2238-01-25 - Lovely, Dark And Deep

<i> The woods are lovely, dark and deep<br> But I have promises to keep<br> And miles to go before I sleep<br> </i> -Frost

Date: 2238-01-25

Location: Woods Of Picon

Related Scenes: 2238-01-21 - Escaping Axios 2238-01-28 - Darkest Before The Dawn

Plot: Operation: Bullhorn

Scene Number: 1631

Jump to End

Today is the second day since they escaped the facility. It's been rough going, between the cold weather and Gage's brutal, demanding schedule: short breaks, mostly throughout the day, and a slightly longer break at night -- though up pre-dawn again to move. He's barely slept, intent on keeping watch throughout the chilly nights, and though he assigns Ines for a watch cycle, more often than not he just lets her sleep through it. Though he's tended to their respective wounds, their pace is slow in deference to it, the slowness clearly frustrating the taciturn marine.

Speaking of the taciturn marine, he's barely said a word since they've left, resorting to grunts and the occasional growl to move or to rest.

The daylight is starting to fade, but he has them moving still, heading roughly in a straight line.

-

Ines is in rough shape.

Not as rough as she could be. The vest probably kept her from being split in half by debris in the woods, though it cost them the loss of the painkillers in that pocket. Her left arm was mercifully not broken after all, but her elbow was dislocated and setting it to rights was not enjoyable, particularly when most of the outside of her arm had been torn up into the bargain. The first twelve hours were something of a waiting game, health-wise: no way to tell if her lungs had been impacted by successive blast waves, an injury about which not much can be done. Bruised ribs, a swollen-to-the-point-of-reluctant-to-bend leg, her ears ringing (and she's lucky they weren't just blown out entirely)...

She's just in rough shape. Everything hurts.

Nothing hurts quite as much as the fact that it was her fault they wound up in that situation in the first place...or this situation in totality, for that matter. She hasn't figured out how to broach that, and Gage is a wall of silence, so she soldiers along quietly in his wake as best she can. Anti-inflammatories have made her leg pliable again for walking, but she's got the pinched look of someone days into a state of chronic pain, which makes it easier for her to play off the oppressive yoke of guilt she's laboring beneath.

-

Gage, for his part, remains completely oblivious to Ines' guilt. Undoubtedly, he makes the logical assumption -- that she's tired, and injured, and struggling, and given he doesn't seem inclined to pry at the best of times, he's definitely not for doing so now. Now and then, as they move, he casts her a glance -- a familiar one, checking how she's going -- how long until they need to stop.

He carries the rifle slung over his shoulder, fingers never far from it, just an absent habit of training. At their first stop, he redistributed the remaining bullets out of what was left, and the half-a-magazine he collected from the cylon. He distributed it evenly between the two rifles, and made a strap for hers out of what spare material they have. Not that they have much. The first night, they probably wished to go back from the blankets on the fence, despite what that would risk.

The Tauran stops, abruptly, his head cocked for a moment. He doesn't seem alarmed -- rather, a hint of cautious optimism. "Do you hear that?"

It's very, very faint. But it sounds like water, bubbling gently over rocks. A stream, maybe.

-

Lost in whatever thoughts preoccupy her internal world as they go, that sudden stop snaps her attention up and out before she even takes the time to gauge his expression, expecting trouble. Tired now and considerably more out of her element in the woods than she was in the city in spite of the decreased risk of running into Cylons, she's been jumpy, startling at cracking branches or sounds of movement in underbrush, particularly whenever they stop.

In answer to his question she stands a moment in silence, listening, and then slowly shakes her head to the negative. "What is it?"

-

Gage's firm, "Water," is in contrast to his nearly inaudible mutter that follows, 'I hope.' Despite this he retains his caution -- they're deep in enemy territory still. Granted, cylons don't need water. But they know that humans do.

He lifts a finger to his lips and gestures for her to stay close as he eases forward slowly, moving from tree to tree. It's a slow pace, but this pace doesn't seem to frustrate the Tauron, at least. As they move closer, the sound of water is louder, and he crouch-stops at a tree.

Around them, quiet. The river burbles gently to itself, unbothered by anything. The water itself looks relatively deep -- and fast moving, towards the center, but nothing that couldn't be forged, if needed. Nothing moves on the banks, though there's the sounds of birds low in the distance.

After an eternity, Gage moves -- out into the open. Just stands there, near the riverbank, his rifle at the ready, listening. Nothing. He glances back towards Ines, and for the first time in a couple of days, actually frakking grins.

