John spit out a clot of blood and knew he was going to die.
It was not hard to guess, really. The left side ached horribly, and when he had touched it after the shot he had brushed things surely shouldn't be so outside. He couldn't breath. The nausea took off space and bits of time. And even if he managed to survive, if he didn't die from it? He was stuck within the earth, buried in layers of metal, and earth, and grinning faces scanning the floor with guns big enough to shot a head off, looking for him, scared to death. And over them, over the metal and the grinning faces and the earth, the sky, nothing else miles around. And if he went that far, if he went it wouldn't change a damn thing, because he had been their General and they had betrayed him. They had betrayed him. John leaned back against the capsule wall, closing his eyes. He felt something warm flushing over an eyebrow, down to one ear. The blue lights of control tweeted across his eyelids, beep, beep, beep. It had been a control capsule once, back when the Giants still worked and they all still thought to be the best thing mankind ever came with. Ah, he had been one of those idiots. Becoming a pilot, moving around those big bad toys. Those days.The pang of nostalgia was so hard he gulped.
More bangs were coming from outside the lock. They were coming.
"I tell ya, I heard the noises from here. That rat is hiding in the fuckin' capsule."
"Man, that's sad. I thought he would at least want to die as a man."
Oh, it was so true. A true General, a true warrior, would have chosen to fall under shoots, taking with him some of his traitors, leaving his name to some trustworthy friend. But his friends were dead or already miles away, and he had never been a wise man. So, he had ran. He had ran, and took out the eyes from a rookie guarding the lift, and took his phaser and went down, down deep, running. They had chased him like a rabbit. He was a lot older than them, and they felt it, pushing on badly"breed young legs, chasing the old rabbit down. Kids, stupid kids. But now stop. He was too tired to be sad and angry. He was dying.Oh God I'm dying I'm truly dying. Please, stop. Please, no. Dying.
The bangs got harder, and the lock actually shuddered with force. John flinched. He found his heart pounding against the ribs. The voices came again, but were not important. He stumbled back against the console, curling up. He felt tears stinging in his eyes. Forty"five years and he was going to cry.
"C'mon, old man. Get out.It'll be better for everyone."
He didn't say anything.
"C'mon, General. Please."
The kid with the gentle voice would rise up his shotgun and blew out his head. He couldn't give a damn about being the General, if so. John gulped again, tasting blood and a good mouthful of dust. He couldn't breathe. But he couldn't fight. It's really going to end like this. Oh, oh no, oh no. Please.
The boys behind the door were working again, shuffling, and doing something John didn't understand. He heard some rocks falling, muffled voice. A shotgun fired. Twice. The bangs on the door started again.
Bang, bang, bang. The lock cracked.
A streak of light shuffled along the floor, creeping wider, wider. John tried to turn his head toward it. On the door was a girl, watching him with the most scared eyes he had ever seen.
There were some things tossed behind her. One was an arm.
"General Hudson, are you okay?"
John tried to talk.
He licked his lips.
"Who are you?"
"Medical Private Celia Gayson, sir."
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to rescue you, sir."
Rescue. He shifted further, cringed.
What the scared"eyed girl answered was the only thing John wouldn't ever have imagined.
"Because, sir, I love you."
The girl walked in the cabin as soon as she saw he wouldn't react. Now John could see the plasma shotgun she held in her left hand, a mop of brown hair brushing the overalls. She couldn't be more than twenty. She knelt by him and propped delicately around his body, smiling. Her hands were warm and shook a bit, but under everything he recognized a doctor touch.
"Stop, stop. Girl. You go away. I."
"Sorry, sir, but I can't. We don't have a lot before others come. We need to get out fast. Now can you get up, please sir? Here, lean on me, like this, on my shoulder. Very good. Okay, now we get up. The wound is deep but not very ugly, I have everything back at the camp. Don't worry, sir, you'll be okay. You'll be okay."
