Chapter Seven: Ashes
I stumble out of the burning building, my eyes hazy, coughing, wheezing. The air is noticeably colder as I step outside, breathing in the clean air.
Luna sees me, her eyes going wide for a moment and she runs up to me, quickly leading me away from the fire and towards Ana and Ehren.
I double over, trying to breathe, like the wind got knocked out of me. I feel like I can’t get enough air into my lungs no matter how hard I try. I lower myself to the ground, a thick layer of soot covering my hands.
“You went in there?” Ehren asks, crouching next to me.
I sit upright, still coughing, nodding in response to his question. I feel like if I try to talk it’ll make things worse.
“Why?” Ana asks simply.
I glance at her when I suddenly feel a hot, prickling pain on my neck and somewhere on my stomach, heat radiating from the area, like I got splashed with boiling hot water.
I cry out in pain, cursing under my breath, getting tunnel vision for a few moments, my head feeling heavy. All I can focus on is the pain.
I don’t even remember getting burned. Maybe I just didn’t feel it right away because of the adrenaline.
But I feel it now.
Luna looks at me, concerned, as my awareness comes back.
“I can take the edge off your burns and your smoke inhalation until we get back to HQ. Ana, Ehren, make sure everyone is still calm, I don’t want any more chaos around here.”
They head the other way towards the small crowd as Luna sits down next to me.
“Coburn, look at me.” She says as she hovers one hand over my neck, the other over my chest. My shortness of breath starts to go away, making breathing easier with each passing second, like she’s extracting the smoke from my lungs and throat. The pain on my neck and side slowly dissipate, though some pain still lingers.
I turn my head and she looks at me intently, the fire lighting up her face, reflecting softly in her eyes.
“What were you thinking?” She asks vehemently, her tone softening in the next breath, “I know you and Saffire are close, and the two of you make a great team, but I can’t have you throwing yourself in harms way to protect her. You need to trust that she can handle this.”
That’s not why I went in there! I went in there because I heard shouting and I didn’t know if she needed help.
“Of course I trust that she could handle this,” I say slowly, being sure to not aggravate my voice, “I wasn’t trying to rescue her or anything. I just wanted to help.” My voice is still hoarse, but it’s better than not being able to speak at all.
“I know.” She says, looking down.
Some of the pain subsides from my burn as she lowers her hands, though I still feel heat in the area.
“That should do for now. I’ll heal the rest when we get back. I managed to get most of the smoke out of your system, but your throat is still irritated, so try not to talk too much.” She glances over at the fire, and the flames have decreased considerably in intensity, darkening the surroundings dramatically.
“She’ll be out any second. Can you stand?”
She helps me up as I wobble to my feet.
Luna, Ehren, Ana and I walk over to the doorframe, where Saf meets us, dragging the limp body of Jaxson with her.
She looks exhausted.
A thin layer of soot covers the left side of her face and both her hands. The fabric of her shirt near her right shoulder completely burned away, like the neckline got extended to halfway down her right arm. Her eyes are half open, like she could fall asleep at any moment.
Ehren and Ana take Jaxson and I walk with them as they carry him over to a stretcher a few meters away.
“It was him?” Ana says to no one in particular.
“Why would he do something like this?” Ehren asks.
“You’re asking me?” I whisper, my voice starting to come back.
Ehren rolls his eyes with a grin as they place him on the stretcher.
“At least the building was abandoned. This could have been much worse.” Ana remarks.
She has a point.
“Oh my God, what if it had been in the heart of the city?” Ehren panics.
“Well, it wasn’t. Let’s just be grateful for that.” Ana says with a straight face, wheezing a little, “I need to get away from the smoke. I don’t know how you lasted in there.” She glances at me before backing away from the scene, coughing, covering her face with her hands.
I glance over to my right and see Saf sitting on the ground about ten meters away, looking like she could fall asleep at any moment.
I smile and look down, walking over and sitting next to her.
“What happened in there?” I ask, unsure of what else to talk about.
“I’ll tell you later. It’s a long story.” She whispers, turning towards me. Her voice sounds a little scratchy, but probably nowhere near where I’m at.
I feel some of the pain of the burn come back, biting my neck.
“Are you okay?” She asks, reaching for me.
I grab her hand.
“I’m fine. Really,” she looks at me, unconvinced, “Luna took the edge off and she’ll heal the rest when we get back.”
She nods, her body swaying towards me, her head leaning on my good shoulder.
I smile to myself.
