Chapter Fourteen: Moonlit Sparks
Later in the evening, I walk up the stairs to the second-floor hallway, with the intention of reading a book to decompress until I fall asleep.
The events of today still linger in the back of my mind, the chills from the Shadow Realm still causing goosebumps to run across my skin. Even though the cut on my collarbone is now mended, I can still feel some pain, needle-like and sharp before dulling considerably again. The nerves in my head still stand to attention, certain the pain will come back, even if I know the chances of that are low. Even now, hours after being in that dreadful place, I still can’t seem to get warm.
I begin to wonder if I’ll ever feel warm again, or if a cold shadow will always follow me for the rest of my days.
I shudder at the thought.
Maybe it won’t. That could just be my anxiety talking.
But who knows anymore.
I turn the corner to the hallway when I meet Ana, who looks like she was on her way to go to the training room. Her dark hair is in a ponytail, and she wears a pair of black shorts and a lavender colour top with thumbholes in the sleeves.
“Hello, Saf,” she gives a small wave.
“Hi,” I look away for a moment, a little taken aback at her gesture, “how are you feeling?”
She sighs, “I’m doing okay. I was actually hoping I’d run in to you.”
I blink at her for several moments.
Why would she want to talk to me?
“Okay,” I say hesitantly, “what’s going on?” I ask, leaning to one side.
She takes a deep breath.
“Listen, what happened on the roof, it – er – it put a lot of things in perspective for me, I suppose. I didn’t realize how much I was pushing everyone away, and, well,” she pauses, “I’m sorry for being so cold towards you.”
My jaw drops for a second.
She’s apologizing to me?
“I – er – it’s okay, really,” I stammer.
She sighs, “no, it’s not. I was angry about Ryker being gone, and I shouldn’t have taken that out on you. I just want you to know that I think you’ve handled everything very well, so far at least.”
“Thanks,” I say with a small smile, “but it’s okay, really. Grief affects everyone differently,” I pause, “trust me, I know.”
“What do you mean?” She tilts her head to the side.
I look down before bringing my gaze back to her amber eyes.
My thoughts from the roof come back to me.
Maybe I should open up to her. Maybe then she wouldn’t feel so alone in all this.
“My parents died when I was seven,” I let out a shaky exhale before continuing, “that part of my life is such a blur, but I remember putting up so many walls after it happened. In fact, the only two people that were able to break through those walls were my old roommate and,” I pause, “Coburn, actually. That’s how we know each other. He met me right after they died.”
She blinks at me, “that’s – I don’t know what to say,” she breathes.
I shake my head.
“You don’t have to say anything, it was a long time ago,” I pause, “all I’m saying is I get it,” I give her a small smile.
She leans against the wall and sinks down. I quickly join her.
“It’s, it’s nice to know someone else understands,” she sighs, “it’s just so isolating, you know? I didn’t feel like anyone would truly understand me, I suppose. Not like he did. He and I were very close.”
Hmm, how close, I wonder?
“Were you together?”
She nods with a somber expression.
“We were young and in love,” she says in a reminiscent sing-song voice before continuing in her normal tone, “it’s just been really hard since then, sometimes it feels like it isn’t even real, if that makes sense. But then there’s just this, void, and nothing helps it.”
Her words hit me like a punch to the stomach.
I remember not being able to identify that feeling when my parents died – I was so little – but that’s exactly what it was. A void. A hole in the ground that you can’t fill no matter how much soil you put in. Or a black hole that absorbs all the light from your life, leaving you with nothing to hold on to but negativity and darkness.
I nod, bringing myself back to the conversation, “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but that does go away with time,” I reassure, “mostly anyway.”
She looks at me hopefully, “really?”
“They say every day gets a little easier. At first, I thought people were full of shit and only saying that to make me feel better, but being on the other side of it, I think there’s some truth to it,” I explain softly.
“Hmm, it’s nice to know that,” she agrees.
I think back to when Coburn and I first met.
Somehow, he was able to break through was I was going through and was able to see me for who I was. I never felt judged by him, or anything like that. He just seemed like a kid who genuinely wanted to understand where I was coming from. I don’t know if he realises it, but that meeting had the best possible impact on me.
