A Cloak of Lies Ch. 03bySweetWitch©
Camille awoke, stiff, sore and confused. Nothing looked familiar to her in the dim light that filtered from the small window, reflecting in the dust particles that floated up in clouds with each movement of her groaning muscles. What had happened to her and where was she?
It took a moment for her to pull herself upright and swing her legs over the edge of the bed. She tried to clear her fuzzy head, to figure out what was happening. Something caught in her memory, but she couldn't quite get a handle on it. Her body felt bruised and strained, as if she had been in an accident.
The night before and the morning after came flooding back in a tidal wave of emotions. Niko, she thought. Alive.
Looking at her surroundings, she saw the box containing packages of dried food and bottled water. A shirt hung over the foot of the bed, obviously belonging to the man who had taken her from her home the previous night. She pulled herself away, stood to step back from the garment as if it were about to attack.
She was thirsty, so thirsty that her throat felt like it had closed. Pulling one of the bottles of water from the box, she opened it and drained it completely before setting it back down. The water helped to clear her mind, to strengthen her resolve. She needed to get away.
There was no telling what had happened to her husband in the years that he was gone, but he was definitely not the same man that she had known. This Niko was cold, calculating, almost crazed at times. He frightened her with his rages and his insistence that something or someone was out to get them. The man was wallowing in paranoia and would likely get them both killed.
Camille stifled a sneeze, trying to remain as quiet as possible. She had no idea where Niko was, but she didn't want to alert him that she was awake. One glance out the window told her that she had slept the day away; soon it would be dark.
A plan began to form in her mind, a way to escape her husband's madness. She would have to slip away, out of the cabin and into the night, before he knew she was awake. As she remembered, there had been only one exit to the building and Niko was likely guarding it. Looking out the window again, she could see a good twenty-foot drop to the ground below. She'd be lucky if she didn't break her neck when she hit, so that idea was out of the question.
Slipping past the table to the bedroom door, Camille peered around the corner, looking for her husband. She couldn't see him, though she heard the unmistakable creak of the floorboards in a room to the left. That suited her well as the door to freedom lay to the right. Taking one more look around to make sure she wouldn't be seen, she took a deep breath before creeping through the doorway into the hall.
She was just rounding the corner into the kitchen, reaching for the doorknob when a hand grasped the back of her neck, causing her to jump. She would have squealed had it not been for the other hand that clamped over her mouth, silencing her. Her heart had jumped into her throat, making it impossible to swallow, or even breathe, as a mouth nuzzled against her ear.
"Going somewhere, wife?" Niko whispered. The name he called her sounded like a curse on his lips.
His grip was like steel as she tried to pry his fingers loose. She needed more oxygen than what she was getting past his big fingers into her half-blocked nostrils. He held his grasp on her, tightening each time she tried to pull free.
"I told you I would tie you up if I have to, but you will cooperate."
His words were only half-understood as Camille began to fight him in earnest, panic causing her to claw at the hand that was quickly closing off all air. The hand that had been holding the back of her neck snaked around her waist, pulling her from her feet. She kicked ineffectively at the legs behind her; her arms reached around, slapping at his face and pulling his hair.
She felt her body weaken as black spots exploded in her vision. It seemed as if she were being sucked down a long tunnel with only a pinpoint of light far ahead of her, growing more and more distant with each passing moment. Then she was no longer fighting him, floating upward as the world around her receded farther.
Suddenly, as if someone had flipped a switch, precious air rushed into her burning lungs. She felt the hardness of the floor as she was lowered with a hand on the back of her head. Gulping hard to feed her oxygen-starved body, she concentrated on calming the muscles that quivered throughout her limbs.
"Camille... Camille, breathe, agapi," an anguished voice spoke from a great distance. The voice was familiar, someone who cared. "Camille, I'm sorry. I didn't realize... Please, baby, open your eyes."
Groaning softly at the fire in her lungs and throat, she turned her head away from the voice, keeping her eyes closed as she tried to get her mind around Niko's attempt at killing her. She felt his hand on her hair as he stroked her head, trying to get her to look at him.
"Why?" she whispered as she turned her face to him, opening her eyes to see the stricken expression that he wore.