There's a mountain of barely refrained relief in that simple gesture -- a torrent of worry about their supplies and their potential survival that filled up his own thoughts in much the same way Ines was consumed by her guilt -- washed away by the find.

-

The river?

There's the smallest leavening of the heaviness of her expression at the thought, something that helps to slough away the exhaustion in pale eyes. Sliding her thumbs beneath the straps of her backpack, she closes the gap between them until he crouches by a tree. Crouching is not impossible for her, but it is at this point an 'emergencies only, guaranteed to piss her leg off' maneuver, so she dips her shoulder into the side of a tree bole adjacent and puts both of her hands on the rifle she's beginning to grow accustomed to the weight of, even if it's more weight to bear.

The tension as he stands in the open is thick enough that she could choke on it. And she's still genre-savvy to the point of remaining leery even after he turns to grin at her, because if movies have taught her anything it's that this is the moment when something pops out of a bush somewhere and shoots him in the back and-

...but it doesn't happen. The bunch of her shoulders slowly lets go, and she shoves off of the one to get back onto her feet. As is always the case, while he's looking at her she's taking pains not to limp. "Good. It's good." And then, with some small regret: "Too cold to wash, I think."

-

"Maybe," he allows. If he sounds disappointed by that, well -- he's all too aware that he's been in the same clothes for over a week now. "I'd risk a fire if we had some meat. Going to have to make something to hunt with, sooner or later," is presumably added to his list of things to worry about, because he's frowning. It doesn't last long, though -- as he shifts his rifle to his back, bending to the water to take a deep, long draught.

The water's cold. Shockingly so -- notable in the way his body tenses up for a moment. But, more prepared the second time, Gage cups water and begins splashing it over his face and neck, the closest thing to a quick wash that he can manage, before he refills direly low bottles from within his pack, methodically.

As he does so, he glances around. "We can set up around that cluster of trees over there," he points -- where a small group of rocks edges a group of trees. "Ought to take a look at that arm of yours, too."

He's talking more, so that's probably a good sign. A sign of something, anyway. Hope, maybe.

-

She's cautious as she descends toward the bank and she has to shed her backpack for stability -- she keeps the rifle -- but she does edge up to the water and sink carefully down onto her knees. Water is worth agitating her leg for. And her ribs. ...Everything, really.

Without much of a survivalist's background she manages to drink too much, too fast, as evidenced by her sitting back with a hand on her stomach and a wince, waiting for a mild cramp to pass. She's trying to wash grime off of her hands with cold-stiffened fingers when he starts laying out their next moves, and she tracks his gesture, then angles her eyes up and down the river. Rising, she winds up having to put her hands down on the ground again anyway -- so much for clean hands. At least there's no dried blood on them anymore.

Her opposite hand crosses her chest to touch the line of her wounded arm. "It feels okay." She turns to look at the copse, then leans to retrieve her bag. She's still not quite looking at him without good reason, but she does try on a question: "You can make something to hunt with?"

-

He doesn't comment on her overdrinking of water, just glances at her. Not even a joking, assish comment.

Gage gives the briefest of shrugs. "Got a knife. Aint hard to whittle a stick to a point. Aint too sure how well it'll work, but we can't risk using bullets." For when, not if they run into more cylons -- at least, that seems to be the thought on his mind, judging by the brief narrowing of eyes and hardening of gaze. He's glancing in her direction when he does it, inadvertently.

Shouldering his own pack -- now with full water bottles -- he bends as if to clasp her bag before she can reach it. A helpful, nice gesture, and so unlike Gage.

-

Somehow, that just makes her feel worse.

Her mouth opens, then closes, and brows knit just a little. "Uh...thanks." Both straps go over her shoulders. She's making a good effort of looking as though she's keeping her eyes up and her attention on the possibility that they could be surprised by someone or something, but she isn't actually for those first few seconds seeing much of any of it at all.

"I don't know how to hunt," she admits as she turns for that little knot of trees, groping for some thread of conversation to hang onto like a goddamn lifeline. "But I'm pretty sure I couldn't do anything with a sharp stick but make something angry." Pause. "I would kill for a fire, though. I don't know if I remember what warm feels like anymore."

-

"Did a little bit of it, back on Tauron. Always thought I'd teach my kid someday." Though his tone is light, he takes a deep breath, as if biting down on anything else that might come up. "Hunted with rifles though, so aint gonna be any more an expert than you. Gotta try, though."

