The Voices said it again, as if he hadn’t heard it the first time. Danielle…
Defying the intense heat, Tobias felt a single tear roll down his cheek, mixing with the uncountable beads of sweat, and hoped that Danielle would not notice it and catch on to what Tobias now knew would happen. Knew would happen… Knew what might happen.
The one word that Tobias replied with to the Voices’ two gave him hope.
‘You need to go!’ The last word of Danielle’s order was mixed with a scream, adding to the intensity of the demand which Tobias didn’t want to obey, but knew that he had to…
‘No she won’t! She’s not going to burn, because I won’t let her…’ Tobias wanted to stand up to the Voices. He wanted them to stop being so pessimistic. How could they know what was going to happen? For sure, how could the know? They couldn’t. They were no more omniscient that he was, surely, and Tobias refused to give in to the future until he could see it for himself.
‘There’s no way I can make it, Tobias. The longer you stay here with me, the less chance we both have of surviving. I’ll stay here. Go get help. When you get out, call the fire brigade. They will save me. You don’t have to. You’ve done enough.’
Another tear followed the first, and Tobias tried less to hide it now.
‘What have I done? I’m the one that got you into this…’
‘No, Tobias,’ Danielle assured him. ‘If you hadn’t been here, the Dark man would have killed me long ago. If you hadn’t been here, I would have given up long ago. You gave me strength. You still do. Now I need to give you strength. You can do this without me.’
He can’t win. You need to live.
Danielle, as if she had heard the Voices herself, echoed, ‘The Dark man won’t win. Not if you’re still alive. Not if there’s at least one Gifted person on the face of the planet, Tobias. For the sake of us all, I hope to God it’s you.’
Tobias finally let go of his emotions, allowing them to spill everywhere in a river of tears.
He can’t win. You need to live.
Then Tobias said something. Something he didn’t necessarily mean in the way most people said it, but to him it meant something. A wash of happiness overflowed in Tobias’ heart, and in his soul, and the only way he felt he was able to express the feeling was with three little words.
‘I love you, Danielle.’
The words seemed to sparkle through the entire building, extinguishing the flames for only a second, if that, and filling both Tobias and Danielle with the same feeling. Neither of them felt the heat of the flames, and the pain of Danielle’s broken leg seemed to dull, and the pain of Tobias’ tumble down the steps was completely vanquished. The feeling only lasted for a second, but it was perfect.
Danielle didn’t reply, and Tobias hoped that it was because she didn’t need to. Maybe she assumed that Tobias knew how she felt. They didn’t love each other in the sense that they were in love, but Tobias for one knew that without Danielle, he would either be dead, or locked away for life with a badge marked ‘insane’.
Words didn’t seem necessary to either of them, however, as Tobias witnessed the first and last sign of Danielle’s own inner weakness. She had always presented herself as independent, with no need for anybody to assist her in any way, but now she needed the help of a disturbed nine-year-old boy, and she hoped that she would be able to rely on him to save her life.
A single tear rolled down Danielle cheek, matched by that on Tobias’ own, but somehow Danielle’s seemed less of sadness, and more of complete and utter friendship. She felt secure in Tobias’ watch, and Tobias hoped that he would not let her down.
‘I won’t let this happen.’
Determined not to be dissuaded by the Voices, and equally determined not to linger a second longer whilst both his own and Danielle’s lives hung in the balance, Tobias turned his back on his best friend, looking back down at the stairs, and slowly taking each step at a time, slowly, but with a powerful presence that no other nine-year-old could possibly emulate.
Not once did Tobias look back, for fear of changing his mind and rushing back to Danielle’s side. Not until he was at the bottom of the spiral staircase did he turn around, knowing that she would not be able to see him, and he her, and as he held a second for himself, he was rudely interrupted by the Voices once more.
Tobias was torn between belief in the Voices – they had been correct and faithful towards Tobias for this long, and why would the lie now? – and his own sense of determination, which he hoped would be able to carry both himself and Danielle to the safety of anywhere that wasn’t this burning building.
‘I love you…’ Tobias whispered to himself, trying to recapture the lack of pain he had just been able to produce as if from nowhere.
The heat of the flames remained.