''It doesn't count if you're already planning your defeat. You know that, right?'' his voice breaks the silence of the room suddenly. I lift my gaze and hold his. His gaze is steady, levelled, but serious – meaningful. I wrap my arms around myself, and glance downwards. Everything feels so claustrophobic, so cramped. As if it's all closing in on me. As if this small dim-lit room with brick-faced walls and wooden crates all over is shrinking on me.
Slowly losing all fresh oxygen, all possibilities of escaping.
Five pairs of feet are pointed in my direction, and I realize everyone's staring at me. Waiting for me. For what I'll say.
But I wish they weren't waiting, expecting.
I wish they weren't needing anything from me.
I wish they weren't depending on me, laying everything on me.
I force myself to meet his gaze again. His mouth quirks and he furrows his eyebrows for a short, quick, moment. He drops his head, and then raises it again with a new expression.
As if he's found whatever remains of his old self again.
The passion returns in his eyes. He carries the fierceness - that I've once fallen for - again.
He takes a step forward, then another and only stops once he stands directly in front of me. He studies me for a brief moment, as if contemplating on what he should say next.
''All this-'' he waves his arms around in the air. ''All that they've done,'' he points at the others, who currently stand behind him, ''-all that I've done.'' he presses a finger to his chest, staring deeply into my eyes.
I could see his eyes soften as he said it.
''All that you've done.'' he moves even closer now, staring down into my eyes with his caramel-brown ones. I was always fascinated by his almost black eyebrows, while his hair was lighter – a color closer to that of his eyes, than anything else. ''That. All that. Will end up having been for nothing. Nothing at all. A waste, really, if you plan your defeat and demise before anything else.'' he gives me a weak smile, ''We can't afford that. They can't – they're orphans, Tess.'' he points back to the others. ''They have nothing – no one – else.'' his hands start shaking a bit, and he steadies them by making fists.
I know what he's going to say next.
''I have nothing else, Tess. No one else. My family was killed, because I-'' he scratches his temple. ''Because I stood up, spoke out. I pointed out the faults in the system that we've been living by and they-'' he sighs. ''They paid for it.'' his voice is a hoarse whisper now. ''We all just hold on to whatever remnants of a life we have now. Which isn't much, believe me.''
I can't tell if he's trying to make me feel better.
''I can't afford losing all that we've done now. I can't afford losing – in general - after all I've done to help you guys. None of us can afford losing, after all we've all done. To help you. You know I'd be executed. And sadly, same for them,-'' he waves his hand back to the others, who watch with curious expressions, sad ones too, of course. ''We can't lose.''
I feel as if I'm being choked.
''I can't afford losing-'' he swallows. And laughs softly, seemingly embarrassed. I search his face for any clues, any answer.
His eyebrows lift slightly, as he stares into my eyes, locking his gaze with mine. ''-You. All I know is that we've been through too much together to just let it go. We can't.'' he takes a breath and continues, ''All I know is that they won't. I won't and you – you don't get to.'' his voice cracks at the end of the sentence, and I can suddenly see the hurt in his expression. I can hear the hurt in his voice.
I can hear that he's trying to plea with me.
And I understand why.
All he's said is true, it's always been true.
I've continued something my father did, something he started.
I nourished and cared for the seed he planted in my mind.
That we were being used, all of us. That we were being oppressed and, basically, suffocated. We didn't have a say, we still don't – or at least, we shouldn't.
Until he was taken away for 'crimes'.
Thought crimes, opinionated crimes.
Crimes in which he tried to rebel.
To stand, like Sean did.
Except, in my case, my father was the only one who took punishment for his behavior. While Sean's family paid for it.
Something my father started, that I continued. That I dragged others into.
Lives lost, because of me.
Lives to be lost, because of me.
I truthfully, just wish to be alone. To tear my hair out and scream, bawl my eyes out in a fury of self-pity and stress. In a rage of anger and pain, sadness for Sean and the orphans who joined us. Sadness for Sean's family, and my father. My grieving mother and my wrecked soul.
In a rage because of everything.
A rage of regret, wishing I hadn't spoken. Hadn't taken action, or at least the ones I did.
I start as Sean pulls my in and wraps his arms around my body, my body that's convulsing as waves of tears - days worth of piled sadness and anxiety, guilt and regret - send through my damaged and sore body in vicious sobs. I'm whimpering as he envelopes me into warmth and, for once, steadiness.
I hadn't even realized I've broken down until his skin touched mine. Until he brought me back into reality as he held me.
I continue sobbing, violently, hiccupping while my body tears with the vicious convulsions, as my body shakes.
So much so, that Sean and I – almost automatically – sink down to the floor. The cold, grey-tiled, flooring in this small room we've all been living in for a while now. We sink down onto the floor of our 'hide-out'. A small room that sits behind a small shop, a shop that always smells of garlic and of tobacco. A shop that rarely has customers.
A shop that's run by rebels, too. That's why they chose to help us.
I clench my shaking, cold, hands into fists on Sean's chest as I press my head into him – hearing his heart beat echo into my ears, filling my mind with this steady, soothing, lullaby-like rhythm. It's almost as if he's reminding me, that he too, is here. Alive.
That he, too, is living.
His one hand is smoothing out my hair, while the other occupies itself by holding me tightly, comfortingly, to his body as I continue sobbing. ''Shhhh... shhhhh...'' he whispers, his warm breath blowing near my ear. ''Tess, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. Given you a pep-talk. It was stupid,''
I shake my head.
He continues whispering into my ear the sounds of waves breaking onto a beach, a shore. The peaceful ''shhhh's'' reminding me of my mother, whispering to me as a young girl, when I'd hide under our kitchen table when gunshots would ring in the air near our home. Gun shots reminding us of who's in charge.
Of who rules us. Who rules our lives.
Reminding us who decides who lives and who doesn't.
''I tried-'' I whisper, voice unstable as I continue whimpering. ''I'm sorry, to all of you. I'm sorry you've all risked everything – yourselves – for me, f-for my stupidity. I'm sorry I'm so quick to give up, I'm sorry I've been planning my defeat in advance. But I don't know what to do, to say. I don't know what we're meant to do now, we're just kids, we can't fight. I dragged you all into this, with no way out.''