For the man so warped by hate and desire, it was never about love; indeed it was never about needs, wants or care, it was all about control. So when the little plus sign appeared on that test, and a knot of panic twisted in the stomach of Susan Moran-Cossick, a disturbing feeling of elation shot through the entire of Nathaniel Cossick’s body. The reality of having a child in his power, a child to depend on him never really struck the man as a benefit, but the idea of holding something over his wife’s heavy head certainly appealed. It had only been a few months since their wedding – a subdued affair with scarcely more than a dozen guests (all Susan’s family and friends of course, except one or two less scrupulous looking characters) – and already here they were, awaiting the next of life’s milestones. The pregnancy went well, Nathan doted on the woman carrying his child; a complete 180 on his behaviour beforehand, while Susan struggled to hold back the creeping expressions of hatred each time his murderous hands touched her skin.
Unsurprisingly, that all changed as soon as Bethanny was born.
Kicking the door shut with her heel, Sus’ wandered through the house she shared with Nathan and her daughter, listening out for any sign of the pair. Hearing nothing but the steady ticking of the hall clock, the young woman felt her heart begin to race, and held her breath as she walked through to the kitchen. Though Bethanny was six now and they’d already survived many uncomfortable years, she was never happy leaving the child alone with her husband. It wasn’t until she caught the faint scent of cigarette smoke that she guessed where they were.
In spite of everything she knew about him, the one thing she couldn’t do was deprive her child of her father, but of course that didn’t mean she had to trust him. They were in the garden, an enclosed space full of beautifully tended flowers and odd trinkets of her own and Nathan’s mismatched tastes. Having placed the groceries on the counter, she paused at the window and listened, waiting for one of them to speak – all she wanted was confirmation that her daughter was okay, that the man she had married wasn’t hurting her, and that she didn’t have to rush out to save the child’s innocence.
“See darlin’, just— Yeah there you go, wrap your hand ‘round there—” Nathan’s low tone could be heard from the garden, the words audible only from the back of the room; the man let out a quiet exhaled groan and tutted. Crouched beside his daughter, Nathan had his elbows rested on his knees, a small exasperated smile fixed on his face. Though it wasn’t the first time he’d expressed this joy, the smile forever looked alien on his features, now that Susan knew. Within a moment of his sigh, Nate had taken the gun (the very same that had been a gift to him from his wife, all those years ago) from the girl’s small hands and checked the chamber in one swift motion.
“Beth… we don’t put our fingers on the trigger ‘til daddy says so, alrigh’?” His words were completely devoid of anger though held a hint of annoyance.
“Yes daddy…” Her response was quiet but not without a secret excitement – the kid loved spending time alone with her dad. Every day it was something new, and today he was letting her play (no, not play… Daddy always says it isn’t ‘playing’) with the weapon she often saw peaking from the waistband of his jeans. He called it his ‘insurance’; she didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded important, and all she knew was that she wasn’t supposed to tell mummy that she knew about it.
As a grin cracked across his face, Nathan offered the gun to the girl again, satisfied that there were no bullets remaining within. Just as tiny fingers reached for the barrel however, Susan appeared in the doorway. An expression that resembled a strange mixture between a smile and a grimace was plastered across her face, her arms folded against her body. Every nuance of her being was screaming disapproval, but outwardly she showed only warmth to the child. It was not that she disagreed with her being taught to defend herself, it was more Nathan’s teaching style that bothered her.
“Sweetheart, go wash your hands for dinner, okay?”
In all honesty, Susan was quite pleased that Nate wasn’t showing Bethanny something more sinister. Given his track record, she half expected him to have brought out an animal and told her to practice her double-tap. A nod and a grin was all the request elicited from the child however, before she glanced back at her dad, searching for confirmation – it was an idiosyncrasy that never failed to irk Susan, the blatant disregard of her wishes was something that she was sure Nate had taught her. Though the woman wanted her daughter to feel safe, and protected from men just like her father, she couldn’t help the spark of anger that filled her. Nathan had no right to be exposing Bethanny to firearms without her consent, especially on his own with her. Perhaps it was a residual dislike for all the things he’d done to her over the years but the woman felt that the majority of his actions were designed to annoy her.
A small nod from the man and Beth leapt to her feet and skipped past Sus’, toothy smile fixed to her face; none-the-wiser of the passive-aggressive battle waging in the household. From his perch on the patio Nathan looked up at his wife, the weapon dangling loosely in his grip. With his hair slicked back as it was he reminded her dangerously of the man she’d first met all those years ago – back when youth was on her side but never taken advantage of. Cracking a smile Nate pushed on the balls of his feet and rose, matching her gaze.
