I wake to a soft touch below me, a soft warm bed. The sound is muted as try to come to my senses. The chair beside me scuffs along the floor as someone enters. “Elijah? What are you doing here?” I tell that the voice belongs to Pru. Has Elijah stayed here the entire time?
“I'm looking for pain meds, my headaches are back,” his voice sounds strained and tired.
Footsteps echo across the floor and stop to my left. “You should get those checked out properly. You've had them for how long now?”
“Pru, I'm fine, don't worry about me. It's just a small headache,” I can tell he's lying. Why can I tell he's lying? I don't know him.
She chuckles softly, “That's a tall order considering our history, you should know that,” she says.
He laughs, it sounds hollow. “I do know that but don't worry about me,” he pauses for a moment. “How was your first fighting day like?”
An involuntary groan escapes my lips as I move slightly, pain erupts into my head. “Apparently not as bad as yours was. Will your Hippy be OK?”
I open my eyes slightly and the light burns my eyes. “She'll be fine, just a few bruises and a headache but she'll be fine.”
“I heard what happened. Pitting her against her boyfriend, that was a low blow,” she replies. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep, I want to hear his reply.
“It had to be done. She had to get over her attachment to him, she wouldn't be all she can be if she was tied down. You know that. I had to get her out of her comfort zone, I have to get them all out of their comfort zone or this initiation will be a loss. This is my first year as instructor, I'm not going to fail because of the love between two teenagers.”
“Wow, since when did you have a way with words?” Another pause. “Elijah what's going on? You've been acting strange for a few weeks now, you're not... yourself.”
“I just see more that what I used to,” he says.
I hear Pru's footsteps circle around my bed and she stops in front of Elijah. I open my eyes to see her back towards mine, her hands outstretched and placed on his cheeks. She leans up and places a gentle kiss on his lips. I frown slightly, I don't know why, I just do.
His arms hang limp at his side as he pulls away. His face impassive. “So, what are you doing in here?” He tries to move the conversation on.
I came to check up on one of my initiates... who seems to have disappeared now. Have you possibly seen a tall red-headed male during your time in here?”
“Nope, I've not been in here long,” that's a lie. From the brightness of the inside lights, I would guess it's night time. He's been in here for hours. “Maybe you should go look for him.”
“Wanna help me?” she sounds almost hopeful.
“I need to get stuff for my headache, I might help you later. OK?” he sounds like he's trying to get rid of her.
“OK then, I'll see you later then,” she took the hint. She leans up and kisses his cheek before walking out.
I watch as he slumps back into his chair and puts his head in his hands. “Bad day, huh?” I croak slightly.
His head snaps up and he looks at me. “How long have you been awake?”
I decide to lie, “I've just woke up there.”
“How's your head?”
I want to ask him about his head, I want to know why he has headaches... but then I would have to reveal that I was eaves-dropping. “My head is... still attached. I guess I'm thankful for that.”
He laughs quietly. “Well, you'll be fine. You have no lasting injuries... as far as the doctor can tell. Are you OK though?”
He doesn't mean my physical state. I bite my lip. “I'm fine,” is all I can say.
He leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and clasping his hands together. “I'm sorry I did that to you. It was...” he searches for the right word as I watch his features contort to his thoughts. His right eyebrow twitches slightly, “... necessary.”
I struggle to sit up, he sees this and jumps up, placing his hand gently under my elbow, guiding me into a seated position. “Thanks,” I mutter. I rub my forehead and sigh. “How could any of that be necessary?”
I know the answer but I want it from him, I want to hear his voice telling me personally. He sits on the edge of my bed and the light on the ceiling lights his features. His eyes are tired and his blonde hair is flat against his forehead, lank and lifeless. “I want to push you,” he says quietly, “I want to push you all.”
I frown slightly. “But... why?”
He sighs, a long and drawn out sigh. Looking more tired then I've ever seen a person. “You're not the only one with something to prove.”
“So, let me get this straight. You push us, you make me fight with Zahn even though you probably knew it would destroy me. You put me, him, us, through that for what? What possibly could you gain from it?”
He looks down, in shame I think, I'm not sure. I hardly know him. His voice is quiet, hardly distinguishable as I struggle to hear him, the throbbing in my temples is distracting. His eyes look into mine, “I'm sorry. It had to be done, if not then, later. From what you were saying, it was bound to happen sooner.”
“That's not true. What I said, what I done... I had to. You gave me no other choice, you backed me into a wall and I had nowhere else to go but there. “
He nodded slowly, “Like I said, I had to do it. I'm your instructor, it's my job to push my initiates and make them better than what they are. Judge me all you want.”