"I... I'm sorry, Camille. I didn't know you couldn't breathe," he replied softly. His hand was on top of her head, his thumb stroking gently over her brow. "I was trying to keep you quiet. Please, agapi mou. I..."
"Never call me that again," she said as she pushed herself up dizzily, slapping his hand away. "I am not your love."
Niko pulled himself up from the floor, standing to his full height, his expression cooling to one of stony determination as he watched her. She could see the muscles of his naked chest expand as he wrestled for control of his emotions. Then she noticed the scars on his body, cruel looking marks that hadn't been there when they had been married.
"Get ready. We'll be leaving as soon as it's dark."
Camille turned her head away from him, gazing into the murky room without seeing. "What happened to you, Niko?" she asked softly, not really expecting an answer. "You've changed so much. There was once a time when you would've cut off your own arm before raising a hand in anger to me."
"I know, ag... Camille," he stammered, censoring his words. "I wish we could go back in time, get our lives back, but it's not possible."
"How did you get like this?" She looked at the man that had once been the center of her universe. His handsome face, his hair, were the same as she'd once known, though his body had changed in appearance with the scars. It was his eyes that had been most altered. They were cold and cynical, the laughter and love in them gone. "Where'd you go all those years ago?"
He walked to her slowly, extending his fingers to pull her from the floor. Refusing to take the hand that hung in the air between them, she scrambled back from him before standing on her own. Facing him, she could see the disappointment and resignation etched on his face.
"That day, when I left for work," he said as he dropped into a wobbly chair, the wood creaking under his weight. "I thought it was just like any other day. Something happened that day, Camille."
"What? What could've happened that would make you just disappear without a word?"
"I didn't abandon you. Please believe that. I didn't have any choice. They told me that you'd be killed if they knew I was still alive."
"What are you talking about?" she demanded. "Who are 'they?' And why would they kill me? You're not making any sense."
He shoved his fingers through his hair, dragging it from his eyes to look up at her. "I stumbled onto something that day, at work. Something that implicates Senator Hyde in some pretty ugly shit."
Camille's mouth dropped open, shock written on her face. She'd never thought that his job as a local aide to the U.S. Senator, Danny Hyde, as a reason for his disappearance. "But Hyde is a good man, you said so yourself. He's been in office for three terms now. I know there was that rumor about his, uh, activities with those women, but it was only a rumor, right?"
"I'm afraid it's much worse than that. Anyway, I overheard a conversation and made a phone call. You remember Rob Phelps?"
"Yeah," Camille answered, wondering what Niko's old friend could have to do with it. "He looked after me when you..." she swallowed hard, remembering the horror of those first days without Niko.
"He did, huh? How good of him," Niko snapped, his dark eyes sparkling malevolently in the failing light of dusk.
"Would you reign in that Greek jealousy of yours? Jeez, the guy was traumatized when we all thought you were dead. He did nothing more than any friend would do. It's not like he ever made a play for me or anything."
"Of course he didn't," Niko retorted. "The man's a fag."
"Just because he didn't hit on me doesn't mean he's..."
Niko cut her off with a look. "No, I mean he's gay. For real. He told me not too long after college. He doesn't like women. He kept it a secret because of his career with the FBI."
"Then why were you so pissed when I told you he took care of me? And he doesn't work for the FBI anymore. He quit about a year after... that day." She could feel her brows drawing together tightly as she frowned at her husband.
"Yeah, I know. I'm pissed because he's the bastard that I called after I heard what the Senator was into. I can't prove it yet, but I know Rob's the one who put the word out on me. If he was nosing around you after I was gone then he could only be after one thing -- to find out what you knew."
"Well, relax, because I thought it was just an accident like everyone else. I honestly don't understand any of this."
"Just try to stay with me here. I called Rob, told him what I heard. He told me to keep my mouth shut and meet him at the boat docks, where we used to fish. I went there but it wasn't Rob that was waiting for me. It was an ambush. I was shot. They stuffed me back in the car and shoved it off the docks. I can remember the water coming in and trying to get out. I don't remember too much after that.
