September 4th, 2024
With a slight yank, Sasha lifted the couch from the debris. The springs had burst through the cushions, three of its legs were splintered, and one of its arms was hanging on only by the fabric. He set it aside, in the “ruins” pile that had begun to form.
The mournful cry cut through Sasha. He straightened and almost started forward until he saw the source of it: Candace, one arm in a sling, her free hand holding the warped espresso press. She turned it this way and that before tossing it back on the rubble and plopping onto a discarded chunk of concrete. Her shoulders drooped and she stared at the ground, her brows turned up in sorrow and resignation.
Sasha picked his way through the ruins and seated himself beside her. His light moved with him, shifting the night’s shadows.
“Maybe it’s time to call it quits,” he said, gently. “You should be resting, anyway. Taking care of your arm.”
Candace shook her head, slowly. “I can’t.” Her voice was almost a whisper.
Sasha hesitated. “Did… was your apartment hit too?” His eyes flicked over the ruins briefly. “You can stay with us. We’ll find somewhere for you to sleep.”
“No, Sasha.” She offered him a thin smile. “I mean… I can’t rest. Won’t be able to.” She turned back towards the debris. “For one, the painkillers wore off an hour ago. Two, I haven’t crashed yet, from the caffeine and adrenaline. Three…” She paused, more weight settling over her. “… Starbucks is… was… pretty much my life as Candace-Not-Candy. That’s why I spent pretty much all my time here.” A bitter smile crossed her face. “I know I was supposed to find a balance. It was… I guess… just easier to spend all my time at Starbucks and not think about it.” Her smile faded. “But now… there’s nothing between me and Candy.”
He carefully wrapped a reassuring arm around her. She yielded readily to him, sliding closer and softening against his shape. As time stretched out before them, the silhouette of what was once Starbucks rested utterly still, like some kind of fallen beast.
The night had brought silence with it, silence which made the surrounding tall buildings seem to loom that much taller, standing constant, quiet vigil like gravestones.
A handful of moments. Just a handful of moments where Sasha was parted from Derrick, trying to lure him to the wall—in that time there was so much destruction, a razing of buildings and a reaping of men and women that followed in the uncaged falcon’s wake. Wasn’t a burning lens supposed to focus only on one ant?
An instant. Just an instant, a fist which burned like the sun stole the light of another. It had driven a hole in more than just flesh. Such a strong family, such tight bonds formed by hardship and trust and loss.
An ache tightened in Sasha. He’d been holding onto Doviluze’s heart, because she’d needed to set it aside. When he’d first held it, never had he seen her woven as surely as in that tapestry—when he’d first seen it, it had done his own heart good, made the long decade apart worth it. But now… she was rent just as surely as everyone else. She’d lost a cub, after all. A fresh wound, just as she finally started licking at the old ones that still needed healing. A house, with a cracked floor, leaking blood. He could only guess what else had crumbled in that instant.
But houses could always be remade. There was another cub on the way, new thread to stitch the tapestry. Dawn on the horizon. Nothing would be the same, but what day ever sought to be like the last?
“Candace isn’t gone,” he said, his voice low. “She just needs to be rebuilt.”
“It’s not that easy.” Her words were distant, as if spoken through a wall of resignation.
“I know.” Sasha took a deep, slow breath and let it out. It wasn’t easy at all. “But you can do it.” After a pause, he added, “This time, though, you should consider proofing her against earthquakes.”
Ah, there! A bit of a smile, a real one. A ray of light, poking through.
“Invest in some better insurance,” she added, her weary smile growing a little.
A smile dawned over him, too. Another ache seized Sasha, the ache of sore muscles given a good stretch. He’d needed that.
For a while they simply sat there and let time stretch before them. Her free hand came up to touch his, rubbing his fingers absentmindedly. A cloud passed over her smile. As it did, Candace spoke.
“Sasha, can you… can you please stay with me tonight?” She paused, let out a little sigh, then continued. “Shit, I don’t have it in me today to play coy.” Her head rolled a little and lifted from him. “I mean sex. I want you to have sex with me.”
Perhaps he should’ve seen that on the horizon too. He couldn’t really say it had caught him by surprise. Every wreck called for a bonfire—every death a funereal pyre. Ashes, after all, promised new growth. But he had to sweep through more rubble, help rebuild other foundations.
Sasha began to draw his arm away. “Candace, I—”
She grabbed his hand, gently, forestalling him. “Before you say no… I know we’re just friends. I’m still okay with not crossing that line. You’re… way out of my league anyway. But it doesn’t have to mean anything. Hell, I don’t want it to mean anything.” She looked up at him. “It’s plain as day that we’re attracted to each other, I don’t think I could survive being alone tonight, and I could use some good ol’ southern comfort just to get me through this. And then tomorrow… tomorrow we can part ways and I can see about the whole… rebuilding thing.” She paused briefly and squinted an eye in a kind of half-a-grimace. “I, ah… didn’t mean Southern Comfort the whiskey. I meant… shit, it makes me sound like some kind of alcoholic.” In frustration she ran a hand through her hair. “But it’s still better than Rapture.” Then she grimaced again and turned away, letting her hand drop. “Fuck, I didn’t… I’m not trying to blackmail you or anything. I… I promise not to relapse tonight if… if you don’t sleep with me. I think I can…” She halted mid-sentence, closed her eyes, and took a sharp, purging breath. “Well, I’ll just leave it at that. Promise made, heart crossed, needle in my eye and all that.” She opened her eyes and her shoulders dropped. “I guess… all I have now is pretty please.”
Sasha let the silence clear a path before he spoke. “Carmen’s in labor, Candace. After I’d helped you here, I intended to go back to the hospital and stick around until after the baby’s born.”
She stared at him, stunned. “Oh.” Her gaze turned towards the rubble again. “Well. Now I feel really fucking awkward.”
He carefully adjusted her sling, straightening out the wrinkles. “I don’t think you should be alone tonight either.” With that he offered her a little smile. “So come wait with me. Probably not as exciting a prospect as sex, but… well, it’s better than Rapture.”
“That’s not fair,” she mumbled, taking up and fidgeting with a stray fragment of concrete. “You can’t use my own words against me. There are, like, rules about that.”
Sasha stifled his dawning smirk and offered a simple shrug.
“Yeah, okay.” Candace tossed the rock atop the greater pile of rubble and then stood. “I’ll go.”