The King had sent food and clothes in what seemed hours ago, yet the sun remained in its original position in the sky. It looked like time had come to a standstill in the kingdom until music reached Fred’s ears. He got up and stood on the balcony looking for the source.
The handful of people he could see outside had stopped what they were doing. They lifted their faces skyward. A faint hum began from far away. The people on the grounds opened and closed their mouths. Their voices joined the sound which transformed to a song accompanied by an otherworldly music that engulfed the whole kingdom. Fred could barely understand the words, but his ability and a part of him were drawn to it. He began to hum the melody and the crackle of electricity around him took on a musical form that complemented the disembodied orchestra. The song rejoiced and celebrated life. His spirits lifted. It made his worries seem so trivial. The music welcomed him back to the world of the living. And Fred was grateful about a lot of things; he was alive, he’d obtained the cure for Cheska and he trusted the Major would use it to save innocent lives.
The song ended and the atmosphere around him became peaceful. The bustle of activity in the palace also lessened. Everybody was wrapping things up for the day. The sun was still up, though. Is this their version of night time? he mused. The doctor had yet to make sense of how time ran in a kingdom beneath the earth’s surface.
A whisper of his name had Fred wheeling from the balcony towards Cheska. He was by her side in several long strides. Fred clasped her hand and she gave a weak squeeze in return.
“You’re here,” she croaked.
“I am here,” he answered.
He took the glass of water on her bedside table and made her take a sip.
“Later. You should rest for now.”
Her expression changed as she came fully awake. She inhaled sharply. “No. Tell me why you did what you did.”
“This isn’t the right time. You’ll only tire yourself,” he said more firmly.
“Tell me what I want to know, the sooner I can get some rest.” Her amber eyes were bright and determined. He shifted in his seat. “And don’t you dare zap me to sleep. I won’t forgive you.”
“You already know the reason,” he relented.
“I want to hear it from you.”
“If you want to know that badly, answer me this: why did you get me out of Libya?” he hedged. Cheska broke eye contact with him. Fred thought he’d gotten off the hook though he was slightly disappointed at her silence until…
“Isn’t that what we always do? I mean we always look after each other.” She gazed to the far side of the room, her expression unreadable.
“Always,” he repeated. With trepidation, Fred asked: “Do you remember me now?”
“I always knew you,” her golden eyes met his silver ones, “it just took me a while to realize who you are,” Cheska’s voice shook. “I’m sorry.” A tear rolled down her temple.
“It’s not your fault.” He leaned forward and kissed the crease between her brows. The intimate gesture was something Fred had meant to avoid; they belonged to two different worlds, didn’t they?
Their faces inches apart, Cheska watched him closely. He could feel her eyes linger on his lips as he did on hers. Then their eyes met once more. Fred closed the distance between them and their mouths melded together.
The power he could barely suppress began to crackle and dance over his skin towards Cheska. A sound of pleasure emanated from her lips as a tendril of electricity licked her skin. And another. She gasped. Worried that he had hurt her he drew back, but Cheska pulled him, clutching his shirt.
He eased himself onto the bed when it became obvious that Cheska wasn’t letting go of his shirt anytime soon. Moments later, the kisses slowed, becoming sweeter, as the need to reassure each other’s wellbeing finally passed. Fred’s hand went up to her face and noticed that her cheek was wet. Then she hiccupped. Cheska released him to cover her face with her hands and sobbed. The sound tore at him; he had never seen her cry so much before. He put his arms around her and rubbed circles on her back.
Cheska’s fist hit him in the chest and then her other fist landed. She continued to beat him while she accused him of being stupid. “You should’ve said something – anything!” she cried. “I would’ve believed you. I could’ve helped you.”
“How could I? You looked so much happier now than when you were still Electra. I didn’t want you to lose that happiness.” It was the wrong thing to say.
“So, you hid it from me. You idiot!” She pummeled his chest and cried even harder.
Fred held her closer. Cheska fought him but he held her tighter to him, tucking her head under his chin until she stopped struggling.
She didn’t stop crying – she couldn’t. Cheska had never been so scared of losing someone. It dawned on her that she cared too much for this to be a physical attraction and, whatever this was, it went beyond the boundaries of their friendship. Those moments when she resuscitated him would forever be ingrained in her memories. “You died,” she managed to say.
Fred loosened his hold on her and lifted her chin to look into her eyes. Then he said: “And you brought me back.”
“Promise me,” she began, her voice trembled but her tone resolute, “Promise me you wouldn’t risk your life like that again.”
“I promise,” Fred said, hoping he could keep his word for both their sakes.
Cheska embraced him with the little strength she had regained and, finally, slipped into a deep sleep once more.
He stared at her tear-stained face. How many times had she shed tears and how much of it was because of him? He didn’t have the power to turn back the time for her, back when she was ignorant of her past. And even if he did a part of him wanted to be a part of Cheska’s life. Fred wiped the tear tracks as best as he could without waking her. Strands of auburn hair caught between his fingers as he swept them away from her face. Drawn to the color, Fred ran his fingers through her hair. He hadn’t fully appreciated how soft and silky her hair was until then and knew this brief respite would soon be over when her brother returned. The Prince’s arrival, however, broke it instead.
Noriden had called his name from the receiving room, but the person with him was what caught Fred’s attention. The power of the stranger resonated with his ability. The man was older and stronger and it reflected on the energy signature he emitted. The pattern was simple yet precise, not a note out of place in musical terms. The thought of meeting someone like him was both thrilling and terrifying.
