We landed in the North City and were immediately met with a shower of rain. It came down in sheets with rain drops the size of quarters. We were also informed that the main hospital was no longer a building after the initial attack, and the smaller hospitals were too crowded to take anyone else. We were at loss of where to go when a familiar voice shouted my name from behind us.
I turned around to see Cruz grinning, making his way through the rain but not being bothered by it. He was the only friendly face out of the soldiers who blatantly stared when they found out who we were. West especially. I was afraid to let him out of my sight.
But now that Cruz was here, everything felt safer. At least somewhat.
“I had a feeling I’d see you again,” he said, pulling me into a hug. My body instinctively froze, not used to being hugged by almost complete strangers. But for whatever reason, he really did make everything seem safer. After he pulled away, he looked over and said, “You must be West, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Good things, I hope.” He half smiled, probably still aware of the people looking at him.
Cruz nodded, looking serious. “It will be.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but the only thing I wanted was to see Seth. Cruz led us towards the military tents where they were keeping the temporary hospital. Large metal poles supported the middle and sides with beds lined up against both walls. I scrunched my nose at the smell of rubbing alcohol and metal.
“Do you know where they took him?” I asked.
He glanced down both lanes and shook his head.
“I’m not sure, little one,” he said. “I’m sorry I can’t be much more help, but come find me when you’re done, I’m going to try to find someplace for you two to stay.”
“Can my brother stay with us, too? He’s here somewhere . . . I just don’t know where.”
“Of course he can. Just find me when you’re done.” He gave me another smile and walked back into the wet night.
West took my hand and led me down the narrow lane through the large tent. Somehow he made me steadier, especially now when I needed it most. He grabbed the arm of a passing doctor who tried to shake him off, but that was before he got a glimpse of West’s eyes. I would have done the same thing if I was that doctor. West was determined right now and his eyes showed it like fire.
“We’re looking for someone who was brought in within the last hour.”
The doctor glanced over his shoulder and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know. A lot of people come and go. There would be no way of finding him besides the old fashion way.” He paused staring at the two of us. “I’m sorry.”
West released his grip on the man’s arm and continued his pursuit, with me right behind him. We came to the end of the tent but didn’t pause as we ran through the rain towards the next. West asked two more doctors but none of them seemed to know anything. It was discouraging.
But then I caught a glimpse of sandy blonde hair over West’s shoulder and my heart jumped. I stepped around him as Ethan came running towards me, even though nurses were yelling at him to slow down. He plowed into me like an avalanche and almost knocked me off my feet. I held him for a long and tight until he pulled away.
“Where’s Seth?” I asked.
Ethan grabbed my hand. “Come on.” His voice was a bit shaky and I’d never heard it in that tone before. He led us down more rows and rows of beds before stopping at the last one. It wasn’t as bad seeing him like this the second time, but it was still a blow to my insides. Seth’s shirt had been cut away and his upper torso was tightly wrapped with white bandages, but I could still make out red coming from underneath, slowly seeping though, unwilling to cease.
“They said he’d fallen unconscious on the way here, but he hasn’t woken yet.”
I could tell Ethan was shaken by seeing Seth like this. I hated it. Ethan was my little rock, even when he had broken his arm he hadn’t even shed a tear. Now he was acting like he was going to collapse with exhaustion from worrying over Seth, and probably lack of sleep. The sister inside me told me that he needed rest.
I turned back to West and led him away from the bed, away from Ethan who didn’t seem to notice, or even care. Something else that was unlike him.
“I’m not sure if Ethan should be here right now,” I said. “I’m pretty sure we’re all lacking sleep, and he seems a bit . . . freaked out.”
West nodded and glanced over his shoulder. “No, you’re right. I’ll go find Cruz so we can find a place to bed down for the night.” West kissed my forehead before turning and going back the way we came. After all this time, it felt so weird having him this close to me. I wasn’t used to it and kept waiting for something to happen that would result in him being taken away again.
I couldn’t think about it.
“Reese?” I turned to find Ethan there; staring at me like his heart was crushed. “Where did West go?”
“He went to find us a place to stay for the night.”
“But I don’t want to leave Seth here by himself.”
“Seth needs to sleep, the same as us, and you know he would tell you the same thing.”
Ethan glanced over his shoulder for a while, debating. “But we’ll be back in the morning?”
“Yes. I don’t want to leave him either, but he’s safe here for now and there’s nothing more we can do but wait.”
