2238-01-28 - Darkest Before The Dawn

Gage and Ines meet a hunter in the woods. <br><br><i>We never see other people anyway, only the monsters we make of them.</i> -- Colson Whitehead, <i>Zone One</i>

Date: 2238-01-28

Location: Woods Of Picon

Related Scenes: 2238-01-25 - Lovely, Dark And Deep 2238-01-30 - Coming In From The Cold

Plot: Operation: Bullhorn

Scene Number: 1634

Jump to End

It's been both an exhausting, and fruitless couple of days. Despite sticking close to the river -- which at least provides them with water -- their hunting to date has been at best abysmal. Gage's whittled sticks, though suitable enough to pierce skin -- still rely on lighting-quick reflexes to try and catch the small, fast creatures that dare stick their heads up in this cold weather.

The sun is setting again, and Gage trudges along. There's no bones about it, and no hiding it now -- he looks exhausted, barely having slept. On the plus side, his leg seems to be a lot better, not even a sign of a limp. Still, exhaustion makes for other mistakes -- like stepping on branches that crack loudly, frowningly and abruptly having to correct his direction, and the like.

On the up(?) side, it means he talks less.

-

It's as though all of the vitality in him that's waning has wound up in Ines, instead -- and that's more or less how it happened in truth. All of his sacrificed rest, letting her sleep through both periods of watch more often than not, has gone directly into her body's unsupplied but feverish desire to heal itself. A week in, the continents of black bruising down the front of her torso are turning mottled shades of brown and yellow, and the stitched-closed hole in her leg is knitting together. Her hearing is gradually improving again. Her elbow doesn't feel quite so weak anymore. Only the external damage to her arm seems potentially problematic, but it's difficult to say -- she doesn't complain about it, but she won't let him near it. It stays bandaged and seems functional.

For the last thirty-six hours she's tailed him more closely than she used to. At this point she's basically at his shoulder. Whether that's owed to her improved mobility or concern for his wellbeing isn't clear. Both, probably. Now, watching his gait start to suffer for the umpteenth time today, her footsteps suddenly stop.

"Tomak...you need some sleep. You should let me sit watch." She says it as gently as she can, but there are threads of worry in it in spite of her efforts.

-

For his part, the Tauran doesn't look at her -- doesn't even seem to notice she's stopped, still trudging along, mind fixed on other things -- like probably their distinct lack of food and growing hunger. "Soon," Gage grunts, in a way that could probably be correctly interpreted as 'never'. "Need somewhere good to settle in for the night."

From nowhere, there's a twang somewhere off to the left of them on the woods side, and a whooshing sound -- past, near at them -- who can say? Certainly, Gage reacts like it's the latter, dropping to the ground, starting to reach for Ines to pull her down with him when he realizes -- belatedly -- she's stopped further back.

From the darkness to the left of them, a low chuckle sounds.

At least it's not a cylon?

"Now, what're city folk like you doing way out here?" comes an older-sounding male voice, his figure barely visible until he begins to step out from behind a tree. His clothes are rustic, mostly furs that look to have been hand sewn and cured, a thick hat -- also of fur -- and boots. He looks very warm, and very at home in the woods, due in large part to the bow and arrow he keeps -- the latter casually nocked.

-

Exasperated: "News flash, Tomak: we're in the woods, next to a river. We've been in the woods next to a river for days. Ten minutes ago, we were in the woods next to a river. Ten minutes from now we'll be-"

fwip

She drops, hugging into the ground in spite of the way the impact reminds her that she's a long way from recovered. There's a silence, and then...

...a chuckle.

A human being.

It ought to be a relief. A sign of humanity, alive and well, where to date they've seen nothing but machines and trees. On their last legs, it ought to arrive as a moment of blessed salvation -- but everything in Ines curdles the moment she hears it. She plants a hand on the ground and rises as though she isn't injured at all, everything in her body screaming about that indelicacy.

