A/N: I sincerely apologize for the lack of updates, even though I promised some. To be completely honest, I lost my muse for this story for quite a bit. But I will try to update as soon as I can, although I can't tell you when that will be, with schoolwork stacked up against me. Thanks for bearing with me, and thanks so much for your continued support! :)
With much love,
That night, when I returned to my room, there was a Rusty Rose and a note waiting for me. I picked up the rose and took a deep sniff of its fragrance. I put it next to the other one. Then I turned my attention to the note.
Meet me tonight, where I've shown you below. 8:30. Don't be late.
Below was a small map of the grounds, with a red line making a clear path from my room to what was, I supposed, my destination. I folded up the note and slipped it into my jean pocket. I took my black leather coat from the wall and swung it around my shoulders. I silently slipped out into the cold metal hallway.
I didn't understand. I was standing right on the red dot. I looked back up at the wall, confused. The cold metal was solid. To be sure, I pressed a hand against it and the foggy outline of my hand appeared on the surface.
Maybe he was just going to meet me here. I checked my watch. 8:29. Now, 8:30.
I jumped back, startled, as the wall in front of me opened with a hiss. I guess I really couldn't have been late, I thought as I walked inside.
As soon as I walked inside, the wall slammed shut behind me, leaving me in complete darkness for a moment before a strip of lights turned on along the floor, marking a straight path for me to follow. I stepped down onto the dark floor, and was surprised to feel that it wasn't hard like the rest of the compound. It was cushy, and soft- my feet sunk into it easily, but it didn't feel like carpet or anything like that.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was grass. It was a welcome sight after being stuck in that metal fortress. I followed the strange hallway, savoring the feeling of my sneakers pressing into the slightly damp earth.
Abruptly, the walls ended and the ceiling opened to reveal a vast blanket of stars. I looked ahead and found that I was in a garden, with multicolored lanterns hanging on strings that ran across the top. I wandered slowly along the stone pathway that snaked its way through the garden.
As I approached the countless rows of flowers, I began to recognize them. My heart sank deeper with each step.
They were Rusty Roses.
Rows and rows and rows of Rusty Roses.
"Do you like them?" I turned my head towards his voice. My smile never faltered.
"Yes." I said. I couldn't explicitly say that I was lying, because I wasn't entirely sure if I was. He was standing next to a bench, set along the pathway. "How did you get them?"
He took me by the hand and led me along the path, between the fields and down small aisles until we reached a single rose, set on a pedestal in the center of the garden.
"The last one of the original batch." he said. "I was able to duplicate them using its DNA."
I simply stared at it, at a loss for words. "Rex- I… I don't know what to say."
He squeezed my hand tighter. "You don't have to, Rusty."
We stood there for a long time, staring at the rose and enjoying each other's company. It was almost like the way it used to be. Almost.
Finally Rex broke the silence. "Rusty…" he said, his voice quivering.
I turned to him, although it was hard to see anything past the mask.
"Rusty, I…" his voice became more and more unstable.
"No, shh…" I said in an effort to comfort him. Somewhat awkwardly, I brought my hand up to cradle the side of his face. I was never good at emotions.
He placed his gloved hand on top of my bare one. I hated the glove; the barrier between us.
"No, Rusty. I need to tell you something. And I need to tell you now." he said, suddenly gaining confidence. His free hand reached into his pocket, and I saw a flash of rust-colored rose inside. I saw the gloved hand grasp the rose with all his might. And suddenly, I realized what was different about those few statements. He didn't sound like the Cobra. He sounded like Rex.
Something deep in my heart stirred- something that I hadn't felt in a long time. I had thought that I had felt it earlier, but I couldn't be more wrong. Nothing could compare to what I was feeling right now. This sense of comfort- of giddiness- of slight arousal. This sense of love.
Rex brought the rose out and gripped it so hard that it nearly snapped.
"Rusty- I need you to help me. He's taking over faster than before. I can't contain him much longer. He's already tried to destroy the garden. Rusty, you can't let him destroy the garden. You have to stop him, Rusty. No matter what it takes. No matter what it takes." His sentences were choppy, as if he was forcing the words out.
"I will," I murmured, tears clouding my vision.
"And Rusty," he said, pressing the rose into my hand. "I love you so, so much."
Rex let go of the rose and the Cobra returned. He was poised, his demeanor cold once more.
And I realized what had happened. The roses weren't just a token of his love.
They were Rex's final grip on reality.
They were the only thing keeping him sane.
They were his ticket home.
I stayed up late that night. I had separated the roses so I would know which one he had given me on each day. I twirled the most recent one between my fingers. I watched its orange, brown, and grey hues dance in circles as the rose twirled around and around.
I'd already tried going to sleep. It wasn't going to happen. There was too much running through my mind for that.
The image of the rose blurred in front of my eyes and a memory took its place.
I was crouched behind the truck, a constant drone of gunfire in the background. The air was hot and dry, and I felt like the moisture was being sucked from my skin. I brought a hand up to try and loosen my collar a bit, but to no avail. The heavy military jacket was too thick, trapping my body heat inside. I took my cap off and tucked my hair under it.
Rex appeared next to me. At first he didn't notice me, looking around the corner to make sure that his new hideout was secure. I touched his arm and he turned to look at me. A smile spread across his face.
Duke came in a moment later. "Dubble Bubble?!" he shouted to be heard over the roar of the battlefield. "Helps me!"
He handed one to Rex. "Listen, you've got 5 minutes to get in and get out before the bombers come!" Duke yelled, pointing to the building that stood about ten feet from our position.
Rex nodded, speechless. I knew the look that was on his face. It was the recruit look. It was the sense of being tossed into a foreign world where bombs fly and emotions are stashed away until you have enough time to deal with them. He stood up to leave.
"Wait," I said, catching him by the arm. I pulled him down and kissed him soundly. I didn't think much of it at the time- it was something to wish him luck with; it was something for him to hold on to. I pulled away, smiling.
"Be careful out there, soldier."
He left at a jog for the building and I stood behind the truck, smiling.
The smile dropped from my face when I heard the familiar scream of jets. I turned to Duke.
He heard it too.
"No, it's too early..." he said, checking his devices.
I turned to the building. "Rex!" I shouted as loud as I could. But he couldn't hear me. He was already too far inside. The jets were coming closer. I broke into a full sprint toward the building.
I felt like I was moving underwater. Rip saw what I was trying to do and ran after me.
The jet flew over.
"Rex!" I cried desperately, in one final attempt to reach him.
The building exploded. I was too late. But I kept running.
Rip reached me and held me back. I strained against him.
"NO!" I shouted. "He's still in there! We have to get him out! We have to..."
I cried until my voice disappeared.