating his mouth movements.

Maria's eyes widened as a flash of excitement raced through the man now smiling at her without any visible trace of malice.

She understood, Wolf's mind raced. She can understand me. It's not hopeless after all.

A sinking feeling gore at Maria's guts. She had a feeling she just handed over ammunition to the enemy she wasn't even aware of.