It had to end sometime.
The three newcomers had been here from little more than a week. Mike and Tre spent their time trying to get a handle on what ‘normal’ might mean to someone their age down here who WASN’T the personal body guard of the lead of the resistance. Christian and I were holed up in my room. The rumor is we were exchanging battle plans, trying to come up with a massive strike that might actually give our side the upper hand in this war. Truth of the matter was we weren’t, we were talking. Anything, everything. But mostly our parents. We talked about growing up in the shadows of someone that everyone now expects you to be.
“I know what it’s like, Christian.” We were lying on my bed, our faces inches away from each other. All I wanted to do was lean into him, press my lips against his. Down here, an average lifespan is maybe forty years. It’s hard work and once you get old enough to see you children start the fight, well most just give up the will to go on. You had to mature fast down here. And I did. And I knew one thing in the adult part of my mind, something that the child part of my mind wouldn’t let me come out and say. I would follow Christian where ever he went. I would lay down my life to save his. I loved him. I felt as if I’d known him forever. Not like ‘a really long time’ forever, but since ‘the creation of the cosmos’ forever. Not that I told him just yet.
“I know what it’s like to be standing on the edge.” I was studying his face. I didn’t want to forget a single line on his face. I wasn’t naive, I knew this war would claim one of us, if not both. I didn’t know when we would be separated but I did know that whenever that day came, it would be much too soon.
“Hey Gloria.” Sometimes, when Christian spoke, it sounded like he was about to burst into song. Like he couldn’t control it. He wouldn’t have survived on the other side. “So you’re standing close to the edge? We’ve all been there, that’s why we’re here. It’s just knowing what you are fighting for. One day everyone will see you as the saint of all the sinners, you’ve just… fallen through the cracks. Anyone could walk away, no one’s forced-“
A loud explosion, one that rocked the caves we lived in, cut off Christian. Small rocks fell around us, and on us, as we both jumped up, drawing guns and running to the door.
“Find Tre and Mike.: He shouted over the rumbling of unstable rocks that continued around us. “I’m going to check it out.” People were running, screaming, past us. Some of them looked hurt. My heart was vibrating, it was pounding so hard.
“What about you?” I asked, trying to keep my voice strong and steady. Christian smiled, reaching out and touching my cheek.
“Come back to me. I need you... to win this war.” The ground shook again and his smile disappeared. “Just get the boys then get them to me. They will keep you safe.”Christian then began to fight his way through the crowd, towards the danger instead of away from it. I watched him for a second, my heart going with him. I then jumped into the surge of people, as more were joining, and tried not to get swept away.
“Tre!” I didn’t want to hurt anyone around me, they were scared and confused. They didn’t know what to do or wear to go. “Mike!” Suddenly I felt a hard shove of people behind me and started to tumble forward. I knew if I fell I would be dead, trampled by the feet running to safety, when suddenly I was lifted by my arms and pulled into a nook in the rock. I was pulled in between Tre and Mike, facing Tre. I could see no amusement in his eyes. He was working then, not playing, and I could see the dedication to Christian in that moment.
“Could you be more careful.” Mike’s voice hissed in my ear. “Christian would hate us if anything happened to you.” I shot a glance back over my shoulder at Mike, suddenly realizing they were acting as a human shield from the mob scene in the corridor. It was beginning to die down, but still potentially lethal.
“Gloria!” I heard from the crowd. “Where are you, Gloria?” It was George, he was a member on the Table of Elders. He had helped me a lot after my mother passed. I tried to turn, to call to him, but I felt a hand clamp down over my mouth. Tre’s face turned even more grave as he shook his head. I understood then. They weren’t here to save everyone. They were going to save me, though. I tried to suppress the wave of nausea at the thought of anyone dying for me.
“Don’t lose your faith to naivety, Gloria. What good will their life be if it means your death? Or Christian’s?” I hung my head, shamed by what Mike said, but still repulsed by it. What did he know of our destinies, part of me wanted to shout. But there was a larger part that told me he was right. George was just George. I was Gloria. I had perpous.
“Were is Billie?” Tre asked as the last of the stragglers darted past us. They pushed me out of the nook before grabbing my arms and pulling me the way Christian had gone.
“He sent me to find you.” Tre huffed, stepping up his speed. There really wasn’t a need because less than a second later Christian came running around the corner. His face was dirty and there was a long gash down his left forearm. Seeing him was instant relief, and with it came strength. If I didn’t have to worry about him I wasn’t scared. Without thinking I flung myself into his arms. He welcomed me there, holding me close as he attempted to catch his breath.
“AMEU. I chucked a couple smoke bombs as ‘em that I had in my pocket then took off. We can’t fight, there’s too many. Let’s just-“ Again I found myself being hurled, but this time I clung to them, brining Christian down over me. Tre and Mike hit the floor next to us as the world seemed suddenly plunged into the sun. The temperature rose two hundred degrees, easily, and all the oxygen was pulled from the air. They were using flame throwers at us.
“We have to get away.” Christian screamed, using his own supply of oxygen in the process. Tre and Mike nodded as Christian rolled off of me. The three of them began to army crawl under the flames and I followed as best as I could. I could still feel the flames burning my back. We were just in the side cave, Mike had stood and was helping Tre as Christian was helping me stand, when everything began to shake in a way I was very familiar with.
“CAVE IN!” I screamed, shoving Christian farther down the side tunnel we were on as the main cave gave way. I heard everyone scream in unison, and then silence. I fell to the ground with the force with which I had pushed Christian, now laying on him. As I my eyes opened, I hadn’t even known I closed him, I saw him laying with a halo of dust around him.
“Are you ok?” He asked. I nodded, and I felt his body relax. “Tre,” he called, less tense as he had been when speaking to me. “Mike?”
“We’re good, man.” The casual way Tre said that struck me wrong. I picked myself up and closed the distance between us.
“Good? You’re fucking GOOD? EVERYONE I’VE EVER KNOWN JUST DIED, AND YOU ARE GOOD?” I grabbed the front of his shirt and shoved him back against the cave wall, hoping his back was as burnt as mine so that hurt really badly.
“Gloria!” Christian shouted. Instantly I fell back, turning to him as the shock began in waves. My eyes went wide as Christian continued talking, fast. “No, Gloria. Go back to the anger. Hold yourself there. Don’t fall apart now.” But it was too late. I felt the tears pricking at my eyes.
“Stop her, man, or she’ll be no good to us.” Tre said in warning. Christian took two huge steps towards me, his face filled with determination as he grabbed me by the shoulders. His lips came crashing down on mine. His tongue shoved its way into my mouth without even asking permission and my fingers wound their way in his jagged hair, tugging at it ever so slightly. His tongue retreated as his teeth took a hold of my bottom lip and pulled at it. A moan trickled out of my throat. Then he pulled away, looking down at me. I reached out towards him, forgetting everything but the feeling of his body pressed up against mine.
“Viva la Gloria.” Christian said as he took up my hand, pulling me towards the main cave. I could see it would be work, but we could travel over the fallen rocks and find a way out. “Come on.” There was a tone to his voice, detached and unfazed by what he had done. I felt myself grow cold as I pulled my hand free from his. He nodded then, still holding my gaze, his eyes trying to tell me something I couldn’t quite get. When I didn’t give him the answer he wanted he turned and began to climb his way out. As Christian and Mike helped me out, I looked up and saw the setting sun for the first time in 15 years.