Oaths and Farewells
He held her loosely and counted to see if she would move from his arms.
Fred carefully circled around to face her. He tucked her under his chin and stroked her back in a soothing motion. While Cheska cried, light from the doorway flooded into the room. Louis’ stood at the threshold. His gaze flickered between his sister and person consoling her. He met Fred’s solemn gaze. An understanding passed between them. Louis gave a slight nod and shut the door in his wake.
An hour later, Cheska stopped crying. They stood in the gloom of his bedroom for a while until she gave Fred a gentle push. He retracted his arms and backed a couple of steps from her.
“I’m sorry,” she swiped at her wet cheeks, “for ruining your clothes. You must hate me.” Fresh tears welled up her red-rimmed eyes, but Fred would have none it.
“Please don’t cry,” he begged. “I’ve ruined it on my own far too many times due to the nature of my job; like that one time a patient puked his guts out on a newly tailored suit,” Fred attempted to lighten the mood. “A few tears can’t compare to that.”
A small frown crept in Cheska’s face. “What about the troubles I’ve caused you? I ruined your vacation. You must despise me.”
“Why would I despise someone who hadn’t intentionally made my holiday into a —”
“Living nightmare?” she finished for him.
“A horror movie.”
“That’s not —” A bark of laughter escaped him. How could Cheska be adorable and infuriating at the same time? Fred willed himself to keep her at a distance when all he wanted to do was… “Why do you insist that I should hate you?”
“Anyone would run as far as possible from this place after seeing how messed up my family is.”
“I’m not just anyone.” He sighed.
“You’re not exactly a friend, too.” She raised her eyes to meet his. When he didn’t respond, Cheska bit her lip. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just…” She shook her head. “I apologize.”
Cheska walked past him as his arm shot to grab her. She twisted toward Fred, her brows furrowed at the hand clasped around her wrist.
“What do you want to hear from me, Cheska?” he said harshly. “Should I profess my undying love to you just because of what happened this afternoon?”
She gaped at him as if he’d dealt her a physical blow. Guilt twisted inside him, but he hardened himself against it. She started this, he reasoned.
Really? His conscience prodded him. It didn’t look like she was the only one enjoying it. Remember the saying it takes two to tango?
“Is that what you think?” Cheska said slowly.
“What do you think?” he dared.
“I – I don’t know.” She dropped her gaze to the floor.
Fred tugged her to him. Caught off guard, she stumbled. Her hand came up to steady herself and rested on his chest. Still, she kept her eyes averted and took a step back.
The doctor sensed her retreat and slipped his arm around her waist. His hand pressed on the small of her back to stop her escape. He lifted her chin with his free hand forcing Cheska to look up. Amid the confusion and hurt in those golden depths, he saw something else. Her dilated pupils and uneven breathing meant the close proximity affected her too.
It wasn’t because of my ability. Fred couldn’t help smile at the small discovery. He dipped his head and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. I love you.
“What?” Cheska eyes were wide as she stared at him. “What did you say?”
His heart hammered in his chest when he realized he’d said it aloud.
“I love you,” Fred breathed. The admission took a load off his chest. He hadn’t thought he’d been carrying it for a long time. On an impulse, his lips brushed hers in a soft caress while his hand gently traced a path to her jawline, down to her throat, then cradled the back of her neck. Cheska’s eyes fluttered close. Fred placed feather-light kisses on her eyelids, cheeks, and mouth. He felt her shudder and heard her sharp intake of breath. Cheska’s arms snaked around his neck and pulled him down to return his kisses.
Heat ignited within him. He pressed her to him, circling his arms around her waist. Their bodies flushed against each other, he began to tease and explore her mouth. A low rumble reverberated from his chest at her passionate response. He tilted her back, savoring the taste of her.
Cheska’s hands roamed his shoulders, arms, and back. Despite the barrier of the thick sweater between his skin and her touch, she left a trail of fire and ice in her wake. The embers she’d started roared into a furnace. If they didn’t stop now, there would be no turning back. As much as he wanted her or she wanted him, Fred couldn’t let it happen.
