impertinences: (Default)
you're too young & eager to love ([personal profile] impertinences) wrote on October 9th, 2016 at 09:15 pm
I exist in two places,
here and where you are.
- Margaret Atwood




His hair is long when he finally accepts Austin, when he is ready to defer.

(It will be cut when he is forced into the compound. This will be their first act, the men with their needles and white jackets. They will shear him, clumsy cuts with dull scissors that leave the sides short and the top long, uneven, falling forward into his eyes. He will already be transformed by the time Ita sees him. He will be more beast than man, more feral dog than human heart.)

Austin drags her fingers through it, dark oil slipping against her callouses, softer than her own coarse curls and tangles. He is barely more than a boy; she is still half a girl. She nips at his strong jaw, pushing her nose into the curve of his ear. He holds her hip, laughing into her neck.

They have spent years together, picking their way through the wasteland of barren, drifter cities, creating a home in the heat of the desert. They are well suited for it – creatures of craft and shadow. They find a balance. She is stronger than he is, quicker, more persistent and capable. He is too prone to anger, too haunted by their shared pasts and its aching horrors. He does not speak of his parents or his brother, and she knows he has replaced all of them in his eyes, that she has been transformed into a new being entirely. She is herself, and then she is Austin.

(She does not mind, does not see the burden. He would die for her, she knows and it is enough. Sometimes, she wonders how much of it is genuine and how much is biology.)

She makes a choice. She will lead. He will follow, an eternal phantom limb, her second right hand. Austin seals the pact in the only way she knows how, in the only way that is provided to them: in flesh and blood. A promise born in salt and sweat and her body braced above his.

They will find the others together. One by one, they will join, until a family of six is forged.

A pack.





“What was she like?” Ita asks, highlighted in the warmth of the fire’s glow. There is sand in her eyelashes, under her nails, scratching her smooth skin red.

“Is. What is she like.”

“How can you know? That she is still alive?”

“Because I do.”

“Because you are bonded.”

Chason laughs, harsh like the wind through the sand. “No. We do not bond like that.”

“But–”

“You think we’re all sentimental birds?”

She flinches around the eyes at the insult, catching her lip between her teeth. Her mouth is dry with tension. “I think she was your-”

“She’s Austin. Don’t overcomplicate everything with your expectations.”

They are not bonded, he says. He insists. Like a liturgy.

He presses Ita to him on their third night, and she feels her heartstrings tighten and knot around their bodies. Something in Chason responds, the deep well inside of him lessening, ebbing, until he has made room for her inside of his chest, protected by the sharp cradle of his ribs.

It is familiar to him, and yet completely foreign.





They change together. His muscles harden, his skin darkens, his laughter deepens. She becomes taller, sinewy, more dangerous. There’s a sharpness to her jaw and a cunning to her green eyes that beguiles. They spend those first years growing strong until they have wrapped around one another, two solid oaks whose branches have intertwined.

Austin learns that his laughter stems more from nerves than confidence. That a heat storm causes the hair on the back of his neck to stand up straight. That he sleeps with an arm thrown over his face, careless as a housecat, although every muscle in his body is poised for a fight. Chason learns that she loves to run, in any form, her long legs pumping her narrow body forward and faster, her hair catching in the wind, her laughter like lightning. That she is not ashamed to cry, tears thick on her eyelashes, mouth twisted into a scar of grief. That she sings to herself, soft wordless melodies, fragments of a childhood far warmer than the world they found themselves facing now.

Their roots go deep.

Like all close pairs, they keep to themselves. They move every few nights, never staying more than two weeks in the same spot, circling back around to familiar, isolated haunts like ghosts. They become acquainted with the desert, learning its foul plays and temperamental nature. Austin knows the skies, the hazardous sun, the trickster moon. Chason knows the shifting dunes and the paths their feet have crossed, his mind an ever-growing map, forever adding details and never missing the mark.

If they sleep in each other’s arms, it is because of the cold.

If he cradles her sharp face in his strong hands and tries to claim her mouth until she accepts, it is because of loneliness.

Like so few remaining things, she has become a comfort to him.

She thinks it her responsibility.





“She had a sister. Has. We found her, somehow. It seemed like a freak accident. There she was, skin and bones. A cough that sounded like a death rattle. Just working in one of those end-of-the-world bazaars out by the Eastern slope, where the desert is the worst. You know they say there’s an oasis out there? But we never found it. Never went further than that bazaar. It was like Austin saw her sister there, and that was enough for her. She was ready to rest for a while. And why not? We knew the desert, or thought we did, we’d been living like that for years.”

Ita is sunburnt, her lips cracked, her fingers bleeding. But she doesn’t mind; Chason has been talking for twenty minutes, his voice low and full of growls, and he has been patiently untangling the knots in her silver hair. He pulls and slips the strands over his fingers. He has been in a better mood ever since he caught the pack’s scent four nights ago, and it shows.

“What is her name?”

“Sabra.” He twists the last section of her hair before letting it coil down her shoulder in a thick plait. “There. That should last for a day at least.”

Ita does not ask how he learned to braid or whose hair he learned with. She doesn’t need to. Instead, she feels a storm of emotion twist, low in her belly, so she turns her head suddenly and peppers small, sweet kisses across his jaw and neck. He laughs, smoothing his hands across her shoulders. Dips his fingers with more insistence and unwinds the many layers of scarves she wears for protection.

“Were you always this eager?” Ita asks.

Chason rasps a snickering sound against her wrist. “You mean, with others?”

She smiles, not half as bashful as he expects her to be.

“My circumstances have always required urgency, Swan Lake. I didn’t have the luxury of protective walls.”

“… Neither did I.”

She says it so softly that he barely hears her, his mouth already wet on her collarbone. He ignores it for now, preferring to keep her a treasure, untarnished and golden in a rotten world.





Austin stands with her hands on her hips. The darkness creeps across her face with the last remnants of the setting sun. She tucks the long, rope-like twists of her hair behind hears and sighs. Chason touches her elbow. He feels the sweat on her skin, can sense her nerves.

“They’re close,” she says. “The men with their big guns and bigger traps.”

The pack cackles behind them, warning howls on the horizon.

“We should leave then.”

“Nowhere else to go. We don’t have the supplies to head back. Wherever we go now, we’re all caught up in their nets.”

“We’ve been in tough spots before.”

There’s a sad little smile on her mouth when she turns to face him. A kind of knowing. She pushes her hand back through his hair, leaning her weight into him, feeling him brace against the sand to steady them both. “I think I made the wrong decision. We shouldn’t have come back. We should have taken Sabra and continued East. Should have found the oasis, the others, those rebel camps.”

Chason shrugs. It says a thousand things and nothing all at once. He dips his head and presses his hard mouth to her temple. It’s meant to comfort, but he can tell it doesn’t.

“Where you go, I go,” he says. He wants to make her smile.

He doesn’t realize how true his statement is until it’s too late.
 
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