His hands, reflexively, reposition his rifle close to hand as they walk, gaze flickering this way and that. The knuckles of his other hand rub over his chin -- over the hair there that's been gradually getting messier and messier as it grows into a real beard. His dark gaze rests on her as he does so, assessing her in that way he does, not just her physical injuries, but those moments of silence, of her brow furrowing. He surveys the campsite -- such that it is -- as they reach it, unshouldering his pack. "It might be sheltered enough. Got maybe an hour until full dark, we'd have to put it out before then."

Is it a risk? Sure. But like everything else, it seems to be a calculated one, weighted up against other, unspoken elements.

-

She's so tired.

She'd usually play that off, or try, but it's so unexpected that she doesn't catch herself, turning her head to look at the typically-surly marine as he drops that little personal detail oh-so-casually.

Why...? Why is he doing this?

She stares for a helpless moment, then shakes her head as though it might help the two or three brain cells she feels she has left link up in the hollow of her skull. "Right," she says. "Gotta."

An educated eye can find traces of strain in her regardless of her efforts to seem fine, but she's still better today than she was two days ago; that first day after the fence it had been an uncertain thing as to whether or not she'd be able to move on her own. Her ribs must hurt a little less, because she doesn't set her jaw as she lowers her backpack to the ground. Besides, he's offering her plenty of distractions, like: the possibility of a fire. She looks even more hopeful about that than she did the water. "They...won't see the smoke?"

...All of her wilderness knowledge comes from popular media.

All of it.

-

If Gage is aware of her staring -- let's face it, he probably is -- he's playing the same game she is. Just kind of shaking it off, letting the moment pass by unacknowledged, as is his way.

"Might," he acknowledges. "But if we keep it small, the smoke will be small, dissipate before it gets high enough for anyone to spot. As long as we don't set the woods on fire," again, "We ought to be fine."

He glances around again, frowning briefly. "Will you be good while I collect some firewood?" Apparently he's giving her the benefit of the doubt, since before she has much of a chance to answer he's moving away, adding, "Check the medical kit in my backpack, if you need anything."

It's a kindly sort of offer, one might think. Of course, if she takes it up, it will make apparent something he's probably trying not to say but wants to convey -- there's barely a handful of rations left in his kit. No bandages, no painkillers.

-

On another day in another place, Ines would have taken 'will you be good' in wholly another wry direction, with one of those sly lid-eyed remarks of hers. The thought passes tiredly through her head and then right out again.

The look on her face when he proposes heading off to get firewood is tense, but probably not for the reasons he might expect. Or, who knows? Maybe at this point he would. She nods a tight little nod, turns her head to look at his pack, and by the time she looks up again he's already on his way out. She watches him some long moments of silence, then finally turns to have a look in the medical kit. The lack of painkillers is something she mourns for personal reasons, but the lack of bandages worries her most.

The rest of the news is equally depressing.

She puts everything back where it was and finds a place to sit with her back to a tree, the knee of her good leg bent, rifle propped in her lap. The quiet, unbroken by anything but the sound of wind in leaves, water on stone, and birdsong, is almost peaceful. She ought to enjoy it, but it leaves her looking uncertain, and more than once she glances off in the direction he went while she waits.

-

The sound of his retreat quickly disappears beneath the babbling of the water and the noises of a forest settling into night time. It's peaceful, but also disturbing, if one isn't used to the woods -- scurrying and other noises, signs of animals, though they keep far away from the makeshift campsite.

Gage isn't gone that long, but it might feel like longer than it is. He's carrying twigs and branches under his arm, a small stack that'll burn quick. He glances at her, briefly, as he crouches to set it all down, then begins to carefully stack them.

-

As ways to die in a war go, 'in the cold in the woods' isn't by any stretch of the imagination the most terrible. It barely makes the list as a negative at all, probably. She ought to look reassured, but for the most part Ines looks like a welter of anxieties just underneath a deliberately impassive exterior, brows perpetually set in that mild knit.

Given how long he's been doing what he does, he can probably feel her staring at him while he's working on the fire.

"Where are we going after we leave the river?"

-

His grunt is the first acknowledgement that he knows she's looking at him. Or, perhaps more accurately, it's a inquiry, while he keeps stacking the twigs and branches to his liking. When she finally speaks, Gage glances over at her. "Aint leaving the river, not for now."

He reaches, reflexively, to his chest -- but she's wearing his vest. He gestures towards it, towards her. "Bottom left pocket, ought to be a lighter there."

