The thrill of the fight was bleeding out of her, Nil stood before her without a word, refusing to react to her challenge. There was no reason for her to fight him anyway, she liked his companionship and didn't like the unsteady feeling that swept over her when she thought about travelling alone. But she didn't know where she would go anyway, unless she travelled further than she had gone before. But all her journeys had been further than she'd been, travelling again with no idea where exactly to go would be no different than what she'd done already. Maybe Nil could show her where he'd been or where he had come from. With a heavy sigh, she sank to the wet grass and sat there, defeated.
Everything felt a little bit like a mess, she didn't have the energy to do much more than just sit here.
“Now isn't the time for this.” Nil said, he'd walked in front of her and held out his hand. After a moment, she put her hand into his and let him pull her to her feet. Her back ached, the burn had split somewhere. He held her hand for a moment as they stood, sparks dancing up her wrist. But he let go, eventually, and instead put his hand on her shoulder blade to help guide her along. He seemed to see the pain of the open injury on her face, and walked slowly with her. They made their way across the grass and took shelter in the dry dirt and sandy grass under the rock of a cliff cut away to leave a patch where the rain couldn't fall.
She knelt on the ground and allowed Nil to unwrap the bandages to check the wound, he told her it had opened in a few places but it wasn't anything they had to worry about, and wrapped it again with dry cloth. When it was tied and secure his fingertips found a place to rest above the cloth against the skin just below her rib cage in a second of contact that felt like hours.
It rained for two more days.
In the dead of night as rain poured they sat still awake, both of them mulling over the weight of the world that seemed to hang over them. Nil sat with his back against the rock, relaxing, his arms folded over his chest. His eyes were closed but he wasn't sleeping, though he had been asleep for a little while. Aloy hadn't, too preoccupied with her muddled thoughts. When he opened his eyes to look at her, she looked back at him from where she sat. “If I had said yes,” she started. “Would you have killed me? If you had won.”
He stared at her for a long while, as if deciding how much he wanted to tell her. “There was something in your eyes, something I saw when we first met. You had goals, somewhere to be and questions to answer. People to kill. I don't think I could have been the one to take that from you.” But she said nothing, only watching him. It looked like he had more to say, like he was just waiting to see if he should say it. Eventually, he delivered. “But you? You wouldn't have held back. I thought you saw what was in me and knew it needed to be eliminated.”
The impact of the words hit her like a Thunderjaw's tail, swift and hard and she just stared at him. She'd known this, she'd always suspected it, but actually hearing it from him was a shock. She'd told him she thought there was a need for him in this world, and that mindset hadn't changed. Maybe part of her needed him because there was something about him when she looked at him that felt like she was staring into a mirror. She stared quietly, then turned her eyes away from him. “I don't think you need to be eliminated.” She replied.
“I couldn't imagine why.” His reply was honest, there was almost confusion in the way he said it.
She scoffed, but said nothing for a few more minutes. She wasn't sure what else she wanted to ask him, but she knew that he would answer her as honestly as he was able in this moment, with the rain still pouring down just beyond their little shelter. She knew now he wanted her to be the one to end his life. “Why me?” She asked, eventually, enough time had gone by that seemed like the moment had passed.
But he replied after a few moments himself, but she could tell there was so much he wasn't saying, so much she found herself yearning to know. “You were the only one worthy of that honour.”
Instead of thinking of something to reply to that, she exhaled deeply and moved towards him, resting her back against where his arms were crossed. He leaned forwards a little, she moved too, and let him remove the metal plating from his shoulder. When that was gone, he sat back and she went with him. She settled against him, he was warm and it was cold, and he almost hesitantly put his arm around her. Without waiting she settled her arm over his, the cool metal against her skin and her fingers resting on the backs of his knuckles. She closed her eyes, letting the comfort of the touch soothe the churning storm inside her.
