Chapter 4: Promise
Unravel Us Playlist on Spotify.
Song: (Atis Freivalds- Road Ahead) & (Tracey Chattaway- All that Seems Lost) & (Sia- Courage to Change)
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I’m mindful of the passing seconds and minutes knowing the next Helitanker will come at any moment as I jog, forcing the exertion and pain to the side.
What’s happening today has brought on more emotional heartache than any physical pain ever will and I decided that if it came down to it, I’d rather be beaten to death than feel a virtual knife sinking deep into my heart.
After what seemed like an eternity of jogging, I find him right where I left him, slouched against the side of the car.
Just to be sure, I placed two fingers at his pulse.
He’s breathing. Good.
“Get up, get up,” Slipping an arm around him, I used what’s left of my strength to support his body. The jacket slid off his shoulders but I didn’t pick it up.
We stumble as Elios struggles to do as I say. “Elios, I need you to work with me.”
He’s heavy to carry and I find myself biting my lip as we move at a snail’s pace.
This wouldn’t have happened if he had just worn the mask instead of giving it to Alice.
What happened to not becoming a victim?
“Almost there, Vinyl.” The edge of the haze is coming up, we’re only meters away. I feel relief flood my veins.
Just before we can even reach the threshold, he buckles and slips to the ground.
“Damnit-” Hovering over his bleary form, I slap his chest a number of times, hoping to garner a reaction. “Damnit, Damnit, Elios, come on!”
He’s fighting to stay conscious.
Getting off of him, I held onto his arms and rotated his body to his back.
With every ounce of muscle, I begin to pull, not caring if I’m scrapping his attire against the pavement.
I just needed to get him out.
The process of dragging him out takes everything I have left. Coupled that with the uncomfortable pinch in my lungs, turning into a fiery sensation, you can bet I was struggling.
“I’m so...” A huff escapes me. “-gonna kick your ass later.”
It couldn’t get any worse than this.
Familiar propellers sounded from above us. Helitankers.
I was wrong. It could get worse.
We reach the edge of the haze just as the Helitanker dumps the water. The action causes a large clap-back that I skinned my knees in an attempt to get as far away from the fog as I could.
The pain is but a dull comparison to the fire building in my throat.
I used the balls of my feet and pulled Elios’s body out like a sack, scrambling hard to get him completely clear from the smoke.
Edges of my eyes are brimming with stars. I don’t think I’m breathing properly, I think I’ve forgotten how.
Using my forearms, I slip under his shoulders so his back was to my chest. This motion allows me to scuttle further away, as I fight against every ache in my body to get him to safety.
When I think the strain is too much and I may have reached my limit a voice reaches my ears, like a light at the end of a darkening tunnel.
I turn my head, eyes wide, and then I see him. “Thomas?”
I’ve barely had the time to process what is happening when he’s suddenly by my side, bending down so one hand is by Elios’s limp shoulder and the other on my strained figure.
My mouth seemed to move despite the situation. “I took longer than 3 minutes... didn’t I?”
“Are you alright?” He ignores my dazed answer and firmly takes my chin in between his fingers. “Are you hurt?”
I shake my head.
But he doesn’t let go.
We remain like this for only a split second, yet it felt much longer.
That unbearable emotion I’ve kept locked up inside me began to bubble, like a geyser... as though at any moment, it would erupt, and everything I was feeling, everything I was going through, would just come out and I’d be utterly helpless when it does.
Was it even possible to feel this way?
To feel so... desperate?
I want to throw myself at him, I want to keep him close, I want to let him hold me, to sink into the background, and forget all the mess that’s happened.
A tear formed at the edge of my eye. Not from the heat or the smoke but from my own aching desire to just be next to him.
However, the moment passes, and reality becomes clear.
We’re in the middle of a disaster, people are getting hurt, Elios, is hurt, we have to focused on what mattered.
“Help me,” I plead.
Thomas does just that.
He releases my chin and takes Elios by the other arm. Together, the two of us pull him out of harm’s way until we were at a sizeable distance from the danger.
“Thank you,” My hand is to my throat, my fingers massaging the skin as though it would help clear the internal hurt. “We almost didn’t make it.”
The urge to laugh is real.
“What the hell happened?” He demanded, promptly checking Elios up and down for any sort of serious injury. He’s busying himself, whatever that’s transpired between us, put to the side for later.
“Matthew told me you were doing your last run and then Victor came running, saying that you went back in.”
“Elios was in there for too long.” My surroundings are spinning. “We were going to get out but the helitankers came without warning and we got hit pretty hard.”
