Everything was quiet, finally. People were sleeping, or lying awake, but the talking had stopped. Dim lights flickered here and there, under blankets, or coats. Quinn walked up and down the building, his mind anxiously going over the next day. It would be a day of decisions, for everyone involved. In the third aisle, he noticed someone was sitting up, awake. Obligingly, she turned her face towards the light. It was Rio.
Her arm was draped across her knees, the thin wrist arched with a casual grace. Her shirt sleeve was pulled back by the angle of her shoulder revealing fresh purplish bruising. She stared away into nothing, the tilt of her chin imperious, her lips faintly curved as if she were enjoying some private joke. The little girl beside her reached out a timid hand to touch Rio's arm but stopped short. Rio noticed anyway and turned to look at the child -- Anne, Quinn remembered. Emily's niece.
"What did you do to your arm?" the girl asked. She sat up to better see the arm in question.
The woman's smile deepened. For a moment it seemed she wouldn't answer, but then her other hand came into view, the long fingers pulling the sleeve away entirely to reveal four rows of bruises. It looked like a mockery of jewelry.
"There was a man who grabbed me," Rio said softly, angling her forearm to give the girl a better look. "These are from his hand. See?" She traced the pattern with her own fingers, the random markings suddenly resolving into a clear picture. Quinn's insides flinched as if he'd been hit. The sight of the bruises sickened him. The force behind the grip must have been phenomenal to cause such distinct bruises in such a short time. Anne's eyes were wide with a combination of wonder and fear.
"Did it hurt?" Her tiny hand hovered reverently over the arm. She looked as though she was trying to decide if it was all right to be excited or if this was a serious conversation.
"Yes," the woman said simply, her eyes resting indulgently on the little girl's brown curls.
"Did you cry?"
Her lips twitched upwards again, dangerously close to a genuine smile. "No."
"Really? Why not?"
Rio contemplated the injuries briefly then looked at the girl again. "Pain doesn't matter. It's just an idea, like being afraid is an idea."
Quinn could see that Anne understood she was being spoken to as an equal, and so she listened even though she didn't understand.
The girl thought very seriously for a moment before saying, "I'm afraid sometimes, and when things hurt I cry."
Rio nodded. "Ideas are powerful things," she said. "The key is to be stronger."
Most children would've asked how, or why, but this little brunette looked down at her own unmarred skin and frowned. "Are you happier?"
The woman blinked, her face going blank. "What?" Quinn was a bit taken back by the insight of the question himself.
"Are you happier now that you're strong?" The child's tone said this should've been self-explanatory. Sometimes grown ups could be so slow.
"Happier..." The word seemed to roll off Rio's lips as if it was being tasted, examined. For a brief moment the expression on her face was not mocking, or reserved. Her eyes held a far-off sadness, and Quinn saw for the first time the real Rona Moravi. "I'm happier," she finally said, "But I'm not happy." Then her face took on that imperious tilt, that meaningless smile and Rio looked at the girl with a certain distanced indulgence. "Happiness is an idea, too." She touched the girl's head with a fondness that surprised him. "Try to get some sleep."
Anne nodded and laid back down closing her eyes obediently. Rio stood and stretched, a grimace briefly crossing her face at the apex. Her eyes looked bruised. The dark circles around them were pronounced in the dim light. As she scanned the aisle she spotted him watching her and smiled. Quinn realized he was smiling too.
He nodded his head, asking her to join him. Rio picked her way around the sleeping bodies, her long legs stepping easily over the groups. It occured to him she seemed more at ease now that things were quiet.
"Still up, I see," he said when she was close enough.
She shrugged and looked away. "My back is still painful. It's hard to sleep on it."
"Why does your back hurt?"
A small crease appeared between her eyebrows. "From the other day, when I saved Creedy. He didn't tell you?" Quinn shook his head so she went on. "He was cornered by a dragon, and I got him out of the way. Showed him a tunnel where we could hide, but I caught the heat from the blast. It burned my back in a few places. Nothing serious."
Quinn made a noncommittal noise he hoped was convincing. "Where is Creedy, speaking of the bastard?"