When she woke up the rain had slowed but hadn't stopped, it was bright and grey and in her sleep she had rolled to him, her knees on his thighs and her arm around his waist with her other arm pinned underneath her. She was comfortable, she could feel the beat of his heart, his hand at her side, the heavy weight of it felt so soothing. She felt him move, and put her hand on his chest and used it to sit herself up a little bit, facing him, they were eye to eye and her heart thudded in her ears. All at once he sucked in a deep breath and cupped her cheek with his palm with his fingers in her hair, he pulled her in but stopped. She could feel the way his hand trembled as her eyes fluttered closed. The world around them narrowed to the places they were connected, nothing else existed. Just him and her, quiet in the rain. She tilted her head, just a little, uncertain but yearning, her lower lip brushed his for a split second before he was letting go and pulling away; the loss was a swipe of pain across her chest. He was grabbing his shoulder plates and untangling himself from her.
“Nil?” She asked, her voice shook, she was so confused. Why would he grab her like that, only to push her away? He didn't respond, only securing the metal and beginning to walk away. “Nil!” She tried again, but he was leaving. He was walking away and there was nothing she could do. He disappeared into the rainy morning and she hid her face in her hands, upset and trying to control it.
This time, she didn't think he was coming back. It felt so final, so decisive, so without question. But still, she waited an hour to see if he would return. When he didn't, she steeled herself to facing the world alone again. Why did it feel so daunting when she had faced worse on her own? Maybe it was because she just didn't understand why he left, he had shown her another side of him then vanished faster than she could process it. He'd left before she could process what she'd been about to do.
At the bottom of an hour she tried to rationalize that this was all for the best. She left into the rain and let the water cool her flushed skin. She felt empty and list but just began to walk and hope she found her way again. The rain was washing out her path. Soon she had wandered into a Stalker nest, she hadn't noticed until she spotted a flare nestled into the grass, they hadn't seen her yet so she picked a fight with them.
And with mud splattered up her arm and thigh she continued on. Tearing wire from their bodies and taking it with her as she went. She kept killing machines as she wandered, leaving a trail of husks and metal. She'd let her mind get muddled and caught up in a man a few years older than her with a questionable outlook on life. The loss still stung but it didn't feel so bad when she worked through her hurt with violence. She kept killing until the sun had set, her supplies fully restocked and her bag heavy. She was near a Tallneck, and after contemplating for a moment, crawled up a hill and climbed up its back. The rain had slowed to near a stop, and when she got to the top of its head it was little more than a few drops. It would be fine. She lay on her back and closed her eyes. Maybe tomorrow she would find a Stormbird and have it take her far away from here.
She woke with the rising sun. The rain had increased overnight, it was pouring. She felt water logged and cold straight into her core. She rolled to her side, shivering, trying to seek some warmth from the machine. Normally she would hop off its head without a thought, but she didn't trust her stiff hands enough to hold the rope. So she climbed, moving slowly, making sure each time she grabbed something that her grip was sure and strong. Careful not to fall, if she fell from up here she would meet her death.
Once she was on the ground, almost too cold to think, she stumbled along in an attempt to find shelter from the rain. It took less than an hour to track down a few abandoned shacks, barely bigger than one little room. She sank into one of them, dropping her things and resisting the urge to curl into a ball right there. She used her spear to chip away at the rotted wood floor until she exposed the dirt under it. Winded, sore, still bone cold, she ventured out to the other two shacks to find anything dry enough to burn.
Once she had a small supply, she sank to her knees and arranged a few arrows that weren't entirely waterlogged. But blaze started the fire anyway, and she layered wood onto it until she could feel the heat beginning to touch her skin. She removed the heavy metal from her body, the extra fabric, until she wore the thin clothes under all that, and hung them next to her to dry.
By sunset, it had stopped raining. But the ground was mush, she was warmer and a little less miserable. It had been stupid to stay out in the open like that, but she was still alive and that chilled feeling was beginning to fade away. The fire was warm, she didn't stray far from it. She would stay here, one more night, then she would climb onto the back of a flying machine and it would take her away from here, and maybe there she could find the place she belonged. And if she couldn't, she would be the girl who tamed and commanded machines as if she had created them with her own hands.
