She does not remember the last time she saw her breath come out as white billowy clouds, floating and dancing in the air, suspended in a blanket of nothingness; simply beautiful. She buries herself deeper into the covers, watching the pristine mist of her breath hanging in front of her, curbing her vision, opening her thoughts. She rubs her cold hands together and tucks them inside the warm comfort of the blanket, wondering what had made them lower the temperatures so drastically today.
She hates the way her thoughts sound. She hates to know that nothing about her existence is natural, that everything around her is artificial and crafted, created by men, maintained by men, designed and adjusted to suit themselves.
She hates how the world around her has changed in so little time. She trembles knowing what lurks outside their cocooned dome, in the wastelands, knowing how susceptible they are to the darkness and the machines, knowing how easily they can be decimated.
She is scared, to be honest. She can admit that now: in the pitch blackness of her bedroom where there is no one to see her fall apart or witness her weakness. Now is the only time of the day when she can be a little less heroic and a little more human because when daylight showers itself upon the city, she has to transform into an undaunted intrepid savior.
And saviors cannot fall apart or be scared. They are supposed to be the ones who provide a semblance of hope to the millions who are counting on them. Only, in her case, it is not millions, just a few thousands. The rest have all fallen to Venjix.
Sometimes she ponders upon the changes of the past few years. It seems to her as if it were only yesterday when she was a spoiled and pampered heiress, without a care in the world, everything at her disposal.
Sometimes she wants to go back to her old self, to her old life. Not because she misses that high flying life or her socialite friends but because of Andrews. He is the only one she has lost in this battle against Venjix and his loss eats her up. It is a painful vortex that draws her in and rips her apart. She tries to focus on the good memories, tries to think of all the times she spent with him, of all the motorbike accidents and crazy escapades, of all the stories he told her, of all the times he heard her rant, of all the times he had been her father, her mother, her everything. But burned with all these memories are the ones of the last time she saw him. Guilt wracks her every night before she goes off to sleep, because she knows that had he not sacrificed his life, she would not have lived to see this day. She still does not understand his reasons for his blind belief in her. Neither does she understand his selflessness. But then again, she has long ago given up trying to understand him, all that she does these days is try to live up to his expectations.
Because he was the only one who had pinned all his hopes on her and completely believed in her and that has been the intangible force in driving her forward.
Sometime in between her thoughts, she drifts off to sleep, tired eyes drooping close, weary shoulders relaxing, slumber removing the leaden wight off her, nudging her into a world painted with black yet full of bright yellow lights.
She does not know what wakes her up but she sits up with a jerk, her thoughts disoriented and scattered. She has the sudden feeling that she is forgetting something important, something crucial and then it hits her.
The longest night of the year.
She curses under her breath, curses repeatedly, annoyed at her own forgetfulness.
How could she have forgotten?
She extricates herself from the covers and quickly dresses up. Grabbing her morpher and her jacket, she leaves her room, making the least bit of noise possible, not wanting to wake up the others and attract any attention.
She does not know where she is going, all she knows is that she has to go out.
She is in the garage in no time and is debating on starting the engine of her bike when a heavy voice cuts through the darkness of the night, making her heart skip a beat. "Late night rendezvous?"
She freezes for a moment, despite knowing who it is. He has that kind of an effect on her and she hates herself for falling so easily for his wayward bad boyish charm.
"Maybe," she replies, fighting hard to keep her vice steady, schooling her expression into one of nonchalance. "Do you ever sleep?"
"It's all very circumstantial," he replies promptly, seated inside his car.
She has to roll her eyes at that.
The door to his car opens and he steps out of it. Leaning against the Fury, he asks, a smirk firmly in place, "But tell me, doesn't Prince Charming have a carriage for you for this little liaison of yours?"
With that, he inches closer to her, eyes glinting in the dark, his face angled towards her.
She lets out a deep breath and counters, "Prince Charming is too busy trying to be the brooding bad boy to worry about my ride."
She sees his smirk falter, if only for a second and she is filled with puerile satisfaction.
