A/N: THIS IS SO NOT HOW THIS CHAPTER WAS MEANT TO GO!
For some reason, this was a really hard chapter to write, though. Not helped by the fact that the half-finished version I had on USB was LOST when my gorram USB stick BROKE!
Still. I quite like how this turned out, even if it totally screwed up my long-term plan for the story. Hope you do too. And the Book Thief is STILL still still not mine.
Oh, and by the way? OVER 100 REVIEWS! I FEEL SO LOVED! ASDFJKL!
EDIT: I know some people have been saying they're waiting for the next chapter.
There will be no next chapter. I'm firmly of the opinion that, even though I didn't mean it to end here, it's reached its natural end. I'll probably write a sequel fic some time.
UNDER THE QUICKSILVER RAIN
She could have gone on running forever.
She certainly wanted to.
The rain roared around her, no quieter here in the open; it screamed and thundered and pelted down into puddles with surfaces too shattered by ripples to reflect. The sky was the heavy, dull navy of a thundery dusk; it was dark and wet and the wind raged around her, tugging her hair out of its loose, messy plaits. It smelt as heavy as it looked, that thick, clinging smell of a downpour, thick with clouds and chimney smoke and heartbreak.
And she went on running.
She didn't seem to have a direction, but I think, even so, she knew where she would end up. It called to her, through the deafening downpour, sullen and hateful and irresistable.
It came as no surprise, not to me, not to her, not to anyone, that when she collapsed onto her hands and knees, sobbing for breath, it was in the blackened, skeletal remains of what had once been Himmel Street. The rain flooded around her, soaking her to the skin; the woollen winter dress Ilsa had lent her felt almost as heavy as her heart.
Any reason she had, she had left behind at the mayor's house, and now there were only the tears, clogging up her throat and clutching at her chest. It hurt. It hurt worse than anything, and it came home to her; they were gone. All of them. Everyone. Everything. She was kneeling in an ankle-deep puddle in the middle of Himmel Street, but it wasn't Himmel Street. It was a graveyard.
Nothing was left, she thought, and a fresh wave of sobs caught in her throat. Nothing held, nothing was left, nothing ever, ever lasted. Only her.
As I've said before, I can be so much crueller than my brother.
Thinking of her there, curled up and sobbing on the edge of the shattered road, in the half-cleared ruins of the only home she could remember, I feel so guilty. So ashamed. I knew what would have happened if I'd let my brother take Rudy; perhaps it would have been better that way. She had so much pain locked away in her.
But then, if I hadn't taken Rudy's life back, she wouldn't have got the ending she did. So perhaps I was right, after all.
At that moment, though, she was cursing me, and I know it. She was crouched in the gutter, howling like a wild animal, her thin shoulders shaking with cold and stress and absolute misery.
Grief is an odd thing. Things can set it running again.
But there's nothing that can stop it.
The broken wasteland stretched around her, into forever. She knelt there, on all fours, for longer than she knew, while the rain pelted down around her and the last of the light faded away; she knelt there, sobbing, until her tears finally ran out, and, numbly, she got to her feet. Black mud was plastered to her knees, dribbling down her stockings and onto her old school shoes in pale, greyish rivulets on the pale, greyish dress.
She didn't speak. Her throat felt dry and empty, her eyes burnt from crying, and she was dumb. For a moment, she tried to shape words, to say something that would make a break in the thunder and splashing rain.
Pressing her lips together, she wiped her sodden face with an equally sodden sleeve, and stumbled down the ghostly street, feet shuffling in the river that the road was quickly turning into. It was dark, but she knew where she was going. On and on, staggering away from the lights of the mayor's house, just visible through the clinging darkness. The rain filled her shoes; the wind had pulled the last of her hair free from its plaits, so that it swung heavily over her face, blinding her.
Her eyes were closed, her arms hanging dead at her sides. She shuffled on, half-hypnotised, trusting in memory to guide her, and in the rubble of the Hubermann household, she finally stopped.
"I'm sorry." Her voice was choked, creaky from what felt like years of disuse, although it had been less than an hour since she had run out of the house, out of the family that wasn't hers and the relief she'd never have for herself. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She'd thought she'd cried the last of her tears out, but they were fighting their way out again, burning and itching at her closed eyes. Over and over again, she repeated those two words; I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. She didn't even know what she was sorry for. Maybe she didn't need to know.
She might have been sorry they were dead.
She might have been sorry she was alive.
Whatever it was, she stayed there for longer than she knew, tears and rainwater dribbling down her face as she stood in the kitchen of a house that wasn't there any more, apologising to thin air until her throat grew hoarse and her legs collapsed from under her. She landed in an undignified heap on what had been a rug before the bomb hit, curled into herself and racked with sobs.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I loved you. I love you. I'm sorry."
And then, from behind her, a hand on her shoulder, making her jump and almost scream, but the scream coiled into another set of boiling, gasping sobs in her throat.
And a voice; a voice, quiet and hoarse, that she knew all too well.
"I'm sorry, too."
A SMALL POINT
She knew where she would end up.
Is it any surprise that he did, too?
He sat down next to her, in the splashing rainwater, and put his arms around her. His lemon-yellow hair was darkened by the rain, and he smelt of nothingness.
After a moment, she put her arms around him, as well, and sobbed into his shoulder in the rushing rainwater until everything was washed away. Her grief, his happiness, the ruins around them – everything was washed away but the two of them, children who hadn't been children since the raid, clinging to each other in the torrential rain.
Eventually, her sobs petered out, but he didn't let go of her. His eyes were closed, his overlong blonde hair hanging over them in lank, rain-slicked clumps, and he was barely aware that he was still holding her.
Her throat seemed to have opened up for the first time since she had seen Alex Steiner at the door, and she was smiling very, very faintly through her tears.
He didn't hate her.
He'd missed her.
He'd known where to find her.
Grief is an odd thing. Things can set it running again.
But there's one thing that can stop it.
Neither of them was ever quite sure who drew back first, or who spoke, quietly, hoarsely, and utterly seriously. But both of them knew the words that were said.
The kiss was awkward and hesitant, and it tasted bitterly of rainwater and tears. The storm raged around them, the darkness was almost complete, and both of them were exhausted from grief and happiness both.
It was far from perfect. It wasn't, I think, how either of them had expected it to go.
In the formlessness of destruction, the two shapes of the book thief and the boy with hair like lemons melded into one.
And it was so much more than just perfect.
Aber etwas beginnt.