Drops in the Sky

One foot in front of the other. That's all I knew. Just keep walking. Get water when you can. Get food when you can. Just keep walking. For 92 days, that's all I knew. And then, I met Amber Jeffries. And, by God, that girl became all I knew. All I wanted to know. But the War was all that mattered. Fighting is all that matters.

In World War Four, 10 billion people were killed. I'm one of the lucky two billion that survived. So was Amber Jeffries. Unfortunately, 1.9 billion people live in Europe. Mostly France, and a couple areas just outside of it. I'm in the hundred million left in what used to be the United States, which is currently in the midst of a Civil War. And I'm right in the middle of it.

We're kind of a mess. My life's messy. But Amber... She keeps everything together.

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29. twenty nine

"You'll tell her." 

Emily Anderson waits a few seconds in silence with the other doctors. Her hand is still clutching the boy's. She lets go. 

"A-Aren't we going to operate?" Her intern, Tim, asks. 

She shakes her head. "This boy isn't going to live," she says sadly. 

Tim looks at her, bewildered. "Well... How did he make it this long?" 

She shrugs. Her eyes are trained on the young boy's. He's so young. Too young. His life has barely started, and it's over. It's been over for hours.  "It's a wonder," she admits. "He should've died from the blast." 

"Why didn't he?" 

She shrugs again. "It's a wonder," she repeats. "I'd reckon it was the girl." 

"Huh?" 

"His adrenaline kept him going long enough to hear that that girl would be alright; after that, he never stood a chance." 

"Why can't we operate? Give him a chance?" 

Emily shakes her head. "Too many injured soldiers that we can save. Not enough resources to waste on a dying boy." 

"We gave him anesthesia," Tim protests. 

Emily shakes her head yet again. Tim's awfully tired of her head-shaking. "He would've died in pain. Let's let him go silently." 

"What about the girl? What are we going to tell the girl?" 

Emily looks Tim straight in the eye. So young, so inexperienced. "That we did everything we could," the doctor says. Tim gapes at her. "That he never stood a chance. We'll tell her that her brother, Thomas, is alive and in Tent Three. We'll tell her that Justin Sky loved her very, very much and that she was his best friend. We'll tell him that he says he's sorry, and then we'll tell her we're sorry. We'll tell her we're sorry that we couldn't save him, despite our best efforts." 

Tim slams his fist onto the table. "We're just going to lie to that girl? You promised him!" 

Emily smiles a sad, forlorn smile. "Any good man would know the difference between a promise you can keep and one you can't," she says. "If he didn't know that, he would've died a long time ago. He knew that, Tim. He knew there was a chance he wouldn't wake up." 

The intern clenches his jaw. "Why didn't we let him stay awake? He could've lasted long enough to see the girl. He could have told her himself. He could've been the one to tell her he loved her, and she was his best friend, and her brother's alive and he's sorry." 

The weathered doctor looks between the furious intern and the sad, small boy on the table. "One day, you'll understand," she says softly. "I'm sorry. I know it's hard. He's young. But there are other young soldiers out there that need our help, so we're going to go save them if they can be saved." 

Tim shakes his head in disbelief. "So you lied to him? You lied to him and now you're killing him? That's great," he mutters, turning on his heel and ducking out of the tent. 

Emily shakes her head; one day, the kid would learn. One day he'll understand. She places her thin, bony hand on the dying boy's chest, right over his heart. She feels for a heartbeat. It's there, but won't be for long. It's growing weaker by the second. Ba-bum. Ba-bum. Ba-bum. Silence.

She lets out a shaky breath, and blinks hard to keep the tears from spilling out. 

The doctor pulls a white sheet over his face, hiding his closed eyes and his messy mop of hair; hiding the hair matted with blood and the gash down the side of his face. She exits the tent and walks away, motioning for a soldier to come empty the room for future use. 

~.~.~

Amber has felt pain. She's been punched, she's been stabbed, she's been shot. Today was the first time she was shot, and had to have surgery as well. She woke up in complete and utter pain. She rubs her eyes, groggy from whatever drug they gave her. She's grateful for the setting sun; the light shining into her tent is minimal. She glances around from her position, and can't see any doctors or soldiers. Bringing her hand to her chest, she feels a thick layer of bandages. She glances to her left. There's an IV stuck in her arm, right at the crook of her elbow. She decides to leave it; whatever's in there is most likely keeping her alive and conscious. 

"Hello?" She calls out; she needs to find someone. Where's Justin? Cynthia? Thomas? Oh- She stops herself. The plant in Los Angeles blew up. Thomas is gone. Cynthia's likely gone, too; Amber hasn't seen her since they all split up in the morning. So that leaves... Justin. 

He's the only one that's still alive, for sure. She saw him just a few hours ago; sure he looked beat up, but he was alive. At least he was still there. 

