|Elsie||It's night in Ashur's apartment, the one just north of the checkpoint between El Dorado and Shantytown. All the lights are off, save for what spills in from the street, which is very little. It's enough to cast shadows and give rough outlines of things. A dresser. The shelves. The bed. The small table and chairs. The closet door. The lounge chair.
That chair is set up by the window, and in it is a slender, pale form that seems to glow with even the slightest presence of light. Both her skin and her silver hair reflect the light, as do the tears that have streamed down her face.
She's shaking, this form. Naked but curled up into a tight ball, arms crossed over her torso to hug the opposite shoulders, she's clearly a wreck. Her hair has been left down, and the only thing she wears on her person is a bit of rubber tubing on her arm where it was so recently needed. A used syringe is on the floor.
This is the side of chem addiction so often overlooked and ignored. The bad trips, the ODs, and, in this case, the sights of things that were not there causing terror in the heart of the viewer.
Surelda remains curled up in this chair, sweating and trembling and sniffling and crying, staring out the window at positively nothing.
|Ashur|| At times, the Legionnaire makes camp beneath the stars, and sleeps on the ground as he did for decades; he finds most beds fail to support his frame, and he sinks too deep into them, besides. The roots of trees, the solidity of the Earth, these things are what makes for a comfortable rest.
At other times, he is in New Rome, wrapped in what luxuries his suburban manor can provide; what luck that he could steal enough mattresses from the neighboring homes to create a massive bed-pile to hold him.
And still, sometimes, he sleeps in this little hotel apartment, when fatigue comes and he is in El Dorado, and not wandering its farm-dotted borders where a roof can be found easy.
Ashur rolls over on the bed, and his arm strikes empty space where once lay a girl. His sleepy brain vaguely registers this fact, and his eyes open, crusted and confused in that liminal state between dream and reality. Smack lips, sit up, and abrade the sand of sleep that seals him with thumb and forefinger; now he is awake, peering through the dark, and seeing the shining figure of his Surelda as she weeps and curls in silent sob.
He does not know what happened. He doesn't need to. He's off the bed in an instant, pulling free the thick blanket he wore and striding through the dark toward her. His feet are quiet against the carpets, the first sound made the whoosh of air when he flicks that blanket up and lets it settle over her.
"Only a bad dream, little one," he tells her, guessing; "Shhh. It's okay."
|Elsie||So lost in her own mind is Surelda, this night, that despite the creaking mattress and the heavy footfalls of Ashur, it's only when that blanket settles around her that she seems to notice him. She looks up at him, black eyes searching frantically in the darkness for some calm, some peace, some reassurance that she can hold on to.
Because his words do not reassure her. She knows better.
"No, Papi," Surelda responds, one hand sliding up from beneath the blanket that covers her to roughly wipe one cheek. "We have to leave."
Some threads of the dream world that have clung to her into the waking one? Or a drug trip gone bad? Or something else entirely? Either way, Surelda is awake, alert, and she sounds as though she's in control of her wits. Such as they are, for a girl who can hardly write.
"The war's coming again," she tells him in the darkness, frantic in her quietness. "The bombs, the rads, it'll all come again. We can't stay here, Papi. We have to get out of the city. El Dorado is going to burn."
She starts to sniffle and cry again.
|Ashur|| He cradles her face in one heavy, warm hand. The tip of his thumb swipes under her eyes, across the ridge of her cheeks, brushing aside the tears she missed; then he is content to hold her, his oracular burrito, until she calms. The brute takes a knee that he might be nearer eye-level, staring at her as his eyes adjust to the darkness.
"I can take you to New Rome," he reminds her, voice low but reassuring; even in the face of her fears, her anxieties, he is not himself perturbed, the steady rock she needs. "If something happened here to make you afraid." That is how he interprets this weeping: a confused, drug-addicted and sleepy girl's response to some trauma, and an inability to confess what it truly is that terrifies her here.
"And even if war comes, little one, I would keep you safe. Who have you ever met that could defeat me?" He smiles, leans in, kisses her quivering lips. And then he embraces her. Despite his nudity, his beastly vigor is felt in the waves of sleep-heat that pour from him.
"Here, tell me about your dream. I heard, once, that there is meaning in them."
|Elsie||Surelda calms ... somewhat. His presence is that of a rock exactly; huge and immovable. So she allows him to take her; she slides from the chair to him where he kneels on the floor. She remains coiled in that heavy blanket he gave her. But even with his surprising tenderness, her fear has not abated. In the bare light, one might almost see the rapid pulsing of the veins in her throat, quick as a panicked bird's.
"I'll die in New Rome," she says, shaking her head slightly. Chem-addicts are quite frowned upon there. But even as she says it, the girl shakes her head further.
"I saw the bombs come again," she explains to him in a tone of hushed terror. "To melt the city of gold, and make it glow green with the reflection of rads far off into the distance. It was like the first time, Papi. But it wasn't the first time. It was the next time. You can't stop that, Papi. Not even you."
She shivers again, tugging the blanket up below her chin while she reclines against him on the carpet. One thing of note perhaps, though: she spoke of seeing things, not of dreaming them.
|Ashur|| "I will not let you die, starlight," he mentions, idly curling a lock of that silver hair around his finger. The strange pet name is spoken in tones of quiet affection, inspired by the liquid sheen that hair takes in the faint argent moonlight that peeks around the window's curtain; how she shimmers and shines in the dark, ghost-pale, unearthly; how she is like the stars. "Not in El Dorado, not in New Rome; in no place I tread will anything endanger what is mine. I swear it."
Another kiss is pressed to her lips, then her neck, and now the bull can feel how quick her pulse is; what dream-fear turned her heart to automatic weapon?