The girl pushed upward, suddenly, and John screamed. Pain exploded in the nerves. The world swirled in white noise. He felt his knees buck, and it threw the girl off balance and they both scrabbled against the console, but didn't fall. She cursed and shuffled back.
"It's okay, it's okay. No problem sir. We can go. C'mon, sir, please."
John couldn't really answer, he was actually very busy trying not to throw up. The warm thing was pooling again, through the overalls, on the neck. He couldn’t hold his eyes truly open. Black.
"Sir, sir, please, we need to go. Stay here, stay here."
She walked, and he walked. He saw the floor of the hangar corridor, and lights pouring from up there, and the lights moved, rhythmically, on the floor and on a corner and on another floor. There was a puddle next to him, then it was gone. The air was full of steps. He closed his eyes.
"No, sir, no. Stay with me. It's not far, please."
He jerked back, shifting. He opened his mouth to breathe. Lights, floor, a puddle. Puddle. Other boots.
"Ehy, what the fuck"
"Fuck." The girl flinched, and then she shuffled him against the other wall. His legs forgot how not to crumbled down. She rose the shotgun, clicked the trigger, and fired.
The blow munched a man's head, all the way to the neck, buzzing in the corridor. The blow"roar was so loud John felt his teeth humming. The other man cursed, but the girl just turned and fired again. The shot hit him in the chest.He fell on the floor, screaming. Meat smells filled the air. The girl got nearer and fired a third time right in his head.
It all took less than ten seconds, and then she shuffled back the shotgun and ran toJohn, and she put him back on his feet. "I'm sorry, sir. I, we can't get found out. Hold on, don't worry."
She was breathing hard, and the hands against him shivered badly. In the darkness her eyes shone with white. She looked made of iron.
They stumbled along another corridor, and another. Puddles, lights. The smells changed. Water.John knew where they were.
"it’s all okay, all okay."
They arrived at one of the stepladders, at the end of the corridor. The girl stopped. John tried to look up. The stepladder spiraled up, up in the dark, and he knew that somewhere up there should be a door, and another corridor, and then something that stuffed fresh air down to them. There was no way he could do it. He leant back.
"Leave me, girl."
"Listen, thanks for this. You're a good girl. But I can't go further. I can't. It's okay, really."
"No, it is not. C'mon, sir, please, please. C'mon, I'll help you."
"They are not too bad. Please, please sir."
It was madness and the scared iron"girl sounded more terrified than him, way crazier than him. She knew nothing about anything. And yet, yet he found himself hanging on the stairs, breathing hard. There was really a door somewhere up there. There was really air, true air coming from there. Air. Earth. Not death. And so John clenched his teeth and thrust upwards. His side ripped. His heart pumped so hard it hurt. You're an idiot, a total idiot. He took another step.
"Very well, very well, sir." He heard the girl talking behind him. He heard her turning, the clang of the shotgun being loaded. "Keep goin'."
He did it. He stretched a hand forward, grabbed the next rung, thrust upward. He rested his forehead against the metal. God, he was burning. He felt throwing up again. He was dying.Another step.
"Okay, good sir. Now slip in the duct. Slip in the duct. I'm coming right away."
John shuffled and suddenly clawed concrete, horizontal and nice. He lent there with a groan, blood pumping in his head. Darkness swirled. Stupid, stupid.
He lost some seconds. When he came round the girl had reached him, and was trying to straighten him again. It was there he noticed it was not completely black there. There were shades of grey. A faint glow fluttered from their right, and yes, air, cold, winter.
"See? We're almost there, sir. C'mon." She let out a breath. "C'mon."
John squeezed his eyes and nodded, and tried to walk for the first real time. The corridor was one of the disused ones, lights off, some parts of walls carbonized by fire a lot of time ago. Old altoparlanti hanging from the ceiling joints. They staggered forwards. The light was coming from an old air"duct, and there was a grill in front of it, shattering the light on the floor. Water, steps, light. The girl reached for the grill, pulled, cursed, said him to be careful and rose again the shotgun. The fire bumped in the air and ripped the grill apart. Thunders filled his ears. And there it was, light, and air, and a full square of gray frosty grass under them, a full square of world. He saw the girl smiling at him, she slipped through the grill and hands thrusthim forward. John fell on grass. Cold. The sky was icy and clear. They were out.
