Duo. G. ~2500 words. Pastfic.
A look at what could have been for two young boys.
Under a sky too pale to be called blue, they ran.
Sunlight filtered through the tree branches, casting dappled shadows on the ground, a flashing brightness in their eyes, and still, they ran. Over rocks, tangled roots and fallen, gnarled trunks, they darted and jumped, their laughter high and full of childish delight. Wind rattled the leaves above them and whipped their hair about their heads, but nothing mattered to them, not in that one, solitary moment.
Eventually, they slowed, lungs burning for breath and chests heaving. Two boys, two children, one dark haired, the other light, stopped and grinned at each other. Too breathless for words, the light haired one looked around with excited bright eyes, seeking a new game to play. His eyes fell on a cluster of bushes and he jerked his head towards it. The other boy followed his gaze and together they walked to it, arms slung around each other’s shoulders.
Green and red, green and blue, and then more green, the plants were full of colour, rich like the pictures in books. The first boy, the one with long dark hair tangled from the mad dash through the trees, crouched down and started picking through the bushes, plucking ripe berries from the branches and popping them into his mouth. They were raspberries, red and full, bursting with flavour. The other boy stood beside him, taking a berry when handed one and looking this way and that before crushing them between his teeth. This time, a small opening in the wall of rocks nearby caught his interest.
He nudged his playmate, nearly knocking him over in his enthusiasm and pointed at the cave. The other stood up, stuffing a handful of the berries into his pocket. Excited by the idea of exploring something as dark, as mysterious, as potentially muddy as a cave, he trudged over the ground with his friend and peered into the darkness. He wasn’t afraid of the dark.
The second boy, older and obviously the braver of the two, took a cautious step inside, eyes straining to see though the blackness. Wind ruffled his sandy hair, whistling past him and making the cave howl. The dark haired one shivered, but he still wasn’t afraid of the dark. He took a step inside, mimicking his friend, craning his neck and opening his eyes as wide as he could. He thought he saw something big inside the cave. A rock to climb. He elbowed the other boy, who grunted at him, and then looked back at the rock. Both boys broke into grins, a dull flash of white in the dark.
The wind howled again, and the two crept closer to the rock, the darkness and a little touch of fear making their steps slow but the journey fun. Then, the ground rumbled, and the rock shook. They froze and crouched down beside each other, their eyes as wide as saucers. The rock moved again, and a great rumbling snore shook the walls around them. The rock that wasn’t a rock rolled over with a loud thump, and the two boys slowly backed out of the cave, not really wanting to wake a bear from its afternoon nap.
Once outside, they started to run again, their eyes stinging from the sudden brightness. Finally, away from the sleeping bear, they burst into laughter again, clapping each other on the back and declaring that they weren’t afraid, even if their laughs were a bit high and nervous.
They sat together on the trunk of a fallen tree, finishing the berries from the dark haired boy’s pocket. Again, the taller, sandy haired boy was looking around, dark blue eyes taking in their surroundings while the first boy watched, waiting, then looking around in imitation of his friend. He glanced up at the sound of a distant rumble, looking back down to see his friend watching him. Without a word, they stood, setting off again.
They squeezed between the trees and clambered over more rocks, walking slowly now. The trees thinned, the light becoming brighter, and then the trees fell away, spilling them into a flat clearing. The trickle of water reached their ears, gradually growing louder as they drew near, and then they stood on the banks of a small river. They staggered down the small, grassy hill, down to the rocks at its edge.
Looking along the length of it, the sandy haired boy squinted, trying to see a way across. Further upstream, one of the many tree trunks had fallen across the river, its branches beaten down on one side to form a type of bridge. The dark haired boy led the way, dropping to his hands and knees on the trunk and edging his way carefully across. The second boy prodded him in the rear, urging him to hurry up, and then they were both on the other side, standing up and glancing around again. Together, they walked over the grass, out of the riverbed and stopped again, looking for the right direction to head in. They were almost there.
A stomach gurgled, and the dark haired boy grinned sheepishly. A few berries were hardly enough for a young boy. The other boy shook his head ruefully, a strangely adult gesture, and motioned for them to keep going. The first shrugged and trudged on. Another rumble sounded, further away from them now.
Minutes from the river, the rocks rose up around them, forming great mountains that towered above their heads. The sandy haired boy led the way between them, turning at the right moment to show the shorter boy the narrow passage carved into the side of the mountain. They squeezed through, shoulders bumping the rock walls around them. The dark haired boy grinned up at his friend when the other turned ’round to glance at him.
The passage ended, and they stood facing a steep cliff face. The younger boy craned his neck back, looking up and up until he saw the pale sky. He looked back to his friend, disbelief plainly etched onto his face. They couldn’t climb that. His friend winked.
The sandy haired boy, grinning brightly, grabbed the other’s hand and dragged him further ahead, away from the passage they had exited and until they were standing flush beside the rocks. In front of them, a small dirt path, hidden from direct view by rocks and bushes, zigzagged up the side of the mountain. The dark haired boy’s mouth formed a small ‘oh’ of surprise, and then he too was grinning. His friend was a smart one. The older boy nodded in agreement, and then set one foot to the path, turning to the side and motioning for the smaller boy to go first. Just in case.
They trooped up the cliff, one after the other, glancing down from time to time. It was a long drop, but the dark haired boy wasn’t afraid of heights, just like he wasn’t afraid of the dark. As long as he was with his friend, he wasn’t afraid of anything. Besides, they were almost there.
Suddenly, the path fell away and the dark haired boy stood at the edge of the cliff, staring down at scraggly trees and rocks that looked awfully pointy. He looked back to the sandy haired boy, who laid a hand on his shoulder and pointed ahead. It was just a spot where the rocks had worn away, all he had to do was jump a little, just over the gap, and he’d be on the path again. He could do it.
