Behind him, there was the slow, easing creak of a bowstring dragged back. Old habits stood him in good stead. He stilled ever so slightly, his hand not moving toward the gun in its concealed carrier. Dawn was proving quiet. Everything seemed washed pale silver like grey pearls. Birds sang in the distance and the bow string did not sound again. Not yet. Time extended. Neither the archer nor the man in the black jacket eager to cut the silence of the morning, it would not heal. But they each savored the moment.
“I thought you wanted to stay.”
The one consolation to having an arrow at his back was that she could not see him close his eyes in pain. The arrow would have been easier to bear, it would not have reverberated down to his bones with the knowledge that he could lose everything here. She saw the way his muscles tightened. She knew him that well. Knew she’d struck true. Deep. An absence hollowed above the embers of her anger. It would be pain. But not now. She could not afford it now. Pain was something to be metered. She waited.
“I didn’t think. I just,” he took a breath, “went.” He relaxed, you could not move with stiff muscles not in this fight.
She altered her question in light of his answer. “Know why?” Her fingers caressed the arrow.
He laughed a rock bottom laugh. “Some things you never let go. Some things never let you go.”
She put the arrow away with barely a whisper. He still did not turn toward her. She couldn’t tell if he knew or not. “You can’t cut them yourself. Others have to cut them for you.”
“They aren’t-“ his own fear and anger had him speaking sharply. She’d put him on the defense again. Damn her. “You would have been cutting everyone’s strings. Yours, mine, and theirs. I couldn’t let you.”
“What else can I do? He did not deserve you! He gave you nothing!”
He spun. “It’s not for you to finish.” They didn’t seem to move and yet they were only a few paces away from each other as they spoke. She pointed at his chest.
“I can’t stand around and watch –that man- make history repeat itself.”
He looked at her and dropped his guard. “You don’t get to choose who you love.”
The air vanished from the hollow space inside her and the pain blossomed in its place. “Damn you.” She followed with a curse so vile the dawn seemed to stutter and halt.
A smirk sidled up and loitered at the corner of his mouth. Not welcome yet, but there. “You’re the one who decided to talk to me.”
“Hope springs eternal and stupid.” But a smile loitered on the edge of her lips as well. She sighed. “I hate being helpless.”
“I hate being in the middle.”
She shouldered her bow. “Is it safe to go back?”
He hesitated. “No. They’re nearby. I couldn’t shake them off all the way.”
“One last thing then, before this becomes a public conversation.”
He closed his eyes and looked down.
“Should anything go wrong, there isn’t a way out of this.” Her voice was quiet, like she was remarking on the beauty of the dawn. “We all go down and we take as many as we can down with us. I don’t know another way.”
“Then I hope to hell you can figure yourself out in time.”
“I’m sorry. Damn it. I’m so sorry.”
She shrugged. “I figured me out. Took awhile. Long while. But I got there, dumb decisions and all. You’ll get there. Sorry I rushed things.” She took off her bow and arrow. If her hands shook when she handed them to him, neither of them would acknowledge it. He took them and he made a promise. He wasn’t sure how he was going to keep it yet. But this time- this time he was going to figure it out.