He pulled her to stand upright as he slowed the kiss. Resting his forehead on hers, he took in her bruised mouth, the flush of her cheeks, and… The raw emotion reflected in her molten amber eyes took his breath away. He etched this memory in his heart. If Fred had wavered before, this time he would not hesitate to give his life to this woman.
“You and I,” Fred forced the words out. “We can’t be together.”
A flash of hurt then acceptance flitted on her face. Cheska withdrew from him and hugged herself.
“I know,” she said quietly. “We’re worlds apart, aren’t we?” Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. The smile she offered him wobbled. “That’s why you could never be more than a friend to me,” her voice broke in the last few words. “Goodbye, Fred.” She kissed his cheek and ran from him.
Fred brought his hand up to where she kissed him. Her hasty retreat rendered him speechless. He had planned to say goodbye and ended up receiving it instead. Worlds apart, she’d said. Electra had told him the exact same thing. It had hurt him – an ordinary teenager tagging along a girl who seemed to know him better than himself. He couldn’t fathom what he’d done wrong then. She didn’t tell him her reasons for saying it either. But they weren’t the same persons back then, they’ve both changed.
Did she believe they were too different? The Mysts was a haven for people gifted with abilities beyond the norm. Individuals whose abilities awakened in the city was especially considered by locals a member of the community. They’d even go on to say the land claimed the person as its own. Therefore, Fred was unofficially a citizen of the Mysts.
What could she mean? The doctor headed to the door intending to catch up to her. Then what? his inner voice asked. He gripped the doorknob tightly in indecision. The answer was plain and simple: he would still leave. Reluctantly, Fred let go.
Dinner came and went in solitude. A servant came by to express Mr. Roucan’s and Louis’ regret for not being able to join him. Father and son were called away in an urgent meeting. Fred requested a change of clothes and opted to have his meal brought up to his room. He wanted to avoid Cheska; it would be awkward if they met again. To while away the last few hours prior to his departure, Fred distracted himself with his fully charged smartphone. It had been left on his nightstand by one of the staff before he arrived. The doctor sent an updated schedule of appointments to his mom with a message that he’d read her letter. Afterward, he downloaded an ebook and began to read.
Five chapters later, a bodyguard knocked on his door. Granted permission to enter, he offered Fred an earbud and retractable pen similar to what the security personnel wore on their person.
“Mr. Hydleburgh requests to speak you, doctor. Please wear this,” he said. Fred inserted the earbud in his ear. “To activate the mic, twist the cap of the pen clockwise and counter-clockwise to deactivate.” The man demonstrated it. “The mic is sensitive, sir. Just place it anywhere within arm’s reach. When the secure line is compromised, it will give a warning – three seconds to self-destruct. If it doesn’t, press the button four consecutive times.”
“Does the pen work?” Fred asked.
The guard gave him a blank look for a couple of seconds. “Yes, sir. The pen can be used for writing. Just try not to play with the button.”
“Thanks.” Fred took the pen and switched it on. When the man had gone, he spoke: “Hello?”
“You need to hide,” James said urgently. “Ask the Roucans or the Guardians to take you to a safe place or do whatever you did earlier – disappear.”
He’s freaking out, Fred thought. In another lifetime, his best friend would never tell him to ask help from the Roucans.
“Fred, are you there?”
“What did you find?” Fred asked.
“The plague is bio-engineered from their gods-forsaken lab! The outbreak was an accident, but the government lied about the vaccine. They had it all along. You’re somehow part of project V-X2102, Fred. They’ve got this file on you saved with the rest of their research.” James huffed in irritation. “They have this this encryption that takes forever to crack. It has a different code for each file. My master key bogs down every seven files it’s decrypted.”
“What video was that?”
“You electrocuting a soldier with your bare hands,” James said lowly at length. “I replayed it a few times. Didn’t see a weapon with you. They also did a thorough job investigating you – your whole history must be here. It has recent pictures of you too. Apparently, they’ve put a tail on you.”