"Okay, okay, sir. We got it. A little more, sir. A little more."
He nodded. They began to run, or so he thought because the steps were faster under him and light jumped forward and they were going away, away from the Tower. He counted for the fires to shoot them down. Five, ten, twenty.Thirty.Forty. Fifty.
Light changed. John felt his knees giving out under himand knew the signs of his body shutting down. Earth pulsed, lights, oh fuck it hurt. He tried to talk. Gasped. They were out.
"I can't. Sorry, Ican't. Sorry. Sorry."
"it's okay. It okay, sir.It's okay."
He opened his eyes and saw the girl's face hovering over him. He fell in black.
He woke up again and something was touching his arm. He jerked and fumbled around and slash to hit. His stomach flipped overJohn and felt bile rising in his mouth. His hands hit hands.
"Ehy, ehy, easy."He backed away, grunting. –Easy."
He cracked his eyesopen. Light. Grey. Grass. Oh, yeah, they were out. The girl. His heart pumped everywhere. No, no John, stay awake stay awake.
"I just want"
He backed away. She sighed.
–I just want to take a look at the wound, sir. Please, they could get infected. Please."
John sucked in and tried his hardest not to puke his guts out.
"Do not touch me."
She gave him a puzzled face.
"Listen, sir, take it easy. We're good. They won't find us here. See?"
John felt something stovky and hard against his fingers and pulled himself against iit looking up. He realized it was a tree. There were other trees around, lots of them, and dark bushes and a thick smell of cold ground. The girl was crouched in front of him next to a small pile of army rucksacks. Through the branches he could glimpse the Tower's form. He breathed in and started to shiver.
"Ah,yes, it's cold. I didn't think to pick up some coats. Crap. I'll take a heat cover and."
"I said, do not touch me."
She took back her hand again, but looked mildly annoyed. John surveyed the grass for her shotgun.
"Why did you come? For who do you work?"
"I said it. I did it because I love you."
"No, girl ,really. Who sent you? Your Captain?"
"So why did you come?"
"Because I love you."
"What does it mean?"
"What it meant."
She sighed, passing a hand through her air.
"Listen, I don't know. I don't know what to say. I, I just know that thinking about living in a world without you was worse than dying while trying to find you."
They watched each other for a long moment. The girl held his gaze and got red on the eartips and showed not one of the digns he recognized in liars. She believed it. She was saying the truth. God saves us all. When she tried again, he didn't fight back.
The side wound was not actually a side wound. The blow had digged deep just under the ribcage, a single half"hole already blackening around the edges. Purple spots rose under skin and muscle. He was still against the same tree, pressing a heat cover around his shoulders and holding the shirt off his chest to let the girl peer at it.She swallowed hard.
"Okay, that's it. It's deep. It's deep, five inches on the left and it'd have compromised the heart. We got lucky it had not had the time to get infected. I gotta sew it anyhow. That'll be nasty. Scream, please."
"What I'm about to do will hurt as Hell. I noticed screaming help a lot."
"Girl, I'm a General. I've been stitched other times."
She smiled a little smile. "Sure sir, but then you were always under painkillers and anesthetic. If you clench your teeth too hard you could crack them, or cut your tongue off. You could also get the pressure too high. So please, scream."
She shrugged. "Anything. Curses."
So he screamed. He started with the curses as she began pass the stapler on the skin, then they became calls, prayers, names, some sobs, pieces of songs. She worked through it all. It was true, it was hurting as Hell. He screamed, names of old friends and enemies, of the men and the women he had loved, things he had never said and things he had done, to the clearing and the trees, and she just kept him still and whispered silly things, "it's all okay", "very good, sir","easy, easy" until the pain subdued and his eyes stung and John Hudson fell asleep.
