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Chapter 53

It was time. I smiled at Zuri, knowing this would be the last time I would see her wonderful face again. The moment had come to go our separate ways and despite the fact that we had known about this moment from the beginning, the moment still hurt like hell. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me in close. I held back the raging tears which clawed at my eyes, begging to be set free. I ignored their requests and wrapped my own arms around her. “I hate goodbyes,” she whispered, her words reaching into my chest and ripping out my heart.

“I do too,” I told her, bringing my leather-encased finger to my cheek and wiping away the tears which were so close to freedom.

“You’re the best of all of us,” she whispered. I couldn’t say anything. “See you later, Alligator,” she sniffled, a small, protected flicker of hope in her eyes remaining like the aftermath of a lightning strike, covered by the tall limbs of a now singed tree.

I chuckled sadly and brought the strength to speak to my throat. “After a while, Crocodile,” I uttered, her words had now held my heart for some time now as if teasing me that I was no longer whole. I tried to ignore this as she released me, but they jumped up and down with my heart, its once steady beat slowing with its detachment from my body. I watched helplessly as Zuri turned away and continued down the hall where other encaged Combos needed her. Half of the large group which were once encaged, as I had been followed. I watched as my heart was crushed into pieces and trampled over by the many capable Combos who walked alongside Zuri.

A slight feeling of relief washed over me as I turned to face my group and wiped the tears from my eyes. They looked at me with great determination. I smiled. “Alright,” I said to the group, bringing myself to speak to the many people who would most likely not make it through the hour. “We all know what’s coming,” I said. “Some big, undefeatable monster-dude who is going to enslave a third of humanity if we don’t stop him,” I swallowed the lump which had been building at the back of my throat. “I don’t need to remind you of the stakes that are riding on this,” I said and watched their faces of determination soften slightly. I sucked in a big breath and continued speaking. “We know how insane this is, we know our most-likely outcome, and we know that only about half of us are ever going home,” I whispered, my voice wavering. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” I allowed the excess air I had been holding to be released. “And this really is a desperate measure,” I laughed and watched the room come alive with nods and chuckles. “But we know what we are fighting for,” I yelled, my mind flashing to Zuri, to Chloe, to Peter, and to Charlie. “We are fighting for our brothers and sisters, for our parents and our friends, for our love and for the lives of everyone we have ever come across,” my mind sped through everyone who had kept me going over the past few months. “Those people are counting on us, relying on us, trusting us with their future and we will not fail them, because if we do, then we do not deserve these gifts that have been bestowed upon us, giving us, not just the right, but the responsibility to try,” I held up my gloved fist to show them, and the universe that I was not going down without a fight.

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