Well. This is it! The last chapter of this fic that I have had a great time writing. I appreciate all of you readers and reviewers. Thank you for your interest in this story and for putting up with my inconsistent updates! I'd also like to thank Eyeon for getting me to finish this fic, because if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have had done up this chapter. Eyeon, you're the best reviewer I've ever gotten. I'm waiting for your cookies...or the ham! Lol.
(I feel like I'm giving a speech. Must be the Suliet and Juliet themes playing that's making me emotional and long-winded.) Anyway, Suliet is a great ship, no doubt, and I love them, but I'm sure all of you know that Juliet will always be my favourite character. This one's for her.
Cold air drifts over him. There are goose bumps rising up on his skin. A thin film of perspiration covers his forehead. It is dark. He cannot see. Panic clutches him in a slowly tightening grip. He can only feel. He starts to speak when a sudden crushing blow of despair slams into him so hard that he literally feels it like a kick to his chest.
"Don't you leave me!"
It is his voice, coated so thickly with anguish that he almost does not recognize it. It is the voice of a man in desperation, on the brink of losing everything dear to him. It robs him of his breath. He fights to suck in the freezing air into his lungs.
"No, you don't let go!"
He doesn't question why he is screaming. He only knows he is. His eyes burn and he lets the tears flow without reserve. And it comes again.
"Don't let go!"
Unbearable pain courses through him like a current. He shudders and emits a low moan, wishing it will just stop.
A flash of blue. His heart twists within his chest. He gasps.
Those eyes. He knows those eyes.
"No! No, don't let go!"
At that instant, he sees. He hears his own voice, hoarse and broken, screaming her name.
And unimaginable terror rips through him.
"Come on," she mumbles to herself. "Answer the call."
No one does. She dumps the phone back onto the seat with a scowl. Not a single attempt has gotten through and all it does is aggravate her frustration and worry.
There is barely anyone up at such an unearthly hour. The town is almost dead, she thinks. Endless rows of trees sweep past her on both sides. She hasn't taken a break since two hours ago, the only rest time she has taken on her entire journey. Her hands are starting to feel like they've been glued to the wheel. She releases a hand to run it through her hair. A perplexed frown steals over her face as she peers at the road ahead of her. Has she lost her way again?
The buildings have vanished sometime back during the journey. This coupled with no signs around to guide her way brings about a sharp jab of edginess in her side. The relentless thought that time is running out nibbles at the edge of her mind, like an irritating pest that she cannot quite chase away. She pushes her hair back in a motion of frustration. Driving along under the canopy of stars, she considers turning back to the highway. But not a second later after that thought, she spots a clump of buildings in the distance. In the dark, they do not look particularly awe-inspiring, merely buildings of dull colours, about four or five storeys high. There is one with the front lights left on, as if to attract weary travellers to rest in their abode. As she draws nearer, a tired smile crosses her face.
She has found it.
Red Moss looks more like a large house that serves as a motel. Creepers extend from the ground up the walls, dark green on red brick. White curtains peek out by the windows with blue frames in the walls. Stone steps lead up to double doors that will no doubt open up to the lobby. A large oak tree with a twisted trunk greets her just as she turns into the parking lot. It appears to be deserted but for one lone truck situated at the end lot.
Red Moss is apparently just a motel that chose to be unfortunately located at a bad spot of the town.
She gets out of the car, grateful for the chance to finally stretch her legs after hours of driving. Her muscles were starting to cramp up permanently. She reaches for the green sling backpack in the back, which is all that she brought along with her. Crickets, hidden in the bushes, chirp loudly as she makes her way to the entrance, shoes crunching on the gravel.
Wooden doors with glass panels lead to the lobby. A large red mat before them reads 'Welcome'. She steps onto it, taking a deep breath before pushing one of the doors open.
A middle-aged man sits behind the desk that is mostly bare except for an open book with lines, probably for guests to sign in. There is no sign of a computer or such, which is most surprising. She approaches the desk, making the observation that the man is dressed in dark blue jeans and a black T-shirt. She wonders for a split second why he isn't in a suit. But then again, this is not some posh hotel in a busy city. Red Moss is most definitely a motel that does not boast of fine looks.
The man offers her a wan smile. "Lookin' for a room, lady?"
