Home is supposed to be the place your heart is, isn't that how the saying goes? There was no heart here. Kit looked around her in the gloomy basement and wondered what had happened to what once had been a haven, the one place she knew for sure that she was safe.
Kit should have known something was deeply wrong when she came home from college to find her mother a completely different woman, one who was haunted and fragile and empty. But maybe that was excusable, because hadn't she passed away not two weeks later? Still, Kit certainly should have realized that there was something going on when Áina didn't run enthusiastically to the door to greet her, instead sitting quietly in a corner and watching with big, owlish eyes. Kit should have known better.
She should have known better, too, when Keith had called for her help downstairs, when he knew darned well she was no good at fixing things. Besides, what was he doing down there rather than playing the grieving widower upstairs? It had taken only a second to figure out what was going on. When she had reached the bottom of the stairs and saw Áina there, wrists bound and bruises blooming on her face and arms, Kit had frozen up, long enough for Keith to get in a blow to the head.
Kit woke up not much later with a pounding headache and found that she had been thrown carelessly onto a pile of sharp metal scraps. They had sliced through her skin all over, and she was coated in her own blood all down the left side of her body. For one dizzy second, she wondered what the scars would look like.
Now she was backed into a corner, glaring at a man who had to be the most barbaric person she'd ever met. She couldn't tear her eyes away from the sight of him as he beat her baby sister. Kit felt nausea rolling through her stomach and only just managed to swallow her rising gorge. She pushed herself in to a kneeling position, not an easy feat considering the throbbing in her head. Her first hangover looked like a joke compared to this feeling. Her knees rolled in the metal pieces, digging them in ever deeper.
Kit was glad for the pain, because it was taking away the shocked disbelief that Kit would surely be feeling without it. The pain told her that this was real, that it was truly happening. That she really was witnessing her sister taking abuse from the man who had sworn in front of God to protect Kit's mother, to honor her and cherish her.
Áina was so quiet. Her little body was coursing with tremors, but she uttered not a single complaint. Not a single groan or scream as his merciless fists pounded and pummeled. Once or twice, Keith paused to glance over his shoulder to make sure that Kit was witnessing this, and when he saw her eyes fixed on him, he grinned and started up again. The emotional part of Kit couldn't handle witnessing such a horror, so her logical part took over. She recognized that Áina's acceptance likely meant that this wasn't the first time, nor the second. No, this had to be a habit of Keith's. How had Kit ever thought for an instant that he was decent? How had her own mother not seen him for what he was?
Kit couldn't take it.
But what could she do? How could she intervene? She looked wildly around for something, anything, that would help her. She shifted her weight in the process, revealing a whole world of hurt that Kit imagined she would be living in for weeks, once she got out of here. But what Kit felt had to be nothing compared to what little Áina was feeling, she reminded herself. Áina was quivering and pale, but she didn't show any other reaction, which was terribly wrong.
Keith seemed to be thinking along the same lines. He yelled at Áina for her subservience. He gripped her shoulders and shook, shook so hard that her head lolled for an instant, just long enough to give him the excuse to slap her, hard.
Kit knew she'd go mad if she had to watch him take this any farther. But what could she do? She was backed into a corner, both literally and figuratively. Keith had already warned her that if she took so much as one step toward him, or tried to stop him in any way, it would only get worse for Áina. The feverish light in his eyes forced Kit to believe that he was absolutely serious.
There was no point in stupid heroics. If Kit didn't do as he asked and Áina ended up seriously injured, she would have only herself to blame. So what could she do?
Kit looked hopelessly around her and saw that she was crouched in front of his tool box. If she could just get something out of there without his noticing, maybe there would be some way to stop this, to stop him from hurting Áina any more than he already had.
She didn't have long.
Kit reached down, painfully slowly, and wrapped her fingers around the first thing she found. The handle was smooth and cold and as she tested its weight, she realized that it was a hammer.
Could she really be so lucky?
Kit carefully slid it under the skirt of her nightgown, shifting so that her right arm was holding it up in what she hoped was an inconspicuous way. As she moved, shards of metal she hadn't been aware of burrowed into her side. Hopefully, Keith wouldn't look close enough to see the glint of the hammer that still peeked through at the bottom of her nightgown, or to see the bulk of it against her body, skinny from a meager college diet. And God forbid he move her hand away.
"Keith," Kit choked out around the lump that had formed in her throat. His head whipped around and he glared at her.
"Didn't I tell you to keep your Goddamn mouth shut, slut?" he growled. He turned from Áina, but kept a firm grip on her tiny wrist, which was bent at an improbable angle.
"I was just thinking…"God, could she really say it? Did she really have to? She glanced at Áina, and seeing her gave Kit the strength she needed. Kit knew that if it saved her sister from this, there was nothing she wouldn't do. "I understand exactly what Mom saw in you. I've never seen such a strong man." It took every last ounce of will she had not to cringe, but somehow she managed to look him straight in the eye.
"Yeah?" he grunted, looking up and down her body slowly. Kit forced back a shudder. His gaze alone made her feel unclean.
"Oh, absolutely. I'll bet you work out every day to get muscles like those. It's paid off." Watching him carefully, Kit took one step, then another, in his direction. When he didn't stop her, she pasted a flirtatious smile on her face and braced herself.
It didn't take more than that for him to close the gap between them, backing her against the wall and groping at her through her clothes. Now, Kit thought, before he notices the hammer.
She kneed him in the groin and whipped it out, bringing it crashing down on his head. Kit couldn't help but let out a small shriek when it connected, but her grip didn't loosen on the hammer until he'd fallen down with a solid thud against the floor. She didn't drop it until she was sure he wouldn't be getting up again any time soon.
Not allowing herself any time to think, she ran to Áina, snatched her up, and raced out of there.