Nothing is the same, Nicky


Slime covered my ear as Fluffy licked my face. I sat on my bed with her, arms around her neck, and let the dog saliva stick. Pouting was a full-time job, I was fixed on huddling up and looking shunned. Melissa descended the stairs with a bag in hand, calling out, "You'll be fine! Bye!" Yes, the day of reckoning had arrived.

Avery advanced to my room, setting his leather bag down by the door. A sour expression marked my soft features. I pressed my face into Fluffy's neck as Avery sat down close to me. Touching my hair, he said, "I know this is all very new and sudden for you, Nicky, I'm sorry you haven't gotten a chance to get used to this place."

I buried my face in dog fur in an attempt to keep from crying. Muffled, my wobbly voice floated out, "It's not the house! It's you!" Despite my best attempts, I began to sob anyway.

Leaning close, Avery gently spoke, "What's that?"

Turning around, I pressed my face into his chest. Sniffling, I whined, "I don't know Syd! You're not supposed to leave like…"

Avery wrapped his arms around me reassuringly. "I'm sorry. I promise I'll do my best to come back for you." It felt strange to hear him apologize. With his more or less monotonous way of talking, I wondered if it was sincere.

I hesitated. "Are you going somewhere dangerous?"

Holding me close, Avery murmured seriously, "Yes. I can't take you yet. But Syd is… nice, you will be safer here." Shifting me so that our eyes met, he kissed my forehead and said, "Be good. If anything happens, call doctor Diane on the phone downstairs, her number is written there."

"Why can't I call you?"

"I can't risk your identity or location." He gave a sad smile, releasing me. "I have to go now. Syd should be here soon."

Flopping back on the bed, I surrendered to more tears. Miserably, I cried into my pillow as Avery and Melissa left. The door shut and locked downstairs. I raised my puffy eyes to the ceiling. Why can't life go normally? I felt too upset, but really, I did feel extremely insecure with just Syd around. I knew nothing of him and so far have had no relationship with him. I was in a strange, strange place with a stranger. There were no acts of kindness or compassion I could judge him by, best to my knowledge. I did not quite trust Melissa or Avery much either, but Syd was ground zero. Emotionally, I have to admit… I was getting attached to Avery. He was the only one in among the three kidnappers who seemed to be the most sane and negotiable. Some part of me considered him like a father, which helped ease my anxieties. Fathers didn't cut up their children or kill them.

I rested somberly for over an hour, Fluffy lying heavily across my legs. Trying to take my mind off my emotions, I decided to get up and tidy things. Heaving Fluffy off the bed, I tucked in the sheets and rearranged the pillows. Absent-mindedly, I folded what laundry I had used and proceeded to spruce up the bathroom, though Avery and Melissa normally kept things very neat. I worked slowly and carelessly, eventually just heading back to my room to sit on the floor, bored, with Fluffy laying over my lap. More time had passed before I plucked up the energy to look around. Without any captors around, I could check my surroundings. If I wanted to escape, now would be the damn best time to do it. I somehow got out from under Fluffy, and walked downstairs. The house was so empty. Fluffy's paws thudded down the stairs behind me. I patted her head absently and proceeded to check the doors. Passing the window, I realized the window locks were far too complex to try my hand at. Fiddling with the door, I could not get it open. A keyhole gaped above the lock. I looked around; the front door had a keyhole as well. Groaning disappointedly, I wandered down the hall between the kitchen and living room. Fluffy made a noise behind me.

"What's the matter…" I began, looking back at her.

Fluffy's head drooped. Her tail hung low. Licking her lips, she walked past me slowly and scratched at the laundry room door. I granted her entrance and worried by the door. Melissa had placed a dog bed in the room, Fluffy collapsed lethargically on it and sighed. I knelt beside her and put a hand on her head, hoping the bite she received earlier was not bothering her. Examining it, the bite itself was already scabbing over. Relieved, I stood.

"You must miss them," I murmured sadly.

