The air was frozen solid in her lungs.
"Have you forgotten me already?" the apparition howled. "Thrust me from your mind, hoping I'll leave you be? You're a pathetic little waste of space and you always have been. You think you've saved him. You think you're worth something to him. He'll kill you the instant he's able."
Her vision was red, saturated blood and copper. The halls are wretched, twisting and splaying in her vision as she stumbles down them, fumbling for the doorknob to safety. Kaleb's ghost continued to walk backwards in front of her, a horribly pale thing with a saunter like a corpse. Its mouth was stretched wide as if wrenched open with a crowbar, and its eyes were empty sockets. The form shifted like a mirage, shimmering against the dark hall. Her whole vision jolted with its surreal motion - but Ellie forced herself to walk past it, and gritted her teeth.
It was like walking through snow.
She reached through its chest and touched metal. The door flew open before she grabbed the handle.
Isaac's hand was on her arm, and the dream vanished as if it had never been imagined.
"Sorry," she immediately said, shaking her head. The memory of the dream faded. For the briefest of moments she was unsure where she was standing, and of who stood before her. The carpet was coarse under her bare feet and the chill of the apartment permeated her cheap sweatpants and tank top. God, why was it so freezing?
Isaac was staring at her. Eventually he dropped his hand from her arm, and tilted his head to the side.
"It's the nightmares," he said. "Right?"
"Yes," Ellie replied. She remembered to breathe and gasped for air as she forced her mind through the remnants of the dream.
He fell silent. Ellie tried to control her thoughts and eventually couldn't contain them any longer; they spilled from her lips unbidden and unwanted. She glanced nervously at her room at the end of the hall – how the red from the digital alarm clock lit it hellishly.
"The walls," she whispered. "The walls were scratching. There was something in the walls."
They were quiet, listening to the city's white noise beyond the walls, letting the words sink in. Eventually Isaac sighed and shook his head, looking down at his feet absently. Then, reaching up, he touched her shoulder and went back into his room. Ellie followed.
Isaac gestured to the bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress with her, close enough to catch her if she fell again, but not so close as to worry her. The room was dim, lit only by the street lamps beyond the window blinds. A certain chill held the air, though not so much that it bothered her. Rubbing at her eye, Ellie tried to focuse on speaking coherent English.
"I heard him, Isaac, I heard Kaleb again – saw him too. It wasn't a memory. It was actually Kaleb."
Isaac had gotten up to turn on the bedside lamp and now stood frozen in place, scarred fingertips brushing the switch. As if realizing his faltering, he quickly flicked on the lamp and turned to face Ellie. The ambient light touched on the bags beneath his eyes, and on his gaunt cheekbones, sharpened by starvation. He frowned, and Ellie found herself mimicking the gesture.
"It's not Kaleb," Isaac said quietly.
"What are you talking about, of course it's Kaleb, I could hear him quite clearly."
She was growing irritated at his tone. Did he think her a child? A little girl with bad dreams plaguing her nights? Ellie scowled.
"Look, that's just... a nightmare, okay? It's not real. It's-" he hesitated, closing his eyes briefly to compose himself, then left her side to go to the armchair on the other side of the bed. "You need to sleep."
"I don't want to."
She saw the smile tug at the corners of his lips before his back was to her; a tired old smile, exhausted but sincere.
They were silent. Isaac sat down heavily in the armchair and the bad springs squealed with discomfort. Propping his legs up on the edge of the bed frame, he folded his hands over his stomach.
His eyes closed.
Ellie watched him for a moment longer, then leaned toward the lamp to turn it off. She shut her eye against the darkness and fumbled for the blankets, crawling under the sheets and tugging the coarse comforter over herself.
It was too hot.
She kicked away the blankets and the motion spurred a memory into existence. A tangled memory, a red memory - a memory that had her heart racing and her eye open and staring into the black. She tried to swallow the terror, tried to defeat it with sheer will, but the memory poured through the cracks. There came the sounds of the monsters scrabbling through the iron halls, of mangled, twisted voices erupting from mauled vocal chords. There was the heavy thud of standard issue steel-toed boots on the floor as her and the remains of her shift fled the horde. Her in the front, wielding an empty plasma cutter, and her second-in-command, Kaleb, throwing shots from his line gun every once in a while. The guns flashed brilliantly in the dark and the plasma light touched upon the destroyed bodies and the bloodied hands.
