Aletta curled into him instinctively, tucking toward her stomach like a string had been pulled on her back. Her free hand slipped under Anthony’s arm and held onto his bicep. “Thank you,” she said on a breath. She looked dazed, scanning the mattress unseeingly, until finally she shut her eyes, and sighed. “I’m happy you’re alive. I think it’s the first time I’ve been happy in a long time.”
His nose was crushed into her hair, but he supposed that wasn’t the reason he was having trouble breathing. “I think I’m in the same boat, I also think I haven’t cried since I was 18,” Anthony murmured, feeling warm like molded putty. “Thank you, too — thank you for waiting here to beat me up. And for being alive, as well.”
"Nothing, we didn’t do anything wrong," she whispered, quick and automatic like a hushed "You’ll be alright" to a wounded man. "No one thought this would happen. I didn’t. I never did, I was so unprepared. I was lost. Really lost, I tried so hard to…"
She was still holding his hand, but it was coarse and cold. A chill emanated from all surfaces of him and the rough material on his shoulder dug into her cheek. What Anthony said deepened the pit which emptied her chest. It felt like her fingers had lost grasp on the loose dirt trying to climb out of her own grave.
"…You’re not a hull, though, you can’t be…"
Anthony shook his head and cleared his throat. He gripped her tighter. “No, I’m not. I know that, I’m just… I’m being stupid. I wouldn’t be here if I were empty. You know me, I, I get weird and poetic when I’m upset.” He bit his lip. “When it first happened, I did feel as if I were sucked into the void. I felt bitter, lost, and I did not know what to do. I still don’t know what I’m doing, but something inside of me is different. I feel light, unchained, and my shoulders don’t struggle from the weights they used to.”
He looked outside at the rocks, starkly black against the white sand. “I thought, at first, that I would want to die. That I wouldn’t survive a year. But then I survived one, two, three, and I don’t want to stop.” Anthony blinked down at their joined hands. His eyes felt wet again. “I would be a terrible man to speak to a ghost I love and tell her losing has destroyed me. That she’d brought upon my fate by doing something she couldn’t stop. No, I am tired, but I am alive because I want to be.”
Charlie stared down at the pouch he handed her for a couple of seconds, her eyebrows pushing together. She wasn’t very 100% about the plan. But, really, that rarely happened anyway. She chose it. If it didn’t work out, it was her fault.
The girl swallowed, holding it tight and nodding at him.
"…Yeah. Yeah, lets go." She said, starting out of the room.
He followed behind Charlie, wary of the creaking floor and the reignited voices from above. Up there, they seemed distracted and unaware. That, that was a good thing.
When they drew into the room, Anthony swept instantly to the other side with the door. He was heavy, but the floor did not shriek as he had feared. He had a lock picking kit in his bag that he’d fished out before stepping through the threshold, and now he found his big fingers clambering awkwardly with the lock. It had truly been a while, but he swallowed down the anxiety. He hoped that the woman had good luck.
"I’ve been alone too, mostly. Nothing’s been the same. Um, when the attack happened, I… I was with the women and they took all of us underground, this- this hidden room. They wouldn’t let me out. Hours after the sounds stopped, they opened the door and everyone was gone." Aletta hesitated, staring at the mattress. "Burning. I looked for you…" She sniffed, felt another pang of crying coming on, but willed it away. "Looked for all of you."
"So did I, the second I crawled out of that cage. I had a lot of wounds, almost broke into a fever and that would’ve been the end of it. I got there a month after it happened, and all there was was cold ashes." Anthony let off a soft, joyless laugh. "I never thought it would go this way, you know? When I was twenty, I never thought, ‘five years from now, I’ll be this wandering hull of a man, I’ll be alone in a desert full of ghosts’. No, I thought, ‘maybe I’ll grow a garden,’ or, ‘maybe I’ll have a chance to catch my breath." His voice sounded as if it were eroded by years of sand. A whisper, "Is this what atonement is? What have we done wrong? Ha."
(i am late to the bandwagon, but here we go. it’s pretty unexciting ~w~)
((hey guys!! i’m really sorry about my inactivity. my life has been really busy for the past few weeks and i haTE COLLEGE THERe’S SO MUCH TO DO! but i should be a lot more active soon uwu thank u))
Her mouth moved, and she had to swallow before speaking quickly, “I’m sorry. Oh, god. I can’t imagine. I was hoping s-somehow that wasn’t… If it could be anything other than…”
Her fingers searched down his arm and closed apologetically around his thumb and palm. Aletta shifted and leaned into his side like a shell, tucking her head into his shoulder. It was the least she could do. Like a bandage for a wound. “You’ve been alone ever since?”
Anthony took her hand tightly, leaning his chin into her hair. “It’s not your fault, you don’t have to apologize to me.” He paused, taking in a shaky breath. “And yeah, I’ve been alone. I’ve, I’ve met people here and there, but I never really… I dunno, it never really works for me. I don’t go into the settlements much, either.”
Aletta shut the door tightly as he went ahead, listening. It was quiet inside, shielded from the winds; and to hear his voice captured in the metal hull like being swathed in protective arms, it sent her back years. It was chilling and she sat next to him gingerly, knees touching, staring at him the same way she would stare at an ancient, breakable relic. “I don’t think so,” she squeaked. “I’ve been busy. D-doing a lot of different things, um…”
It didn’t seem right to delve into that right now (or maybe she just wasnt brave enough). Aletta shifted and put her hand on his thigh, then on his chest again, looking at the armor pointedly. “Where- where have you been? What happened?” She met his eyes. “How did you survive?”
Time in the sun had brought wrinkles to the corners of Anthony’s eyes, and they appeared when he crunched up his face and stared forward at the floor. He turned his attention to his hands, wide and calloused. “I hope you had a better way out of the situation than I did. The Legion took me in, mercifully, as a slave. I think I would’ve rather died than serve them.”
He snorted. “But I did not want to die, and they couldn’t hold me, so I escaped. I watched Paolo, Sarah, Jack all enter with me, but none of them survived — the Legion executed them for being too burned to work.”
Anthony gave her a humorless smile. “You’d think, after all these years, people would understand that I am not a slave. Then again, I still call them people, even now.”