From somewhere in the growing darkness behind Tomak floats what must be her voice, but it doesn't sound anything like the Ines he knows. Cold. Suspicious. Angry, almost. "Hiking."

-

Gage pushes up to one knee, his hand firmly and unmistakably touching his rifle. It's no less aggressive, in its way, than Ines' response to the interloper. The Tauran might be surprised at the pilot's tone, but he doesn't look her way, instead keeping an eye on the older man, rising slowly -- and with some visible effort on his part -- to his feet. Seems he's going to leave the talking to Ines, what else is new?

Scratching at his scruffy, long beard, the furred hunter eyes Tomak warily, before he grins at the response from Ines. "Oh yeah?" His gaze flickers in her direction, but shrugs. "Weird place to be hiking, what with the robots and all. Not that they come around here." He moves towards, then past them, flicking on a little light at his belt. It sheds an amber glow over a deer lying on its side, his arrow sticking out the side of its head.

In the near-full-dark, from that distance... it's an amazing shot. But then, it looks like he's had lots of practice.

-

In the dark her eyes are beacons, and nothing in them is friendly at all. Her features are designed for softness, lush in almost every way, but they manage a blade-edged hardness that she would find difficult to credit herself as capable of.

She tracks this confident figure as he passes them, nothing but her eyes moving until the moment that little light puddles over the dead deer. The scale of the conflict emergent between two poles of feeling upon seeing that is so intense that it makes it difficult for her to breathe.

She glances at Gage's outline, then, and back at the man in the furs, unable to leave the latter unwatched for long. Her head is full of noise. All of her instincts are compromised by her history.

"And why's that." It isn't inflected like a question, and only part of the reason for that is that she suspects they all know the answer, clear as an arrow's shaft quilled into the side of a deer's skull. It means nothing: it's buying her time.

-

"Nothing for 'em," the hunter says with a shrug and a brief smirk, moments before he yanks the arrow free from the deer. He inspects the head of the arrow, clucking his tongue before tucking it in with the others, then reaches down to loop a rope around the deer's head, expertly yanking it tight. He starts to tie it to his belt with the obvious intent of dragging it, then glances up, with a sudden smile, like a thought's just occurred to him. It's less friendly and more creepy, but then maybe that's just because they've been so long without any other human contact. "You seem like a strong young man," he gestures to Gage. "Tell you what, you carry this back for me, I'll cook you and your girl up a meal, eh?"

Unlike Ines, Gage doesn't look away from the man. His fingers are still on his rifle, but he hasn't got it aimed up at least, so that's something. Time stretches, while he considers the offer, and then he slings the rifle back, moving forward. "Deal."

However off-putting this man is, he's offering a meal, and they're starving. Gage isn't a complicated guy.

-

It might be fine.

It might not be.

It's just one guy.

It might not be. And even if it is? We're not in great shape. You saw the shot he took, Ines. What are you going to do, run from somebody who can shoot like that? You'd just die tired.

They are starving, and Gage is looking weaker all the time. The inside of her head is full of violent memories -- the things that wake her up in the middle of the night, even on the Dauntless, slicked over with sweat. Things that happened to her. Things she had to do.

She narrows her eyes at the hunter as though this might help her to shear away her own biases and see the situation clearly: is he a threat? All of her hackles are up, but she's been dreading a moment like this since the moment she crashed, so- is she seeing faces in the static? Is she being irrational? She solicits her internal compass and finds it too rusted over with exhaustion, pain and hunger. More like a magic 8-ball: REPLY HAZY TRY AGAIN.

And then Gage makes his decision. Even then she's sure she could object if she wanted to, but it places a gentle finger on the side of her inner scales that suggests she's being overly paranoid, and shifts the balance.

She says nothing, but she moves along slowly behind both of them, hands on that rifle, trying not to remember.