He rests back on his haunches while he waits, exhaling out a breath. "We need to be light enough to keep moving. Distance is important for now, and we can't carry enough water to head deeper into the forest. I figure another day, two, we should be good." He rubs knuckles over his scruffy beard again, thoughtfully, and he picks up one of the smaller sticks. He starts drawing in the dirt. A box, a squiggly line, and much further away, a circle.

-

By the time she's found the lighter he's etching something into the earth that she can't quite see from where she is, so rather than toss it to him she uses her still uninjured limbs to scoot along the ground a handful of feet so that she can look at it, holding the lighter out once she's situated.

"Two days of rest?"

Even her expression reflects the conflict of that. The overwhelming, bone-crushing desire for rest, up against the obvious scarcity of virtually everything other than water needed for survival.

Doing that, or rather realizing that she's doing that and what it means, is what finally turns the hairline fissure in her mood -- put there by Gage being improbably kind -- into a crack. She lifts her hand to cup it over her eyes and crown, and ducks her head.

"I'm sorry, Tomak."

She sounds hoarse.

Like she's about to get emotional.

-

He takes the lighter from her with a nod of thanks, and bends close to the leaves he's stuffed at the bottom of the pile of wood, shielding it with his hands after he lights it, leaning in to blow gently. The smell of smoke is sharp, quickly consuming the leaves, and starting to burn the twigs and larger branches.

It flickers into life, throwing light-and-shadow across them, across the drawing he's crudely managed in the dirt. It also serves to highlight his complete, and genuinely baffled surprise at her words, straightening. Dark brown eyes glitter in the firelight as he processes that. Trying to catalog what she's done or might have done in the moments while he was gone gathering firewood. He's certainly not thinking of anything less immediate than that.

His, "For what?" is genuine, frowning at her.

-

"Because it's my fault." Ines isn't usually willing to give things like this purchase on her, but two days of dwelling in silence have had their eroding effect on her typical iron-clad composure. What surfaces in her choked tone of voice is something very like shame.

"We had to run because I fell. You could have been killed, making me wear this vest, and- it's not just that, it's all my fault. Because I heard they were going out to look for marines, and I wanted- I told them I wanted to go. But I should have just- I should have let a better pilot go instead. If I hadn't, if I had seen the rocket sooner or- if I had been able to get away from it, then you wouldn't even be here, you'd be- we'd be back at base, already."

It would be easy in the dim to overlook the tears if her face weren't so dirty, maybe. She wipes at her cheeks aggressively and turns her head away, incensed, but days of strain have left her with less control over her body's whims than usual. "I still wish you'd gotten on the raptor, Tomak. I'd probably be dead five times over, but at least it would just be me."

-

A low breath exhales from Gage, maybe the first hint of a laugh that's quickly quelled. Instead, he settles for a snort. "Bullshit," he says, sharply. "You didn't plan the marine mission. You didn't set up a trap. You didn't cut the marines off in enemy territory. You didn't fire off the rocket that shot you down." He reaches down for a stray leaf, tossing it into the small fire, where it ignites instantly. "Aint no pilot was going to avoid that, that close."

"Instead, you volunteered to go into enemy territory, knowing it'd be dangerous. Gotta say, that takes balls, and aint a single marine who'd look down on a pilot willing to risk his or her life to pull us out of the fire." He rubs at his chin, again. "You lot definitely saved Maison's life. Kid was going to die, no doubt."

The Tauron goes silent, at that last. He's watching the flames, not her, giving her the illusion of momentary privacy, maybe. "You saying I only saved your life five times? Pretty sure it's six," he says, in mild correction, with a twitch of lips, and a half-shrug -- familiar humor, at least. "Aint sorry for it, none. Had the same choice, I'd do it again."

Because it's him. Maybe also because it's her.

-

Having broken the dam of her reticence to talk about all of failings she's been lashing herself for in silence, she lapses again into quiet while he argues against all of those points. It's difficult to say whether or not any of that sways her. It doesn't seem to leave her looking relieved or somehow absolved and the consequences for these things are as high-stakes as personal consequences ever get, so there's no laugh -- not even a smirk -- for his attempt at the usual one-upmanship humor. She isn't quick to say anything after that, though. The fire pops as pockets of sap catch and ignite.

What she eventually says feels more vulnerable to her than anything she's said about her regrets, and she wouldn't be able to point to the reason why if she were asked -- particularly since it's not the sort of thing he can promise her one way or another, now or ever, really. It has a naked sound anyway -- like she barely manages to get it out at all, for fear or something else entirely. "Please don't die out here."