Only one person; that's all she needs. At least one. She blinks tears away from her eyes, trying not to think about a bullet flying through Cynthia's head or something or a building collapsing on top of Thomas or, God, Justin flying through the air as the world around her exploded. 

"Hello? Doctor?"

Amber hears fabric rustling as someone enters the tent. 

"Hello, dear," a woman with a soft voice and smile wrinkles around her mouth says. "I'm Emily Anderson. I'm a doctor. How are you feeling?" 

Amber brushes her off as the doctor tries to examine her. "Jay- Where's Jay?" 

Emily frowns. "I'm sorry?" 

"My friend, Jay. Uh... Justin. Justin Sky." 

The doctor looks at Amber with a sad smile. Amber's golden eyes widen. "No," she protests, before the doctor has a chance to say anything. "I just saw him. He was fine."

"I'm so-"

"No!" Amber exclaims, sitting bolt upright. She doesn't even register the pain. "I saw him."

"Honey... Justin Sky is dead." 

Amber shakes her head. "I don't believe you. Get me a real doctor, please. Someone who knows what's going on." Her harsh words could almost mask the tears pooling in her eyes. 

Emily tries again. "Amber- I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, love."

Amber shakes her head again, but says nothing. 

"We did everything we could-- He didn't make it. He's gone." 

The fire in Amber's piercing eyes goes out. Tears spill over her lower lashes and make their way down her cheeks, cascading like raindrops on a window. 

"No," Amber says, but her voice is week. 

"He never stood a chance, honey. The explosion killed him." 

"No," Amber protests again. "I saw him after the explosion. I was running to him. He was moving. He was alive." 

Emily nods. "He stayed alive for a few hours. He was running purely on adrenaline; once he heard you were going to live, you were going to be fine... his adrenaline just cut out. He stayed alive for you." 

Amber shakes her head. "He can't be gone."

"I'm sorry... He's gone. We did everything we could." 

Once fiery eyes are now dull. "He's g-gone?" 

"I'm so sorry, Amber."

Amber sits with her hands in her lap, her legs crossed. She looks so... small. Like a child. Tears pour down her cheeks. Most roll along her jawline and down her neck, but one drops from her chin to her hand. She looks at the single drop of salt water on the back of her palm, clenching her fist. She wipes the droplet of water on her pants and sniffles. 

"Amber... Justin wanted me to tell you something." 

The blonde-haired, dull-eyed girl looks up to the doctor. 

"He wanted me to tell you--He loved you very much." Amber lets out a sob that racks her body; she presses her hand to her mouth to keep the sound in. 

"I could see it, too," Emily says. "He should've died hours ago... He stayed alive so he could make sure you'd live. Everything... He did it for you." 

Another sob cascades through Amber's body like a tidal wave, slamming into her with the force of a hurricane. This one is audible; there's nothing the broken girl can do to mask the noise of despair that rises from her throat. 

"And--There's more. He wanted me to tell you that... Well, he loved you. You were his best friend, he said. And... He says he's sorry. He's so sorry." 

Amber is incapable of responding; she buries her face in her hands. He's gone. He's gone. 

Emily places a hand on Amber's shoulder and squeezes her tightly. "I'm so sorry, dear. He loves you. He's sorry." 

Thomas is gone. Justin is gone. Amber is alone... but the light in her eyes is gone. A single tear--A single drop was all it took to put out that flame. 

"Please," Amber chokes out. Her throat is locked up, aching from her sobs, but she manages to get the words out. "P-please. Leave." 

Emily removes her hand from Amber's shoulder, but stays in the room. "There's more, love."

Amber looks up, her whole face wet with fresh tears. 

"He wanted me to tell you... Thomas is alive."

Amber shakes her head. "What kind of c-cruel joke is this?" She lets out a strangled sob between each word. "T-tell me Justin's d-dead... And then t-try to trick m-me into thinking Thomas is a-alive? Wh-What did I d-do to y-you?" 

Emily looks at the girl with the broken heart. "I can take you to him," she offers. "Justin said he was in Tent Three. Would you like to go?" 

The blonde-haired girl nods through her sobs, sniffling and rubbing her eyes. The doctor helps Amber into a wheelchair; when Amber first woke up, she thought she was in the most pain she'd ever felt. 

She was wrong. This is it. This is worse. So, so much worse. 

Amber doesn't remove her face from her hands the whole time she's being wheeled to where Thomas supposedly is. She tries to dry her tears; she doesn't want her brother to see her this weak. He was in Los Angeles; he's probably terrified and in pain, and he probably needs her to be strong. 

She takes a few deep breaths and dries her face as best she can, but can do nothing to hide her swollen eyes. 

They enter Tent Three. 

Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. 

She tells herself to be strong, but the minute she sees Thomas's face break out into a toothy grin at the sight of her, she breaks down into tears again. 

