Gasoline

"We are at war. We need only the best. And sometimes the best come from the worst of us."

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5. Chapter Four

“Prop him up a bit.”


“How?”


“I don’t know, do I?! Just...shove more stuff under his head.”


I peeled my eyelids open.


Cloudy vision focusing, I winced, bringing my hand up to shield my face. Something jabbed at my ribs as I shifted and I groaned.


“Woah, take it easy, kid. Don’t make my job any more difficult,” a man chuckled.


I forced myself to focus on the green man as he tended to my side. Wait, was he green? Or...my brain hurt too much. No, I knew—he was dressed in green. A paramedic. He was an older man, greying at the temples, with sagging jowls. Catching me looking, he smiled kindly and said, “Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”


“What happened?” I mumbled, groggily.


 The paramedic pulled a startlingly large needle away from my skin. “You fell onto some poisoned ivy during your Trial.”


I could remember the burning. The spinning. The nausea. My stomach flipped instantly and I pushed myself up. I threw up on the floor, stomach clenching. Tears streamed from my eyes. The paramedic sighed, standing away from the puddle.


“I gave him some anti-sickness fluid so hopefully that’s it all,” he said.


“Better be,” somebody grumbled. “Almost got it on my shoes.”


Thumping onto my back, I nursed an aching head and swallowed against my dry mouth. The paramedic—who was close enough for me to read his nametag ‘Steve’—carefully eased my head up and tipped some water down my throat.


My head lolled to the side. White, white, everything was white. My brow creased when I noticed the rails lining my bed. Hospital, my mind provided. It certainly fit the room. The smell, too; there was a distinct scent of toilet cleaner. Smooth panels and uncommitted flooring only further convinced me I was in a hospital room.


Everybody seemed to be here. Myles stood by the door, hissing angrily into his phone. Brooke lounged in a chair with Sophia behind her tugging her afro into a bun. Her ankle sat up on the bottom of my bed. Ivor leaned against the window, eyes slipping shut, Junior sleeping on his hip. I smiled weakly; that guy was gonna be devastated when that kid got too big to pick up.


Something shifted beside me. I turned my head enough to see Thomas in the seat beside the bed. He was focusing hard on his hand—for a few moments, nothing happened. Then, his whole hand vanished. He smiled, just a tiny curl of his lips, and there was the smallest amount of pride in it.


I suddenly felt exhausted. Trust me to slip onto god damn poisoned ivy. I trailed my hand up to touch at the wound in my side, flinching. The stitches felt rough, unfinished.


Steve caught me and clucked his tongue. “Leave it alone, kiddo,” he scolded, but there was a twinkle in his eye. “I still need to bandage that.”


I let my eyes fall shut while he wrapped a bandage around my ribcage. Then: “Where’s Amora?”


Steve made a noise. “Was that the blonde one?” At my nod, he chuckled, “She got carted back to the compound a few hours ago. Apparently it was almost guaranteed she’d get position of leader.” He let my torso settle back down onto the table before taping the end of the bandage down. “I can’t lie, it came as quite a shock when you got named leader. You pulled quite a stunt with Amora in that clearing.”


I made a non-committed noise.


A few more paramedics flocked into the room and began discussing options with Steve. I caught snippets like ‘antibiotics’ and ‘no infection yet’ before I let myself fade back into unconsciousness.

 

Splashes echoed through the clearing. Prince Casimir played loudly in the river, his golden torso beginning to show the slightest definition of muscle. He beamed as he helped his toddler sister dip in the water.
“Come on, Levi!” He shouted at the dark boy under the shadow of the tree. “You’re missing out!”
Levi smiled shyly. His mother gently stroked his black locks and kissed the top of his head. “You can stay here with me.” The love in her tone warmed the nine year olds veins.
“Baby,” his brother called, but he knew Cas was joking.
Underneath this small paradise, Levi felt safe. His family were so well-known, so powerful; he never got to do anything any of the other kids got to. Here, he didn’t have to be protected. There wasn’t a bodyguard in sight. Here, he could pretend he was just a normal boy.
Watching Eilidh made him smile. The tiny three year old squealed as Casimir dipped her up to her hips in the water. Ringlets of brilliant red tangled down her back, the ends soaked in straightness. The Queen hid her smile behind her youngest son’s head—this was exactly where she wanted to be.
Levi got to his feet. Stones beneath him burned his soft soles. He yanked off his shirt and made his way toward the water to cool off. As he stood at the water’s edge, tiny waves lapped at his toes and he giggled.
Now perched on her brother’s broadening shoulders, Eilidh grabbed her hands in Levi’s direction. “Livy,” she squealed. “Huggies, Livy!”
He hugged her tight to his chest. Her damp curls smelled like salt and summer.
When his mother plucked Eilidh from his arms, he ran full pelt toward Casimir. Soft skin enveloped him and he laughed as the two tumbled under the water. In the inches of river beneath them, the brothers play-fight, tugging at one another’s shorts. Despite his skinny child’s body, Levi wasn’t ashamed of how he looked. His mother told him he was going to grow into a big, strong boy one day, just like Casimir.
He couldn’t wait.