"Yeah, just for the night." She briefly considers telling him that she's meeting someone here, but decides he will most likely get the wrong impression if she does so. "I'm not sure if there's a reservation for me. Do you mind checking?" Checking the book, Jules? "Um, yeah, a booking for Juliet Burke?"
He shakes his head adamantly, lips turning downwards. "No, ma'am. Ain't heard of a Juliet Burke. Ain't got any reservation either."
"Oh." She bites her lower lip. "This is Red Moss, isn't it?"
Surely they will give her a call when they arrive. She smiles. "Well, thank you anyway. I think I'm going to need a room for tonight."
"You'll have to sign here," he points to a space in the blue book. She does as told, initialling her name with a pen provided as he takes out a key from one of the drawers behind him. He hands it over to her and verbally directs her to the right place.
She goes through a door at the right side of the lobby and heads up the dirty green carpeted steps. On the third floor, she pushes open another door and walks through the lit corridor. A vending machine is situated at the end of it. A blond man with an exceptionally short haircut lurks in front of it, dark glasses hiding his eyes, his face turned away.
She spots her room number on the door just then. There we go. Exhaustion to the max.
Her room consists of one twin bed with white sheets and a beige blanket folded neatly at the end. By the wall is a tall cupboard which opens up to reveal some rusty hangers at the top with two drawers at the bottom. She doesn't even wish to check if they're bug-free. Besides, she didn't bring many belongings with her. Her clothes can stay in her bag for now since there isn't a plan to stay here for the day.
The room is indeed bare, she thinks with eyebrows raised as she takes a long look at her surroundings.
Or the lack of.
Oh God, what am I doing here?
A sudden flash of lightning at the window makes her turn. It zigzags its way to the ground, the brilliancy splitting the darkness into half. Instinctively, she claps her hands over her ears, expecting a crash of thunder any moment now.
One second. Then two seconds. Three.
She realizes it isn't coming. She slowly lowers her hands, still staring out the window when a loud rap on the door resounds through the room. She flinches at the interruption. Softly blowing out her breath, she drops her bag onto the bed and walks over to the door. Placing her hand on the surface, she looks through the peephole and with a quick glance the clothes and sunglasses, recognizes the man she saw at the vending machine.
She cocks her head, brows furrowed. He's a cop?
Warning bells set off in her head and she takes a step back from the door, strangely at a loss of what to do.
She's in an unfamiliar place. There doesn't seem to be anyone around, except for that guy downstairs, who can help her if she gets into some sort of trouble. Guests? How many guests are there really? She and the man at the door may very well be the only people staying here for the night.
Maybe she shouldn't open the door.
Decisions, decisions, a voice in her head lazily drawls.
She scans the room, noting that there is absolutely nothing that can be used as a weapon if she gets into a tight spot. No lamps, no hard movable objects, nothing. There's not even a chair.
"This is a seriously deficient motel," she whispers under her breath when her phone trills. Moving away from the door, she digs into her bag for the cell phone.
She nods. "Yeah."
"Martin here. I was told to meet you at Red Moss. Have you arrived?"
"Just." She glances at the door and hesitates. "Are you here yet?"
"In a couple of minutes. Be best if you could just wait for me outside the lobby."
Oh. Guess she shouldn't have booked the room then.
"I'm sorry for any inconvenience. We're just a little short of time. I was told to get you there as soon as possible."
"It's fine," she replies. "I'll be down in a minute. Uh, is there—" She falters. Biting her lower lip, she pushes ahead. "James. Do you know if there's any news about him?"
"I'm sorry. We don't, but I'm sure we will soon."
"Right. Okay. Thank you."
Ending the call, she drops the phone back into the front pocket of her bag and plops down on the bed. A sudden rush of exhaustion overwhelms her and she fights the temptation to just curl up on the bed and fall asleep. With no news about James, there's no way she'll be able to get an ounce of sleep. She shakes her head and buries her fingers in her hair, closing her eyes. She has never been one to pray much, but now, she supposes, is as good a time as any. The only time she remembers having to pray with such desperation is the time she left him and built another life with Julian.
She releases her hair, letting it tumble back down around her face.
Please. Please let him be all right.
She stands up, grasps her bag and slings it over her shoulder.
I'll make it right this time if you just keep him safe.
