I couldn’t help but stare as West moved forward without a fight.
It wasn’t right; the West I knew would fight every step of the way. It really felt like the beginning of the end now.
Mia passed us without a glance as she made her way up to Dersa, who lead the way. He seemed determined to get to where ever he was going, and never slowed as she talked to him. Their voices were too low and I was too far back to hear anything. I didn’t care; the only person I was concerned about was West.
He trudged along ahead of me with men on either side of him in case he decided to do something rash. At the moment though, I had the feeling he wasn’t going to do anything. He was just going along with their plans, not caring where he ended up.
Well, I cared.
We were in this together and I didn’t want to be the only one who was fighting these people every minute I was awake, or still conscious that is. West couldn’t just ignore everything around him and drift away into his own thoughts. He had to be with me on this, or we would die. That was one thing I was certain of.
“West?” My voice was a normal tone but I knew he could hear me. He said nothing in response. Then I repeated more loudly, “West.”
The man who clung to my arm shook me, warning me to stop. But I didn’t want to stop, stopping would mean giving up. Like the person in front of me who, at that moment, was pissing me off.
He didn’t seem to care if I was even there; he was just giving up too easily, and he was dragging me down with him. I had to get him come back and get him to care what was happening to him. To us.
Once I had my mind set, there was no turning back.
The man beside me had his knife tucked into his belt. He obviously never thought this situation out, but it worked in my favor. I leaned away from him to try to get as much momentum as I could, and rammed into him. I knocked him over as I pulled the knife out of his belt. It was an awkward position from having my hands behind me, but I was able to wrapped my fingers around the hilt.
I quickly cut the rope holding my hands together. The men behind me tried to make a grab for me, but I was already out of their reach. As they yelled out to stop me, the three people I was coming upon turned to see what the problem was. West was a bit slower than the others; again, not really seeming to care, his mind elsewhere.
Then I swung my arm before he had time to register anything, and punched him.
As soon as he went down there was a person tackling me to the ground and I couldn’t breathe from all the weight. My ribs seemed to want to puncture my skin, wanting to escape from their own prison. I struggled to get up but they held me down while trying to tie my wrists together again. Their hands pressed into my back and legs, but I didn’t make it easy for them.
Dersa was suddenly there and was looking at me like I was going crazy.
“What is going on back here?” he hissed.
Neither of the men around me said anything. But their faces though said they really knew nothing. I looked at West from my place on the ground and he was just staring at me, his face blank.
I attempted to get up and Dersa motioned for them to let me. As soon as I was on my feet, I ran at West again but they held me back by my arms, stopping me less then a few feet away.
“What’s wrong with you!” I yelled in his face. I ignored everyone else around else. I didn’t care if they thought I was crazy. “You have to snap out of it.”
His eyes searched me but they still didn’t have any spark in them. He looked so beaten, but beaten on in the inside.
“There’s no point, Reese.”
No point. How could he say that? After everything we had been through. Everything was always worth fighting for, and he knew that. He probably knew that more than anyone.
I narrowed my eyes. “How can you even say that?”
To make things even worse, Mia was the one to answer. She stepped around in front everyone and faced me. I pulled against my bonds again, itching to punch her.
“Because he knows he’s been beaten.” She smiled and I wanted to knock those perfect teeth right out of her mouth. “And you should, too.” She turned to Dersa and her face had a disgusted look on it. “Why do we want her anyway? I could’ve had West weeks ago and you suddenly decide to wait until we had both of them. Why?” she spat.
“West isn’t the only one we need anymore. She’s just as important now.”
“But she’s a nobody.” She shook her head, throwing me a disgusted glance.
“Not anymore she isn’t,” he said.
I thought my ears were starting to fail on me.
He continued, “West is certainly the example to our people, but she is now the example of theirs. The soldiers in our army might be leaving, but the locals still don’t trust them. Well, they used to not trust them. Now they do, and are letting them fight alongside them.” He pointed a finger at me. “All because of her.”
“So, we have to kill both of them,” Mia stated, as though she was commenting on the weather.
“Yes, now let’s stop having this conversational picnic and move out. We still have a lot of ground to cover.” He turned to the men holding me. “And this time, do your job. I don’t want to hear another word from her.”
The procession marched forward, and West didn’t looked at me again. It was like he wasn’t there at all. He was like a robot that did whatever they told him to do. He had to snap out of it, or we weren’t going to be alive for much longer.