I’m happy that she’s okay, that she succeeded in calming down Jaxson. I wonder what set him off. Maybe he’s still angry about the Spirit of Fire thing, but that was over a week ago – he can’t still be holding a grudge for that, could he? Besides, I never imagined him going to this extent, even judging from the little bit that I’ve seen of him. He didn’t seem to be capable of something like this.
Saf suddenly jolts upright, looking at me sleepily.
“Come on, Sparks.”
I help her up and she shakes her head, like some of the energy is coming back to her.
Her face lights up with realization and she lightly hits my shoulder, furrowing her brows together.
“What?” I ask, taken aback.
“Why did you go in there?” Her tone is pointed.
I blink at her.
Why is she asking me this?
“What do you mean?” I say slowly, seeing energy burn in her eyes.
“Why were you in that building?”
“To help you.” I reply.
She narrows her eyes.
“Why?” She snaps.
“Ehren and Ana couldn’t, and we heard shouting from the other side. We weren’t sure if something happened to you or not.” I say, annoyance creeping into my voice.
“I was fine.” She says through her teeth.
“He was out of control.” I retort.
“You shouldn’t have been in there.” She says, crossing her arms, looking away.
“You shouldn’t have jumped in front of that attack!” I exclaim before I can think about it.
Oh no. I didn’t mean that.
She raises her eyebrows at me, anger burning in her eyes.
“You’re not immune to fire, Coburn! That attack would have hurt you way more than it hurt me. Was I just supposed to watch you suffocate on smoke and burn to death?” She shouts.
She’s right. She was just trying to protect me.
I look down.
“No, but –”
“But nothing!” She groans in frustration, “you had no reason to be in there!”
“He could have killed you,” I say bitterly.
“You could have died too!” A few sparks shoot out from her fingertips.
I bite my lip, unsure of how to respond.
Ehren walks up to us.
“Stop it, you two,” he pushes us apart, “It’s been a long night for everyone.”
She rolls her eyes, glaring at me before walking towards Luna and Ana, away from the conversation.
Ehren looks at Saf, then back to me.
“Yikes.” He mutters.
“It’s all right. I’ll talk to her later.” I say under my breath.
“She’s right though. You could have died if you were in there any longer.” He looks at me, cocking his head to one side.
“No, I had no idea.” I say sarcastically.
He raises an eyebrow.
I sigh, “sorry. I know it was a stupid idea.”
He presses his lips together.
“You had good intentions; you just have to be more careful. You can’t run into a burning building without thinking about it.”
“Yah, I know.”
He glances over at Saf for a second. She’s talking to Luna and Ana about something, though her back is to us, and I can’t tell what Luna or Ana is saying. Saf takes her hair out of the ponytail and lets it fall halfway down her back, brushing her fingers through it.
“You know why she’s mad at you, right?”
I give him a puzzled look, “do you?”
“She doesn’t like seeing you get hurt, anyone who was listening to you two could figure that out.”
I narrow my eyes at him.
“But I didn’t get hurt, I’m fine.” I say stubbornly.
He chuckles and rolls his eyes playfully.
“No, you’re not. You’re eyes are red, you sound like you swallowed a chainsaw, you have a massive burn on your neck, and you just got into a fight with your best friend who literally jumped in front of an attack to protect you. Tell me how that’s fine.”
I sigh again.
“I’ll talk to her when we get back to HQ. I was just, I don’t know.” I pause, “I don’t look that bad, do I?”
“You look terrible.”
I roll my eyes.
“Wait, how did you know she jumped in front of an attack? You weren’t in there.”
He looks at me, raising his eyebrows.
“You two were arguing really loudly.” He says under his breath, like he’s trying to supress a laugh.
I feel my cheeks blush in embarrassment.
“I don’t know if I’d call it arguing . . .” I trail off, looking away.
“Then what was it?” He asks with a snicker.
“I don’t know. A disagreement?”
He bites his lip, clearly unconvinced.
“All couples argue, you’ll work it out.”
“We’re not a couple.” I say quickly, feeling my cheeks flush.
He raises an eyebrow.
“Yah, right, okay.”
I take a quick glance over at Luna, who beckons us over, creating a portal to get back to HQ.
We land in the foyer and Luna looks at the four of us, wide awake, her brown eyes buzzing with energy.
“Day off tomorrow. That includes you, Analia.” She glances at Ana, who sighs loudly.
“Fine,” she says with a frown, her voice weak.
Even the little bit of smoke she breathed in seems to have affected her. Ehren looks fine, I don’t think he got burned at all, but he looks tired.