It was the first time I felt some sense of happiness since the death of my parents. He made me realise I wasn’t alone.
“Er, one thing that Coburn told me that made me feel better about it is just knowing that they’re still here, in some way, if that makes sense. That they’re still in your heart, even if you can’t talk to them, you know?”
“Yah,” she looks down with a smile, “it’s nice to think of it that way,” she pauses, “how old was he when you met him again?”
“Ten, I think,” I grin.
“What an enlightened ten-year-old, holy,” she laughs.
I think that might be the first time I’ve ever heard her laugh.
“He’s always been like that,” I chuckle, feeling the light flapping of butterfly wings in my stomach for a moment before they fly away.
“I’m sure,” she sighs, her face falling, “I just hate that the twins were able to use Ryker’s death to get to me. Maybe I haven’t processed it as much as I thought.”
“There’s no rush. If there’s one thing I know about death, it’s that you can’t really make the process any faster than it wants to be. Sometimes you have to take things one day at a time.”
“I suppose. I just hate that they were able to manipulate me like that.”
Maybe we’re not as different as I thought.
“I know, but just know it was no fault of your own,” I reassure before leaning back against the wall dramatically, “compulsion sucks.”
“Luna mentioned that they tried to compel you today,” she sighs, “how’s your head feeling?”
“Like it doesn’t believe the pain is gone,” I say lightly, turning my head towards her.
She raises her eyebrows for half a second before a small smile appears on her face.
“Hmm, I know what you mean.”
“What do you remember from the roof anyways? Ehren mentioned it super quick, just that everything was fuzzy?”
“That about sums it up,” she says with a small shrug, “I remember the pain, and then I have bursts of memories from the events sometimes, as though I was dreaming it, or something. But the memories, they feel distant, like I just woke up and I’m trying to remember what I was dreaming about,” she looks down, “I know that doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does,” I encourage.
She puts her face in her hands, sighing in frustration before running her hands through the dark roots of her hair.
“I just don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. It’s making me question everything. I just don’t like how uncertain it all is.”
She glances at me, continuing before I can respond, “sorry, I don’t mean to dump all this on you. I hardly know you, I just, I don’t know.”
I pause for a moment.
What can I say to help her?
I put a tentative hand on her shoulder, “it’s okay. I know that sounds arbitrary, but just know that none of this is your fault. Take it from someone who questions and overthinks everything,” I say with a small laugh.
She smiles, “Ryker was like that too. Anxiety is pretty common for Fire Wielders, yah?”
“More or less, I think.” I say quietly, “it’s not something I talk about very much, I guess I just don’t like it being the centre of attention.”
“How do you keep it under control? I mean, what goes through your head?”
I chuckle, “it sounds ridiculous, but I sometimes have to tell myself to shut up. When that doesn’t work I have to ground myself, or just try to let it pass without fixating on it too much. But other times it gets the best of me. It feels like there isn’t a lot I can do sometimes.”
“Ryker talked about grounding too. I think he mentioned something about finding all the squares in a room and naming them, he explained it to me once, I think that was the gist of it.”
“Hmm, I never thought of it like that,” I think out loud, “I usually focus on things I can feel, or things I can control, and it sort of brings me back to reality.”
“Similar concept then,” she says with a nod, “I suppose I never realised how similar you two are.”
“He used to have sparks shoot out of his fingertips too,” she closes her eyes, “his hair was a similar colour to yours too, more of the darker red. He was loyal to a fault, but he always let you know if you crossed a line,” she pauses, grinning, “though I suppose one difference is that he was much taller than you,” she says with a laugh.
“Hah, that’s not too difficult,” I say sheepishly, “how long were you together for?”
“A few years.” She says simply.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know if I ever had a chance to tell you that,” I look down, “what else was he like?”
“Thank you,” she looks up for a moment, “I don’t know if I ever heard him raise his voice, I mean, he was very extraverted, but he never raised his voice in an angry way. Whenever he and Ehren were in the room it was hilarious. Nothing ever seemed to really get him down, and his eyes were the deepest, brightest shade of blue you could imagine . . .” she trails off, her voice shaking.