He stared at me and was practically rocking on his heels. I wrapped my arms around him and he fell into them so willingly. His hands curl around my back, hugging me back.
“I miss Mom and Dad,” he murmured into my shoulder.
I waited for the tears to coming rolling out of my eyes, but they never came. Even though we were all together again it still didn’t feel right. I hugged him tighter and I could tell he was also holding back his tears.
“I miss them, too,” I told him.
Ethan pulled away and kept his eyes on the ground. “I was mad at Seth for not letting me come. I yelled at him . . .”
I brushed his hair away from his eyes and he finally looked at me.
“So, you’re worried that he won’t forgive you?” He nodded. “Well, Seth was worried that you wouldn’t forgive him.”
“Yes, he was. It was the only thing he could think of.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him that you would.”
He seemed to accept that answer and actually put on a small smile. He glanced back at Seth, still unconscious. “Will they let us know when he wakes up?”
“Yeah, I’ll make sure they do.”
Ethan glanced passed me and said, “West is back.”
I tugged him along behind me, and we met West and Cruz at the end of the tent, then followed him back to his truck through the rain. Ten minutes later we rolled up to a twenty story building a couple blocks from downtown.
West turned his head from the window. “We’re staying here? I thought we would be in a tent in some alleyway.”
Cruz just laughed and shook his head. “No, the owner of this building is letting the army use it. It was built not to long ago, so there aren’t a lot of residents. We stay here when we’re off duty.”
“But why do we get to stay here?” I asked, glancing out the window.
“I’m not sure where the order came from, but I do what I’m told. And besides, you both fight this war just as hard as any of us.” He handed West a key. “Fifteenth floor, number nine.”
We filed out of his truck and walked into the building with Ethan trailing behind like a zombie. We rode the elevator in silence, and we were still quiet when we walked into the apartment. We were all so exhausted we had no energy for words. The room was like a huge hotel room with three separate bedrooms. The one large room was open with a kitchen in the corner and big bay windows.
I automatically grabbed Ethan’s limp hand and lead him away towards one of the bedrooms before he would collapse. He followed me without question, even as I led him past the big screen TV and refrigerator to the first bedroom I came upon. I sat him down on the bed, pulled off his shoes, and made him roll underneath the blankets.
He grabbed my hand before I turned away, his eyes half open. “Reese?”
But when I looked down, he was already asleep.
I stepped out of the bedroom and closed the door behind me, knowing he was going to be dead until morning. It had been a long two days for all of us. I went out into the kitchen and West was sitting on the couch. I plopped down on the large chair beside it and let out a long, exhausted sigh.
West stared blankly at nothing, thinking.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
His eyes shifted over to mine. “About what happened tonight. Everything happened so fast, and I’m not sure if I was even conscious for all of it.” Then, “I think I saw a monkey,” he mumbled.
I laughed once, too tired for anything else.
“I shot Mia,” I finally said.
West turned toward me but I looked away, unable to meet those stormy eyes. I was afraid of seeing something I didn’t want to. Maybe sadness, or anger, disappoint? I wasn’t sure.
“This might be horrible to say but,” he said, and I looked up to see him giving me another smile, “I’m glad it was you who made it out on top.”
“I felt horrible afterwards, and I still do,” I said. “I had this horrible taste in my mouth and I couldn’t even look at her.”
West studied me a moment before saying, “It’s different when you know the person you’ve killed, rather than a stranger. You know their name. The sound of their voice. It’s . . . just not the same.”
“I’m sorry it happened though . . .” I shook my head, having a hard time meeting his eyes. “Even though she betrayed us, you still knew her.”
“I knew the Mia I grew up with,” he said. “That girl out there?” He shook his head. “War can do strange things to people, even to those who you think you can trust.”
“Or it can do the opposite,” I said, smiling a little. “And you can start trusting someone you never thought you would.”
West looked like he wanted to say something, a small smile on his lips, but the words weren’t coming out. But then I thought of something that I hadn’t thought about, and I was afraid of the answer. Deep down I knew the answer . . . but I was just afraid of hearing it.
“What happened to Dersa?” I asked.
His smile dropped and that was all I needed to see. “I tried looking for him after we had crashed but . . . nothing.”
“Well, I’m sure he won’t bother finding us now.”
“No, but if you happen to see him again in the future, I would suggest you run the other way.” West cracked a smile, making my sullen mood disappear. “You know what’s great about this place?”
