Norman pressed his clenched hands to either side of his head, closing his eyes as the sounds of the ocean drifted around him. The monster groaned behind him, and the water churned as the creatures shifted through the murky gloom. He had no idea how long he’d been sitting there at the desk he never thought he’d sit at again. Couldn’t be longer than the time he’d spent in the interrogation room being harassed with pointless questions.
Even Perry had arrived to shout at him some more. Norman couldn’t explain how he’d managed to be witness to the deaths of six people in two days, and place countless others in danger. He couldn’t explain why he couldn’t just drop the case and go back to Washington. And despite his attempts to speak over them, he couldn’t prove that the man who attacked them at Club Synn was in fact the Origami Killer.
So he’d humored their questions, trying not to explode over such accusations as killing Thomas Roman himself, or somehow planning the escape of Ethan Mars. Blake seemed to pull every resource at his disposal to get a rise out of him, and Norman wanted badly to give in and simply club him across the face. But the real fight was to be completely truthful. There was no point in bringing Norman in other than to give Blake someone to battle with in place of a suspect.
The water reverberated as the dark shape groaned, and Norman clenched his hands in front of his face. After everything that happened at Club Synn, after dealing with Paco and nearly getting Ashley killed, he’d walked away with nothing. No name, no evidence, no killer. And not only did he accomplish nothing, he’d managed to lose his entire stash of triptocaine.
The only thing he could focus on was the killer himself. Norman tried as hard as he could to find him in the ARI. He took note of every detail he’d seen in the seconds the killer stood in the light of the hallway. The killer was tall, around six foot. He was strong and heavy, probably weighing over two hundred pounds, and was at the top of the age group in the killer’s profile. He had short gray hair and wore a brown trenchcoat. His eyes… Norman pressed his knuckles against his mouth. What color were his eyes? It happened too fast. Most of the events in the past few hours were a complete blur. He’d barely been aware of what he was fighting in the darkness of Paco’s office.
Norman should have been well passed out in his hotel room by now, but he couldn’t go back knowing there was so much that needed to be done. So much that he couldn’t do because he didn’t have the clues. He took meager comfort in the abyss of the fake ocean that surrounded him. Norman breathed against his clenched hands in frustration. He could blanket the world around him, but he could never escape from it entirely.
There was a creak as the office door opened. Norman turned his head in the direction of the door, and sighed heavily. This was getting old very fast.
“Look, I think I speak for everyone when─” His heart froze in his chest as he removed his glasses.
Ashley gazed at him from the doorway, swaying lightly on the spot as she supported herself against the wall. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Hey.”
For a moment, Norman felt he was paralyzed. Then he pushed up from his desk, marching toward her so fast he nearly barreled into her.
“Jesus, Ashley…” He put a hand on her shoulder, his breath caught in his chest. “Are you okay?”
Ashley tilted her head, her hair falling across her face. “It feels like I’ve done about a thousand sit ups in about three minutes. I mean, not that I’ve done a thousand sit ups before but…” She rolled her eyes, and Norman noticed the weariness still lingered in them. “But what about you? Blake actually arrested you?”
Norman nodded, a jet of frustration burning through him. “I’m sorry I didn’t come with you. Blake’s just looking to take out his anger on anything at this point.” Norman ran a hand over his face, and then motioned to Ashley’s torso. “What did they do at the hospital? They let you out this soon?”
Ashley’s face tensed and her eyes widened. She shifted on the spot. “I umm…”
“Oh god.” Norman put a hand to his forehead. “You bailed?”
“Look, we’ve got less than twenty-four hours to save Shaun,” said Ashley quickly. “You were gone, no one was looking, I just─” She sighed, shifting her weight slowly to one hip. “I didn’t want to lay around in a hospital all night.”
“Ashley, you were stabbed. Through your stomach.” Norman returned Ashley’s fierce gaze. He sighed and moved toward the door, cupping a hand under her arm.
“What are you doing?” said Ashley.
“Taking you back to the hospital,” said Norman. He felt Ashley jerk her arm out of his grip.
