“Are you seriously going to walk?” the driver asked worriedly. The storm had intensified in just the past five minutes, with rain falling hard it was like bullets hitting the roof of the cab.

“I’ll be fine,” she said reassuringly as she gave him her payment. “Thank you for worrying.”

The driver handed her a portable umbrella, saying gruffly, “Take this at least.”

Her eyes widened. “Thank you!”

Ten minutes later, and the umbrella proved to be a huge help, protecting her from the rain’s lashing as she struggled to continue walking uphill. With the wind coming from the opposite direction, she had an even harder and slower time moving, and she had to hold on to her umbrella tightly as the wind threatened to carry it off any minute.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the fork leading to the main road, which was far enough for the barricades with its reflector lights to be barely visible from where she was standing.

It was when Seri was just a few minutes away from the cabin that she spied a car precariously hanging on the edge of the cliff, with half its body crushed under the weight of a storm-toppled tree.

Moving forward, she thought the car looked familiar. She squinted through the rain until she could make sense of the license plate.

Seri whitened.

Fyodor!

That was Fyodor’s car.

Without thinking, she tossed the umbrella away and broke into a run, screaming, “Papa?”

Fyodor wearily opened his eyes when he heard someone screaming. What he saw made him blink past the mix of sweat and blood blurring his gaze.

“Papa! Papa!”

His gaze cleared, and he realized that it wasn’t an apparition at all.

It really was Seri, and she was staring at him with a stricken look on her face.

“Get away from me!” he managed to rasp.

The fury in Fyodor’s voice made Seri’s eyes sting, but she reminded herself doggedly about Sergei’s words.

With the tree bearing down on the car’s hood and roof, there was no way for her to go through the doors to pull Fyodor out, leaving her with only one other alternative.

“I’m c-coming in.” Taking a deep breath, Seri slowly and carefully climbed through the hole left by the shattered window at the back, doing her best to avoid the larger shards of glass scattered all over.

The car started to swing downwards at her weight, and she froze.

Fyodor’s heart jumped to his throat, and he said sharply, “I don’t need your help.” He knew he should no longer care about Seri, but goddamn it, he did. He still thought of her as his daughter, even knowing that she wasn’t the girl he thought she was.

Ignoring his words, she said shakily, “W-we don’t have much time, Papa—-”

“Don’t call me that.”

“S-sorry.” She bit her lip hard. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. With a third of the car already hanging off the cliff, now was not the time for tears.

Seri moved forward, more carefully this time, and the car barely shifted.

“If you think this will make me change my mind about you, it won’t,” Fyodor gritted out, “so why don’t you just leave—-”

“Not without you.”

Fyodor didn’t know what to feel as he watched Seri move towards him.

Why did it have to be like this, God?

The last thing he remembered was losing control of the car because of the slippery road before crashing through the steel rails. When he woke up, it was to find himself trapped under a tree inside his car and with a gash in the forehead and broken ribs.

He had thought death was inevitable – until he heard Seri’s voice calling out to him.

She moved another inch and the car swung downward again. Outside, rain continued pouring hard, making the ground softer, and her blood turned cold as she realized she had so little time left to get Fyodor out of the car.

“Pa—-Fyodor,” she whispered. “What do you need me to do?” When he didn’t answer, she pleaded, “Please. We don’t have much time.”

He said finally, “My seatbelt. If you can release it, I can free myself.”

“I g-get it.” She swallowed. “But if I reach for your seatbelt, you’ll have to move quick. The car could—-” She had a feeling the car wouldn’t be able to bear both their weights for too much time before it went crashing down with a fifty-foot drop.

“I know.” Fyodor’s voice was harsh. “I’ll make it.”

“At the count of three then.”

Fyodor nodded.

“One.”

Tension wrapped around him, but he forced himself to concentrate.

“Two.

The horrendous taste of fear filled her mouth, but Seri deliberately ignored it.

“Three.”

She reached for his seatbelt, pushing the release button hard. A moment later, the seatbelt released with a swooshing sound. At the same time, the car started swinging down.

“Now, Papa!”

Grunting with the effort, Fyodor pushed the tree off him, just enough so he could wriggle free. He swiftly moved up, causing the car to swing towards the road and for everything inside the car to roll and tumble towards Seri. He heard Seri suck in her breath as he finally freed himself.


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