But this wasn’t about the freedom of people who wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire.
This was about their own survival. They had already killed her once. Next time, they might not revive her.
He brushed the bloody hair back from her face. â€œYou need to think of your baby, honey. You’re lucky you haven’t miscarried already.â€
Still, she held on to a blind hope he couldn’t even begin to fathom. â€œDarling will come for me. I know he will.â€
Ture ground his teeth at her childish devotion. Not once since they’d been taken had it faltered. She honestly thought her boyfriend would come risk his own life and free them from this hellhole.
How he wished he could believe it, too. But he knew better. â€œHeroes aren’t real. They don’t come charging in to save their damsel. Trust me. They vapor trail off at the first sign of trouble, leaving you behind to face the invading army all by yourself, hoping they’ll burn the house down on top of you so they don’t have to see you again.â€
â€œNo, Ture. Those are selfish assholes. A hero doesn’t give up or give in. Ever. Darling told me he would crawl naked through hell, over broken glass, just to hold my hand, and I believe him.â€
â€œMen will say anything to get into your pants, love. They don’t mean a word of it.â€
She took his hand into hers and held it tight. â€œI’m sorry that you’ve never been in love with a man who really loved you back, Ture. But I’m telling you… I have seen what Darling and Maris have gone through for each other and they won’t leave us here. They won’t rest until they’ve rescued us. I know it.â€
Ture opened his mouth, then closed it. There was no need in arguing. She had her belief and he had his. Maybe there had been a time in his life when he’d been so blinded by love that he, too, believed such bullshit. But too many years of being bitch-slapped by selfish dicks had taken its toll on him.
Not even his own family had ever been there when he needed them. So why should a stranger?
But in spite of his past, he wouldn’t take away the only thing that gave her comfort. Let her have her delusions while she could. He tightened his grip on her hand as his heart broke from the fear of losing her. Just like his sister.
Her interrogators had killed her today during her torture and then brought her back just so they could continue on with it.
Damn them all for it.
â€œI hope you’re right, sweetie,â€ he breathed against her hair. The last thing he wanted was for her to learn the harsh lessons that had been rammed down his throat. He wept for the loss of anyone’s innocence, especially when the loss was brutal. And deep down in a place he hated, was that last vestige of his own hope that she was right. That maybe, just maybe, there were people in the world worth something. Someone who could stand by you even in hell and not betray you.
â€œTell me what it’s like to be held by someone who really loves you.â€
Zarya swallowed hard. His request wrung her heart. While almost everyone she’d ever loved had been brutally murdered, Ture’s family had abandoned or disowned him. Because of that, he’d had an even harder time trusting people than she did. No matter what, he expected the people around him to turn on him.
The saddest part?
They always had.
â€œIt’s the most wonderful thing you can imagine. There’s truly nothing like it.â€
He sighed wearily. â€œI don’t know how you can take such a beating and still protect him.â€
How could she not? Darling would do the same for her, and then some. She had no doubt. He really was that kind of man. â€œDid I ever tell you what my mother’s last words were to me?â€
He shook his head.
â€œIt was the morning when she went to confront my father’s killer. I asked her why she wouldn’t let one of the soldiers or gerents handle his rescue. And she said to me that all little girls, regardless of what they say, dream of a prince to come in and sweep them off their feet and save the day. But what no one ever mentions is that all little boys dream of a princess to do the same thing for them. But the problem with princes and princesses is that they’re spoiled and self-absorbed. They act in their own best interest. They don’t go after their loved ones to rescue them so much as they do it for their own vainglory, and to serve themselves. While she’d had many princes try for her hand, it was a king who claimed her heart. Unlike princes, kings take responsibility. They think of others instead of themselves and they will risk everything, even their very lives, for those they love. It is never about them, but rather about the ones they cherish most. They love to such depth that they would sacrifice all just to see their family smile. For every thousand princes, there is only one king. And such rare men do not deserve a useless princess who sits on her duff and orders others to worship her and do her bidding. Kings deserve queens- rare women who never flinch to do whatever it takes to keep their king safe. Women who have the courage to face any attacker and to rally to whatever challenge life throws at them. I will not sit here, she said to me, and let your father suffer while I hide in comfort. He risked his life to keep us safe and I will do no less for him. If it means my life, so be it. After all, he is my life and I don’t want to live without him. He deserves only my best and that’s exactly what he’s going to get, no matter the cost.â€
Ture drew a ragged breath as the tears welling in her eyes choked him. â€œThough I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I love your mother. You know that, right?â€
She squeezed his hand. â€œI love her, too. And I’ve tried every day of my life to do her proud and to be the queen she wanted me to be.â€
He kissed the side of her head. â€œSweetie, you are better than any queen. You’re a freedom fighter for our people and if your Darling is the king you think him to be, you will live to be an empress.â€
â€œThen I shall be an empress. You will see.â€
Ture smiled at the sincerity of her tone. How she could still believe in fairytales after everything life had tossed in her face, he had no idea. â€œFine then. Just make sure when you’re empress, you find a queen for me.â€
Ture tightened his grip on her as she went limp in his arms. Fear seized him until he assured himself that she was still breathing.
Thank the gods she wasn’t dead.
But she wouldn’t be able to survive much more. For that matter, neither would he. Every day got harder. They couldn’t break him because he knew nothing. They couldn’t break her because she was the most stubborn creature alive.
He admired that even though it made him want to wring her neck.
His one greatest hope was that her king was the man she’d convinced herself that he was. In his world, such men didn’t exist. They were fables and lies.
Still, he couldn’t stop imagining a world where people didn’t disappoint each other. A world where you could put your life and heart into the hands of another and not fear betrayal or hurt. A universe populated by people like Zarya…
You sound like an old woman.
He felt like an old man. Jaded. Cold. Aching. He licked at the blood on his lips and forced his thoughts away from things he knew were lies. Things that were impossible. People sucked. They were users and no matter how much you gave, they never stayed.
Closing his eyes, he prayed for death. And why shouldn’t he? He had no reason to live. Nothing to live for. Life just was.
And he was so tired now…