Spirit of Fire

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Chapter Nine: Animosity

Saffire

The next day comes sooner than I want it to.

I decided after Luna’s address about the Jaxson situation yesterday that I wanted her to come with me when I talk to him. Not because I’m scared of Jaxon – well, maybe a little – but I don’t think I can handle this without her support. Coburn offered to come too, but I said no. I wanted this to be something I do myself.

Ana’s comments from yesterday still ring in my ears. I try to take no notice of it – I know that Coburn and the others are supportive – but her thinking I’m immature and not able to handle this rubs me the wrong way. Even though I grew up with Katya’s parents after mine died, I always tried to be as independent and capable as I could. I always tried to put on a strong face in spite of how sad I felt at times, and I still do. Part of me wonders why Ana sees me as immature, maybe that’s how some of my anxiety reads to people, but I don’t think it’s fair to make judgements like that about anyone. I know I never would. I know she’s going through a tough time right now, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to judge or be cold to someone. Maybe one day we’ll see eye to eye. Regardless, the main reason I want to do this meeting with Jaxson by myself is because I want to prove I can handle something like this, that I’m capable. Not just to her, but for myself as well.

I’ve never liked the containment building. It always had such a looming presence over the population, a tall, gray building made of rock with small windows lining the sides of the outer walls. It’s hardly ever been occupied, at least to my knowledge, but I suppose Jaxson is only being put here for the time being. I think it’s only ever been meant to act as a placeholder of sorts, or for someone to be held temporarily.

Our society doesn’t believe in containment as a punishment, like jails or anything like that. Besides, crime is so rare that we wouldn’t really have use for such a facility. On paper, if anyone acts out of line in an extreme way, they’re sent away into exile, away from the peaceful island and into the unknown depths of the human world. But I don’t think that has ever been something that has ever been enacted. Perhaps Jaxson will be the first. But who knows.

Luna and I stand at the base of the containment building. It’s rough exterior and gray colour cast a shadow over the two of us, the pillar spiralling into the evening overcast skies.

“Are you ready? It’s not too late to back out and do this another day,” Luna remarks.

I shake my head.

“No, I need to do this. I’m ready.” I say with as much confidence as I can muster.

She gives me a reassuring grin as a cold wind whips through the air. I pull my jacket around me in an attempt to keep myself warm, though I can’t tell how successful I am. I run my fingers through my hair and tighten my ponytail with a determined breath.

“Okay. Let’s get a move on, then.” She strides up to the glass doors at the base of the building and ushers me through. I notice how shiny the glass is, how smooth it looks; I have to keep myself from reaching out to touch it. I suppose when materials can be made by Earth wielders, they can be of a better quality than anything nature can conjure.

She leads me into a small elevator, a silver chrome colour covering the interior and exterior of the structure, with the inside being lined with mirrors from my waist up. I catch a glimpse of myself as Luna fiddles with some of the buttons on the side before the doors shut with a click. My hair looks especially dark today, though perhaps that’s because it’s in a ponytail today. Or it could be the lighting in here. I don’t have the energy to figure it out. My freckles are prominent, standing out on my pale face amongst my cheeks and nose. I decided to wear a white tee shirt and black leggings with a black cropped jacket to protect from the cold . . . somewhat. I wish it was socially acceptable to wear big fuzzy jackets all year round. It’s one of the reasons why winter is my favourite season.

The elevator makes a soft dinging sound as the silver doors slowly open, revealing a brightly lit hallway with white floors and walls, large, flat lights illuminating the space. Luna’s shoes click on the white floors as we come up to one of the doors; a small, black door, with a square window near the top; the contents of the next room just out of my sightline.

“Would you like me to come in with you, or would you rather I wait out here for you?” Luna looks at me curiously.

I look to the side, thinking for a moment.

“No, I’ll go in alone. Jaxson doesn’t do well with authority figures,” a shaky laugh escapes me.

She raises her eyebrows with a playful smirk.