She takes another peek through the hole. No one around, at least, no one that she's able to see. She twists the knob and steps out into the little corridor. The way down ought to be on her right. She turns in that direction and starts down the hallway when she gets the strangest feeling of another presence with her.
Before she can swivel around to confront whoever it is stalking her, a strong arm snakes around her waist and jerks her forcefully back into the room. Her attempt to call for help is rendered futile by the hand that clamps hard over her mouth. He drags her easily, almost like she is a weightless feather, and shuts the door. A wave of fury sweeps over her at the sudden turn of events. She slams an elbow hard in his hip. He stumbles and she feels a rather pathetic sense of triumph when he emits a low groan. His grip on her, however, is unyielding.
"Let go," she mutters into his hand, preparing to shove her elbow at him again.
But when he speaks her name, she stills.
She knows that voice.
A faint memory whispers through her mind, drawing her in like a moth to a flame.
No, you don't let go.
It's that voice.
Don't you leave me.
Her breathing is shallow now, though she has already ceased her struggle. It is that same voice.
He pulls her tighter against himself. "Juliet." His voice is softer this time, gently caressing, soothing. He slides his hand from her mouth to the side of her face, resting there.
She missed his touch.
Her fingers curl around his arm at her waist. Her head spins with the very realization that he's with her.
James. Here. Safe.
He strokes her cheek gently, his face pressed against her hair. He says nothing else, just seemingly satisfied to be holding her close to him.
Standing there in his embrace, it comes to her that she never knew how much she missed him. She never realized the extent of the fear that gripped her when they told her he was missing. Never realized the intensity of the turmoil that the one thought of losing him threw her into.
Not until he is here with her. Not until she is wrapped in his embrace.
He shifts then, turning her around. His face is unshaven, for two or three days now, she guesses. Gazing up at him, she feels the tears welling up within her. She swallows them. He still has on those dark glasses of his. But she wants to see him.
He lets her lift the glasses from his face. His right eye is swollen shut. He'd been hit really hard.
"They did this to you?" She brushes her thumb lightly over the bruised area.
He smiles slightly. "Yeah. Shot me too."
It feels like someone has just punched her in the gut. He must have seen the change of expression on her face because he tells her then, "I'm doin' fine. Miles wrapped it up real well on our way here."
She wonders if he's just trying to put on a brave front. She looks away, then, raises perplexed blue eyes to his. "They called and said you were missing. I thought you'd been found out. What happened, James?"
His grip on her tightens. "Those people who called you. Do you know their names?"
An unexplainable fear ties her stomach into knots. "Only the one who called me earlier. He said his name was Martin."
His face darkens. "When did he call?"
"About a minute ago. He—"
"We gotta go now." With that, he pulls her towards the door with an urgency that she can't quite comprehend.
"James, wait," she stops him. "He said he's a cop. Maybe we should—"
"No, we shouldn't," he snaps at her abruptly.
She recoils, hurt showing in her eyes.
He drops his gaze. "I'm sorry, Juliet. It's just..." He blows out his breath, shaking his head. "Those guys who called you. They ain't cops, Juliet."
She blanches. "What?"
"I'll save the explanin' for later, sweetheart. Now, we gotta get outta here." He peers through the peephole, then seeing no one, cautiously cracks open the door. He looks both ways in the corridor before throwing a glance at her. She slips her hand into his waiting one and lets him lead her out. Her heart thumps so hard, it's almost painful.
Awfully quiet, isn't it?
Just when the thought comes, there is a crash of thunder. She flinches. James doesn't even show signs that he notices the noise.
"Okay, once we get to the end," he whispers. "Go—"
Something creaks from elsewhere in the motel. Like a footstep on a step. He cuts off, stiffening. She swallows a wince at the tightening grip on her hand.
She has no idea how he knows who are on those stairs, but she doesn't get a chance to ask. He wastes no time in speaking instructions. Turning on his heels, he yanks her in the other direction down the hallway. They are stumbling down another flight of stairs when she realizes there's another pair of footsteps pounding on the floor just behind them.
"Outside," he tells her breathlessly at the bottom of the steps.
They avoid running across the lobby and burst through a side door into the night. She notices he is limping now.
"Dark green car by the tree," he gasps, releasing her hand.
He wants her to get ahead of him.
