Word from Paul had been scattered and brief, but the messages from which they had earned themselves a plan were all that they had to build upon. There had been a momentary discussion on what they should be between Adam and Jace, while Veronica had chosen to spend that time glaring at the female newcomer. Julia, of course, had simply chosen to glare in response. He had felt his eyes being drawn to the little power struggle many times. In truth, it was almost beautiful.
They had split up in order to go in their own directions, leaving Adam and Veronica to go and find Paul. There wasn't much hope of finding a lead at all, which was actually more than a little terrifying, but focussing on what they could not do was hardly going to help inspire the confidence that Adam felt that he needed. Thankfully, Veronica was there beside him to be an inspiration.
"I don't mean to sound cruel or anything," she was saying as they were walking up towards the art college. It was not the most welcoming way to begin a sentence, and somewhat contradictory, but Adam chose not to interrupt. "But do you think that, if I ended up disappearing like this, everybody would come looking for me? I know Ally's really important to Paul, but you and Jace are as concerned as he is. Do you think Ed will be turning up to help out too?"
Throughout, Adam glanced back and forth between his girlfriend and the street ahead. He was very tempted to be immediately reassuring, but he let her finish before he began. "She's part of life," he told her easily. "When we go to uni or go out to make a performance, she's there. You are too though. I'm sure everybody would be just as worried and desperate to help if it was you in this situation. I couldn't say about Ed really; god knows where he is or what's going on in his head. Honestly, I'd love to know. I'd call him one of my best friends, but I can't honestly say I know the first bit about him. I don't even know where he lives, so there's no real way to track him down and get him to help out."
"What kind of friend is he when he just randomly turns up out of nowhere and he's never there when you need him?" Veronica asked, watching carefully through lowered eyelids.
Adam only caught her attention out of his peripheral vision. It was almost like she was trying to remind him of the older days, when she considered Disbelief some sort of looming enemy. "Weird thing about Ed is that he's always there when you need him, even if you hadn't quite realised that you need somebody. I know he's not here right now, but I think it's just because we don't really need him yet. He's like some sort of benevolent overseer making sure that we don't get in too much trouble on his watch."
"You paint a thrilling picture, but he could be anybody in reality, couldn't he?" Veronica continued to question. "You've heard all the rumours about his family. They'd be a damned sight less scary if we knew what was actually real, but all I've heard are stories about people going insane and then fire. There's a lot of talk about fire, and even then, there's barely any talk about him; just his family."
"Well, I've heard all this, and I decided to ignore it, so should you," said Adam sharply. "You can't know for sure what's going on, and I don't have a clue. We just have to decide whether or not we have enough faith to just accept him as he is and move on. There's a lot of people I barely know; just because Ed doesn't speak, doesn't mean that I know him any less than I know them."
"What's he got to be so quiet about anyway?" continued Veronica, as though she hadn't heard a word that Adam had said. "I don't get what's so special about him that means that he can get away with it. Then again, you've started doing that too; being secretive and everything. You always got so annoyed at Paul and Jace and even Ed sometimes keeping you in the dark and being defensive when you just want to know things. Now, you've been around them so long that it's like you're turning into them. You always did look up to Paul, and now it looks like you're really being a good little boy for him. You're even chasing after his girlfriend now."
"Wow, what's got you all bitter and conceited all of a sudden?" inquired Adam, bitterness in his voice, but he was more than a little sick of hearing the same old story from his partner.
He was not surprised when she halted her walk, but, for once, Adam did not step and beg her forgiveness. Instead, he marched onwards and left her behind. He even picked up his pace, making it blatantly obvious that he was not going to stop. He heard her make an angry sound behind him, but even this did not stop him. Before long, and to his great surprise, Veronica put on a burst of speed and ran to catch up with him.
"Fine," she started loudly, "you're pissed off, I get it. I know her too, and I want to see her safe, so I suppose stopping is a bad idea. That doesn't mean I'm going to forget about this though. We're going to talk about this when we get home later. Now, tell me again, why exactly do we have to go and find Paul when we're supposed to be looking for Ally?"
Adam sighed, but he did not slow down at all. For once, he was determined that she would match him rather than him intentionally slowing down for her. "He's got a lot of numbers to call, we don't," he stated. "He's just literally running through everybody he knows who also knows Ally and trying to get them on the lookout. In the end, he's going to need everybody doing what they can, but it's better if we're there to be available to him really, including you, so you'd best forget about your own problems for now. I'm doing that and Jace is doing that, so you should too."
"And what about the new girl?" snapped Veronica. "I don't even know who she is but-"
"Oh, that's what this is about? Well you always were insanely jealous of any other women who might find room in my life, Ally included," Adam sent at her, his own pace picking up yet again, so that she was struggling to keep up.
