Second in the dystopian!verse series.
She discovers herself in small degrees, and sometimes in large ones that frighten her. He - he just watches, and hopes. They are both runners doing what they do best.
When: Post-Ground Zero
He bundles her into layers of coats and scarves, and they board a train in Moscow.
This train is older, creaky, and travel-wearier than the opulence of their first. It is comforting.
The bleak countryside flies by them outside the yellowing windows, and it is reassuring. He hasn’t told her where they are going, not exactly. The Trans-Siberian Railway, the little pamphlet they had gotten with their tickets reads, and she turns it over to find a tiny map detailing all the train routes at the back. She closes her eyes, tracing a finger along a line, finding it hovering over Beijing when she opens them. She can feel his gaze on her.
He is sitting next to her this time, his presence solid and warm in the hostile Russian winter. There is stubble on his jaw, and it makes him look older, far older, even if she doesn’t know his age. They have been running for nine days now, a constant pattern of looking-over-shoulders and ducking-into-alleyways. It is something they are both used to. They don’t know life any other way, and she wonders if she even wants life any other way. She doesn’t think so, and she doesn’t think he would either. They were born for life on the run.
They have reached a wary truce, both of them. They will smile and speak and hug, and they will talk of nothing that matters. Nights spent on the run are long and hard, and neither of them get much sleep. She feels him watching her sometimes, when he thinks she’s asleep and when he’s sure she doesn’t notice. She doesn’t like sleep; it leaves her open and vulnerable to the nightmares of her subconscious. It is not a rare night that finds her bolting up in bed, stifling a scream.
The train rocks beneath them, and when she places her feet flat on the carriage floor she can feel the vibrations of the engines and the tracks. She likes this feeling, because it makes her feel like they are headed somewhere, somewhere new and exciting and beautiful. The rocking makes her drowsy.
She tries to fight it, she really does, but her eyes droop close against her efforts, and she finds herself leaning against him more and more. She hopes he won’t mind. He shifts against her, and for a moment she thinks he means to shift away, but he settles again, and she finds her head at a more comfortable angle on his shoulder. There is an uncomfortable object digging into her ribs where she has leaned against him, and she squirms a little in the languor of her sleep, drowsily annoyed. She feels him go still for a long minute before the object is gone, and she distantly hears the snick and click of a gun.
She is instantly awake, yanking her head off his shoulder to stare at him. His Glock 17 is in his hand, and he gestures almost apologetically before tucking it away in his coat on his other side. He notes her wide eyes, like an animal ready to bolt, and sighs. He takes her hand, tugging her back to his side.
She relaxes against him in small increments, but it is a long time before she slips into sleep. Somewhere between the lines of consciousness and dreams, she thinks she feels him press a kiss to her hair.
Her return to wakefulness is violent and terrified. The bitter taste of her dream lingers on the back of her tongue, and the echoes of death and blood reverberate throughout her mind. Her wrists and arms are burning and in flames and she doesn’t know why, all she knows is that she is clawing and scratching and needs to get it off, but there are hands pinning her down, so she kicks and bucks. She does not scream, though, because if she screams they will know she is here, and more of them will come.
“Rose, stop! Snap out of it! For God’s sake, Rose, just – ” There is a body atop hers, rendering her immobile, and for a brief moment she is terrified, but she makes herself breathe and think, and the voice is strong and calming. “ – just stop.” She does.
When she focuses her eyes and forces herself to look, she is pinned underneath him on the seat, and her arms are above her head. His eyes are deep and searching on hers, and they lie suspended like this for a moment longer before he eases up and off her. The loss of his body heat makes her feel strangely bereft. “Are you – ” He starts, and inhales sharply when he focuses on her arms.
“God, Rose.” She looks down, and is shocked to find long, thin lines of blood running up the length of both her arms. On closer inspection, her nails are bloody. It is not hard to draw a conclusion. He swallows hard, and she watches his Adam’s apple bob once. “I – ” It is suddenly so very hard to breathe, and she has to wait for several moments for her breathing to even out. “I don’t know why – I don’t –” It is still hard to articulate, and she chokes back fear and confusion. She tries again. “Help me,” she implores.
The scratches are long but shallow, and it doesn’t take long for him to clean and wrap them in gauze. He will not meet her eyes. They sit in silence after that, as grey fields and smoggy skies trundle pass. Her arms are still burning.
Their train makes several stops, and she is vaguely aware of the movement and motion of figures outside their compartment door, all boarding and disembarking and carrying on with their lives. She will not admit that she is a little envious of them.
There is a knock on their door just as she stands and stretches, and she sees his hand slip into his coat out of the corner of her eye. She is sure he is gripping his gun. The doors slide open, and the conductor steps in, asking to see their tickets. She notices the Doctor relax slightly, and she turns away to face the window when he fishes their stubs out from the pockets of his slacks.
Her voice has been underused, and she so longs for more human contact just to pretend and feel normal. “Dreary day, isn’t it?” She asks, making polite conversation. “Oh, yes, indeed,” comes the reply. “Are you and your husband travelling far?” She startles at the term, and lets it slip to avoid confusion. It is a cardinal rule in running and running well: don’t stand out too much, or you will die, and she holds these rules to her heart like lifelines, because they mostly are. “I don’t really know,” she answers, savouring the small talk and chit-chat. “We’re just exploring the place, seeing the sights, you know?” There are mountains in the distance, and she thinks they could be called beautiful if not for the stark grey of their surroundings. “Oh, so you’re tourists then?” She is puzzled, wondering why he hadn’t drawn that conclusion from her usage of English. She nods. “What a surprise, your Russian is almost perfect!”
She freezes. She barely registers the conductor wishing them well on their journey and departing.
His eyes are hard on hers.
“I don’t – I don’t speak Russian,” she manages to get out, and sinks onto the seat next to him. Her mind is whirling in a thousand directions, and she has so many questions that remain unanswered. She thinks she fears the answers. His posture is tense and stiff.
“You do,” he says at length, and she wonders why he is suddenly so cold and withdrawn. She wonders what he knows that he hasn’t told her. Everything, she thinks, and the word is bitter in her mouth.
“Do you remember?” Comes next, and the question is at the fore of her mind. Remember what? He sees her clear confusion, and she is sure that the shift of light in his eyes is disappointment.
“No,” she murmurs, shaking her head. “No, I don’t.”
She shifts, turning her body towards him and raising her eyes to his. “Should I?” She asks, because she needs to know.
He takes her hand, running a thumb over her knuckles. “In your own time,” he sighs, and it is an answer and not-answer all at once. “In your own time.” His breath ghosts over her fingers.
She doesn’t know how, but she is sure he is lying.