Sneaking Around - 1

Sneaking Around

Sofia

Heavy. Everything felt so… heavy.

It wasn’t just her feet, or her arm, or her shoulders, or every last muscle in her face. It was the drag of the hours. It was the stamps on her mind that mirrored the ones she’d placed on her family, growing ever more noticeable, even though nothing had threatened them for weeks. It was the thought of setting things to right, when so much was wrong. It was the fact that she was only 16 and already she could see the rest of the course of her life, endlessly keeping vigil against burgeoning threats until she finally fell. Even her plodding footsteps required concentration.

“Sofie,” Moe’s voice began from beside Sofia’s flesh arm. “If you wanted me to give you space, you should’ve just said so instead of trying to avoid me.”

Sofia would’ve missed it, if it weren’t for the sparks in Moe’s words, ready to catch flame, despite the calm, still-water tone she took.

“Hm?” She almost stopped to regard Moe. But if she stopped, she wasn’t sure she could get started again.

“You don’t think I noticed?” Moe said. “You’ve spent days patrolling. You don’t come to sauna nights or meals. And whenever I try to talk to you, you don’t really listen.”

Something in her words sparked off a little spot of warming anger.

“I listen,” protested Sofia, finally turning to regard Moe.

Moe was keeping pace beside her. “Yesterday you walked off when I was mid-sentence.” Fire burned under her tone, making her words short, clipped, quick, like the bubbles of water beginning to boil.

Sofia tried to summon the memory, to prove Moe wrong. She couldn’t.

“So talk to me! What’d I do to piss you off, huh?” Moe asked. After a bare moment’s silence, before Sofia could think of a response, she continued. “Whatever it is, I’m sorry, okay? Just tell me what I can do to fix it. I already gave you some space. Fuck-all changed.” Moe stepped in front of Sofia’s path, stopping her with crossed arms. “I’ve already pissed everyone else off. Everyone else pisses me off. You’re the only one who doesn’t. I can’t have you stay mad at me, okay?”

Sofia could feel the weight of Moe’s insecurities beginning to pile on her shoulders. She felt almost as if she were beginning to sink into the ground.

The heat of anger grew in her gut. It wasn’t fair. Here she was, bearing the burden of everyone’s lives, plowing on and on, with each hour, with each step—and all this beyond the end of the world, so not even that could grant her a reprieve. Why the hell did she have to bear Moe’s emotions too? Couldn’t Moe see that she that she had enough on her plate?

“Leave me alone,” Sofia growled. Her pace quickened.

Moe’s eyes flashed, and she stubbornly kept up. “How long am I supposed to do that, Sofia?” she demanded, uncrossing her arms so that her hands could throw around the anger her words couldn’t. “Another day? A whole month? It’s been a fucking lonely week and I can’t take it anymore. How much longer do you need to avoid me before we can actually talk like a pair of fucking adults?”

Sofia had told her exactly what she wanted. Moe was the one who wasn’t listening. She was too wrapped up in herself, in her needs, like a selfish child.

“When you can learn to fucking be one!” Sofia snapped.

Moe just stood there, her mouth twisting and fists clenching, the fire of petulance growing in her eyes.

“Now I have a job to do,” Sofia continued, her voice level. “A job that comes with responsibilities. So leave me alone and let me do it.”

There was a long moment when Moe’s eyes searched for something in Sofia’s face. Then she shook her head, a sneer tugging at one side of her lips.

“Well fuck you too,” she muttered, shoving forcefully past Sofia.

Without a backward glance, Sofia continued onward, the heat in her gut fueling her steps. Her eyes snapped across the landscape, seeking out the barest sign of movement, anything that could possibly threaten them, something that she could pound into the ground. A problem she could solve, a problem that had an actual end in sight. That would be a nice change.

But, of course, Fate wouldn’t even grant her that reprieve.

Not that it would’ve made much of a difference. Sofia could defeat one Titanspawn or a hundred and there would always be more. Each day that they survived brought another day that bore the threat that they wouldn’t. Titanspawn, violent storms, earthquakes, flash floods… Jan.

Jan. Just that one name sent most of Sofia’s strength flooding from her. She could be a minute away or several years away—no one would hear her approach, would see even the barest flash of the glass of a scope before the crack of death resounded, followed by the sound of a body hitting the dirt, the sight of gray chunks and white fragments scattered in a splatter of red.

Sofia’s cooled gut sank. She didn’t want to be angry with Moe. She didn’t want Moe to be angry with her. Especially not with that waiting on the horizon.

It fell to her, now, to repair the damage, and immediately. Another burden, piled on her shoulders. That wasn’t a fair thought, but Sofia couldn’t shake the feeling. Her patrol stopped, and her head sank. She just had to… turn around… and start on the long journey back. That’s all it took, was some more steps.

“Mano eilė,” said a voice beside Sofia’s marble elbow.

Surprise only barely registered. Wasn’t she just alone?

“Huh?”

My turn, Sofia’s mind translated, two moments too late.

A plume of smoke drifted in the corner of Sofia’s eyes. When she looked down, she saw a cigarette fall to the ground and a worn boot quench it in the dirt.

“I watch,” Dovilė said, this time in English, shrugging her rifle off her shoulders and into her hands. “You sleep.”

Sleep. How long had it been since Sofia last slept? She couldn’t remember. It felt like years. Maybe it even was years. Sofia had long grown used to watching the sun set and rise and set again. She’d honestly forgotten that sleep was a thing. Sure, she’d seen Senbast curled up with Crook, seen Ruben and Galen each pass out in Lisa’s lap, but that was different.

It sounded like the best thing ever right now.

“But Moe,” Sofia said, more to remind herself than anything else. “I have to talk to her.”

“Moe, she is still there when you wake, jo?” Dovilė nodded her head to the side, briefly, as if saying ‘Get going.’

Sofia wasn’t sure if Dovilė was stating a fact or making a promise. Either way, it was comforting.

“Yeah,”Sofia said, looking over her shoulder.

It would be a long journey back to the homestead, but waiting at the end was a soft, cool pillow.

She turned and started walking. One-hundred or so steps later, and she didn’t have to even stand anymore.

Sneaking Around - 1

God-Touched Nut_Meg