It's all the same, only the names will change
Every day, it seems we're wastin' away
Another place where the faces are so cold
I drive all night just to get back home
-Wanted Dead or Alive
Aiden entered the small hotel room, murmuring into his new phone and Ava groaned; the light from the hallway shone too bright on her weary eyes. She was glad when he closed the door behind him, dropping them back into comfortable dimness of only one table lamp and all the curtains drawn. The headaches were getting unbearable.
She nuzzled into the white cotton sheets and tried to will herself back to sleep. Staying awake was no longer her forte. She was constantly in a state of fatigue, but she found that she didn’t mind. Sleeping made the time pass and made it easier to deal with starving herself. Sometimes it got so bad- the hunger, the dehydration, the aching…the loss of everything she once knew to be true -that she found herself hoping that one day she wouldn’t wake up. If she didn’t wake up then she wouldn’t have to deal with anything at all.
Sometimes when she woke, Aiden was there and sometimes he wasn’t, though he was always nearby, muttering into his phone.
They’d been in this new place for two days now and all she’d done is slept. She slept so much that she didn’t realise that they’d changed location until one of her recurring nightmares of fire, gunshots, stone angels and electric currents, woke her up in the new bed. This hotel seemed nicer than the last two, though she had no idea where they were or what the room they were in looked like. She didn’t recall moving at all, or the drive. She figured Aiden must’ve carried her from pillar to post with his injured arm -she hoped it hurt.
The knowledge that his hands had been on her made her angry. He wasn’t allowed to touch her anymore. She’d mentally forbidden it. She hated the thought of herself exhausted and weak in his arms, cradle against his chest with his bottomless eyes gazing down at her as if she were still a masterpiece. That’s how he looked at her when she was conscious enough to mistakenly catch his eye. In reality she felt like lurid graffiti on a bathroom stall. Ava was so dehydrated that her lips cracked and bled routinely, so malnourished that her skin looked like she had a vintage Instagram filter built-in, making her looked washed out, and the jut of her cheekbones were getting sharp enough to cut diamonds. The biggest surprise was when her gums began to ache and tufts of her hair fell out to the point that she was too afraid to comb it. She now wore it in two braids that had grown so fuzzy from neglect that the woven pattern was indiscernible.
“I can’t move her,” Aiden said tensely into the handset, “She’s still not eating… No… If we have to make a run for it with her like this, we’ll be caught. She can’t even sit up anymore… You don’t think I’ve tried that? …What else do you expect me to do?” he squeezed his fist. “…Don’t be stupid. That’s not an option…” His tone grew darker, “That’s not for you to decide.” He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Ava was awake. “I’ve gotta go. Holla at me when you know more. Cool.” He hung up and approached the bed with his fist uncurled and his tone softer, “How are you feeling?” He asked her this every time he caught her awake. It was irritating for the both of them because he knew she wasn’t going to answer but he still tried anyway.
Ava closed her eyes. Turning her back to him required more energy than she had to spare.
He crouched down at the side of the bed and stroked her gaunt cheek tentatively, “We have to move again, Ava-Marie.” She flinched away from him. He sighed and withdrew his hand, “If we’re going to survive, you can’t carry on like this. You have to eat something or you’ll get us both killed.”
“Who was that on the phone?”
“Dougie. Why?” Under normal circumstances He would have been hesitant to answer that question, but she was talking. It was such a rare occurrence these days that he didn’t want to do anything that would make her stop. He missed the sound of her voice. Even her scolding him was better than her silence. The silence made him miss her. That was the worst way to miss someone; when they were physically there but emotionally distant. He deserved it, of course he did, he knew that, but knowing it didn’t make it hurt any less that the woman he had fallen for couldn’t stand him. He reasoned that this was his karma, all of this hurt he caused her, it had to catch up with him at some point.
She narrowed her eyes, “What did he say to you?”
Aiden dropped her glare, “To leave you behind.”
“Of course he did.”
“I don’t think he’ over you refusing to save his life.”
“Fuck his life.” This time she turned her back to him.
Aiden sighed and sat on the sofa across the room next to a neat pile of folded sheets and goose down pillows piled on top. Ava refused to have him in the bed with her so he opted for hotels that came with comfortable sofas that wouldn’t make his back feel like he’d been laying on the ground or aggravate his bullet wound any further. He watched the way her chest rose and fell with uncomfortable shallow breaths. She was making herself ill. Starving herself was wreaking havoc on her immune system and she was already weak enough. He didn’t know how much longer he could respect her wishes. She was forcing him to care for a dying thing and after he’d gone to such great lengths to keep her alive, this felt like a slap in the face. She was so ungrateful! No, he wasn’t perfect or ‘good’, he was far from it, but his heart was in the right place, even if his head couldn’t always join it. He was trying to do right by her. He hadn’t meant to. That wasn’t the plan. She was meant to be collateral damage, but instead she’d taken one look at him and embedded herself in his psyche, because Ava wasn’t collateral. She was good, and innocent. She deserved to be saved. She deserved for him to do right by her as much as a man like him could. He was not in the habit of extending any real consideration for the people he hadn’t grown up with, but he did, for her.
His phone vibrated against his thigh. It was a non-descript little black thing as off the market to the point that it had a green screen and not even the courtesy of a polyphonic ringtone. He closed his eyes and picked up, “This can’t be good.”
“What makes you say that, boss?” Mighty’s chipper tone smiled down the phone.
“I just came off the phone with Dougie.”
“Oh. Well…it’s not all bad.”
“What’s the good news?”
“I’ve scored you an extra thirty minutes to get out of there.”
Aiden ran his hand over the creases in his forehead. He didn’t remember them being so deep set. “Who?”