“The way you talk about him makes me feel like I knew him like you did.”
The words tumble out of my mouth without a second thought, but once I think about the impact, I conclude that there was no better way to word it.
I notice the corners of her eyes are wet as she smiles, “I’m glad,” she pauses, letting out a shaky exhale, “you know, I think I seriously misjudged you before. Like I said, I was just angry and sad about Ryker – well – I still am, but I didn’t know how to handle it. I had never really experienced anything like it before. I didn’t think anyone could relate to what I was dealing with, but you being so open even after I was so cold to you, and just being there and listening, I just, I think it says a lot about you,” she looks at me hopefully.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
So there is more to Ana than I initially saw. Maybe I was cold towards her because she was cold towards me, even though I still felt empathic to what she was experiencing. But with that said, I didn’t think there was anything we could agree on, that we were complete opposites, and I was wrong. I see that now.
“Can we start over?” Her amber eyes pierce into me.
I nod, smiling, “of course.”
She grins from ear to ear, “I’m glad.”
Ehren comes around the corner, doing a double take at us with a surprised expression.
“You two are hanging out on the floor, and somehow that’s not the weirdest part about this situation,” he jokes.
Ana and I look at each other, laughing.
“Did I miss something?” Ehren looks around awkwardly.
Ana shakes her head, “nope.”
We get to our feet and I run my hands through my hair.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” I bring my attention back to Ehren.
“To sleep? It’s almost eleven,” he muses.
“Oh shit, actually?” I look at my wrist, “I’m not wearing a watch, what am I doing?” I laugh as Ehren gives me a sideways glance, “I can feel you judging me over there, sir.”
He puts his arms up in surrender, “I didn’t say anything.”
I roll my eyes with a smile.
Ehren exhales loudly in the next moment, “I’m going to bed, I’ll see you two tomorrow.”
We bid him goodnight as he retreats behind one of the doors a few meters away.
I turn to Ana, “I’m glad we’re able to start over a bit.”
She smiles, “me too. Thank you for being so open about your experiences as a child, it helps to know that someone else has been through something like this and made it out okay on the other side.”
“Emphasis on okay,” I chuckle, “but you’ll get through it. I know you will,” I encourage.
I toss and turn for what feels like hours, unable to get myself to sleep later that night.
I stare up at the ceiling, annoyed.
I still feel wide awake, like my body is afraid to go sleep, like it’s worried I’ll be magically transported to the Shadow Realm if I close my eyes. That the pain will come back. That Nox will successfully possess me if I let myself succumb to sleep.
My thoughts just keep going around in circles, never slowing down, the fear in my chest buzzing with energy as I feel my breathing quicken.
Is there an off switch for my thoughts?
I wish there was.
Maybe I should cut myself a little more slack. It was a busy day after all.
A busy, terrifying, traumatic day.
Maybe I just need to get up and move around a little bit. Maybe that will get my mind off things. Maybe I could tire myself out that way.
Without another thought I push the covers off me and put on the cream-coloured cardigan that I never ended up returning to Katya.
I make my way along the hall at a leisurely pace, in no rush to get anywhere fast. I run my hand along the wall, feeling the slight unevenness under my fingertips. It’s strange, even though I’ve only been here for a few weeks, this place is already starting to feel like home, at least a little. I’m starting to find comfort in the simplicity, the modernity giving me solace the longer I drink it in. Now that I’m here, now that so much has happened, it’s hard to imagine life before I got picked for this.
I can’t decide if that scares me or not.
Obviously I could never forget Katya, but everything has been so all consuming it’s been hard to think of anything else over the past few weeks. But I’m sure that will go away eventually.
At least I hope.
I turn the corner and make my way down the stairs into the foyer, briefly taking in the canvas waterfall on the wall across from me; it reminds me of something Katya would paint.
I make my way through the foyer when I hear the sound of running water coming from the kitchen.
Who else is awake?
I catch a glimpse of Coburn filling a glass with water. I quickly hide behind the corner before he turns around as I begin to devise a plan to sneak up on him.