When she woke, it hadn't begun raining again, she felt dry and sore and washed out, but there was heat within her again, she felt human again. So she grabbed the stiff dry armour and put it back on, piece by piece, gathered her things and put out the fire and stepped out into the soggy earth. The air felt fresh and clean, today was a good day to change something. Today was a good day for her to take her first steps into the unknown. But as she walked, she spotted a familiar figure standing in the light of the morning sun. She wanted to shoot him in the back with her arrows, she wanted to scream at him, instead she walked up behind him in the sun as she folded her arms over her chest and he turned to look at her.
He looked broken, or like he had broken and had done his best to put himself back together. He looked vulnerable, he looked like whatever was dark inside of him had come to the surface. “How did you find me?” She demanded, hands clenched.
“Follow the trail of machine husks and smoke,” he echoed, she'd heard him say that before. “And at the end I guarantee there will be a girl who I have no right to be around.”
“What do you mean?” She growled, the emotion felt thick on her tongue. She was struggling to keep it together. She had convinced herself she would never see him again, or maybe years later she'd catch wind he was dead by his own hand.
“You were my horizon, Aloy.” He murmured, it was the first time he'd used her name since he had come to her at Rost's grave. “Everything you are, everything you could be, was beyond my reach. Your light eclipsed the sun, and no god in this world or the next could ever hope to compare to you.”
“What?” She'd assumed that whatever beat within her for him wasn't returned, that he felt nothing for her but that of a hunting partner. A friend, at the most.
“I'm in love with your carnage, and I couldn't dare to believe that maybe you found something in me that you thought was worth it. From the first time I saw you, I knew you were going to be unlike anyone I had ever met. When I fought alongside you, I knew it was too late for me to escape your gravity. But then you started looking at me like my worthless existence mattered, and I didn't know what to do. You were my tether, you were my reason to keep going, you were the horizon I followed while I tried to find what I was supposed to do.”
Her eyes were wide, “where have you been?” She nearly whispered, her voice shook. Her arms had fallen to her sides.
“Trying to decide if I dared touch the sun, or if I was even worthy enough to be close to her.” And with that, he had stepped towards her and took her face in his hands. He pulled her in, and this time that pause wasn't hesitation, but careful, so he could search her eyes. She put one hand on his chest and brought the other up to the back of his neck, she wasn't going to let him pull away from her this time.
When she kissed him she stopped thinking, he kissed her like she was his dying breath. She didn't know exactly when her feelings for him had changed, but there didn't always have to be a moment, did there? She had done a good job of not really being aware of it, she'd only acted. She'd moved into his embraces and found herself craving each little touch that sent her stomach churning and her fingers curling. She hadn't actively tried not to think about it, but she'd found solace in him and the way he looked at her like he understood. She didn't need to explain it to him, she didn't need to show him her scars because he bore the same ones. The darkness in him may have been darker and deeper, but it matched the shade of hers. His was broken and crumbled down into an emptiness and she was only fractured, his isolation matched hers, whispers followed his steps and they followed hers too. But he walked with the whispers at his back to carry him ahead, plunging into wherever his wandering took him. She used hers to fuel her fire.
When she looked at him, he looked at her in a way no one had ever looked at her before. Something like admiration, understanding, a deep love that beat inside him with his blood. She kissed him again, he moved a hand from her cheek and wrapped it around her, her head was spinning and it felt as though she were about to slip off the earth and fall into the sky. Like the wind and the stars and the clouds above, she loved him. The cracked pieces of her fit perfectly into the broken pieces of him, his flaws matched hers, she never would have thought that this strange man who saw killing as a sport would be kissing her like she was more than just a name.
She expected his praise to be uncomfortable, but it was honest. He'd never seen her as anything else but her, others had watched her rise from Outcast and beyond, no one but him had simply seen her. No more, no less.
They settled into an embrace, one of his hands running through her hair. She didn't know what to say, so she said nothing, simply standing in his arms like she belonged there. Eventually, he pulled away, and she thought he was going to run at first, instead he pressed his thumb to her chin and kissed her again, softly and slowly, before giving her a slight smile. “Where to now, princess?”