“Well in that case, I’ll be out here if you need me at all,” she places a hand on my shoulder, “good luck,” she says warmly.

I nod quickly and take a deep breath, hesitantly taking the handle.

The door creaks a little as I head inside, gently shutting the door behind me.

The room is a stark white colour, somehow highlighting how sparsely furnished the area is. Though, it is bigger than I thought it would be: a little smaller than my old room. High ceilings and bright lights illuminate the space, like the hallways at HQ, the same fresh linen smell wafting through the room. In the corner lies a small cot, where Jaxson is sitting, his eyes locked on me as soon as I enter the space. His hair is slightly unkept and I notice the usual spark in his eyes seems to have dulled considerably.

He glares at me.

“What are you doing here?” He sneers.

I bite my lip to avoid quipping back.

“Hello to you too,” I wave my hands dramatically.

I find a chair that sits idly next to the wall and pull it closer to him, sitting down so I’m not standing over him. Being in an authority position still feels strange to me; I don’t like to feel like I’m above anyone, literally or figuratively.

“Are you here alone?” He peers at the door.

“Does it matter?” I snap back.

“I heard you talking with someone,” he continues.

I roll my eyes.

“If you must know, Luna’s outside. Happy?”

He seems to visibly relax, his shoulders dropping a little.

“Yes, actually,” he casually leans back against the wall, “so why are you here, then?”

“To ask you about what happened the night you set the building on fire,” I say as calmly as I can.

“Oh, yes, the situation that literally had nothing to do with me,” he looks up at the ceiling.

I give him a look.

“Excuse me, but I’m the one who saved your ass and got the fire to stop, so you’re welcome, I guess?” I snap.

He puts his hands up in a surrender formation.

“It wasn’t me. I was framed.”

My curiosity pricks up.

Framed? Is that how he sees it? Maybe I should play into the game he’s playing a little more.

“By who?”

“How should I know?” He looks at me dubiously.

I take a deep breath.

“Okay, back up. What do you remember from that night?

He raises an eyebrow.

“Why should I tell you?”

My teeth clench together.

“Because Luna is right outside, and she won’t be as nice as I am. Now what do you remember from that night?” I say as calmly as I can, but my patience is beginning to wear thin.

He looks at me with a more serious expression, like he’s done playing whatever game he was playing.

Finally. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Not a lot, if you must know. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, hearing this voice in my head,” he starts.

“What kind of voice?” I ask, frowning.

“I don’t know,” his tone is pointed.

“Well what did it sound like?”

“It wasn’t my voice, if that makes sense. It wasn’t a part of me. It was icy, cold, and it made the hair on my arms stand up whenever I heard it. There was something sinister about it,” he trails off.

That sounds like someone I know.

“What was it saying?”

“I don’t remember, but I remember it made me angry. I couldn’t get it to go away, and any time I resisted it or tired to block it out it felt like something was splitting my head open.” His eyes dissociate from the conversation for a few moments before returning, shivering as he looks at me again.

That explains the shouting.

“Then what?”

“Then . . . nothing. I couldn’t fight the voice anymore, and I don’t have any memories of what happened after I gave in,” he says the words like he’s ashamed of himself.

It’s hard for me to not feel some pity for him, even though he still puts me on edge.

“Except . . .” he starts, “I remember you,” he blinks at me.

I narrow my eyes at him.

“What about me?”

“It’s the only memory I have of the building, really. I remember you had my hands on my shoulders, I remember the fire, and then . . . nothing after that.”

That must have been when I broke through the possession.

“Hmm,” I respond.

“Why are you asking me all this anyways? Why do you need to know?”

I roll my eyes.

“Because clearly something weird happened with all this, and we need to figure out what. There’s something darker at play here,” I say quickly.

“Like what?” He tilts his head to the side.

I freeze for a moment.

“I – er – I can’t tell you.”

Anger burns in his eyes at my response; I suppose I could tell him, but it wouldn’t feel right without asking Luna first.

“Hmph. Figures,” he mutters, “our roles should be reversed right now anyways.”