Feeling lethargic myself, I dragged myself to the living room, planning on sitting down to watch television alone. Anything to fill the silence would be welcome. However, I should be careful what I wish for; I shrieked as I was suddenly grabbed from behind around the waist. Squirming, I heard an annoying laugh by my ear.

"Oh my God, you freaked out!" Syd gasped, releasing me. I toppled to the floor, scrambling to look up at him. He clutched his sides, grinning with the last bursts of mirth. "Come on, that was funny! You squealed like a pig!"

I scowled angrily, still shaken. "That's not funny! What took you so long?"

Containing himself, Syd put a finger to his lips. "Shh! Let's not be upset now, I happened to take my sweet time getting us some pizza for lunch." Reaching over the counter, he brought into view a large pizza box.

My head still ached after the sudden fright. I warily regarded Syd as I gathered myself. "I bet you can't cook," I muttered.

Cramming a slice into his mouth, he shrugged. "Not really."

I tentatively took a slice and ate on the other side of the counter, watching Syd from the corner of my eye. He had clipped his hair shorter, and without his scarf revealed a fist-sized tattoo on his neck of a biohazard sign. As soon as I was finished eating, I wanted to get away from Syd. I walked to the porch door and peered out at the rays of afternoon sun between the distant trees. Little gusts of wind blew the branches slightly, for some reason I thought it was interesting how such big, strong trees would still listen to just a bit of wind. The tip of my nose touched the cold glass.

"So,"

I jumped, jerking away to see Syd standing near, leaning forward so his face was just a few inches from my ear. He smiled, continuing, "You going to get ready for bed? You know, brush your teeth, take a shower, and all that?"

Words cannot describe how creeped out I felt. Slowly looking to the clock above the stove, I tried to keep the anxiety out of my voice as I said, "It's… only four o'clock."

Syd's expression did not falter. "Yeah, don't you take naps or something?"

Did he think I was three years old? I backed away from him. "No…"

"You look sleepy, though." He seemed to be looking at me expectantly.

"I'm not," I said honestly.

Syd glanced at the clock and back to me, slightly different. "Huh…" He straightened, putting a hand to his chin. "Naps are pretty good, though, you'll be in the habit of it by the time Avery's back."

Puzzled, I stared at him. "Avery is coming back the day after tomorrow."

"Oh?" Syd smiled again, looking down at me leisurely. "I wonder why he told you that. He's going to be gone for a week at least."

"But why…"

Popping his knuckles, Syd laughed it off. "Old Avery is pretty sly, maybe he didn't want to scare you. I can see why," Syd reached out. I stifled my urge to cringe and recoil from his touch as he patted my head. "You're a nervous one."

I looked down at my feet to avoid his crow-like eyes. Was Avery really going to be gone for that long, leaving me here with this creep? Something just didn't feel right. I realized I trusted Avery more than Syd. As if to myself, I murmured, "He won't be gone too long."

Syd seemed disappointed. He dropped his hand from my head to my shoulder. With a light squeeze, he said quietly, "How about that shower, hmm?"

The idea of scrubbing his touch off me sounded appealing. I nodded and scampered away, relieved to be out of his eerie presence. Up the stairs I went, feeling his gaze on my back the entire time. Once in the bathroom, I shut the door harder than I intended and quickly locked it. Sliding my back down the door, I exhaled shakily. I was suddenly very anxious about taking my clothes off with Syd in the house. You are exaggerating, I told myself, You were nervy like this before. I bet you were actually getting used to everything and thought you would be fine. You are a prisoner, remember that.

But I felt… welcome with Avery. Someone wanted me. Exactly, for your organs.

I put my face in my hands, telling my mind to shut up. A shower would be nice, maybe a long warm one to relax me. Luckily, there was already a towel in the bathroom. I turned on the water and stretched, worried, and paced, before undressing. Under a steady stream of hot water, I could not relax. I tried sitting, standing, and facing upward into the water. Still, no peace of mind came. I shut off the water after what felt like ten minutes. As I toweled myself off, I paused to look at the place my kidney had been removed. Thin scars marked the area, much less visible than the first day I had seen them. Good, they would fade and I could make myself believe it never happened. Putting on my clothes, I told myself I could just go to bed, curl up under the covers, and when I woke up Syd wouldn't be here.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear: I opened the bathroom door to see Syd leaning against the wall across from me, arms crossed, a smile still tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Didn't hear you brush your teeth," he remarked.

