Summary: When the sound of machine gun reports had faded into nothing, Tuvia knew that it was over.
Word Count: 597
When the sound of machine gun reports had faded into nothing, Tuvia knew that it was over. That they had lost. Zus was gone, lost to his need for revenge, for satisfaction that only the Soviets could provide with a clean conscience. Aron was only a boy, speaking only when he had to - which wasn’t often, and so scarred by what he had seen a year before that Tuvia didn’t believe he could ever recover completely. Not with the way they had been living. And now Asael. He had always followed Tuvia, ever since he was a boy, idolizing his every action until Tuvia could only stand it out of the inescapable love for his younger brother. Aron, Tuvia took care of. Zus, Tuvia quarreled with. Asael had been more that a brother in the past year - he had been a second-in-command, a confidant. Tuvia’s equal in every sense of the word. His youth hadn’t mattered.
It should have. Glancing back at Chaya, his young brother’s younger wife, he saw her stricken face and knew that she understood what the silence that muffled their footsteps meant. So young, with eyes so old already.
His feet had carried him to the edge of the forest of their own power, somehow. Asael mattered not to them. All they needed was a solid place to walk, but it seemed that having carried him this far, they too were to be denied that simple need, judging by the inescapable marsh that spread endlessly before them. Voices, murmurs, pressed in around him, compressing his skull, it seemed, to the point where he was shrieking inside his mind while his mouth would not release the same agonized noise. ‘Asael!’ his mind yelled ‘Asael, I need you! Little brother, please…not now. We need you now.’ The weight of the hundreds of crying souls around him was growing heavier. ‘I need you now.’ But the silence that hung above the refugee’s clamor was ever present, taunting him with the knowledge that he was alone.
The voices blended together, until they were a singular raised voice screaming ‘Failure!’ from every side. Falling to his knees, Tuvia saw himself hand Lilka a gun, telling her to take her own life before the German’s could, knowing there was no other outcome for any of them.
“Why are we stopping?!?” A single voice broke through the screams in his mind. Asael. Without thought, his head turned and saw his brother, his beloved brother, emerging from the forest, an injured woman on his arm and his face and hair covered in dirt and blood and life. He was alive. He spoke to the people with an air of certainty, of conviction that Tuvia had convinced himself he had lost. But as the cries of failure faded and Asael’s voice grew stronger, he felt his heart following suit. It swelled with purpose, and recognized the people around it who had never lost their will to survive. And soon, Asael was looking at him, calling to him with his eyes. With that purpose filling him and still growing at seeing the conviction and the faith in his brother’s eyes, Tuvia stood, gathering belts for a rope to lead them across the marshes.
But before that, he clutched his little brother to his chest and pressed his lips against Asael’s cheek, then his hair, hoping to convey all his thanks and love into a gesture that was the only thing there was time for before Asael stepped into the marsh and the people followed him.
Tuvia would take up the center.