“You’re not disappointed?”
The veteran ground his boot into the dirt. He took a long time in answering. “I’d have to care to be disappointed.”
Her eyes shimmered and became soft. “How can you say that?”
“It’s the only way I know.”
Her nails bit into her palms. She leveled her voice at him. “Were you always like this?”
The veteran felt a brief spike of fear, worried what her careless outburst would bring upon them. He looked at her in sharp reprimand.
The starved, defiant look on her face spoke of deprivations greater than the physical. Some strange gravity pulled his eyes back down.
“No.” The word carried dense, implacable finality. There was no place for such talk, not anymore. He died to feeling in order to survive this altered landscape. Yet the dull ache persisted. The veteran slung the rifle over his shoulder, adjusted the sling, and started walking.
When he heard her footsteps falling in behind, he let out a heavy sigh.