-

With a grunt that is as much exertion as it is an expression of his exhaustion, Gage lefts the deer up over one shoulder, steadying it. However paranoid Ines might be, she might well notice that, for all Gage appears to be following along, instinct still makes him carry the deer over his left shoulder, leaving his right -- nearer his rifle -- free.

The hunter grins -- at Tomak, at Correa. It's meant to be reassuring, but he might be out of practice. Once he's sure that they're following, he leads the way. Like Gage, he appears to be a man of few words -- that or he's just not used to making small talk.

His path takes them away from the river, deeper into the woods. He twists back and forth between trees, not seeming to follow a set path, or a specific straight line. For those not familiar with the woods, it's immediately disconcerting and disorientating. After about ten minutes, out of nowhere, a small cabin is visible, only by the barest glimmer of its windows from the dim interior.

The hunter steps inside, and suddenly the light is brighter, spilling out like something more welcoming. Gage, meanwhile, crouches to set the deer on the creaking, old porch -- such that it is. It's more like a couple of flat wooden boards laid on the ground. The Tauran glances at the pilot, with a mute lift of brow, like he sees something off in Ines' expression.

-

If it were mid-afternoon Ines would be able to keep track of the direction in which they're moving. She's getting used to figuring out their trajectory based on the sun. Without sunlight angled through the trees, and with a canopy overhead that cuts out the starlight, it's not long before she's completely turned around, a sensation that doesn't ease any of the tension braided tight as steel cables through her weary shoulders.

The silence suits her just fine, though within it she's left to stew in her own uncertain thoughts. While they walk her eyes return again and again to the shape of the marine in front of her. Noticing how he's carrying the deer? Checking to see whether or not the burden is draining him of whatever strength he has left? Convincing herself, perhaps, that what they're doing is the most sensible thing, because the man in front of her has made a ruin of himself to give her a fighting chance?

Everything in her eyes and expression is complicated when he sets the carcass down and looks up at her. Complicated and wound as tight as a clockspring. She meets dark eyes with fairer, slants them toward the open door, then returns them -- but she fails to articulate any of those complicated thoughts. Maybe she expects he can guess the rough outlines of her worries. Maybe she thinks there's no point now that they're in it, or worries about being heard, or --

Who knows? But the line of her throat ticks swiftly away with the rapidity of a heart beating far more quickly than that walk calls for, even diminished as they are. For him, she scrapes together something like a smile. It's meant to be reassuring, but she's out of practice, too.

-

And so is Gage. He stares back at her, brow furrowed, clearly not comprehending the complexity of Ines' response. That doesn't mean he can't guess -- even if that guess is wrong -- reaching out to squeeze her arm in light reassurance. His voice, when he speaks, is rough with that disuse: "We won't stay long," he assures her. "Need to keep moving."

And the hunter? Well, he's standing there, all silent and unnoticed, in the doorway, grinning at them like he sees something in the gesture. Does he hear the muttered words? Hard to say. "Got a tub in the back, behind the screen," he thumbs a gesture over his shoulder, grinning at Ines again. "If you want to scrub up. Your man and I can get to the butchering." Oh, yeah. He's got one of those big hatchets in his hand, held carefully by his leg.

-

Something about that anvil-hard expression softens just a little when he squeezes her arm. Wrong guess or not, the assurance he offers doesn't miss its mark; after a silent beat Ines nods a little and reaches with her other hand. She might have capped his with it as she offered him something else -- her mouth opens -- but then the cabin's owner makes himself known again and what little tension Gage managed to ease in her returns with interest. Paranoia fixates on the axe held low at his side. The rest of her fixates on-

A tub.

A tub. A wash.

She's absolutely sure the soft cramp of desire in her expression is visible at even the thought.

She does eventually manage to shake her head, but the movement barely exists. "No...no thank you." When she swallows, every movement of everything in her throat is visible, light and shadow on dirty skin. "I can help."