Then metal breaking and Kaleb getting his left leg swept clean off; she'd dragged him into a massive storage chamber and fended off the rest of the monsters before sealing the door. Kaleb was gone, Kaleb was as good as dead, she knew, but she pleaded with him to keep going.
Somewhere in the chamber more metal broke and they poured through the cracks, shrieking and laughing as they searched. Her voice shattered into a hoarse whisper, useless begging. Kaleb shoved her away and she ran, ran as fast as she could as Kaleb used the line gun's alternative fire - a ball of condensed plasma, timed to burst in a matter of seconds. He was gone, the monsters gone, everything worth living for -
"Gone, gone, gone," she hissed at the night.
A hand clasped her own.
The memory scattered from her consciousness. Ellie sucked in a lungful of air as she sat up abruptly, one hand going to her forehead in an attempt to physically still her mind. The last traces of the memory touched at the edges of her brain, and, biting her lip, Ellie forced the memory away.
The hand holding hers tightened, and she looked down at it. She followed the fingers to the sleeve, across the shoulder, and finally met Isaac's gaze. He was staring at her worriedly, eyes wide as he searched her face for something, that, judging by his expression, Ellie hoped he wouldn't find.
"Are you okay?" he eventually asked.
Ellie tugged her fingers free and leaned back against the pillow, anxious to forget the episode and Isaac's concern. "Yes," she said as she rolled onto her side. "I'm fine, it was just a nightmare. I'm-"
She couldn't finish the lie.
Isaac shifted, and her body dipped toward the center of the bed as he moved alongside her. She knew he was sitting with his back against the headboard, as she often found him late at night, avoiding sleep with a book and a pair of reading glasses. Ellie lay still and focused on the lamp's indistinguishable shape.
She remembered what Isaac said, long ago in the confines of a gunship - how he had nightmares about Nicole, though he never specified the nightmares themselves. But wasn't that just the Marker's influence? Why was she dreaming about Kaleb?
Silence descended as her brain struggled to offer an answer.
Isaac cleared his throat and spoke.
"Spare me your judgments, and spare me your dreams."
His voice cracked briefly but kept the note, perfectly on key. The words were soft enough that the city's bustle acted as subtle music and loud enough to fill the room. Ellie tilted her head to look at the ceiling, and tried to catch a glimpse of Isaac in the corner of her eye. He was singing. The forty-year-old, traumatized engineer was singing.
"Alone in the wind and the rain you left me, it's getting dark, darling - too dark to see."
Time hung still, suspended by the sheer oddness of the moment. Isaac continued his song, his voice low and lilting like a lullaby. He sung as though someone besides her was listening - he sung secretly. Loud enough to light the space with calming normality.
As carefully as she could, Ellie turned over until she lay on her back, and she listened.
I begged you to hear me, there's more than flesh and bones,
Let the dead bury their dead, they will come out in droves,
But take the spade from my hands and fill in the holes you've made.
But plant your hope with good seeds,
Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds,
Rain down, rain down on me.
Isaac Clarke went quiet and the silence spilled in. Ellie Langford gave a scoff, and smiled up into the black.
"Well, I - that was very unexpected, captain," she managed.
Isaac chuckled, and she imagined him ducking his head down, and wringing his hands absently. For a man that had faced daunting, unimaginable evils, he was shy as hell sometimes.
"Yeah, I haven't done that for a while."
"You've got a nice voice. You should try singing more often."
Another chuckle, then silence. Ellie knew that it was a one-time thing; yet it was for her, and enough to last a lifetime. The city's music filled in the silence; somewhere near a train rattled past, faintly shaking the glass window.
They were left to their thoughts when neither of them spoke and eventually Ellie slipped into slumber.
The two faced the darkness as it crowded in.
The lyrics are from the song "Thistle and Weeds" by Mumford and Sons. The song reminded me of Ellie and Isaac (especially during DS3) so I decided to write something for it. Also to mirror my other fic, "Dark". Thanks for reading!