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Pyrrhus Would Be So Proud
Run, run, run. Combat boots on dirt, wind in hair, the shocks running up and down legs, the tug low in the belly and the honey-burn of dusty air in the throat. Running. He’s been running ever since he can remember. Euryalus, the runner. The beardless boy who’s still a man, because who can go through war, ubiquitous and violent and awful and loud and immanent, ninth circle of hell with a handgun and a cause that's a lie, a best friend’s tags wet and grey-silver, without aging behind their eyes? Not him.
He’s a little old man behind his eyes, trapped in by nightmares and a body too small for him. He’s caged by Nisus’ arms around him, Nisus, who’s always been faster, stronger, older.
It’s dead boring on base, hurry up and wait, and even Nisus is just another way to run. If the sweat and smell and taste of sex is just another way to get his heart rate up, to make his muscles sore, and his brain filled with endorphins, well, Nisus doesn’t ask and Euryalus doesn’t tell.
It’s always a race to the finish with Nisus, and Nisus plays dirty. Euryalus might get the winner’s prize, but he knows someone else is getting the consolation prize, and Nisus is double (or triple, quadruple, God knows-ple) or nothing. Cheater. Cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater, and didn’t his mother ever teach him not to leave his loose ends lying around where other people can see them?
Mother. Another reason to run. Except when he runs from her, the tug is transferred to straps around his neck, his torso- a chariot harness, made for pulling a heavy load. He feels like one of Achilles’ horses, dragging a body for a full turn of the sun, in the hot, dusty wasteland before Troy. It was one of the things that bothered him, in class, that Achilles was called a monster for mistreating a thing already dead and rotting, while his horses were pushed past endurance by a madman careless with the whip, crippled by sharp stones in hooves, parched by the heat. He can’t run fast enough from her tears. Everyday, when he stares at the sere desert, the desolate olive drabs, and wishes for water, blue, cool, he remembers Mother’s rodenty blue eyes filling, and wants to scream. (There’s a reason he never visits on leave.)
That’s when he hunts down Nisus, because there are only so many times one can run the perimeter without feeling like a brittle-boned Thoroughbred. At least with Nisus, there’s that bit of excitement, not knowing where he’s been since he last ran with him.
Of course, right now Nisus is right behind him. He’s running, too. For once, Euryalus is not sloppy seconds (thirds, fourths, whatevers) with a winner’s prize for hypocrisy. This time, he’s in a dead heat. Or a soon-to-be-dead heat. Whatever. Semantics. He’d never liked that part of English class.
Run, run, run. Running with a helmet in his hand, the side with the flag clanging against his knee. It’s ridiculous, really, like he’s Bertie Wooster or whoever, in some sort of ridiculous Wodehousian drama where stealing a policeman’s hat is the height of daredevilry.
‘Cept, instead of dear old Aunt Agatha breathing down his neck, it’s soldiers. Soldiers, because he failed. He and Nisus hadn’t run quite fast enough out of the enemy embankment. Stupid. His fault, too, grabbing that helmet and banging it against a rock, alerting the other runners in this race. Ah, well, he supposes his cheater’s luck had to run out sometime.
Dad had told him a gambler’s luck never holds. It’s probably the only decent thing he’d ever done, besides teaching Euryalus how to run, and how to fight. And leaving, obviously, the leaving was rather decent of him.
Euryalus doesn’t mind, really. He supposes, in a way, he’s finally coming in first without someone else’s leg getting in between his (someone else’s). He leaps up, turns around, and swings the helmet behind him, letting it fly like one of the flimsy sport javelins Nisus is so boastful of. When he’s found, he’ll be getting first place honours for running. That’s all he’s ever wanted, really. It’d be better if there’s nothing circumstantial to knock him back down to runner-up.
He shrugs out of his combat vest. It feels like someone’s cut the harness ties off of him. (He’s always thought Hector had the better end of the deal, anyway.) He closes his eyes, and puts on a burst of speed, and ignores Nisus yelling frantically, like Euryalus is more than something to cheat on and for. Focuses on the shocks, the burn, the dirt, the tug. The running. It’s what he loves, really, and he is so sick of war. So sick. His foot meets something in the red behind his closed eyelids, and he tumbles. He gasps for breath, tries to keep running. He just wants to run away, is that such a crime?
When he feels the prick and cold-ice-fire slash at his throat, he gurgles a laugh and lets his heart keep racing him towards the finish line.