Give & Take

People talk about ‘before the war’ as if peace was something we ever actually had. They like to believe that two sides can come together, talk out their differences, and live in harmony for the rest of their days, as if peace is a real, attainable thing. 

Complete and utter bullshit, if you ask me. 

Before, during, after, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. Two sides fight, one gives a little, one takes a little, but it never ends. There is never peace. 

Before the war, we were the ones who gave. Now we take. 

Every day now is just another battle to keep it that way. We lived far too long in the shadows, banished to the dark as the monsters walked above us. Not anymore. 

Today, I patrol the perimeter, my eye on the horizon. It’s been weeks since their last attack. Some are hopeful that they’ve finally given up, pulled up stakes, and relocated to a more remote district. I’m less optimistic. 

She’ll come for me. I can feel it in my bones. 

When our paths first crossed a few months ago, it was a disaster for her right from the start. She and her team attacked in the dead of night. Their goal? I’m still not sure, but not only was her intel bad, but we happened to be hosting another squadron of fighters for the night.  

She was the only one left standing by the end, her partner and fighters strewn bloody at her feet. It was meant to send a message back to her camp to leave us be. Needless to say, that message didn’t take, and here we still stand. 

Three attacks later, more dead than I can count, and yet she persists. 

Love will do that to you. What a foolish thing in these times. 

“Are you thinking about her?” 

I turn to find my lieutenant approaching, a smug smile crossing his face. I narrow my gaze at him, and the smile falters. Watching him approach, I consider tearing him to shreds, leaving him a withering husk of his former self. Instead, I return the gesture. 

“More than I’d like to admit.” He sidles up next to me as we both look out at the border and beyond. 

“You could have killed her in the last attack,” he says, his gaze cutting over to me, wary of his words yet unable to hold them back. I’ve heard the rumors circulating. Not many understand why the hunter still lives. 

I let the silence linger a touch too long. He rubs his hands together, the gaps in our conversation grating on his nerves. I roll my eyes. Whoever sent him to find out more will be sorely disappointed. 

“I could have killed her in the first.”  

Without another word, I turn and walk the length of the border wall, my back to him long after I hear his clunky boots descend down the ladder.  

To be quite honest, I’m not sure why I let her remain among the living. She intrigues me, this shell left alone to rot with nothing but hate and revenge fueling her onward. We’ve all been there. Mine is barely a memory. They were so young, so innocent, taken from me by a hunter just like her. 

Perhaps I’m filled with a little hate and revenge as well. 

I close my eyes as the wind shifts in the right direction for the first time in days, carrying away the stench of rot and decay that permeates the city. You get used to it, until it’s no longer there. I try to imagine the sun and what it would feel like against my bare arms, but those memories are so old, it’s hard to know if they’re even mine. Thoughts like those are dangerous. They make you recall the ‘before,’ when the world was perhaps objectively better, depending on who you ask. 

My eyes snap open. “No,” I whisper to the city surrounding me. Objectively better for whom? My children dead and buried? The thousands more that never had a chance to step aboveground? Who never got to see what all we could accomplish? 

Give and take, you see, and we were fed up with giving long ago. 

That’s why when the sun vanished behind the polluted haze of our world’s sky just one year ago, we didn’t hesitate to rise up against our imprisonment. The humans tried to fight back, but it was pointless. For centuries, we’d only ruled the night, but now? 

Now we rule it all.  

The wind shifts once more. The rot and decay return, and I glance over the edge, where bodies litter the ground. A deterrent for some, but not all it seems. I sniff, sensing a new scent floating in on the breeze. 

She’s here. 

The hairs rise on my arms, and my gums ache to let my weapons free. I hold back for now. Let her see my human side for as long as possible. 

She lands behind me with just the slightest noise, and I turn to greet her, the one who has hunted me for months.  

“You,” she growls at me, beckoning me to attack. 

“You are never one to make the first move, Anya.” I smile at her, and she grimaces. I think back to my lieutenant’s words, and the rumors circulating amongst the camp, but still I know I won’t kill her. Not today. I just can’t help but relish in these games we play. Because when she dies, who knows what will happen next? Who will come after her? 

As I said before… 

One gives a little. One takes a little. 

But it never ends.  

Written for YeahWrite’s Janaury 20/20 Hindsight assignment.

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