In the face of this twist of events, none were prepared, and this showed itself rather obviously in their initial reactions. Judson did not take the opportunity to wrest the gun from Russell's grasp, to disarm him as he had initially intended; instead, with guilt and panic both immediately making itself plain in his gaze, he dropped Russell's hands, running to Shana's side and apologizing over and over in a low, unsteady tone as he hurriedly stripped off his own shirt, pressing it against her wound without even rolling up her shirt to check the extent of the damage. He seemed to be afraid to do so, of what he might see.

Devon, meanwhile, was gaping at Shana with utterly flabbergasted unbelief, his grip on Russell loosening enough that the man could have easily shaken him off as he tried, struck uncharacteristically speechless, and Kalah, by contrast, was sputtering every thought entering her mind seemingly without a filter even as she gripped Russell's gun-less arm tighter.

"Oh god…oh SHIT, SHIT, holy fucking shit, she's hurt, she, you BASTARD, fuck, oh FUCK, FUCK, FUCK-"

"It's…it's not…I c-can barely feel it," Shana was gasping, her eyes holding Judson's with a desperate sheen in their surface. She was shivering, heading into shock, and she barely grasped the hand Judson offered her, did not flinch from the pressure he was placing on her wound. "Why…why can't I…feel…"

But whatever his own surprise may have been, it was not to continue, for Russell recovered himself quickly. His eyes tearing away from Shana's fallen form, he shook Devon off of him easily, and then pointed his gun directly into Kalah's blanching face. As she too froze, then, without needing to be asked, slowly removed her hand from his arm and took a step away, Russell stepped toward Judson and Shana, now near the open trapdoor alongside them, and pointed his gun at Shana as he spoke calmly, softly, almost pleasantly again to Judson.

"Let's try this again, Mr. Tavish. Stand up, step away from Ms. Bradley, and step down into the trapdoor. Do you understand me now?"

He understood all too well, as did each person in the room. If he did not do as he was asked, Russell would shoot them, one by one. Judson had no choice but to obey, if he wanted to survive…if he wanted Shana to survive.

But Kathleen Meallen did.

Standing apart from the others, seeing Russell with his gun, Kalah and Devon unmoving to one side, Judson squatted by a bleeding Shana to the other, Kathleen watched, her aghast feelings slowly heightening, intensifying into something more, something stronger, more urgent…it was anger she was feeling, anger that was swiftly becoming an emotion Kathleen could not remember ever feeling before in her life, and certainly not towards another person…certainly not towards Russell.

Rage. Kathleen felt rage, heating her entire body, taking over every thought until she was focused and clear on one thing only, and when she spoke, she did not recognize her own voice, the soft chill of her tone as she stared Russell down with no trace of fear in her gaze…rage, she was discovering, true rage, left little room for any other emotion.

"I understand, Dr. Patrick," she told him. "And I think it's time you face your fears as well."

Russell started to turn then, to swing his gun around in her direction, opening his mouth to speak, but Kathleen was prepared. Acting on instincts that came to her almost as quickly as she was able to carry them out, she grabbed the closest chair nearby- Russell's chair- and held it out in front of her, its legs sticking out from her torso, as though creating a makeshift shield against bullets. Even as Russell spoke her name sharply, even as he aimed his gun directly at her face, Kathleen took several fast steps forward, slamming the legs of the chair into his chest forcefully. Caught off balance, Russell stumbled, attempted to catch himself, but by that point he had stepped very close to the open trapdoor's edge…and as everyone watched, breath bated, Kathleen's eyes narrowing as the others' opened wide, Russell fell through the trapdoor and onto his backside in the space below.

Initially there was no reaction from the others. Kathleen was still flushed with adrenaline, not yet able to continue in her actions to close it, while the others were simply dumbfounded. They heard no noise from Russell, were not sure if he was badly injured, unconscious, or even dead, all a possibility if he had somehow hit his head or neck. No one dared to go to the trapdoor's edge to see.

"What…what the…"Kalah breathed finally, her voice hushed, eyes bright, almost feverish with shock, and this spurred Kathleen on.

She could hear movement below and knew that if he were injured, it was not badly…Russell would soon be on his feet, and he was quite tall enough to pull himself back up….and his gun had disappeared underground along with him.

Running back to the trapdoor and dropping to her knees, Kathleen pushed it shut, then frantically cast her eyes about for something to block it with, to keep Russell from getting it open. But all she could see were computers, the damn computers lining up on one wall…and that was her inspiration.

"The computers!" she yelled to the others, making an urgent gesture as well. "Get them, pile them on the trapdoor, so he won't be able to open it! If he does they'll fall on him, maybe hurt him, help me!"

Within a few moments, with cables ripped out and carelessly tossed aside, Kathleen had the first computer in her arms; a few moments' later what she was saying seemed to click in the others' heads, and Devon, Kalah, and Judson rushed to help her, piling computers as fast as they could. By the time the fourth or fifth computer was lying on the trapdoor, they could hear Russell's voice dimly, could tell that he was trying to open the door, but they had begun to pile chairs and then the computer table as well, and he could not push it for long enough with the accumulating weight and blockage to do so.