“I’m not going anywhere!” Ashley stepped backward as Norman turned toward her. “I don’t have time to be locked up.”
“Ashley─” Norman stopped as Ashley raised her finger toward him in mimic of his own gesture hours before.
“No, Norman,” she growled. “You think I’m just going to lay in a hospital while Shaun drowns, Ethan Mars is killed or worse, and the Origami Killer disappears again? Jesus, don’t you know me at all?” She swallowed heavily as she rocked on the spot, and again Norman was reminded of a child standing up to an adult.
He sighed and ran a hand over his face. As much as he was worried for her, and as much as he knew she was only putting more stress on her body by leaving the hospital, he couldn’t ignore his immense relief that she was here with him again. There was so much fighting against him─ time, red tape, Blake, every criminal in Philadelphia… it seemed even luck was trying to murder him every chance it got. There was nothing she could do to help him, but that strange twinge shot through his chest and he knew he couldn’t make her leave.
Norman rested his hand on the doorknob and looked sideways at her. “How bad is it?” he said.
Ashley shifted slightly, lowering her gaze to the floor. “Not that bad, obviously. I mean, the doctor said an inch higher would have cost me a kidney. And I have to be careful of what I eat for the next week.” She glanced up at him and ran her thumb over her bottom lip. “So I’m staying?”
Norman clenched his hand on the cold metal of the doorknob, then pulled the door closed. “I’m not going to force you to go back to the hospital,” he said.
Ashley nodded, folding her arms across her chest and wincing in pain. “Good. Because I’d have fought you off.”
Norman couldn’t help his snort of laughter as he moved around her towards his desk. “I’m sure you would have.” He caught a glance of her defiant brown-eyed glare and felt his residual frustration leak away. At least she had confidence even if it was unrealistic.
He picked up the glasses from the desk as he sat down, pausing a moment to rest his forehead against his palm. Ashley leaned back against the desk and clutched the edge in both hands. “Did you find him?” she asked, twisting her body slightly so she looked at him over her shoulder.
Norman shook his head, rubbing his eyes. “No DNA, no fingerprints, no nothing.” He unfolded the ARI and slipped the glasses over his nose, plunging into the deep black sea. “All I’ve got is a physical description that I have to match to about half a million people. I think I’m about─ “ He flicked his wrist and brought up the endless list of the population in Philadelphia. “─a hundred people in.” The monster moaned in the darkness as it passed in front of him, swirling the bioluminescent dots.
“There’s… come on. There has to be something.” The desk shifted and Ashley’s voice echoed strangely. Norman looked in her direction, disturbed by the fact that he couldn’t see her. With an almost treacherous shame in his chest, he closed his hands together and spread them apart, drawing out the bubbles of different environments. Casting one last look to Nessie, Norman pressed his gloved hand to the desk and pulled up a revolving bubble. The murky sea melted away, revealing the dusty walls, lopsided filing cabinet and stacks of newspaper. Ashley appeared on the far end of the office, walking in slow circles as she rubbed the back of her neck.
Norman watched her for a moment, his escape from the black sea making him feel as though he were spying on her. Ashley smoothed her hand over her stomach and paused, her brown hair falling over her face.
“Security cameras,” she said, and Norman looked away quickly as she turned toward him. “Entry permits… what about the sword?”
Norman shook his head. “There’s no surveillance in that part of the building, and everything burned in that fire.” He ran a hand over his face and turned back to the list, scrolling through each and every citizen.
“You can’t just describe what he looks like to the ARI?” said Ashley. “I thought it could do pretty much everything.”
“It’s no different than a computer,” said Norman, flicking through the different profiles. “I need something tangible to work with.”
Ashley sighed and leaned against the wall, and Norman fought the urge to glance at her again. “How could a man burst into an office, kill three people, nearly kill us, set the room on fire, and just walk away with no evidence that he was even there?” she said.
A breath of frustration escaped Norman’s throat. “The same way he’s been able to kidnap and kill for three years.” He glared at the photos that flicked by. “He’s… a genius.”