-

He's silent, while she processes, occasionally poking the edges of the fire to keep it small. It's a distraction more than anything. Her words draw his gaze, steady and sure, filled with his familiar self-confidence. "Aint planning to."

Dirty, and exhausted, and bloody, and injured, yet Gage Tomak still sounds so Gods-damned sure.

The stick he was poking the fire with is withdrawn, and he gestures towards his crude drawing, seeking to divert her attention there. "The facility, the river, the base," he taps each -- the square, the squiggle, and the circle -- in turn with the stick. "If your squadron were to mount another rescue, or be running sweeps over the area, how would they approach? What line would they take in -- and out? Directly in...?" he moves the stick from the circle up towards the facility in a straight line, "Or a non direct approach?" he circles it around this time, from the east, by passing the facility and sweeping back and forward slowly back towards the base, before looking up at her for her input.

It's a distraction, sure. But it's a distraction in service of that promise not to die.

-

It is Ines' moment of weakness, and she's never looked less sure about anything. Guilt has a suffocating weight. To say she's 'unburdened' now that she's confessed would be taking things too far, but having said all there is to say about it she leaves it be. Whether she can escape the ouroboros of it in her own thoughts is entirely another matter.

She's willing -- once she's angrily wiped her face, leaving damning patches of clean skin behind in the rest -- to look at the crude map he's drawn, though she must know the exercise for what it is.

The pause that follows his question, as bright eyes linger over the lines grooved into the soft dirt, has more to do with her internal housekeeping than not knowing the answer: taking all of those wounded things and cramming them back behind whatever vault door usually holds them at bay.

"Ah...it depends. But they expect us not to be where we were when I crashed, maybe just looking for obvious signs, so I think this way." She sniffs, imitating his second trajectory with one hand, loosely. "We saw nothing else in the facility the last flight...just you. If the other missing marines are still alive, probably they're doing what we're doing, non?"

-

"So, low search patterns?" Gage glances at her for confirmation. "The problem will be -- if they happen to pass near," he sets a stone alongside the river, presumably roughly marking their location, then passing the stick along the trajectory she suggests, "How we can get their attention in time. Aint got no more flare gun," he says, with a grimace, "And a fire takes time to start up."

If the other marines are still alive. The words, instinctively, make him tense, jaw clenching. "They're alive," he growls sharply. It takes him a moment, a moment of breath and looking away from the fire, for the tension to begin to visibly drain from the lines of his body.

She's not the only one that teeters on a thin razor's edge of emotional control, right now.

-

Ines is mulling over their options for creating a swift means to get the attention of overhead search parties when she realizes she's just put her foot in her mouth. Grey-green eyes widen slightly as they lift to trace his profile, then angle away and down beneath slanted brows. Her head bows and the hand of her uninjured arm lifts to cup over the nape of her neck. Her voice is quiet. "Right. ...Sorry."

One swallow later she's still staring blankly at the map, all of which suddenly seems reduced to meaningless lines and squiggles. The guilt floods back in on irrational wings of exhaustion.

"Maybe I'll be more useful after we take turns resting. I'm not- I'm not thinking clearly."

-

After a sharp exhale of breath, Gage nods. It seems to be acceptance of her apology... or at least he's not inclined to linger on it. "Yeah." His hand drops, and with a sweep, destroys the map, such that it is. "You should sleep, while the fire's still burning." He pushes to his feet, pacing away to one of the rocks. It puts him in shadow, and he settles down, facing outward, so the fire won't harm his night vision, resting his rifle on his knees.

"I'll wake you, when it's your turn." But again, he probably won't.

-

Having a wounded limb on either side of her body is just insult to injury for Ines, who most definitely sleeps on her side. She spends some time setting her backpack up near the fire and gingerly rolls onto the hip of her wounded leg, easier by far than the alternative. Head on the folded wing of her good arm, pale eyes that reflect firelight linger on the silhouette of the marine on the rock. She's looking at him the way she might look at a puzzle that needed solving, on which something significant somehow depended. Worried and intent. It's a look that eventually capsizes into something else more difficult to put a name to, and when it does she buckles her brows and closes her eyes and turns her face into the crook of her arm, bleeding tension until the moment -- it isn't long in coming, no matter how certain she is that it won't -- that sleep creeps up on her, and thieves her away from those busy thoughts.


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