They were still shoving things on top of the trapdoor, anything the room held that they could get their hands on, when they heard a change in Russell's tone, as though he were trying a new tactic…or addressing a new person. They could not understand what was being said, but they all heard when a second voice spoke as well, the tone loud, hostile, and very, very threatening.

Kade. Kade was awake, Kade had found Russell…and Kade, from the sound of it, was still very angry.

They all listened in numb silence, Judson again squatted by a barely conscious Shana, Kalah and Devon standing together close by, Kathleen off to the side alone, as the voices raised louder, just before the first gunshot went off…they gripped hands, gnawed on lower lips, but said not a word as two gunshots sounded, and then perhaps thirty seconds later, thirty seconds that appeared to them to be more like thirty hours, a third…and then all was silent. They strained their ears, listening hard, and heard only their own labored breathing, their own heartbeats galloping wildly in their chest, and they knew, without knowing any details at all, that it was over. Unbelievably, it was over.

It crossed Kathleen's mind as she stood in continuing shocked silence, a faint tremor passing through her dangling hands, that likely, it had been Kade who had fired the shots, that either Russell had dropped his gun in the fall and Kade had recovered it, or Kade had wrested it away from him. Nevertheless, it was likely that Kade had fired the final shots, first at Russell, and then himself. It occurred to Kathleen that it was a possibility that one or both were still alive…and later, she knew, it was possible that this would haunt her, that she would blame herself for both deaths.

It was she who had pushed Russell…and even before that, years before that, it was she who had become his assistant, who did not do her research, who did not stop the entire experiment before it started.

It was possible…but she did not think it was likely. Because in those moments of silence, just before Kathleen turned to the phone now dropped on the floor where Russell's desk had once stood, she felt only triumph.

As Kathleen picked it up almost in a daze, dialing 911, and gave the location of their address and a description of Shana's injury, she did not mention any details of the two possibly dead, certainly injured men below. She continued as she spoke to be aware of the others in a peripheral view, of their ongoing interactions, and part of her marveled at the fact that even now, or maybe especially now, given all they had been through, they seemed to be operating as a family, as people close by circumstances, if not by choice.

"Ambulance will be here in five to seven minutes," she told them as she hung up the phone, turning back to Judson and Shana quickly and scanning her eyes over Shana, assessing her condition. "Shana, how are you doing, can you hang on?"

"I'm…okay," Shana rasped, and though her strained features showed her to be in continuing pain, she held Judson's hand tightly enough that Kathleen took this to be a good sign; she still possessed some degree of strength to be able to do so.

"Kathleen," Shana attempted, but when Kathleen met her eyes, expectantly, she seemed unable to find the words. "You…"

"Thank you," Judson finished for her quietly, but with feeling, his eyes on Kathleen's too as he smoothed Shana's hair with one hand. "Thank you, Kathleen."

"I am never, ever, EVER watching another damn horror movie for as long as I live," Kalah announced fervently, shaking her head for emphasis, heat returning to her cheeks. "All the rules were WRONG, what is the fucking point if they don't teach us shit, that's their JOB! And I'm going brunette, because pink, it's way too visible in the dark and I have a genuine choke chain necklace to prove it."

She shook her head again, turning to Kathleen as she addressed her with no lack of admiration in her tone, though disbelief colored it as well. "Shit, Kathleen, you don't have balls, you have BAZOOKAS."

"If you hadn't saved me, I'd totally be scared of you…and maybe I am a little anyway," Devon added, then said proudly, looking around at the room at large as if unable to help himself, "Did everyone notice how I beat Kade off Kalah? I mean, Judson helped a little…okay, a lot…but I did it first! And, and I would have killed him for her if I could have. I wasn't even scared. Well, not at first. I was-"

His words stopped abruptly, becoming shocked sputters as Kalah suddenly grabbed him gave him a firm kiss on the mouth. Brief and passionless as it was, he nevertheless goggled at her, blinking rapidly, his hand quickly going to his mouth as Kalah shrugged, rolling her eyes.

"You've been praying for that since the second you saw me…since we survived certain death and all, guess it won't kill me to indulge your deepest fantasy- ONCE."

Her eyes slid over to Judson and Shana, and she added with a smirk, "Judson, once Shana's feeling better, you might as well get on with it already too…hell, do it now, it will probably make her feel better anyway."

As Shana flushed, but smiled faintly but genuinely, and Devon and Judson laughed, relief as heavy as amusement in its sound, Kathleen too smiled. She was not quite a part of them, even now, either in her proximity in stance or in her heart, but that was okay…because for the first time, Kathleen felt no shame, no dread, and most of all, no fear to stand alone.


Began February 2, 2008

Finished September 30, 2011