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this city is not ours

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"Do you believe in past lives?"

"I don't know. I don't think about it."

They hold hands, sit on the roof, watch the sky fill with smoke. The city swells as the sun rises, cars streaming into the streets. A flock of birds flutter overhead, settling themselves upon the telephone wires. The landlady who lives on the top floor opens her window, singing something faintly familiar.

"Sometimes I dream about magic," she whispers, "And I wake up and my hands are full of static, or they're cold as ice even if I wear gloves to bed." Sometimes he's in the dreams too, her knight in literal shining armour, and sometimes he's not. Once, she woke up with blood in her mouth and no explanation for it, but she doesn't tell him that. A part of her tells her that's meant to be a secret, only she doesn't know who shares it with her.

He hums, tightens his fingers around hers. His hands are rough and warm. "You don't like fantasy books," he comments, knows this because of hours spent lying in her room, which is filled only with science texts and anatomy charts, the heart and the brain reproduced on posters that cover her walls.

(The director of their orphanage had scoffed when she told him she was going to be a doctor, told her, "You can't save the world." She'd lifted her head, tossed the folder with copies of her scholarship information onto the desk, walked out. "Watch me," she'd said, not looking back.) 

"I don't," she agrees, because they always taste fake and when she reads about warriors on quests she only thinks, 'Why would you tell your archers to do that, it's a waste of their skills,' which makes no sense because it's not as if she knows the first thing about strategy. She's terrible at chess - never knows which sacrifices are worthwhile.

He leans his head against hers, likes the way she fits against him. She's thinner than she was the last time he saw her, only because she's abandoned proper eating habits in the short months till graduation, but he knows that won't last for long. His dog tags hang under the collar of her shirt, the chain looping across the slender lines of her clavicles.

"Sometimes I have nightmares, and they're not about...what you'd expect," he says, after a long moment of silence. They don't talk about what got him discharged, not ever. "There's a woman with horns and she promises me something I want, except I know I can't take the offer." Or he dreams about a war, not the one he's just come home from, but a war all the same. One where he carries a sword instead of a rifle and there are humans that turn into monsters, but it's still no easier to kill them.

She presses her lips to the spot behind his ear that he got tattooed before he left. It's a stylized cross with sparks of flame, but when he twists his head to look in the mirror it often looks more like a sword on fire. It feels right.

She has one too, on the sharp bone of her left hip. Hers has wings instead of flames, and she tells him that for years she had a scar there but she can't remember where it came from.

(In another world, she fell to the ground and nobody caught her. She landed on her side, slashed her hip against the stone, woke up with the taste of copper and taint heavy in the back of her throat. "Welcome, Sister," someone said, and pulled her to her feet.)