Sunlight

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Chapter 24

I ran without knowing where to look, my legs taking me unknown places. But I just ran. I passed a burning helicopter, but all of its passengers were already gone. I stood there with my chest heaving and legs shaking. I ran farther, passing more bodies laying in the grass. My heart stumbled as I came upon each one, dreading the moment when I would find Seth, but also wanting it to happen so I could help him.

When I came in the edge of another crash, where the field was still and dark, I saw him. Seth was alone in an ocean of grass, slowly bleeding when there was no one around to help him.

His back pressed against the ground like the soil was burning his skin, arching it towards the sky before dropping it back down again. I ran the last few steps and dropped down on my knees beside him.

Seth looked at me with glossy eyes, staring at me unblinking from the shock that he was going through. I looked down at his wound and wanted to kill Mia all over again. There was a hole in his upper chest with blood seeping from it like a leaking pipe. I brought up my hands and pressed down as Seth gritted his teeth against the pain. The warm blood ran through my fingers, dripping down to my wrists. I tried not to panic. I needed a medic . . . but did they even bring any?

“Did you finish her off for me?” He never unclenched his teeth as he spoke.

I nodded, unable to speak. I was afraid if I opened my mouth, nothing would come out. I was too angry, or scared, to talk. I wasn’t sure which one.

I heard someone running towards us and instinctively reached for my gun. A soldier came upon us with his rifle raised, but it was one of ours. I didn’t waste anytime with introductions.

“He needs a medic,” I said. “Now.”

He took one glance at Seth before nodding and running off in the direction he’d come. I turned back to Seth, still pressing my hands against his wound, and tried to give him a smile. His clenched his fists on both sides of him and arched his back again. His mouth opened only a crack, screaming a silent scream. He clawed at the earth with fingers like it could take his pain away. It was agonizing to watch. I wanted to turn away but his need for me here was too strong. I couldn’t leave him, no matter how hard to was for me to watch him go through this.

“Reese—” He sucked in a breath of air and flexed his fists again. “You have to get Ethan as far away from this war as you can. He shouldn’t be apart of this. None of it.” His body shuddered again as he let out his breath.

My eyes widened and realized he was talking as if he was going to die. I shook my head—I don’t know how many times—trying shake away the thought.

“Seth, you’re going to be all right.” I tried to convince myself as I said it. I’m not sure if it worked or not. “You are.”

He tried to smile. “Don’t kid yourself, Reese. I’m in pretty bad shape.”

“Did you leave him in the North City?” I needed to have his mind off of the blood pouring from him and the fact that my face was full of terror.

“Yeah. Of course he wanted to come but—” another breath “—you know I wouldn’t let him.”

“You might not know this, but Ethan really looks up to you,” I said, feeling that tears were only moments away. “You have no idea how happy I am that you were with him this whole time. You’re the older brother he never had.”

“After we found out that you and West were missing, Ethan was so determined to make it the city to find help. But when I told him he couldn’t come . . .” He paused and shook his head. “I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for doing that to him.”

“He will, Seth, I guarantee it.”

“Maybe, but I hated the look on his face as I left him there.”

“He’s an easy one to forgive.”

Seth wasn’t moving as much now, almost like he couldn’t feel the pain anymore. His eyes were getting lazy and his breathing became shallow. I looked up and saw three men running towards us with a stretcher, and I was filled with relief.

“Seth?” He didn’t look away from the sky and I wasn’t sure if he even heard me.

One of the men gently grabbed my shoulders to pull me away. I didn’t want to leave him, but the medics that were here would help him more than I ever could. It felt like my world was falling apart all around me as Seth drifted farther and farther away from me.

“We have to take him back right now or he won’t make it.” The medic was talking to me but I just stared blankly at him. Fortunately, the soldier next to me talked in my place.

“Take the helicopter back; we can fit everyone else in the last one.”

The medics nodded and walked away with him between them. I wanted to go too but my legs were useless. His body looked so lifeless.

“Are you all right here? I need to gather everyone so we can leave. I’m not sure if we’re safe yet; they may come looking for their men once they never show up.”

I nodded absently and he left.

