the opposite of love (is indifference)
( coward, i am going to make you suffer. alvin/presa. spoiler heavy. footnotes are marked with asterisks (*). )
Presa arches her brow, crossing her arms beneath her chest and pursing her lips as though she's tasted something sour.
He has a bitter smile, this one; his grin is one that reaches the wrong parts of his eyes, tugs too far at the corners of his mouth. He looks as though he's been dragged through hell and back, his boots muddied and hair greasy, and he's told them that he'd like to work for them, says he needs the money, and Presa thinks - well. It doesn't really matter what she thinks, because he's here and he's smiling his bitter, bitter smile and she tastes rottenness on her tongue.
"You," Presa says, watching him carefully from her perch on the window seat. A spell book is open in her lap and she's been looking at the same diagram for too long without retaining anything. She's an incredible mage - she's been told so by too many people to count - but she can't focus, not since he stepped into the inn and sat down at one of the small tables to write a letter to someone.
He pauses when she speaks, pen hovering over the page, and then turns to face her. "Me?" he says, smile playing on his mouth, and Presa has this overwhelming urge to -
"You," she repeats, keeping her face straight.
He hesitates for a moment, eyebrows furrowing slightly in thought. Then he grins, wolfish, and says, "you."
Presa fights her smile and returns her attention to her book. She waits until he turns back to the parchment before murmuring, "me."
"Alvin," he says one day, holding out his hand for her to shake.
She eyes it, then presses her hand to his. Her fingers look smaller, delicate in comparison, his callouses brushing her skin. The difference is so sharp that she has to take a moment to remember to breathe, and that's - that's so odd, so silly. She feels lightheaded all of the sudden, like the air has been ripped straight from her lungs.
"Jill," he repeats, and it - god, the name sounds so nice on his tongue, so rugged and familiar that it feels as though it's been carved into his mouth. She wonders what her real name would sound like if he spoke it, if it would finally belong to someone. He smiles at her (bitter, bitter, bitter), and says, "it's nice to meet you," but his voice is rough and she wonders if he wants to know her, instead.
She learns, quickly, that he cannot be trusted; he lies about the smallest things, lies about who he writes to, lies about the maker of his sword, lies about his past and lies about what he wants for the future. He has - he's got a tick, where his eyelashes flutter when he blinks, and it's so. It's charming, that he lies.
She asks him if he wants her, and he kisses her and says he does and she forgets to make sure he means it.
(Perhaps she purposefully avoids it. Perhaps she is afraid that he doesn't. He kisses his way down her jaw, sinks his teeth into her neck, and this man is a wolf, dangerous and carnal and animalistic and alone, but she murmurs yes, yes, yes because she's tired of hearing the word no.)
She hands him ways to ruin her, always does - tells him about her parents, her irrational fear of the deer in the woods, where her scars came from.
She tells him because - because he knows so many secrets already, has so many dark corners in his body where things are hidden. He will know but he will not tell, and she trusts that, trusts a liar with every single part of herself.
"My mother - " he lets slip one night, nosing the junction of her neck and shoulder. She hums, urging him to continue, maybe praying he will, but he merely chuckles against her skin, shifts until her back is pressed even closer to his front. "I mean, she's dead. I just miss her sometimes," he mutters after a while, eyelashes fluttering over her pulse.
He betrays her - betrays all of them - and she can't say she hadn't expected it, but she doesn't expect it to burn like it does, doesn't expect to feel her blood on fire in her veins, blistering the vessels.
"How could you - ?" she spits, and she's having trouble seeing, her vision going black and her blood running hot hot hot and then frightfully cold. "How fucking dare you," she says, and she's gasping for breath and she doesn't remember the last time her chest hurt like this, wonders if there's a physical wound. She feels weak but strong at the same time, and it is strange, because she is staring death in the face and all she can think is - "Are you just going to stand there or are you going to get it over with?"
Alvin smiles that bitter smile of his, presses the barrel of his gun to her forehead, finger resting on the trigger.
"I am not afraid," he tells her, and his voice is stone-cold. She gazes at him, laughs because he is unblinking, face locked. He could kill her. He's going to kill her and she's laughing because she knew, somewhere inside of her empty body, that he would. He overtook her - he's overtaking her.
"Go ahead," she says, and suddenly she's so, so angry, "go ahead you fucking coward. You fucking coward, you fucking coward, you killed everyone else, kill me, kill me, kill me, look me in the eye and fucking kill me!" she's screaming, hysterical, tears running down her cheeks, and he pulls the trigger and - and there's nothing, nothing but a click, and she flinches away, scared out of her fucking mind.
He smirks. "Coward," he says, accuses. "Coward, coward, coward; I'm going to make you suffer."
He leaves her, walks away with heavy steps. Angel of death, he is.