There were a few moments where the only sounds available to them were those of their own footsteps, but it didn't last.
"Well we'd better hurry and help then," stated Veronica. "Hurry after me - we might even be able to get some of the fat off of you."
With that, she moved into a jog and moved off into the distance ahead of him. Adam sighed, very much against actually bothering to run, but it seemed like a sensible choice, so he stretched his back and started forwards as fast as he felt that his body would go.
He caught up with Veronica quickly, and together they pushed onwards down the busy streets towards the Student Halls. They made it to Smithdown Road quickly enough, but this was the point at which Adam's ribs began to ache. Running down the high street towards the huge superstore proved exhausting, and Veronica certainly seemed to realise it. Her carefully regimented breathing, coupled with the rhythmic stroke and stride of her body, showed quite clearly that she had been dedicating even more time to the gym, particularly on the treadmill. Adam, however, was quite horrendously out of shape. His limbs began to ache in no time at all, and his thighs were not even remotely prepared for the amount of work that they had to take up there and then. However, he did not give up.
Veronica was goading him, and that was extremely obvious. The smile on her face said that she had him where she wanted him. Completely aware that her own capabilities far outstripped his own, she was always four or five steps ahead of him so that she might continually glance back at him with an exciteable little smile on her face. Veronica was taking great pleasure in seeing his exhaustion.
He continued to push himself hard, but his breathing started to rasp, and his legs felt like jelly in no time. He didn't make it as far as the supermarket; his body simply could not handle it. Instead, he stopped along the road to wheeze out his breath and cough heavily.
Veronica stopped her taunting at that point, obviously feeling as though he had suffered enough. First, she slowed down, then she turned back and jogged happily back towards him so that she could stand before his bent over form.
"Had enough have you?" she asked him with a crooked smile. "I thought you'd have a bit more energy. He needs your help here, you should hurry."
Adam tried to force out a retort, but his words were stunted by his inability to breathe. Air came in gasps and rushed out just as quickly, leaving only a latent sting in his chest. It suddenly became extremely obvious that this had been a very bad idea. Perhaps chasing women down the street was not something that Adam should ever have indulged in. Of course, the fact that Veronica continually let out brief, but painful giggles, was not helping.
"You've put in too much in the first bit, haven't you?" said Veronica, her voice dropping to suggest disappointment. "You always like to give it your all, even if you know just how long a journey is ahead. You're as enthusiastic as a kid sometimes, you know?"
Again, he fought to defend himself, but he simply could not gather together the oxygen, the words and the urge to do so. The laughing had stopped now, and it was almost believable that the mockery had done so too. Still, in truth that was much worse. The only real possibility now was that she pitied him. This made him almost desperate to defend himself, but that did not change the fact that he still couldn't manage it.
"I'll run ahead and get Paul," Veronica told him with a sigh. Both the disappointment that he feared and the pity could be heard more clearly than anything else in her voice. "I'm sure this is exactly what he needs right now."
Before Adam could speak a word to intervene, Veronica had taken off down the high street, at a much faster pace than she had bothered with when he had been trying so hard to run beside her. He felt embarrassed now - at once empty and alone. He coughed more, struggling to pull in the air that he needed, then began to push forwards again. He did not run, nor jog, nor walk at a decent pace. Instead, he took on an unintentional dawdle that he abhorred, but could not overcome.
He was getting near to the park that the Halls were situated beside when his pocket began to buzz and vibrate frantically. He pulled out his phone to see that he had received a text message from Paul. It was simple, brief and it must have been sent well before Veronica could possibly have reached him.
Got the name we needed. Sean called me to taunt. His cousins and him have got her back at Fire Brand. Something about getting Cooper too. I'm on my way down, to meet me there.
Taking a deep breath, Adam did all that he could to compose himself, then coughed again, before going down to one knee and cursing himself for not being able to rush to the aid of his friends.
The next piece will be the final installment on Ultimate-Guitar of Disbelief. It is going to be something special, just for the sake of sticking with me for so long. It's going to be entirely from the point of view of Ed, and non-canon at that.
I will quite literally be taking the comments and ratings from the final piece on here, as an attached letter, to whatever publisher or agent that I approach, in order to attempt a sweetener. I want to show that this story already has something of a small following, which I firmly believe that all publishers would be more than interested in. As such, I'm crossing my fingers that you're going to be nice to me in this next, final, section.
It's been awesome. Really. Every single comment and rating, good or bad, has served as a constant source of encouragement, improvement and inspiration. I can quite literally never offer the thanks that every single one of you deserve for reading so much as ten words that I have written for this website. I remember when I first tried to do this, and the first part was rejected by the management team. I have moved forwards so much since then, becoming both a professional writer and a capable writer.
For this, I blame you.