"When I woke up I was in some private hospital and the staff was calling me a name I'd never heard before, Anthony Portello. They said I'd been out for three weeks, in a coma. When I tried to get to a phone to call you, they put me in restraints. Then these guys in suits came in, feeding me a bunch of bullshit about how my country needed me and how their plan was the only way to protect my wife. Makes me sick to think about it now."
Camille stepped forward slowly, unfolding her arms from her chest, sinking to her knees in front of him. "You were shot?" she whispered, horrified.
Niko straightened from his slouched position, allowing her eyes to see the scars on his body in the gloom of twilight. Her breath caught in her throat as she raised a trembling hand to one puckered scar on his chest. She touched it lightly, before looking at the rest of his torso. She counted four bullet wounds and two longer scars that could only have been caused by surgery and sutures. Two of the bullets had hit him in the chest, one in the belly and the last in his left ribcage.
"That one went all the way through," he said as he captured her fingers against his chest.
Placing her other hand on the side of his face, she felt her heart soften and suddenly wanted to be in his arms. "The police told me you had gotten drunk and driven off the ramp. They said they found a whiskey bottle in the car."
"You know me better than that," he whispered, watching her eyes intently.
"That's what I told them. I told them they were wrong. No one would listen to me."
"That's the nature of a cover-up, Baby," he said, nuzzling against her hand. "God, I missed you, Camille. All I could think about was getting back to you."
She sat back on her heels, pulling her hands down to rest on his thighs. "I missed you too, Niko. My world stopped that day. I tried to find out what happened to you but the police had given up the case. They wrote you off as just another drunk driver, said that your body probably washed downstream or got hung up on a snag and was stuck underwater. They just stopped looking. Every time I tried to get them to do their jobs I hit a brick wall."
"So you finally had to give up," Niko supplied, his attention dropping to the ring on her left hand. He took her fingers in his, grazing the top of the small solitaire with the pad of his thumb. "Is he good to you, Camille?"
"Yes." Her voice wavered at the sorrow she saw in his face. If only there were some way to take that pain away and right all the wrong. "He was there when I was at my lowest. I would never have survived without him. He... he saved me, Niko. I don't know how to explain it, other than that."
"Then I owe him a lot," he murmured. He held her hand up, buried his face against it, kissing her palm. "I'm sorry, Baby, so sorry," he lamented against her skin before pressing her fingers to his cheek. His eyes held every emotion he'd experienced over the last twenty-four hours as he spoke. "When I got to your house last night, I saw you with him. I almost lost my mind, seeing you kissing him. I wanted to tear his heart out for touching you. I had no right to treat you the way I did. I just couldn't stand it. Please tell me you'll forgive me some day."
Pulling her hand free, she stood, pacing away from him. She could still feel the heat of his lips on her flesh as she tried to collect her thoughts. "I don't know what I'm supposed to forgive you for. Is it the way you've treated me, taking me from my home and my life, your disappearance and the hell I went through, or that I'm now supposedly in some kind of danger because of you? I don't even know if I believe a word of it. It all sounds so far-fetched."
She had her back to him, hugging herself with her shaking arms, trying to get her mind around what was happening. Before she heard his voice, she felt his heat as he stepped up behind her. The warmth of his palms covered her shoulders, sliding downward to encircle her body.
"I know what it sounds like, Sweetheart. I'd give anything if it weren't true."
His lips stroked her ear as he spoke, a caress that sent shivers down her spine. It took all her strength to pull away when all she wanted to do was melt against him.
"Is it true, Niko?" she asked as she turned to face him. "You're not crazy, are you?"
His answer was a harsh, mirthless laugh that twisted his face into a grimace. "I might be, Camille. I have no idea anymore." He looked around at the gathering darkness before speaking again. "We need to go. Just stay with me until I get you somewhere safe. Please."
Camille nodded, though she didn't know why. If he were telling the truth then she would be in trouble if she went home again. Some of what he said had made sense and certainly answered a lot of open questions she still had about his disappearance as well as the difficulty she'd had in getting anyone to listen to her. On the other hand, it all seemed so implausible. How could any of it be true?
"I'll go with you, Niko. For now."
