tagBDSMCuring Erica's Phobia Ch. 04

Curing Erica's Phobia Ch. 04


When Erica awoke, there were voices in the other room, at least one of them sounded angry. She sat up in bed, looking around the room, wondering why she wasn't in her usual sleeping shorts and tank. She tried to remember last night, but it was a blur, like she'd had too much wine to drink. There was a wine glass by the bed, though it was mostly full. She slipped into the bathroom and looked in the mirror, horrified by what she saw. Her eyes were red-rimmed, with dark shadows below. Her skin was blotchy. Had she been crying? She didn't remember that, but then, she didn't remember much of anything. Joann leaving, Eric staying; but then what? She needed – wanted – coffee, but she wasn't ready to face whoever was in the outer room. She turned on the shower instead.

A great deal of hot water later, she emerged from the bathroom, still with no clearer memories of the night, but at least looking and feeling a little better. She dressed quietly, noticing that the door was just slightly ajar, like someone had peeked in to check on her. The voices in the outer room seemed even more animated. Erica tiptoed to the door in bare feet, listening.

"How the hell did we not know this?" That was Eric's voice, and it was followed by the sound of papers being slapped down on a counter or table. Someone shushed him. "Do you have any idea what I did to her last night?" he exclaimed, not being shushed in the least.

"Eric, get over yourself," Joann scolded. "It shouldn't have been done, but it was. It's no one's fault. And more important, it's given us some valuable information."

"Sure, if we can ever get at it," he replied bitterly.

"Time," someone said softly. Erica thought it might be John. "These things move slow."

"We don't have time. She doesn't have time. What if she doesn't come back to us?"

You're the one that's been hounding her to remember," Joann pointed out.

If I'd known what she was going to remember..." For a long moment, all Erica heard was the soft rattling of dishes and coffee mugs. She ventured to peek out the door. Eric was sitting at the dining table with his head in his hands. John was in the kitchen, fixing his coffee. Only Joann seemed to be aware of her, and she was staring, and trying not to seem to stare at the same time.

"I was just..." Eric started, but Joann interrupted him.

"Erica, how are you feeling?"

Eric's head shot up and John spun around. All three of them were scrutinizing her. "What happened?" she asked softly.

"What do you remember?" Joann countered.

Erica shook her head stubbornly. "Tell me what happened," she insisted. John brought her a cup of coffee and they all watched expectantly as she waited for him to offer the handle in such a way that their fingers wouldn't touch. She took a sip of the coffee and stared at them, her exasperation obviously growing. She remained standing in the doorway, her only available exit strategy. "Tell me!" she repeated.

"I told you something about my youth and it seemed to trigger a memory for you," Eric said. "It might not have been a real memory," he added.

"What? Memory of what?"

"We can talk about that," Joann said, "But with someone here who knows how to help you. Someone who can help you work through the memories."

"No!" Erica exclaimed. "Then the nightmares will come back." She took a step back as if someone had come too close, though John had returned to the kitchen and Eric and Joann had not moved.

"We're not going to talk about any of that now, anyway, so come and sit down," John said. "I'm making you some breakfast. Guaranteed to make you feel better."

It did smell good and that warm, breakfasty temptation was drawing her out of the safe cocoon of the bedroom. She couldn't help but notice out of the corner of her eye that Eric turned a pile of papers over on the table next to him, but John was extolling the virtues of his pancake and egg breakfast, so she continued on to the kitchen bar. She sat on one of the stools and watched as John refilled her coffee cup. Joann went around the counter, into the kitchen, undoubtedly getting in John's way, but perhaps remembering what Erica had said about feeling more comfortable with the counter between them.

"Can you tell us what you do remember about your childhood?" Joann asked.

"You tell me what you've found out about Juan," Erica bargained. "It's Thursday. I'm supposed to be at the airport."

Joann glanced over Erica's shoulder at Eric, but he didn't say anything. "Someone did show up at your apartment yesterday, around five in the morning. He didn't stay. We think he had an infrared scope and easily discovered that no one was there."

"And?" Erica prompted.

