Until Yesterday is Here
It impressed him, the level of command she held; not just over the ragtag army that had persisted, but over herself.
But then, she'd always had a gracious poise, even in her younger years. A way of carrying herself that displayed her dignity and sense of self-respect, quiet and cool but always there.
Of course, it had an altogether different timbre now.
Now it seemed like a shell. Something hard and brittle she'd peeled around her some day long ago that had fused with her flesh – once soft and supple and warm, he remembered – giving her a brutal, propped up look. She'd just started training with weights – no, not just – thirty years ago, thirty years ago when he'd been talking to her on his computer, before – before - just started and she was still soft, but now she was cut; hard and wiry muscle wrapped around her arms and broadening her shoulders, veins licking beneath her flesh as though they might burst through.
He could think of nothing to say to her now that they were alone. Together they silently loaded the ammunition onto the exo-suit that was once a Karai Legion Bot and he watched her. Nothing more than a film of sadness had crossed over the armour she wore as her face when she'd told him of Casey's fate. Nothing but a twinge of regret over Raphael and Leonardo's falling out. And though she'd smiled when she saw him, and put her arms around him, it had felt strangely distant. Like she herself had been looking on even as she'd performed these actions. Like the emotion was too savage for her to engage with it.
It unnerved him, and broke his heart at once.
He remembered her openness – was it really thirty years ago – it seemed like – it was just – yesterday – how ready she was to laugh or to hug them or to tease. This woman with her chopped, grey hair – how those amber strands had blazed in the light his monitor once threw – and her lined, sharp face with its utter composure. Perfectly still and perfectly drawn.
She sighed, lifting her canon from its shelf, a shelf that had once housed books, loading it in readiness for the battle ahead. How strange it seemed to him, his tech-geek April who'd happily sat side by side with him, cordon of laptops propped up around them in a race to debug or decode, here expertly managing lethal weapons as though she had all her life.
And, he supposed, thirty years was a longer time than twenty-five.
Reflexively, as she finished locking the canon chamber, he moved to help her lift it, but before he could reach she had hauled it upwards and onto her shoulder, her legs braced and holding her cemented in place as she tested its weight. Satisfied, she eased it back down, her fingertips lingering like a pat on the iron barrel for a moment before she turned back towards the door.
"April – " he'd spoken before he realised he would, his own fingertips outstretched towards her and she turned and looked at him with something that resembled inquiry, like a mask she'd slipped over her features.
He moved towards her, aware that the naked look on his face was unsettling her, that she sensed the intensity of his emotion and was fighting the urge to run from it. When he reached out and took her arm, she twitched violently and for the first time he saw a flicker of fear in her eyes, their once vivid green dulled to the horrors that wrenched violently all around her.
"April, I never told you before. I didn't think it was necessary. " She fell back from him and he watched the shell that encased her like a second skin ripple before hardening further, tightening her features all the more. He reflected on his former self, the teenager of thirty years ago – no, the teenager he still was – how that boy would never say to the woman he so – – so –
"I love you. I've always loved you. I think – I always will."
And maybe the April of thirty years ago would've misunderstood him and smiled and said, "Oh Donnie, I love you too!" She'd said it to them so often and so easily, and he would've been faced with the choice between explaining himself or letting it go. Probably letting it go.
But this April, with all that she had endured rubbing out the brightness of her hair, the sparkle in her eye, understood him immediately.
The shell cracked and splintered, but before it slid away completely she had fallen forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, her face bowed to his shoulder. The feel of her skin on his was papery, her hair scratchy and blunt on his cheek and as her body sagged against him, his arms moved to prop her up and he felt the frailty of her ribs poking through her undernourished flesh, a disturbing contrast to the wiry density of her musculature.
Then he felt her body begin to shake as she cried, and he shut his eyes and held her.