Vignette, rated PG, spoiler-free.
Category: Colonization. (Huh. I don't even do colonization. Don't complain to me -- talk to my muse.)
Archive: Anywhere you keep depressing stuff. Just keep this link to my site at www.foxsongfiles.net.
Beta thanks to MaybeAmanda, for nitpicking my commas: and my colons.
Disclaimer: I have named no names, but the people we all know I am referring to are the property of Ten Thirteen and Fox, so I'd better mention that anyway. There -- all done.
Summary: The view from a hillside on the last night.
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"No," comes the reply.
"You shouldn't be here," he rasps. He looks away, down toward the city. Even from here he thinks he can begin to see the glow; even from here he imagines he can already smell the smoke.
"None of us should be here," she says. "Where the hell do you want me to go?"
He will not dwell on her apt choice of words. He looks over his shoulder at her. Her eyes are fever-bright; he can't tell if the color high on her cheekbones is adrenaline or terror or only a trick of the ruddy light.
Her shoes are gone, lost somewhere in flight. She stands barefoot on the broad stretch of rock as if she has always stood there, as if she had sprung from the stone, as if she will still be standing after the firestorm has swept over this place too. Somehow, he almost expects it of her.
He turns as if to walk away, but he cannot step past her. She is a force that holds him to a vow he can't remember making. For a moment he almost hates her.
Maybe it is only himself that he hates. He hates what they've become, what he's become, hates the iron tang of failure like blood in his mouth.
He turns his back to her again. The light is brighter now; he can't mistake it for his imagination anymore. Impossibly, he feels her touch. She has put her hand out and laid it on his shoulder.
If he could move, he would push her away.
Her voice rises to his ears. "It's not your fault," she says.
How could it be that she still can't understand that he doesn't want absolution? Not his fault: that won't change a thing. That won't mend the broken dreams and hearts and lives left in his wake, won't call all the dead to rise up like Lazarus and walk. It won't call back the rain of fire that's destroying the world while he watches.
Her hand strokes his shoulder, slow and rhythmic, as it has done a hundred other times, in compassion, in comfort, in seduction; as it has done on a hundred other nights, nights that would be followed by mornings, as nights had been followed by mornings as long as there had been someone to wake and see them.
He supposes that the sun will still rise over the scorched ground, even on the day it's all over, on the first day that there will be no human eyes to see it. He wonders if Lazarus was grateful that Christ had raised him from the dead, or whether, after the wonder of the thing had become matter-of-fact, he was only sorry that he would have to die again someday. Was it such a privilege, after all?
Not his fault. He wants to believe it. But to believe that, he would have to believe that he could never have made a difference, that his whole life has been given up to a cause that was doomed to failure from the beginning, and that he had been too blind or too stubborn to recognize it. To believe that it's not his fault, he would have to believe that he'd thrown away all of the small, ordinary happinesses he could certainly have had, in the delusion that there was a greater one almost within his reach.
There is no deciding. There is no more time to go back, even if he could. The light is brighter now, and the fire is spreading; he can see the outlines of the broken buildings against the lurid glow. Above the maelstrom the air is growing thick with an acrid haze. He sighs, and drops his head, and his shoulders sag in something that both is and isn't defeat; he sinks down on his haunches on the outcropping of stone. He can't quite bring himself to close his eyes.
She is still behind him. She crouches down, leans against him, wraps her arms around him. She rests her head against his shoulder.
"Go," he says again.
She is quiet for a moment.
"There isn't anywhere left to go," she finally answers.
He is silent.
At length he turns, and puts his arm around her shoulders, and draws her close. "I'm sorry," he says, and he feels her nod a little.
"I'm not sorry we tried," she whispers.
Below them, he sees that the tops of the buildings are crumbling, and tongues of flame are licking steadily further outward into the valley, and he bends his head and hides his face against her neck.