I shoot him a dark glare.

“I’m sorry?”

“I should be the one interrogating you right now,” he scowls.

My fingertips tingle, every nerve on my body standing to attention.

“Okay, first of all, I think interrogation is a strong word for it. You’re not in a dark room with a single spotlight on you or anything. Secondly, are you seriously still angry about the fact I got picked? It wasn’t your decision,” I quickly get to my feet, “or mine, for that matter.”

“You had to have bribed your way in,” he gets up, approaching me slowly, blocking the door, “I know you did something to have gotten in over me, you little snake.”

I back away.

Saf, get out of here.

“I didn’t. So, stop implying I did,” I say through my teeth.

“Of course, you would deny it. How predictably modest of you.”

“I’m not denying anything,” I continue backing away from him, on guard just in case, planning my quickest route to the door.

“Who was it, Coburn? You must have been really good in bed to end up as an elemental leader,” he chastises.

I can’t take it anymore.

I slap him across the face, hard.

“Fuck you. And don’t ever question my integrity again,” I say forcefully.

I forgot how jumpy I get around him. Yikes.

He holds his face for a few moments and rises to his full height again; catching my wrist before I’m able to make it to the door.

“Let go!”

“Hmm, what if something were to happen to you, right now? What would happen then?” He puts his finger to his chin, ignoring me, “oh that’s right, you’d need a replacement!”

What is he suggesting?

“You can’t do anything,” my voice shakes a little, “you fire abilities don’t work in here,” I say quickly, trying to pry his hand off my arm.

“Maybe so, but we both know I’m physically stronger than you.”

I glance between him and the door.

I could make it. Maybe. I need to try.

I try to pull away again, resisting him for a second before he pulls me towards him and wraps his arm around my neck, keeping me in a tight choke hold.

I claw at his arm, trying to pull him off me before he whispers in my ear.

“So what will it be? Tell me how you did it, or . . .” I feel his other hand put pressure on my head, and I have to stop myself from letting my anxiety get away from me.

My head suddenly flashes back to when Coburn was teaching me self defense on that first official day.

How do you get out of a choke hold again?

Wait, tuck the chin, turn towards the elbow and . . .

I lower myself out of his grasp, quickly moving, grabbing his wrist so his elbow is pinned against his back.

“Nothing. Happened. Figure out why this bothers you so much.”

I release him and practically run towards the door, opening and shutting it with a bang as I reach the other side.

I feel the cool metal of the door against my back as Luna looks at me with concern.

“Are you all right?”

I nod quickly, still trying to catch my breath, recoiling from the whole experience.

“Did you get the information we needed?”

I nod again.

“He doesn’t remember anything except for a voice in his head,” I mumble.

“Hmm, I think that confirms our suspicions of possession, from what I know about it. We can discuss it later. Do you want to portal back to HQ?”

I shake my head.

“No, the fresh air will do me good,” I glance at her, taking a deep breath, “if that’s all right with you, at least,” I add.

She grins, and I notice the dimples on her cheeks.

“I was thinking the same thing,” she reassures, leading me towards the elevator.

The trip down the elevator and leaving the containment building is a blur as I process what happened with Jaxson.

I still can’t believe he’s not over the fact that I got picked over him, and for what? It’s not going to change anything, no matter how many times he threatens me. The fact that he thinks I bribed my way in with sex angers me more than anything, especially since he brought Coburn into it. He knows for a fact that Coburn and I have never been more than friends; best friends, for that matter. He was only trying to push my buttons to get a rise out of me, and maybe that would have worked before, but not now. He was only trying to make me angry, like him.

No wonder Nox and Midnight were able to get to him so easily.

I breathe in the fresh air as we leave the building, letting the salty air of the nearby ocean fill my nose. It’s only a short walk to HQ, but it will be nice to enjoy the evening weather, even if it is a little cold.