The dream shifted.

“Levison.”
The little boy whimpered, pressing himself firmer into the corner. The blade still lay at his side where he’d let it clatter. His small hands shook with the weight of the blood on his skin and on his heart.
“Levison. Come to Father.”
He couldn’t. The position he was crouched in made his legs ache and his tummy was sore from not eating but he couldn’t move. Everywhere around him was so dark. Tears pricked at his eyes and he mouthed, “Mummy.”
Father would find him. He would find him and he’d be angry because Levi hadn’t done it right. He’d put the knife exactly where Father had told him to but Uncle wouldn’t
die. He’d grabbed at Levi, the knife still sticking out of his chest, and strangled him against the bed sheets.
His fingers fluttered up to press at the bruises. Would Father be angry for those?
And his eyes wouldn’t stop hurting. They were burning—Uncle had snatched something from his bedside table while he held Levi underneath him. Levi could hardly see but he felt Uncle pouring something on his face, trickling into his eyes.
He didn’t know how to describe it. It hurt more than the time he’d yanked his shoulder from his socket. It hurt more than the time Casimir had broken his nose. It still hurt and the floor in front of him was blurry, from tears or pain, he couldn’t tell.
“Levison.”
There he was. Father.
He kneeled down beside his son. Levi sobbed harder, his skinny chest heaving and juddering. The screaming in his eyes refused to
go away. He clawed at them, scratching, scratching, scratching—
Father held his wrists within his big hands. His face was blank. Or was it? Levi’s eyes were spotted with blackness.
“You stupid boy,” he cooed, and leaned forward. A gentle thumb brushed over Levi’s cheek. Some of the dampness on his cheek wiped away. “The git used Moonshine on you. Oh, I’m so sorry, kiddo.”
Levi tried to focus on Father, but the black spots were starting to join.
All he felt was the sharp pain of the backhand across his cheek.

That infinite stretch of time between waking and opening your eyes. The perfect moment—there’s no commitments in that moment, nothing to do or think about. It was that space in life that people begged for. Still alive, but with that small piece of nothingness that nearly resembled death.


I opened my eyes.


I never used that time between. That time was meant for those who hadn’t been blinded as children. For those who weren’t scared that every time they woke up, they might not be able to see the darkened ceiling above them.


But shadows lengthened in front of my eyes, dipped in orange from the gentle lanterns lighting my room. That familiar kick of relief settled through my veins—for one more day, I was safe.


A man sat beside my bed. He didn’t flick through a magazine or text on his phone; he simply sat there, one leg perched on the others knee. My entire body ached dully, but I turned my head enough to see who it was.


Henry Reid.


“The dark has always scared me, ever since I was a child,” he said, quietly. “I figured a few lanterns wouldn’t wake you, but might keep me company.”


“There’s nothing scary about the dark.”

His dark eyes slid to me. “Maybe not. Especially not to you.”

 

I didn’t dwell on what he meant. I shifted, wincing as the movements tugged at my bandages. My ribs groaned in protest but overall, the rest of me seemed to be okay.


Reid watched me carefully. “Groggy?” At my nod, he said, “They said you would be. The poison will almost be completely out of your system, but the medication dulls your consciousness for a bit.”


“Better not let me make any important decisions then,” I croaked, dryly. Reid’s mouth twitched. Glad I could be of some entertainment.


“So,” he started, and I wanted to cry. Could the man not just let me sleep? “You certainly proved yourself the surprise of the team, Fletcher. Not many people were betting on you. Frankly, neither was I.”


“Thanks.”


