Walking back down the tunnel with Cole wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time, although that could also be because I knew that he wasn’t dragging me to some unknown place. It seemed almost wrong to say it, but... I felt safe with Cole.
“So, I have a rough idea of what we could do, but I’d have to talk to the others to see if they think it’s a good idea,” Cole told me as we walked.
“The others being the rest of the royals?” I asked in his general direction, focusing on not tripping on one of the loose rocks that were scattered all over the place.
“Yeah,” He replied. “I don’t want to move too early because that might just get all five kingdoms trying to sway you to their side. Or they might just all try to-” He stopped, “never mind, actually.”
I let out a warning growl before I could catch myself, “Cole.”
“The plan isn’t set in stone yet,” he continued, trying not to answer my question. “I’m sure the others will have a much better plan.”
“Cole,” I began again, my voice still unusually low. “What were you going to say before?”
Cole was quiet, “Please don’t make me answer that. I’m trying really hard to not let you freak out.”
“I’m not going to freak,” I replied.
Cole still hesitated, “Just for the record, I’m not going to let them get to you.”
I groaned, “Will you just say it already? You’re making me nervous by not telling me.”
“They might try to kill you?” Cole offered in a weak voice.
A chill ran down my body. “Oh,” I said numbly.
“We’ll all make sure that it doesn’t happen, of course,” Cole hurried.
“Cole,” I stopped him sternly, drawing myself up, “You can’t just stop an assassination attempt from happening.” I took a slow breath, working to calm myself as much as was humanly possible. “You guys can try to protect me, but in the end, it falls to who I trust and how aware of my surroundings I am.”
I may be good, but could I save my own life? The fact that I didn’t want to think of the question didn’t give me much hope for the answer.
Cole swallowed loudly, “We’ll wait to use you, then.”
Use me. Like I was an item.
“No, you won’t,” I said firmly. “You are going to sacrifice whatever you have to for the better good,” Do they even say that here? “Whether it be me or anyone else. I’m one person and you have five whole kingdoms of suffering people. It’s not logical to save me and ignore so many people.”
“Calypso, we aren’t just going to-” Cole began.
“Cole!” I stopped walking, turning in his direction. I reached my hand out and found his side. I moved my hands to his shoulders and shook him as well as I could from below him. “Will you stop being such an idiot and think about this, please? I get it, you’re a royal and all, but you can’t save everyone. There are going to be casualties in this endeavor.”
I let my arms slide back down and took a step back. “You have to choose whether you’re going to dwell in the past and become useless or whether you are going to keep in mind who and what you’re fighting for and press forward even though you don’t feel like it.”
The tunnel echoed with our quick breaths. We weren’t winded at all, despite having walked so far, we were just aggravated with both each other and the fact that we had to be doing this.
At least, I was.
“You aren’t supposed to know about stuff like that,” Cole said sadly.
“What the-” I bit my tongue before I cursed at him. I had a feeling that a word like that wouldn’t make this conversation any better.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I demanded incredulously.
“That’s something royals learn when they’re little,” Cole replied flatly. I couldn’t help but imagine him staring into space. “They try to condition us and break us of whatever compassion we had learned. People think being a royal is great, but it’s a mess. Sometimes I just wish someone else would do it for me.”
I took a slow breath, my chest beginning to hurt. I shifted and closed my eyes, trying to find words.
“Cole, I’m not a good person,” I said finally. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been a good person. There are things that I know that I hope no one else has to learn like I did and if I have to sacrifice myself to make sure that happens, I’ll do it. I’m not agreeing because I don’t understand what this means - I do - I’m agreeing because I know that there’s not another option. You can’t go searching and find someone else who will pass for a royal and even if you somehow managed to, how long would it take?”
When I paused, all I heard was raspy breathing.
“We have to do this,” I finished softly, “And I need you to be strong and help me do it. I don’t have other options.”
Cole laughed humorlessly before sighing a long, depressed sigh. “You are a lot nicer than you think, Calypso.”
“Let’s hope it works in my favor,” I replied dryly. I began walking again, “How much longer until the door.”
“Probably only a few more...”
I hit something and hissed into the dark, trying to smother my surprise.
“Yeah, I think you found it,” Cole said, nearly emotionless.
“Of course, I didn’t,” I replied sarcastically, “I just walked into an invisible wall, obviously.”
Cole managed a chuckle, “Hold on.” There was scraping and the door slid open.
We walked back into the room the group had met in only a day ago. It still looked as barren as before.
I turned to Cole to see his face entirely expressionless except for his eyes. The way the blue shone at me, I sensed he was still upset about the fact that I was acting like a martyr.
“So,” I began, “Can you get the others here?” Something told me not to call them ‘the royals’ in this room where someone could pass the door and hear everything. Despite the sliding door, I wasn’t entirely convinced they were good at making safe places.
“I should be able to get them here by morning,” Cole confirmed, his eyes shuttering.
My face nearly fell at the wall that I knew was now between us, but I didn’t let it. “Okay, then,” I said, nodding. “I have somewhere to be, but I’ll be here in the morning as soon as I can.”
I walked towards the door before looking back. “Cole,” I said in parting, “Stop taking everything personally, will you? This isn’t your fault.” I tilted my head to the side in a nod of sorts and slipped out the door.
Because if I was right, Cole was probably going to burst into tears if I pressed him further and I doubted that he wanted me to see that.
I doubted he ever would.