Why is he awake?
I try to be as quiet as possible while walking up to him, but a creaking floorboard under my feet gives me away.
“I know you’re there, Saf,” he chuckles.
“I’m not Saf, I’m a ghost,” I say back, trying not to laugh.
“Hilarious,” he says sarcastically as I join him in the kitchen, sitting on the counter.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asks.
I shake my head, “not really,” I say as I play with a flame between my fingers. I let it linger for a few moments before extinguishing it with a sigh, “my mind just feels like it’s racing.”
“I know what you mean,” he reassures, “do you want to get some air? That might help,” he suggests.
I give him a confused look, “where could we go? It’s like one in the morning,” I say with a laugh.
He grins, “I know a spot, come on.”
He puts his glass of water down as I slide off the counter, following him around the corner: towards an area I haven’t been to before.
He leads me down a short hallway before we come upon a pristine white door.
“Ready?” He says with a small smirk.
“I don’t know, am I?” I laugh.
He smiles to himself as he opens the door, leading me through.
Through the door is a small courtyard garden, filled with the lushest greenery I’ve ever seen. A large oak tree stands proudly in the center of the area, a large swing hanging off one of the thicker branches, padded with dark purple cushions. Elegant vines wrap around the thick metal fence that encases the surroundings, lined with flowers that I can’t quite discern the colour of due to the lack of sunlight. The rest of the space is covered in soft grass and plants in every shape and colour I can think of. A few of them are large with pointed leaves that shimmer in the cool moonlight, the soft, round petals of other flowers dotting the grass and some patches of moss. An overwhelming sweet smell fills me; I close my eyes for a moment and take it in. The moonlight bounces off the various plants, illuminating the area in a soft glow.
It reminds me of the park Katya and I used to walk through, but smaller, more intimate.
I glance up at Coburn.
“All this was here the whole time?”
He nods, “Ehren comes here to practice a bunch.”
“I can tell, it’s beautiful in here,” I breathe.
“Mmhmm,” he agrees, “just don’t tell him I showed you though,” he says with a wink.
I bite my lip, “my lips are sealed,” I say mischievously.
We make our way over to the swing, which looks to have ample room for the two of us. The cushions are much softer than I anticipated, the contraption swinging lightly as it adjusts to our weight, making a quiet creaking sound.
I position myself so I’m sitting sideways, facing him, bending my knees over his legs, resting my feet on the other side of him.
I look around at the surroundings, feeling a wave of calm energy wash over me.
“Thanks for showing me this,” I lean the side of my head against the back of the swing, looking at him lazily.
He grins at me, “of course.”
I look up at the bright light of the half moon, a couple of clouds making their way across the indigo sky on their own time. Some stars peek out from behind the clouds to say hello, intertwining in designs and shapes I don’t know the first thing about interpreting.
“Ugh, what a day,” I mumble with a sigh.
“I know hey. How’d we even get separated anyways? I just remember one second you were there and the next you were gone,” he laces his fingers in mine, his expression suggesting a gentle curiosity.
I shiver a little as I remember.
I have to focus on not letting the memories take over me, grounding myself in this moment.
“Nox pulled me into one of the rooms, I think, I shut my eyes through most of it. He wanted information, to know what we took from the library.”
I quickly relay the events that transpired while we were separated, realizing just how badly I needed to talk to someone about it. It feels as though a weight gets lifted off me as the words tumble out of my mouth.
He squeezes my hand, a mixture of disgust and sadness on his face as I finish the story.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I just hate that it happened. I wish I could have done something to stop it, I guess. I feel like I broke my promise to you . . . about protecting you, I mean,” he looks down.
I blink, astonished at his response, “what? You didn’t break any promise, none of that was your fault.”
“I know, but I just, I don’t know. . .” he trails off.
“Don’t blame yourself for it,” I reassure, “you did everything you could in the moment, and we made it out okay in the end.”
He nods, “I guess so. I think I’m just processing it all,” he breathes.
“I know. I am too,” I say with a small chuckle as I look up, the night sky reminding me of what I wanted to ask him.