“We can have a debrief tomorrow night. Right now, we all need to get some rest. But you all did great, especially considering the timing of the situation.” She smiles at us before turning to me, like she is remembering something.
“I can finish treating the burn now.” She says to me.
“Everyone else, get cleaned up and try and get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
We all separate, and Luna leads me to another room, the same room we had our big meeting in a week ago.
She sits next to me on the couch.
“Shirt off. I want to see if you got burned anywhere else.”
I blink at her for a second before doing as she asks.
Sometimes she could be so straightforward with zero warning.
A section by my ribs is still a bright pink colour, stretching around to my left side.
She doesn’t say anything as she hovers her small hands over the area, her eyes fixed downwards, focusing on healing.
“Tired?” She asks after several minutes, her voice soft.
“Not really. But I’m sure I’ll crash soon.” I say with a laugh.
“I’m not trying to beat the dead horse, but you’re incredibly lucky you don’t have more injuries.” She mumbles.
“I know.” I sigh.
“You’ve held your own through all these years, I don’t want to have to replace you anytime soon,” she pauses, sighing, “I hate it when elemental leaders die.”
She doesn’t look up.
She’s never opened up like this before. Maybe the lack of sleep is getting to her.
I should say something.
“You know, whenever we talk about Ryker and I say we can get through this, I’m not just saying it for you, or Ehren, or Analia. I say it for myself too.” She whispers, “I hate that we build a relationship together as a team, as one, and then one of you gets hurt and I can’t save you.” Her voice breaks a little, though she stays concentrated on healing.
“You did everything you could, Ryker wasn’t your fault,” I respond, trying to make her feel better.
“I know. I just sometimes think if I had gotten here five seconds earlier, if I had been faster, if I had –” she sighs, “I don’t know.” She glances at me for a split second before looking down again, like she’s ashamed of how she feels.
She tilts my head to the side and hovers her hands over my neck.
“No one blames you for what happened. It was an awful situation for everyone.” I say without thinking.
“I know.” She pauses, “I just think of you all as my family, and I don’t like saying goodbye to any of you.”
Why is she telling me this?
“You won’t have to say goodbye to me anytime soon.” I say reassuringly.
“I hope not.” She says mischievously before her tone shifts in the next breath, “it’s strange, even growing up with Nox and Midnight, I never really thought of them as family.”
“What do you mean?” I say slowly.
“I’m only their half sister, and they made sure to never let me forget it.” She whispers, “I never fully belonged in the Shadow Realm.”
“They’re only your half siblings?” I ask before I can think about it.
“Same father, different mother. From what I know, he had an affair and I was the result.” She says simply.
Why is she saying all this to me? Does anyone else know?
My curiosity is peaked, my mind buzzing with a million questions.
“Who was she – your mom, I mean – did you ever get to meet her?”
She doesn’t look up.
“No. But from what I know, she wasn’t from the Shadow Realm. She was from this world, but I’m not sure which element she wielded.” She pauses, sniffling.
Is she crying?
“I’m sorry,” I say in an attempt to comfort her.
She looks at me again, a mixture of sadness and reassurance in her face.
“Don’t be. Nox and Midnight can’t leave the Shadow Realm because both their parents were of the Shadow Realm. I could leave because my mother was of this world. I could be a part of either place if I so chose, and I chose to be here.”
“Why did you leave?” I ask quietly.
“I never belonged there. I was a half breed to them.” She says quickly.
A half-breed? What does that even mean? Because her parents weren’t both from the Shadow Realm?
The thought angers me for a moment. How could anyone think of Luna – or anyone for that matter – in such a way? To think that this caring, thoughtful person was likely put down her entire life because of her lineage. It makes me sick.
“That’s awful.” I breathe.
“It makes me who I am,” she pauses.
Her words linger in my ears and I think for a moment. This is someone who can laugh, who rarely holds a grudge against anyone, who is so giving, so kind, but can be firm and lead when she needs to.
I admire her.
“Sorry,” she continues, “I know I’m not usually open about these things, I always try to put on a strong face, but I just need to vent sometimes.”
“I don’t mind.”
She takes a deep breath.
“I think of all of you as my family, even if we’re not related by blood.” She says quietly.
I feel the last of the pain from my burn dissipate as she moves her hands away.
“There. Your skin is still a little irritated, but that will go away in a few days.” She gets up, yawning.
“Thank you,” I say as I stand, grabbing my shirt.
“Thanks for listening,” she says softly.
“I’m not even sure what got me going on it. I must be tired.”
“I didn’t mind at all. Vent anytime you need to,” I encourage.