Years pass before she sees him again, and it catches her off guard, the way her stomach drops and her blood stops flowing all at once. He's with some woman and some kid and it's - she doesn't understand what it is, but she's jealous. She's changed so much, has been taken in by Gaius and Wingul and Agria and Jiao, but she still doesn't feel as though she belongs anywhere, and he's just there again, like a shadow, and she feels sick.
"Al?" she says, and maybe she begs, but the tremor in her voice is concealed by surprise.
He looks at her and his eyes flash, for just a moment, in recognition, but he does not say her name, because it no longer belongs in his mouth.
She doesn't know what Gaius' aim is, but when she sees the letter, she's more than aware of who it is from.
"What - ?" she asks, but her voice sounds different, afraid for the first time in so long, and she snaps her mouth closed even if Agria catches the lilt, eyebrow raising.
"He mentions a Jill in that letter," she says, giggling. "An old girlfriend of his?"
Presa has never hated her more than in that moment. "No. Fuck you," she says, and her voice is stone-cold. She learned from the best.
"You sicken me," she spits, shoving him away by his shoulders. "Pick a side. Pick a fucking side, you fucking coward - "
"Be quiet," Alvin demands, and despite every bone in her body protesting it, her lips close. "Why did you come alone?" A beat. "Why come at all?"
"What is your aim?" Presa asks instead of answering, shoving him again. "What do you gain from this? What's your fucking aim, you bastard - "
"Shut up," he growls, slamming her against the wall of a building, "I don't need anything but money. But you - you need more than that, don't you, Presa? You need to be accepted, you need someone to need you, to want you, and since I don't you found some others - "
"Shut up!" she screams. "Shut up, shut up, shut up, I hate you, I hate you, why didn't you kill me - ?"
He kisses her and she - she silences, just for a moment, lets herself be used.
He pulls back and she cries into his chest, clutches his jacket so tightly in her hands that her knuckles turn white. Mercy. Show some goddamn mercy.
"You..." she tries weakly.
"Me," he sighs, wrapping his arms around her.
Back before his betrayal, he told her one truth: his real name, Alfred.
Presa had always hated the name her parents gave her, had never uttered it after changing it once (and then again, and again, and again). She takes a breath and lets it out into his hair, closing her eyes.
"My mom calls me Alfred," he murmurs, and he sounds - tired. They have a mission tomorrow, him and her and a handful of others, and he's bone-tired.
"I thought your mother was - " Presa begins, and then shuts her mouth. He tilts his head to look at her - to glare at her, maybe - and Presa shakes her head quickly, taking a breath. "No, never mind. You meant called, didn't you?"
"Right," Alvin says, letting out the breath he'd been holding. "Right, I meant called. Sometimes I forget. I don't know why."
There is a silence. Then Presa murmurs, "I chose the name Jill because of the children's story. 'Jack fell down and broke his crown, Jill came tumbling after'." Presa swallows thickly, tilts her head up to look at the ceiling. "I've always liked that word. Tumbling. I've always felt it." She hesitates, laughing to herself. "I suppose that's silly of me."
Alvin holds his breath again, for a long time. Reaches for her and holds her to his body, so closely that she feels as though she's going to sink into him, until their marrows mix in their bones. "No, it's not silly. It's - I understand," he says, and there is no flutter of his eyelashes on her cheek. "I understand," he says again, quieter.
"I never liked my real name," Presa whispers, hesitates. "Lorna," she says and smiles, wry, "forsaken."
He tenses and - she pretends, maybe, not to know why.
He beats them too many times to count, takes them down with his (friends isn't the right word, really), and she wonders when he became so strong - though, looking back at it, he has always been stronger than her, doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve and doesn't trust as easily as she. He holds a gun to her head again and she knows that he's going to do it this time, because she's in his way (always, always in his way) but the boy - the young one with a heart that's too big - stills his hand, pulls it away.
"We'll have to deal with them later, if you do this," he warns, voice gruff, but the boy - Jude - he shakes his head, mouths, let it go.
Let it go, let it go, let it go. It becomes a mantra for her life.
He comes back to them, because he's lost and afraid and they've lost too much, he's lost too fucking much, and he shows weakness for the first time in the form of dropping to his knees and wrapping his arms around her waist and burying his face into her stomach and crying, choking out ugly, broken sobs until she runs her hands through his hair to settle him.
She forgives him, fuck, she'll always forgive him, and he doesn't even have to apologize.
"Jill," he says, then corrects himself, "Presa," and he does not say her real name because - because he knows. He knows how much it hurts.
She wishes she could hate him more.
She knows he's going to betray them again, knows it before he returns to their side, protects them from her and Agria. She knows because - because they're forsaken, both of them. She lets him go, doesn't say anything when he shields them with his body, chooses them over her. (He's always done this. Has always had biggerbettergreater things to protect than her misplaced feelings.)
When the ground breaks beneath her, she - she smiles, because he loves her name Jill the most, and she is finally, finally tumbling.
He screams Presa.
*Jill is the alias Presa used before joining Gaius. She is called Presa in the narrative to avoid confusion.