Nathan POV:


I stalked from Geography, still a little pissed about this morning, and found my feet carrying me to the art classrooms without any kind of knowledge or instruction from my head. I sat down in a corner and just stared at the blank pages of my sketchbook for the best part of ten or twenty minutes. I could have drawn something, hell, if I had started to draw something then, it could have been amazing, but I was angry, and hurt, and my head was telling me that that would be bad for my sketchbook, not to mention bloody depressing.

I groaned a lot when I tired of staring, and started to just scrawl all over the page, nothing getting past a blank outline, nothing created, formed or taking shape at all. After a half hour of just drawing lines on a page, I let out a loud ‘fuck’ and tore the page out of my book, screwing it up furiously and going to put it into the recycling bin. The fact that she was sitting there, tears in her eyes and a small, rueful smile on her face stopped me in my tracks and nearly sent me out of my mind.

“How long have you been standing-?” My breath left me in a half gasp.

“About two minutes,” She relented after a minute of silence, “Er...” She rose, and looked straight at me as she stepped slowly and carefully towards me, carefully lifting a stool and sitting down beside me. My eyes were drawn to hers, the sadness in them almost locking her gaze to mine. I knew what she was about to say next... wouldn’t be pretty. I just really hoped that it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. If it was, I think I would break down then and there. She took a deep, cleansing breath, and spoke. “My dad was a soldier.”

                I raised my eyebrows to stop my eyes from tearing up. She was cringing as though I was about to hit her, as though the thought of telling me was painful. I supposed it was. Everything about today made sense, now, and I tried to process it as fast as possible, but I knew it wasn’t exactly easy to think about it, let alone say it. She must trust me a hell of a lot.

“Oh.” I nodded, but that was about the worst response to anything I’ve ever heard. “By was... do you mean-?” I was officially the worst person in existence. She went pale and then flushed red, and my heart hurt. I wanted to hold her so it didn’t hurt any more.

“Yeah, he kind of...” Her deep breathing and the long pause was almost physically painful, “Two and a half years.” She closed off to me, folding her arms and staring at my forehead, rather than into my eyes. I blinked hard and tried to stay as strong as I possibly could, because I could feel my throat burning and my chest starting to tighten. For a second, I hesitated and then reached forward and went to touch her cheek. At the last second, I dropped my palm to touch her hand. “I still can’t face it.”

“What you did...” I needed to make her understand how I felt. Anyone that could do this... anyone... “It makes you incredibly... so brave.” My voice wasn’t working properly, it was low and broken, and I just... couldn’t make her see, “I know I wouldn’t be able to-”

“Yes,” She said softly, “You would.” She cut across me, but I knew she was wrong. I wouldn’t be able to cope without my father, and I knew that it took an inhuman amount of courage to stand up and be proud for those who can no longer be proud. “Because your heart would tell you to.”

                She floored me. With those words, her image crumbled and reformed in my eyes. Everything about her changed, and I understood. She was proud, and she was afraid, but she loved her father. I lifted my hand from hers and touched her lips for the shortest time, just brushing my thumb over them, trying to feel her smile.

“You’re so weird,” I swallowed a sarcastic remark, but wanted to see her smile. She had hurt enough for today.

 “I try.” I half-shrugged and she smiled. I dropped my hand and held hers, desperate for her to feel this, “Any time,” I breathed, “Any time you need someone to talk to...” The door slammed open, and I jumped nervously, tugging my hand away and placing it in my pocket. I shouldn’t be... I swallowed and looked up at her, an apology almost on my lips. I physically couldn’t say sorry, though.

“Thank you,” Her words were barely audible, she was still staring at where my hand had been all of thirty seconds ago. I felt guilty for pulling away, but I wouldn’t... I couldn’t embarrass her like that.  

“Really,” I whispered, my breath catching in my throat, “I mean it.” I would be there for her no matter what, but before I could say anything else, she had risen and crossed the room.

I had to jog to catch up with her, grabbing her hand and stopping her in her tracks as she tried to pull away.

“Let me walk you to lesson?” I didn’t want to tell her I was going to do it anyway, so I manipulated her, simple as. I knew from the loud chatting in the common room that if she was asked a half-question, if somebody raised the pitch of their voice even a little bit at the end of a sentence, she would turn, she would answer, and if she was feeling awful, she would blindly follow, not holding her own like the headstrong girl I’d come to know, and maybe even fall for.

                As I assumed, she shrugged and nodded, and I took a tiny liberty – lacing her fingers with mine on the pretext of pulling her through the corridors, making sure I didn’t lose her. I wanted to hold her hand. I know it’s stupid, but when I got to the English Corridor and watched her go, I had to brace myself between the doorframes to stop myself rushing forward and sweeping her into my arms. I almost rolled my eyes at my fairytale stupidity.

I wouldn’t stay to watch her cry, and I wouldn’t... I couldn’t embarrass her by standing outside the classroom with her, holding her tight, no matter how much I wanted to. My stomach clenched uncomfortably as I pulled my hand away from the doorframe, pulled my jacket tighter around me and strode away down the corridor.

                As I walked, I kept my eyes on the floor, but was talking to the ceiling. Dear God, if there is a God, or something like that around here... let me be there for her, and damnit, please, just for now, just for an hour or so... please, don’t let her cry.

                By the time I got back to the common room, I had forgotten all about having a lesson or caring about attending, really. I sat down in the corner and drew my knees to myself, sticking my iPod headphones into my ears, but not really listening. My head was aching, my heart was hurting, and I was proud of her.

                Two minutes later, I was restless again, tapping my fingers against my knee in need of a beat to make the noise make sense. There was a clatter as something fell from my pocket and I glanced down to the floor to see what it was. My lighter. That would shut me up, calm me down, and give me something to do. I picked it up, flicked it twice and hoped it lit. It always did.

                Without a sound, I left school and walked down to the bus stop, pulling the pack of cigarettes awkwardly from my bag as I stumbled down the hill in the November rain. By the time I had sat down under the bus shelter, doing my best to avoid the rain, I was breathing smoke and ash, and I felt calmer and my head was clearer. I understood.

I fingered the poppy in my collar and pricked my finger on the pin. My lips let out a short gasp and I dropped my cigarette, it rolled into a puddle and extinguished itself. I hated the world for today, for the reasons today existed, even though I understood it completely, and it was right to have today, it caused pain along with the pride, and that pain was...

                 That pain was hers.

The End

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