She loops her arm around his and pulls him along. "Not too far now," she murmurs. She recognizes Miles at the driver's seat. He pushes open the door to assist them. They are merely a couple of steps from the car, by the grass with little blue flowers in them, when a sudden sharp pain strikes her in the back. She staggers, sucking in a sharp breath.
She doesn't know when her head hits the ground. She recalls nothing of falling. But any wondering is swept away by the searing pain like a thousand of hell's hottest fires set in her body. And it burns, and smoulders with an excruciating pain that she never thought existed on the face of this earth.
Shadows from the deepest recesses of her mind spread like a spider's web. Crawling until not a shred of light is to be seen. Reaching until the darkness encompasses her world.
She hovers between consciousness, where the merciless flames engulf her, and the dark space of blissful ignorance.
"Miles!" She hears a scream, distinctly male and muffled, as though the person is yelling behind the thick curtains of a theatre. "Miles! Help me!"
She struggles to lift heavy eyelids that refuse to obey.
She lies on the ground, not responding to his calls. Her face is pallid. For a sick moment, he wonders if she is already beyond reach. Panic spreads from his chest like molten fire to the rest of his body and yet, it feels like ice runs through his veins.
She's in shock. Do something, you son of a bitch!
He is trembling. Few things make him lose control and the fear of losing her tops the list. His hands are stained dark with blood, her blood, from trying to staunch the bleeding in her back. He barely notices Miles dropping down beside him, panting. Gun. Chase. Gone. Whatever. His mind does not process anything that is being spoken to him. He stares down at her, pale and still. Already, he sees her slipping away.
But she can't. Not this time. He clenches his jaw muscles. Help will not be here soon enough. Sliding arms beneath her, he picks her up, careful not to jostle her around too much. Miles helps them into the backseat, hops into the car, strapping in and screeches out onto the road to the nearest hospital.
He cradles her in his arms, and though he never ceases to apply pressure on her wound, it seems like with every passing second, she gets paler. His heart pummels rapidly in his chest. "Juliet?" He strokes her hair with an unsteady hand. "Come on, baby. Come on. Wake up."
He sees her eyelids flitter. He inhales sharply, holding his breath for the longest time until they open to reveal blue eyes that shift ever so slightly before they land on him.
A twitch of her lips. A feeble attempt at a smile. His chest tightens.
She parts her lips. "Hi," she manages weakly.
He bites back a sob and returns her smile. "Hey."
Her eyes dart from one corner to the next, like one thrown into sudden disorientation and unable to find her bearings. He touches her face gently to get her attention.
Terrified eyes meet his. "Wh-where are we?"
She doesn't remember, he realizes with a start. He shakes off the returning panic and refuses to address her question. "Don't worry about that. You're fine," he says, trying to hide the shakiness in his voice, and he continues, more to reassure himself than anything else. "I just...I gotta get you outta here, okay?" He shuts up then. Any more talk and he'll be babbling. Blubbering, actually.
He catches his breath when he sees her studying him. She is mild, suddenly calm, and it's almost as if she looks at him with a touch of sympathy. Hilarious, considering the fact that she's the one hurt. If it isn't such a precarious situation, he'll even allow himself a laugh. She blinks and then, smiles wearily. "Tired," she whispers and let her eyelids droop shut.
His breathing stops. He calls her name but his voice is so choked up that nothing really comes out at all.
"Almost there," Miles says and meets his eyes, no doubt red-rimmed by this time, in the rear view mirror. "Just hold on for a minute."
The words jog his memory.
He yanks on the silver chain he wears around his neck until the ring that he still carries around with him rises into view. It isn't easy to speak when all he wants to do is cry and plead for her not to die, but he missed his chance once. He's not going miss it again. He reaches for her hand, grasping it firmly in his. "Juliet...I promised to marry you. I didn't get to last time, but now..." He swallows hard. "Now I'm going to. Ya hear me? I love you, so you hold on, Juliet," he whispers through clenched teeth. "This one time, and you don't let go." He kisses the side of her head roughly and presses his face into her hair when he knows there is no keeping the tears back any longer. "I'm here, baby. It's okay," his voice breaks. "I'm here."
