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When You Win the Battle But Not the War

Silence reins over the dark and jagged landscape. A chilling wind blows, gently chasing away the stench of smoke, a welcome compared to the lingering stench of the burned land. Even if the scent of metal and death remains.

Under the moonlight, a man sits upon the ledge of a balcony, gaze drawn towards the stars. He is quiet, and as still as all who lie below. He is lost within his own thoughts.

Behind him, hidden within the shadows, stands a woman. She leans against the entrances frame, arms crossed, mouth pulled into a thin line. Her eyes, bright gems, betray her emotions; she is scared, angry and above all, worry. Not for herself, but her companion. He has been too quiet, and she knows what will follow if she lets him continue.

She pushes away from the wall and moves to join him. Steps silent, hands loose at her sides. She leaves her guns and blades behind, resting against the table, now she must rely on a different kind of weapon; one she knows her companion has long since mastered. She sends a prayer to anyone who might be listening, that her apprehensions will be unfounded.

She pauses, steps faltering, second thoughts swim through her head, and then she feels the wind caress her weary body, seeming to press her forward, as if encouraging her to continue. Her attention is drawn back to him, he shivers, whether from finally noticing the temperature or sensing her stare, she does not know. She moves to his side, hands brushing the surface of the broken railing. She catches his gaze out the corner of his eye, but only for a moment. He quickly averts his eyes.

She sighs, a puff of steam in the frigid night air, and drops next to him, her legs dangling off the edge, a breath of space between them. Neither move to close the gap.

“I know what you’re going to say.” He says after a moment, he doesn’t turn to her, staring ahead, even though they both know his gaze is not on the sky. She sees what others can not, will not; his eyes do not see stars or the battlefield below, they look beyond. Into oblivion, into a space she can only hope to pull him away from, for if he slips…

“Oh?” She responds, voice just above a whisper, as if afraid someone might hear. Which is of course, impossible, as no one had followed them to this abandoned building, she’d made sure of it, and there is no one around for miles. Still, as alone as they can be, neither makes a move to look at the other.

“You’re going to tell me to stop, that all this,” He gestures, bitterly, out at the destruction before them, and she cannot help but wince. “Is not what I wanted. That this isn’t what we wanted. That I’m going to fail, to lose, one way or another, and that I’m going to drag all of them down with me.”

The woman says nothing in return, prompting a harsher sigh out of the man. Finally, he drops his head, gaze now drawn to the bloodstained hands in his lap, the stains splattered across his uniform. A murderers hands, a monsters hands. He watches his own fingers curl into fists, teeth gnashing, he growls, and continues.

“But I can’t,” He admits, loud and broken. Again, she winces, her own fingers twitching, itching to reach out – but she knows better. “You know that better than anyone. I can’t stop, not now, not ever. Not after all that I’ve done. Not with what we’ve begun, not when we might win.” His shoulders drop, as if unable to bear the thoughts swirling around in his head. He sighs, shuddering, bowing his head even further.

“You’re wrong, you know.” She says quietly. The man blinks, but doesn’t, can’t, raise his head and meet her eyes, the ones he feels burning into the side of his head. Not yet. He can’t face her hate, her disgust. He can stand the look on anyone else, can stand to have thousands of ghosts and shadows curse and snarl and stare back with jagged frowns, but not her. He doesn’t think he could stand to see those expressions on her face. Twisting a familiar comfort.

“That was not what I was going to say, not even close.” He flinches at how livid she sounds. He cannot remember a time when she has ever been angry with him, he can feel her rage flow from her, but he still cannot raise his head. He’s crossed a line, he knew that already, but having it confirmed, actually having to face it? He can’t. He won’t.  

“Then what,” He snaps, slamming his hand onto the rusted bars, the bang echoing, his breaths harsh in the night air. “Were you planning to say? What did you come out here to say?”

“That you shouldn’t stop.” He freezes, and blinks, unable to comprehend her words. He must have heard her wrong. Slowly, he raises his head, body turning towards her, and finds his companion staring out into the dark as he did. He sees hope etched into her feature, whether for him, herself or the others that joined his revolution he does not know.

“I did not come out here to yell or lecture or judge you. You don’t deserve that, not now, and certainly not from me.” Finally, finally, their eyes meet.

In hers he sees a storm of emotion, changing so rapidly he has trouble deciphering them all, but he manages to catch the important ones; the sorrow, fear, fury and concern, all directed at him. All for him. He clenches his jaw, hoping to hide his own emotions.

He fails of course, she is the one person he could never lie to, even when he succeeds in lying to himself. In him she sees a reflection of her own; sees his fear, his sorrow, sees the weight of leadership in this wretched war settle heavily in his mind and on his shoulders. He is her Atlas, and she will do what she can to ease his weight.

“I know,” she breathes, and she means it. She has always known him better than he knew himself. Perhaps that was why they clung to each other so, to keep what little of their fractured, crumbling souls they have together. To keep what little they can. “But it’s the truth. This is the one thing we can’t mess up. There’s too much at stake here and we both know that.”

The air is thick between them, it flows heavily in their lungs, sticks in their throats, despite how effortlessly it might be shattered with their words.

“Why did you come out here?” He asks once more.

“The same reason as always,” She answers, reaching for his hands, chasing the chill away with a simple touch. She gives his bloodstained hands a hard squeeze, and his shoulders slump. The creeping horror and darkness ebbs. “Because you need me.” She breathes, smiling gently, holding tight, staring without fear or horror, and he feels one pull at his own lips.

She’d right, of course, but he says nothing, and she doesn’t expect a reply.

They spend a few more hours out there, staring into nothing, saying no words but saying everything. Simply sitting upon the ledge and watching the stars. Leaning against each other, he holds her hand like a lifeline, and she returns the strong grip and holds steady, bearing his weight, a silent promise; that she will always be there for him to lean on and look to for as long as he needs her. Regardless of how monstrous he becomes.

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