Imperfect, page 14
I shake off the thoughts and head back to where I found Bia coming out of the tunnel. I turn on my headlamp and pull my bag tight to my shoulder. Other than my flashlight, the tunnel is choked by total darkness. “Hello!” My voices echoes back to me from the end of the tunnel. I make my way further inside until I reach an area that collapsed during the explosion. Sliding my bag off my shoulder, I pull out the flashlight so I can get a better look around.
“How the hell did Bia get through this mess?” I wonder out loud to myself. A large steel door is blocking the end of the tunnel, cracked open ever so slightly to the room beyond it. I shine my light into it. In the dust of the concrete, I can see fingerprints that are drawn back like she was clawing to get through. “Damn, she is a superhero as far as I’m concerned.” I set the flashlight on the ground, angling it toward the pile of concrete blocking the door and get to work moving the debris.
Hours later, sunlight begins to seep through the front of the tunnel. I haven’t made much headway because most of the concrete fell in large, heavy chunks. I sit on the tunnel floor and gulp down a bottle of water. My radio starts to screech. I can’t make out what’s being said, so I walk toward the opening of the tunnel to get better reception.
“Where the hell are you?” Wren’s voice cracks loudly over the radio. I press the button on the side to talk back, but he keeps yelling.
“If you would shut up, I’ll tell you where I am.”
“General Briggs is on a war path. I came to the tent this morning when you weren’t in the hotel. When I told him I couldn’t find you, he went ballistic.”
“Tell him I’m fine. I’m down in the tunnel where I found his daughter. Aedon is still alive and I’m trying to get to her.”
“I caught all that from him, but he told you not to dig!”
“Look, we can argue about this later. I need a team down here and something to move heavy concrete. Are you going to help me or not?”
“Of course I’m going to help you, but we need to make sure that area is safe. Tell me exactly where you are.” The radio hisses with static behind his voice.
I tell him how to get to the tunnel and what to bring with him. About ten minutes later, I hear his voice calling my name.
“I’m down here. Use the rope to get down. The main entrance to get inside collapsed!” I yell up the hole.
Wren curses his way down the rope until his feet are on the ground. “What the hell, Ashe? You shouldn’t be in here. There is no way we’re going to get equipment down here,” he says, walking toward me.
“Bia made it out this way, we can make it in the same way.”
He stops in front of me and grabs my hand, turning the palm upward. Raw, aching blisters cover my fingers and palm. “How long have you been down here?”
I snatch my hand from his. “All night.” I snap.
“I know you want to get to her, but you need to use your head, man. This isn’t safe.”
Anger boils underneath my skin. My head starts to pound under the pressure. “I don’t give a shit if it’s safe or not. Aedon is trapped inside this building that could collapse at any moment and you want me to what? Sleep?! Not dig because I might get hurt? I don’t give a fuck about what happens to me. Aedon is still in there. My question to you is, why aren’t you doing more to get her out?!”
His fist connects with my jaw, knocking me backward. “Do you think you are the only one that loves her?! I would give my life for her, but this isn’t the way to do it. You may in fact disturb enough of this shit to finish collapsing the building and you know it! If you want to save her, get your head out of your ass and figure out a safe way to get to her!” He walks back over to the rope and climbs out.
Wiping the blood from my lip, I take several deep breaths trying to calm the demon raging inside me. I haven’t taken my meds and I can feel the old me coming back - the cocky bastard who always needs to be right, to be the best. Sleep deprivation feeds him and he’s hungry as hell. I reign him in, telling myself that Wren is right, but I’m pissed off as hell that he loves her. That is something we will have to deal with later. Right now, I need to focus on a safe way to get her out of her own living hell.
I snatch the rope and dig my heels into the wall, climbing back out. Wren has Ander on his phone. He’s having him pull up maps of this area and looking for anywhere we might safely start digging.
General Briggs sedan pulls up. He marches directly in my direction. He yanks off his sunglasses when he’s a few feet from me. “You’re lucky I don’t have your ass removed from this site!”
I put my hands up in the air in surrender. “You’re right, sir. I won’t happen again.”
“You’re damn straight it won’t.” He interrupts Wren. “You are to keep an eye on him at all times. He is now your responsibility.”
“Mine? He doesn’t listen to me. In fact, when he’s like this, he doesn’t listen to anyone.”
The general turns toward me and then puts his hand on my chin, drawing it in his direction. “Is that what this is all about?” he tips his head toward Wren.
“Yeah, something like that,” he says and then turns his attention back to Ander.
“How is Bia?” I ask and see the tension leave his face.
“They took her to surgery last night. The surgeon said thanks to Aedon, she will be fine. He said if she wouldn’t have set her foot, Bia would have lost it. Aedon is the only reason you are still here right now and the fact that I happen to like you.” His face softens loosening his tight brow.
I place my hand on his uniformed shoulder. “I promise to keep my heroic tendencies in check.”
He takes my hand down and looks at it. “These hands were made for surgery, not for digging, now go get them taken care of and then come back here and get a plan together.”
