Aletta met Anthony’s eyes briefly before finding it easier to look at the pipboy. She turned it over in her lap gingerly, making out the old words penned on the side of it, unreadable in the dark. “I tried, but I didn’t get anywhere,” she muttered. “Tried to move on and do something with myself, but… it was hard.”
She shook her head and shifted in her seat, removing herself a little from Anthony. A chilled wind flowed through the new space between their bodies. “Um, you were always a good man to me, or at least you came to be,” she said. “You had to have been to be with Luke. You do look different, now, though.” She scanned his stitched-together armor and felt her stomach stir at the parts she could recognize as Legion. Though not willing to speak the truth, what she said next was an almost irrelevant, “…You look older.”
Anthony did not press anymore on the subject of Aletta’s past. “I am older, aren’t I? Almost thirty, I think. I don’t remember. Something my better half kept track of instead of me. I’ve been in the sun a lot, I hear that makes someone look older, too,” Anthony replied. “But I don’t think you’re referring to my tan. That’s not the first time you looked at me like that tonight.” Subconsciously, a hand had crawled its way to his neck, the jagged lines of scar tissue strange and familiar all the same. “If you have something to ask me, I couldn’t give you anything but the truth.”
Aletta’s eyes snapped to the pipboy and stayed there as she listened. Relief ballooned inside of her, and quickly she wiped away the wetness in her eyes. “You tried?” she squeaked. “I tried too,” was what she said next, but it was airy and died in her throat. What she had tried wasn’t honorable or full of pride, and she wasn’t prepared to tell Anthony.
Aletta put her hand on the pipboy’s unlit screen. She thumbed over the dials and heard, in the recesses of her memories, Luke’s voice explaining the controls and its uses.
"It wasn’t a stupid idea," she said after a moment, and sniffed. Her voice regained its strength. "It scared the hell out of me to find it gone but I understand what you wanted to do. He would understand, too. I think you… I think you did well."
Anthony exhaled sharply, and parked the pipboy onto Aletta’s lap. “I suppose I have done alright,” he said, tapping the tips of his fingers together. He sounded almost frustrated. “But I think the things I have done would just worry him. I am no longer what I was before — stupid, reckless, angry — but how am I supposed to know I’m any better? I have been alone for so long and I have spoken so little.” He looked over his shoulder, out into the blue-stained light of the desert.
"I do not think I’ll ever truly be a good man. I think there something so internally messed up inside me from everything I’ve seen that I just can’t be what I want," he continued, returning his eyes to Aletta. "I sound too bitter and negative with that. I mean — I mean I’ll never stop trying." He paused, swallowed. "You said you tried, too. You don’t seem to be…"
"Y— yeah, I, um… I come here to the bus sometimes… On holidays, especially. But I hadn’t visited since last Valentine’s…" Aletta paused and lifted her face up to look at Anthony. "Wait- do you have Luke’s pipboy? Is that what you were trying to say?”
Anthony pulled back and looked sheepishly away, reaching for the bag he had discarded on the floor earlier. He dragged it to his boots, fingers twitching at the zipper.
"Yeah, uh, it was me. I don’t know what I was going to do, really. I just. I had an idea, it was stupid." He pulled it out, cradling it in his hands like it was something incredible fragile. "I thought, maybe I could be as good as he was, maybe I could take what he gave to me and follow in his giant footsteps if I tried hard enough." His tongue sounded like a dry cloth across his bottom lip when he wet it. "And I have been trying. I have done nothing but try. I might’ve died and been reborn — I think I’ve grown as a person, that I’ve become something I could be proud of someday, when I’m old. I came here to see if my hand could fit the burden he could bear, but it’s just…" Anthony paused, speculating what was in his grasp. He laid the attached glove across his forearm, to his fingertips. "… it’s just too big for my hands."
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~)