A shiver ran up my spine. Dear God, he was listening to me while I was in the bathroom. This was my limit; I doubted I could take his presence much longer and see how far he would invade my privacy. When I could find a way to escape, I surely would. I forced a smile back, saying, "Right, got it," and closed the door again, sure to turn the lock all the way.

Hoping if I took my time he would go away, I went ahead and brushed my teeth, used the toilet, and brushed my hair thoroughly. Again I opened the door, and again he greeted me as if he hadn't moved an inch. I suppressed a groan and quickly moved past him to my bedroom. To my dismay, he followed. I was surprised by how dark my room was, though I neglected to turn on any lights. "How long…" I blurted out, catching myself. Days are short approaching winter. What day was it, anyway?

"Eh, it's about five-thirty now," Syd said casually. He was so close to my ear again, I shied away.

Pointing to the bed, I declared, "I'm going to sleep now. I don't need anything, so…"

Lingering by the doorway, Syd continued staring at me nonchalantly. "Alright."

My skin crawled as I lay on my bed, Syd still watching. Irritably, I turned over and curled a bit so that my back was to him. The receding sunlight on my walls gave me a clue as to how time passed, and I tried to watch the shadows in order to calm myself. Of course, I could not sleep. I was far too wary and unsafe to sleep. After the sun went down, I lost my sense of time. I figured Syd had left already, so I shifted somewhat and attempted to find a comfortable position. This was a cozy bed, but the knot in my gut refused to let me find comfort. I huffed and buried my face in the pillows. Dinner must have just passed, and I was glad Syd had not woken me for it. He could not cook, though, so I doubted he would prepare me anything. Exhaling into the pillows, I played with the hem of my sleeve tiredly. At least now I wanted to sleep.

I was actually starting to nod off into a light slumber when I heard Syd in the room. He stood by my bedside, causing me to stiffen and snap out of my thin sleep. Waking up from a light sleep feels like taking one's face out of a shallow, cool puddle. As opposed to my normal deep sleep, when I wake up feeling like I had been floating along the bottom of the ocean. Upset, I grumbled, "What?"

Some noise was made, like he was moving something into his pocket. I turned over, curious, and grimaced at the intimidating sight of him standing over me. This was getting too creepy, much too creepy. "What," I repeated.

The darkness hid his features, but something told me he was smiling. "I forgot to wake you up for dinner. C'mon, I'll drive you anywhere you want."

I turned away from him. More grumpy than nervous, I shrugged him off. "No thanks, I'm not hungry."

Syd touched my arm, urging me up. "Nicky," he chimed, in an overly sweet tone I mistook for light annoyance. When I did not respond, he suddenly yanked me out of bed. I fell on my face with a surprised yelp. "Get up," he ordered, the warmth draining from his voice, revealing malice.

I scrambled to my knees, and froze for a moment, as if my brain had to stop to re-assess the situation. The door was wide open on my left, Syd to my right. I could run. Doing just this, I snapped up and bolted for the hallway. Syd laughed and caught me before I reached the doorframe. I shrieked, squirming down to get out of his arms like I had with Avery. Unfortunately for me, Syd was not as tall as Avery, and had no trouble holding me up. His arms around my waist and chest, he dragged me backwards to the staircase. Once there, he released me and threw an arm out to block me from the hallway. With only the staircase as an option, I ran down, taking two steps at time and jumping the last three. With some reason left in my head, I realized the doors were not my best choice; likely locked. I instead hurried to the laundry room. Syd had come down the stairs, chuckling to himself. Grasping the handle, I turned it and went to shove it open. A hand clamped down on my wrist and an arm went around my waist before the door opened fully, I feared I had not opened it at all. I screamed again, hoping Fluffy would at least bark defensively. Struggling in Syd's grip, I bumped against the door, opening it enough for me to see Fluffy's shape, lying in the corner with her eyes barely open in the dark.