"Thank you," he returned, looking as if he wanted something more from her.
Niko left to gather the things from the bedroom, returning with his shirt hanging open on his long frame and the sleeping bag draped over his shoulder. He set the grub box on a table so he could pack the bedroll. With that task completed, he handed her the items to carry, drawing his gun from its holster behind his back.
Camille stared wide-eyed at the weapon. "What's that for?"
"Just in case," Niko replied, checking his weapon. "Stay behind me and stay low."
He peered out the window before opening the door, holding the gun out in front of him. With a quick motion of his head, he told her to follow as he stepped out onto the staircase, crouching low as he lithely crept down the steps. Camille kept pace with him, finding herself hurrying in the same bent gate, thinking how infectious his paranoia was. She felt like a complete imbecile crawling along the darkened shadows in a near duck-walk.
Niko led her into the brush close to the riverbank, where the car waited for them. With quick, precise motions, he deposited the box and the bedroll into the trunk and pulled another item out before guiding her to the front of the car, glancing over his shoulder periodically the entire way. He opened the door for her, closing it softly, almost noiselessly, behind her.
"How many guns do you need?" she asked as he slid through the driver's door, placing the item he'd pulled from the trunk onto the seat.
"That's not for me," he answered. "It's for you."
Her chin shot up, her eyes narrowing. "Hell, no. I told you I'd go with you but I'm not committing a felony just because you're delusional."
The engine turned over, purring to life as he turned to look her in the eye. "It's not the first time you handled a gun, Camille. I remember when we were kids you used to go to the gun range with your dad."
"Yeah, and that was just target shooting with my father. I never carried a concealed weapon and I don't intend to start now."
Sighing, he put the vehicle into gear, pulling out of the camouflaging brush and into the open. "I would feel better knowing that you're armed. If something happens to me you may need to protect yourself."
"No, Camille, just prepared."
"Where are we going?" she asked, changing the subject.
"St. Louis. We're going to meet my partner and decide our next move."
"Do you think we could stop somewhere? I need a shower and these clothes are filthy. You could stand a good washing yourself," she grimaced, wrinkling her nose as if he smelled bad.
Grinning like the Niko of her memory, he winked at her. "I kinda like smelling you on my body."
A rude grunt was the only answer he got, as a deep blush crept up her neck and into her face. She heard his amused chuckle, turned to look out the passenger window. His eyes were on her; she felt the intensity of it.
"What's wrong?" he asked softly.
"Can't we just forget what happened in the other car?" she asked, her voice quivering.
"Why? What's wrong with a man making love to his wife?" he asked in return. "Well, fucking is a better term for that, I suppose," he added after a moment. "It wasn't exactly sweet and tender, was it?"
She was silent for a few minutes, contemplating his words and the act they had committed the night before. "I'm not your wife anymore, Niko," she murmured painfully. "I'm getting married soon -- to someone else."
"Like hell," his voice ground out, bringing her head around to look at him. His jaw twitched ominously as he continued, "You already have a husband, Sweetheart. You're so worried about breaking the law... When this mess is over I won't be dead anymore. I'll have my life back."
"When this mess is over, I'll marry Doug and start a family." She stopped talking, jumping when Niko's fist collided with the steering wheel.
"What about us? You just turn your back on what we had?"
"You did." Her words were soft but laced with the anger that was rising quickly.
He fell into a stony silence with the skin of his knuckles turning white under the strain of his grip on the wheel. Camille sighed, raking her fingers through the tangles in her hair. The tresses were gritty against her skin, making her wish again for a shower and the comfort of her own home. She thought better of saying anything, though, in the face of the animosity that oozed from the man next to her.
Finally, feeling as if a dam were about to break she opened her mouth to speak. "Niko, I need you to pull over."
"Forget it," he growled.
"I'm serious. Pull over. I have to pee."
"Make it quick," he ordered as he pulled off the road along side a farm field.
Snorting derisively at him, she exited the car, stepping into the brush nearby. When she returned she found him watering the front tire of the car, reminding her of a dog marking his territory. With a roll of her eyes, she got back into the car to wait, wondering again if he were crazy.