Yes, Dersa may have won this time, but there was still a chance for us to escape. He needed to see that.
Nothing was over until we were dead.
For the next hour we walked until it was too dark to see. We went through fields upon fields with just little breaks of woods in between and finally came upon another camp one of them, already full of more soldiers that Dersa wanted to meet up with.
They marched West and I over to a couple of young trees. The man pushed me down and ran another length of rope around the tree, connecting my hands to my natural stake for the next eight hours. I was too tired to care that they didn’t give us any food. And I didn’t expect it.
We both sat there for the next hour watching them pitch their tents and cook food over their hot fires. After Mia had one of the soldiers pitch her tent, she disappeared inside and never came out again. I could just picture her sitting in front of a mirror, trying to brush the tangles from her hair. I was scowling though no one seemed to notice. I dug my heel into the dirt and clenched my jaw like some sort of hater. Maybe I was. She was on the same page as Dersa in my mind.
It was because of her that we were captured.
West was silent while leaning against the tree next to mine, still thinking about something that wasn’t here. His eyes were staring down and unmoving. I suddenly felt for him, and I don’t know why.
“I’m sorry I punched you,” I mumbled. He didn’t even seem to hear me. I didn’t like hitting him, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Even though I had to find a way to wake him up, that obviously wasn’t it.
But if there was a way, I would find it.
“I deserved it,” he finally admitted in a toneless voice.
“How do you figure that?”
He turned in my direction but his eyes stayed on the ground. I didn’t remember the last time he looked at me.
“Because you’re here,” West said. “I never should have thought Dersa would’ve kept his word. I was stupid for thinking he would.”
“Everybody makes mistakes.” Even I could hear the fake tone my voice. “But it doesn’t mean you have to go all zombie on me, West. My gosh . . .” I sighed heavily and looked away. “It’s like you’re not even here.”
“Like I told you before, Reese, there’s no point anymore. They’ve won.”
My eyes were suddenly stinging from his words, but I held back what wanted to come out.
“So you don’t believe in fighting back?” I asked him. “Now that Mia isn’t the friend you thought she was, you just think it’s just over? Just like that?”
He didn’t say anything.
“It’s not over, West. How can you not see that? There are still two sides to this war. What happened to that guy I first met? The guy who was still shooting glares at the people who were about to kill him?” I took a shaky breath. “The guy that made me feel like I was worth something?”
His facial expression actually changed but I couldn’t tell what it was.
“I don’t know.” It was barely more than a whisper. Something seemed it be missing inside of him, and it made me afraid. I bit my lip to keep it from trembling.
Mia might have betrayed him, but I had to prove to him somehow that she wasn’t the only one that meant something to him. He just needed to be reminded of that. He needed to be reminded that there were still other people fighting them, and also with him. And I thought I knew how to do that, I just hoped it would work.
✢ ✢ ✢
Neither of us slept that night, but there was never said a word spoken between us either. I wanted to talk to him, but I didn’t want to talk to the West who was here now.
When the sun peeked over the horizon, and started warming the frosted grass, the small camp was awake and moving again. I watched as Dersa and Mia ordered people around, trying to get them packed and moving again. Everyone just ignored us until it was time to leave again.
We were untied from our trees and pushed over to where two trucks were waiting on a dirt road that I hadn’t noticed in the night. I saw Dersa out of the corner of my eye, coming from the smoking remains of a fire, walking his usual saunter.
My heart sped up from what I was about to do. But it had to be done.
It was the only way to show West that he couldn’t just stand by and let things happen.
Before Dersa was about to pass in front of me, I spit on the ground.
He paused. An angry shadow passed over his eyes and I forced myself to hide my smile. I had his attention now, and that was all I needed for this to go where I wanted it to. West was still oblivious to everything that was happening, but I had a feeling he wouldn’t be for long.
Dersa tilted his head towards me and put on a smug smile.
“Just accept it, Reese, just like your boy here did. You’ve lost. I have you now and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Deal with it.”
“You had me the last time but look how that turned out.” I pretended to think about it. “I think I got away, did I not?”
His smile turned more into a sneer.
“That wasn’t on my watch.”
“No, it wasn’t, but was it not you who was ordered to find us again? And look how long that took you.”
“If you don’t watch your mouth, I’ll be more than happy to pick up where we had left off.”