She smiles, looking down for a moment before bringing her gaze back to me. “Go clean yourself up before getting some sleep, you still have soot on your face.” She says with a laugh.
“I will.” I chuckle.
We say goodnight and I head up the stairs, grabbing a change of clothes from my room before going towards the washroom that’s a few doors down from mine and Saf’s rooms.
The space is about half the size of my room, brightly lit with colourful accent pieces lining the white walls. The three-panel mirror has a gold edge to it, the shower on the other side of the room surrounded by dark blue tile. A small, dark purple hand towel hangs next to the mirror, hanging next to the large vanity with black countertops, smooth, glossy, feeling like glass beneath my fingertips. A wicker basket of clean, white washcloths sit proudly on a shelf next to the mirror. I grab one and rinse it, about to wash my face when I catch my reflection.
Ehren was right. I do look terrible.
My eyes are still a little red from the smoke, a thin layer of soot covering my forehead and down my left cheek. The burn on my neck is now a lighter shade of pink, though it still looks a little angry, similar to the one that has wrapped around my ribs. My hair is still somewhat intact, though it has a slight gray tinge to it. I brush my fingers through it, some ash collecting on my fingers. I run a brush through it, letting it style itself naturally.
I take a quick shower to wash the rest of the soot off and look at myself again. At least I look a little better now.
I put on my change of clothes – a gray tee shirt and black sweatpants – and put the towels in a small hamper, exiting the room.
I turn the corner and see the light on in Saf’s room.
I find myself thinking about what Ehren said to me earlier about us being a couple. Her and I have never really had that kind of relationship, but part of me has always had feelings for her. Perhaps it just comes out in the form of being protective of her, and I always try to be there for her when I can. Maybe that’s what he’s picking up on. Though, I can’t deny that my feelings for her have been growing since she’s been here.
I wonder if she feels the same way about me.
I should go talk to her.
I quietly knock on the door, trying to think of what to say.
“Yah?” I hear her muffled voice through the door.
“It’s me. Can I come in?”
I hear nothing for a few seconds.
Is she there? Is she ignoring me? Am I overthinking this?
I quietly open the door, getting a better look at the room now that the light is on. She has her bed tucked into the far-right corner of the room, now covered in a few light decorative pillows. A small nightstand sits next to her bed, with a few trinkets on it, one of them being a framed photo, though I can’t see what it is from here. The other wall has a few art pieces on it, most of them abstract, though one is a realistic looking black and white painting of a vase of flowers. Underneath the artwork is her vanity, covered with tubes of colour and brushes that I don’t know the first thing about using.
She lays on her bed, now in a black tee-shirt and shorts, staring at the ceiling with her hands acting as a pillow. She glances at me as I enter the room before looking away again.
“You look better.” She remarks.
“Thanks, I think?” I say with a smile as I lean against the wall, “can we talk?”
She turns her head towards me, sighing, patting the edge of the bed, inviting me to sit.
She sits up and crosses her legs as I take the spot on the edge of her bed.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I was being stupid, and I wasn’t thinking –”
“Hang on, hang on,” she cuts me off, “I’m sorry too. I didn’t mean to snap at you, I know you were just trying to help. I was just angry that you put yourself in harms way and got hurt.”
“You’re right though. I shouldn’t have been in there,” I reply.
“I mean, yah, but if you weren’t in there, Jaxson would have probably knocked me out.”
“And if you weren’t there, I would probably be dead. I didn’t mean what I said earlier about you jumping in front of that attack.” I sigh, “you were only trying to protect me, I was just mad that you got hit in the process.”
She pulls the neckline of her shirt down, exposing her shoulder and examining it. A dark purple bruise has begun to form, extending from the top of her arm to the top of her collarbone. Her skin is unburnt, though that’s to be expected.
“Nah, I’ve had worse.” She says with a laugh, pulling the neckline of her shirt back to it’s spot, “Luna can have a look at it tomorrow.”
“Are we good, then?” I ask.
“I think so.” She grins at me.
I breathe a sigh of relief as she rubs her eyes. I glance at the clock on her nightstand – 4:30am.
“Were you nervous about talking to me?” She asks.
Was it that obvious?
I press my lips together.
“Maybe a little.” I say quietly, blushing.
“I don’t like fighting with you.”
“I don’t like fighting with me either.” I say with a smirk.
“Very funny.” She says sarcastically, rolling her eyes with a smile.
“I’m kidding. I don’t like it either.”
“Has anything like tonight ever happened before?” She asks suddenly.