The next morning she woke him with a instant"coffee thermos and he had the decency to thank her. Painkillers let him breathe without screaming. He asked her what she had planned to do from there. She said she hadn’t really thought about it. He looked at the swirling guard lights around the Tower and bit back any reproach.
"My squad went to the Third. My captain has some friends there. No one of them agreed with the uprising, they’re loyal. They’ll give us a place."
"Are you sure?"
He sighed. –To get to the Third we’ll have to cross the Fourth and the Sixth Armies’ lands. News would already got there. It’ll be hard."
"Sorry. I didn’t really thought."
"You should have. Dammit, you"
He looked up. She had took off the battle"shell and wore just the Med overalls, and the eyes were big and terrified as the day before. She was a child. He had been saved by a child with a gun.
"Never mind, girl."
In those first days Celia watched him sleep a lot. She curled up in the heat"cover and just looked at him, holding her breath, half"believing it. It was not because he was handsome. It was a reminder. Put the foot in front of the other, scramble up the hill, try to understand the damn portable receiver. You did right to leave Max and the others. You're not stupid. You're not cruel. You have a reason, and it is right here.
He didn't talk much. He didn’t know anything about her and she didn’t know much about him. The beard was thick and cropped short around the jaw. It and the hair had gone completely gray years ago. The nose was slightly cracked to the left. There were moments when he looked just old and she could see her father’s face in his. And then the eyes lit up for nothing, blue suddenly springing around, and his face was suddenly soft and cute and she could see not the boy, the child he had been. Those eyes held all the love and the pain of the world. They betrayed him. They would always betray her.
She liked watching him across the day. The way he scowled or arched an eyebrow or smiled. The way everything showed on him. Look, look, Celia, you're doing it for that. No one would ever understand why it is enough, but it is. You didn't fuck up everything, Celia. This, the way light hit his face, is all that matters.
Oh, forgive me guys, this is all that matters.
"I was scared."
The voice was so sudden Celia snapped awake. She turned to her right. He was lying on his back, looking up in the dark, breathing hard. She could see the white of his eyes. For a moment she thought the wound got infected and he was delirious.
"Sir? What is it?"
"The day you came, the uprising. I was scared. I was not ready at all to die. When they came to get me, I didn't think a second about the Army, or the others, or the reasons. I just thought about going away. I ran. I left everything. I stopped running only when it hurt too much. I." He paused. He blinked up at the stars. "I've never wanted to die. So thanks."
"Actually, I’m very glad to be alive."
She smiled through closed eyes. "That’s great, sir."
They lived in towers. High towers, piercing the sky, looking miles around. They built them to protect and defend, for the war, and in the beginning they were just bunkers and simple military stations but then they became towers and everything changed. The cities died. Now there were only the towers. Many of them,scattered across the land, full of people learning how to fire and how to mend what'd been fired. They were becoming Tower people, and all changed, because many things just stopped to have any sense. Shopping malls.Schools.Libraries.Restaurants. It was not city world, it was tower world, and outside them there were enemies and monsters. Build your weapon. Choose your companions. Watch through the grills, wait for the battle.
John and the girl were walking across the towers. He could see them, far, across the cypress edges, sprouting from the grasslands and the hills. He often watched them, while they kept going, up and down the wood slopes, trying not to think too hard how much it hurt to breathe to walk to think, and how silent was out there. But the forest, it was alive. It had the same smells of his childhood. Green branches grew from the old ones. Squirrels rushed deep across the bushes. They got some sunny days too. The world was not dying, but it just wasn't a city world anymore. They had just forgot how to use a lot of things, why do them, and that would not come back. The malls slept across battlefields. Cities were losing their names.
There were only the towers.
"Had you already killed before that?"
He askedone evening they camped near a cavern. She had still some heat"covers and an electric stove, so it was not too cold. The stove cast butter"light as the soup warmed up. The girl looked up from her hands.