"We identified him as an ex-marine. He's known to take contracts with a semi-legitimate mercenary-for-hire type business. They hire a lot of ex-military, mostly do security, bodyguards, move documents or valuables in and out of sketchy countries, that kind of thing. We think they've been involved in trying to rescue kidnap victims, things we'd really rather that civilians didn't get involved in but don't have a lot of control over when they're working in foreign countries. Anyway, it sounds like he made a couple more passes last night to see if you were there."

"Can't you arrest him?"

"He hasn't done anything illegal," John said, putting a plate stacked with delicious looking food on it down in front of her. "That we know of," he added with a shrug.

"And Juan?"

"That's more complicated," she admitted. "We found the ticket. It was purchased by an off-shore proxy in the Caribbean. It was for Dubai."


"We didn't find any visa applications in your name, so either he was planning on you ending up in a country that doesn't require visas, or he's planning on you assuming a false identity at some point. We haven't discovered that yet. There was a connecting flight out of Atlanta. He may have set it up for somebody to contact you there and/or fly the rest of the way with you."

"So I need to go to the airport, be on that flight, so you can find out."

"No," Eric snapped. "We need to lure him here, or have him send someone that we can actually trace back to him, presumably he would send someone closer to him that he would trust."

Joann shot him a warning look. "We're going to have an agent on the plane. Someone who looks like you. If they can pull it off, then we might find something out at the other end. If not, then we still have a chance to lure him in, or make him mad enough to get careless," she explained calmly.

Erica shook her head. "The best chance you have is if I'm on that flight. You follow or you have Interpol meet it and grab him when he shows himself. If he comes here, you'll never see him, and I'll be dead."

Joann shot Eric a look before he could say anything. "If Juan is smart, and he is, he'll be holed up somewhere that extradition will be next to impossible. Erica, people have died. If he's as high in the organization as we think, he could well be subject to the death penalty. Even a lot of our best allies won't extradite if there is a chance of a death penalty. If Eric is right, and he will come after you, that's the best chance we have for justice."

"And my death penalty," she muttered bitterly.

"Not happening," Eric spat out behind her. "Get that through your head."

Erica ignored him. "So why don't you know how high he was in the organization? If you pulled in most of the ring, someone must be talking."

"We're working on it," Joann assured her. "But they kept information extremely well compartmented. Like some of the terrorist organizations we've dealt with. There were cells with certain jobs in certain countries, and they knew hardly anything beyond that."

"So the cheap bastard was rolling in his ill-gotten loot, and made me pay my own way to Spain last year," she said with irritation.

"His cover as a photojournalist didn't exactly make him rich. We might have tumbled to him earlier if he was spending money he shouldn't have had," Joann explained.

"You're going to hurt my feelings if you don't eat more of that breakfast," John said, refilling her coffee cup.

"Your turn," Joann said. "Tell us what you remember of your childhood."

Erica shrugged uncomfortably. "Hardly anything. My foster parents told me I'd been in an accident and had amnesia."

"This is when you were sixteen?"

She snorted softly. "Yeah, at least that's how old they told me I was."

"You didn't like your foster parents?"

Erica suddenly began to concentrate on her food. "Like most, they were mainly in it for the money, but they were okay. I heard horror stories from other kids in the system. Frankly they left me alone for the most part, so that was fine by me."

"You had to spend some time catching up on your school work?"

"Yeah. I guess I was in the hospital or something for a long time. I remember something about hiding books under the bed." She shrugged. "Anyway, I got caught up and graduated by the time I was eighteen and got a scholarship to UW, so I was able to get a degree with only ten or twenty years of debt to pay off," she added bitterly. "That was where I met Juan. He wasn't a student, but he used the photography lab there, like some kind of adjunct to the department. I never got a clear explanation from him."

"Do you remember anything else about your childhood?" Joann asked.

Erica's brow furrowed and she turned even more concentration on her food, such that she cleaned the plate. "Kind of like snapshots of what might have been times with my mother. I really don't know if they are real. They are mostly happy times, like playing at a beach, an amusement park, trick or treating. And playing school. A lot of playing school. Funny that I remember that but not real school, huh?"

"Do you remember your mother's name?"

Erica shook her head. "Names have always confused me. Like my name. I'm sure Erica is not what the woman that I think was my mother used to call me. Maybe she had a pet name for me."

"Honey?" Eric said suddenly.