Syd had his back to the door and did not see her. I continued to scream and kick until he brought me to the living room, where he pressed a hand over my mouth and tried to talk between giggles, "Go on, scream here rather than the car. Calm down."

My hopes fell, Fluffy had not woken up. Angrily, I twisted and bucked as he brought me to the floor in a crouch, holding my arms behind my back with one hand and muffling my screams with the other. Adrenalin shot through my veins, shaking my body. I had to do something, and took his offer; I screamed for as long and hard as I could into his glove. At the end, I knelt there pathetically, panting, tears and snot dripping from my face. What could I do? What did he intend to do?

"There we go," Syd praised, removing his hand from my face.

"What do you want?" I gasped, hating that my voice cracked.

As Syd began to speak, he was interrupted by a wet growl. Making a noise of bewilderment, he faltered to look over his shoulder. I took advantage of my opportunity and frantically hurried away, crawling to the porch door.

"Fluffy?" Syd squeaked in shock.

Immediately after, I heard a savage snarl and claws scraping against the floor, followed by Syd's yelp and a hard thud. I glanced behind me for an instant and quickly turned back to the door. The big husky was on top of Syd, teeth gleaming as she bit at his arms and neck. He fought her, rolling toward the counter violently. I tried to open the porch door without success. Crying, I shoved my shoulder into it in vain, feeling powerless. Something caught my eye: the phone. I staggered to it, my legs weak with fright. Grabbing the phone off its holder, I saw the paper with Diane's number written on it. I squinted in the dark and did my best to hit the correct numbers, between the barely visible note and the number pad being almost beyond my limits of sight. My heart pounded while the phone leisurely rang a low tone.

"Beep… Beeep… Beeeeep… Beeeeeep… Hello?" a male voice answered.

I swore lowly, having no idea who I called.

I thought I heard a sigh at the end, then: "Who is this, Avery's number?"

Relieved I had at least dialed someone who knew where I could be, I blurted out, "I'm Nicky, I need help—this psycho…"

"Syd, not again, stop playing around," the voice scolded.

"No, no!" I mumbled.

"I'm going back to bed, I'll give you a piece of my mind later." Click!

The line ended, leaving me feeling even worse. A hard hit sounded, and Fluffy squealed. I looked toward the noise and saw her slide across the floor as if kicked. Syd grunted, standing jerkily. Realizing it was game over, I hurriedly stood and put the phone back quietly. Thankfully some rationality was coming to mind; if Syd knew I had called, he would likely be angered. I had timed my movements well enough not to be caught finishing a call, but I was too slow to completely get away from the phone. Even after kicking a husky off himself, Syd was fast. He came around the counter and roughly grabbed my arm, fingertips just leaving the phone. Again he pulled me to him.

"Bad idea," Syd hissed in my face, breathing harder after the fight with Fluffy. I could practically smell the blood from his wounds. "If police tried to trace the call, you would have gotten a few officers killed, missy."

I mentally kicked myself. Really, I hadn't thought to dial the three digit code for police? Ugh! Then again, I could not find the right numbers anyway. With Syd squeezing me painfully hard to his chest, I let my body go limp and pleaded, "I'm sorry, don't hurt me, please."

Syd ignored me, alternating between pushing and dragging my trembling body toward the front door. We passed Fluffy, hurt and lying in pain by the stairs, but alive nonetheless. I tried to control my tears and tremors, actually thankful now for the opportunity he gave me to scream. He had wanted me calm to make it easier to control me, but I was only clearer in mind and tired in body. From my days scavenging, I know that when I have limited energy to use and a sharper mind to decide how to use it, I was at my best. I piped up, "What do you want with me?"

Opening the door, Syd ushered me out into the frigid night air. His tone of sadistic humor returned, at least showing him in a better mood: "I want you to get in the car."