She can't, actually. She has no idea how to dress a deer. But clearly, there is no way in hell she's letting Tomak out of her sight.

-

Maybe even Gage can see that need in her expression -- that, or he's just flat out aware how much she, they smell. He looks faintly surprised at her refusal, and the furrow of brow suggests he has no idea why she'd possibly refuse. "We'll be fine, Correa."

Whether she takes up the opportunity or not, the hunter's grinning still -- fairly a fixture of his expression. He hefts a slightly smaller hatchet in his other hand, offering it to Gage, the Tauran nodding mutely in thanks as he takes it. "Haven't got another, sorry," he says to Ines, with another grin. "Maybe you can put on some tea."

-

It's not a big cabin. If he needs her out there, she'll just be right inside...right? And she has her rifle. He has his rifle. What are the odds this guy is a hand-to-hand expert in addition to being a wilderness kook?

What if he has more than just a hatchet in those furs, Ines? What if-

The knit-browed, puzzled look and assurance from Gage leave her looking somewhat at a loss.

What if I'm just losing my mind?

It's a long, long moment before she speaks again, and when she does it's the man in the furs, with a voice gone scratchy and threadbare: "Tea." Pause. "Where is it."

-

The hunter lifts his hatchet above his head, using the momentum of the gesture to bring it down firmly on the deer's neck, almost cleanly severing the head in one hit. Pulling it free, the blade already dripping, he glances to Ines. "Inside, just next to the stove," the hunter says, with another of those grins.

It's contrasted by Gage's thud, somewhat less loud, of his smaller hatchet burying into the haunch of the deer. He doesn't seem inclined to chit-chat, just getting to work. The sooner they get the meat, the sooner they'll eat.

Something in Ines' voice makes the Tauran glance at her again, but whatever he means to convey -- or doesn't -- in that glance isn't obvious.

-

Ines isn't historically squeamish, but she still turns her face away as the axe so neatly parts the deer's head from its neck -- it's something her already overcharged imagination doesn't need to dwell on. It means she misses the second glance that Gage gives her entirely, turning away from both of them to step through the open door.

-

The inside of the cabin is best termed as 'rustic'. It's clearly been built by hand, over time -- some of the logs in the wall don't quite line up, the floorboards creak underneath, and it smells vaguely of dust and mold. One thing it does have going for it, though, is the warmth, particularly by contrast to the outside. The stove is metal, wood burning there and throwing off a gloriously welcome heat. As promised, on a bench not far from the stove is a kettle, and further away, a bucket of what appears to be clean water.

She can hear it outside -- thud, thud -- the twin thwacks of hatchets, somewhat offset by the relative sizes of their swings, sometimes in sync, but mostly not. At any other time, it might be a homely sort of moment -- preparing for dinner.

-

The world fails to erupt into instantaneous violence. No shadow crouching in the corner just inside the door pounces on her in execution of some well-laid trap (nevermind how impossible it would be to plan something like that on a chance meeting in the woods). No sudden, masculine screams from outside. A tingle of something like guilt or embarrassment attempts to gain traction on her. Here's this crazy old guy in the woods offering to help you get back on your feet even though you've been one-hundred percent hostile. Even though you and Gage must look bad, and smell worse. Even though you lied, and have rifles.

A few half-numbed steps toward the stove later and her limbs are waking up in the heat, beginning to prickle and cramp as circulation restricted for a week by the cold floods her outer extremities with blood.

Making the tea with her backpack on and rifle still slung over her shoulder is going to be difficult, but she intends to try. She picks up the teapot, opens it to sniff, gaze slid around the interior in search of the actual tea, half of her still keyed exclusively to the sound of two hatchets taking something apart.

-

The place definitely looks lived in. There's a pile of messy blankets that probably serves as a bed not far from the hearth, a cupboard (in which she'll find the tea, if she looks -- as well as some dried herbs, other things she might not recognize. Dried meat, too.)