The line was silent for a time. Fred heard his best friend’s unsaid question: “What are you going to do?”
“Thanks. When you’re done, could you send a copy of the files to Louis and his father? They’ll know what to do.”
“Can we talk about you first? Fred, you need to hide.” James waited for a response Fred couldn’t give. “Okay, you have a better idea? I’m all ears.”
“I have,” Fred affirmed. “Thanks again, James. You’re the best.”
“You’re going to do something stupid, aren’t you?”
No answer came.
“Don’t you dare hang up on me,” James warned. “I swear—”
The doors of the cabinet shifted becoming ethereal. Fred twisted the cap in reverse. The Messenger and two figures instead of one came out of the portal. Gerry, Cheska’s adoptive father, sauntered behind Louis whose fury carried him across the room toward the cause of his current mood.
Cheska’s brother yanked Fred by the collar. Their faces close to each other, Louis demanded: “Tell me what you’re thinking right now because, frankly, I don’t get why you’re willing to throw your life away.” The golden eyes glittered at the doctor, who glanced at the Messenger for support. The man just cocked his head to the side intent to watch from the sidelines.
You’re no help at all, Fred accused the Messenger silently.
“It’s better than the alternative, Louis. Trust me,” Fred answered.
“There are alternatives, Fred.” Louis shoved him and paced, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Maybe not as simple as yours but there are other ways,” he said, as if reasoning to a stubborn child. “Did you think about what it’ll do those you leave behind? Your patients, your family and friends and…” He turned and looked directly at Fred. “Cheska.”
The mention of her name brought images of her turning away from him – in the past and the present. Fred shut it out. “She and I have gone our separate ways.”
“We said our goodbyes,” Fred said firmly. “This is the only way she won’t get hurt.”
“Don’t you understand? She’s already hurting,” Louis snapped. He pointed his index finger at the doctor. “If I knew you’d do this, I would’ve never left her alone with you.”
“She’ll move on.” Fred leveled a look at Cheska’s brother. The woman was stronger than she appeared to be. “She’d survived living in isolation and endured rehab after months of being comatose.” He squeezed Louis’ shoulder and locked gazes with him. “The worst thing you could do is underestimate your sister.”
The younger man’s eyes slid to Fred’s hand. “I Saw you.” The twin amber orbs returned to the doctor’s grey ones. “I know what will happen if you go there. You’re as good as —” Louis twisted from Fred’s grip. His fist clenched and unclenched. The atmosphere lay heavy and tense with what remained unspoken.
“So be it.” Fred’s calm reply came as a surprise to himself for his heart raced a mile an hour. The words spoken felt like he’d hammered the last nail into his own casket.
“I promised her that no harm will come to you.” Louis glared.
“You can’t keep it.” Fred hesitated. He glanced at the bemused Messenger. The doctor pulled himself together and said, “If you do, Cheska will die.”
“That’s impossible!” Louis brows knitted together in incredulity. “I would’ve Seen it.”
“The Messenger and the Oracle come from the future and came back to our time. They’ve been working for years to prevent it. What you Saw was the result of their efforts.”
“So that’s the secret,” Gerry spoke at the same time Louis ask, “You met the Oracle?
The spy placed himself between them. He no longer hid behind a disguise, but his trademark smirk played in his mouth. Gerry’s head swiveled to the younger man.
“Stop that,” Louis ordered.
“What?” Gerry eyebrows rose.
“If I even see a hint of teeth flash my way, I’ll knock them off your mouth before you can blink.”
“Hmm.” The spy’s mouth twitched. “Ever heard of, a smile goes a long way?” Louis appeared unamused. Gerry’s demeanor became serious. “What is it with you people and threats?” he said under his breath. “Listen well, Louis.”
Louis scowled at the informal address and opened his mouth to argue.