The room fell silent under the distant patter of rainwater. Norman rested his chin on his fist as he flicked his finger through the list. He was barely paying attention now, and it wouldn’t have surprised him if the killer’s face panned right past him without him noticing. Not that he could remember exactly what the killer looked like anyway. The more he focused on the details, the more they seemed to leak away from his memory. Each face that passed by obscured the description further. Was the killer really that old? His hair could have been more brown than he remembered. And he was almost certain that the killer’s eyes were anywhere from pure black to cold blue.
There was a shuffle next to him, and Norman looked sideways as Ashley kneeled next to a stack of newspapers by his desk. She grunted in pain, pushing a smaller stack next to it.
“What are you doing?” asked Norman.
“What’s it look like?” said Ashley as if it were plainly obvious. “I’m making a chair.”
Norman smacked a hand to his forehead. “Why─ there’s chairs─” He sighed heavily as he gazed down at her. “Here.” He stood up and moved next to her, taking her under the arm. She wobbled slightly as she rose to her feet, looking at him as though he were interrupting her. Norman shook his head, that twinge in his chest becoming a nuisance at this point. “I swear, I’m never going to figure you out,” he said.
Ashley’s mouth tensed into a smile as she moved into the chair. “Have you even tried yet?” She leaned forward, crossing her arms on the surface of the desk and laying her head on them. Norman laughed lightly as he panned the list in front of him again.
“Believe me, I’ve tried,” he said as he sat on the edge of the desk, continuing his search. He swept his hand across, passing up five of the profiles at once. He half-wished he could pull Ashley into the ARI with him, but then he would have to deal with the guilt of making her search pointlessly as he was now.
“It’s too bad he didn’t just shoot me,” said Ashley. “We’d at least have a bullet.”
“Don’t say that.” The painful anxiety of seeing her impaled nipped at Norman’s chest. He glanced down at her as she brushed her hair back from her face, her eyes seemingly locked on the fabric of his pants. “Finding the killer isn’t worth your life.”
Her eyes glinted as she looked up at him. “We’re cops. We’re basically hired to die.”
He dropped his hand, a smile breaking across his face but his voice was stopped in his throat as he suddenly froze. A bullet from the killer’s gun… Norman’s memory tugged at him, forcing him to remember. He shifted against the desk, bringing his hand up to his chest and fumbling inside his jacket. Ashley lifted her head up, and he pulled the pistol from his jacket. Not his Baretta, but a different 45 caliber pistol. He stared at it in silence for a few moments as it sank in. The killer’s weapon. Norman had completely forgotten he’d taken it with him.
He let out a small laugh. “Huh,” he muttered as he turned the gun over in his hand. He held his gloved palm over the gun and released a beam of light. The gun was illuminated, and a list of details panned in front of him. He stared at them, a new excitement electrifying his body.
“What is it?” Ashley sat up straight as she looked at him. Norman flicked through the analysis.
“This gun. I took it from Paco’s office. It belongs─” He paused as he raised the gun, gazing at the barrel. “─to no one apparently. Impounded five years ago after an arrest.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his legs as he stared down at the pistol. “How the hell did the Origami Killer get a hold of this?”
Ashley leaned over his shoulder, gazing at the weapon. “Someone took it from a police station?” she said.
“Someone.” Norman tilted his head to look sideways at her. He ran a hand over his face, cold realization flowing through him. The kidnappings in broad daylight, access to random vehicles and phones, the mind-blowing intelligence and apparent genius behind the lack of evidence… Norman stood up from the desk, running his hand through his hair. He turned slowly on the spot, feeling more grounded than he’d ever been since the start of the investigation. “The Origami Killer is a Philadelphia police officer.”
Ashley’s eyes widened. “A cop…”
Norman moved forward, kneeling in front of the desk as he brought up the list of the population. He pressed his hand against it. “Philadelphia police department.” A vast majority of the list shrank away, leaving a list of over a thousand names. Norman quickly scanned through each profile, a new energy motivating him through the massive list. His temples buzzed, and through the interface, he saw Ashley watching him.
“If he’s a cop…” She shook her head slowly. “That’s still gotta be over a thousand people.”