“What happened with Midnight? I forgot to ask you earlier,” I turn towards him again.
His gaze hardens for a split second before the softness returns, “she found me, and . . . I . . . it was scary, but she didn’t seem to have any tricks up her sleeve that I couldn’t see coming, so I was able to get out there before anything really bad happened.”
“Did she hurt you?” I whisper.
He shakes his head, “not this time,” he says reassuringly.
I sigh, “I hate that we got separated. I shouldn’t have let him get into my head that easily, then none of it would have happened,” I mumble.
“You didn’t ‘let’ him into your head, though.”
“I just, I feel like I should’ve been able to resist it somehow, I don’t know,” I look down, “I know it wasn’t my fault, I just hate what happened.”
He gives me a reassuring look, “if I’m not allowed to feel bad about getting separated, then you’re not allowed to feel bad about Nox getting into your head,” he says with a small chuckle.
I roll my eyes with a small laugh, “I suppose that’s fair.”
His expression softens, “you’re so strong, Saf. Maybe you weren’t able to resist him initially getting into your head, but you were able to hold him off and prevent him from fully taking control of you, and in the Shadow Realm, no less.”
I blush a little at his response before responding, “thank you,” I squeak, “it just sucks.”
“I know,” he tucks a stray curl behind my ear, “but we still made it. And we’re safe now,” he assures.
I know he’s trying to make me feel better – hell, he’s probably saying this for himself too – but it’s hard for me to feel safe after what happened today. In fact, this is the first time I’ve really felt safe since we got back. And warm, now that I think about it.
“Are we? The only time I ever really feel safe is when I’m with you,” I blurt.
What did I just say?
My eyes widen and I feel my cheeks get warm as the words leave me, a small spark shooting out of my ring finger.
“Really?” He whispers.
I nod, averting my gaze, feeling butterflies in my stomach.
“Saf, look at me,” he laces his hand in mine as I turn, feeling the all too familiar pull towards him, “you have no idea how much it means to hear you say that.”
“Well, it’s true,” I mumble, leaning against his shoulder. He smells like a mixture of rain and the spice that’s always in his room; must be cologne or something. I curl up against him, shutting my eyes for a few moments. He gently skims my hand with his thumb, giving me a soft kiss on my forehead, his other arm around my shoulder. The light sound of his heartbeat echoes through my other hand as I feel the rise and fall of his chest.
I’ve been thinking about how I got out of the possession earlier, how I was able to dissociate from it.
The first thing I thought of was Coburn.
I was able to get through it by thinking about him.
Thinking about our memories, about all the times I’ve been with him. All the times I’ve felt happy, safe, strong.
But even then, it’s not like I rely on him to make me feel those things. I feel strong when I’m training, or when I do something satisfying. I feel happy both when I’m around people and when I’m by myself. I feel safe when I’m by the ocean. But he knows me better than anyone, really. It’s like he amplifies those feelings, or something. I can’t quite put my finger on it. All I know is that I’ve realized how close I really am to him, and how nothing else seems to matter when I’m with him.
I always knew I cared about him, but I don’t’ think I realized how deep those feelings went until just now.
I think I’ve always had feelings for him, even if I never realized it before.
The pull I’ve felt towards him over the last few weeks is hard to ignore.
I’ve never really felt that with anyone before. And as much as it causes my stomach to twist into knots, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
He makes me feel safe, like he could protect me from anything. Being with him is the only time I don’t feel cold; for the most part at least.
I almost let it slip in the closet when we were playing twenty questions, but I think I want to be with him.
And I think I’ve known it for a while.
Maybe I should tell him how I feel now; I don’t think another time like this will come along in a hurry.
My anxiety buzzes in the back of my head, suggesting all the things that could go wrong in this moment, but I push them to the side as best I can.
“Hey, Coburn, I just thought of something,” I say slowly.
“What is it?”
I adjust my head so I can see his face, his soft brown eyes on me.
Deep breath Saf. Don’t overthink this.
“Earlier, when I – er – when Nox was in my head, I think I got through it by thinking about you,” my voice is barely audible by the end of the sentence.