Fred answered the man’s call with his own. It irked him that he couldn’t keep his emotions from manifesting in his energy signature yet. But if the man could help him correct that, then why bother hiding his ability?
The doctor stopped in his tracks just outside Cheska’sroom. Electricity buzzed around him wildly when he recognized the visitor beside Noriden. The imposing height, the silver eyes, the blonde hair and the firm set of his mouth made the man impossible to forget. Fred didn’t see him often, except in the pictures taken from his childhood days. “Dad,” he uttered in disbelief.
“Frederick,” his dad said, formal as ever.
“Jesrael asked the King to have a private word with you,” Noriden spoke formally.
Jesrael. Fred knew his dad as Daniel Williams. Could he be mistaken? The man before him had a slight accent he couldn’t place and he felt older than his biological father.
“Please, there’s no need to be formal at this stage, Prince Noriden,” Jesrael said. Then he addressed the doctor, “How is Celestraena’s daughter?”
“Cheska woke up a couple of hours ago. She’d just fallen asleep again.”
“She’ll be all right then?” Noriden asked.
“Yes.” The affirmation said aloud, Fred realized the truth in his words: she would be fine in the end. He would get to the bottom of whatever mysterious illness she has and cure her.
“Thank the gods,” the prince breathed. “I should go now. Father would want to know about this.” He inclined his head toward Jesrael and Fred and conjured a portal that would take him to the King.
“I’m sorry. I mistook you for someone else,” Fred said to Jesrael.
The man arched a brow. “But I am who you think I am. My Serran name is Daniel Williams, the ex-husband of Dr. Cassandra Kruger.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“You should look at your reflection, Frederick. No one can deny that you are my son.”
“My father didn’t have the ability you possess.”
The corner of Jesrael’s mouth twitched. “You should ask your mother about what I can and cannot do.”
Fred frowned. “She knows?”
“Yes, she does.”
“Since when?” He searched his memories for instances when his parents were together. Fred could vaguely remember any of it. Those that he did remember were hushed conversations, strange looks exchanged between his mother and father and their arguments when Fred got himself into trouble. Those times were not worth remembering.
“Since the beginning.”
“If what you say is true, why didn’t Mom say anything?”
Jesrael didn’t respond.
“Did you know about my ability?” Fred’s question was met by silence yet again. All of a sudden, he felt very angry. “You left us. Why?”
“Both parties have to work together to make a relationship work.”
“Can you please give me a straightforward answer?”
“You will have to ask your mother.”
“You never came back after the divorce,” he accused.
Jesrael was silent. His energy pattern remained unchanged while Fred’s became more chaotic. “The reason I am here is that you need help.”
“You were never there when I needed it before. Why start now?” Fred couldn’t hide the bitter edge in his voice. Even as a child, he had been left to fend for himself and solve his problems. When he handled them poorly and it caught an adult’s attention, the only thing he ever got in return was his dad’s disapproving glare.
His dad took a step toward him and said in a low voice, “You are becoming a danger to yourself.”
Fred backed away, his electricity colliding with his dad’s. “I am more in danger being near you.”
Jesrael eyed his son closely. “I can see you are not yet ready to accept my help.” He sighed. “Very well, do as you please. When the time comes, you know where to find me.” His energy shifted ever so slightly and he was gone.
The doctor released a breath.
Serran. Noriden had mentioned the term before. It meant ‘surface dweller.’ If his dad was not originally from the surface, what was he? He looked different too, with his waist-length and platinum hair. His dad hadn’t changed, nor had his mom. Fred sat at the edge of the bed, electricity crackling around him. Were they even human? Am I?
Cheska murmured his name.
He twisted in his seat. “Did I wake you?” he asked and became more conscious of the noise he was creating.
She covered his hand with hers. Her touch was like a balm to him and helped him calm down. The sound of his energy died down afterward. He laced his fingers through hers and kissed her knuckles. “Thank you.”
“Don’t you have a lot of homework…” she muttered.
The corners of his mouth curved upward. She was dreaming of this past. Cheska used to remind him not to neglect his studies whenever he’d loiter around her cottage. He’d thought it was her way of telling him that he’d overstayed his welcome. But perhaps she’d also wanted to attend school with all the other kids rather than be cooped up in a secluded area.
A small frown appeared on Cheska’s face. She turned to face the opposite side. Their fingers interlocked, Fred was pulled down on top of her. She grumbled and began to snore softly.
The doctor chuckled and lay down beside her. Using his free hand, he covered them both with a blanket. He instantly fell asleep.
Fred opened his eyes to a ceiling covered with wires that crisscrossed wherever he looked. He sat up and felt his arm brush against someone’s skin. Looking down beside him, the sick man, whom he’d shared a cell with, stared at him with milky eyes and cracked lips open in a soundless mirth.
The thin mattress underneath Fred was soiled with human waste and he scrambled to his feet. Then the doctor noticed his hands. He raised his hands in front of him. They were thin – almost skeletal. His fingers looked like twigs that can easily snap off and held a bluish tint, a sign that his body lacked oxygen.
He spun around in search of an exit.
Fred took a step and his knees buckled. He tried to stand but couldn’t, so he crawled ignoring the slow burn inside him. Then suddenly, his insides were on fire and all he could do was writhe in pain.
He was still a lab rat for the new pathogen. He hadn’t been rescued. No one could.
His time with Cheska had all been a dream.
Copyright © 2017-2018 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.