“It’s alrigh’ darlin’, I’d never ‘urt her,” The gun was returned to his waistband and the long-dead cigarette tossed aside. An unpleasant smirk twisted his lips and Nate pushed past Susan, rolling his eyes at her mild disapproval. In the past few years he’d grown disdainful of her company, viewing her only as weak and deceitful. He knew she was still hiding something from him but the difference now was that he didn’t care enough to find out. Susan had found out a long time ago about his sordid past which made her decision to stay with him all the more baffling; clearly there was something in this for her aside from the security blanket of a ‘family’ for Bethanny.
If only he still cared.
Later that night, after the roast dinner had been eaten and the stars had begun their long crawl across the evening sky, Bethanny felt her eyes closing. The heavy weight of the sandman’s dust forced them to shut out the stinging air and bright lights, and along with them her parents. Susan kissed the child’s forehead, whispering her love into her ear before she moved, while Nathan remained at the shadowed doorway with his arms folded and a half-smirk on his face. When children fall asleep, that usually means alone time for their parents but for these two it usually meant one of two things. They would sit uncomfortably in the same room with a dense atmosphere of distaste and electricity, and stew on their mutual hatred, or they would do the other thing. Tonight it was the latter.
Nate had returned to the lounge, silent and thoughtful; he placed his gun down on the coffee table with a gentle clink. It wasn’t until he heard Susan’s footsteps on the creaking stairs that he looked up. Disinterest washed over him as he saw her anger – a far cry from the sweet smile she’d worn minutes earlier. A surge of anger ran through Susan’s body, forcing her to contain her words within the hushed confines of a hissed whisper.
“What the fuck do you think you were doing with her? A loaded gun, really?” As she spoke she walkedforwards, finger jabbing the air towards him though it was an empty gesture. The man sat, freshly poured drink in hand and an infuriating smirk written on his face.
"What, you think I’d let her shoot it?" Nathan asked, already knowing her answer. "I wouldn’t put my daughter in danger like that." He lied, shrugging one shoulder.Watching his wife come closer the man felt anger building atop annoyance, and pushed himself to his feet before knocking back the scotch.
“Sweet’eart, go to fuckin’ bed before you say somethin’ you’ll regret,” The criminal narrowed his eyes, the threat evident not only in his voice but seeming to drip from every pore.
Stepping over a discarded toy, Susan lithely moved closer to her husband until she reached only a short metre away. “No. I’m not letting you push me around any more,” The venom in the woman’s words was unmistakable, and at first Nathan was taken aback. It had been years since she seemed to have any fight in her – this would be interesting. The criminal, now in the throes of middle-age, but fiery as he’d ever been, opened his mouth to speak, only to have Susan shush him with vigor.
“Shut the fuck up,” She hissed, the curse jarring as it hit the stale air. “I’m not going to sit here and take this. You don’t put a loaded gun in my daughter’s hands, and you need to stop bringing danger into this house…” Her breathing was steady, the certainty in her gaze unnerving, even to Nate. “I’ve put up with this shit for too long – if you ever put my daughter in danger like that again, I’m going to the police, and I sure as shit will have the evidence to back myself up,”
Nathan’s mouth hung open, the pause between her words and his own dragging out and stretching until the ringing that had begun in his ears had disappeared. “Your… Daughter?” He asked, his mouth finally closing and a sneer taking the place of the dumbstruck one from moments before. “Yours?” The man repeated, his right hand twitching into a fist. A quick glance to the ceiling and back to his wife gave Nathan the brief moment he needed to allow his anger to get out of hand.
With a loud crack he brought his hand up and hit Susan across the face, his knuckles stinging from the force of the back-hand. It isn’t the first time he’s hit his wife, an act that usually results in the man taking a day or so away from the family – particularly if it’s bad enough that she needs to hide the bruising under copious amounts of make-up. What he does on these trips he’s never told her, nor has she ever asked. The moments that passed after the strike to her face echoed with the sound of knuckles connecting with cheekbones, silence finally coming from both of their mouths. Susan clapped her hand to her cheek, pressing down on the fresh pain to reduce the swelling – it had become a habit after six years. Her own face twisted in anger, and she immediately returned Nate’s gesture, only this time with an open palm – the resulting thwack causing shock only to her face.