"Sounds like a pig headed douche," he says, taking another step towards her, his breath ghosting over her skin.
She leans in closer and locking her eyes on his stormy brown orbs, she whispers, "That's what makes him so interesting."
Strangely enough, she realizes he does not mind him coming with her. In fact, she quite enjoys his presence beside her, his eyes firmly fixed on the road, her eyes firmly fixed on him.
She has started taking these liberties now: she lets herself stare at him, observe him, lets herself be vulnerable to get drawn into his magnetic enigmatic whirlpool. She knows he does it too: looks at her when he thinks no one is noticing, engages with her in conversations that border on being flirtatious.
She cannot pinpoint the exact moment when it started. There had been an underlying current of attraction between the two of them, from the very first time they met. Moreover, there had been an emotional connect between them: she seemed to understand him better than everyone and he seemed to allow her to see him with his guards down.
She knows she has not broken down all his barriers yet and she knows that will take time but she finds joy in knowing that she has been able to drive away some of his darkness, that she is the reason why he stuck around and did not leave Corinth. She knows he is not the perfect guy, he is far from it but that does not bother her: she finds perfection to be banal and routine.
He has his moments when he is difficult to get through, when he is consumed by mindless anger and gets trapped by his own demons, when all he does is snap or sulk, but slowly, over time, she has found her own way of dealing with him, of coercing him to open up.
However, despite whatever they have built together, all they have done is dance around each other, going round and round in circles, never acquiescing how much they mean to each other, never falling prey to their desires. The burning factory was a close shave but they never talked about it after that.
"So, why are we going to the lake?" he questions, speaking for the first time on the road.
She does not know how to explain it and mumbles incoherently, "It's just something that I do every year."
He glances at her once but asks nothing more, maneuvering the car through the streets of the city, the world passing by them in a blur.
He brings the car to a stop by the lake. He kills the engine and the silence of the night wraps its arms around the two of them.
"Come on," she whispers. "I have to show you something."
"Summer," he begins, unsure of all that was happening.
But she was already out of earshot, already a receding silhouette in front of him.
He follows her suit and catches up with her just as she is about to seat herself on the bank.
"It's almost time. An hour more, at most," she tells him.
"An hour to what?"
She smiles at him, her smile reaching her eyes, making them dance with joy. He has to physically restrain himself from reaching over and running a finger down the side of her face.
"Long story," she says, collapsing onto the ground.
"Plenty of time on my hands," he tells her as he sits down beside her.
"It's the longest night of the year today," she says, her voice coming from a time long lost.
He looks at her expectantly, expecting more of an explanation.
"It's something that I used to do with Andrews," she says. "We used to stay up all night and wait for the sun to rise. It was his way of teaching me that there is always light at the end of the tunnel."
He watches how raw emotions find a way onto her face as she recounts her story. He feels it only natural to reach out for her hand and take them into his, resting them against her thigh. She wraps hers fingers around his, closely entwining them.
"I was fourteen when I received a call from my parents three days before Christmas. They told me there was something important that they had to attend to and that they would not be able to come home for Christmas. It absolutely broke me. They had never missed Christmas before and it was the only time of the year that I was certain that I would see them home. I refused to come out of my room, refused to eat anything, refused to talk to anyone. I cried and wallowed in self pity the entire day, when Andrews barged into my room late at night and told me, 'Miss Summer, there is something that I want you to see.' I pretended not to hear him but somehow he managed to drag me out of my room. We waited up the entire night, Andrews telling me stories about the winter solstice, about Goddess Frigga who had labored the entire night to bring the Light to birth once more, about Isis who had given birth to Horus, the Egyptian God with the winged sun. When the sun finally came up, Andrews told me. 'Even the darkest night must come to an end, Miss Summer.'"
He sees a smile gracing her lips as she says that, her eyes slightly teary.
"After that, we did it every year. We stayed up every night of the solstice and he told me more and more stories. He had an enviable knowledge of mythology."
She looks at him then, a stray tear sliding down her face. "Last year, I sat here all alone, wishing that somehow Andrews would magically appear. Last year sucked."