“Four thousand,” he said as he flicked through the list. “Still better than half a million.”
The desk shook as Ashley leaned forward, her hands running through her loose hair. “It’s still not enough. There’s gotta be more we can do to narrow it down.”
“I can do this.” Norman tapped the air, his neck beginning to ache as he looked back and forth between the list and the images. He’d already filtered the list to the killer’s description, and added the killer’s profile for good measure. It not only seemed possible. It was within his reach as long as he stayed focused.
There was a scrape as Ashley stood up from the chair. She moved past him as Norman gazed at the list. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m getting you a chair,” she said. “You’re gonna need it since I stole yours.” The door opened and closed behind him. Norman tried to ignore the pounding that was creeping up in his temples. The faces flew past him, almost in a blur. He was pushing it, and that was dangerous. But he had to search. The killer’s face was here somewhere. All he had to do was find it.
The door opened again and there was a slight crunching as something rolled into the office. Ashley appeared in the corner of Norman’s vision, pushing a computer chair next to him. “I’m pretty sure Blake would be perfectly happy to give up his chair for you, especially since─” There was a pause, and she moved in front of the desk and leaned forward towards him. Through the flicking faces, Norman saw her eyes narrow in worry. “Norman,” she said. “You’ve got a nosebleed.”
He almost put a hand to his lip to check, but forced himself to keep scanning. The faces panned faster as flicked his wrist. “It’s nothing to worry about.” He stood up slightly and backed into the computer chair, pulling the list with him as he moved back toward the desk.
It was getting more difficult to ignore the concerned look on Ashley’s face. She sat next to him in the broken chair, her hands folded in front of her face as she rubbed her bottom lip with both her thumbs. He wished she would simply say something rather than stare at him. This was the only way to find the killer, and worrying about his health wasn’t helping any.
“It’s going to be fine, Ashley,” he said. Even as he said it, his head began to pound. The list just wasn’t going by fast enough. He’d be up for hours scrolling through it. If he could just push it…
“What about withdrawal?” Ashley’s voice was slurred as she spoke through her fingers. “You lost─ I mean, there’s no more triptocaine.”
“I don’t need triptocaine.” Norman tapped each of his fingers down the lines, developing a quick method as if he were pressing the keys of a keyboard. He heard Ashley let out a sharp breath.
“Well, that’s news to me.”
Norman paused for a moment, a jet of anger shooting through him. He looked at Ashley who stared at her clenched hands on the desk, her eyes narrowed in a mix of worry and frustration. Part of him wanted to snap back at her, but he returned to searching. There was no point in starting a fight. Not over that anyway.
The images flashed in front of him, nearly blinding him as he glanced at each one. There were so many people in this damn city. He hadn’t given much thought to how many police officers a busy city actually needed. And they all looked alike. All older men between the ages of thirty and forty five, and all had the exact same sour expression. For lack of a better description, they all looked like various forms of Blake.
The room around Norman seemed to fade out of existence as he focused on the list. It didn’t seem to be scrolling fast enough. Ashley was right. There was no way he was going to find the killer in all these names. But he had to try. Even if it was hopeless, he had to keep fighting.
His upper lip was starting to itch, and a metallic taste lingered in his mouth. He didn’t need to look at Ashley to know she was probably staring at him again. The search was becoming more fluid, as if he could control the ARI off of suggestion. The quicker he went through the list, the more natural it felt. He was barely aware of the pounding in his head.
Something touched his cheek, and Norman jerked slightly, losing his momentum. “Christ,” said Ashley. “Is that blood…”
He was over two hundred officers in. And it was getting easier. He could do this. He just had to keep going.
“Norman, take off the ARI,” said Ashley. Norman glanced at her, though her form seemed to be broken up in the haze of the interface.
“Just let me do this,” he said, struggling to hide his frustration.
“It’s─ Norman you’re bleeding.”
“I can handle it.” He tapped through several more names. Three hundred down. At this rate, he could have every one of them scanned in roughly an hour. The withdrawal would be massive, but Ashley was with him. As long as he got the name, it didn’t matter what happened to him afterward.
