Chapter no 46

Winter World

FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS, I regretted agreeing to let Emma come on the mission. It’s too dangerous.

In the weeks after, however, I’ve become glad I said yes. I have the weight of the world upon me now. I need someone in my corner, who is my rock, someone I know will never waver, who can share the burden with me. She’s that someone for me.

We’ve been working around the clock on the ships and drones, me at the Olympus Building most of the time, Emma at home. For me it’s sort of like first shift at the office, second shift at home.

It’s getting colder. Every morning, the sun fades a little more. Snow falls in sheets now, piling up on the ground. The roads are deep gorges cut in the icy landscape, the walking paths like gullies beside them.

We’re running out of time. No matter how hard we work, we never seem to get there.

I wish I could somehow buy more time.

At the same time, I almost dread going on the mission. I dread leaving this place, where Emma and I are happy, where we work together, live together, and go to sleep next to each other, talking about everything under the sun.

We talk about the mission, our childhoods, our families. But there are two topics we never discuss: the future, because we don’t know if there will be one; and my past—the event that landed me in prison. She dances around the subject, but I know she wants to ask about it. And I should tell her. She deserves to know. That’s part of being together: knowing each other fully and accepting each other.

That’s why she was so forthcoming about her own health. She thought it might scare me away. I need to reciprocate. But I’m terrified to do anything that might change things between us.

Our family gatherings have become routine, dinner every Sunday night with Fowler and his family, Madison and her family, and Abby and her kids. Absent only is Alex. I think there’s little hope that he will ever show up.

So I’m shocked when there’s a knock at the door one Saturday afternoon and I hear his voice from the anteroom when Oscar answers. Emma glances at me, alarmed.

We both rise from the dining table. “I’m here to see James,” Alex says.

He steps forward, and he and I stare at each other for a long moment, me waiting for him to make the first move, to reveal what this visit is about.

“I thought we could talk,” he says carefully.

Behind me, Emma says, “Oscar and I have a few errands to run.” “No,” I say over my shoulder. “We’ll take a walk.”

“In this weather?” Emma asks. “Are you crazy?” It’s a fair point.

“Update,” I say. “We’ll take a drive.”

I see a small smile curl at Alex’s lips. I’m encouraged by that. It’s the first time his stone façade has cracked in front of me in a long, long time.

I instruct the car to drive to the Citadel site, and it complies, powering quietly down the scraped, hard-packed roads.

“Emma told me you’re going on another mission.” “Yeah.”

“She said it would be dangerous.” “Maybe.”

He glances over at me, waiting for us to make eye contact, silently urging me to tell him the truth.

“Probably,” I say, meeting his gaze.

“I thought it might be nice to spend some time together before you leave.”

I simply nod. Partly because I’m not sure what to say, but mostly because I’m overflowing with emotion. Joy. Sadness. Gratitude to Emma for telling him. It’s like I’ve had a broken bone, a broken leg that I’ve walked on for so long that I’ve learned to charge forward, ignoring the pain,

or working around it because I thought it would never get better. But now a splint has been put on it. It’s not healed. And there’s no guarantee that it ever will be. But instantly, with his words, I feel stronger. Whole. Like the aching deep inside of me has ceased.

I know Alex isn’t the sappy type. I’m not either, for that matter. So I do what most guys like us do when things get emotional. I change the subject.

“You want to see something cool?” I say. “Like what?”

“An underground bunker.”

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