He chuckled. “Do not misunderstand me, I did have some faith, no doubt about that. I’ve seen the scores from past Trials and I know quite how...intimidating you are.” Plucking an imaginary piece of lint from his pristine trousers, he added in a softer tone, “If she was one for betting, I know your mother would’ve had your name on her ticket.”


I stiffened. “She hasn’t visited me the entire time I’ve been in here. I really don’t care if she wanted to put money on my head.” But I did. I did, and it pained me to say otherwise.


The boss stayed silent for a few moments. “But then, after that dance with Miss De Angelis in the forest, you were crowned victor. The leader of this compound.”


I swallowed against my dry throat. Stiffly clenching my fists, I breathed, “Sir, I seriously advise you reconsider—“


“What? Naming you leader?” Reid snorted. “I think I would have a lot of people to answer to, Fletcher. It’s been just over a day but you’ve become quite the fan favourite.”


Over a day? What sort of meds was I on?


He got to his feet. In the half-lit room, his face was littered in shadows. He fastened his suit jacket together before meeting my eyes. The dark scruff of beard covering his face twitched.


“As soon as the doctors declare you fit, all seven of you are being shifted into London. You’ll be staying at the Canmore tower. We’ll discuss the rest then.”


There was too much information in too short a time. Pain throbbed in my ribcage as I pushed up, groaning, “Wait—what? I don’t want to be part of this!”


“I don’t remember giving you the option.”


And with that, Henry Reid swept from my bedroom. The lanterns flickered out and I was left in the darkness like he’d never even been there.

 

*

Thomas idly tapped at the skeleton figurine in the doctor’s room. His slender fingers traced the eye socket and he wondered, “Can you feel it? Y’know, the tearing of the—“


“Don’t,” I groaned through a laugh. The shaking made my chest throb and I coughed huskily into my fist. Thomas grinned at me.
“Hello, Levi,” Doc greeted as he strode into the room. “Oh—you too, Thomas. How’ve you been?”


“Great,” Thomas replied, cheeks flushing. “Levi, he, uh, asked me to join him today. That’s okay, right?”


Doc waved his hand. “Of course, of course, no problem at all. We’re replacing the contacts today. I asked Canmore to develop new contacts, ones that would last longer than a few weeks, so you should be okay once you leave. How’s the ribs?”


“Sore,” I admitted. “But I can deal.”


The monthly replacing of my contacts still served as my least favourite pastime. The damage the acid had done to me was slightly different from normal—the acid my uncle had used on me, Moonshine, was based on a hardening agent. Instead of damaging my eyes, it had solidified and joined together to create a shell layered over my corneas. Canmore Industries had fashioned specialised contacts for me that wrapped around my eyeball and connected to the optic nerve at the back. Doc discovered there wasn’t anything actually wrong with my eyes after a round of painful examinations and sent blueprints off to get my contacts crafted.


Although I detested the fact I needed them, I couldn’t ignore the fact the contacts were pure genius items of technology; to those around me, they looked exactly like normal eyes. Once they were removed, however, you could see that the tiny, concave half-sphere was connected to little wires, which ducked around the shell and joined with the optic nerve.
The contacts were made of reflective materials, meaning they looked white around the iris and perfectly black within the pupil. But the colour of the iris had always been my favourite thing about them. They changed according to whatever appeared around me; if I was looking at an orange-tinted sky, the irises would glow a gentle amber. It freaked out the rest of the group—the only one who didn’t mind was Thomas.


I swore loudly as Doc slipped a scalpel quickly all around the shell. Burning, my vision blurred before melting into darkness. Pain throbbed at the back of my eye. I groaned, letting my eyelid slide shut around the raw, cold and familiar shell.


“Well done, Levison,” Doc hummed, examining the ruined contact. He used his scalpel to tuck all of the wires neatly into the dip of the contact before tossing it into a medical bin.


I grunted. “Do you have to do it so fast?”


“If I don’t do it quickly, it’ll hurt a lot more,” he explained. Gloved fingers tugged at my eyelids to force my right eye open. I flinched, pressing my head further back into the headrest. Pausing, Doc said, “Would you prefer some painkillers? Or perhaps you’d like to be unconscious for this? I know how uncom—“


“No,” I said quickly. “No medicine.” God knows it wasn’t bad enough for that.


This time, I bit into my tongue as the scalpel sliced in a perfect circle within my eye socket. The taste of metal burst between my teeth. Breathe, I reminded myself when my lungs began to burn.