“This is crazy.” Ashley’s voice was garbled as if passing through water. “It’s going to kill you.”
That was strange. He hadn’t opened an environment. His hands were on autopilot, going through each name as if his arms weren’t attached. He didn’t even need to focus anymore. The ARI was doing it for him.
“Turn it off. Norman, stop!”
Her voice was really beginning to irritate him. She probably shouldn’t have stayed after all. If she would just let him be, this could all be done in no time. He wasn’t in any pain. In fact, this was the easiest search he’d ever done. It was just a simple case of identifying someone. If he let go, he could probably just upload his own memory to the ARI and find the killer instantly. Was that part of the programming? If not, he could always test it.
Someone was speaking to him. It was far away now. And he didn’t have time to stay in the real world. There was so much data here. So much he had to go through. All the answers were right here if he could just dig deeper─
A sickening jolt brought him back into the dingy office, and Norman fell forward onto the desk, clawing at its surface. Something horrible had happened. He felt as if he’d just lost a portion of his brain. As he struggled to regain control of his muscles, Ashley came into his fuzzy vision. She was sitting up, leaning away from him. And in her hands clenched against her chest was the ARI.
Norman lunged for her, barely able to guide his hands which flung through empty air as Ashley stumbled away from him. The room spun as he tumbled onto the ground, and he fought to make his legs work. He needed the ARI. She couldn’t just rip it away from him like that… what the hell was she thinking? He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe…
A groan escaped him as he slowly crawled arm over arm across the floor. His hands shook as if electrified, and the room morphed around him. He’d never found it so difficult to control his own body. A roaring buzz filled the room, and it took him a while to recognize Ashley’s voice.
“─this, Norman. I’m not going to just let you kill yourself.” She echoed strangely above him.
Norman raised himself slightly, searching for her through the blurry shapes. “You’re… you’re killing me.” He fell onto his side, drawing his knees up as his skin burned into sensation again. He needed the ARI. He needed triptocaine. Anything to get rid of this raw exposure.
A hand gripped his arm. “I’m right here with you. I’m not going anywhere.”
He jerked his arm away from her. “You should’ve… stayed at the hospital.” His muscles shook as he slowly raised himself off the floor into a sitting position. The room morphed oddly, and he pressed his hand to his forehead in attempt to stabilize himself. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
A strange waterfall noise was rushing in his ears. Despite the overwhelming sensation, this felt different than his usual withdrawal. Whether it was a good or bad thing, he couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. He’d never felt so dislocated. Was he even angry? Were these his thoughts or someone else’s?
Norman grasped the edge of the desk as he stood up, pausing over the dusty surface as he regained his balance. Logic seemed to be at war with theory in his head, as if he were slowly waking up from a vivid dream. He couldn’t tell which was real and which was imaginary. And that forced his anger to give way to miserable frustration.
He ran a hand over his face and closed his eyes. He didn’t care which way he went, as long as he didn’t have to make a decision. It was so difficult to simply think. Couldn’t he just stop thinking? Norman gripped the desk and stared at the wall in an attempt to root himself in reality. He needed an anchor. Something he could force himself to believe in.
Norman twisted slightly. “Are you still there?”
Something moved in his peripheral vision. “I’m here.”
The sound of Ashley’s voice seemed to snap him back to his senses. He sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes with one hand. Everything was beginning to fall back into place. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t.” She gripped his shoulder, and Norman felt as though his feet had just hit the floor. He straightened, savoring the rational sensation. He’d really fallen far this time, but it had taken him in a strange direction. The ARI was getting out of his control. But he needed it. Or he just needed triptocaine─
Norman sighed heavily and pushed past Ashley, pressing his hands to his forehead as he walked in a slow circle. He didn’t need anything. He could handle the ARI. It was simply a matter of knowing his limits. And if he couldn’t, he could always string the office up like…
“Purgatory,” he said.
“What?” said Ashley. Norman dropped his hands and paused in the middle of the room.