I salute him and head for the tent.
When I come back with my hands wrapped in gauze, I see Wren talking to a rescue team. “Bring all the equipment you can to this area.” He points to a map brought up on his phone. We are going to stabilize this area first with wood beams. There is an area clear, just under here.” He points again to the map. “Any questions?” They all shake their heads and scattered for equipment.
“I see you found a spot to get inside.”
He looks up at me. “Ander did with his mapping and the drone, we could make out areas that were blank space, meaning empty. He spoke to the engineers here and they formulated a way to stabilize it so we could get inside. It’s nothing short of a miracle Bia was able to make it out this way.”
“I’m sorry about losing my cool earlier.” I hang my head down.
“I’m sorry I hit you,” he chuckles.
“That didn’t sound very convincing,” I laugh back.
“About what I said…at some point we are both going to have to face the fact, that we are both in love with her. I’ve been lying to myself and her about my feelings.”
“I know that, but now is not the time. We need to work together to get her out of here alive. The longer we take, the less chance she has and we are both going to be broken hearted.”
“Your stubble feels good between my legs.” Ashe lifts his head and his lips are glistening with me on them. “And, that looks sexy as hell.” I reach between my legs and wipe his lips with my thumb. “You don’t have to stop,” I wiggle my hips, scooting them closer to the edge of the chair.
“Oh, baby, I don’t plan on stopping. I could feast on you all night long.” His tongue sweeps out and licks me, causing pure pleasure to climb my body. My nipples are taunt from his sweet torture, aching for what’s to come.
“Mmmm.” I moan.
“Say my name, baby,” he says between deep forceful strokes of his tongue.
“Ashe,” I whimper.
His fingers slide inside me. “Louder,” he commands.
“Ashe!” My back arches off the chair and my nails dig deeper into his muscular shoulders.
* * *
“Please help me.” The plea jars me from my dream. “I need water,” Traci’s voice rasps out beside me.
I let go of her hand, which I’ve been holding all night, and turn on the pen light. I remove the lid from the bottle of water and carefully hold it to her hips, not moving her head. “Go slow,” I tell her.
Water drips down her chin as she presses her lips together. “Is someone coming to help us?” Her voice is soft.
“Yes, I know someone will come help us.” I shine the tiny light around, unable to tell if it is day or night anymore. The room is silent apart from our labored breaths. “Hello!” I yell. My voice doesn’t even carry through all the debris. No one answers. “Do you think you could eat a few bites? I found some peanut butter crackers in a lunch box.”
“No, you eat it,” she says, closing her eyes.
“Traci!” I touch her hand, but she’s unconscious again. I get off the floor and make my way back over to the secret door. “Bia, are you there?” I pull at the door again with all my might, but it still doesn’t budge. “Open, damn it!” I beat my fists on the metal door until they are throbbing. My body slides down the door onto the floor. My desperation sinks in and the tears fall. “I’m not ready to die, Ashe. Please find me.” I need to be stronger than this. I climb off the floor and decide to search for other survivors, someone to help.
My ribs are too tender for the movement. I don’t make it very far before I’m stopping and trying to catch my breath. I pull up what is left of my blouse and shine the light on my side. The bruising has intensified to a deep purple color, and swelling has enveloped my ribcage. I pull my top back down. I know rest is the best thing for me, but I’m too antsy sitting here waiting to be rescued.
No matter which direction I try to go, I am met with dead ends. If there was someone else alive down here in this area, I would have found them by now. Instead, I find bodies or parts of bodies sticking out from mounds of concrete that are piled on top of them.
The stench of death is starting to take over. I don’t know how any of these bodies will be recovered for their loved ones.
My mom and dad have to be in pieces, thinking about me being down here. I can only assume they suspect that I am dead, along with many of the people in this once powerful place. Our nation must be devastated at the loss here. Not only over the people, but over what the building represented to our country.
I find myself sitting back on the floor by Traci. “Are you married? Do you have children?” I know she can’t answer me, but I need to talk. “I’m not married, but I am in love with two men. Wren is sweet and cute with his floppy curly hair. He’s my best friend and I couldn’t have made it the last few years without him. I do love him, but not that deep, carnal kind of way. All that is reserved for one man.” A smile plays on my face just thinking about him. “Ashe Manning. Even when I hated him, I hungered for him. I have a deep-seated need for him that I’ve never been able to crush. Even when my mind told me to run, my body had different thoughts.”
“I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this,” I laugh and squeeze Traci’s hand. “I finally gave into what I’d been craving. He’s a good man. Smart, funny, sweet in his own sort of way. And, of course, he’s sexy, and his body… Wow. His green eyes draw me in. He sees me like no other man ever has… Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never wanted another man to look at me the way he does. He controls my body without saying a word.”