"Have you been sneaking your chems again, Surelda?" He can't help the faint accusatory tone, but it isn't anger. He is not mad at her for being upset. But he wants to soothe her, to understand, and if she's having withdrawals and night terrors because of it..
|Elsie||Starlight. That's a new one. We'll see if it manages to survive into the daylight.
Surelda sniffles once more, but the small gestures of affection like those kisses, calm her momentarily. At least until he asks that next question. There's no use denying it, right?
The silver-haired girl removes one arm from the blanket and tugs at the tubing there until it comes free. It's offered over to Ashur. There's guilt in her movements, in her eyes, but not enough to chase away the fear that's given her actual goosebumps that he can feel on her whenever he touches her.
"I thought it would be alright, since you're right here. I didn't want to wake you." Granted, she keeps Daytripper pills in her pocket to get her through the long shifts at Lone Star, but for any of the real good stuff? That is kept at home, and under Ashur's supervision. But still, that doesn't dissuade her. "You have to believe me, Papi," she implores. "The bombs are coming again. We have to tell everyone, or the city will just ... die."
|Ashur|| Of course. He might try to mask it, uncharacteristically gentle of him, but she'll see that look of vague disappointment; the way his brow drops, and his lips purse, at the sight of the tubing that he sets aside. It's too dark for him to see the little pricks in her arms, but he knows what the paraphernalia means: she's high. High and having bad dreams that scare her so bad her flesh becomes a rough-textured thing, covered in bumps and leaving her shivering even as he holds her in her blankets.
The Legionnaire sighs, but presses kiss to the cold-sweat-messed crown of her head, keeping her tucked upon his lap. His arms wrap her tightly.
"Alright," he says, dropping his head to rest his forehead atop hers. "Baby girl, I don't want to lie to you. I know you're frightened -- but you're high, and you were having bad dreams. Another attack by the Enclave is possible, and El Dorado certainly must marshall its defenses.. but what makes you so sure there's going to be fire and radiation?"
|Elsie||Surelda curls up against that kiss, making herself a tiny ball on his lap, wrapped up like a round dumpling. It's never good to disappoint him, and normally that's something that would upset and frighten her. But she can't get much more upset or frightened than she is right now. She sniffles once more, but the tears it seems are beginning to abate.
"Because they have nukes, Papi," Surelda says, with the same confidence that one might point out the color of the sky on a clear day. It just is, there's no debating it. "Or someone does. Someone who can make them fall from the sky like raindrops." Surelda lifts her face to pres it firmly into the crook of Ashur's shoulder, so her words are muffled. "I'm high, Papi," she confesses. "But I'm not crazy."
|Ashur||"You're not crazy," he confirms, "just frightened and confused." He smooths back that lustrous hair and his kisses are as scratchy as his beard. "The Enclave might have such weapons; during the expedition, we took control of some. There might be other such facilities, where missiles lie buried beneath the earth -- it is a reasonable fear. But if they had these things, why would they have wasted lives and machines attacking us during the siege? Why not burn the city, and consume it in fire?"
He shifts her on his lap when she settles head to crook and soothingly brushes across her arm beneath the blanket. Once, twice, long smooth strokes, over and over. "Little one, why don't you think it was a dream?"
|Elsie||"I don't know, Papi," Surelda admits. That rabbit-like pulse is slowing, now, thanks to Ashur's repeated attempts at keeping her calm. She turns her face to allow her cheek to rest on his shoulder instead. He can feel her muscles unclenching, the shivers abating. The high-strung fear is giving way to exhaustion.
"I don't know, Papi. Maybe they wanted the city whole at first. I don't know." She closes her eyes and seems to leave it there for now. Not quite content, of course, but simply exhausted and at a loss.
But then he asks the question, and she opens her eyes again. "Because it's never just a dream, Papi. Not when it's like this."
|Ashur|| Encouraged by the product of his labors, Ashur lifts his hand from the girl's arm and moves instead to her head. That warm, rough hand curls, dragging nails along her scalp, fingers smoothly tugging through the black-rooted silk, scraping sensation in rhythmic pulses down skull and neck.
In the darkness, there is only them. There are no bombs, there is no fire -- merely the chittering of night-time insects, a faint breeze outside, and the occassional snore from the room over. In the darkness, the loudest sound is the bull's breathing, his chest rising and falling with every pull of air.
"What do you mean 'when it's like this'?" His voice is low, slow -- each word deliberate and punctuated.
|Elsie||She's almost calm now, one might say. Ashur's done a good job, tonight. Granted, he'll likely have some words for her in the harsh light of day regarding those chems, but for now he seems to have soothed her own savage beast, such as it is. She remains coiled against him, almost fetal, with her eyes closed.
At his question, she just shakes his head. "I don't know, Papi," she sighs, letting her eyes flutter open. She lifts her head and twists her neck so that she can look upwards at him. She looks so solemn, so sincere in the dark. "I don't know," she repeats again. Her voice is soft but focused in the dark, spoken with absolute clarity despite the chems swimming in her veins. "But we'll die if we stay here. Everyone will."
|Ashur|| How could he know that she sees true visions of the future? There's no reason to suspect it -- instead, as he cradles her and brushes her hair, he's forced to conclude his sweet girl, despite her insistence it's different, is high and confused, and had an all-too-realistic dream that she can't parse from reality.
In the morning, perhaps he'll chastise her. But maybe the fear was punishment enough.
"Up you go," he says, holding her and ascending, carrying her blanket and all back to the bed. He eases her down in the warm spot he was lying in, where she can nestle and curl into the imprint of his body, and crawls over her, tugging her to his chest. With one pillow tucked above his shoulder and beneath his neck, one arm under her and the other over, the bull brings her against his hairy chest and closes his eyes.
"We'll talk about it more later," he says. "Sleep, you'll feel better in the morning."