His blue-green eyes flash to mine, suddenly irritated. “You were in there?”
“I don’t think the authorities knew we were,” I confess. They wouldn’t have done it if they did.
Something dark crosses his features, I see it in the way he clenches his jaw in obvious fury.
Thomas lets a frown crease his eyebrows before taking a deep breath and peering in the direction of the makeshift tent. “We need to get Elios back, can you stand?”
Can I stand?
Hah. I feel like my legs would break if I do.
“Bring Elios first,” I wave at him onwards, using my palms to support my weight. “I’ll be right behind you.”
He opens his mouth to say something, a protest, I deduced, but he stops himself with a heavy huff.
“Don’t go anywhere,” Thomas picks Elios up and supports the male with one arm. “I’m coming back to get you.”
Like I had anywhere else to go.
Both males make their way to safety as I’m left to stare at their retreating backs.
When I lose them in the crowd and I’m by myself, I stare out in front of me, seeing nothing but the darkening smoke.
A flicker of orange and red is visible in the far distance, a reminder that the fire remains alive.
On the far horizon, the sun is setting, its beauty lost to the orange-like tint that’s taken the atmosphere.
I raise a hand and graze the smoke in front of me, feeling the soot touch my skin like sandpaper.
How inexplicably odd. I can’t put a finger on it.
So much has happened.
It started ordinary, like any other day.
Now it’s become one of the worst events I’ve ever had to experience. I’m sure many feel the same.
All it takes is a grudge and ignorance of human life. Death occurs.
Shaking my head, I pulled my knees to my chest and fought the incessant thoughts piling up in my brain, unable to differentiate between what feels real and what doesn’t.
I’m holding on.
I’m doing my best to retain control.
But I’m at my limit.
I don’t know how much longer I can hold out for. I don’t know how much longer I can stand not knowing if Hailey is alive.
My best friend.
Exhaling, I slowly stand up, feeling weightless, and not entirely teetered with reality. I don’t even remember walking, I just found myself doing it.
A bus stop comes up during my mindless journey.
It’s buried under rubble and debris, with half the roof caved in.
I move what I can from the seats and for the first time in hours, I sit down and stay still, staring into nothing but space.
I find myself asking.
What went wrong?
Why did this happen?
These are questions I don’t know the answers to but I’m lying. I know the answers, I know the reasons, I know but I don’t want to say it out loud.
So the only thing I can do is sit here, and do nothing because there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make things better, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make the things that happened today go away.
This is all my fault.
Those are the five words I’ve always told myself when things go wrong.
Because it was always easier to do that.
My fault, everything is my fault- but it’s not.
I can’t keep saying it is, I can’t keep thinking it is, I can’t keep putting everything on myself because that’s not how this works, that’s not... how you’re supposed to live.
Maybe 3 years ago I would’ve resolved into that toxic fact but that was back then and I’m different now. I don’t know if I’m a good different or a bad different, I just know I am.
Grasping the sides of my face, I lifted the mask off and felt the instant relief of blood rushing back to my features.
The straps had been tight, I can feel the chaffing and knew it would leave a mark for a couple of days.
I drop the oxygen pack and let my fingers hang by my sides as I take in the atmosphere. The air is not clean, it’s muddled and filled with embers and ashes.
Morbidly, if my home wasn’t burning somewhere far in the distance, I would say the image in front of me, paints a nice picture.
What a joke.
I swatted at the thought just as fast as I conjured it. “Stupid-”
“Are you trying, to give me a heart attack?” Thomas’s exasperated voice rings in the air, alerting me of his approach.
He’s taken off his mask and even though the sun is setting, I spot splatters of blood covering parts of his long sleeve shirt, obtained from helping the injured.
“I told you, to stay.” The heir of Graymoore stops directly in front of me, shoes kicking up dust. “Why didn’t you?”
“I’m not a dog.” I answer, even though, I do remember him telling me to wait. Ah, I’ve never been one to listen anyway.
Thomas inhales, then exhales, presumably to control his temper. “At least be mindful of your actions how was I supposed to know where you went?”
“You seem to find me pretty easily.”
I was getting on his nerves. There’s a debate going on in his head about whether or not he should just choke me.
Instead, he surprises me when he plops himself on the ground by my feet, his back against the bench with my knees grazing his shoulder.
We stay like this, silent in an otherwise busy world.
Nobody moves, nobody protests, time has fallen still.
It’s... surprisingly comfortable.
“You should get your injuries checked,” The rasp from his voice is soothing. I’m so tired, I can fall asleep right here. “After the effort, you’ve put in, there’s bound to be some.”
