Monthly Archives: January 2015

Frozen

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Photo By: Flickr/LadyDragonflyCC

Photo By: Flickr/LadyDragonflyCC

“I know that it’s not much, but I wanted to apologize again.”

“Sure.”

“I treated you like an asshole. I know.”

“Yeah, you did. You made it perfectly clear at X-Mas that you didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

“I was giving you a way out.”

“A way out? Fuck you. You weren’t giving me a way out. You were giving yourself a way out. You wanted to put this on me instead of you—fuck you. You were doing what you always do—run.”

“…Well I’m not running now.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that.”

~

Alexa stood outside the building, staring at nothing in particular as snow whirled around her. It caught on her clothing, speckling her dark coat with white flakes and blending with her pale hair. She scanned the small, huddled buildings across from her and then glanced down a snowy slope to where men and women played some sort of game. Their laughter and shouts filtered toward her—she looked, but she didn’t see.

Everyone makes a big deal about fire—but it’s ice they should worry about. Ice can burn if it’s cold enough. And ice can lock away secrets in a vault harder than steel when the temperatures drop.

She felt sick to her stomach, her gut twisting as she swallowed hard. It was her fault, she knew. She pushed people away. She always had—maybe always would. But when I finally realized I didn’t want that…well, it’s a pity it’s too late. Her fingers clenched as more laughter sounded up from down the hill. His words echoed in her mind, a reverberation that sounded over and over and over again like some sort of sick mantra: You died for Barnes. You fucking throw your life away, and all I ever wanted was not for you to die for me—but to live with me.

Alexa turned to look away from the people playing in the snow, her breath shaky as she slowly felt her fingers and toes become numb. In a few moments, her arms and legs would follow, and then it would turn from numbness to pain. She closed her eyes briefly, fighting back the urge to scream. Stew left. Mickey doesn’t want anything to do with you. You’re used like a tool by everyone else. And you were stupid enough to not wake up to it until now. You allowed it to happen.

You’re an idiot, Alexa. A fucking idiot.

She opened her eyes again, watching her breath puff in front of her face—white in a white world. She wasn’t sure why she’d even come here to the Grove—to the small town north of Hayven. Perhaps she was seeking some kind of solace before going into the Grave. Perhaps she was trying to find answers. Who knew.

Her eyes blurred slightly and she glanced downward, blinking rapidly. He was the one that always had my back. He was the one that helped—and I was too ignorant to see. Quickly, she passed the back of her hand in front of her eyes. She took a steadying breath before breathing out two words to herself, “Fuck him.”

She didn’t need Mickey. She didn’t need Stew. She didn’t need D.O.C. or Barnes. She didn’t need their approval.

“Fuck them.”

She gritted her teeth slightly, her lips hardening into a thin line. She was done being a tool—done being a knife and a sword. She was done molding herself to others’ expectations. She was done with it all.

If they hate me, that’s fine. I’m done seeking fucking approval for what I do. I’m done being a fucking implement. I’m a fucking person—and I’m going to live on my fucking terms. I’ll take what’s mine. And lord help whoever or whatever stands in my way. It’s my turn.

The snow continued to swirl around her as she walked down the slope, her boots making small footprints behind her. She didn’t feel the cold now; she was used to it.

~

I never lied to you. And now? My only regret is that I didn’t wake up until you were long gone.

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Cold as Ice

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Photo By: Flickr/ladybugdiscovery

Photo By: Flickr/ladybugdiscovery

“From far, from eve and morning

And yon twelve-winded sky,

The stuff of life to knit me

Blew hither: here am I.

Now—for a breath I tarry

Nor yet disperse apart—

Take my hand quick and tell me,

What have you in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;

How shall I help you, say;

Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters

I take my endless way.” -A.E. Housman

~

The morning sunshine was partially blurred by the cold clouds that swept over the snowy landscape, causing patterns of dark shade within the forest clearing. A large building, covered in frost and hung with icicles, stood watch amidst the darkened wood. The wind whispered its secrets across the space, rattling bare branches and catching the pale hair that framed the face of one of the two figures standing there.

“I’m leaving.”

The words hung in the space between them, crystallizing in the frozen air. Alexa stared at the large, dark-haired man in front of her, green eyes tracing the partial mask that covered his lower face. She spoke haltingly, slowly, “What do you mean? How long?”

Stew’s brown eyes met hers for a moment, unwavering, “I don’t know. I can’t dog your heels forever, Alexa. I can’t…” He paused briefly and then continued, “I can’t continue like this.” He glanced downward and slowly reached toward the large bag at his side. Alexa watched as his hand fumbled in the pocket and then produced a small leather book. A brass clasp fastened its pages tightly together, keeping safe words that were never meant to be read.