“You mean the time when you were curled up on the ground?” I automatically answered.
He tensed up and I could see his hands forming into fists. I was almost there. Dersa was just too easy to make angry. It was his flaw.
Mia looked over from the closest truck and I knew she was getting impatient. Dersa saw her too and actually took a few steps away from me.
“You’re pathetic,” I said as he stepped away. Dersa stopped again and he rolled his shoulders back. I knew what was coming. IT was going to hurt, that I knew, but I had already made up my mind. I had to make West wake up.
As he spun back around, his fist crashed into my jaw. I was sure something cracked inside my head. I would have fallen back if it wasn’t for the man beside me, holding up my weight so I wouldn’t fall down. My vision dotted with black. Dersa came at me again, punching me in my stomach and then again at my head. I closed my eyes and tried to block out the hits.
I fell to the ground and when I opened my eyes, I felt warm blood leaking from a gash on the side of my head. He must have hit there twice to make it bleed so much. The world was tilted again. Bile was pushing its way up my throat and I tried to swallow it down. It felt like it was choking me.
Dersa stood over me, smiling. I was breathing heavily and I felt like I was going to hurl my entire stomach. I actually wanted too, hoping that it might take some of the pain away. A man somewhere above me lifted me from the ground and set me on my feet again. My knees almost buckled. I forced them to stay straight, even though I was swaying a bit.
When I finally lifted my head, Dersa was smiling at me. But I smiled right back.
He gave me a look of confusion.
“You’re giving me a smile?” he asked. “Is that because you want more?”
I shook my head. “I don’t care what you do, because I got what I wanted.”
Dersa narrowed his eyes and I shifted my gaze over his shoulder.
He turned and his smile was just a memory. I fixed my eyes on the person he was looking at and my heart leapt with joy.
It had worked, and that was all I cared about. I didn’t care if I was hurting and bleeding. None of that mattered now.
West was standing with his back straight and the men on both sides of him were holding on to him tightly. The veins in his arms were standing out like he was going to explode at any moment. But most of all, his eyes were blue lightning again.
Dersa was right in pausing.
West’s presence was no longer invisible, it was now intimidating. The man tried not to notice his own hesitation and recovered himself by telling everyone to load up. He walked briskly away, trying not to notice the eyes on the back of his neck. He probably would have done something to West if it weren’t for his men around; he didn’t want to loose his temper before them anymore than he had.
Right before we were loaded in the trucks, West turned and gave me one of his smiles.
And that right there was worth the pain I barely felt now.
✢ ✢ ✢
We rode inside the trucks all day. It was late in the afternoon when our group finally stopped beside a large field. We’d been heading east all day and were now on the flat plains that lay between the East and South cities. They went on for miles with patches of swamp spreading out like spiders legs and same dry knolls popping up in random places. They were barren and lifeless except for the random deer and marsh animals.
Everyone filed out of the trucks and Dersa was the first person that I saw.
He pulled out some sort of electronic device and punched numbers into it before slipping it back into his pocket. We walked farther into the field, so far that the road was invisible. The soldiers sat us down in the short grass, our hands still bound behind us. Everyone else stood or kneeled, waiting for something. Even if we tried to run we wouldn’t be able to get far. There was just grass as far as I could see. It seemed endless.
West was eyeing me and I knew he felt guilty about what I did to make him understand that we still had to fight. We had yet to talk about it, and I got the feeling he was dying to say he was sorry.
“It happened, so just forget about it, okay?” I blurted out.
His blue eyes caught mine. “How could I forget you getting beaten up for me?”
“You would have done the same for me, so don’t feel like it’s your fault.” I could still feel the gash on my face, but everything else didn’t seem as bad anymore.
“But it is my fault!” His voice was a bit loud and he glanced at the United soldiers to made sure they weren’t paying any attention to us. They weren’t. “I’m sorry. There, I said it.” He gave me a small smile. “Was that so hard to hear?”
I pretended to glare at him. “I suppose not.”
Our smiles didn’t last long. There wasn’t anyone coming after us, we knew that, and our journey together was almost over.
Like the end of a book that was too short.
I wasn’t worried about Ethan anymore, now that I knew Seth was with him. There was no one else I would rather have him be with. He was the big brother he always needed.
“If you want, I could just tell them to let us go.” He shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal. “I’m pretty close with some of these guys.”
