Silence curled around Kristian as she stood at the front door to her building. It was the silence of preoccupation rather than true silence. There was no such thing as absolute silence in the city. Too many cars, too many people. Humming of streetlights mingled with barely-heard music and traffic noises from further away.
To Kristian, however, none of those sounds registered. To her there was only silence, emptiness in the night, at least until her keys jangled when she tugged them from a pocket. The tinkle of metal connecting with metal seemed over-loud and she winced a little.
It was the wince that did it. She was suddenly propelled backwards in time suddenly the young woman she had been only a year before. The woman who cringed when she made loud noises, who made sure to choose the right dress, to style her hair the correct way. The young woman who had forgotten that her own opinion of herself mattered, who lived only for what she was told to believe, to see, to think, to do. For just a moment she was that woman again.
With a shake of her head she broke the spell, but it had unsettled her, snaking through her like cold rain drops sliding their way down the pane of a window. For just a moment, she wondered if such a moment could be a presentiment. She sucked in a shaky breath, then fumbled her keys in the lock as her shoulders hunched slightly.
The silence was broken, and in the sudden inrushing of noises Kristian heard only threats. It mattered little that she should be safe enough here. It mattered little that she had built a whole new life. Some days she even felt the confidence she pulled over herself like a mask, somedays it was more than skindeep. Then moments like this broke it.
As she pushed the door open she glanced behind her into the night, her teeth grabbing at the ring in her lower lip, toying with it nervously. A reminder that she had armored herself, that she had become strong. Still, she felt fear brush within her, stirring like the wings of a captive moth. Something was there. She knew it, even if she could not explain it.
Then she slammed the door with a little more force than necessary, but straightened her spine rather than wincing. It locked itself again and she let the sturdy wood and glass and metal bars act as a barrier, a tangible reminder that she had a haven in so many ways. Nothing stirred outside, nothing unusual lurked or shifted.
Routine took her up, and she opened her mailbox, gathering envelopes and flyers, tossing the detritus into the recycling box she had demanded be placed there for just such a purpose, then climbing the stairs to her third-story apartment.
This time Kristian did not fumble at the lock, felt the key slide smoothly in, turn easily. The same with the next lock. Then she pushed the door open, flicking on the light as she entered quietly and lightly closed the door. Defiance had waned and now she felt only consideration for her neighbours, those who would probably complain in the morning of slammed doors late at night. Perhaps she would leave out some cookies. It was usally a good enough way to seek pacification.
The flicking of the lock, the solid thunk as each one was turned home, as the deadbolts returned to their duties, comforted her. The tinkling of the chain likewise wrapped safety around her. This was home now, and home should mean sanctuary.
It hadn't, not always, but she refused to think about that for now. Not tonight.
For a moment she pondered the cell phone in her pocket, considered phoning someone to come over. None of them would mind, if they weren't already otherwise occupied. They knew she tended to have some baked goods on hand, beer in the fridge, movies or games to keep them occupied. It was a comforting ritual she had established with her friends.
Friends. Not so long ago it had seemed an alien term, something so far removed from her life. Something that had little to do with her days and nights of isolation, separation. They had been taken, she had been culled from the herd. But now they were part and parcel with who she had become. Who she had allowed herself to be. The guys from the tattoo and piercing place where she worked. The couple bike messengers she still was in contact with from when she had first come to the city and just needed a job, any job. And then, of course, there was the group.
They did, of course, have a formal name, something that looked good on letters and placards. Something that could be bandied about when there were official things to be done. All the same, the name was not all that important to any of them. No, the true importance was what they did.
Crossing the kitchen, Kristian tossed the mail on the counter, unlooked at other than the previous quick scan to remove the flyers, and leaned a hip against the counter as she filled a kettle with water. She was considering more seriously a phone call now. They would understand, even more than anyone else. Understand that sometimes the wounded could not be alone. Sometimes the walls had to be reinforced to keep the terrifying world at bay.
They could always plan. Perhaps she was jumpy in the aftermath of what they had so recently accomplished. Perhaps it was only that and not some premonition of the past returning to haunt her. Perhaps.
The wounded, the unheard and silenced. That was what had brought them all together. Each had their own reasons, their own driving force that kept them to the task. In the end, though, it did not matter. They were together now.
Plugging the kettle in, she nodded to herself, a useless gesture, and tugged her phone from her pocket. A few buttons were all it took and she heard the ringing, waited.
An answer, somewhat sleepy. Humour filled the voice on the other end as he realized what she was asking, why she called. He understood most of all. Yes, he would be over, could he bring anything? A negative from her, and she smiled finally, flipping the phone closed to end the call.
Comfort. It was what his voice brought, along with passion for what they did. Not passion for one another, although she suspected he would not be averse to such. But she could not. Not with him. Not yet. She wasn't ready, was not sure she ever would be. Not after...
A fierce shake of her head, an angry gesture as she tugged open a cupboard and pulled down two mugs, two types of tea. He would be there soon. Was there enough water in the kettle for two?
Of course. Kristian had already known when she filled it that she would call him. Already known he would accept. So she waited quietly in the kitchen for the knock before he would flick open the locks with the key she had given him six months before. Back when they had agreed something had to be done, agreed that they would undertake the mission.
The letters lay forgotten on the counter. Probably best, considering. They would wait. Their news would remain until the morning, or more likely, the afternoon when she remembered them.
Outside, a silent figure remained hidden in the shadows. Watching. He had seen lights flick on in the apartment, had seen briefly a shadow move inside. He suspected what she would do, and found himself proven right as he saw the man appear, letting himself in with no fuss. And so the shadow settled in for his silent vigil. Now was not the time. Later. Later would be soon enough.