Under his breath, Doc hummed lightly. I felt the pull inside my eye as wires disconnected—Doc plucked the contact from my eye. I barely felt the pain this time round; I was too focused on the world sinking into complete blackness.


“Keep calm, keep your breathing steady,” Doc reminded me. He spoke calmly, no change in his gentle tone. “A few more minutes and we’ll be done.”


I felt strangled by the blackness, un-coordinated and utterly alone. Doc never changed his tone, always keeping it the same to try and persuade me nothing had changed.


Soft touches to the sides of my face calmed me, slightly. “Nothing seems to have changed,” Doc sighed. “Which could be good or bad, depending how you look at it.”


“Good,” I laughed, shakily. “I really don’t see how this is good in any sense, Doc.”


I remembered getting the Canmore Contacts and asking to see a picture of what my eyes looked like without one. They compound had declined until they caught me trying to remove one of my contacts in my cell with a plastic fork.
Once they finally agreed, I’d found myself stuck with only one way to describe the black shells over my eyes. “They look like they’ve got the night sky trapped inside them,” I’d breathed in awe as I stared at my alien eye in a mirror.
The shell looked infinite—where I thought it would be matte, the surface was actually glassy, like a marble. Inside, whirls of different shades of inky black and galaxy blue shifted slowly, never stilling. Tiny dots of white swam around like baby stars. The beauty of the accident almost dulled my repulsion for my blindness. Almost, but not quite.


The trickle of water hitting glass sounded. Doc’s hands left my face for a second. I chewed the inside of my lip, using the subtle pain for something to focus on. Only a few more minutes and I’d have a new set of contacts in. A few more minutes and I’d be fine.


Eventually, after a painful half an hour, he was finished. I heard the snap of gloves and stilled, letting him sit the contacts into my eyes. There was a small pulse of electricity somewhere behind my eye and I blinked. White burst through the darkness in my right eye. Doc carefully fitted the left contact before sliding away, pulling forms from a shelf above his desk.


The brightness of the consulting room’s lights burned but it was worth it. I gratefully looked at Doc as he signed a couple forms. That man deserved everything in the world. Thomas smiled nervously at me from his chair and let his tablet slip into his lap.
“All done,” Doc announced. He tucked away the forms and smiled brightly at me. “I’m coming to the city in the next few months so I should be able to replace them then. But...” He fixed his glasses on the bridge of his nose and bit his lip. “For now, good luck. The both of you.”


He shook our hands before sending us on our way. Shutting the door behind us, we shared a confused look.


“Was that a little weird to you, or is he usually that sentimental?”


The twins leaned against the breakfast bar in the kitchen. I tried to ignore the sharp pain in my side as I sat down and reached for some ice to press to my growing headache. Sophia usually made some up for me on the days I got my contacts replaced in anticipation of my grumpiness.


“Thanks,” I grunted in her general direction.


“No problem,” she smirked. Her slender hand dipped into the bowl of fruit between the sisters. Brooke scowled at her, slapping her fingers away. Nursing a chunk of watermelon, Thomas bit into the soft fruit and said, “When’s Myles coming to get us?”


“Now.”


They turned, but I kept still, my entire head pounding. If Myles really needed to talk to me, he’d make me listen. The sweet smell of the fruit burned at my nose and I swallowed dryly against the urge to gag.


“The trucks are arriving in half an hour to take you to the train station,” Myles said. “Have your stuff—all your stuff ready. I don’t know when you’ll be back.” The ‘or if’ went silently.


The ice started to melt through the cotton of the dishtowel. It trickled down my face but I couldn’t be bothered wiping it away. The burning sensation behind my eyes refused to leave, gradually getting hotter as I desperately tried to cool it down.


A touch on the small of my back made me twitch. “What?!”


When there was no reply, I stiffly turned round. Junior stood looking up at me, his young face earnest. He quickly signed, do you want me to pack your stuff? I don’t mind. Regret filled me; had I really stooped that low that I was getting a kid to do things for me now? I went to shake my head—then quickly stopped—and dumped the melting ice on the island.


Thanks, kid, really, I signed. But it’s okay, I’ll manage.


Junior looked up at me as sceptically as an eleven year old could before nodding. He darted away from me just in time for Ivor to shout, “Junior, what the hell have you done to my slippers?!”


I dreaded to think.


