Against All Odds
“…Purple Eyes held me hostage for three days in some sort of base we never found back again,” she finally said in one breath. “During that time, he interrogated me. Asked me questions about the Ancient Hero of Oblivia and about the Ranger Union. Who’d sent me, what I knew about the Pinchers, what I knew about their plans. I got out on the third night, with a lot of help from the inside.”
He turned his head to face Alex, elbows resting on his knees. Her eyes were fixated on her folded hands, not moving at all. Not even trembling in the slightest. Nothing. She almost seemed lifeless while blatantly lying to her superiors with an expressionless face. Lying to the Chairperson and the Chief of Technology sitting right in front of her.
Rand opened his mouth as to say something before he closed it, gritting his teeth slightly, unnoticeably. There had to be a reason she was lying. There just had to be.
Alex hadn’t specified if she’d answered the questions she had been asked. Alex hadn’t specified who bailed her out of that place. Whether or not she had been hurt, forced to answer. And the Professor asked her. And she lied again.
“He gave me some bruises, but that was the worst of it,” she spoke.
Alex never lied. Always was honest toward everyone she met, and it didn’t matter if the truth would hurt them or not. She’d told Rand she would tell the higher-ups what had really happened. She’d promised.
There had to be a reason she was lying. There just had to be.
“Things were peaceful for like, the next couple of months after that, right?” She then asked Leanne for some confirmation. Rand knew that she wasn’t asking him purposely; he probably wouldn’t have been able to go along with the lie that well. He could see the doubt shining in his wife’s eyes for only a split second before she gave the teenager a small nod.
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, turning to face the professor. “We didn’t hear from the Pinchers or the Steelhead for a good while when…when we realized they were looking for Zapdos on Layuda Island.”
The story continued. Rand’s mind wasn’t with the verbal report any longer. Leanne didn’t lie because he knew she simply couldn’t. She wasn’t capable of lying, ever, and always phrased the truth differently. She never even made it sound like she was lying or hiding something. She wasn’t. She hadn’t, either. Mainly because Alex had phrased her question in a way it was impossible to prove either of them wrong. She had told everything the way it had happened. Alex had been released and it had been peaceful for several months after that.
But it hadn’t been peaceful for no specific reason. It hadn’t been peaceful because the Pinchers needed a holiday in the middle of October.
The only reason it had been peaceful in Oblivia was because they purposely gave Alex time to recover from her injuries. Injuries she’d suffered during her ‘interrogation’. Injuries he’d given her. Injuries he’d deliberately given her.
“…and Rand flew us back here,” Alex said, using her hands while speaking, just as she always did. Her voice only vaguely entered Rand’s mind as she explained what happened after they’d arrived: Ben was unconscious, had a concussion, some bruised ribs and had probably suffered the worst injuries of everyone who returned; Leanne and Nema were injured mildly—some scrapes, bruises and scratches—and were back to their normal selves a short period of time later; Alex had been knocked out and woke up just before they’d finished crossing the ocean. Rand, on the other hand, hadn’t sustained any injuries at all, aside from a few scratches. And he felt terrible for not having been able to help others around him. Take the damage for them.
He glanced back over to Alex, seeing how she slowly nodded in agreement with Professor Hastings. Time off for everyone did seem like a good plan, especially at that moment.
“I’ll immediately request information from the Operators. It is possible they have detected something already,” Erma slowly said, standing up from her seat and heading toward the door, off to the Operations Room. She was slow, elder and possibly fragile on the outside, but Rand knew what she was capable of when it came down to tracking small, important details with her hawk’s eyes.
Right, the barrier, Rand thought. It’s still there. Probably, anyway. Also probably the only thing that keeps us from entering Oblivia’s seas.
He unfolded his hands and watched everyone leave the Conference Room, heading toward the dormitories on the floor below while his thoughts lingered at the barrier surrounding the Oblivia region. It’d appeared shortly after they’d entered Almia’s skies, and it had prevented them from going back, blocking them out of the region entirely. A frown had formed on his face just before Leanne gently touched his shoulder.
“Dear, let’s get some sleep,” she quietly said. Her husband focused on Alex again, who was pushing open the door that headed toward the hallway. Ben followed her, pulling his vest off before even exiting the room while Anne and Pichu tiredly plodded after them. Rand sighed and rubbed his forehead using two fingers. Leanne sat down next to him, laying her hand on his shoulder.
“…She’s just cautious,” she quietly said. “You know that she doesn’t want people to—”
“When ordered to give a report, you have to give the full report,” he briskly said. The tone in his voice told her he was frustrated, upset. Angry, even.
“Rand, she’s in the middle of dealing with what happened to her, and—”
“And it’s crucial to the report is what it is,” he interrupted her, facing her with fierce eyes, yet keeping his voice down. There were still people in the room. “It’s extremely crucial to knowing what kind of person we’re actually dealing with. Leanne, he tor—”
“I know, dear.” He held her gaze for a moment before turning away, sighing. “Even so,” she continued in a quieter voice, “we have to respect her decisions. We promised we wouldn’t be the ones telling them.”
“I wasn’t expecting to be lying to my superior officers, let alone straight in their faces,” he grumbled.
“We’re keeping the truth to ourselves a little longer than we most likely should,” she said, rubbing his shoulder. Rand closed his eyes briefly before turning to her. She gave him a small, tired smile. “Let’s just go to sleep for now. You can ask her what she’ll do tomorrow morning.”
