Author: justcallmefaye PM
He carried a photo of her with him everywhere during the war. Of distance and nostalgia and, just maybe, a connection still. AU. Aridon/Aylia.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship/Romance - Words: 1,179 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 11-19-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3075906
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Claimer: Mine. This is actually an AU ficlet with characters and general themes from my fantasy novel, Iceblade. You obviously don't have to read that first, as this is an AU, but you certainly could. And if you like this drabble, you could always leave a review, and that would be awesome, but then you could always also check out the book itself and, like, buy a copy or something. Or something. Links are in my profile!
And reviews would still be love. Reviews are always love.
He carried a photograph of her with him everywhere.
It was tucked safely in the inner pocket of his flak jacket, shielded from the mud and blood and dust of the battlefield, shaded from the sweltering heat of a desert sun. He took it out in the barracks at night and looked at it with a distant, wistful melancholy in his eyes, and when the other soldiers tried to get a peek, he would turn it away, and when they teased him and jeered him, he ignored them.
She was precious to him, pristine and far-off and so separate from all this hell. He would not flaunt her image in front of the others for a few thumps on the back and some knowing grins. (The knowing grins would be wrong, anyway. He'd never so much as kissed her. He had hugged her on the occasion, except mostly she'd hugged him, and what he remembered most from those instances was that her hair smelled like apple blossoms.)
There were white creases across the photograph's front from where it folded to fit in his pocket, snowy veins splitting the picture into sections, but he'd made sure that none of them cut across her face. The edges were blunted and worn, fraying and curling apart from age and exposure and wear, and he was so careful not to tear it by accident when he slipped it from his jacket and smoothed it out and smiled again.
It wasn't, perhaps, the most flattering picture of her he could've brought with him. It wasn't, in fact, the only one he'd had to choose from—she'd hadn't left for university yet, so she'd come to his graduation ceremony at the end of basic training, when the recruits became soldiers and got to wear the sleek formal dress for the first time, when it was still all about saluting and white gloves and duty and honor and glory. They'd taken dozens of pictures, and many of them had her facing the camera properly and smiling in a practiced but nonetheless flawless way, and there'd been silly ones of them posing together and more formal ones of them posing together, but he'd chosen this one, instead.
Calling it a candid shot would probably be accurate, although he was confident that his cousin might have tapped the camera's button without meaning to and taken candid to a whole new level more generally termed completely accidental. She was off-center, towards the right edge, only from the thigh up, and slightly crooked. She wasn't looking straight-on, either, her face turned towards the left edge, and it'd been windy that day, teasing her long auburn hair across her face, so she'd raised a hand in an attempt to tame it by tucking the troublesome strands behind her ear. The exposure had been strange, too—it was washed out, like they'd aimed the lens at the sun and blurred everything summer-gold.
He liked it, though. He thought maybe it was better that she looked like this, that she was half-smiling at something beyond the picture's scope, that it was sunny and breezy and beautiful. He supposed that there were magazines that would have spent dozens of hours and thousands of dollars trying to capture a similar shot, a shot he'd received by happy accident.
It was a carefree snapshot, alien and surreal in the hellish waste of war, and her beauty was more alien still. Oftentimes when he studied it in the late hours, he would wonder if life had ever really been like this, if she were even real, if he had somehow dreamed it all and that now the dream had simply become a nightmare. He'd have to remind himself that this was reality, that she was by now graduated from pre-med at Cambridge and even from medical school at Harvard, that she was somewhere saving and bettering people's lives and he was here, in the desert, and perhaps he was bettering lives, but mostly he was just aware that he was ending them.
He'd have to remind himself that they'd grown up together, been inseperable for more than a decade, that they'd even gone to prom together, although that had been as friends and they'd spent the night laughing, and when other couples got all clingy during slow dances, he had waltzed her around the floor in pure exaggerated fashion. She'd been stunning in that strapless champagne gown, but she could've been stunning in a burlap sack (or a simple white sundress like the one that had seemed to pair so well with his dress blues) because she was Aylia Ritarishal, and he was sure she was stunning right now in scrubs and a doctor's coat and a stethoscope, eighteen hour shift or not.
He didn't know for sure, though. He hadn't seen her in seven years. He'd stopped writing in his second tour, after his second injury and his second Purple Heart. It was too hard to have a lifeline to normal, too hard to maintain that tether. He hoped she didn't begrudge his silence, and he hoped she was too busy to notice, and then he'd hope that she did.
Maybe she thought of him still, when the hours were slow, when she heard an acoustic guitar or when the first snowfall came or when she caught sight of a boy with tousled dark hair, just a glimpse before the churning crowds ushered him from sight. Maybe she missed him.
He missed her, and he wished sometimes that he'd stolen that kiss, but then...but then it wouldn't have been the same.
Aridon smoothed the creases, the one vertical across the tip of her bent elbow, the other horizontal across her hips, and looked at Aylia as she laughed at something unseen, as the sun glowed in successive haloes, as the wind played with her hair.
He was certain that it would've smelled like apple blossoms, and he wished that a photograph could capture scent, because he would have loved to breathe that in.
Quietly, carefully, he folded it back up and slipped it into his pocket.
One day, perhaps, he would breathe that again.
For now, though, he was content to wait and keep her photograph close to his heart.