“Yeah, I feel them.” I agree, speaking softly.
“Where do you think?” A hesitant chuckle slips out of my lips. “Practically everywhere.”
Thomas reaches for my shaky fingers. I give it to him without complaining. He prods at my right palm, checking the blisters and minor cuts before doing the same on the other.
He does this with precision and grace, as though another personality had befallen him.
Interestingly, I came to the conclusion he only acts this way when it had to do with treating an injury or a sickness.
“You should be a doctor,” My voice is curt, but the playful intonation is obvious. “It just seems like something you’re good at.”
Memories of my stitched up wound and the drug-induced fever floated to the top of my examples. He had been the one to take care of me.
“Ha ha,” The heir of Graymoore mocks, thinking I was making fun of him.
Any other person would accept that response and let it go, but I knew what he was doing. He was attempting to brush off the topic.
Which meant he was hiding something.
“Do you not have confidence in yourself?” I can’t help but enquire, curious as is my nature.
Thomas doesn’t budge.
I start to get suspicious.
“You want to be a doctor, don’t you?” Squeezing his fingers with enough force, I feel the dull pain from my injured hands sharpen.
He is the one that glares.
“Stop squeezing, your cuts will reopen.” Using two hands to pry my palm apart, he mutters lowly under his breath, annoyed. “I swear sometimes you have no regard for your own health-”
“Tell me,” Pursing my lips, I lean on my elbows and invaded his personal space so our faces are inches away. From here, I look down at him. “Come on.”
There was no way else to go anyway, he might as well.
Thomas, unwilling to compromise to my relentlessness at first, finally gave up.
He shuffles his position, so he’s pulled up knee paralleled with mine and we’re close enough that all I have to do is lean down and we could kiss.
“Yeah, I wanted to be a doctor.” A smile turns up at the corner of his lips. It’s not genuine, it’s sarcastic. “No, not wanted, I still do.”
“Obligations, responsibilities,” He runs a hand down the back of his head, flattening the sandy blond strands so they remained disheveled. “In case you haven’t noticed Ginger, I’m chained to what I’m supposed to be.”
“Graymoore’s heir, future leader, fiancée to the Princess of another country,” Apparently he hadn’t liked that I’ve listed each of his commitments because he’s staring at me with an expression I can only describe as;
“It just puts things in perspective.” I counter for defense.
“Really, I think I got enough things to worry about here than for you to tell me what else I have to do.”
For some reason, seeing that irritated look on his obviously exhausted features makes me laugh. It shouldn’t be so funny. I shouldn’t be making fun of him at all but I can’t help it.
He looked... so helpless.
No, dare I say, adorable?
“If you don’t stop laughing, I might think you’re a sadist.” He’s looking at me with his head tipped back so I can clearly see the ring of blue in his eyes.
He wasn’t mad, he was... curious, even more than he let on.
“Sorry,” The apology is not genuine as I’m still struggling to hold my tongue. “It’s been happening a lot today.”
I nod vigorously. “At the worst possible times.”
Thomas, goes quiet, as though to register what I said. I suspect he thinks I’ve gotten a screw loose.
Well, it’s admiring that despite the horror we’ve witnessed today, he’s still trying to keep a level head.
Perhaps he thinks he has to be the one to do it.
For both our sakes.
“Fuck, today has just been a shitty day-” He finally concludes after overthinking. “I want a cigarette and a drink, but my throat and lungs say no.”
“We can always head to Skuro,” Pulling one leg up, I rested my chin on my knee, leaving my free hand within Thomas’s grasp. “But won’t they need us here?”
“No, not for a while, we’ve done all we can. The rescue officials will just have to pull through.”
I hoped they would and I hoped this nightmare will be over soon. Then again those were just words. There’s no point talking if it doesn’t happen.
So all I can do is wait, I have nowhere to be anyway, I have nowhere to go.
“I just realized I’m homeless now.”
“I said, I’m homeless.” I repeated, louder.
We stare at each other, both equally startled at the revelation. We’ve been so distracted, it hadn’t actually connected that the building before us was my home.
Where did I think I was going with this conversation again?
“Sorry,” I broke eye contact first and resolved to say nothing. “I didn’t mean to say it like that.”
“You don’t have to apologize.”
“Yeah, sorry-” I did it again. Biting my tongue, I forced my mouth shut and took a deep breath.
Why couldn’t I control my own thoughts at the moment?
“Ginger...” Thomas circles the inside of my palm with his finger, breaking my lapse. “You can talk to me.”
What do I say?