Nodding, the younger boy wiped his palms on his shorts. He looked at the gap, sizing it up and taking a deep breath. Right, he could do it. The break wasn’t that big. He backed up, glancing one last time at his friend, who smiled at him and looked ahead to the gap. He was sure he could do it, they wouldn’t be here if he thought differently.
The dark haired boy took off at a run, waiting until the last moment to push off from the ground and leap across the gap. He felt the wind lift his hair, his clothes, and then he was falling. He landed with a jarring thud on the other side, knees bent and palms flat on the ground. He had done it. With a triumphant shout, he turned back to his friend and they grinned at each other. The younger one planted his hands on his hips, delighted. He glanced around, looked back at the gap and snorted. It wasn’t such a big break at all.
The sandy haired boy laughed, getting the other’s attention. When he did, he motioned for the dark haired boy to move back, out of the way. He still needed to jump across. Oh. Right. The younger boy shrugged sheepishly and stepped back. His friend started running, jumped and landed easily beside him, kicking up clouds of dust. He made it look so easy. They started off again, plodding up the path. Only a few minutes longer, and they reached the top of the mountain. They were there.
The younger boy turned around in a circle, eyes wide. He could see forever from where he stood. The mountains, the trees, the river, he could see it all. He decided that of everything he had seen, he liked this the best. He liked standing tall.
The sandy haired boy laughed at him. This would be the only time he stood tall, he was a short little squirt. The dark haired boy rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t always be this little, and one day, he’d be taller than anyone. The sandy haired boy laughed again, blue eyes crinkling at the corners. He believed him.
Turning away from his friend, the sandy haired boy walked to the other side of the mountain, crouching down and digging through a bunch of bushes. A cloud moved over the sun and the sky darkened, another rumble sounding through the air, closer than it should have been. The dark haired boy looked back at his friend, his smile fading. The sandy haired boy frowned, shoving the bushes aside faster now. The rumble came again, closer. The sky, dark and cold, split and the rain began to beat down.
The illusion wavered, cracked and then shattered around them.
The sandy haired boy jumped up from the pile of rubble, two bundles wrapped in newspaper clutched to his chest. He ran back over to his friend, handing him one. This was important, don’t lose it. The younger boy nodded. He wouldn’t. Then they climbed over the side of the old building again, clinging to the rusted fire escape. They heard the rumble of Alliance Army’s patrol, and they were afraid.
Down the shaky steps they pounded, not hesitating before the gap where it had rusted away before leaping across, the newspaper bundles held tightly in their arms. The world grew darker and colder still, the rain soaking through their dirty clothes and hair. The dark haired boy grabbed the rail, whipping around the corners as quickly as he could, the other boy following close behind him.
They reached the end of the fire escape, slid down over the heap of garbage at the bottom and landed in the alley. The dark haired boy paused, then ran ahead, glancing back to make certain his friend was still behind him before he ducked into the narrow passage, feet slapping against the rough ground as he dodged the debris strewn haphazardly about.
They exploded from between the buildings, panting for breath and looking wildly about. It looked safe and clear. The dark haired boy swiped the back of his hand across his face. The rain felt dirty. With a nod from the sandy haired boy, he darted across the street and over the hard concrete flooring of a ruined factory. Breathless, they reached the old sewer duct and slid down the concave side, down to where garbage and sludge clogged the centre. The dark haired boy glanced around quickly, searching for the old board that formed a bridge across it. The sandy haired boy spotted it first, shoving the younger boy towards it.
On the other side, they looked about again, searching for any sign of the Alliance. When none was found, they ran over to the pile of rock and rubble that led out of the open sewer duct. Still clasping their bundles tight, they scrambled up over it and across the rest of the ruin.
Stopping short at the metal link fence, the sandy haired boy shoved his dripping hair out of his eyes and searched for the break. Finding it, and then squeezing through, the two broke out into a run again, darting between more piles of rubble, leaning fences and rotting posts, jumping over those that had given in and fallen across the path. The rain stung.
They reached the streets again, careening to a halt next to a vendor’s stand. A great bear of a man huffed and cursed, quickly packing away the brightly coloured packages, shining green, red and blue in the flickering light. He turned, saw the two boys and cursed again, growling. The sandy haired boy, grinning cheekily, saluted and grabbed his friend, taking off at a run again. He looked at the other boy, his blue eyes unnaturally bright, feverish.
Under a sky that was never blue, they ran.
“…we always ran,” the dark haired boy, no longer a child, finished. His face was turned up to the sky, eyes closed as he spoke. The rain, clean and gentle, splashed against his skin and dampened the long braid trailing down his back.
Beside him, seated on a rock, elbows on his knees, was another boy, with hair more golden than sandy and blue eyes the colour of the Caribbean. He waited, not wanting to move and break the spell of melancholy calm that his companion’s story had woven around them. The forest they sat in was quiet except for the sound of the rain on the leaves.
The longhaired boy took a deep breath, shaking himself from his reverie and turning to look at the boy next to him. The blond, feeling the movement, turned his head to the side, meeting his gaze with a ghost of a smile on his lips. Without a word between them, they stood, setting off through the trees. Bumping the other boy’s shoulder with his, the blond’s smile grew. With a ringing laugh, the boy with dancing cobalt eyes, nearly indigo in the light, threw his arm around the blond boy’s shoulders.
Above the trees, far away from the two, smoke wafted slowly through the air, gradually seeping up from the ground in great, black clouds. Raindrops fell through the smoke, tattering the edges, to strike the ground below where booted feet pounded on wet asphalt. Floating on the air, muffled and distant, was the noise of a useless siren, sounded too late.