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Teaser for Death By Inches
He was warm. The sun on his face made him smile and tilt his head back with a contented sigh. Grass crinkled under his cheek with a dry rushing sound and he breathed in the scent of the outdoors, something he had lost in his years in the city. It had been so long since he'd been able to relax, since he'd been able to close his eyes and stop looking over his shoulder. He'd been so tense in the past few months; this sudden uncoiling of his body felt like something approaching heaven.
There was movement beside him and he opened his eyes, momentarily blinded by the brilliance of the sun.
She smiled at him. For a moment his breath caught in his chest and he could do nothing but stare.
"Silly." Her voice was the same, soft with a slightly husky edge as she reached forward to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear. "Were you going to sleep all day long? We have things to do you know."
He opened his mouth, closed it.
She looked beautiful. The sun brought out the velvety darkness of her wealth of black hair, put a soft sheen on the warm tone of her skin. Her black eyes sparkled as she looked down at him, the amusement and love so deep as to be almost tangible.
It hurt to look at her.
"This is a dream." He said finally.
His mind was suddenly awhirl with chaos and the misty confusion that made it so difficult to think. Whatever solid ground he had been inhabiting was no longer there, and he was hard-pressed to find it once again. Though, he had to admit with a flutter of emotion, if he was really losing his mind this was certainly the way he would want to go about it.
"Is it?" She shrugged, still smiling. "I can never tell the difference." She flopped down on her stomach beside him, resting her pointed chin in her hands. "Did you know that when you sleep your mind is the same color as your eyes?"
It hurt. Everything hurt. He couldn't sit here in the sunlight and talk to her as if nothing had happened. As if they weren't…as if she hadn't…
There were tears in his eyes and he wasn't quite sure how they had come to be there. She glanced over her shoulder at him and her expression softened.
"Don't cry." She combed her fingers through his hair and kissed the corner of his mouth. "Don't cry Bradley don't cry."
He was crying. He couldn't help it. He clung to her, fingers no doubt making bruises in her dream body as he held onto her. Maybe if he held on tightly enough, if he wouldn't let go…
"Hush." She kissed his cheek, his forehead, and again the corner of his mouth. "You have to wake up now."
"No." He moaned against her shoulder, trying to press himself closer, trying to climb inside of her body so that they couldn't be apart…
"Yes." She touched the hair at the nape of his neck, tickling a little as she smoothed his collar.
Then she pulled away, and he couldn't hold onto her. She was like water, like silken sand sliding through his arms. For a moment he could see himself in her eyes, see his own pale face, the dark smudges under his eyes, the desperate gleam in his gaze, the unruly ruffle of his hair…
And then she was gone gone gone and he was spinning away through the rushing sound of grass and the heat of the sunlight on his skin.
The alarms again. He gave a muffled cry of pain as he came to awareness, her face still swimming before him. Then the strident wail of the alarms hit him and he winced, covering his ears even as he forced himself to roll out of bed.
His feet hit the cold stone floor with an icy shock that he patiently ignored as he struggled in vain to make out the numbers on the digital clock. After a moment he gave up. Whatever the time was, it was too damned early to be getting up for drills of any kind, that was for sure.
Not that there was anything he could do about it…
He forced himself to take a shower, focusing on the steady patter of water across his skin to try and clear his mind. There were meditation exercises, things he could use to calm down, to forget…
He didn't want to forget. He wanted to keep her face fixed behind his eyes, the way she'd looked in the sunlight, smiling at him. He was afraid that if he let it go he would forget her, forget why he was here, forget what he had to do.
It's not forever. He reminded himself as he dried off and went in search of his clothes. It's not forever, it's just until… He left the thought unfinished. One never knew when they had someone listening in.
He got dressed. The uniform was scratchy and uncomfortable but he put up with it, as he put up with so many things these days. He straightened the tie and laced up his shoes with the mindless efficiency of someone who had taken to living by routine. As long as nothing changed he didn't have to think, could just take this day by day without suffocating, without panicking, without failing.
He thought he owed her that much.
By the time he was heading for the door he had himself firmly back in control. His thoughts, his feelings were effectively boxed up and left in the back of his mind where he wouldn't have to worry about them.
Then he opened the door and stepped out into the massive hallway that comprised the upper level dormitories of the School. Without a word he fell into his place in line and began moving toward the cafeteria. No one spoke, no one smiled, no one moved beyond the tramp tramp tramp of boots resounding on the stone floor.
Only once did Bradley Crawford's impeccable emotional shields falter, as they had every single day since his first morning as a student. He felt a cold, biting anger rise for a mere instant, for less than a second before he successfully stuffed it back into its place.
Then he looked away from the red-headed German boy called Schuldig, and went about serving himself from the buffet table in the center of the room.
Just another day. Just another damned day in this god-forsaken hell-hole and he couldn't help but wonder, quietly, at the back of his mind, how long it would be before he lost it altogether.