He held the book for a moment, looking down at it, “It means a lot that you gave this to me. I know what it represents. I can feel your life here in these pages.” His eyes squinted slightly, and Alexa could tell he was smiling wryly beneath his mask, “Don’t worry. I didn’t read it. But I left something in here for you for when I’m gone.”

He handed the journal to Alexa, and she took it carefully with small, black gloved hands. Something tightened in her chest as she stared at him for a moment. She swallowed hard and then looked downward at the book in her hands, unable to speak. Her eyes traced the worn letter, the small bird etched into the front cover. Coward, Alexa. You’re a coward.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but if there is anything in here that you want to say to someone, say it. Don’t…” Stew paused for a moment, as if gathering his words. Alexa squeezed her eyes shut as his voice continued, “Don’t wait, Alexa. Don’t wait until it’s too late. People care about you. They’d be by your side in an instant if you asked it of them. Don’t leave them words on a page. “

Alexa’s chest tightened further, her breath coming in puffs in front of her face. The cold pricked at the corners of her eyes as her voice wavered. You’re weak. She swallowed again, “I’m not a good person, Stew.” She paused for a moment, turning away slightly and then quickly continued, “And don’t say that I am, because I’m not. I’m a good enough judge of character, and I know myself well enough to say that I…know exactly what I am.” You’ll always be Rook—in some form or other. You can’t escape that. Alexa shook her head and a short laugh left her throat, bitter as the cold around them, “Fuck, Stew. I kill people. You know that. And that’s the reason I push people away. Why I push you away. I’m a coward.”

She continued staring at the journal, her eyes blurring slightly.  Fuck. I’m crying.

“Alexa, look at me.”

She tried to steady her breathing and looked up at Stew, quickly wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she sniffed. He gently pushed a strand of hair away from her face, “You’re not a coward. I’ve seen you. I know you. I’ve watched men try to turn you into a weapon, a tool—a sword, a knife. I’ve watched you time and time again stand up against them. Don’t let anyone control you. Not Dantes. Not House. Not anyone.”

Alexa blinked rapidly and glanced down again. It’s your fault. You put him through hell. You pushed him away, “Are you leaving partly because I…because of me?”

She heard Stew sigh, a heavy breath as he spoke softly, “No…No, Alexa. The time we spend together. The jokes we make. Fighting. Living. That makes me happy. There are those who are lucky to find one love in their lives. I’ve had the joy to find two. But I’m not my own person here. I need to leave…but know that if you asked me to stay, I would.”

He would stay if you asked, Alexa. He’d stay, and he’d work and do as you asked. She felt like she was choking, her eyes stinging. But he wouldn’t be happy. Her voice wavered as she spoke, “I won’t. I won’t ask you to stay because you’d be miserable here. I’ve watched you, Stew. I’ve watched time and time again as you stood up for others. I’ve watched as they took you for granted. And you…you’re the anchor, Stew. You’ve always stood fast for others, and for me. Whenever I waver, I always think of you and come back to the fucking bullshit code I live by.” Snow and branches swirled in front of her eyes as she continued, “If I were a better person. If I were less selfish, I’d wish you well on your way. I’d wish you happiness and for you to live your life. But I’m not. I’m not a good person. I won’t ask you to stay, but I love you.”

There was silence—silence except for the small hush of wind. Alexa sniffed, feeling Stew’s eyes on her, “Bullshit. No you don’t.”

“I do.”

“Then look at me when you say it.”

Alexa took a steadying breath and glanced upward at the man in front of her. His brown eyes looked back at her, unjudging. She closed her eyes briefly and then spoke, “I love you.”

She could hear his breath stop for a moment before he spoke the next words, “I love you, too, Alexa. You could come with me.” There was a hopeful note there—hope, but not expectation.

Alexa exhaled slowly, blowing the pale strands of hair in front of her face as icy tracks raced down her face. Her voice broke, “I can’t.”

He nodded once, looking off to the side as he spoke softly, “You know, it’s funny. I never look forward to the dawn anymore.” His eyes crinkled faintly, as if he were smiling, “It’s because we always seem to be around one another more during the nights. And we always look at the stars together.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “A year from now, I’ll stand on this spot before dawn while the stars are still out. I’ll wait for you.”

Alexa quickly wiped her face with the back of her hand, taking a steadying breath. She looked up at him, unwavering, “I’ll be there.”

