I've been playing This War of Mine for my YouTube channel, and then kept playing after my YouTube playthrough ended because I like the game so much. I bought the expansion pack with children, ran through a scenario, and then had feels I had to flash fiction out (at midnight, when I was supposed to be sleeping. On a work night.). Kristy said I had to upload it here because if she had to cry, so did someone else. This fic is based on a true event that happened in game.
Franko (trader who comes to the house)
Katia (survivor whose talent is bargaining)
Marko (survivor whose talent is scavenging at night)
Kalina (child survivor)
Roman (survivor who deserted from the army)
Here's a picture of almost everyone's faces, and a picture of the general layout of their house just so you have an image. At the end of the post I'll put the YouTube series (although, again, this event happened in a non-recorded game).
HERE IS THE ACTUAL FIC.
"Buy me a cigarette."
Katia almost laughs at the request, but something in Franko's haggard face checks her laughter into a mere smile. "You want me to buy a cigarette off of you... to then give to you?" She raises her eyebrows at him. "That's a new one on me, hon."
He leans against the side of the patio and she can only pray the wall won't collapse under the weight. The house was shaky enough when they moved into the district--which had been so thoroughly sacked that no one felt the need to rummage through the houses at night--and the repairs she'd put up during the day weren't exactly professional grade work. "Sweetheart, I just about bought it back on 10th street when a sniper bullet cut my ear," he says with a sigh. He runs a trembling hand through his long hair and she can see the fresh blood from the wound. "So, yeah. Buy me a cigarette?"
She softens at the request, always a sucker for that little uptick in a man's voice when he remembers he knows how to ask for a damn thing. "Marko found a diamond necklace last night. I'll trade you for a cigarette, those ten boards you're hauling, and any pills you've got."
"All I've got are the herbal supplement ones. For diamonds, you can have one bubble pack and six boards."
Still not a pushover, Katia thinks. Now she does laugh, but it's a calculated one--the kind of laugh she uses to get her way when someone is being Unreasonable. "Franko, you don't really want to lug around the extra boards, do you? Why do you think you were slow enough for that sniper to almost get you?"
"Bitch," he observes, but the endearment is entirely without rancor. He drops the wood onto the porch--gently, he's always gentle with the merchandise--and lights up one of his precious cigarettes while she counts out the pills in the bubble pack. Vitamins, and gods know how old they are. Not nearly enough to help Marko, whose cough has gotten steadily worse over the past few nights. He's taken to staying away from Kalina, much as it breaks the little girl's heart, because he's afraid of getting her sick. Sleeps all day in his bed, drags himself down to the kitchen for food at night, and then heads out to scavenge.
He needs fire and rest and better food, Katia thinks for the thousandth time, but no one answers. "Franko, if you get any antibiotics, bring them our way?" She hates to ask, there's weakness in asking, that's how they price-gouge you by knowing what you need, but there's no choice this time.
He scoffs and inhales a long whiff of the acrid herbal smoke. "Doll, those things are worth their weight in gold right about now. I'll try, but don't count on it."
"Doll? Did he say 'doll'?"
Katia turns to see Kalina fussing with Roman, who is vainly trying to distract her with promises of playing in the empty treehouse later. Franko didn't want to see children, so they kept her away from him rather than risk him not coming around at all. It wasn't that he didn't like kids so much as he didn't like driving hard bargains over the food they needed in order to survive. Katia tried not to despise him for it; she knew he had to see hundreds of hungry children in his rounds. He can't feed them all, she knows, but a part of her still cries out that he ought to try.
He's silent for a moment, just breathing in his cigarette and listening to the angry sputtering protests as Roman picks up Kalina and carries her to naptime. When it's quiet again, he shoulders his pack but looks back at Katia. "Doll, by the by. Don't any of you be going up to apartments on 8th street. Some assholes moved in and are taking shots at anyone who comes by to trade." He hesitates a moment longer, fingering the graze on his ear. "Wouldn't want you or the little girl around them, especially. That's the word on the street, anyway."
She nods, closing her eyes so he doesn't have to see the anger there. Better for him to think she's hurting, scared, fearful, frightened. She's those things too, of course, so it's not even a lie. But the anger? The anger would scare him.
Marko is coughing again. She breaks her one rule of not serving the men--she's not a waitress or a maid, but they'll treat her like one if she lets them--and brings him dinner in bed so he doesn't have to get up. He thanks her in a weak voice that makes her stomach twist with pain. She's already popped the pills out of the bubble pack Franko brought, and she helps hold his head up so he can swallow them, one by painful one.
He drinks the watery soup with effort. She can tell he isn't hungry and doesn't want it, can tell the rough rat meat is scratching his burning throat, but they'd all sooner shoot their own feet off than waste food at this point. She remembers before the war, remembers scraping whole meals into the trash because she didn't care for the taste in some way. The memory seems surreal, like something that must have happened in another lifetime.
