He kept his eyes closed and tried not to move, tried not to even breathe too deeply. His ribs ached, like he’d run for miles without stopping. His ankle throbbed, waves of pain rippling up his leg with every heartbeat, throbbing bone-deep. Everything hurt. Moving hurt, breathing hurt. He was dimly aware of voices speaking nearby, but he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. Thom drifted somewhere between waking and sleeping, lost in visions he tried to convince himself were nothing more than strange dreams.
She was always there. She was the one he’d stayed here for, to say good-bye to her. He’d been thinking about the words all day, even when he’d been running up the stairs with…who had he been with?…to get out of the building before it collapsed. How had he known that they should get out? That was hazy, either from a blow to the head or simply not wanting to remember. She would have said he’d had a premonition. He would have told her he didn’t believe in that.
Not since the nightmare.
It was why they fought, why their relationship was on the rocks, if it still existed at all. It was why he was saying good-bye instead of finding a way to go with her, why he had been trying to run away to Chicago—to forget her. To forget the woman he loved, to leave and never see her again, only in his dreams and memories. Those he could never be rid of, and if he was really honest with himself, he didn’t want to lose them. He didn’t want to lose her, either, but it was getting too hard. Much too hard to love her but not be able to talk without fighting, to be together without an argument. He would keep his memories but run from the temptation to make more. It was the only way he was going to stay sane.
“Marin.” He reached for her tentatively, wincing as she flinched away from his touch. What did I do now? He pushed himself upright, touching her shoulder, tugging gently.
She turned toward him, head bowed, tears glistening on her cheeks. His mouth went dry.
“You’re crying.” Why is she crying? What did I do? God, what did I do now?
She sniffled, wiping her eyes. “I’m fine.”
But she wasn’t. I know you too well, Marin. Don’t lie to me. “You’re not. What’s wrong?”
She was suddenly curled against his chest, her arms around him, clinging like a drowning man clings to anything that might keep him afloat. He put his arms around her, burying his nose in her hair, inhaling deeply. I’m such a fool.
“Just so afraid,” she whispered as her tears soaked through his threadbare sleeping shirt. “So afraid I’m going to lose you, Thom. I don’t want to lose you.”
He shivered, holding her tighter. I don’t want to lose you, either, Mar. That’s why… He swallowed hard, struggling for words, holding her tightly. How can we take the risk? I can’t justify the risk… “Don’t cry,” he finally fumbled, struggling to breathe past a lump in his throat. “Don’t cry, Marin. Please don’t cry.” He buried his nose in her hair, drawing a deep, unsteady breath. Why? Why? Why does she hurt so much and why does it hurt me so much to see her hurting so deeply? He squeezed his eyes shut. What in god’s name did I do?
She just clung tighter and continued to weep.
He was dimly aware of voices, familiar voices, talking around him. He was likewise dimly aware of pain, though he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, only knew that it was there, that he hurt, his body hurt—he was hurt, and probably badly. He didn’t dare try to move. His mouth was dry, almost gritty.
“Don’t cry, Marin,” he whispered, too quiet to be heard. “Don’t cry…”
“Hang in there, Thom,” someone murmured, close to his face. It wasn’t her. Someone else. He squeezed his eyes more tightly closed. He wanted her. Not someone else. Needed her.
Where was she? Gone? Maybe…
Her fingers gently stroked his cheek and he opened his eyes, feeling as weary as she looked. She smiled at him, one corner of her mouth upturned, curling wryly. “Welcome back,” she murmured softly. “Gave me a scare.”
“We beat them off, that’s what happened.” She wrapped both her hands around one of his. “You shouldn’t have worried so much about me. But thank you anyway.”
He started to sit up, hissing at pain in his ribs and falling back down again against the mattress. “Ow.”
Her fingers tightened. “Don’t. Jacqueline hasn’t done much for your ribs yet. She just stitched you up so you wouldn’t bleed to death.”
His fingers felt stiff and cold as he squeezed her hands gently, trying to relax, to calm himself. “They didn’t get too close, did they? Food’s safe? Water supply?” Are you all right? They better not have…couldn’t bear it if you were…
“Everything’s fine.” She freed one hand from his and stroked his brow gently. “Some wounded. You’re one of the worst. Otherwise, everything’s fine. We’re safe, for now.”
Good. Couldn’t live if something happened to you… “Good. Hate to think what would happen if all of us got taken out at once. What would happen to the world…”
She laughed. “As if we’re all that important to the world.”
You are. He managed a tired smile. “Some of us think so.”
His eyes fluttered open for a moment and he could see light somewhere above his head, saw dust glittering in the shaft of weak sunlight streaming down into the hole. He twitched. Pain lanced through him and he gasped despite himself. What was left of his vision became tinged in red as waves of pain washed over him, like storm surge over breakers. He gasped again, coughed, then subsided, unable to think—unable to even breathe. Black washed over him, and even the visions, for a time, abated.