“When your life is spent trying to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.” Norman looked at her. She stood against the desk, both hands still gripping the ARI against her chest. Her body was tense as if she were contemplating running from him. Norman shook his head slowly. “You forget to ask where you fit in all this,” he said.
Ashley’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Look, Norman…” She put her hands behind her and set the ARI on the desk. “I don’t know what this thing is doing to you, but you can’t use it like this. It’s killing you.”
The sincerity in her voice seemed to hit a wall in his mind. He gazed past her at the desk, a miserable weight hanging from his shoulders. “I think I stopped caring about that a long time ago,” he said.
Ashley shook her head slowly. “What are you talking about?”
Norman slumped against the wall, staring off into space. “You’re wrong about me Ashley,” he said. “I am just a god damn junkie.”
The silence was broken only by the patter of rainwater. Somehow saying it out loud seemed to solidify it in Norman’s mind. He glared at the floor as he clenched one hand on his arm. The triptocaine, the withdrawal… was he really trying to save some innocent child and capture a serial killer, or was he simply looking for a reason to withdraw from reality?
There was a sharp breath as Ashley shifted in front of him. “Don’t punish yourself like this. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.”
A sad laugh escaped Norman’s throat. He gazed up at her. “You met me two days ago,” he said, his voice strangely stoic. “You don’t know who I am.”
The energy left Ashley’s brown eyes as her face tensed. A creeping shame burned in Norman’s chest, and he pressed his clenched hands to his eyes again. Here he was, breaking down walls once again. Anything that got between him and the ARI was fair game. He hadn’t realized how much he let it control him. But it was true. He was a junkie. And it was clear what his priorities were when it came to the ARI or making rational decisions.
A velvety warmth brushed his cheek, and Norman jerked in surprise, dropping his fists. His frustrations were dashed in an instant as Ashley lowered her hand quickly. She was close to him, barely a foot away, her wide eyes set in a nervous determination. Norman gazed at her, the strange twinge creeping in his chest again. Wasn’t she ever going to learn that he would keep attacking her like this? She was so damn persistent. So stubborn. So…
She took a step closer to him, her brown eyes firmly locked on his. His chest ached, and it took him a moment to realize his heart was hammering. He found himself transfixed on her face, as if nothing else existed. The twinge was pulling everything away. It all seemed so pointless. Insignificant. If she didn’t know who he was…
A numb wave fell over him, drawing the heat from his body as she moved into him. Her breath against his cheek seemed to ignite his senses, and the room grew dark as he gave way to them. The warmth shifted as she tilted her head up, and in a rush of paralyzing energy, Norman felt her lips close against his.
He was momentarily stunned as she paused against him. Everything was falling away in a slow cascade, leaving only the numbing realization of how close she was to him. He breathed against her skin, nearly drowning in her light touch. He needed it again. He needed her again. Without a second thought, he leaned into her and pressed his mouth against hers.
The cascade returned, washing over him in an overwhelming rush. He couldn’t take in enough of her. His senses were bent on memorizing every detail. The velvet smoothness of her skin, her pollen-like fragrance, the mint taste of her mouth… all of the things that had been so near to him and yet he’d never known.
He felt her hands slide up along his chest, brushing against his neck as he continued to close his mouth against hers. A fiery energy burned through him, and he pulled her body into him. Her slender body stretched, and he felt her fingers slide through his hair as she locked her arms around his shoulders. He’d never wanted anyone so close. Never wanted to be so exposed. And yet he needed more. Every movement she made threatened to take any ounce of control he had left.
Norman gripped her sides and pushed her in a circle, pressing her against the wall. The momentary break between them brought back a glimpse of her face, her brown eyes gleaming in the dim light and her mouth open as she breathed heavily against him. He brought up his hand and slid it over her neck, running his thumb over her jawline. How had he resisted her for so long? He’d doubted her, judged her, and pushed her away. But all those things which had caused him so much confusion and frustration were sending him over the edge. And they couldn’t do it fast enough.
He pressed into her, closing his mouth over hers as his hands found their way back to her waist. She was breathing heavier now, her chest rising and falling and her breath sharp against his lips. He wanted more than anything for her to be as undone as he was for her now. If everything else in the world fell apart, he could find solace by simply falling into her.