Thomas wants to reach for her; he tries to reach for her, but grimaces in pain. 

"Amber, what happened?" He settles for asking her instead of consoling her. He motions for the doctor to wheel her closer; once she's by his bed, he places a hand on her knee. "Amber, look at me." 

She pulls her head from her hands and looks at her brother, shiny tears streaming down her face. He places his fingers under his chin and holds her head so she's looking at him. 

His touch feels so much like Justin's...

"What happened?" 

She exhales deeply, wiping the tears from her face. "I th-think it's just y-you and me again, Tom-Tommy."

He frowns, wiping away her tears. "What do you mean?" 

She looks at him. He sees her amber eyes are nowhere near as bright as they used to be. "J-Jay's d-d-dead." 

Thomas sucks in a deep breath. "That... That's not possible. I just saw him, like, a few hours ago."

Amber shakes her head. "He's dead, Tommy. It's just you and me, now." 

Thomas frowns and bites his lip; Justin was a good kid. Clearly, judging from his sister's reaction, she was a lot closer to the awkward kid than he was. 

"Amber... I'm so sorry," Thomas says. He scoots over in his cot, and pats the bed next to him. The doctor had left, but Amber gently transfers herself from the wheelchair to the bed next to him, burying her face in the empty space between Thomas's arm and chest. "Shh," Thomas says. "It's okay." 

"N-No, it's not, Tommy," Amber whispers. Out of nowhere, she lets out an animal-like wail. 

"Shh, Amber, what's wrong?" 

Amber shakes her head. "He loved me, Tommy," she says, finally processing the words the doctor had said so long ago. "He l-loved me." 

Her brother pulls her into a tighter hug. "I could tell," Thomas whispers into her hair. "Everyone could tell." 

"I... I never told him I loved him, too." Her voice is barely audible. "And... And n-now-- He's d-dead. He w-won't know." 

Thomas rubs her back, grimacing because her arm is resting over his injured stomach, but he says nothing. 

"He knew," Thomas assures her. "I'm sure he knew." 

Amber pulls in a shaky breath and lets it out slowly. "Tommy... I don't know how to live without him." 

"I know." 

"I don't want to." 

"I know." 

"I'm gonna miss him." 

"I know," Thomas says, his heart breaking for his sister. "I'll miss him, too." 

"I can't stay here," Amber mutters. In her mind, she runs through images of Justin; falling asleep on his bed while she waited up for him that one night, watching him ruin his fists in the training room, sitting next to him at mealtimes and making fun of his initial awkwardness... Teaching him how to fight. Arguing with him... How could she have wasted all those weeks? Time is precious. Seeing how proud he was when he got picked for his mission. Kissing his cheek. Him, wishing her luck on her first mission. Sitting up late, talking to him in the back of the truck. Hating him... How could she have wasted so much time wishing he were gone? 

Amber wishes she could go back to the past version of herself and slap her, shake her by the shoulders and scream at her that time is precious! Don't waste your time with Justin... Don't hate him. 

Talking to him, meeting him... Tackling him on the side of the road. Seeing him fly through the air, sprinting towards him because who cares that she's the only target? She knew she was the only standing target on a field full of misery, but he was on the ground. He was in pain. And she had to get to him. 

"I can't stay here," she says again. "Can we go somewhere else?" 

"Where?" Thomas asks, gingerly stroking her hair. 

"Anywhere else," she mutters. 

Thomas nods. "As soon as we're better." 

Amber nuzzles her head into his shoulder and closes her eyes. 

The two siblings stay like that for several hours, during which Amber finally calms down, numbs her grief to something dull in the back of her mind. It's like she told Justin, about the guilt; It's always there... sometimes worse than others. But always there. 

She gets back in the wheelchair and moves from the room, trying to find some others and take care of some stuff. 

The first person she sees, bound by crutches, is Jason McCard. Justin's Elite. Amber knew how close the two were; she knew he'd want to know. 

"McCard!" She calls out, unsure of how to address him. She attempts to wheel herself towards him in the chair, but he limps towards her as soon as he sees her. 

"Hey," he says. He has a light, carefree voice. "Jeffries, right? You're one of Justin's friends." 

Amber's throat closes at his name. "Yes, sir." 

Jason smiles. "No need to call me 'sir,' Jeffries. What's up?"

"I... I just needed to tell you, sir-" She sucks in a deep breath. "Justin's dead." 

The Elite's face falls. "What?" 

"He died." 

Jason shakes his head; clearly they were quite close. His grief is real. "What happened? He was supposed to be in a safe troop! I told Marshall to assign him... What happened?" 

Amber forces herself to keep an expressionless façade; no more tears will be spilled, at least for the moment. "He was by the explosion just out of camp. The explosion killed him, not his assignment." 