We walk in silence as I listen to Luna’s heels click on the sidewalk, when a boy who looks to be about ten years older than me does a double take from a few feet away, shooting me a dirty look through the blonde hair that hangs in front of his face.

I ignore it as I continue walk – I’m used to the looks by now anyways – when his voice breaks through the air as we pass him.

“I guess Fire Wielders need to be escorted now, huh?”

Escorted? Is that what he thinks this is?

The comment annoys me, but I ignore it; arguing with people like him hardly ever changes anything.

I get ready to continue walking when Luna unexpectedly whips around to face the man.

“I’ll ask you to not address my friend that way, sir.” She says respectfully, though there’s an edge to her voice.

The man rolls his eyes, pointing at me.

“Her kind can’t be trusted. They’d burn down the whole island if we let them.”

“Excuse me, my kind?” I snap, “I’m an elemental wielder, just like you,” I have to bite my tongue from saying anything else.

Normally I wouldn’t say anything, but maybe he’ll listen if Luna is with me, now that she’s called him out on his actions.

He raises an eyebrow.

“Like hell you are. One of you burned down the abandoned building just a little outside the city. What’s to say you won’t do it again? Or that you’ll wipe out our entire civilization on a whim?

A whim? Who does this guy think he is?

I bite my lip, about to talk back to him when Luna approaches him calmly.

“Sir – it’s Skylar, right?”

He nods proudly.

“That’s right.”

She smiles, tilting her head to the right a little.

“Well, Skylar, I’ll please ask you to keep your discriminatory comments to yourself from now on. As you may recall from my address yesterday, this was an unusual situation that we are still trying to unravel. This girl you just insulted is the reason why the fire the other night didn’t get any worse, and I won’t have you speak to my elemental leaders in such a fashion,” she says in a firm tone.

He clenches his teeth together, glaring at me one last time before turning on his heel and heading the opposite way down the street.

She exhales quickly as soon as he is out of earshot before turning towards me.

“I’m so sorry, Saffire. What an awful thing to say.”

I glance at her, contorting my face a little before my mouth curves into a small smile.

“Thank you for that,” I say softly.

“Of course,” she says warmly, “are you all right?”

I snap out of my daze and look at her, sighing.

“I’m just tired, talking to Jaxson took a lot out of me, I suppose,” I try adding some levity to the situation.

I want to tell her about what Fire Wielders like me go through on a daily basis; the snide remarks, the double takes, the stares, just for walking down the street. But I can’t bring myself to tell her. I know that she would be open about it and listen to what is going on, but I suppose I’ve had so many one sided conversations with people that I’ve just stopped trying. It’s not worth the disappointment of arguing your case only for it to fall on close minded, deaf ears that don’t understand fire as an elemental skillset. Maybe one day I’ll tell her, but I’m not in the space to advocate my elemental abilities right now.

We walk through the doors of HQ a few minutes later, walking in silence for the rest of the trip.

“All right,” she says as she closes the doors behind her with a thud, “I’ll give you some time to rest a little after all that, but perhaps we can talk about what happened with Jaxson tomorrow and discuss how we can move forward with all this,” she looks at me like she’s waiting for a response.

“Yes, sorry, that sounds great,” I say quickly to mask the fact that I was only half listening.

She places a hand on my shoulder with a smile.

“Go rest. You deserve it,” she says warmly.

I grin and walk up the stairs to the second floor, to the private living room that smells like sweets and alcohol.

I let the warm, soft light of the room greet me as I lay down on the soft rug in front of the fireplace, feeling the fur on my cheek as I move to my side. This is starting to become my favourite room in HQ, though I can’t exactly pinpoint why. It’s always warm in here, and something about the gentle light and the dark red make me feel safe, somehow. It’s such a deviation from the rest of HQ, with the bright lights and business like atmosphere, and it makes me wonder why such a room would even exist, but I’m happy it does. The sweet smell is a little different today, still some kind of pastry, though I think it’s mixed with some kind of fruit that I can’t put my finger on; strawberries, perhaps.

