The echoes of her t-strap heels on the charred stone floor resounded throughout the wreck of the clock tower. To her surprise and sliver of vague relief, her old refuge till stood, albeit precariously with large chunks of its foundation blown away. If she was a bit more romantic, the whole scene might have reminded her of a Renaissance ruin.

Cold mountain air breezed through the large holes in the roof of the vestibule. The light of the full moon also shone through, casting dark shadows at the corners that were still intact. She breathed in the musky, woody scent of the place slowly and deeply – the smell of her past. For the briefest moment she remembered what it was like to feel safe, secure, hidden away; but the tinge of burnt oak beams soured the memory.

She opened her eyes to see ashes snowing down around her, and the embers of burning building hot and glowing. Slowly, but not hesitantly, she looked to her right, away from the clock tower on her left to see a body clad in black lying face down, a skid mark of blood trailing after.

It wasn’t the blast that killed him. It was the impact of him going through the roof of the vestibule and hitting the floor that did it.

Pain welled up somewhere deep inside her, but dissipated into horrid nothingness before it could reach her eyes. She barely even felt it.

Turning to a corner closer to the foot of the clock tower, her violet eyes narrowed in reminiscence. A ghostly hand sprung from the rubble of smoldering bricks, beam and forgotten furniture and clawed desperately at the cooler air. Her hand. Burnt and raw from the chemicals and heat of the thermobaric phosphorus pack bomb. Barely moving her head, she glanced down at the same arm, covered in keloid scarring.

It was pure luck that a water pipe burst upon the impact of her and a chunk of clock tower on it. It was pure luck that the cooling agent of water and the suffocating element of scaffolding and rubble dust extinguished both types of burns at all with minimal damage to her insides. 

The scars on her arm were easy to cover up. The ones on the entirety of her back? Not so much. Sometimes, on cold, angry days the pain would creep back; sharp and nagging. Today was such a day. She straightened herself, in defiance to the instinct of wanting to double over and curl up.

There was nothing left here for her anymore. The remnants of her from before had blistered away with her skin. Had been literally corroded and cut away, leaving her as she is now. A scarred husk of nothingness.

But she embraced the void. Everything she was before – scared, defenseless, lonely, emotional; she wouldn’t have survived anyway. The people who murdered her uncle, who set her on fire? They did her a favour. And for that, she will make their deaths as full of life as possible. So they could experience what she no longer could.

She heaved in a little sigh, and smiled in pure serenity.

But her smile hardened as she became aware of a figure stalking quietly around her in the darkness.

Slackening her composure, she turned to him, a sly glint in her eyes.

He stepped into the circle of moonlight, materializing before her. His dark armour and featureless helmet seemed to swallow the glint of the moon; giving him the presence of a solid shadow.

Unfazed, she spun around and smiled sweetly.

The figure barely moved, but she knew how taken aback the face under that helmet was.

She circled him slowly, tracing the edges of the moonlight spotlight, coming closer with each step.

He glanced at her over his shoulder, turning to keep her in sight. She came to a stop in front of him, her back to the clock tower. They contemplated each other silently, before she sighed a little.

“Would you stop looking like that every time you see me?” she cocked her head to one side like a bird.

“Like what?”

“A deer in headlights. Surely by now it should have sunk in that I’m alive,” she leaned in, her eyes wide with mocking obviousness. Her face was a mere few inches away from his helmet, her breath forming a little speck of condensation.

He didn’t respond.

Her eyes darted around his face for a while, taking a confused look.

“What?”

“I can’t remember how the helmet comes off.”

“Is that a good or bad thing for me?”

For a very brief moment, she becomes his Anya again; her sad violet eyes burning a hole through his quadruple-reinforced bulletproof visor, sinking their way into his insides. He resisted the urge to pull her into him, to feel her warmth, her breathing, her heartbeat once again.

But he had the drowning notion that the phantasm in his head was now more real than the girl standing right in front of him.

As if she didn’t hear the labored breath  he sucked in and exhaled painfully, she came even closer and planted a gentle, tender kiss where his mouth would be.

He didn’t tremble at her touch, nor did she at his proximity.

He opened his mouth to say something, but a beeping from his helmet interface stopped him short. Automatically a little red flashing dot on a mini-map sprung into view, obscuring her face from his view.

He whispered a command, shrinking the map away, but it was too late.

Whatever that was Anya had disappeared, replaced with the cruel once more.

Softly, she pushed herself away at arm’s length. Her fingers trail down his chest plate, before dropping away to her side.

“Go on. There’s nothing here for you,” she states.

“Tonight,” he replies, his voice free from augmentation. She stirs at the sound.

She watches him go. He doesn’t leave a trace.

“Jealous?” she coos to the shadows.

The click of a gun hammer springing back into place is heard, and a pair of black and white saddle shoes step into the light.

“Yes.”

“Save it. He’s part of the past.”

The shoes drew back into the shadows again, tapping just beyond the reach of the light. An arm reached out into the light and wrapped around her waist, pulling her close to the solid body behind her.

A chin rests on her shoulder, and lips caress her ear.

His face however, remains shrouded by the 20’s fedora that never came off his head in public.

“Does that mean he goes as well?”

Love casts one last brief look at the rubble, her gaze passing over the spot with the faded blood stain and coming to settle on the ghostly hand clawing weakly at its fading apparition.

“Yes.”

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