Emori shivered, folding her arms over her chest and hugging herself tightly. Beside her, Murphy immediately moved in closer, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as they continued to make their way down the corridor.
“I didn’t realize it would be so cold up here,” she murmured, leaning gratefully into Murphy’s warmth.
“Almost makes you miss the dead zone, huh?” he quipped, causing her to scoff. “Yeah, maybe not.”
Ahead of them, the featureless grey corridor of the Ark’s ring stretched endlessly, the metal walls marked here and there by door to what Emori could only assume must have been former dwellings.
“You never told me what it was like,” she said after awhile. “Growing up here.”
“Pretty much the same as it is now,” Murphy responded, “just with more people and even less food.”
“What about your parents?” Emori pressed him. “What were they like?”
“I already told you,” Murphy snapped. “My dad was a thief and my mom was a drunk, there’s nothing more to say.”
He relinquished his hold on Emori, turning his face away to stare resolutely ahead, his mouth pressed into a hard, thin line. Emori reached out for his hand, interlacing her fingers with his.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. She was well aware by now that family was a touchy subject for Murphy.
They continued walking in silence along the corridor, the only sound the ever-present hum of machinery that Emori was quite certain she would never get used to. The others were nowhere to be seen, most likely sound asleep at this late hour, or…well, Emori didn’t really want to think about what they might be doing besides sleeping, especially not since she’d caught Bellamy sneaking into Raven’s room after he’d supposedly gone to bed the previous night. They turned a corner and Emori suddenly felt Murphy’s hand slip from her grasp. She turned back to find him standing rooted to the spot behind her, his face drained of color. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost.
The sound of Emori’s voice brought Murphy sharply back to reality. He met her gaze just in time to catch the concerned expression that flashed across her features. Forcing a smile, he stepped forward, closing the gap between them and taking Emori’s hand once more.
“Come on, let’s keep going.”
Emori watched Murphy’s eyes darting from side to side as they made their way towards the end of the corridor which, although it looked exactly the same as all the others they had walked down that night to her, appeared all too familiar to Murphy. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw it, two words scrawled clumsily in black ink across a door to her right, the handwriting spidery and childlike.
“Emori…” said Murphy, a warning note in his voice as she stopped in her tracks, reaching out to brush her fingers across the raised black lettering. “Emori, please don’t…”
But Emori was already pushing open the door. Her heart suddenly racing, she took a deep, steadying breath, hesitating for a fraction of a second before slowly, cautiously stepping across the threshold. Once inside, she glanced around around the small, single room dwelling, taking in everything from the mattresses pushed against the far wall, to the tiny kitchen table, to the empty cabinets and drawers. She turned back to Murphy, who was hovering in the doorway, looking as though he’d rather be anywhere else.
“This was your home,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
Murphy snorted. “If you could call it that.”
With a monumental effort, he finally crossed the threshold to stand beside Emori, casting a contemptuous look around the tiny space. But Emori wasn’t fooled, She could, beneath that carefully constructed mask of indifference that he always wore, the pain and sorrow he fought so hard to keep buried. His gaze fell upon the larger of the two mattresses that Emori had noticed.
“That was where my parents slept,” he whispered, more to himself than to Emori. His eyes began to fill with tears as the memories he had hoped he’d finally escaped from came flooding back, as fresh and as raw as ever. His mother curled up on the left side of that old mattress, his father beside her, whispering to each other in the dark when they thought he was asleep and the times that he had awoken in the middle of the night to discover them swaying gently in each other’s arms to the strains of his father’s favorite song, completely unaware that he was watching them.
“I was living a lonely life until I fell for you, I was living a lost boy’s life, it was all I ever knew.”
His mother’s soft voice telling him made up stories about Earth on nights when the relentless hum of machinery refused to let him sleep. His father’s tear stained cheeks as he hugged his only son goodbye on the morning he was floated, his mother collapsing in a heap on the floor as she watched her husband walk out of the apartment for the last time, her sobs echoing off the metal walls until she finally fell silent. The nights she would spend slumped at the kitchen table, a bottle in her hand, quietly crying or worse still, when she would get drunk enough to start screaming at him, the back of her hand cracking him across the face if he dared to open his mouth. The evening he had returned home from work, relieved to find the apartment quiet and peaceful for a change and the sour smell that had assaulted his nostrils the moment he’d pushed open the door, seeing, not for the first time, his mother’s body lying prone on the floor in a pool of her own vomit. How he had walked over to kneel beside her, gently shaking her by the should in an attempt to wake her, but how she had remained limp and cold in her arms, no matter how many times he had screamed her name and the seemingly endless hours that had followed, lying beside her, not knowing what else to do. He sank to his knees as the weight of his guilt and shame finally became too much for him to bear, silent, uncontrollable tears rolling down his cheeks. Emori immediately moved to kneel before him, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding him tightly, while Murphy let his own arms slip around her waist as he buried his face in her shoulder. He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, clinging to each other, as though they could somehow hug away the past. Eventually, he lifted his face, releasing his hold on Emori as he looked around the spartan dwelling once more.
“This was my home,” he murmured, his voice trembling. “But it’s gone now.”
“Hey,” said Emori softly, cupping his cheek with her left hand and forcing him to meet her eyes. “Your home is with me.”
Murphy took hold of Emori’s hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it gently, reverently, as he stared at her, the woman he loved more than anyone else, on the Ark or on the ground, the woman who had saved his life in more ways than one, the strongest person he had ever known. His old life was long gone, but maybe, just maybe, they could build a new one together. He might never be free of the pain and suffering of his past, but he felt certain that as long as he had Emori, the one truly good and pure thing that had ever been his, he could face whatever the future had in store for him in this shithole. For the first time in a long while, perhaps for the first time in all his seventeen years, he felt truly at peace. Smiling, he took Emori in his arms once more, pulling her against his chest and stroking her hair gently as he rested his cheek against the top of her head.
“Welcome home,” he murmured softly.