Her shirt wrinkled as Norman slid his hands down her waist. His fingers brushed against the thick creases of her jeans, and he worked his thumbs underneath the edges of her shirt. The ache in his chest was giving way to a powerful desire that slowly filled him with energy. He tilted into her, letting her sharp breaths and the closing of her mouth on his feed this new energy. Her body arched against him and her fingers flexed in his hair, igniting the muscles in his body. With a pulse of blind desire, he slid his hands up along the bare skin of her waist, bringing her shirt with them.
A sudden shove sent reality crashing down on him. The touch of Ashley’s lips and the debilitating closeness vanished, and Norman found himself taking a step backward. It took him a moment to realize Ashley’s hand was stretched in front of him, her palm stretched out near his shoulder. As his senses reorganized themselves, he felt a deep dread fill him in a solemn understanding. She’d pushed him away.
One hand covered her mouth and her eyes were clenched tightly shut. She held the other in front of her, blocking Norman from moving closer to her. A blind panic raced through him as he stared at her. He didn’t want to stop. He needed her. What had he done?
She breathed in sharply and her brown eyes opened. They were glassy, staring off into space. Norman’s heart raced as he struggled to think of what to do. He’d pushed it too far. Too fast. But he could have sworn she wanted him. Her eyes had been so full of the same desire, a far cry from what they were now. Painful, ashamed, and distant.
An icy realization fell over him. He felt his face go numb. She was thinking of something. And he didn’t need to use his profiling skills to know what.
He put his hand forward. “I’m sorry─”
Even as he said it, he knew it was useless. Frantic thoughts chased eachother in his mind. He didn’t want to lose this. He’d never felt so complete as he had with her, and it was crumbling away so fast he couldn’t keep it together. Each second that went by seemed to solidify a wall between them. He simply wanted to touch her again. To feel the closeness that had nearly swallowed him whole. It was agonizing, and at the same time, he knew there was nothing he could do.
Ashley’s eyes closed again, and she ran her hands over her face. Her mouth was tensed, and her hands trembled as she clenched them against her lips. Norman waited for her to speak. To do anything that he could negotiate so he could make this right again. But as the seconds went by, Ashley’s face seemed to grow more resolute. Her brown eyes opened again, and Norman felt his heart plummet at the fierce determination set in them.
Slowly she moved forward, passing by him. The space between them was ice cold, and the last frantic thoughts seemed to beat his mind. He had to stop her. Say something. Do anything.
She silently passed from his vision, her soft footsteps echoing through the dingy room. Then the door opened and closed with a heavy click.
Norman stared at the wall, the powerful numbness quickly replaced by a wave of despair. He ran a hand over his face, rubbing free flakes of dried blood which slowly fell to the floor. Everything felt so empty. The space around him was like a vacuum. Cold, void, and dark. He put a hand to his mouth in a desperate attempt to draw back the overwhelming sensation that Ashley had given him. A painful dread weighed down his shoulders. He’d driven her away again.
Norman turned slowly on the spot, stepping backward so he rested his back against the wall. All of the logic and reason that had escaped him came rushing back. That feeling of numbness, the halting of time, the desire for more… he’d felt it before although not as strong, and he’d never completely surrendered to it. And he’d never experienced it outside of ARI and triptocaine.
He slid down against the wall, coming to a rest on the floor with his knees bent in front of him. A heavy sigh escaped him as he leaned forward, bracing his elbows against his knees as he put his forehead in his hands. He’d never had a chance to suspect what he was feeling for Ashley. Everything was happening so quickly. The race against the clock and the battle with the police department never gave him the time he needed to simply think. If things had been different, if only a few more days to spare, he could have rationalized the situation and not simply acted on impulse.
Yet even as he proceeded to blame everything else around him, a nagging worry tugged at him. ARI, triptocaine… it was so easy to pin his faults on addictive substances. He needed something else to be in control. To take the blame for him. And if he had to name it, perhaps he was simply addicted to being addicted.