"Ah, yes. Not a lot actually. I'm in the Support, and I'm a newbie. My squad mates were all bulky manly veterani, so they liked betternot to have me too much in their way. And I kind of suck at aiming." She smiled up at him. There was something of the old days in her, the time when boys asked girls out and they wore fancy dresses and kissed them on their doorsteps. It made him smile.
"Well, you did well back at the station. Really. But you could have gotten killed, girl. You could have gotten caught and interrogated and betray your squad."
"I told you I had to do it."
"Well, do it just out of it is a bit too much, mh?"
"No." She said with a hard voice. The stove light hit her face and drew lines that weren't there. "No.It is not too much. There shouldn't be any better reason to kill than love, sir."
They passed in front of one of those old Shopping Mall, one day. Half of it had crumbled down at some point, scorched by fires and grenades. The neighborhood around was mostly some single walls, bushes springing up from the road cracks. Mild yellow flowers grew around the Mall’s glasses and the insigne still glued over the doors. John stopped to scratch the edge of the wound scar and wondered for a moment what it had all felt like. Having a cottage, a car, driving every day to work, shopping at the mall on Saturday and having an ice cream after, just like his Dad told him Grandpa had done. He thought about it all and for a moment, for a moment he felt nearly crying for what he had missed. But then it passed. He and the girl would scrambled past the next hill. The air was clear. The flowers were still there. It passed.
She had been fidgeting with that thing for one hour.
"What are you doing?"
"Making the radio work."
"I saved it before going. It works. I didn't think there would signal out here, but still."She said turning, and John was sure she was one of those persons who had no idea how machines really worked.
"I don't think it's a safe move, girl."
She shook her head. "We're in the woods. No one comes here anymore. And, well, I don't know if we'll. But if you want I can turn it off."
"Ah, no. No. Don't worry kid."
She smiled and crouched again in front ofit, fidgeting with the radio handles. After some time the agonizing cracks stopped and it turned in something different, an actual melody. They both kept quiet to listen. It was an old tune, something from at least a century before, with lot of cracks and clacking and deep trumpet curls, but it had rhythm. She looked up. He began to tap the time approvingly. The girl got up with a grunt and went back bustling about the rations and her doctor"like pills as he guarded the bean can. Still, her body started to shift and bounce at the music. She began to hum too, most out of time, and at some point she got up and swirled around.Suddenlythe girl was practically dancing, fumbling hands and shaking hips andsingingbits of nonsense over the singer's voice. John watched her.Hewaspositiveshehadnoideawhatshewasdoing.She was terrible. And there he did a thing he would never forget and never understand.
John took two steps forward and took her left hand.He set it on his shoulder, lacing the other one with her right one and grabbing her side. She changed in a wood pole almost instantly.
"What are you doing?"
"Showing you how to dance. Okay?"
"Oh. Oh. Okay."
They began to move. He remembered half the steps because they had taught him centuries ago, for some family ceremony around his eight birthday, and he wasn't even sure it was the right dance for that music, but it worked fine with the rhythm and anyway, it was nice. Stupidly dangerous. Their shotguns were three feet from them, the clearing was very exposed from anywhere. It didn't matter much, however. Shesaidshelovedhim,no?So this shouldmakeher glad. It wassuch a simple thing to do.It was so nice doing it.
The girl was horribly clumsy, but after some swirls she loosened up and began to follow for real. She stopped looking at her feet. She leaned more against his chest. Her face was flushed all the way to the hair despite the cold.
The girl laughed when she stomped on his foot.
"No, don't worry. It's all okay. It's all okay."
It happened some days after, in the afternoon. They were looking for a suitable campsite. The wound was healing nicely, so John offered to go looking for something to eat while she went for water. She agreed. They were on the outskirts of the wood, and some two hundred feet under there was a creek, bordering on the rocks and the grasslands behind. The sky was grey and fat with light snow. The rocks around the creek were caked with gems from the chestnut trees. Celia crouched on the most open spot of the shores and tried the water. Clear, good. A bit muddy, but it would do. She could also melt it with the disinfectant for the bandages. She put down her shotgun. She took off the rucksack the thermos and filled them, doing the same for the canteens. That zone was considerably north, so the water wouldn't probably be a problem, but it had been the thing Max insisted on in all their quests. She remembered his large hand patting her head, his look when she had stopped and said she wouldn’t go with them. Dammit, lil’ sis, dammit. She gulped down some tears.