I shake my head.
“No. Not that I can remember, anyways. What was going on with Jaxson?”
“I have no idea. It was strange though. The fire was laced with shadows. Do you know what it means?”
I furrow my brow, thinking, before shaking my head.
“No. But if I had to guess, Nox and Midnight were probably behind it. Why else would there be shadows in the fire?”
“I guess. I don’t know, the whole situation was just strange.” She lays down on the bed in frustration.
I glance at her.
“Luna will probably know more about it. We can ask her tomorrow.”
I glance over at the photo on her nightstand again, now that it’s in a better view. It’s a photo of the two of us, somewhere on the waterfront.
I reach for the frame, taking the photo to examine it closer.
I’m knee deep in the water, blue, cloudy skies above us. She’s riding on my back, her head leaning on my shoulder.
“Come on, Sparks, it’s not that cold!” I said jokingly as I waded through the tide.
She backed away.
“I want to, I just don’t want to get wet.” She wined.
An idea popped into my head.
I walked out of the water and crouched down.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“I’ll carry you out there. It’ll be fun.”
She gave me a mischievous look, jumping onto my back and I got up. She clung to me as I entered the shallow water, her arms hanging on to me for what felt like dear life.
“See, it’s not so bad.” I said reassuringly.
“That’s because I’m not technically in the water.” She said with a laugh as I turned towards the beach.
“We can fix that.” I said playfully.
“Wait, what, no, no, no, Coburn!” She squealed as I gently threw her over my shoulder, watching her land in the shallow water with a splash.
She gets up, soaked to her ribs, grinning as she pushes me backwards into the water.
“Katya very sneakily took that before you threw me in the ocean.” She says with a laugh.
“That was a fun day.” I say, smiling to myself as I give her the photo back.
“We were so cold after.” She reminisces, giggling.
“So, just another day for you.” I quip back with a smirk.
She bites her lip.
“Basically.” She smiles.
She closes her eyes, exhaling loudly. I place my hand on top of hers, her fingers like icicles.
Silence falls on the conversation for a few moments.
“I’ll let you get some rest; you deserve it after everything that happened earlier.”
She opens her eyes again and turns to me with a smirk.
“I should hope so. I think I need to hibernate for a few months after dealing with Jaxson all crazy like that.” She says with a yawn.
“All crazy like what?”
She purses her lips together before responding.
“Something wasn’t totally right about him. Like it wasn’t entirely him that was doing all that, if that makes sense.” She mumbles.
“So, you’re thinking he was possessed or something?” I say slowly.
“Kind of, yeah. I know it sounds strange, but even with all his faults, Jaxson would never be stupid enough to set a building on fire.” She says bitterly.
Maybe she’s right. Maybe Nox and Midnight have found a new way to infiltrate our world somehow. That would explain why the fire was laced with Shadows, the dark energy coming from the building, even the times it looked like he was resisting something. What if he was resisting the dark influence, and that’s why he was shouting so much?
“Luna will know for sure. No point in worrying about it now.” I say reassuringly, giving her hand a small squeeze before getting up, “have a good sleep.”
I’m halfway across the room when her voice breaks through the air.
“Coburn, wait,” she says, getting up.
In two strides she’s across the room and tightly wraps her arms around me. The gesture catches me off guard a little, but I reciprocate, holding her close. She rests her head on my chest and I wrap my arms around her waist.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that, but it was nice to have her close to me, especially after the crazy night we had.
“Do you want me to stay?” I whisper.
“No,” she mumbles back, “I just need you to hold me.”
I feel heat rise to my cheeks.
“Is something wrong?”
She pulls away, keeping her arms around me.
“I think I’m a little homesick, and I don’t know, it’s been a crazy couple of hours, I need a hug,” she says, looking down.
I bring her close to me again, gently resting one hand on her head.
“I know. But you’re doing amazing so far, and the homesickness will get easier, I promise.” I say softly.
I curl my fingers in her hair.
She pulls away again and takes both my hands in hers, our eyes locking the way they did a few nights ago. Her eyes are bright, so full of energy, so vibrant. Her cheeks turn red, a stray curly hair cascading down the side of her face. I can almost count the freckles that dot her cheeks.
She bites her lip and looks down, her breathing shaky.
I exhale, unaware that I was holding my breath until now.
She looks up at me again, going on her toes and giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“Goodnight,” she says shyly.
“Night, Saf,” I whisper with a small smile.
I back away and exit the room, gently shutting the door behind me.
I lean against the wall next to the door, grinning like an idiot.