Author's Note: Oh my God! I actually finished an entire fic! I'm quite proud of myself. If you made it all the way to the end, please review!
The cache was in an old water tower. The top had been blown off in some battle or another, and rain kept it partially full most of the time. One of Shade's teams had riveted planks across the inside of it, making a rough floor about halfway down the rusting walls. The water below the floor kept Creatures on the street from noticing the smell of humans inside, and a carefully-placed camouflage awning hid the stack of supplies from overhead Wingers. It was a small cache, but close to the Sub, and very useful.
By the time Ella had pulled herself up the ladder and inside, she was nearly spent. It was fully dark. Heavy clouds obscured the stars and moon, so the only light came from the witchlight Ella still gripped. The next low tide wouldn't come until morning. It was time to sleep
Drum entered the tower after her and immediately began opening the cases against the wall. He found a spare sword and handed it to Ella. She slipped it into her empty scabbard and muttered, "Thanks." She had forgotten that she was still missing a sword. After the long day, the only thing on her mind was sleep. How was Drum still alert and attentive?
Ella sat on one of the planks and slumped against the wall. She tried to close her eyes, but as much as she wanted to sleep it wouldn't come. She was still too keyed up after their series of close calls.
Instead, she watched Drum continue to rifle through the contents of the cache. He found some food and spare coveralls. While he ate, he offered the change of clothes to Ella. "You'll be more comfortable sleeping in something dry," he said.
The thought of standing and wrestling with her wet coveralls was too much for Ella. Her legs were exhausted from wading all day, and the rest of her body was sore from all the running, climbing, and fighting. "I don't care," she sighed, "I'm not moving."
"At least eat something," he said, holding out a can of peaches.
"I'm not hungry," she said. Her hands remained in her lap, wrapped protectively around her witchlight.
Drum sat down next to her, his weight making the boards sag. He ate a square of uncooked ramen noodles like a cracker, unspeaking. Ella still couldn't sleep so she said, "What? You're not going to scold me?"
"For what?" said Drum, crunching the last of the noodles.
"For attacking that Myrmidon," she said, "For not taking care of myself. Trying to get myself killed, right?" She tried to laugh, but it rang hollow and hurt the bruises over her ribs.
"Maybe not," said Drum, "You take risks others might not take, but they're calculated risks at least. I don't think anything can stop you from doing that, even if it will get you killed one day."
Ella answered defensively, throwing Drum's own words back at him, "I thought I couldn't afford to die. I'm special, not expendable, leading the brave new world, right?" She snorted her derision at the idea.
Drum was silent for a long time. Then he finally said, "No. I was wrong about you."
Ella hadn't believed those things, but she was surprised to find that it still hurt to hear Drum declare them false. "Guess I wasn't as perfect as you'd hoped," she sneered, "That happens a lot nowadays. I thought Brat was good enough not to get caught, but I was wrong about him too, wasn't I? We always want to think things are better than they are. But they're not. They're crap. The whole world is crap and is everything in it. Even us."
"That's not what I said," said Drum, "You won't be the one to build a new world. Like me, you're too much a part of this one. I don't think you'd be happy without a war to fight. You're missing something. I saw it in your eyes when you killed that Myrmidon."
"But," he went on, "That's not a bad thing. Not in a world like this. It's not bad to be a soldier, and you're one of the best. Someone else will rebuild the world after this war, but it's people like us who will win it for them. That's enough for me."
"If we could win the war," Ella whispered. I seemed impossible from where she sat, cold and wrecked, huddled in a ruined water tower with a city full of deadly enemies just outside. But if it was possible… "Yeah," she said, "That would be enough for me too."
They sat in silence for a while. Ella finally felt her adrenaline high fading, and her eyelids began to droop. But sitting still had allowed her wet clothes to sap her body heat, and now she was kept awake by violent shivering. Her hands, pale with cold, still clutched the witchlight, trying to draw warmth from the cold sphere.
Drum noticed. Gently, he pried Ella's stiff fingers from around the orb and slipped it into an empty pocket on her belt. As it left his hands, its light dimmed and went out. The darkness was complete.
Then Ella felt something drape over her shoulders. It was Drum's arm, so huge that it enveloped her like a blanket. He drew her close to him, resting her head on his shoulder and leaning her body against his chest.
"Hey," she said, almost pushing herself away, "Don't get any ideas."
"Don't worry," said Drum without a hint of embarrassment or ulterior motive, "I'm just warming you up." Muscle by muscle, Ella relaxed. Even through his wet coveralls he radiated heat, and there was nothing sexual in his touch. Somehow she believed that he would never have taken advantage of her.
She didn't love him. There was no room for love in the world they lived in. She couldn't even allow herself to get close, not after Brat. She could never allow Drum to become her weakness.
But he saw her for what she was: imperfect. And since she was imperfect, she would need help sometimes. Maybe, just maybe, during those times, she could lean on him, a little bit.
Her shivering stopped, and her eyes finally closed. "Thanks," she mumbled, "Thanks for, you know, everything."
His reply, coming right before she drifted off into a fitful sleep, was so quiet that she barely heard.