A time to be born and a time to die
A time to kill and a time to heal
A time to weep and a time to laugh
A time to search and a time to give up
What is has already been
But everything is beautiful in its time
Birds chirp cheery tunes, wake-up calls to all still in slumber. The breeze sails through the open window into the bedroom, carrying with it the scent of a brand new morning. It caresses her skin, rousing her from a deep, dreamless sleep. A smile graces her lips as her eyes flutter open to see the room is drenched in golden morning rays. It must be past 7.
She feels a hand touching her back, where she knows her scar from the bullet wound is. She rolls over to her side. He looks back at her with smiling eyes. How long he has been awake, she doesn't know, but the knowledge that he has been watching her sleep warms her heart.
"Good night?" He murmurs, rubbing his thumb on her finger. She nods as he clasps hands with hers. The ring on her fourth finger sparkles as it catches a ray of sunshine and refracts it in several other directions.
Imagine that. Married for two months now. Who would've thought it?
They had a late night out yesterday where during dinner he told her a piece of news that made emotions collide within her. To say she was happy is wrong, and to say she was disturbed also isn't right. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that though she wasn't thrilled to recall the event of what happened years back, she was relieved to hear that Edmund Burke is under arrest for drugging and attempted rape. James didn't mention the details of what happened or who the woman who filed a case against her ex-husband is, but truth be told, she didn't want to know. He never explained why he told her. All he said was, "I thought it'd be best if I told you," and that was the end of that topic. It didn't ruin their night out. She thought about it then and at that moment, remembered that she has already put the memory behind her. Edmund Burke has no part in her present or her future.
His deep voice pulls her out of her reverie. "Whatcha thinkin'?"
"About us," she replies, smiling.
He lifts his brows and starts to speak when a loud shriek reaches from one end of the house to the other.
She giggles. James puts his finger to his lips and closes his eyes. It is a little like tradition to feign sleep every time their kids call, not that the boys care whether they're awake or not.
"BANGERANG!" A voice, one that they easily recognize as Julian's, yells. The door to their room bursts open and a large sheet of black cloth explodes in, screaming. It dives onto their bed, a squirming, wriggling ball with limbs. One particularly sharp elbow jabs into James's chest, another in Juliet's pelvis. She bites back a groan and thinks she hears one from her husband.
"BANG!" Julian races in behind his cousin. He holds a wooden toy gun in front of him, a black cowboy hat with a silver star-shaped badge on his head. "This is a hold-up! Put em hands up in the air where I can see em!"
Jimmy screams again under the black sheet, oblivious to his father's groans as he continually bounces on the bed. "He's shootin' me!"
"He ain't shootin' no one, kiddo. You got your daddy around to protect ya." He pulls the sheet from his son and wraps a strong arm around him. "With me around, no one ain't gonna hurt ya."
Julian scowls. "Aw, Dad, you're spoiling all the fun. I was gonna shoot the bad guy."
"Now who's the bad guy here? You're doin' a hold-up, Bud. That ain't good."
"He's the monster, can't you see?"
Meanwhile, Jimmy, having lost interest in being the monster, now clambers on her and sticks his face close to hers. "Hungry," he says, his blue eyes a reflection of hers. He presses his left hand on her cheek. "Breakfast, Mommy."
Even if he asked her to walk through fire, she thinks she'll actually do it.
She smiles. "What would you like?"
"Waffles," Julian offers as he trots to her side.
Jimmy nods and repeats. "Waffles."
"With lots and lots and lots of maple syrup."
"Wif lost and lost and lost of mabel sup."
She laughs as James looks on in amusement. "Waffles with maple syrup then." She pushes herself up, catching Jimmy in her arms before he tumbles off. "Go brush your teeth before breakfast. Daddy can help with that, can't you?" She throws a look at him, eyebrows raised.
"Of course," he answers with fake snobbery, but a big grin spoils the whole act. He clears his throat, draping the black sheet over his head, and stumbles off the bed. "Kids who ain't gonna brush their teeth will be eaten for breakfast!" He growls and lunges forward, making the boys scream as they bolt from the room.
As they scramble down to the bathroom, she gazes at the empty doorway, wondering what feeling it is that makes her want to laugh, long and loud, and makes her want to dance in the rain and sing and do all those seemingly silly little things. But she settles for a little smile that can never convey the depth of the emotion running through her.
Is it happiness? No, she has found more than just happiness.
Peace. She has found peace.