He does not know how to respond, does not know if anything he says can help her. He has never been good with words, he hates articulating his feelings, it almost always comes out as an incomprehensible tangled web. So he simply wraps his arm around her shoulder and pulls her close, making her head rest against his chest.
She finds her tears streaming down at this gesture of his and before long, she is sobbing uncontrollably. "I am so glad to have you here, Dillon."
"Me too, Summer," he says before his basic instinct to prevaricate can kick in.
She does not show her surprise at this soft admission of his, only buries her head deeper into his chest and listens to the rhythmic beating of his heart.
She cannot help but think that if they lose the battle against Venjix, or if they lose the battle against time, she would never hear his heartbeat again.
The thought makes her shudder.
His voice sounds soft, mellowed, lacking he usual bite of sarcasm or snark.
"Yeah?" she sniffs.
"What was your favorite story?" he asks.
She pulls back at that, wiping her eyes off, she loses herself in the memories of the halcyon days. "My favorite story was that of Rhiannon, a Welsh Goddess, who rides through the dreams of her own people, transporting them to the place between the worlds where they can create their own visions and live their dreams."
"Sounds beautiful," he whispers.
"I know," she sighs. "I loved all the stories. They made me believe, you know."
He nods, understanding what it means to find hope in another one's story, in their experiences, in their lives.
After all, he had found hope in her.
"I could not help thinking this last year," she continues. "But what if there is no one on the other side of the world to see the longest day? What if there are no survivors outside this city, Dillon?"
He quickly dismisses her misgivings. "No, Summer. You can't think that. You have to believe that people are surviving outside the dome and are giving it their all to fight Venjix. We have to believe that."
She looks up at him, nodding, amazed at what he had said. She knows it is something Dillon would very rarely bring up in front of the others and knowing that he had opened up that side of his to her, that he had taken her into his confidence, she cannot help but smile.
They sit there in absolute silence till the sun finally comes out, bathing the world in bright hues of yellow and orange, casting them aglow.
Somewhere in between the world dissipating the terrors of the night, annihilating demons that lurk in the dark black crevices and dissolving into the resplendent iridescence of amber and crimson, their hands find each other, followed by their lips.
It starts off as a chaste kiss, their bodies angled away, their hands awkwardly placed. But as their senses grow hungry, the kiss deepens, his hands pulling her close, plastering their bodies together. Her hands settle on his chest, over his beating heart while his stay wrapped around her waist.
He holds onto her like she is his savior and she holds onto him like he is her salvation. He trails his lips down her jaw and then down her neck, making her light headed and dizzy. She wonders why they had waited so long.
He has no intentions of stopping, she can tell. Not that she wants him to stop but as morning inches closer, she fears there will be a steady growth in the number of people outdoors. And she is not sure how the civilians will react to seeing the yellow and black rangers making out like teenagers.
"Dillon," she whispers as his lips find the hollow of her neck. "We need to leave."
He groans against her skin, shifting his attention to her shoulder. He uses his hands to slide her top and her jacket and kisses her exposed skin.
"Why?" he asks, letting out a slightly dissatisfied growl.
"Because we don't want people to see us."
"There's no one here," he says, placing featherlight kisses on her bare skin. "Unlike us, people actually sleep."
She laughs at that, gently shoving him away. The look on his face is priceless. He looks like a child whose favorite toy has been snatched away.
"Besides, I am tired of interruptions," he mumbles. "Flying whales, my foot."
He captures her lips into a proper kiss once again. She finds her resolve slowly fading as his tongue finds a way inside her mouth.
She had forgotten how stubborn he could be.
"Dillon," she gasps into the kiss as his hands slide underneath her top.
She is far too gone by then and can no longer care about others seeing her. She buries her head in his shoulders, kissing his neck to stop her moans from escaping.
"This is a terrible idea," she mutters, a little breathless.
She realizes that the sun has appeared in all its glory, banishing the night and its terrors. After all, even the longest night must come to an end.
"I know," he laughs, a deep reverberating sound that cuts through all her thoughts and makes her heart giddy. "I would call it typically pig headed."