She didn’t tell him what she knew–didn’t tell him the full truth. How could she when she didn’t want it to be true, herself?

~

“These, in the day when heaven was falling,

The hour when earth’s foundations fled,

Followed their mercenary calling,

And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;

They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;

What God abandoned, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.” -A.E. Housman

Starvation

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Forest Winter

“People are starving. If we don’t act now, it’s just going to get worse. Winter is far from over, and it’s going to be hard enough as it is.”

“Whatever you decide, know that I’m here for you. Like I said before, I’d go to hell and back again for you, darlin’.”

Pause.

“I hate this.”

“What?”

“This—what I do. Making these decisions.”

“It’s your choice.”

“I guess it is.”

~

Hunger isn’t something you can dismiss. It constantly gnaws at your insides and turns your stomach. It claws at your strength so that moving seems difficult.  All you want to do is sleep as you drink water just to make it feel like you’re full. You find yourself mechanically going through the motions of day-to-day life—not thinking, not acting. Your entire mind—your entire being—is focused on the possibility of a meal. You chew on twigs and bark just to give your mouth something to do. Even then, you’re never satisfied.

And when you see food? Any food? Well, let’s just say that rationality goes right out the window with common sense.

Alexa stood in the rain, the damp clinging to her hair and slipping down the back of her neck and beneath her armor. She gritted her teeth as she glanced around at the others, assessing the body language of each—how they all leaned forward with predatory eagerness and with a bit of desperation. Shit. Shit. Shit. Things had gotten out of hand.

The two groups stood in the middle of the large open field in front of the Doubletap, the main building in town. Alexa could see the faint glow of candles glimmering at the dingy windows, casting their dim light outward into the fading winter afternoon. Clouds roiled overhead as water continued to pour downward, the patter of freezing raindrops drowned out by the harsh, gravelly voice that sounded out in the crowd.

“This is my fucking territory. You think you can come in my territory without asking me? This is Old York. Don’t pull this shit with me. I know Old York.”

Uncle Chuck was practically shouting at this point, his face twisted in anger. His grizzled brows were lowered over hard, brown eyes, and he held a notched blade in one of his veined hands. Alexa watched the Yorker carefully, trying to keep her face neutral as she glanced from him to the people he was shouting toward—the caravan of mercenaries with a large crate. Their faces were grim, unyielding. They were there to do a job. And they’ll probably see it through to the end.

Alexa’s eyes shifted to the others with Uncle Chuck. TJ stood near him, the Merican’s normally cheerful face now desperate and angry. His brown hair was damp, water falling into his eyes. Bastion was nearby, her cropped, reddish hair framing impossibly dark blue eyes that flickered from one person to another. Assessing which is the largest threat, most likely. The Remnant held her shield up, ready to defend.

“We’re just doing our fucking job! We’re the Iron Cross. We’re on the road. Now get out of our fucking way!”

The voice demanded Alexa’s attention. She quickly glanced toward the man speaking, the head of the group of mercenaries. His bearded chin was thrust forward in defiance. His armor was already scratched in places where the Hayvenites had struck him, and a trickle of blood seeped down his temple.

Alexa grimaced. The Iron Cross. There was no way she could do anything other than defend them now that they had announced themselves. The price of being part of D.O.C. I’m bound in contracts tighter than a fucking noose.

She shifted her weight slightly, turning to face the Hayvenites as she lifted her blades. She kept her face neutral as she watched TJ’s face fall; it was like watching a child being hurt for the first time—watching someone being betrayed.

It’s the best option currently. And you can fall easily—make amends.

At least, that’s what she told herself.

~

The sound of rain pattered down on the roof above, muffled as people clustered together within the small space. Bunks were spaced in even rows, pushed against the back wall. A table stood in the front of the room, strewn with small bits and pieces of metal and other odds and ends. The hum of conversation sounded through the small space, the voices of those who called the Kennel “home.”

Alexa remained sitting on a trunk shoved against one of the beds, green eyes roving over the faces in the room. She was too tired to stand at this point, too tired to do more than slump in her armor as she tried to remember to stay alert. Never let your guard down.

Someone sat down next to her and Alexa quickly jerked her head to look at the arrival. Dark, shadowed eyes stared back at her, unblinking. A hat perched on his head, casting part of his face in shade.

“Alexa.”

She felt her stomach twist slightly as she nodded her head in greeting before quickly looking back toward the front of the room, her eyes focusing on nothing in particular, “Barnes.”

“I have a Christmas present for you.”