"I told you not to call me that!" Erica snapped, turning toward him but not looking directly at him. When she turned back toward Joann, the agent was – as the saying goes – shooting daggers at Eric with her eyes.

Joann quickly recovered her calming, motherly persona. "Mothers are like that. They often have pet names for their children. I'm sure that's all it was."

"Your turn again," Erica said. "What did you find out about me that you didn't know before?"

Joann didn't even try to hide the scowl she shot at Eric this time. Erica could see her searching for careful words. "The memories that Eric triggered last night led us to realize that we needed to pull your juvenile records..."

"I committed crimes as a kid?" Erica exclaimed.

"Not those kind of records," Joann rushed to assure her. "The records about how you ended up in the foster system. We didn't think they were relevant before, because it was years later when you met Juan and that's what we were focused on."

"But now they are relevant. Why?" she demanded.

Joann straightened and Erica realized she had no intention of revealing anything even before she spoke. "Number one, we don't know if what you 'seemed' to remember last night was real, and number two, we do not want to cause the nightmares to recur."

"Too late," Erica muttered and spun on the stool to face Eric. "What did you tell me that triggered my memory?"

His eyes flicked briefly to the FBI agent and John. Erica realized he hadn't told them or had glossed over whatever he had told her. "I will tell you," he assured her. "But not until the FBI psychologist gets here."

"No psychologists!" she shouted, jumping off the stool and stomping toward the bedroom. "I have survived everything on my own so far. I will continue to do so." She slammed the bedroom door behind her and dove for the bed, burying her face in the soft comforter.

Sometime later, Joann came into the room and sat on the edge of the bed, careful to keep distance between herself and Erica. "I know the guy they're sending," she said. "I've worked with him a bunch of times. He's really good with childhood trauma." She paused, hoping for a response. She knew Erica was awake, because her breathing was the rapid, pre-panic attack they'd all become familiar with. "Erica, you've survived, but you haven't healed. You don't really want to live the rest of your life this way, do you?"

"You've guaranteed it will be a short one," Erica pointed out, her words muffled by the comforter. "So why should I spend what time I have left wracked by nightmares and terror?"

"You are not going to die," Joann said sternly. "There will be at least three of us here with you all the time from now on. And the Seattle PD is putting more patrols on your apartment and this place. You're the safest person in the city."

"Why?" the muffled response was barely audible.

"Why?" Joann asked. "Because it's that important."

Erica finally rolled over. "I'm not stupid. If you took this ring down, if it was all but over, there's no way that you and the police would be putting these resources into protecting little old me from someone who's in hiding in another country. There's something more going on and you're not telling me."

"I'll let you in on a secret," Joann said. "An investigation sort of a secret. We have to be careful not to give witnesses information, because it can color their perceptions, their memories, and that can wreak havoc with their reliability as a witness in a trial."

"Oh, please," Erica drawled with exasperation. Abruptly, she stood from the bed and strode into the outer room. John was sitting on the couch with a tablet and looked up in surprise. Erica glanced at the table where the sheaf of papers and Eric had been. Both were gone, but Joann had said there were going to be three people here at all times. Erica turned toward the spare bedroom as Joann followed her in confusion. When Joann realized her destination, she tried to get around her to cut her off, but the FBI agent was petite and Erica was all long arms and legs. Joann was trying to respect her fear of closeness, so Erica made it to the door unchecked and pushed into the room. Eric was on the bed, shirtless, but still in his jeans. He had been asleep, or dozing, but was instantly awake, reaching for his gun on the bedside table even before rolling over to discover the source of the intrusion.

Erica studiously avoided looking at him or his gun as her eyes fell on the small desk in the room. There was a laptop open on the desk and beside it, the papers that Eric had earlier in the morning. Before either of them could stop her, she grabbed the papers and tried to speedread them. Unfortunately, there was a bunch of legalese and redactions, so she got basically nowhere before Eric was snatching them out of her hands. She reached for them, but he easily held them away.

"It's my life. I have a right to know!" she insisted.

"And you will. When someone is here to help you understand," Eric said.

Erica made a sound that was somewhere between a moan and a groan. Joann's arm was around her waist, and she didn't even seem to notice as the smaller woman pulled her gently but firmly back out of the room. Eric and Joann exchanged a worried glance as the door closed between them. Joann let go of Erica as soon as they were back in the hall. John was waiting at the end of the hall. "Can you get Erica some more coffee?" Joann asked.

