He tossed her the knife. “Go ahead, cut yourself free. There’s something I need you to do.”
She slowly and carefully sawed through her bonds, her eyes never leaving his. When she was finished, she clutched the knife close and didn’t speak.
“Good,” he said. “Now… kill me.”
“What?!” she gasped, her voice raspy from dehydration.
“Kill me. Stab me in the heart. Or slit my throat. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that you do it.”
She dropped the knife to her side, where it landed with a dull clang. “No. No. Why? I’m not going to kill you. Just… just let me go, and I won’t tell anyone. I won’t run to the police, or tell anyone I saw you. I… got lost for a few days, that’s all. I decided to go for a walk in the woods, and I fell—”
“It’s no good,” he interrupted. He paced in a distracted fashion as he spoke. “I’m sure the police will be here soon. And look what I’ve done. I’ve kidnapped a young woman, injured her, held her without food or water for days… I can’t live after this. Not just with myself, but at all.”
He stopped and turned to her.
“I don’t have the guts to commit suicide. It has to be you to kill me. Because… I love you. I wouldn’t let myself be killed by anyone else.”
“That’s not… what love is.” She had to fight back the urge to vomit as she spoke. “You clearly need help, and you can get it. All is not lost; you don’t have to die—”
“It has to be you.”
“—places that will take care of you—”
“It has to be you!”
“—not a capital crime. If you show that you’re getting better—”
“Shut up!” he shouted, rage flashing across his face.
She stopped speaking, and only sniffled.
He stalked toward her and grabbed her chin. “I can’t make you do it. But I can make you want to do it. Everyone has a self-defense instinct.” He brought his face up close to hers. “I only have to hurt you a little, and you’ll want to hurt me a lot. Then you’ll pick up the knife and—Agh!”
She slammed her forehead into his nose, making a strangely satisfying crunching sound. He staggered back, blood streaming from between his fingers as they clutched at his face.
“What the fuck?!” he cried.
“Do you think I’m as insane as you are? Killing someone isn’t without cost; it would haunt me for the rest of my days. You can’t make me ruin my life while you give up on yours.
“And this isn’t,” she added between heavy breaths, “some kind of screwed up Stockholm syndrome. This is basic human ethics. I would kill to save my own life, but only as a last resort. I’m certainly not going to let myself be goaded into it.”
Neither spoke for a few moments. She rubbed at her forehead idly.
“You’re probably gonna get a bruise,” he muttered. “Or is it a contusion?”
“They’re the same thing. Bruise comes from the Old French word bruisier meaning ‘to break’ or ‘to shatter.’ In the 17th century, its meaning merged with the similar Old English word brysan, which meant ‘to pound.’
“Contusion, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word tundere, meaning ‘to beat.’ The con- prefix doesn’t mean ‘with’ anything in this case; it’s used as an intensive modifier.”
“See, that’s part of why I love you.” He laughed. “You’re so smart.”
“Please,” she begged, “please stop saying that you love me. You’re feeling… something, and I’m sure it’s very confusing, but it’s—”
He spat blood. “It doesn’t matter. I know what I feel.”
She didn’t respond. She only stared.
“What?” he challenged.
“Oh, uh, n-n-nothing,” she stammered. “Just a spot of red on your forehead.”
“Of course. You broke my fucking nose; there’s blood everywhere.”
She kicked the knife back toward him. “I don’t want this anymore. Take it.”
“I’m not letting you control this!” he shouted.
As he leaned over angrily to pick the knife up, the bright, red dot of a laser scope stayed fixed on the center of his forehead.
“That’s fine,” she said, to herself as much as to him. “It’ll be over soon.”