“I—-” She began before turning and running towards the door, past the toys that littered the floor and past the glass coffee table. But Nathan was on her tail; he started after her only a second later, reaching for her hair. He grabbed her just as she reached the table, yanking her backwards with a snarl. As they both tumbled to the ground he tore at her hair, ignorant of the pleading look in his wife’s eyes. All she felt was panic. There was no fear, there was no terror that had accompanied the last fight they’d had – no she was panicked. A knot twisted into her stomach as she felt the man drag her down, disconnected now from the feelings as she hit the floor. It took her no time to register the hate in her husband’s face before she snatched her hand up and clawed at his features, eliciting a quiet yell of surprise from the man.
That moment of surprise was all she needed – her heart was crashing in her chest, and she was sure it would burst through her ribcage at any minute, her breathing was ragged and broken, no longer steady as it had been at the beginning of this fight – another swipe at his eyes and she pulled out of his grip. Nathan was shocked, releasing her from his grip to clamp a hand over his eyes. It wasn’t like it was the first time he’d been clawed in the face – far from it – but he hadn’t quite expected the act of defiance from her. A sharp intake of breath punctuated the closing of his eyes and he turned slightly away from her. It only lasted five seconds, at most, and he was back to forcing his eyes open, hand reaching forward to find her in a way that could have been comical in other circumstances. But Susan was far from his reach.
The woman had taken the small amount of time given to her and shot to her feet, swiping up his gun from the table in the process. Now she stood in a bracing stance, challenging him to come closer – almost goading him into attacking again. Her chest heaved, and she watched as he realised where she was, and what was in her hand.
Cockily, Nathan smiled. “What you plannin’ to do wi’ that, darlin’?” His smile twisted hatefully into a smirk, head tilting to match as he rose to his feet. One hand had dipped into his pocket and pulled out his switch-blade, releasing the knife and holding it out towards her. “Don’t let’s do anythin’ stupid now… Sweet’eart,” The words were hushed still, in spite of the noise they’d made in the scuffle, and Nathan took a few steps forward past the coffee table.
“Stay still—” Susan spat, hand trembling now as her husband moved closer. “I said stay still!” She reiterated, breaking the unspoken vow that they would stay quiet. A quick glance at the stairs gave Nathan all the time he needed to leap forwards, swiping the blade at her with a perverted grin of pleasure fixed on his face.
A blast of pressure hit Susan’s ears, followed sickeningly by a ringing silence.
Fingers trembled against the trigger of the gun, pulsing their grip before finally dropping the weapon to the floor with a loud crack. It landed only inches from Nathan’s wide-open eyes. Eyes which gazed up at her with pain, and a hint of something else hidden behind them. She hadn’t even noticed him fall, only aware of his body on the floor after the gun slipped from her fingers. Nate’s fingers twitched - knife discarded having skittered across the floor - idly reaching for something only he could see. Blood had already begun to pool around him as he tried to speak, scarlet colouring his lips as he stuttered soundless words at his wife. The liquid spattered over the floor and he stopped trying to form words, his mouth only moving uselessly as he felt himself draining away. Susan stood with her mouth agape, hand held out as though sullied and dirty – no it wasn’t the first time she’d fired a gun, and she was no stranger to scenes such as this, but never a member of family. If she could still call him that. She watched for a few minutes as he slowly stopped moving, still none-the-wiser on where exactly she’d hit him, and was witness to the convulsions that signified his passing of life. It wasn’t until the woman saw these that she remembered the reason they’d had their unbreakable vow.
Her gaze snapped to the staircase and she became aware of movement upstairs – Bethanny was awake. She shook herself and smoothed her dress. With one last glance of regret at her husband (was it regret? She idly wondered) Susan Moran-Cossick started up the short flight of stairs, intercepting their daughter just before she reached the top. “Hi sweetie…” The words were softly spoken and she crouched to Bethanny’s height, wrapping her arms around her and lifting her from her bare feet.
“Come on sweetheart, back to bed,” Susan’s words were whispered, and she hoped that the child wouldn’t catch the scent of fear and adrenaline that had soaked through to her soul. It only took a few minutes to convince Beth that it was only a bad dream, a nasty nightmare that had taken the sounds of the house and amplified them to scare her. Before long the young girl was asleep again, unaware of the blood pooling across the lounge floorboards.
With a quick stop in her bedroom, the woman made her way back down to the scene below. On her way past the window, she became aware that it had begun to rain; by the time Susan had reached the bottom of the stairs her brother had answered her call.
“Sebastian… I need your help,” She whispered, fingers pressed to her lips.