"Sleeping, like other normal people," she jabbed. "What's got you up?"
"I'm always up. Hard to sleep when there's so much to do."
Rio nodded, her expression sympathetic. The silence between them was almost awkward. Quinn glanced around the room seeking some distraction -- any distraction really. Naturally, nothing at all happened, and the silence between them deepened.
Say something, he ordered himself.
He didn't have to. She spoke up first.
"Creedy asked me to come with you,' she said softly, "When you leave."
His mind stumbled over the idea that Creedy asked her to go with him, but then his synapses fired again and he realized when she said "you" she meant their group. She was asking for help, that much was obvious, but he had no idea what to say. Creedy was good with people, Quinn was good with planning. This was most certainly outside his area of expertise. Quinn nodded, hoping she couldn't read his discomfort.
"What did you tell him?" he asked.
She looked at her feet, unable to look him in the eye when she answered, "I told him I couldn't make any promises. Without going into specifics I don't know if I can be a part of what you two have created here. I just... well, not to repeat myself but I don't know, and I can't help but think I'm being unfair by asking him to wait while I figure that out." She turned to face him fully. "I didn't plan on telling you this, but now that I have I'm glad. It's obvious you're his closest friend in world, and since you don't care for me one way or the other you can tell me what's best for Creedy."
"You want me to tell you what to do with your life?"
She gave a barking laugh, the genuine smile cropping up again. "Well when you say it like that it sounds stupid. I just want an objective opinion." Her eyes were large, intelligent, but he found no ulterior motive in them. She meant what she said, but he felt horrendously out of his depth.
"I'll be honest with you. I've no idea what to say," he said. He smiled to soften the admission.
She shrugged. "Say whatever you're thinking."
"All right. I think... I think time goes by fast, and in these times people go by just as quickly. I think if you've got a chance to do something you should do it." He glanced at her and glanced away again. "I know Creedy would try if it were him in your shoes. Feet might be a bit big, though." Neither of them laughed. He added, "Sorry. Wasn't funny."
"At least you tried." She smirked at him. The pun was deliberate. "But, really, thank you."
"You're welcome." Quinn looked around the room once more. "I still have to check on the sentry, but after that I'm going up to see Jared, if you wanted to come."
"I'd like that."
"So what did happen to your arm?" he asked as they walked.
"Oh, it's nothing." She covered it self-consciously. "I bruise easily."
Quinn watched her from the corner of his eye. "Still must've grabbed you pretty hard, whoever it was."
"Nothing that won't heal," she replied.
"Doesn't make it right." He surprised himself with the vehemence of his words. She was right, after all. It was only a bruised arm, but for some reason, it really got under his skin. He added, "Everything heals in time."
Her tone was wry when she answered, "Time goes by fast these days."
For some reason, that stung him. "Guess I put my foot in my mouth on that one. None of my business anyway."
Rio waited politely inside while he stepped out to visit the sentry. Anthony was awake and doing just fine. The night was clear and cold. Quinn took a deep breath and held it. The moon truly was beautiful, but so infinitely distant.
He headed back into the building and didn't look at her as he started towards the back. She fell into step beside him, easily matching his stride.
She picked up the conversation as if he wasn't feeling sullen, ignoring his mood entirely.
"So what's the ultimate plan?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" He was still hurt she'd stone-walled him about the bruises, but it really was no business of his. He tried to shrug the feeling off.
"I assume you're all headed somewhere definite, not just north."
"How'd you know we were coming north?" He paused to hold the door into the back open for her.
"I didn't see you come into town so you must've come from the south."
So she lived on the north end. He mentally catalogued the fact and went on, "The end plan is in Northumberland. It's an area of England that's practically riddled with castles. We're planning to set up shop in one, a real home. Some place we might actually last in." He realized he had stopped to look at her while he explained. She was watching him attentively, her eyes wistful.
"Sounds nice," she said softly.
Quinn nodded and answered, "It will be."
She blinked, her green eyes wide, and smiled a predatory smile. "Yeah, it will."