She heard something, and looked up from the water. Her hand closed around the shotgun without thinking. She muttered a curse. There were three men, up on the slope, one"hundred feet from her, more or less. They were walking softly not to make noise. They wore black. Rangers. Soldiers. Fourth Army.
Her hand clutched tighter.
Celia got up, slowly, and began to circle the creek. There should be a path there, passing some feet over the men. She climbed to it, shuffling close to the ground. She’d left the sack at the creek. It doesn't matter.
The men were under her, moving silent and tight. They carried shotguns, teasers bumped in the rear pockets. They were young. One of them suddenly crouched by a knot of hard bushes and pinpointed something ahead of them, down a tree"coated slope. Celia slipped closer, holding on a birch. That was the direction John took. Oh, no, no, no. She swallowed.
Time slowed. Another of the men raised smoothly a shotgun, whispered something to the first. He nodded.
If they get him, it would all be useless. Kill her, trade him with the Seventh. At this time they already knew about the uprising. No, no.
Celia clutched the birch branch. She wanted to run. Run, run, run, hide, live. It was true and right, the only thing important. Run runrunrun fuck run. It was over. It was true.
She slowly lifted her shotgun. She felt blood pumping in her head, and breathing got hard and her hands twitched. They were taking him. Her reason. How they dare, how they dare. Her finger wrapped the trigger. How they dare.
The first shot didn't hit. It exploded in a birch close to the first man, shooting scraps of wood around. The men cursed. The other two were rifling the guns towards her. Celia loaded another blow, and this time it hit. It hit the second man in the neck, smacking him down to the ground. Bones flashed outside and he gurgled blood. The third man screamed. Something suddenly clutched around Celia's ankle and dragged her down. She hit hard against a rock. White stars blew up in her eyes. A hand shoved her up, shaking. "Fuckin' little bitch, it's the fuckin' little bitch."
She blinked and found a rifle pressing against her forehead. The magazine clacked. Celia screamed and hurled forward and kicked, and the kick hit something softer, digging, and the hand left her go. She plunged on the path, the men shouting around. She kept screaming and grabbed the man's legs and they both stumbled down the slope. The man's hands closed around her neck. She felt his legs pressing on her. Something hard bumped over her eye. She cried and bit. The nose. She bit harder it until it cracked. She hit the ground and they stopped rolling. The man thrust back and the kick of a rifle smashed in her jaw. She stopped to breathe. She lost some seconds. Celia curled on herself.
"Don't try a fuckin' thing, little bitch."
The man was shouting and she could tell he was standing. No way she could do it.. She heard the slope mud rolling under feet, a thump. The other man grabbed her, under the arms, hitched her upward. A hand grabbed her on the jaw, and Celia cried.
"Shut the fuck up."
She looked up. The man was rifling the gun again. The face hurt everywhere. She was going to get shot. Oh fuck I die, Max, Max fuck I'm dying. World stopped. She felt like crying.
A clack of magazine clacked behind them. The second man stopped.
"Don't touch her."
"Don't touch her, or I'll shot your head off. Leave the girl."
The voice came from her right. John was standing behind the second man, pointing a gun against his ear. The first man laughed.
"You won’t do it."
John fired and the man slumped down. The head spilled on the grass. John loaded again.
"Leave the girl."
The man hesitated for a moment. He was shaking against her. Celia counted the seconds. Ten. Twenty. Thirty.
"Fuck." The man’s hands left her and she fell on her knees. She felt feet running behind her. John took the aim and shot and the feet stopped.
Celia sat down and backed against the slope, shaking.
"Girl, are you all right?"
