The day your mother dies, in a skirmish outside some middle-of-nowhere town whose name you didn’t quite catch, you run. As soon as the dust settles, you drop your weapon and move as fast as you can, weaving between trees, heart and legs in perfect rhythm. You used to be good at this - in a different world, your dad liked to say when you were younger, you would’ve run track in high school and you would’ve been one of the best. As things are, it’s just one more skill keeping you alive.
You push yourself until there’s no feeling left in the soles of your feet and then you push yourself even further, until your legs are the sorest they’ve ever been and you literally cannot move forward one more step and it’s all you can do to collapse to the ground and let your lungs catch up with you. Then, and only then, do you let yourself feel anything.
You won’t mourn for her, not as your brain tells you that you probably should, because honestly, you won’t miss her. You thought her dead ten years ago, and maybe it would’ve been better for everyone if she had been. Yes, the woman brought you into the world, but she also fucked it all up and you’re not sure you can ever reconcile that knowledge. (At least you’re not the only one with that problem.) And then you found her again and she wasn’t what you remembered, she was distant and too emotional at the same time and you thanked whatever powers govern the universe that it was Maggie - sweet, delicate, dearly-departed Maggie - who got you through adolescence and not your biological mother because at least Maggie gave a fuck about your petty crushes, at least she saw you were broken and tried to help. And yeah, you never listened to her, but you regret that now because at least she tried for you.
(Doesn’t matter, every parental figure you’ve ever had is dead now. Funny how that happens.)
You should be crying, you think - the last family member you had is dead (you’re not counting Miles because you forgot he existed until two years ago), and yet you are perfectly still. Your mind races. Maybe you always knew it would end this way, with your lovely mother ending up on the wrong side of a gun. Maybe you braced for it months ago and in that time completely accepted the inevitable. Maybe you just don’t care, or maybe you care too much. Really, you just don’t know.
For a while, time stops. You focus on your breaths and heartbeats, steadying the longer you stay still, then on the bruises on your shins from not quite dodging a few smaller obstacles. You’ll be fine, you know you will be. You risked your life today, yeah, but what else would you do on a normal Thursday? Once you figure out what you’re supposed to feel, once you reconcile that with what you are feeling… if that ever happens… you will survive this, just as you survive everything else, because some days you’re pretty sure that’s the only thing you’re good at. And if you have to be a one-trick pony, you could do a lot worse than that.
You hear a voice in the distance, and for a moment you wonder if it’s worth trying to run again, but you don’t mean to die of exhaustion just yet and so you stay, curled up in a little ball because that’s a tiny bit more comfortable than any other position you can think of, and you wait for another inevitability.
You should’ve known someone would follow you - this isn’t the first time you’ve responded to your problems by running off, just as it isn’t the first time this particular person has gone after you. The first time it happened, you were convinced he came under duress, perhaps threatened by the harpy otherwise known as your mother. The second time - and this time, the third if you’re keeping time right - you knew better.
"There you are," he says, dropping to his knees beside you and wrapping his arms around you like they belong there. (Maybe they do, but now is not the time or place for those contemplations.) "It’s okay. It’s okay."
You want to scream that it’s not, but your voice won’t find the words. You want to break down and cry because that’s what’s expected of you, you’re suddenly sure it is, but your eyes won’t water up. You want to do a dozen different things, but all you can manage to do is rest your head on his shoulder and hope that you aren’t making things impossibly awkward.
(It’s still so strange to think that the man you once considered your greatest foe has transformed into the only person alive who tries to understand what runs through your mind, let alone tries to help, but you never expected your life to be simple and logical.)
"I don’t feel anything," you say after a while, and there’s the strangest strength in that admission, like letting go of something you didn’t know you were holding. "I know I should, but…"
He reaches up, puts a finger to your lips (there was a time you would’ve shamelessly tried to bite it off but that instinct has been dead for months and you know you’re better for it). “There’s no wrong way to miss someone.” His hands slip down again, fingers wrapping in your hair - he knows, subconsciously you can’t help thinking, that you like when people do that. Strange, how well he knows your intricacies.
"But what if I don’t miss her?” It’s been three hours, maybe four now. You should feel some sort of strange loss-like feeling, at the very least. “What then?”
"Nothing wrong with that either," he replies, and you swear he almost laughs. "No offense, but your mother was… not the easiest person to like."
You roll your eyes - you’ve never heard such a blatant understatement. “But still, she was…”
"Look, these things don’t play by rules. Don’t be too hard on yourself, that’ll only make it worse."
You suppose he’s right - he’d know from experience, if nothing else - but that’s little reassurance. “I’m just so… confused, I guess.”
He leans forward an inch, lips on your forehead for a fraction of a second, and maybe your mind isn’t working properly today but it’s nice. “You’ve got time, Charlotte. Maybe that’s all we’ve got anymore, but…”
"Thank you," you whisper. "For this, for…"
"Trust me, I’ve coped alone and no good thing comes of putting yourself through that hell. You’re better than that."
It is perhaps the nicest thing anyone’s said to you in far too long, and you’d be tempted to tell him how wrong he is about you if it weren’t for that blasted light in his eyes, so trusting of you for reasons you might be starting to understand. In some way, you matter to him - maybe as a would-be lover, maybe as a dear friend, maybe both or maybe something else entirely. It’s a strangely nice thing to notice.
"Do we have to go back there?" you ask after a few minutes’ silence. You tilt your head up, glancing at the sunset, and make your choice. "Because… I really don’t want to."
"In that case, no. Not yet. If you want to go off, see what we can get into before we inevitably get dragged back towards this madness… I’ve been on road trips with worse."
"C’mon, you like me," you say almost without thinking. "And yeah. That would be… that would be nice, if you’re cool with it."
"Wouldn’t suggest it if I wasn’t," he replies. "Hmm… how do you feel about Canada?"
"Never been," you shrug.
"Good. Trust me, it’s worth the trek…"