“It has a shower.” He grinned, knowing what that meant to both of us. I couldn’t look down at my hands, afraid to see them stained from Seth’s blood. But just thinking about it made my mood lighten.
“Do I really look that bad?” I asked.
He lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, and about that, what happened to your head?”
I lifted a hand to it and winced, finding it still tender. “I kind of jumped.”
“From the helicopter.”
West let out a quick laugh and then suddenly dropped it at the sight of my face. “You’re serious.”
A smile formed on my lips and leaned my head back. “Yes.”
“Why would you do that?” He was trying hard not to laugh, but he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.
I shook my head and laughed at myself. “I really have no idea.” I sighed and stood up from my chair. “We should go to sleep.”
He rubbed his hand through his hair and nodded. “Will you do me a favor and actually sleep?”
“Only if you do.”
West stood and we shook on it like we were making a business deal. He brought his head closer to mine until we were inches apart. My heart rate picked up again and I was conscious of how bad I looked right then. His eyes searched mine and brought up the corner of his mouth.
“Good night, Reese.” He grinned.
West straightened and walked around me, closing his bedroom door behind him. That wasn’t what I was expecting, but with West I never counted anything out. Either way, I still happened to smile.
I went straight for the bathroom and turned on the shower. It was a walk-in shower, with glass walls and tiled walls. I stuck my hand in, and the moment I felt that warm water coming from the shower head, I smiled.
When I heard something behind me, I spun around to find West standing there, staring at me like no other. My heart knew before I did. It started beating faster and faster, like it had been waiting for this moment for months.
West suddenly strode forward, not stopping until his lips were on mine. He’d never kissed me like this before. Never. There was so much needing behind it that I felt relief. Relief because I wasn’t the only one feeling it.
Before I knew it, I was backing into the shower. The water came down from above, soaking us both in a matter of seconds. Our clothes stuck to ours bodies, our hair darkening with water.
We moved together like we’d done this before. But we had never done this before. I would have remembered. My hand pressed against his back, feeling his strong muscles and spine curving under my fingers. Both his hands were holding me against him, making me feel so small but infinite. I pulled him closer, using the belt loops on his jeans.
My whole body was on fire, feeling everything but not getting enough.
West broke away, his eyes never leaving mine. Water dripped from his hair and lashes, making him even more beautiful than he ever was. And I couldn’t believe he was mine . . . and for the first time, I had no doubt that he was.
His hand brushed against my neck, his fingers slowly trailing up into my hair.
Then he said, in the most normal voice, “I fucking love you.”
“God,” I breathed, trying to keep my head from spinning, “I’ve loved you since the first time you said my name. It’s a stupid thing to say but it’s true.”
He came in closer. “It’s not stupid because I remember. I loved the sound of your name in my head, but the moment I said it, I just . . . I knew I could say it a million times and love it just as much.”
“Because it’s weird?” I asked, smiling.
He shook his head. “Because it’s you.”
He kissed me again, slower this time.
Every second that passed, a new memory came up, forcing me to remember, one right after the other. All starting with the war and ending tonight.
It’s like I’d kept myself from thinking of it. Because each one hit me harder than the first, building and building until I was ready to burst. With the boy I loved standing in front of me.
I couldn’t breathe because everything started hitting me.
Ethan and I didn’t have a home.
Our parents were dead.
I killed people.
Had their blood on my hands.
Their faces in my mind.
And each time something good happened, it was taken away.
And I realized if something happened to West, I wouldn’t know what I would do.
“Reese?” I opened my tear-filled eyes to see him looking at me, worry filling his face. “What is it?”
I sank down, the cold tiles against my back, the water hitting my feet. I couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I wanted to. West sat next to me, wrapping his arms around me like he did back in the field, after Seth had been shot. My strength when I needed him most.
“Everything,” I finally said. I shook my head, every tear I held in the last few months, suddenly coming. “It’s just . . . I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
I pulled back just enough to look at him. “For what’s to come,” I said. “I want nothing more than this to be all over, but it’s not. I’m just—” I could feel my salted tears on my lips “—tired of everything. I just want to be with you and have everything else disappear.”
He leaned forward and brushed his lips against his forehead, then my nose and cheek, and lastly my lips. “We will,” he murmured. “Just not yet. But this time I’ll be there with you . . . every step of the way.”
This finally got me a smile, making my tears stop all together.
I felt a new light grow within me. Somewhere deep, somewhere hidden. But it was there now, giving me the strength I needed to finish this war.