Her stomach twisted more; it felt as if a dagger had been shoved into it and someone was slowly turning the hilt. She turned her eyes to look back at him, noting the calm way he observed her. As if nothing had happened. Anger bubbled upward before quickly receding once more—washed away by control. Instead of saying what was on her mind, she replied, “I have one for you, as well.”

A faint smile touched the corners of his lips as he reached into his bag. Alexa watched him, noting the care he took before pulling out a small, glittering object. He placed it into her hands as she stared at it. It was gold with five points. As she turned it between her fingers, some of the shine came off on her hands.

“There you are. Now you don’t have to run off into the dark to look at the stars.”

Alexa closed her eyes briefly before continuing to stare at the object. Her thoughts whirled, unable to form anything coherent.

“I have one more thing for you as well.” A pale hand suddenly came into her line of sight and handed her a small bag. Alexa swallowed hard as she took it from him, unable to meet his gaze.

“Thank you.”

“Merry Christmas, Alexa.”

~

Noise and laughter and warmth filled the room. The smells of cooking food still hung in the air, even though every last morsel had already been eaten.  The entire party crowded around the wooden table at the center of the room, strewn with now-empty bowls and dishes.

House with her long dreads and piercing blue eyes sat at one end of the table, a very faint smile tilting the side of her mouth as she watched a young boy with dark hair excitedly show off one of his new toys. Aladdin was near them, the Rover’s many scarves standing out bright against his patchwork clothes as he chatted with Tex. The southern twang of the Merican’s voice mingled with Aladdin’s polished accent.

Alexa found a smile crossing her face as she listened, her eyes focused on her pale fingers spread against the dark wood of the table. A copper-colored ring flashed on her right hand, glimmering faintly in the dim light. It’s nice—relaxing for once. She glanced up at the others once more, watching as they laughed.  It’s a pity it can’t last.

She turned her head to look at the profile of the man next to her. His dark hair was tucked up under a black hat, and his brown, hard eyes twinkled faintly as he grinned and joked. He’s as good with a mask as you are, Rook. For once, he had taken off his armor, a dark shirt and trousers lying beneath. She briefly noted that they looked far less worn than his usual clothing. Trying to impress? Or has he just had a windfall lately? She studied him for a bit longer as a faint twinge of guilt tugged at her chest. You shouldn’t overanalyze this—any of it. Can’t you accept that you’re not being used?

She lowered her gaze again to look at her hands. It had been a long few months—and they had barely seen one another. He didn’t know what had happened—didn’t know what the costs would be. You should tell him—even if you want to enjoy a few more minutes. It’s the right thing to do. You don’t know when you’ll see him again.

“Hey, Mickey?”

She could sense him turn toward her more than anything else; she could feel his eyes on her, watching her. She continued to stare at her hands, twisting the ring on her finger absentmindedly as she spoke, “I have something to tell you.” She paused for a moment, hesitating. How do I even say this? Don’t be such a coward, Alexa. “I…died again.”

There was only silence. Alexa fidgeted slightly as she heard a sharp intake of breath from Mickey. She felt a burning sensation on the back of her neck as an icy trickle of dread raced down her spine. Mickey finally spoke, the single, quiet word shaking the air with barely-restrained anger.

“How.”

She couldn’t look at him. Coward. She instead continued staring at her hands, swallowing hard, “I was in a situation where I had to fight to the death—or Barnes would die. I fought, and wasn’t strong enough.”

There was more silence from Mickey. You should give him a way out—if he wants it. It’s only fair, after all. Alexa turned her gaze to look at the wood of the table, closing her eyes for a moment, “I’m going to see about potentially doing a surgery. I need to speak with House first. Because not everyone makes it out, I…understand if you no longer want to continue this.” She gestured with one hand weakly, feeling her face go warm as she hurriedly finished.

Again, there was silence. Then she felt Mickey shift slightly, his head lowering near hers, “If we weren’t under the rules of hospitality, I would punch you right now. If you die…”

The rest of the words didn’t matter. Alexa lowered her head, still unable to look at him. How could she? You kill people, Rook—both outside and inside. You’re a killer—always have been, always will be. Creation was never for you.

She closed her eyes for a moment more, exhaling slowly.

Well maybe it’s time to change that.

~

“Here. This is for you. I thought you’d appreciate it.”

He handed a wrapped package to her. The faint scent of flowers hung in the air.

“…Thank you.”

Pause.

“Do you have everything settled to go in?”

“I need to explain why I’m worth it to House.”

Pause.

He leaned forward, gently taking the sides of her face in his hands and kissing her on the forehead.

“What was that for?”

“I might not get another chance.”

She hid the disgust that roiled in the back of her throat.