There wasn’t much for me to pack. A few t-shirts that were nearly indistinguishable from one another, a couple pairs of jeans, my IPod and earphones. My room had always been bare and now, even more. The bland walls stared at me. The aching in my head wasn’t subsiding—I rubbed at the bridge of my nose. Hopefully, there was a packet of paracetamol at the back of some cupboard. I turned to leave, my suitcase light as it rolled along the ground.


My heart stopped.


The box.


Ivor had picked on me mercilessly when he’d found it in my room. “Only girls have jewellery boxes,” he’d sniggered, dangling the box high above my head. I’d argued until I was blue in the face that it wasn’t a jewellery box—it was a memory box. My mother had gifted it to me on my eighth—or ninth?—birthday. Tiny, not even big enough to hold a book, the ornately designed box balanced delicately on four bronze claws. A tarnished golden colour, it truly was a beautiful creation; the lid was engraved with swirls of dark metal and inside, the sides were stitched with soft, black suede.


It was the only thing I’d taken from home.


I stroked a finger over the lid. Something about it made me feel calm inside, safe, just like my mother did. A lump swelled in my throat. Between the pain in my head and the pain in my heart, I wasn’t sure if I’d be making it anywhere tonight.


My bedroom door opened but I didn’t turn to see who it was.


“We’re leaving,” Sophia said, quietly. “I wondered if you might want more ice.”


“Thanks.”


I unzipped my suitcase and slipped the box in. When I straightened, I saw Sophia watching me with a strange look on her face. My jaw tightened. “What?”


Her shoulders lifted lifelessly. “Nothing. I—never mind. Here.” She passed me a tied, freezing dish towel packed with clinking ice. Taking it gratefully, I pressed it to my temple—damn, that felt good—and tucked my suitcase in the doorway. My body pressed up against hers and I swear I heard Sophia take in a sharp breath. Through the pounding in my head, I glanced down through squinting eyes and grunted, “Seriously, what?”


A pink flush crept high on her dark cheeks. Wisps of her curls were escaping her tight bun and she nervously wound her finger round one dancing beside her ear. I frowned and absent-mindedly tucked it behind the soft shell. She flinched—I quickly dropped my hand back to my side.


Her dark eyes flickered up to my face. I couldn’t make out her expression, but she stepped out of the doorway before I could say anything. Brushing back her escapee curls, she cleared her throat and said, “I’ll see you later, yeah? I think we’re riding together.”


And with that, she was gone.


What was her problem? We’d always been close, far more than I’d been with her sister. I couldn’t be bothered if she wanted to make things weird now. My head was splitting and frankly, I had bigger things to think about.


Light flakes drifted to catch in my hair as we stood waiting for the trucks. The steps of the compound stretched down, the ones near the bottom covered in a light layer of white. Junior scuffed around in it, kicking up clouds of snow. Ivor leaned steadily against the gargoyle-tipped concrete posts that crowned the steps. He watched his brother with one eye whilst chatting quietly to Brooke.


It was impossible to tell if my headache was subsiding or if the ice was simply numbing my whole skull. I scooped some snow off the banister and tucked it into the towel. I didn’t dwell on the fact I wouldn’t be seeing the compound again anytime soon. It didn’t hold too many fond memories.


Four dark trucks pulled up. Their tires streaked coal black tracks in the lying snow as they braked to a halt. People jumped from the doors, dressed head to toe in black, and scaled the stairs.


One man stopped in front of me. He wore a matte black helmet, and I could see my reflection staring back at me in the visor.


“Name.”


I snorted. “You’re kidding right?”


He didn’t move. “Name.”


“Levi Fletcher.”


The man turned away and pushed his way into the building. The others followed, trotting in perfect synchronisation. Tom clumsily moved to the side as he tried to make his way out. If I didn’t feel so bad, I would’ve laughed at his face.


“What’s their problem?” He mumbled, face pink as he stood by my side. The tip of his nose was starting to go red with the cold.


“Nothing,” I replied. “Power trip, most likely.”


Thankfully, I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Amora since the Trial. It was hardly surprising—she’d been furious when I’d been crowned leader. I really couldn’t help myself, even the thought made me feel smug.


As we were packed into the trucks—Sophia, Tom and I in one, Ivor, Junior and Myles into another—I noticed the blonde haired bitch wasn’t anywhere around. Seeing my face, Myles slammed the door shut and grunted, “Don’t, kid. We need you all on top form. We don’t need you with broken limbs.”


He had a point.


I rested my head back and, setting the ice over both my eyes, settled down to finally get some good sleep. 

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