I find myself running my hands over my neck a little, remembering, processing what happened in the last few hours. My skin feels like it’s on the edge of it’s seat, like it’s certain that more danger is coming my way soon.

Does my body ever know when to calm down?

Maybe I should have gotten Luna to come in with me. Was I so eager to do this myself, to prove myself somehow, that I unnecessarily put myself in harms way? I know I get anxious around Jaxson, why didn’t I just ask for help?

I look into the blazing fire a few feet away, watching the flames jump and dance around, the warm colours intertwining. My eyelids begin to feel heavy as the fire sparks every few minutes, reminding me of my own abilities. I suppose I didn’t realize how much today took out of me until I finally had a chance to stop.

I wish people could see the beauty of fire, the good things it can accomplish, the warmth that it can bring a tired soul.

Why is anger and destruction all that people can see when they look at people like me; people with red hair. Maybe Jaxson embodies those things, which doesn’t help, but it’s not right to put all Fire Wielders into that category just because of one person. It would be akin to an earthquake hitting the island, and suddenly everyone thinking that Earth Wielders are dangerous. That wouldn’t make any sense. I just wish that people could see that Fire Wielders are just like everyone else, that we’re not full of angst, that we’re not dangerous because of something we’re born with; something we have no control over.

A few moments pass before something dawns on me.

What Jaxson did confirms all the suspicions about Fire Wielders.

Possessed or not, he went on a rampage and committed arson. He lived up to the stereotypes that follow us wherever we go. He made people certain of their beliefs, that we’re just ticking time bombs of destruction, that you have to be careful around a fire wielder, that you have to move to the other side of the street if you see someone with red hair approaching you.

But now that Jaxson has confirmed all the negative things about us, I fear that things will only get worse. That there will be more instances like today, and we’ll just be discriminated against more than we already are. My fear is that this will lead to more extreme measures, like violence against people like me. That seeing someone with red hair on the street will be an excuse for others to act out against us.

I shiver at the thought.

Maybe that’s why Nox and Midnight decided to possess Jaxson and make him do what he did. Maybe they’re trying to tear our society apart from the inside. Maybe this is what they want.

I won’t let it happen. Not on my watch.

I make the decision to talk to Luna about it. Not today, but soon. Maybe she’ll know where to start in combating something as big as this.

It’s not even that I think Fire Wielders should receive special treatment from everyone, I just want people to treat us like equals. That we’re elemental wielders, just like everyone else on this island.

We’re not any different from anyone else.

*

I doze off and on for about an hour, just laying in front of the fire on the soft rug, before I hear the door open and close with a soft click.

I’m not sure who it is, but I don’t turn my head to check.

Suddenly I feel a hand on my shoulder and hear someone sit down behind me. I don’t look up, though I can tell it’s Coburn. If it was anyone else, they would have likely said something as soon as they noticed me next to the fire.

I can’t decide if I’m in the mood to talk to him, or anyone, for that matter. I still feel on edge from earlier, and I don’t want to accidentally take it out on him.

“Hey, you,” he says softly.

I don’t respond, closing my eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I feel his thumb skim my shoulder.

“Nothing,” I mumble, blindly turning onto my back.

“There she is!” Coburn says excitedly; I can’t hold back a small grin.

“Hilarious,” I say sarcastically.

I guess I’m more on edge than I thought.

I feel him move a piece of hair away from my face.

“Did everything go okay with Jaxson?” He asks hesitantly.

I open my eyes and gaze at him lazily. He’s sporting a gray V-neck shirt that goes halfway down his chest, seeming to highlight his broad shoulders and lean but muscular frame. The firelight bounces off his olive skin tone, almost making him glow. I blink at him for a few moments, a small grin crossing my face, my cheeks warm.

But even he can’t cheer me up right now. Not while the events of today are still weighing on my mind.

“It went great. After I got the info I needed he proceeded to threaten me and implied that I slept with you to get picked as Spirit of Fire. And then after that, some guy on the street decided to be a huge asshole and say super derogatory things at me. So yeah, it went fantastic,” I snap.