“Damn right I will,” he grumbled, standing up and heading toward the dorms. Leanne gently grabbed his hand before he stepped away, running her thumb over the back of his hand before she laid her head on his shoulder. He faintly smiled and walked to the escalator with her, longing sleep.
I woke up because of Anne shoving her paw into my face. I grunted and pushed it away, still half asleep. The Ninetales grunted as a reply, curling up into a ball while swishing her tails over my body. I groaned and squinted my eyes shut before opening one of them, facing the bed next to mine. Ben lay on his side, facing me while leaning on his right elbow, giving me one of his customary cheeky grins.
“I could’ve told you sleeping with pets isn’t a great idea,” he smirked. I tossed my pillow at his head, which he fended off with his other arm.
“Anne isn’t a pet, dude,” I responded, sounding a little indignant. “She’s my Partner.”
I gently sat up straight, trying to let her have a few more moments of well-deserved rest while I manoeuvred out of bed, making sure to not bump my head against the bed above me while crawling out. After managing to squirm out, I sat down on the tiled ground and faced Ben again; his grin had only gotten bigger.
“You totally looked like a Shellder trying to crawl out of its shell,” he grinned.
“Shut up,” I said, shooting him a small, playful smile. He tossed the blankets to the side and got up as well, then sat down next to me while staring at his upper bunk bed. Pichu was sleeping on it, his ukulele hanging over the railing of the bed while Pichu himself lay closer to the edge of the bed, one of his ears peeking out over the edge.
“Have you rested up a little?” He suddenly asked. I turned, facing him. A pair of concerned brown eyes met mine. My look softened a little.
“A little,” I replied, hugging my knees and looking toward the door.
“Only a little or a little more than a little?” I turned my head back at him to see a half-serious expression on his face. I closed my eyes and softly smiled.
“Only a little, but even that little bit helps,” I replied. Ben shifted closer to me and put his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him and hugging me. I smiled and grabbed his hand. He gently squeezed it.
“I’m gonna help you out, remember?” He asked, gently pressing his nose into my hair. “We’re all going to help you through this.” I nodded, feeling a lump swell in my throat. I leaned my head against his shoulder and sighed slightly shakily, closing my eyes. He gently kissed my head, and we just sat there, listening to the sounds of people waking up, people working, the slight rumbling around us in general. A moment later, Rand entered the room.
“Hey, I think there’re a few things we need to…” His voice trailed off as I glanced over to the open door with Rand standing in it. “…Am I interrupting something?”
“No,” I said, lifting my head to properly face him. Ben lifted his head from mine. Rand gave us a half-smile as a reply. “What’s wrong?” Rand opened his mouth as if to say something before closing it briefly, then finally saying, “We’ve got something to discuss, just the two of us.”
“I guess I’m outta here then,” Ben said, swiftly getting up. Rand gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, to which I heard a smirk and a stomp to Rand’s shoulder in return as he headed out the door, probably to get some breakfast.
“The hell was that yesterday night?” Rand asked as soon as Ben was out of hearing range. He shot me a small look with fierce eyes before his look softened ever so slightly; he was concerned. I sighed and got up from the ground, standing before him and looking up to him. He was taller than I was, always would be.
“I know you’re not happy with what I did,” I started, avoiding eye contact at first. I forced my gaze up to meet his eyes. “Not happy at all, but…”
But I can’t tell them.
I knew exactly what I was thinking. It was simple, so simple, but I didn’t know how to put it to words. How to put it to words and explain how I exactly was feeling.
“They won’t punish you for being truthful, Alex,” Rand said, his voice soft. “They won’t ever punish anyone for telling the truth.”
“Neither will they for lying.”
“I think that they will show their disappointment if you do that, and that alone should be enough,” he responded. “Alex, you were captured, you…kidnapped,” he corrected himself, “and—”
“Rand, to be honest, I don’t…I really don’t want to talk about this.” I felt weak for trying to crawl out of the situation. Weak for not standing strong and facing my fears. Facing what I had to face. Weak for walking away from Rand, for literally walking past him. Weak for not facing him while I really should.
But I just couldn’t. Not yet.
“You can’t just keep walking away,” he said. I detected a sense of impatience in his voice. “You’ll have to overcome your fears one day and—”
“Rand, I can’t,” I said, apparently enough to cut him off. “I can’t just… ‘face them’ as simply as you put it. I can’t just…” I froze. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. Couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t even breathe for a split second. My held breath came out as a ragged one as I sighed before turned back to him. “I can’t face him. Not…not yet.”
“…Let’s go through this worst-case scenario thing again,” he said. We’ve discussed this at least a thousand times and we both knew it. Yet, whenever we get to the same conclusion every, single, time, he brings the hypothetical scenarios up again.
“Rand, I know what the worst thing that’ll happen is, what most likely will happen and what probably won’t happen,” I said. “I know it. I really do It’s just that…” I took a small breath. “There’s just this part of me that tells me this isn’t the right moment to tell them. That…that there’ll be a better moment. Later.”
“Later,” Rand repeated after me. “Alex, if we wait too long, Oblivia will permanently be out of our reach.”
“…You and I both know that it’s already too late, Rand,” I said, meeting his eyes. I knew perfectly well my voice was slightly cracked, lower-pitched and that my eyes had gotten slightly watery. I knew perfectly well I was telling him everything he already knew as well in just that one meet of our eyes. He stared right back into mine. And I could tell he could understand. That he felt the same way about it.
“You and I both know that he’s taken control over Oblivia, and that we can’t help them now. That…that we’re too late now.”
To be continued…