Chapter One Hundred Twenty Seven
Phaedos, Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,228
He had no time, he knew it, but he dove beneath the door as it slammed shut without an ounce of hesitation. Elseron and Dante were shouting at him but the words were far away and he didn’t bother to listen. She was beyond the door, alone; he knew that’s what their captors wanted more than anything – and he would be damned if he let it happen.
What could they do to him, anyway?
He scooped her up as he ran by, and she conformed to his side as if she understood his very thoughts; as if the thread of connection ran through her, too. He darted into the furnace chamber and, with her held in one arm, he ripped out one of the screens inside the first furnace door. The hot metal seared the flesh of his palms, burning the blood that still covered him, but he ignored it and moved on. He swiped a few strips of rope sitting in the corner and took the two of them down the hall further. He kept her against him with a force that was unfamiliar to him.
There was a small closet a few meters down the hall, with a lock that held him up for less than a millisecond, and he found the rest of his supplies inside of it: a plastic water jug, a roll of duct tape, and a few fresh cloths. He shut the door behind him as he crammed the two of them into the already-small room, and used some of the rags to fill the gap beneath the door and the floor. As he rose to his full height, something caught his eye. It was his own jacket hanging on a hook to the far right corner of the doorway. What an odd stroke of luck, he thought.
He moved so fast that she could not keep track of his motions. She had been jostled from one room to the next, down the stretch of hallway just as a pressurized hiss came from the area they had once been running toward. Poisoned gas, she thought, and her heartbeat stuttered in her chest. How would they get out if he kept them locked in a supply closet? “Shouldn’t we leave?”
“No,” he said, and even his words seemed to be on fast-forward. “You open that door, and you’re dead. The gas has to rise, so it won’t get in through the vents just yet.”
“What do you mean I’m dead? We’d both be dead,” she snapped. She hated arrogance, and even though she recognized that what he was displaying was not exactly narcissism, she couldn’t help but fume at the similarity. She knew she was taking out her frustration on him, but at that moment, it didn’t matter. He could be so goddamn vague sometimes. Elseron was never so difficult.
She sighed inwardly at the name; she wondered where he was, wondered if he was all right. She could hardly remember a time when he hadn’t been at her side, and with the events of recent days, she hadn’t seen him nearly at all. She paused, wondering, was it days or weeks that they’d been in the Hive? It didn’t matter, she told herself; she missed her Guardian; she missed knowing he was always within reach.
Phaedos took a few gulps from a water bottle and handed it to her, saying, “Drink what you can, we have to dump the rest.” His eyes scanned her face and she got the impression he was measuring her. She frowned, but drank the water gratefully. It wasn’t until she could feel the room-temperature liquid coursing down her throat, into her stomach, that she realized how parched she was – how very dry her entire body felt. She drank what remained of the jug and handed it back to him, empty. She still felt thirsty, but it was tolerable.
The jug no sooner left her fingertips that he had scissors to it; he twisted them around the first swell of plastic beneath the mouthpiece, then sharply upward on each side, leaving almost two full sides in place. Pieces fell to the floor at their feet and she watched in silence as he worked, attempting to piece together what it was he was doing. He took the scissors to the scraps of screen, next, but they weren’t strong enough. With an incredible blend of care and brute strength, he tore the screen into two small circles with his bare hands.
Still, she struggled to follow his movements.
He taped the smaller screen to the open mouthpiece of the bottle and reached into the pocket of his jacket, produced seemingly out of thin air, and opened two small containers. Combining their contents in his palm, he placed them in a clean rag and twisted it closed, taking an extra millisecond to tape it to be sure. He dropped the makeshift pouch into the funnel-like section of the water jug, just above the mouthpiece. He covered that section with the second screen, taping it carefully, and made notches in the top of the remaining plastic flap, just large enough for the rope to be wound through. He lined the flap with torn scraps of cloth and yet more tape, and held it out to her.
She realized, then, that he was holding out a gas mask.
His eyes were on the ceiling for an instant before he looked back at her, as if wondering why she hadn’t already taken it from him. He said, “Put it on,” and forced it into her hands. He climbed onto the shelving unit enough that he could lift the drop-ceiling tiles above them and take a look around. She stretched the rope over her head and was surprised, though she knew she shouldn’t be, that the mask fit perfectly.
Her voice was muffled through the handmade contraption, but she said, “What about yours?” She lifted the mask to rest on top of her head so she could watch him better.
He jumped down from his perch and smiled at her as if she were entirely unaware of the absurdity of her own question. She offered him a scowl and he acquiesced, saying, “I don’t need one, darling.”
“That can’t be true,” she said, her hand already on his arm before she realized it was what she longed to do. “You aren’t invincible.”
“No,” he said, and his voice was soft, as if he’d hoped she wouldn’t get this far in the conversation. “But I am indestructible.”
“You’ll suffer!” She clasped at him, pulling him tightly against her.
He hugged her with a strength that comforted her soul, albeit only enough for her heartbeat to ease, and said, “Only for a little while.” He pulled back a fraction of an inch, his lungs expanding as he took in a testing breath, and his hand slipped the mask down over her face.
A thick, gray-tinted gas began creeping through the cracks in the ceiling tiles.
He would carry her out of this, if he had to, he reminded himself, as he took in the first breath of poisoned gas. It felt like cinders in his lungs. He let her cling to him, even allowed himself the trespass of wanting her that close at that moment, and regulated his breathing so she wouldn’t catch on to his pain.