I didn’t mean for that to come across so forceful.

He blinks at me for a few seconds before responding.

“Oh my God,” he breathes, “that’s terrible.”

“Which part?”

“All of it. I don’t blame you for being angry.”

I give him a look.

“It’s not even that I’m just mad, the whole thing was just awful,” I sigh loudly.

“But still, I’d be mad if someone questioned my character,” he says with a chuckle, “but what Jaxson said was uncalled for, he’s just insecure in himself, I know you’d never use anyone in that way,” he affirms kindly, “and forget about that other guy, he’s close minded and unwilling to see who you are.”

“Thanks,” I start, unsure if I should open up or not. Maybe I should tell him about some of the discrimination Fire Wielders go through.

Of all people, he’ll understand and listen to me, and perhaps it will give me some courage to speak about this with Luna later; if not tomorrow, sometime this week.

I open my mouth, unsure of how to start.

Maybe with the comments that guy made on the street today?

“I think, er, I think things for Fire Wielders are only going to get worse now,” I start, glancing into the flames.

He frowns at me.

“In what way?”

“Today the guy on the street told me that my kind can’t be trusted, that we could burn the island down on a whim if we wanted,” I whisper.

A mixture of disgust and anger flash across his face.

“He had no right to say that to you,” he says definitively before his tone softens, “does, um, does that kind of stuff happen often?”

I shoot him a glare.

“You’ve seriously never noticed it before?” I roll my eyes at him.

I feel his hand on top of mine.

“No, but I’m not you. Help me understand,” he says softly, empathy in his eyes.

I look at him, a little taken aback by his words, but not in a bad way. I’m taken aback that he seems to be so open to learn what the world is like from my perspective.

It’s just rare to find people that are open towards this kind of thing, I suppose. Not that I thought he would be anything different, it’s just a breath of fresh air to actually have a conversation with someone about all this who doesn’t get ultra defensive. In my experience, people are usually stiff in their views of fire wielders and having a conversation with someone can be an absolute nightmare.

It’s nice that I can talk to Coburn about this; I think he can tell it means a lot to me.

“It’s hard for people to see past the destructive nature of fire, I suppose. Any time I walk around the city I get stared at for my hair. People will move away from me on the sidewalk. People treat me like I’m going to spontaneously combust at any moment, or that I could go on a rampage and burn the city to the ground.”

He tucks a stray curl away from my face.

“I’ve never seen you that way,” he reassures.

I sigh, “I know, but that’s not the point. The stereotypes and all that is about how we’re seen as a whole, not individuals. And what Jaxson did only confirms everyone’s suspicions and negative ideas about Fire Wielders. I guess I’m just worried that things will escalate from here, and I’m starting to think that’s what Nox and Midnight want to have happen.”

I feel as though a weight gets pulled off my shoulders as the last syllable leaves me; I suppose I never realized how much it was weighing on my mind.

“I think you’re right about the Nox and Midnight thing,” he reassures, “but I’m so sorry you have to go through that.”

“People are just afraid of what they don’t understand, that’s where it comes from, at least that’s my theory. But there’s so few of us around it’s hard for anyone to see past the prejudices. I remember once someone told Katya she was brave for rooming with me, or that the reason there’s so few of us is so that we don’t burn the world to a crisp.”

Anger flashes across his eyes again.

“Who said that?”

I shrug.

“I don’t know, it goes around. I’ve heard a few people say those things,” I mumble.

“That’s terrible,” he pauses, pressing his lips together, “have you told anyone else about all this?”

I shake my head, “no, but I was going to talk about it to Luna at some point, I think.”

“I was just going to suggest that, actually,” he says with a small smile, “people respect her. She’ll know how to combat something like this.” He runs his hands through my hair, “I’ll help you however I can, I promise.”

His words somehow make my anger towards everything that happened melt away. Him being so open to hearing my point of view, and just listening to what I have to say about all this means more to me than I think he realizes. Maybe that’s how he feels whenever he’s been open with me.