Breath catches in my throat, “Elijah, I-I'm not judging you. I'm not.”
“What have you got to lose anyway?” The question comes from nowhere and it stuns me for a few seconds. I just look at him, “Honestly, Shiloh, what have you got to lose?”
“Zahn,” his name cuts into my heart like a sharp knife, just like I did to that dog in my simulation. “I have him to lose.”
His eyes flash with something that I don't understand. Before I can get a grasp on what it is, he closes his eyes. “Sometimes,” he takes a deep breath, “sometimes, losing that which we love... it's the only way to discover who we really are. We are left alone to think, really think and our decisions become our own. Don't you see how you are influenced in your decisions because of your ties to another? Being free, you can truly be who you are.”
I shake my head. “Elijah, that's not true. Being with the one person you love more than anything in this world, that is what gives me strength, it gives me a reason to go on. That there is someone out there who knows me for who I am and still love me unconditionally, “ I say. “Sometimes, letting someone influencing your decision, it can be the best thing for you. Trust me on that,” I add quietly.
There is a moments pause between us and he doesn't reply, I can tell he is turning my words over in his head. Really thinking, his eyebrow twitches again. I look down at my hands to see that my knuckles are bruised from hitting Zahn. Tears well up under my eyelids as I stare at them, these hands, my hands, were used in the tear down of the person I cherish the most. A few days ago, I couldn't wait to get rid of him, be free from my ties but now, now my mind has changed. I guess it's true what they say, you don't know how good you've got it before it is torn away from you. I just want him back, I want to be in his arms, I want to cry my heart out into his shoulder. I want to hear the heartbeat of the one person who knows me, the real me. I've destroyed everything.
Elijah looks up as me and I can no longer keep my tears back. My body aches from the tears as I sob hard. Within seconds, my cheeks are stained and my t-shirt is soaked straight through. I've never cried like this before, I've never truly let go of my emotions. Now, I don't ave strength to hold on any more. I just have no strength. He moves towards me and pulls me into a hug, his movements are soft and caring as he lets me cry into his shoulder. It's not the shoulder I want but at this point in time, I just need someone near me, to comfort me. I need Zahn.
His hand gently strokes my back as my shoulders convulse in time with my tears. I let myself relax into his arms as we sit on my bed. He whispers in my ear, “You're strong, Shiloh. It takes strength to do what you did,” he pulls back slightly and tilts my chin up so I have to look at him. “Never forget that.”
Panic sets in, he's too close, his face is inches from mine. I can't handle that thought, I avert my eyes and they widen as Zahn stands in the doorway. His face unreadable as I stare wide eyed. Elijah lets me go and walks straight out. I keep my eyes on Zahn as he walks in and sits where Elijah has just vacated. I have so much to say, I want to tell him everything but all that comes out is a babbled mess. He laughs slightly and looks at me with pained eyes. “Hey,” his voice was low and detached.
I search his eyes, “I'm so sorry, Zahn. I didn't mean a word I said. I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry,” I keep going on, repeating the same sentence over and over again.
He lets me continue on for awhile then he presses his finger to my lips and I stop immediately. “Do you love me?”
“Yes!” I almost scream my answer out.
“I h-had to, it was our only choice,” I say.
“That was not our only choice, you must know that. Did you break my heart just so that we could stay here, tell me the truth,” his eyes bore into mine.
I crumble, “Yes.”
He bites his lip, “And everything you said-”
“Was a lie, I didn't mean a thing,” I place my hands over his and I'm relieved when he doesn't pull away. His hand is cold against my warm ones.
I move up onto my knees and the movement spins my head, I blink back the stars so I can concentrate. “You came here for me, I was making sure that decision was not wasted. I'm sorry I said those things but they were necessary. You would have been thrown out, lost to me, if we didn't fight. Can you forgive me?”
I stagger slightly and my hands find his shoulders for support. He places his hands on my waist and lightly forces me back down. I look up at him helplessly as he lies down beside me, wrapping his arms around me. I lean my head into his shoulder and look up at him properly. I trace his cheek under his right eye where a small bruise is forming and my eyes start to water again. “I'm sorry I hurt you, I will always regret it.”
He tilts my head up and kisses me softly, my tears merging into our lips. He pulls away and smiles slightly, “Go to sleep, you look like you need it.”
“Thank you,” I say before I close my eyes. Knowing that he'll be here holding me, it comforts me and I'm able to drift peacefully... and painfully into a deep sleep.