The day it happened. It was a day that Cole would never forget. After the accident he hadn't conceived that things could have gotten worse. Jay's research lab at the University was still a smoldering husk of what it had been. There were still investigations going on to try and establish what had happened and how the university lab had been burned to a shell of charcoal and ash. The suspicion was that a fellow student, trying to undermine Jay's thesis, had started the fire. That they hadn't realized the amount of explosively flammable things stored in the building. However, Cole could not help but consider the fact that it was his fault. After all Jay's research was built upon him….on his tainted blood.
The fires of hell would reclaim their property.
Jay had lost it all in the fire, all of his research. Every sample and nearly every document. Apparently he had a USB drive of the research somewhere in their shared apartment but Cole had yet to locate it. Perhaps it had also been lost in the fire.
He gathered his courage outside of the hospital, reviewing his words. He could envision the disappointment that would be etched on Jay's face when he said the words. "I spent all day looking," he rehearsed, forcing a smile on his lips and trying to seem cool and casual. He could fake a smile for anyone, he could practice his charms in front of anybody. For Jay he failed, every single time. The man could see through his practiced routines and his forced smiles as though they were invisible. It was effortless. It always had been.
He lifted his hand to the back of his head, scratching his fingers through the soft black tresses that fell flat against his scalp. Just….go for it.
Cole and Jay had been inseparable since they met in the third grade. It was something about Jay that had cast a spell upon Cole. Cole had never gotten along with people, it was as though everyone could sense that something was wrong with him. He was creepy, he was weird and he gave most kids and adults a feeling of wrongness. It made sense given what he was but it didn't make life easy for a child who couldn't comprehend why everyone hated him so much.
No one knew the truth and yet they still hated him.
Then Jay had moved to town. A sharp contrast to Cole in every way. Cole was darkness and Jay was a ray of sunshine. Jay, whose full name was Jayanta, had moved with his family from India for his father's engineering job. His personality was bright and positive. He seemed to make friends easily and he also didn't seem to care what anyone else thought about him. Cole, on the other hand, had always been hyper aware of how everyone loathed him. The world hated him. He shouldn't have even been born. Stepped upon and ostracized, full of pain and loneliness.
So when Jay was seated next to him in school and the boy reached out a cheerful hand and gave him a dazzling smile….Cole was smitten.
They'd grown up together and Jay had helped mold him. Helped him gain confidence in himself through the positivity of friendship. It was through Jay that Cole learned to be comfortable with himself and with other people. Most of the time he was faking his comfort with strangers, always hyper aware of how rapidly things could change, but if Jay was in his life he didn't care.
Jay accepted him….all of him. Even when Jay learned the truth about his family the boy stayed by his side. His blood didn't matter.
As they aged the bond they shared deepened to become something not easily described with labels. Truly Cole was in love with Jay, had been since childhood, but he left it unspoken. The platonic bond they shared was significant enough for him and he didn't want to damage it. It wasn't hard to understand how it had happened, given their personalities. It also went without saying that Jay and Cole had also grown into rather attractive young men, the talk of most of the girls in school. Cole never had eyes for any of them and Jay was oblivious to anything related to romance….too focused on science and his studies.
Most of those studies involved Cole.
It was what had led them both to the same University, living together as roommates. Cole finishing up his Masters of Education and Jay working on a Masters in Human Genetics.
The day of the accident they were supposed to have had lunch but Jay had forgotten, a normal occurrence now that the due date for his thesis was approaching. He'd spent too much time working on a very special side project and had fallen behind.
"I'm so sorry!" Jay apologized again. "Time just….got a little wonky…."
"It's fine Jay," Cole chuckled as he held his mobile phone between his ear and shoulder. "It's not a long walk to the labs. I went and grabbed some sandwiches so we can eat quick and you can get back to work."
"Cole you are a lifesaver and a saint and I love you!" Cole listened to the other gush into the phone and he could not stop the heat from flooding into his cheeks. Even though he knew the other was exaggerating he was overjoyed to hear those words.
"I'm not an angel, I'm half demon remember," he teased back as he finally managed to hook the sandwich bag around his wrist. He lifted his head and took his phone in his hand.
"Haha, I know but seriously….I'm super sorry."
"I'm ten minutes away, save your apologies for when I get there-"
"Oh my g…"
Those words didn't sound like anything Cole had ever heard. Disbelief mixed with the soft spoken voice of horror that one rarely heard. It was rarely appropriately conveyed in movies and television and thus never heard unless someone experienced a truly terrible moment. That was the voice he heard in that moment….and he didn't hear any more. At the same time a resounding explosion filled the air, both through his headset and in front of him on campus. The ground shook as Cole stumbled backward.
Every moment after that became a haze. He could see it, smoke ahead where the lab was. Static crackling loudly from his mobile. The one blazing thought in the depths of his soul.
He'd run, as fast as his legs could carry him. He felt like he was a blur as he ran, dropping his sandwiches and phone as he went. Dropping his backpack. Dropping everything to lighten the load on his back. Just running.
The lab was on fire. Why was it on fire? All the windows had been blown out. Glass was strewn everywhere and there were students screaming and crying on the grass, cut from the flying window glass. He couldn't think about anyone else. Jay wasn't on the grass, he knew it. Jay was inside.
He didn't know if anyone tried to stop him. Even if they had it wouldn't have worked. When Cole wanted something he went for it. Racing forward he grabbed the nearest windowsill and catapulted inside and past the flames. The heat licked at his skin, smoke choked his lungs, but he ignored it. Focused on only one thing.
"JAY!" he screamed, holding back a hacking cough. He lifted his shirt to his nose, glancing around the flames building up on every wall. Eyes glaring into the smoke and flames.
There it was, a hand underneath a desk. He ran forward, ducking down to the large metal desk that had undoubtedly shielded his friend from the blast. Grabbing Jay's limp body he heaved it into his arms and ran as fast as he could from the building, leaping through the window like an Olympic hurdler.
Jay's injuries had been severe but not life threatening. He'd had the good sense to duck under the desk when the flames had first been spotted at the front door. The massive metal frame had saved his life. He'd suffered from a concussion, some nasty cuts and scrapes, smoke inhalation and broken bones from the explosion….but overall he had survived in one piece.
"I live with a demon," he had joked when he woke up in the hospital. "A little explosion won't hurt me."
All jokes and smiles, even under bandages and between coughs. His first thought had been on his research. When the school assured him that he needn't worry about his thesis, that given his previous assignments he'd get a passing grade, he shrugged it off. His thesis wasn't his worry, his side project was.
"You have to make sure, if they recover any of it, that no one else reads it but us Cole," he'd explained in the hoarse and raspy voice he'd gained as he recovered. "It's too dangerous for anyone but us. I haven't gotten far enough, it'll do more harm than good right now." But everything had truly been lost. Save that rascally USB drive that had conveniently gone missing.
Jay was not going to be happy with that. He'd ensure Cole promise to keep looking.
Enough delaying the inevitable. It was time to break the news. Cole took a step, immediately into someone's path.
The man he collided with felt like a brick wall and Cole stumbled sideways only to be pushed by another individual. He was surrounded by a crowd rather rapidly. A large group of men and women, clad in dark colors, pushing past him into the hospital. "S-sorry…." He mumbled as he managed to get out of the way. He barely managed to remove himself as they stalked through the automatic sliding doors.
It was strange to see such a sizable group. They looked like they were dressed in military attire…
No….they were dressed in military attire.
And they were carrying assault rifles.