“Close as in . . . close encounters with their guns?”
“Yes,” he said as a matter of fact.
The sun was getting low on the horizon and the soldiers were still in a defensive formation around us. Dersa ordered a few of the men to leave, taking the trucks with them and I stared after them as they disappeared in the distance. The evening was quiet as nobody spoke; just the wind rippled the grass, and the odd bull frog croaking in the nearest patch of swamp.
West cocked his head to the east and a small frown touched his lips. Dersa spotted his movement and walked over, flicking the ash from his cigarette into the grass.
“You always seem to be the first one to hear things. Well, those aren’t just helicopters you hear; they’re also the first step towards your death.” He chuckled and I shiver despite the warm summer air. I was beginning to feel the fear rise up again with where we were about to go.
“You shouldn’t be so sure of yourself,” West countered.
Dersa just smiled and walked away. “We’ll see about that.”
Everyone stood as the three helicopters came into view, just black dots in the distance as first, and then I was able to make out details as they flew closer. A man pulled me roughly to my feet and wrapped his hand around my arm like a vise. My heart starting racing as they got closer, watching the machines that would take us too far away for any hope of escape..
Everything was happening too fast.
I had just gotten West back after being apart from him for more than a month, and now he was going to be taken away all over again. But this time it would be forever. I felt myself beginning to panic, but I tried to buried it deep inside.
West suddenly turned towards me as the helicopters hovered above, his stormy eyes intense as he looked into mine.
I never wanted to look away.
“Can I do something, Reese?”
The soldiers around us bowed their heads against the strong wind and we were the only ones who didn’t. It was like nothing could sway us. Not even the winds from the machines above.
“I have a feeling we might be separated for awhile, and I want to do something before we are.”
I nodded hesitantly. “Okay.”
I could see his chest rise and fall as he started breathing faster. For the tenth time today I had the urge to run away with him. I missed having his hand in mine, and his crooked smile when he looked back at me, making sure I was still behind him. I just wanted it back.
I wanted him back.
The helicopters were coming in for a landing and their blades were muffling out any sound. West kept staring at me as his short hair whipped around in the wind just like the grass.
He stepped forward before the man beside him could stop him and kissed me like there was no tomorrow.
My heart was beating like it was trying to escape its cage; the result of being this close to him that I never got used to. It did every time. It was the moment I had wanted for so long and now that it was here . . . it was so much better than I’d hoped. I never wanted to be apart from him, always having the privilege to look into his eyes whenever I felt like it, or feel his arms around me when no one else could.
But it lasted less than three seconds.
Soldiers pulled us apart, but West kept his eyes on mine. My heart was being torn. They dragged us towards separate helicopters that were now landed, and my sight of him was finally cut off as I was pulled into one of the choppers.
I was pushed down into the middle seat in between two of the biggest men I had ever seen. Mia was already there, sitting across from me giving me a satisfied smile. It reminded me I had yet to punch her, and I really hoped I would get the chance. She deserved nothing less.
My stomach dropped as the helicopter lifted from the ground and swung around, heading towards the opposite direction of the sinking sun. I leaned my head back against the cold metal seat and tried to block out everything around me. It didn’t work, but at least I didn’t have to look at her anymore.
It lasted about five minutes, until everything happened at once.
As I was concentrating on a world far from here, sounds started blasting through my ears, and the aircraft under me shuddered.
My eyes shot open and Mia was loading shells into her gun and yelling at the pilot. Her hair whipped around as wind rushed through the open doors. Both men in the seats next to mine were hanging out of the craft, looking at something behind us; their guns pointing at things I couldn’t see.
The aircraft suddenly changed directions but it was too late. An explosion went off, vibrating through my ears as everyone was jerked forward as the helicopter plunged. My head was spinning as the pilot tired unsuccessfully to land the broken machine. There was so much noise but I wasn’t sure if it was inside my head or if it was actually real.
I turned my head towards the door, against the gravity pulling it down, and saw the ground rushing towards us. Fast. I had to take a chance. When I was able to see the blades of grass, I dashed forward and jumped.
All I could hear was the wind rushing through my ears for a half second before the ground finally met me. I tried to roll as I hit the ground, also trying to keep weight off my knee, but again, it was hard without my hands. It would have worked all right, if it wasn’t for the rock that stopped me, nicking my head.
It’s funny how things work out that way.