Two hatchets...?

Thud.

Thud.

At some point, the second, offset thud of the hatchet into meat stopped. Ten seconds ago? Thirty? More? Hard to say.

-

Tea.

She finds it, subjects it to that same sniffing routine, and eventually adds it to the kettle, pours water from the bucket of clean water in after it, and then sets the kettle atop the little stove.

Realizes, once she's done that and she stops thinking about the pins and needles in her legs, that she's not hearing what she thinks she should be hearing.

The heaviness of the fear that crushes into her chest is irrational. She'd have heard something, right? Somebody probably went to piss in the woods, or needed to take a break, or-

But she's not thinking about any of that.

Trauma is not rational.

Hands on her rifle, she slowly advances on the open doorway. For a few disconcerting, floating moments she's not in a cabin in the woods at all, she's in a gutted husk of a building a billion light-years and another lifetime away.

-

Outside, the hunter has his back to her, still merrily striking at the deer's carcass with just as much enthusiasm as his first strike. He's even humming under his breath as he swings with great gusto, clearly enjoying the job at hand.

To one side, there are slabs of meat that have already been cut up, stacked neatly on one another.

Beyond the immediate light shed by the cabin's windows onto the porch, it's pitch black.

No sign of the Tauran marine.

-

Thud.

Still standing on the threshold, Ines stares at the back of the man swinging that hatchet with unblinking eyes that wander off of him, down to the mess that was a deer. To the meat, glistening red in the light shed by the doorway. They catch and hold there as though caught on a hook, while in her peripheral vision she can see the hatchet held up, arcing down in powerful blows.

Thud.

Thud.

and it had been hot everything black with smoke everything rubble all greased from oil fires even the concrete even the piece with the rebar so that the blood bubbled up on it rather than make a stain even when she swung it over her head again down into nothing but meat

There's not much left of her in the way she's looking at him as she half-raises the rifle.

"Where is he."

-

The humming continues, the hunter thudding his hatchet into the deer twice more -- pulling free a hunk of meat and tossing it onto the pile -- before he strains and looks at her. Again, that grin, a gleam of his eye that is probably just the light from the cabin behind her, though there's something amused about his stance now. His gaze drifts down towards her rifle, affecting surprise. "Woah! He just went to take a leak. Careful there missy, that's dangerous--"

He takes a step closer to her, reaches out as if to grab for the nozzle of the rifle to aim it away from him.

There's something casual, deliberate about the gesture, like he doesn't take her seriously.

-

Ines hadn't been aiming at him, not exactly, but the moment he gets closer and reaches for the weapon all of that changes. She takes a step backward and raises the rifle enough that she'd punch a sizable hole straight through his chest if she pulled the trigger. Some piece of her watches all of this unfolding with disbelief, but it's a very small part of her, and it feels very, very far away.

"I'm dangerous." The hard light in her eyes underlines the sentiment.

-

The hunter laughs, almost as if in some odd, twisted echo of her disbelief. While his expression remains light, amused, there's something harder that creeps into his expression when she raises the weapon against him.

"So am I," he says, with a widening of that ever-present smile.

And then he turns his back on her, hefting his hatchet again. "I'm sure he'll be back soon."

Out in the dark, a noise. A groan. Maybe she misheard. It could just as easily have been some night animal, or her imagination, or... anything.

-

It's not a normal response -- laughing like that, confronted with an obviously-wounded stranger, heavily-armed by civilian standards. But it's not a normal thing to be living in this kind of isolation, either. It could mean nothing. It could mean anything. Ines watches the laugh with eyes that don't seem to take much of that in at all.

So am I, he says, and her answer is, "I know."

She can wait there. She can wait forever. She'll kill him if Tomak doesn't come back.

Something makes a sound in the woods -- or doesn't -- and it feels like every last one of her ribs is going to break as her chest implodes.

"Tomak?!"