But even so, everything about this conversation gives me a newfound respect for him.

“Thank you,” I sit up, so we’re eye level, feeling the softness of the rug beneath my fingers.

“You were there for me when I told you about everything going on for me, it would be wrong if I didn’t do the same for you,” he whispers.

“I know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it,” I mumble, looking down.

He tilts my chin up with his fingers so we’re eye to eye again, his eyes seemingly filled with warmth, and I notice a small amber chip in his right iris.

“You can talk to me about anything,” he says softly, the firelight reflecting on his cheek.

I feel my cheeks get warmer.

“I know,” I whisper, “same here,” I add nervously.

He grins, and I can’t take my eyes off him.

I notice his eyes moving a little, like he’s reading something.

“What are you doing?” I ask

“Counting your freckles,” he says with a grin, “eleven, twelve . . .”

I cover my face with my hands.

“Stop it!” I say with a giggle, lying back down on the rug.

He chuckles and lays down on his back next to me. The ceiling is a creamy colour, the same gold trimmings outlining the places where the ceiling meets the walls.

I shut my eyes, “I’m glad you’re with me,” I whisper.

When did I decide to say that?

My cheeks feel warm as the fire sparks next to us.

He hums in response, “same for me,” his fingers intertwine with mine, warmth radiating through me.

My eyes open and I turn my head towards him, “I just, the last few weeks have been so overwhelming, I can’t imagine going through this without already being friends with an elemental leader, you know?”

He smirks, “yah, I know what you mean, it can be super isolating, as hard as Luna tries to make everyone feel validated,” he pauses, “but I’m glad I’ve been able to help you in that way.”

“You’re my best friend, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else with me.”

He bites his lip.

“I can’t picture anyone else doing as amazing as you, with all this, I mean,” he whispers.

I scoff, “stop it! You’re lying.”

“I’m not lying, Saf,” he smiles, giving my hand a small squeeze, “you’ve held your own throughout the strangest set of circumstances I could have thought of. You’re the reason Jaxson didn’t go on a rampage and burn down everything in sight. You held your own in the Shadow Realm against two of the worst people I could think of. And I know today sucked, but you figured out how to help other Fire Wielders, and you were even willing to talk to Jaxson about what happened.”

I move onto my side, facing him, unsure of how to respond.

“Thank you,” I say shyly, looking away for a few moments before bringing my gaze back to him, “your self defense teaching came in handy today, by the way,” I say, changing the subject.

He moves onto his side to face me, his gaze hardening for a split second.

“Did he hurt you?”

“No, but if I hadn’t known what I was doing he would have. I know I didn’t see the point of it then, but I really appreciate everything you showed me around how to defend myself properly. It really made a difference.”

He grins, running his thumb along my cheekbone.

“You’re welcome,” he says softly.

Maybe I could make all this work with him. He knows me better than anyone, and my feelings for him have been growing since I moved in here. Maybe it’s just because I’m seeing him more, I have no idea. But all I know is that I feel safe with him, that I want him close to me right now, I –

Thunder cracks above us, dramatically rolling through the sky, sending shockwaves of fear through me, suddenly chilling me to the bone.

“Sounds like it’s quite the storm out there,” he remarks, looking at the ceiling before turning to me, concern in his face, “you’re shaking,” he takes my hand again, the gesture shocking me out of my daze.

“No, I’m not,” I protest, but I can’t ignore the fear bubbling in my chest, looking away from him.

“I’m not an idiot, Saf,” he pauses, “if it keeps going through the night, you can – um – you can come see me if you need to.”

I bring my gaze back to him, noticing the light pink colour spreading across his cheeks.

He really does know me better than anyone, aside from Katya, at least. They’re the only two that know about my fear of thunder, and the reason behind it.

“Thank you,” my voice is barely audible, “I’m usually fine, sometimes it just gets to me.”

He gives my hand a squeeze before letting go.

“I know. It happens to me too.”

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