She was sobbing. She couldn’t breathe. Black spots flashed in front of her. It was so cold. She was in shock. She was going to faint.
"I’m sorry. I,can’t."
"Ehy, no, no." She felt hands on her face. Jerked back. She knew they were John’s.
–No, I’m sorry. I can’t. They. It’s too much. It’s too much."
The hands stayed. "No, no. No girl. No."
"I. You were."
"No, no. No girl."
The first time Celia saw him was at some kind of celebration, a parade the Seventh Army held every year for the newbies and to celebrate the dead. She was in the recruit rows, waiting in silence somewhere along the walls, peering over her new Captain's shoulder to the trumpeters marching around. There was a little dais built at the center of the hall. A big bulky man spoke in a microphone, talking about honor and courage, listing names as their brand"new boots began to boil feet, and at some time he said General Hudson, their chief, one of last of the Riders, would give them his personal welcome. Cheers raised from everywhere. On the dais stepped a man dressed in the officers' suit, looking straight in the crowd. He had to be around forty, tall, with grey hair and a pale face. He had eyes as blue as the ocean and the sky together. And seeing him Celia's heart stopped, and she knew that from that day she would fight for no one but him.
Her hand grasped his sleeve.
"No. Stay here."
"Girl. I’m just going to get something to eat. You’ll be fine here"
She didn’t let go.
"Please stay here."
John sighed. He knelt again and rubbed her arms.
"Okay, girl. I’m here, I’m right here."
She put her head on his chest and his hands stopped on her arms, until it became a hug. She caressed his face, slowly, and he didn’t even try to avert it.
In the end it happened some days after, in the evening. They were waiting by the stove. The bruises on her face were turning yellow. Then she got up, and slipped in front of him and stayed there, without touching him, leaning.
"Celia. Celia, don’t. We can’t."
"Yes we can."
"It doesn’t matter."
"I could be your father."
"It doesn't matter." She shook her head. "We are strange. All of us, living like this. We're all too young, and too old. We're all old kids, General." She touched his cheek. "John."
She hurled forward so hard her nose smashed against his chin. They kissed. She plunged fingers in his hair, thrusting him closer. He fumbled on her back and found the overalls zip and he scrolled it down. He cupped her breasts. He shook when she found his pants zip.
He lifted her, holding her thighs. She wrapped her legs around his waist. Her hands brushed lightly the side scar, and no, she was not made of iron, no, she was made of flesh and soft things, tender and round and warm, melting against him, cradling, eating, whispering silly sweet things in his ear.
"It's okay, it's okay John. It’s all okay."
He pushed further. She slid her arms around his neck, holding tight. He began to rock gently. She shuddered hard and laughed and caressed his face again, looking at him like nothing more beautiful had ever been made. That was it. That was the truth, yes, yes, it was true, all she said was true and John hadn’t understood and he almost couldn’t believe that there, there in the tower-world she loved him like poets had loved.
The morning after she was already doing the sacks. She hadn’t done well her overalls and he had an half"memory of a fluffy warm creature sneaking out of his chest. John sat on the covers and felt himself smiling. She beamed at him as soon as she saw him awake.
"Uhm, I don’t know. We go. We got a still a lot of road."
"That was not what I meant, girl."
Celia stopped to look at him.
"I just want to say, tonight you made very, very happy. Very happy. Probably more than anytime in my life."
"Yeah. Very happy."
She shrugged and kept throwing things in the rucksacks. He watched her put a string of hair behind her ear.
John grinned. “Wait. You’re not dumping me are you?"
"Not at all. I just meant, you have no tie. I did it for me. Did it all for me. I, don’t expect anything. You’re free."
"You said you loved me."
"I still do."
"So, what happens now?"
"Whatever you want. I offer everything."
He nodded and they stopped talking. He got up, dressed and helped picking up the last things. Then the girl stopped on the gap of the cave. John walked up to her. He gave a look at the woods, the dawn cracking over the cypresses and the towers far behind.
"So we go?"
He took her hand.