“I know, I know, it sounds like it’s all about sex,” I laugh again. “Don’t get me wrong, the sex is incredible… exceptional… no… I think the words I’m looking for are raw and unimaginable. But it’s more than that. I love his heart and mind, even with all his flaws. He adores me and I know it. Even when we weren’t together, I could feel his eyes on me. Not in a stalker-ish kind of way, more like protective. He loved me from a distance, from behind the line I had drawn between us. I finally caved and crossed that imaginary line. I’m so glad I did because I was never going to be happy without him.”
A hammering sound in the distance has me on my feet. The sound leads me to the secret door. I shine the light inside, but I don’t see anything. “Bia!” I yell. I listen for a response. My name is being called, barely audible through the debris.
“Ashe! I’m here!” I listen again. This time it’s quiet. Maybe I’m hearing things. I beat on the door again with all my might. “Ashe!”
This time, clear as day, I hear his voice echoing in the tunnel. “Aedon!”
“I’m here! I’m here!” I scream, sticking my arm through the gap in the door. Footsteps barreling in my direction set my heart racing. A few seconds later, Ashe and Wren both look through the gap in the door. I reach out again, and this time I am able to touch them.
“Are you okay?” Ashe’s voice cracks in relief. Wren holds my hand to his chest.
“I’m okay.” Unshed tears start to fall.
“Is there anyone else alive in there with you?” Wren asks.
“Traci. She’s trapped and I can’t get her out. She has a head injury and maybe a fractured neck.”
“We’re going to get you both out of here.” Ashe says.
“Bia. Did she make it out?”
“Yes. I don’t know how she did it, but she did and she’s okay.”
“What about my parents?” I hold my breath, waiting for his response.
“They’re safe and perfectly fine.”
“Oh, thank God.” Wren continues to hold my hand as Ashe starts spouting off orders to the rescue team.
“We’re going to have to pry these doors open. You’re going to need to step back,” Wren says, releasing my hand.
I walk back over to Traci and sit. “You’re going to get out of here. Ashe will take good care of you,” I tell her, brushing her blood-matted hair off her forehead. I sit back and watch as metal beams are placed between the gap in the door.
“On the count of three, put everything you have into spreading these beams apart,” Ashe commands. “One, two, three!”
Their grunts and groans from the stress on their bodies fill the small space. Ever so slowly, the doors begin to pull apart. Dust starts flying as the concrete creaks above it. I scramble to my feet. “Stop!” I scream. “The building is shifting!”
Their movements halt. “I can crawl through there,” Wren says, already working his body through the gap. His upper body is through, so I take his arms and pull, helping him the rest of the way. Once he’s on his feet, he sweeps me into his arms and I wince, but he doesn’t let go. Ashe’s eyes lock on mine through the gap as Wren continues to hold me.
After a long moment, he finally lets go. “Let me look at you.” He takes a step back and his eyes scan all over me. His hands lightly touch my arms then they go to my waist. I wince again in pain. He lifts my ripped, blood-stained blouse. “Looks like you have a couple of broken ribs. Are you having trouble breathing?”
“Only when I laugh,” I try to make light of the situation. Even in the dim lighting, I can still see Ashe’s eyes glued on me. “I’m okay. We need to get Traci out of here before the rest of this place comes tumbling down on our heads.” I shine the flash light in her direction so Wren can look at her.
“Tell me about her,” Ashe says, through the door.
“One of her pupils is blown. She’s been in and out of consciousness. She has a large hematoma on her forehead and blood coming out of one of her ears. When she’s awake, she responds appropriately,” I tell him.
Wren starts moving the debris off her. “I’m going to need something to leverage this massive piece of concrete off her.” He walks back over to the door and one of the rescue m
“If I get this lifted up, do you think you can drag her out and support her head?”
I nod and position myself at her head. Wren gets the pipe in place. I position my hands under her armpits and draw my elbows inward so her head doesn’t flop around.
“Are you ready?”
I nod and he throws his weight onto the pipe, lifting the concrete mere inches. It’s just enough for me to pull her free. My ribs protest violently as I pull, and I scream in agony as her body moves from under the debris.
“She’s clear!” I yell and fall back onto the floor holding my side.
“Aedon!” Ashe yells.
Wren helps me off the floor. “I know you’re hurting. Let me get her to the door so she can be taken out and then I’ll help you out of here.” His fingers swipe at my tears.
“I’ll pick her up, you support her head.”
I nod and brace her head in my hands. We turn her sideways in order to get her through the opening of the door. Once she’s cleared, the rescue team takes off with her.
“Go with her, Ashe, she needs you.” I tell him.
“I’m not going anywhere until you are out of danger.” He puts his hand through the door for me to take. I sit down and gingerly slide my lower body out. His gauze-covered hands tug at my hips, helping me the rest of the way through the opening. Before my feet are even on the floor, I’m cradled in his arms and his lips are on my neck.
“I was so fucking scared.”
I wrap my arms around his neck, needing to feel him closer. “I’m okay now.”
When Wren is out, Ashe starts to move. I lift my head to look down the tunnel. Lights are shining through an opening up ahead. “We had to dig our way through the ground into the tunnel and reopen the collapsed parts of the walls.”