He presses his lips together, his cheeks going pink.
“You did?” His voice shakes.
I nod, looking down for a moment, “it was the first thing my mind went to,” I breathe, “I just, I don’t know, I meant what I said in the closet. It’s hard to imagine life without you.”
Oh my God. Oh my God.
“And,” I continue, “I – er – I think I like you.”
He cups my cheek with his hand, a soft grin crossing his face, his seemingly endless brown eyes pulling me close to him, surrounding me in warmth.
“I like you too,” he whispers.
My heart pounds out of my chest.
I blink several times, my stomach twisting into knots, my cheeks feeling red hot.
He runs his thumb back and forth along my cheekbone.
“Can I kiss you?”
I nod without a second thought, a shy smile crossing my face.
I close my eyes as he gently brings his lips to mine, and I feel everything I’ve felt towards him suddenly bubble to the surface. The feelings of wanting him, trust, warmth, happiness, excitement, take over me and I softly kiss him back, my lips parting. I feel as though I’m melting into him, like we were always connected in this way, as though there was never a moment when we were apart. His hand tenderly cradles my cheek, the other still around my shoulders, holding me with a gentle strength.
Everything about this, everything about him feels so right. I lace my fingers through the base of his hairline as he holds me close, like he could protect me from anything.
We both exhale shakily as we pull away, smiling. I bite my lip, my hands shaking a little, but not in a nervous way. A few small sparks buzz from my fingertips, but they fizzle out as soon as they leave me.
I feel lighter than air.
He looks down, smiling, “you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”
I blink a few times before responding, “yah?” I chuckle nervously.
He gently kisses my forehead, “I’ve always liked you,” he says simply.
I give him a playful, suspicious look, “always?”
He bites his lip with a grin, “part of me always has, I think. But,” he runs his fingers through my hair, “I’d be lying if I denied those feelings have grown since you’ve been here.”
“Same, I think,” I giggle softly, “I don’t know, I suppose I’m more aware of how happy I feel when I’m with you – I mean – I’ve always felt that way around you, but I don’t’ think I fully realized it until now, and I find you really attractive, and,” I cover my mouth, “oh my god, what am I saying?” I mumble, my eyes widening.
A wide grin stretches across his face, “you’re so cute,” he breathes, “and I find you attractive too, by the way.”
I smile shyly and look away, the butterflies in my stomach flying more intensely than ever before.
My cheeks are burning hot.
He gently tilts my chin up with his fingers, bringing my gaze back to him.
He looks at me with desire in his eyes, the smile still on his face. As I look closer, I realize he’s blushing just as much as me.
“What?” I ask shyly.
He skims my cheekbone with his thumb, cupping my face with his hand again.
“You’re beautiful, Saf,” he whispers gently.
I exhale shakily as I bite my lip with a smile.
“And you’re handsome,” I respond in kind, softly running my thumb over his lips. He leaves a feather like kiss on my fingers as he closes his eyes for a split second, smiling.
I fit my hand on the side of his neck, my thumb grazing his jawline as we pull towards each other again, his lips meeting mine.
The kiss lasts longer this time, my lips parting as I pull him close to me, as though I can’t get enough of him. His strong arms hold me close; one around my waist, the other still gently cradling the side of my face. I kiss him back a little harder than before, testing the waters before he reciprocates in kind, a soft hum escaping him. There is still a lingering feeling of nervous excitement in the air, but all I can focus on is how soft his lips are, how the sensation envelops me in warmth, how close he feels to me.
We pull away and I lean my head against his chest again, listening to his quick heartbeat echo in my ears, shutting my eyes, letting him surround me as I smile to myself.
I’m not sure how long we stayed like that, but it seems like no time had passed before I was on the brink of falling asleep.
He nudges my shoulder, “are you awake?” He whispers.
“Mm, not for long,” I mumble, feeling his heartbeat echo through my ears.
He gives my hand a squeeze, “come on, sleepyhead.”
We slowly get to our feet and walk back inside, leaving the magic of the courtyard garden behind as it glistens in the moonlight.