Under the moon and stars, I could see my surroundings better outside. My eyes had done their best to adjust to the darkness indoors. About ten yards ahead of me, a white sedan crouched, running quietly. I felt like this was déjà vu; I heard the same phrase go through my head as it had weeks ago: You're one dead duck. The last time I heard that, I ended up alive but without a kidney. I wasn't so sure of my luck this time. Unbending what was left of my pride, I wiggled around to face Syd. Illuminated by the moonlight now, I could see the tooth mark over his brow, bleeding a bright orange color.

"I can walk myself," I murmured.

Syd grinned, showing a tint of orange blood in his teeth. I shivered involuntarily, and hoped he thought it was from the wind, not my fright. "Great. I'll escort you, milady."

I thought he meant he would keep a hold of me, instead he let me go and gestured toward the car theatrically. Apparently, he, too, did not want to expend more energy than necessary. That or he was lazy. The latter was more realistic. I exhaled through my nose and began my walk while Syd prowled behind. My mind reeled, wondering how I would get away. I was in the front yard now, I could run to the run and… then what? Syd would surely catch me. Certainly, he was fast and strong enough to apprehend me that way. Flight was not an option. I walked faster to the passenger side of the car and then stopped. Listening closely to Syd's footfalls, I heard him halt less than an arms-length from me. Hoping to God I was accurate and quick enough, I threw my elbow back. Success! I hit him in the chest, hard enough to jar my arm. I winced and heard him grunt in pain. Turning on my heel, I went to run back to the house. At the least, I could lock him out and buy myself time. I yelped as Syd grasped the front of my shirt and slammed me into the car. Only here I realized I could also call the police from the house, if I turned on the lights and locked Syd out. Despite the harsh snarl I looked up at, I kicked deliberately at his belt buckle and shouted at him to get off. He picked me up and slammed me into the car again, grasping my throat. My back tightened in pain, pulling my shoulders back with tension. I clawed at Syd's hand breathlessly, begging, "Please… please…"

Syd looked down at me sinisterly. The orange blood traced the side of his brow, giving a sharp contrast to his black eyes. His grip tightened as his eyes softened. A second later I could not breath, and he loosened. Rage dissipated, he opened the back door and effortlessly pushed me in. As he made sure my legs were out of the door, he chided, "I can't believe how difficult you're being. You were so well-behaved the first time."

The door slammed too close to my feet anyway. My toes popped as it hit, though I was glad my feet had not been closed in the door. I panted and gulped in air while Syd sat down in the driver's seat, still talking almost to himself as he shifted the car. Looking back at me, he asked, "You hurt?"

I sniffed, unable to hide my tears. Failing to respond timely, I cringed as I expected a blow.

"Ah, sorry," Syd remarked casually. "I meant to drug you for the trip and all, but it looks like Avery kept you on them too long. Blame him."

Confused, I chanced a furtive glance back at him. "What?"

I received a blank look, as if I had said something ludicrous. "He's been sedating you since after your surgery. I thought he stopped, I guess he saw the fight in you I didn't."

Turning back, Syd began moving the car. My stomach lurched with the vehicle, as it had during my first time in a car. I hiccupped and clutched my stomach, praying I would not throw up and anger Syd again. Remembering what I had done before to beat motion sickness, I closed my eyes and kept my face buried in the car seat. This seemed to make Syd's job easier, as he started humming to himself and tapping the steering wheel happily. Avery might have been giving me painkillers, but the idea of him drugging me purposefully… Did it make him untrustworthy? It might as well have been for my sake anyway, I did have surgery recently. I had to admit to myself that I did not want a reason to distrust Avery. He was the safest person I had, and I feared the small peace of mind I had left if I discarded my hope. The drive was surprisingly short, at least in my mind due to the long drive I had originally been subjected to. I looked up as the car stopped. Syd got out and opened the door by my head. I stared up at him fearfully. Smirking, he pointed toward a simplistic house in the forest behind him. "You can walk yourself into my house, can't you? No elbows involved?"

Nodding, I carefully picked myself off the seat and exited the car. Refusing to meet his eyes, I asked, "Why would you tell me where I am?" Why would you kidnap me anyway?

Glancing furtively, I saw Syd raise an eyebrow. "It's not like you'll live to tell anyone," he stated flatly.