Darcy woke up coughing. The air was full of smoke, and for a second she stupidly wondered why Johnny was making such a ridiculously grand entrance. And then her vision cleared and she realized that Johnny hadn’t showed up to their date, again. Which was a shame, because he’d be pretty useful right about now, considering the flames that licked the walls and the smoke that swirled in her lungs, robbing her of breath.
She crawled out from under the table, trying to figure out what had happened. Darcy had been sitting at the little table for two, wondering how many times a girl could get stood up on a date before she lost all dignity and self-respect. Johnny had already been over fifteen minutes late, and she was debating walking out of the little bistro—and out of his life—when there’d been a deafening burst of sound and everything had gone black. And now here she was, bruised and dizzy and unable to tell up from down. Bracing herself against the table, she peered through the smoke, trying to remember which direction she should go for the exit. But the white film covered everything, and she could barely make out dark shapes, much less a path.
She knew that the color of the smoke was important, but for the life of her couldn’t recall the meaning of white smoke—really hot, maybe? Yeah thanks, brain. Like she couldn’t tell that on her own. Shaking off those thoughts, Darcy forced herself to move—her brain was getting fuzzy from a lack of oxygen and she couldn’t seem to focus. Several steps in, she stumbled over something. Falling to her knees, she probed the shape with her hands. It was a young boy, she realized with horror. A sob escaped her, catching and setting fire to her throat. Tears laid waste to her cheeks, and her eyes burned so badly she couldn’t see.
Darcy tried to lift the boy up to get them both out, but she was completely out of energy. She couldn’t seem to find the strength to breathe, or to stand, and a sense of doom overcame her. Eventually, she gave up and sat with the boy. Maybe she couldn’t save him, but she wouldn’t abandon him, either. All of a sudden, she wished Johnny was here. So she could punch him or kiss him, she didn’t know. But either way, he was at the forefront of her mind as she draped herself over the boy, trying to protect him from any falling debris.
And as if her thoughts had summoned him, suddenly Johnny was there.
Darcy didn’t know if she was hallucinating him yelling her name, at first; everything was a haze and nothing seemed real. But then his voice came right behind her, and she started to hope. “Darcy!” he yelled, and then all the smoke and fire was gone from the room.
Oh, yeah. She’d forgotten he could do that. Fortunately, until now she’d never been in a position to witness it. There was a first time for everything, she guessed. A part of her wondered how she could be so calm after a near-death experience. Lack of oxygen, her brain snarkily replied. Her internal argument was cut off when gentle hands pulled her off the boy and turned her over.
Darcy peered up at him through dry and scratchy eyes. Her eyes welled with tears, blurring the image of him staring down at her. It was a beautiful sight nonetheless, and she choked on a sob. Johnny’s eyes softened and he reached for her with gentle hands, but she pushed him away. The panic seeped back into his gaze and he scanned her for life-threatening injuries.
“The boy,” she croaked, gesturing toward his body with a weak hand. He followed her gaze and nodded. His expression changed into something firm and strong—a true superhero face, she thought. This was what he was doing every time he stood her up, she realized. Saving people, like this little boy. Like her. How could she be mad at him for that?
“I’ll be right back,” he promised, oblivious to her thoughts. With a brief kiss to her forehead, bringing more stinging tears to her eyes, he stood up. And then he was gone, carrying the boy to safety.
Slowly, mindful of her still-swirling head, Darcy levered herself into a sitting position. Reaching blindly for the table’s edge, she carefully pulled herself to her feet. Johnny came sprinting back in the door at that moment, and raced to steady her.
“God, Darce,” he groaned. “You couldn’t wait for me to get back?”
Couldn’t wait raced through her brain on repeat, looping over and over again in her brain. She didn’t want to wait anymore. “No,” she whispered, reaching for him. “I couldn’t wait.”
As soon as her lips touched his, his whole body curved around her. His hands were everywhere, and she had the feeling he was reassuring himself that she was okay as much as he was enjoying the kiss. With soft, tender kisses pressed over and over against her mouth—she still couldn’t breathe very well, so a heavy makeout was off the table—he wrapped her in the cocoon of his body, simultaneously setting her on fire and keeping her safe from harm. Standing there in the circle of his arms, she forgot about the terror, the fire, the soot on her cheek and the bruises on her knees and elbows. There was nothing else but him.
“I’m so sorry,” he finally whispered against her mouth, and she drew away. Tears shimmered on his cheeks before they evaporated into steam, and he didn’t bother to wipe them away. He was open to her, ready for judgment. “I should’ve been here,” he said, his heart in his eyes. He stood in front of her, waiting for her to break him apart.
Luckily for both of them, she had no intention of doing so. “You were.” His eyes fluttered closed, and she reached up to place a gentle kiss on his mouth.
His eyes peeked open. “Not giving up on me?” he asked. His words were teasing, but his gaze was vulnerable.
“I get it now,” was all she said.
“I still need to make it up to you,” he said. She wasn’t going to pass up an offer like that, so she said nothing, which made him chuckle.
“Let’s go home, Darce,” he said, sliding an arm around her shoulders and steering her toward the door, “so that I can get started.”