She takes the empty bowl from him and he's asleep before she can straighten to stand up.
"I'm going out tonight."
She looks up in surprise at Roman, blinking in confusion to hear her words in his mouth. She'd been planning to tell him just as soon as Kalina was asleep, but now he jumps ahead of her while she's in the process of tucking the sleepy girl between the covers.
"Wait a minute," she murmurs, her voice low so Kalina doesn't stir. Katia tucks her in as warmly as she can manage and then pushes Roman into the next room, the one with the ladder and the chalk drawings on the wall. She pulls the door half-closed behind them, open just a crack so she can hear the girl if another nightmare strikes. "What did you say?"
"I'm going out," he repeats. His face is set in that stubborn pouty way he has, the way that always makes him look ten years younger than he says he is and five years younger than Katia actually believes. "Marko needs meds, real meds. And you need food. I know you're skimping so that Kalina doesn't have to. Your face is like death warmed over. I'm not going to watch you starve."
She closes her eyes, something she's getting a lot of practice with these days. "Roman," she says, keeping her voice even and low because the last thing Kalina needs is to hear her guardians screaming at each other, "I'm going out tonight. We need meds and food, yes, and I can carry more than you can."
He shakes his head, frowning intently at her words; his eyes are so dark she wonders for a moment if he's on drugs to have made them dilate so. But no, where would he get drugs now? They're all gone, and have been for some time. "It's not about how much you can carry. It's about where I'm going to look. We need real meds and real food, Katia, not a half-bottle of expired vitamins scavenged out of a shelled bathroom."
"No, Roman-- No!" The hiss of her voice is so violent she can hear Kalina stirring in response and she has to pull the door shut all the way before the girl can wake to the words she can't keep from spilling out. "Roman, you can't take that kind of risk, and if you do and then don't come back? Then where will we be? Besides, you need to be here tonight to watch over everyone! Marko and Kalina need protection, we don't even have a gun, you're the one who can-- you're the fighter, not me! You can't go!"
Her voice is too high, too fast. She forces herself to stop. To breathe. To not cry, no matter what, because if she cries now she might never stop again, not when there's so many things to cry about. But when she opens her eyes, she can't breathe at all not even a little because he's centimeters from her face, studying her with those dark eyes that never miss a thing even when she desperately wants him to.
"You've boarded everything up better than Marko or I could," he says. His voice is low and soft, as soft as his fingers when he reaches out to touch her cheek. "If anyone comes, I want you to make noise. Scream like you're coming down to murder them just as soon as you finish loading up your shotgun. You were an actor on television, right? They'll believe you."
"Roman, I was a journalist," she mutters, trying not to roll her eyes. Even now, even when he's so close to her that her heart is about to pound its way out of her ribcage, he has to say something so earnestly wrong it comes full circle somehow into charming.
"Television journalist, right." He nods seriously, not breaking stride for a moment. "You're going to be fine for one night. Just stay awake and alert, and be here for Kalina, okay? I'll be back with meds and food by morning. I promise."
He turns to go and she's too weak to stop him--too hungry, too tired, too frazzled, yes, but simply too physically weak to hold him back when he's made up his mind. She knows she'd lose that fight and that she wouldn't ever look at him the same afterwards, so she doesn't even try. She leans against the wall outside her bedroom--the bedroom she shares with a little girl she found cowering under a pile of rubble--and wonders what she'll do if she never sees this annoying, infuriating, childish, and fiercely protective man again.
When he turns back to surge forward and steal a kiss from her, she's so stunned that she doesn't begin to kiss him back properly until he's already pulling away to go.
He leaves with their only shovel. She notices it missing when she makes her rounds through the house while on alert for would-be burglars. The absence of it frightens her at first, because the only conceivable thought is that thieves are here, right now, stealing their tools out from under them. Only after she checks both doors and all the boards is she able to convince herself that no one has broken in. Yet the shovel is not here, which means it must be with Roman.
What on earth would he want with a shovel?
His clothes are bloody when he returns the next morning. He falls into bed without a word after shoving armfuls of tinned food and medicines into her hands. She sets all of it on the floor--carefully, though, always carefully--and her hands fly over his bloody shirt, his wet pants, his filthy jacket. She's looking for the wounds, already counting up what they can tear into bandages for him, wincing in the knowledge that there's not a drop of liquor in the house to disinfect him.
But he's not bleeding. He's covered in blood, but none of it is his.
She leans back on her heels and looks at the shovel propped against the wall where he left it. The spade end is redder than her hair and wetter than a winter morning. She looks at the haul he's brought in: tinned meats and vegetables to last the four of them a whole three days, and enough antibiotics to treat Marko and buy Franko's entire stock the next time he comes. Her eyes slide to the bloody man who looks so much like an innocent boy when his face is relaxed in sleep.