“Hey, why’s it always gotta be us?” Don whines after he nearly trips over an exposed ribcage, screwing up his face in disgust. They’re trudging their way through a wasteland of dead trees, with nothing but ruins and death in this place, vultures their only company on the mission. Fragments of white litter the landscape, the remains of both demons and humans interred there.
In a swift, practiced motion, Gilda reaches up to grab his cheek and pinches it hard.
“Stop complaining. I mean, we were entrusted this role, right?” she admonishes, glaring at him like she always did towards Emma all those years ago. Rectangular-framed glasses have replaced her rounded ones, and her slightly longer hair is tied up in a ponytail now, but the effect on Don remains the same.
“Yeah.” Don answers sheepishly, rubbing his sore cheek.
In response, Gilda smiles and adjusts her glasses. “Then let’s do our best.”
Don hangs his head and continues walking. The late afternoon sun has begun to dip below the clouds, like a demon’s red eye peering at the duo picking through abandoned houses and streets.
Reaching a colorful building, Gilda stops and gestures to Don. In the shadow of the ruined building, there are piles of clothes and toys strewn about. Don bends down to pick up a particularly tiny demon skull that looks like it could belong to a…no, he’d rather not think about it.
“Hey, found one” Don calls out, as he turns the skull over in his hand to inspect its condition; somewhat worn by the weather, but still intact enough to be identifiable. He tosses the skull to Gilda, who catches it with ease. She doesn’t stuff it in her satchel though, instead staring at the skull wistfully.
“You alright?”, he asks, noticing her hesitation.
“These were the ones left behind…” she mutters softly, still gazing at the skull.
Gilda shakes her head in denial, gesturing to the building. “Nothing. We’ll set up camp here.”.
Night falls, and they’re hunkering down in what seems to be a demon family’s master bedroom (or something similar enough in their culture), on a large but rather spartan bed, with a candle burning in the corner of the room. The walls are carved with various runes and symbols, with two doors leading to a bathroom and the living room respectively, and a single broken window opens to the ruined courtyard, where broken-down statues lie in the dirt.
Don clambers up to sit beside her on the bed, his long legs barely touching the floor while hers dangle freely in the air. She hasn’t been pint-sized ever since puberty, but inside a demon’s house, Gilda suddenly feels small again. Demons ARE large creatures after all.
Don reaches into his backpack, pulling out a chunk of hard bread which he offers to Gilda. She breaks it in half after some effort, returning a portion to him, and they sit in silence with the only sound being Don’s loud chewing and the hooting of an owl outside.
A foul-smelling wind whistles past the house, and rats scurry on through the streets. There are a million ghosts swirling around in this place, inside the buildings and living in their heads.
“Hey, Gillie”, he says, breaking the silence by calling her nickname. “When you mentioned being left behind earlier, you weren’t just talking about the demons or our mission, were you?”
Gilda doesn’t reply, looking incredibly downcast.
“Gillie. Be honest with me, okay?” Don pleads, taking her hand in his, but she refuses to meet his gaze.
“…I was just thinking about the past. About how we’re like those demon children, left behind”, she finally answers, pulling her hand away.
Don looks heartbroken for a moment. “Oh. Um, you know, you can always talk to me if you need comfort…”
Gilda whirls around and grabs him by the collar. She pushes him down onto the bed with surprising strength, leaving him too shocked to react.
“Don, stop trying to act tough! I know you’re suffering too”, she shouts, beating his chest with her fists. “You’ve been crying in your sleep.”
“No, I haven’t!” he tries to deny, but Gilda isn’t having any of it.
“You called out their names again last night.”
“Well, don’t you miss them too?”
“Of course, I do. They left us behind!”
Don retaliates, half-heartedly pushing her away. “Maybe if Emma had just taken us along, we could have saved-”
“It’s too late for that now, Don.” Her face is dangerously close to his, and Don can see her pained expression and eyes filled with tears. He sighs and gives in, grabbing her wrists to stop her from hitting him.
“I know, I know. Just let me be unreasonable for a bit, alright?”
Don sits up, leaning in to kiss her.
“Sorry about earlier…” Gilda clasps her hands together in a gesture of apology, as they sit facing each other on the bed in the dying candlelight.
He just grins in response, punching her lightly on the shoulder. “No, s’okay. I was being irrational.”
“So was I. Still. Kissing a girl to end an argument, Don? How shameless!” She wags a finger at him in mock outrage, pursing her lips.
“Hah! Now THAT, I’m not sorry about”, he quips, prompting Gilda to roll her eyes. “You’ve gotten better at punching. That still hurts, ya know.”
She throws her arms wide in invitation, falling flat onto the bed, her dark green hair untied and splayed out on the mattress. “Then you have permission to hit me too. ”
Don just stares at her disconcertedly, frowning. “I’m not gonna hit you, ya know. Or…uh, do anything else on the bed. Not in the mood. Maybe when we get back...”
His remark causes her to blush bright pink, the effect somewhat muted in dim light, but then she smiles and pulls him in anyway, covering both their bodies with a worn blanket.
“You know, she told me something before they left on that final mission.” Gilda tells him this, amidst the darkness of midnight.
“W-what’d she say?”
“She reminded me of our time in the shelter, and the orphanage”, she says softly, her voice choking a little. “Said this was our new mission. To live on and have a good life.”
“Yup, that definitely sounds like Emma.”
Gilda yawns, closing her eyes. “Goodnight, Don.”