Jason exhales deeply. "Shouldn't've happened," he mutters. "He was a good kid. Too good a kid." 

Amber nods. "You were looking out for him?" 

Jason looks to her and gives a small, half-hearted smile. "I liked Justin. A lot. Yeah, I asked Marshall to send him to a safer troop." 

Amber takes his hand. "Thank you, Jason." He nods. 

"I'm sorry, Jeffries. I know you two were close. He loved you, you know." 

Her throat closes up again. "Yeah... I-I wish I knew that yesterday. It's too late, now." 

Jason puts a hand on her shoulder. "Best of luck, Jeffries." 

"You, too, McCard." 

The two part ways, and Amber continues wheeling herself around camp without knowing exactly where she's going. 

After a while, she realizes she's near the old bunks. She wheels herself to the door, but is unable to get the wheelchair over the step. She eases herself up, and walks inside their old room, a hand resting lightly on her chest. 

She walks to the middle of the room and breathes in the sweaty scent of teenagers. She'd miss the Rookies. 

In the corner of her eye, she sees Justin's bed, the sheets still unmade from the last time he slept in it. She crosses the room and sits on his bed, breathing in the smell of him that's stuck on the sheets. She feels her eyes burning, wanting to cry, but she won't let the tears spill. 

A cool breeze reminds her that she's still wearing no shirt; her decency is kept only by the thick layer of bandages wrapped around her chest. Rather than walking across the room to her own cot, she pulls an oversized shirt from Jay's trunk and slips it on. This fabric, too, holds his scent. 

Looking through his trunk, she realizes that there's nothing of his in this trunk. Everything is from the Army; his clothes, his knife, everything. On the small table next to his bed, she sees a water bottle that looks vaguely familiar. 

She'd taken the water bottle from him when they'd first met, leaving him and Tommy to talk as she'd gone to the back of the truck to fill it up. 

"Catch," she'd called out once it was filled, secretly hoping he'd drop it and humiliate himself. She was surprised when he caught it, and mildly impressed. 

She turns the water bottle over and over in her hands, and takes it with her as she leaves the room. 

She wanders the camp, abandoning the wheelchair despite her pain. The pain in her chest is bad, but the pain in her heart is worse: that pain is the effect of a raindrop versus an entire storm. 

She wanders until she comes face to face with doctor Emily Anderson. 

"Doctor Anderson," Amber calls out. The doctor turns to her. 

"Hey, Amber. You really shouldn't be walking, dear." 

"I wanna see him." 

"Excuse me?" 

"If it's possible, I'd like to see Justin Sky, doctor," Amber asks. 

The doctor stands silently for a minute, then motions for the girl to follow her without saying anything. 

Emily leads Amber to a row of bodies all covered in white sheets. Amber chokes back a sob by stuffing her fist in her mouth; the row is so long, and there's so many rows. Hundreds upon hundreds of bodies. 

Emily walks along the line, reading the tags on each sheet. Finally, she finds the tag marked "Justin Sky." 

The doctor kneels next to the body. "You ready, hon?" She asks Amber. 

No

"Yes," she says. 

The doctor lifts the sheet back, revealing... Justin. Amber inhales sharply, screwing her eyes shut. He looks too much like he's sleeping. It's messing with her brain; letting her think that he'll wake up any minute. 

He's not waking up. 

She takes a deep breath and composes herself. The doctor moves away, giving Amber some space to kneel next to Justin. What used to be Justin. 

She places her small hand on his cheek, careful to avoid the ugly wound on the side of his head. His hair is disheveled as always, only now it's matted with blood that's dried stiff. The skin under her fingertips is cool and smooth. 

She doesn't realize that she's crying until she sees the drops of individual tears appearing on his skin. Rather than wiping away the tears, she lets them fall. She pulls him up and hugs him, burying her face, now wet with shining tears, in the crook of his neck. 

She stays like that for a while, simply sitting. She forces herself not to cry; the tears don't help. So she sits silently, running her hand through his hair. 

Eventually, she lays him back down on the ground, resting her hand on his cheek once again. 

"You stupid idiot," she says with a light chuckle, though her voice is choked and her throat is threatening to close up. "Such a fucking idiot." 

She places a gentle kiss on his forehead, careful to stay away from the blood. "Goodbye, Jay." 

As she pulls herself away from him she grabs one of his large hands in both of her own; on his wrist she notices a bracelet. He'd worn it ever since she'd known him; she'd assumed it was a memento from home. She'd never looked at it closely until now. Now, she sees that the bead in the center is made of some sort of rock... something the color of his eyes. Deep, blue, rich... like water in the desert. 

She unties the bracelet from his wrist and ties it on her own. A memento to last a lifetime, she thought. 

Before she stands up, she grabs hold of his hand one last time before letting go forever--one last touch, one last time for her skin to brush against his--before she says goodbye.

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