"Kara," he breathed, hugging her close. "Shh, it's okay. It's okay."
The girl sobbed shallowly into his chest, and Nathan felt a surge of protectiveness. He wanted to comfort her, make her feel better, hold her, anything.
"You don't know," she began, her voice choked and scratchy. "You don't know what it's like."
Nathan stroked her hair and gazed down at her. "Then tell me, so I do know."
Kara shut her eyes in an effort not to cry. "You don't want to know what it's like." Her eyes opened; the beautiful hazel was too bright from tears. "You're my best friend. I don't want them to take away your courage."
Oh, she didn't know the half of it. Nathan's courage had been stripped away long ago. He had been plagued by nightmares long before Kara's had started. "I need to know, Kara." He held her gaze for a long time before she broke away and slowly sat on her bed. Nathan joined her and listened as she began her tale.
"Every night, it's the same dream. Only it's not a dream. It's a nightmare. I have to relive my… my torturing." Her voice broke here. "It was a living hell, Nathan. Every day I was one step closer to death. Every day they brought me back. I lost my mind in there. I wanted to die."
Nathan had heard a recount of her capture and rescue, but never what had happened while she was gone. She had never told anyone what had happened; he could only begin to imagine how painful it was to have to tell someone, even if it was her best friend.
Kara paused here to take a breath. She shut her eyes as images welled up, unbidden, and flowed through her mind. The small breath turned into a quiet "Oh!" as memories overtook her.
She sits in the cell, waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to come for her. Notice she's gone. The cell is boring; the same monotonous gray enfolds everything. That's probably what they want, for her to be driven out of her mind by boredom. Then again, why go to the point of capturing her if they didn't want something from her? Surely it wasn't the mere satisfaction of seeing her break. The leader may have been petty, but she was smart too. They would have a reason for taking her captive.
After what feels like days, someone comes for her. Though she resists, they restrain her with rough ropes that rub her wrists raw. But the pain is a nice change from the numbness that has started to creep up on her like ivy up a metal gate. However, she doesn't stop struggling. She won't go down without a fight. If there's anything she can do to hinder them, she's more than happy to do it.
By now, her sanity is gone. She's given up struggling. When the people come, they don't even bind her anymore; she is limp in their arms as they drag her to the same room. But they are always different people. She wants to die, she wants them to kill her, make the pain stop. She knows it's selfish, it's something she's not supposed to want, but she does. She can't help the primal urge that says Let me die. She wants to give up.
They have hurt her in many different ways, both physical and mental. They want information that she won't give to them. She can't; it would mean the death of everyone she loved. They've tried everything and more. A serum that invented a new emotion; it was beyond fear, a roiling, primitive feeling no words could ever come close to describing. They have tried whipping, an experiment that failed but left its mark on her back; extreme cold; extreme heat; a simulation that forced her to watch Nathan stabbed from behind, Trina ripped limb from limb by a pack of wild mutations that surely couldn't have been purely animal, not with those glinting knives for claws and wicked metal teeth, Michael killed by a bomb. They were getting nowhere, but she was plummeting downhill, fast. It was only a matter of time before they broke her will to protect her friends.
Nathan's panicked voice startled her out of her memories. "Kara! Kara, oh my god, please say something!"
Kara blinked a few times before saying, "I'm all right. Um… where was I?"
"Are you sure?" Nathan pressed, looking very concerned. "You looked really pale there. I thought you were going to faint."
"I'm fine," Kara insisted. "Oh yes. I wanted to die. Well, I did. At that point, the only thing keeping me from killing myself was the fact that they could still somehow hurt you. And when I was rescued, you were the first face I saw. You know the saying, 'it was like a breath of fresh air'? It was like I had been held underwater for a millennia and was just now coming up for the first taste of oxygen in the longest time."
Nathan looked thoughtful for a long while. Just when Kara thought he was going to make some deep philosophical comment, he said, "Kara? I want you to know something. We're going in to battle tomorrow, and if I don't come back-"
Kara cut him off fiercely. "Don't say that, Nathan! You will some back!"
"Please don't cut me off again," Nathan continued, nonplussed, but beginning to lose his nerve. "If I don't come back tomorrow, I want you to know: I love you, Kara Wilson."
Kara gave a surprised laugh. "Of course you do, you're my best friend!"
"That's not what I mean, Kara, and you know that," Nathan chided.
"Nathan, I don't…" She searched his eyes for an answer and found a grim anticipation. "I don't know what to say to that."
The hurt in his eyes shattered anything else she might have said. "Then… just promise me one thing, okay? Promise me you won't get hurt."
"I promise," she whispered, gaze still caught in his deep, chocolate brown eyes.
Nathan leaned forward and gently kissed her lips. He pulled away and began to leave, pausing at the exit of the tent. He murmured, "Good night, Kara. Sleep well."
Kara bit her lower lip, her eyes lingering on the tent flap long after Nathan had left. I love you too, she realized. An electric tingle ran down her body as she tried the words out loud. "I love you, Nathan Callaster."