I can’t seem to think straight-no, it’s not that I can’t think, I’m thinking too much.
“Uh...” Swallowing, I feel the bubble in my chest expand into something almost painful. “I... I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” He hesitates, clearly unsure where my train of thoughts was going. “Are you confused?”
“No I’m not confused,” Scratching the back of my neck with my nails, I scrapped the skin until I feel the burn. “I’m scared.”
His circling stopped.
My eyes flash to him.
“I’m so scared... Thomas.” The confession hurt.
It hurt because it’s the truth.
This is not a caution it is a fact.
Fuck, why did I have to open my mouth? I should have kept my mouth shut, acted strong. That way he wouldn’t have the chance to stare at me like that; with pity, sympathy- I hate it, it just reminds me of when I was nothing, but a scared little girl.
God... I think the smoke has ingrained itself in my brain because once I’ve spoken, I can’t seem to stop.
“I’m scared Thomas, I’m so scared, I’m-” My body is shaking, the inside of my heart is pounding like crazy.
If there’s one thing I know about life, the world doesn’t stop moving just because people have died. It will continue on, with or without you.
The true challenge begins when you pick yourself back up.
It’s not when you’ve fallen or when the whole world is against you-it’s when you get the fuck off your ass and do something about it.
There are so many things, so many problems, so many issues I have yet to deal with and they’re so much, they’re piling up, I don’t know if I can do it.
But if I don’t do it, who else will?
Then my hand, grasp in his, loosened until I realized he’d let me go. My hands fall to my sides, clenched because I don’t know how else I can control this explosion happening in my body.
Thomas gets up on his toes and faces my seated figure, so we’re across from each other and he’s kneeling by my foot. Warm hands surround my forearms, bringing them together to meet at the center of my knees.
He doesn’t meet my gaze when he places his palms on top of mine and lets it rest there. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t move, he just holds my hands, he holds my body, he keeps it still until my trembling ceased.
Then, slowly, as the strands of his sandy blond hair billow lightly against the wind, he speaks.
“I’m scared too.”
And I want to cry, I want to scream, I want to shout, I want to crumble into nothing but a ball and let the world go by-it didn’t matter if I was left behind, all that mattered was I stayed where I was, where no one could hurt me, hurt him, hurt us.
“Ginger,” He mutters. “You’re not the only one-”
“Thomas,” I unfolded my hands from beneath his palms and reach for his cheeks, letting my fingers graze the strands of his hair back so I’m holding him gently.
Leaning into my touch, his eyes shut, a deep frown forever embedded in between his eyebrows. “I feel it too.”
I’m not the only one.
I’m not the only one, that wants it to stop.
He wants it too.
“I’m sorry,” I’ve never been more genuine in my life and I’ve never been more heartbroken. “I’m sorry for everything.”
“I would have stayed,” He lifts a hand to cup at my face, the pad of his thumb delicately wiping at a single tear that’s fallen down my face. “I would have stayed Ginger, I wouldn’t have left you, you know I wouldn’t have left.”
He didn’t want to marry Ziarah, he didn’t want to be Graymoore’s heir, he just wanted to be Thomas Moore, the man that helped others, that cared for his friends, that wanted nothing more but to be my side.
“So please,” He earnestly beseeches. “Hold onto me, fight for me, and no matter what, don’t give up on me.”
Because just as he was the light for me, I was the light for him.
“Okay,” With bated breath, I leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, letting my lips linger on his skin for a second longer. “I promise.”
Holding him close like this... it feels like we’ve fallen into our own world, a world where there are no arranged marriages, no Aitenev, no billion-dollar company, no nothing.
Just me and him.
I wished to stay.
In the background, the last rays of the sun finally set on the horizon, shrouding the city in darkness.
We’re only allowed this minuscule of peace when I see someone running towards us in the distance.
“Zanthus?” I frown.
He’s panting, struggling to get the words out as his voice breaks in multiple parts across the street. “...ailey!”
I catch the tail end of his sentence and stand up, ignoring the tremble in my legs as a sense of anxiety filled my chest. “What...?”
I don’t even realize Thomas has laced my hand through his until he tugs, forcing me to comprehend what Zanthus is trying to say.
“What is it-”
“They found Hailey,” Zanthus cuts me off, gasping. “But you better hurry.”
“She’s alive?” All the fear, all the anxiety, all the uncertainty was consuming my vision. “I-Is she okay? Where is she?”
“Vanessa,” Zanthus eyes are hard as he says my name.
He’s neither happy nor grim at her appearance and I knew something was wrong.
Something, very, very wrong.
“We’re going to have to make a choice.”