"Of course," he replied. "How about you? Want some more tea?"

"Yes, please. Let's all sit at the table and talk."

"Why?" Erica demanded. "Nobody will talk about what I want to talk about."

When she didn't move, Joann gently nudged her toward the main room. Again, she didn't seem to notice the touch, but reluctantly started toward the room. She was moving slowly, and John met her at the entrance to the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee. Joann continued to direct her toward the table, mostly by blocking her route to the bedroom. Erica slouched wearily into a seat and studied the steam rising off her coffee.

"So you three will be here with me all the time?" she asked, not looking up from the cup.

"Us or somebody else," Joann answered, "usually with someone using the extra bedroom."

"What does your wife think of that?" Erica asked John with more than a hint of sarcasm.

"My wife understands that I work vice, just like Eric. That it requires unusual hours and difficult circumstances. She accepts that because she was raped once," he said quietly. "She tells me all the time that anything I can do to prevent that from happening to someone else, has her unequivocal support."

"I'm sorry," Erica said shaking her head. "I'm frustrated so I'm lashing out."

"Why are you frustrated?" Joann asked. "Seriously. I'm not being facetious or mocking you. What do you think is at the root of your frustration?"

"I don't want to know about my past. Whatever happened is dark and ugly and painful. I know that, and from the way you all are acting, it's even darker, uglier and more painful than I can guess. Why would I want to remember that? And then there's Juan. I was stupid to fall in with him. I was stupid to stay with him. And now he's going to kill me."

"Why did you stay with him?" Joann asked, ignoring her constant theme of death.

"Because I figured he was the only guy that would put up with someone as fucked up as me."

"Erica!" John scolded, apparently standing in for Eric.

"Why do you think he did that, put up with you?" Joann persisted.

"I think he liked that I was so fucked up I actually came harder the more brutal he was. That's what I think!" She made to stand up and leave the table, but Joann reached out and grasped her wrist, noting again that she didn't withdraw or even seem to notice.

"Erica, we're your friends. We're trying to help you. If there's something at work here, some other reason he's taken this intense interest in you, it might help us get him."

"You know something?" she asked, pulling her wrist free, but making no further effort to leave the table.

Joann was obviously choosing her words carefully. "The other night, you kept asking why he wasn't focused on hiding, why he was risking everything to contact you, bring you to him. Yet you were also convinced that he was going to come here to kill you. Eric thinks he's obsessed with you. I'm not sure I buy that lust outweighs self-preservation. But I do think all of this indicates we need to explore why he is doing what he's doing. Please, Erica, sit down. Talk to us. I know we get too pushy sometimes. Hazard of the occupation, but there's a puzzle here that's nagging at me, and I think you can help us talk it through, provide some missing pieces."

"You know more than I do," she complained, waving toward the back bedroom, but she sat and stared forlornly at her cup.

"Do you want a warmup?" John asked quietly.

"You must be the good cop, huh?" she asked, but with a sad smile.

He smiled warmly back. "I suck at being an asshole." He took her cup and went around to the kitchen.

"Can you just kind of walk us through when you first met Juan?" Joann asked.

Erica closed her eyes wearily. "It was my last year of college. I was walking down campus to my next class. There was a quiz that day, so I was going over the chapter in my head. I felt like I was being watched, so I looked around." She shrugged. "It was between classes and one of the main routes through campus, so there were lots of people everywhere. But then a few minutes later, this guy trots up beside me and says 'You look familiar. Do we know each other?' I figured it was just a line, so I barely looked at him, but he didn't look familiar or sound familiar with that Spanish accent, so I just shook my head and walked faster.

"He kept up with me, though, and asked if I was in the photography department. I said no, then he asked if I worked off campus. I mean, it began to sound like he really was trying to place where he'd seen me, so I took another look. He wasn't all that distinctive looking, and didn't ring any bells for me. I figured he might have known me during any of the big blanks in my past, but I sure as hell wasn't going to discuss that with him, so I just said no more emphatically and walked away. He quit following me and I didn't think any more about it until the next day when I was on my way to that class and there he was again.

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