Seth was a friend that I had picked up on the way, and now he was leaving as fast as he’d come. I never had many friends . . . if I would even call them friends. Seth had been more of a one than anyone I could think of. I didn’t consider Ethan and West being my friends. Ethan was my brother and West was . . . well, he was something totally different.

West. I had to find him. Was it just me or was I always looking for someone? I turned around to go back from where I came, but I stopped. He was already here, standing twenty feet away from me with his chest rising and dropping like he had been running. His hair was as messy I had ever seen it and the side of his face was covered in a mixture of mud and blood. He looked exactly like the person I’d first met, his face a mess but his eyes bright.

I let a quick breath and ran towards with my heart beating fast. He engulfed me, arms wrapping around me. I felt safe. I felt like I was home. I put my head against his chest, hearing his heart beat, and believing he was finally here. I never wanted to let him go.

“Reese?” he murmured in my ear.

“Hmm?”

“I’m really glad you’re here,” he whispered.

“I was here this whole time,” I said into his shirt.

“No. I meant here . . . right now . . . with me.”

I pulled back and studied his eyes. It was dark now but the stars seemed to reflect off them like glass. Like marbles you find on the bottom of a clear stream.

West’s hand came up and he gently rubbed his thumb across my cheek.

“You look horrible,” he cockily stated.

I smiled. “You shouldn’t be one to talk.”

He kissed me again but this time we weren’t interrupted. It was long and slow, with so much emotion behind it. He didn’t need words to tell me how he felt right then, and I didn’t either. My fingers slipped through his hair, drawing him closer.

West slowly pulled away, but I kept my eyes closed for a fraction longer, maybe hoping it wouldn’t stop. When I opened them he had one side of his mouth turned upwards.

“Are you still mad at me?” he asked.

“I was never mad at you.” Was I? I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember anything right now.

“Yes, you were.”

I thought back and found out that I was. I was angry at him for leaving and not coming back. The whole Mia thing wasn’t anger, that was more frustration than anything. But how did he know? He wasn’t even there.

“How did you know I was angry with you? And why suddenly bring it up now?”

“Cause I wanted to say, I’m sorry.” He laughed. “Again. And, I’m sorry that I keep having to say that I’m sorry. I never want to say that to you ever again.”

“I’m sorry, too.”

He huffed like it was a joke. “For what?”

“For doubting you.”

He scrunched his eye brows together. “That’s it? I deserved to be doubted.”

I shook my head and answered, “And for not doing this sooner.”

I put my arms around his neck and this time I was the one kissing him. I thought back to all the times when I wanted to do it but never had enough courage. I didn’t even have any now, but I did it anyway. He kissed me back even more forcefully, and my heart sped up.

We broke apart at the sound of footsteps and took a step back from each other like we were doing something secretive.

I really had no idea why. Habit, I guess.

“We’re ready for take off. We need to leave here as soon as possible.” The soldier looked between us.

West nodded. “We’ll be right there.”

As the soldier was walking away again I took a step back, staring at the ground. I was horrified at myself. Seth. For the last two minutes I had forgotten that he was seriously hurt and possibly dying.

I started forward but West caught my hand.

“Reese! Where are you going?”

“We have to go.”

“Why—”

“Seth was shot, West. And,” I shook my head, angry at myself, “I don’t know how I forgot!” I rubbed my face into my hands. “When I’m with you everything just goes away, but that shouldn’t happen when our friend is dying.”

He took my hand in his, somehow knowing it helped keep me calm.

“Reese, it’s all right. We’ll go right now.” He led me away to the helicopter. “And just to have you know, I forget things too.”

“I shouldn’t have forgotten about him.” I felt like the worst person on earth.

“You’re only human, not to mention you probably can’t remember the last time you slept.”

I knew he was just trying to make me feel better, but I wouldn’t be until I was headed in the right direction. He squeezed my hand and I glanced at him.

“He’ll be all right,” he said.

I nodded and followed him under the spinning blades and into the aircraft. When it lifted off my stomach dropped again. I leaned my head against West’s shoulder and I could feel his lips kissing my hair. I thought it odd that I wasn’t feeling tired. West was right; I really couldn’t remember the last time I had slept.

But I couldn’t sleep until I knew Seth was going to be okay.

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