Day Zero – Chapter 5 – 03

            Thom lay awake on the mattress, listening to the sound of the worsening storm, but more struggling to listen to Marin’s breathing as she slept within arms’ reach of him, though he was too tired to reach for her.  The wind howled, tugging, clawing at the sides of the tent secured by J.T., Davon, and Marin’s younger brother.  He and Matt got along—but barely.  He squeezed his eyes shut.
            That turns nasty every time she and I fight.  He only puts up with me for her sake, I’m sure.  Thom exhaled slowly, shivering a little under his blanket.  Wind still managed to work its way through the gaps—small thought they may have been—in the paneling of the tents, and the wind was chill, colder than it had any right to be.
            They were really, really wrong.  For the temperature to start dropping so rapidly…something must have gone seriously, seriously haywire.  He just wasn’t sure what.  Maybe one of the others would be able to figure that out.  Maybe it didn’t matter.  Probably doesn’t matter.  Maybe.  As long as we manage to keep ourselves fed.  Survive.
            He tilted his head to the side, watching as an errant, chill breeze stirred the hair against her forehead.  He exhaled in another sigh.  Is this what you saw?  Is…is all of this what you saw?  This end, not the end you thought you saw?  Not a bomb, but this?  He winced despite himself, looking away, staring blankly upwards.  No…it’s not real.  It can’t be real.  Has to be wrong.  Can’t be that.  If it’s real, then what I…
            “It just can’t be real,” he mumbled to himself in the dark.  Marin stirred and he winced again.  Don’t want to fight about it tonight.  Don’t want to fight about it tonight.
            “Thom?”  Her voice was a drowsy mumble.  “Are you all right?”
            He nodded in the darkness, then realized she couldn’t see the movement in the dim.  “I’m all right,” he said quietly.  “Are you?”
            “Little chilly,” she murmured, shifting on her mattress.  He winced a little.
            “Come over here.”  He shifted a little on the mattress, wincing at the sudden pains that came with movement, the twinging of his ribs and the stabbing pain in his ankle.  He frowned at her hesitation, at the fact that she wasn’t answering.  “Marin?”
            “I’m coming,” she said quietly.  She gathered her blankets and eased over across the grassy ground between their mattresses, kneeling next to him and spreading her blanket over his.  He smiled wryly up at her.
            “Eyes adjusting?”
            Her expression was half lost in the shadows.  “A little,” she said quietly.  “Not much light for them to adjust to in the first place.”
            Not with the storm.  Forgot how much light the streetlights used to cast.  The darkness was less a problem for him—but he’d always had good night vision, good vision in dark places.  He wasn’t sure why—it had just always been that way.  He worked his arm up from under the covers, catching hers at the crook of her elbow.  His fingers trembled slightly with the chill; he could feel the goose bumps forming on her arms even as she knelt down next to him.
            She swallowed hard, starting to shake her head.  “Thom…”
            “Shh,” he drew her down slowly next to him, pulling her near.  Wish I didn’t feel like a pile of crap.  We could both use that kind of comfort.  “Just…just trust me, Marin,” he murmured softly as she eased down next to him, curled along his side.  He shifted a little, finding her free hand in the darkness as she pulled their collective covers up and across them both, holding it tightly, drawing it against his breastbone.  Marin made a small sound and tucked herself more tightly against his side, squeezing her eyes shut and huddling close.
            “I do trust you, Thom,” she murmured into his shoulder.  “Too much.”
            I’m glad you do.  At the same time…that scares the shit out of me.  I almost wish you didn’t trust me so much.  He squeezed her hand, closing his eyes and listening to the storm and her breathing for a few long moments.  It was warmer, now, more comfortable with her curled next to him.  Her shivering ceased after a moment and her hand grew warmer, her fingers curling around his, digging gently into the fabric of his shirt.  They were both quiet for a few long moments, each reveling in the warmth of the other, sharing the comfort of each other’s arms, before Marin spoke quietly, voice barely more than a whisper.
            “What does all of this mean for us, Thom?  This…this changes everything, doesn’t it?”
            He frowned a little, switching which hand held hers so he could run his fingers through her hair.  “Not everything, I hope,” he murmured.  I love her.  I can’t…I can’t lose her.  But if her visions are real, then mine are, too, and I…no.  Can’t be.  Just…can’t be.  He swallowed hard.  “I do love you.  Don’t want to stop.”
            She shivered slightly against him.  He wove his fingers through her hair.

            “She’s really sick, Thom.”
            He swallowed hard, staring at Jacqueline, then looking past her to where Marin lay, hair damp with sweat, plastered against her forehead, pale and shivering beneath the blankets that shrouded her.  His shoulders felt tight, overtaxed from something.  A boy, dark-haired like Marin, knelt next to the cot where she lay, holding her hand.  She was talking to him quietly, though Thom couldn’t hear what she said to their son.
            His throat tightened.  We can’t lose her.  “There has to be something you can do.”
            “If there is, I’m not sure what it is,” Jacqueline said quietly.
            He’d never felt so helpless.  “We can’t lose her,” he murmured softly.  “You have to do something, Jac.”
            “…hearing you say that doesn’t make it any easier to come up with what the hell I’m supposed to do about it, Thom.”  There wasn’t much anger in her voice, surprisingly.  Only sadness, weariness.  Marin had been her friend for a long time, after all.  “She was asking where you were before.  Wanted to come find you.  I told her to stay in bed.”
            He nodded mutely, struggling to breathe.  His throat was so tight…  I can’t do this, Marin.  I can’t do this alone.  You can’t…you can’t abandon me like this.  But he knew.  This was an ending, and whatever came next…he feared he’d have to face that alone.

            Thom swallowed hard, fingers tightening around her hand a moment.  He forced himself to exhale, to take another breath, then exhale again, willing calm, willing himself not to react further to what had just flickered past his closed eyes.  Marin cuddled closer.


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