“Nuh-uh,” the spy wagged a finger at him like a parent to a naughty child. “Look here. Doc offered to become a distraction while we infiltrate enemy territory. We get in, I grab the vaccine then him, and get out.”
“The vaccine will be heavily guarded,” Louis pointed out. “Plus, it’s suicide for Fred. He’s a doctor, not a murderer. Libya is already unstable as it is. We can’t guarantee they won’t shoot him on the spot when they see him. Why don’t you be the distraction and we’ll have someone else acquire the vaccine?”
“Everything that happened ‘til now was because of me,” Fred interjected. “They caught me on video while I was using my ability. I was trying to protect Zafeera at that time. In the end, they used her to get to me.”
“How’d you know that?” Gerry asked. Not one of the three men who arrived moments before was surprised. Fred guessed that Zafeera or her brother Mohy had shared this piece of information when a call for an assembly of the guardians was issued.
“A reliable source told me.” Fred shifted his gaze to Louis. “He’ll send the files to you after he’s decrypted them.”
Cheska’s brother nodded and pressed his lips together. “You’re really going?’ It was more of a statement than a question directed at Fred, who simply nodded his head. Louis’s chin went up in defiance. He extended his hand to the doctor. “I’m going to find a way. Stay alive until then.”
“I will,” Fred uttered the empty words that was expected of him. He shook hands and gave his friend a one-arm hug. “Take care of your sister.” Then he approached the Messenger, saying: “Let’s go.”
A portal opened behind them. Fred was the first to cross, followed by Gerry. The doctor heard muffled voices of the Messenger and Louis in his room. Cheska came up in their conversation just when the portal fully closed. Fred shook off the curiosity the name evoked in him. It was pointless to think of what-ifs after letting her go.
Speaking of roads, the tunnel they were in branched into three narrow paths. One of them would lead him back to Libya.
A shadow shifted in his periphery. Suddenly, his head snapped to the side as Gerry’s meaty fist collided with his face. The taste of rust and salt invaded his mouth. He touched his lower lip and his fingers came off with blood. The warm liquid dribbled down his chin. Fred lifted wary eyes toward the attacker. He still wasn’t sure which side Gerry was on.
The spy stood with hands on hips as he surveyed the damage he’d inflicted. The corner of his mouth curled up. “That’ll do,” Gerry voiced his approval. “Needed to roughen you up a bit. You know, make it look authentic. No hard feelings?”
Fred shook his head, unsure of the man’s real motives.
“Well. Had to make sure there was an element of surprise. I’d feel bad hitting you while you squeezed your eyes shut. If you’re angry, you can take a swing at me.” Gerry shrugged, spread his arms wide and gestured for the doctor to land a punch at him.
The doctor dabbed at his split lip while he kept an eye out for another attack. He had no intention of exacting retribution – especially those that were given freely.
Gerry arched a brow. “That’s a no then. I’ll have you know, Doc,” he rested his hand on Fred’s nape, “Cheska’s like a daughter to me. Your sacrifice has earned you my respect and deepest thanks. I promise to get you out after the mission…if I can.”
Somewhere along the spy’s speech, Fred felt a needle break the skin of his neck. A sibilant hiss declared that a drug was injected in his bloodstream. It had been so quick that his eyes could only widen in alarm before his body slumped forward.
The spy repositioned his hold on the doctor and tapped the latter’s cheek a few times. Certain that the drug had fully taken effect, Gerry slung the limp body across his shoulder. He inhaled deeply then took the second of the three tunnels.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Fred finally admitted his feelings – a little too late, don’t you think? Would he be able to survive the coming days despite the odds?
The enigma that is Gerry. He’s one shady fellow… Which side do you think he’s on? More on that later. 😉
School has officially started… and I might go on hiatus again. My studies have to come first. The last subject I’m taking up this semester is heavy stuff – it’ll require a lot of research. Huhu. 😦
My next update would be mid-September, hopefully. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on this one.
If you enjoyed this chapter, please like, comment and/or share. Thanks! 🙂