Layla clenched Darius’s hands in her own.
“I love you.” She kissed him, desperately holding onto the moment while it lasted. When she pulled back, tears were in her eyes. She took a steadying breath before speaking again. “I want you to move on. Don’t cling to ‘us’. Find someone-”
“Never,” Darius cut in.
Layla gave him a sad smile, put a finger to his lips, and tried again.
“Find someone else and be happy.”
“We can fight this,” Darius pleaded. He moved his hands to her arms and squeezed gently.
“We can’t. I’ve seen the end results, and I can already feel the drug working. We haven’t much time. Promise me.”
Darius closed his mouth firmly, defiantly.
“Darius, please. Promise me you’ll move on. Please.” Layla’s voice cracked on her last word.
“We can find a cure though.” If he could just make her see things his way…
“Darius, don’t waste your life searching for the impossible. I love you too much to let you do that.”
“Then we’ll start over.” Darius’s voice took on a desperate edge.
“Why won’t you see that we can do this? We can beat the odds. We’ll make it all work out somehow.”
“Because I’ve already seen this scenario and countless others play out. It never works. All that’s left is frustration. And pain. You deserve so much more than that. Please.”
“Layla, I love you.”
More tears plunged down her cheeks, but her smile was bright.
“I love-” she stopped, like she’d lost her train of thought.
Darius watched as the light left her eyes, leaving empty voids in the place of their former radiance. Layla blinked and furrowed her brows. She was frowning as she took a step back from Darius. His hands fell easily from her arms.
“Who are you?”
Darius sucked in an unsteady breath.
“I…” He shook his head slightly. “Nobody.” He practically choked on the word. Darius cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m nobody. I was just passing through.” His voice was as steady as he could make it. He could feel his heart withering and dying, leaving a hole as empty as Layla’s eyes.
Layla watched as the stranger walked away, a longing she couldn’t understand settling deep inside her chest.