Destroy Me (Shatter Me, #1.5)(7)

“Did you really think I wouldn’t find out?” he asks, amused.

He moves closer to my bed, his footsteps reverberating right through me. “You have Delalieu whimpering apologies for disturbing me, begging my men to blame him for the inconvenience of this unexpected visit. No doubt you terrified the old man for doing his job, when the truth is, I would’ve found out even without his alerts. This,” he says, “is not the kind of mess you can conceal. You’re an idiot for thinking otherwise.”

I feel a light tugging on my legs and realize he’s undoing my restraints. The brush of his skin against mine is abrupt and unexpected, and it triggers something deep and dark within me, enough to make me physically ill. I taste vomit at the back of my throat. It takes all my self-control not to jerk away from him.

“Sit up, son. You should be well enough to function now. You were too stupid to rest when you were supposed to, and now you’ve overcorrected. Three days you’ve been unconscious, and I arrived twenty-seven hours ago. Now get up. This is ridiculous.”

I’m still staring at the ceiling. Hardly breathing.

He changes tactics.

“You know,” he says carefully, “I’ve actually heard an interesting story about you.” He sits down on the edge of my bed; the mattress creaks and groans under his weight. “Would you like to hear it?”

My left hand has begun to tremble. I clench it fast against the bedsheets.

“Private 45B-76423. Fletcher, Seamus.” He pauses. “Does that name sound familiar?”

I squeeze my eyes shut.

“Imagine my surprise,” he says, “when I heard that my son had finally done something right. That he’d finally taken initiative and dispensed with a traitorous soldier who’d been stealing from our storage compounds. I heard you shot him right in the forehead.” A laugh. “I congratulated myself—told myself you’d finally come into your own, that you’d finally learned how to lead properly. I was almost proud.

“That’s why it came as an even greater shock to me to hear Fletcher’s family was still alive.” He claps his hands together. “Shocking, of course, because you, of all people, should know the rules. Traitors come from a family of traitors, and one betrayal means death to them all.”

He rests his hand on my chest.

I’m building walls in my mind again. White walls. Blocks of concrete. Empty rooms and open space.

Nothing exists inside of me. Nothing stays.

“It’s funny,” he continues, thoughtful now, “because I told myself I’d wait to discuss this with you. But somehow, this moment seems so right, doesn’t it?” I can hear him smile. “To tell you just how tremendously . . . disappointed I am. Though I can’t say I’m surprised.” He sighs. “In a single month you’ve lost two soldiers, couldn’t contain a clinically insane girl, upended an entire sector, and encouraged rebellion among the citizens. And somehow, I’m not surprised at all.”

His hand shifts; lingers at my collarbone.

White walls, I think.

Blocks of concrete.

Empty rooms. Open space.

Nothing exists inside of me. Nothing stays.

“But what’s worse than all this,” he says, “is not that you’ve managed to humiliate me by disrupting the order I’d finally managed to establish. It’s not even that you somehow got yourself shot in the process. But that you would show sympathy to the family of a traitor,” he says, laughing, his voice a happy, cheerful thing. “This is unforgivable.”

My eyes are open now, blinking up at the fluorescent lights above my head, focused on the white of the bulbs blurring my vision. I will not move. I will not speak.

His hand closes around my throat.

The movement is so rough and violent I’m almost relieved. Some part of me always hopes he’ll go through with it; that maybe this time he’ll actually let me die. But he never does. It never lasts.

Torture is not torture when there’s any hope of relief.

He lets go all too soon and gets exactly what he wants. I jerk upward, coughing and wheezing and finally making a sound that acknowledges his existence in this room. My whole body is shaking now, my muscles in shock from the assault and from remaining still for so long. My skin is cold sweat; my breaths are labored and painful.

“You’re very lucky,” he says, his words too soft. He’s up now, no longer inches from my face. “So lucky I was here to make things right. So lucky I had time to correct the mistake.”

I freeze.

The room spins.

“I was able to track down his wife,” he says. “Fletcher’s wife and their three children. I hear they sent their regards.” A pause. “Well, this was before I had them killed, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter now, but my men told me they said hello. It seems she remembered you,” he says, laughing softly. “The wife. She said you went to visit them before all this . . . unpleasantness occurred. You were always visiting the compounds, she said. Asking after the civilians.”

I whisper the only two words I can manage.

“Get out.”

“This is my boy!” he says, waving a hand in my direction. “A meek, pathetic fool. Some days I’m so disgusted by you I don’t know whether to shoot you myself. And then I realize you’d probably like that, wouldn’t you? To be able to blame me for your downfall? And I think no, best to let him die of his own stupidity.”

Tahereh Mafi's Books