[community profile] daily_prompt: #1090, "First Light"

Jul. 8th, 2013 08:52 pm
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Title: First Light
Author: Wang Xi-feng
Challenge: [community profile] daily_prompt. Original.
Warnings: Language, hints at past violence.
Summary: 1937. Everything is about to change.

By the time the sun comes up, they've been riding for some time in silence; Stepka waits for his sister to speak. Anna has seemed distracted lately, somewhat tense and on edge; she's rarely at home when you phone or stop by, she's sharp with the children where she was patient before, and you can smell the tobacco before you see her. There's too much going on in the background; this much Stepka knows. Since they were small, there have been things going on in Anna's head that he isn't privy to, that perhaps no one is allowed to see or know about.

"We'd better stop," Anna says presently. "We'll overtire the horses." Her voice is dull and toneless, and she looks overtired herself; Stepka scrutinizes her face for the telltale, creeping redness, but sees nothing more ominous than the dark circles under her eyes. It isn't a warm morning, but when he reaches over to put a hand on her shoulder, he feels the sweat soaking through her shirt, and she flinches and nearly pushes him away before she regains control. "Sorry. I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry," Stepka says. "I should have warned you. I know it's...not been easy lately, with Petja and everyone else."

Anna snorts. "An understatement." They tie the horses up and clamber over the rocky, mossy ground towards the primeval dolmen; when they were children, they would pretend it was the tomb of one of the ancient kings. It might be, at that. "It's fucking terrible, actually," she says, when they reach their perch atop the broad, rough stone. "We're all just waiting for him to die at this point. I wish to fuck it weren't I who say it, but it's true." Her voice catches.

Stepka nods. Somehow, hearing her say it makes it worse; he's been hoping fruitlessly that Petr III will rally. "Does Fipka know?"

"I've not asked, but I think he does. He won't see it, of course. No one will." Anna rakes a hand through her sweaty hair; the long, black braid has, despite her best efforts at control, come undone. "I wish I didn't. Since Papa..." She snuffles and wipes her eyes quickly with the back of her hand. "Anyhow."

"Yeah," Stepka says quietly. "Is that it?"

"Is that what?" Anna wipes her glasses on the hem of her shirt, before replacing them.

"Everything. You've been strange lately, Anjasha, not yourself at all."

"The Fascists," Anna says. She's blamed a lot of things on them lately; Stepka suspects that she's trying to cover some kind of internal power struggle in the Party. Such is the gossip, at any rate; he's only a rank-and-filer, not very nearly the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Nastrána, as she was last time the office was open, and if Anna is faithful to nothing else, she is faithful to the Party. "And Alisja, all mixed up in them. I don't like this, Stepka."

"She's of an age to make her own mistakes now."

"I wish they weren't such vile ones. I only went to shoot Sékortsy outlaws during the war." Anna stares off into space for a minute, silent and frowning; she sees again, in memory, the long pit dug deep, and the lines of villagers ranged in front of it. There was a moment of horrible anticipation, and then...

"I don't think Alisja has much political awareness, to be honest," Stepka says.

Anna starts, nearly losing her balance, and he grabs her wrist. "What did you say?" When he repeats it, she nods. "You may be right. I suppose she has to form a political conscience somehow. But really, fascism? Even the Anarchists would be preferable." In her secret heart, Anna wishes that Alisja would follow where she leads, as she always did when she was young. That she is no longer the idol, no longer the object of desire, does not occur to her; she takes their adulation as her due.

About time that someone recognized all that she goes through to keep everything together, keep everyone safe. "Hey, Stepka. Who do you like for Prime Minister when Fipka takes the wheel?"

"Hmm. Trobatsky?"

Anna winces. "A little wishy-washy, I think! No, Fipka needs a firmer hand, and not one of the old men from Petja's court; they mean well, but they don't see that the world has changed."

"Daniil, then, as well as anyone." Stephen chucks his sister lightly on the shoulder. "Or you."

Anna laughs. "Not me. He'd never let me serve two masters, and my Party duties..." She shrugs.

"I guess. But he could do worse."

"Yeah, he could appoint you."

Stepka laughs, and shortly after, they fall silent, watching the dawn together.
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