Liz had sat quietly through the entire thing, hurting for Einar and at times wanting to be angry with Juni for causing him to focus on such things to an extent which he otherwise might not have been doing, but knowing it was probably for the best. Things always seemed to get a bit calmer for him, quieter, for a time at least, after he’d been able to share such memories with her, as if by giving voice to the things their power was lessened somewhat, daylight in a dark room dispelling the shadows, though the improvement had always proven temporary so far, and she had come to believe--and, to some degree, to accept--that it might always be so. Yet Einar was still remembering things, putting into words memories he’d never previously been able to speak to her or, she suspected, even to allow himself to examine too closely, and if Juni--with her different perspective and the boldness of speech which was imperative to her erstwhile career--could bring him to find his way through these things and perhaps ease somewhat their grip on him, then Liz could see no pressing reason to interfere. Except that she still doubted Juni’s motives, but that was another matter, and one which could wait.
Muninn, likewise, hung back, having left Einar’s shoulder when he’d gone on his little sojourn along the cliff--had followed him, short hops from tree to tree in the darkness until Einar had settled in one spot, waiting, ready to keep a night-long vigil if required--watching now with silent, black-glinting eyes and tilted head from his boulder-perch as Einar spoke and appearing ready to hop his way into the middle of the conversation at any moment, should his services be required, but they weren’t just then, and the raven seemed to know it. Wise creature, if only a bird, and Liz was glad to have him there as an ally.
Juni did not know exactly where to go from there, her previous certainty fading at the unexpected frankness in Einar’s tone, the raw memories spilling out when he spoke, yet for all that, she could tell he was holding quite a bit back, the long silences when he stared off into the shadows nearly as meaningful to her as the words he did say, and without knowing the content of those thoughts, she was having difficulty rightly formulating her next question. That’s your problem, you know. “Formulating questions”…what’s that all about? Quit thinking so much like a journalist. Just talk with the guy. Talk with him, one human to another.
“You would have liked to find out, you say? Find out what would have happened if you’d have been trying to carry your friend Andy when you escaped from that camp, even though you know you were barely able to get yourself out of there. You know they would have caught you pretty quickly if you’d tried that, and taken you back there, and eventually killed you both… Eventually.”
“Yes, of course I realize all of that, and yes, I still want to do it.”
“Want? Present tense?”
Why must she do this? Entrap him with his own words. Tangle him up. He hated it. Wanted it to be over. Yet, though he could leave anytime he wished, was in no way being compelled to speak to her, he did not leave. “Wanted. And…”
“Yes, still want. Not possible I know, but…”
“But you’ve been trying to get back there ever since, haven’t you? Back to that camp, back to do it all again, to make things turn out differently for Andy. And if not for him, then at least for you…”
“Didn’t say that.”
“No, but it’s true. Your arms. Let me…no, don’t jump back like that, you know I’m not going to do anything to you. I’d have my skull caved in by that rabbit stick before I ever knew what hit me if I tried anything, so just relax and let me see your arm.” Einar kept still, squinting hard into the darkness and inwardly bristling as she pushed his sleeve up out of the way but knowing that it was without purpose, at that point, to resist her inquiry. She had already seen, the other day down at the river.
“Yeah,” Juni sat back, releasing Einar’s arm, giving him the space he so desperately needed, “just like I thought. And you’ve probably got scars on your ankles to match, haven’t you? And other places. Recent ones, I mean. Not the old ones.”
He shrugged. Sure. Didn’t even care to dispute it. No shame there, no need for apology but it was none of her doggone business, any of it, and he fiercely resented the intrusion, gritted his teeth to keep from snarling at her and hoped she wouldn’t try to touch him again.
Going nowhere good, this line of questioning, and Juni, though not finished with the matter, had sense enough to realize it and back off for a while.
“Did you ever try to contact his family, after you came back? Andy’s family?”
A nod. “I had their address for years. Wrote the letter four or five times early on, but never sent it. Then had the thought for a while that maybe I’d leave the letter at the Wall, but never made it to the wall, either, though I was in DC a bunch of times over the years… His mother died a decade ago, cancer, but his father and three brothers are still out there and…yeah, I think about that sometimes.”
“About contacting them?”
“Sometimes I’ve thought about going up there and finding them, getting them all together and telling them, ‘hey, it didn’t happen the way you were told it happened, and here I am, the guy who killed your son, your brother, it was me, and here’s the story…’ and then just let them deal with me how they will. Can stand up pretty well for myself, even now being…a bit scrawny, and all, but I wouldn’t try. Just let it come. I wouldn’t last too long at all I figure, if they decided to stomp me some, crack some ribs, snap my neck, maybe.”
Liz had to bite her lip and look away at that point to keep him from seeing her tears, no, Einar, that’s not how it would go, I wish you could see that it wouldn’t go that way at all, wish you might have had the chance to do it, just to hear what they would have had to say…
“Why didn’t you ever do it?” Juni continued.
“Never was much for contacting people.”
Oh hey, I wonder why not…? “That’s the only reason?”
“No. Wouldn’t want to…maybe they don’t want… It was all a long time ago, now. They have their lives. Maybe wouldn’t want to be reminded of all that. Never was sure it would be the right thing to do.”
But aside from that, you would have done it?”
“The way you said that a minute ago, about hoping his brothers would go after you, which I don’t think they would, but… You want to die?”
“I…” Looked over at Liz--she didn’t at all like what she saw in his eyes--and caught sight of Will sleeping there in her lap, hint of a smile playing across the little one’s face in the firelight. “I don’t know. But…” voice growing firmer, more resolute, a bit of life returning to his eyes, “it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got a duty here now, and I’m here to stay.”