What she intended was to yell. She was absolutely certain she did, but the sound of her own voice is weak and strange in her ears. Her heart is racing. Her pupils are pinpricks, and some piece of her understands that if she just pulls the trigger she doesn't have to worry anymore. All of this crushing uncertainty just...goes away. They're a thousand miles from anywhere. No one would ever know.

There is just enough of her still plugged into reality to recognize that this line of thinking is crazy. It isn't going to be the majority voice for long.

-

The hunter's response is another guttural laugh, and another thwack as his hatchet bites into meat again.

It wasn't a yell, but it was a noise, a familiar voice. Another groan sounds from in the dark. It's not that far. Maybe even just on the ground in the darkness beyond the cabin, but it's hard to tell; her eyes are too adjusted to the light. "Correa...?" It's Tomak. He sounds confused. More than that, he sounds oddly groggy.

-

Maybe the man with the hatchet will hear her soft intake of breath, a small gasp. In her flashback-addled thoughts it's ample, watertight proof that something is wrong.

"You." This, to the man to whom the cabin belongs. "Drop the frakking hatchet! Now! And get on your knees!" The rifle had been raised before, but loosely. The way she's holding it now, she's a finger-twitch away from ending this man's life. It is an impression made the more severe by the change to her stance, sighting down at him with her weight shifting in a kind of restlessness that screams all of her twisting, internal agitation. Wide eyes reflect more than just the scene in front of her, full of ghosts.

"What did you do to him?" Desperation is an ugly sound in a voice never meant for that sort of thing. "I will blow your motherfrakking head off, you son of a bitch, if you laid a finger on him! ...TOMAK?"

-

The hunter is already turning when she gasps, but he certainly doesn't drop the hatchet. It's held, instead, out to one side, dripping blood onto the wooden porch as he regards her. "No hard feelings, but I think I'll hold onto this," he says, eyes hard. Clearly, he doesn't believe she'd shoot him -- not at first, anyway.

"This doesn't have to be difficult. I could turn one of you in only." His expression twists, briefly. "I need... I need one of you. Just walk away. You can take some of the meat if you want. Hell, I'll even let you take that bath," he starts laughing again, genuinely amused.

Silence again, from out in the darkness.

-

The smallest piece of Ines, remote and confused, understands what is about to happen, and feels a pang of grief. Another face to add to her nightmares. Another human being reduced to nothing but meat. That piece of her has the wherewithal to wonder what it is he's talking about, and to whom he wants to turn them in; it knows there's valuable intelligence to be had in that conversation. It knows that killing him might not be necessary; that she could disable him, possibly, and they could interrogate him. It understands that he might be in a difficult situation, himself, just trying to do the best he can to survive.

The rest of her experiences something like a relief so deep and so vast that for a moment -- just a moment, one cycle of breath only, in the span just before she pulls the trigger three times -- all of the twisting anguish in her expression evaporates entirely, smoothed out into peaceful acceptance. Her eyes even lid.

Everything in her empties out, and then she kills a man.

-

He sees it in her, maybe a half a second before she pulls the trigger. It makes the hunter's eyes widen, makes him take in a breath and move -- his fingers on the haft of his hatchet tightening as he begins to swing it around...

...far too late, though. The three rounds go through his chest, driving him back a half step, before he slumps over backwards, falling onto the remnants of the butchered deer carcass.

A thud, as the hatchet slips from nerveless fingers onto the wooden porch, and then silence falls.

-

The silence is somehow more deafening than the still-echoing sound of rifle fire. She takes three shallow breaths, steps forward enough to kick the hatchet away first, and then leans forward. Slowly. To look. Because she did this, so she has to see it.

And so she can whisper: "I told you I was dangerous."

She waits a moment to see if any kind of feeling floods into the hollow she's become. None comes.

Straightening then, she turns her head to look at the dark of the woods. Remembering, fingers that ought to be trembling and aren't reach to rip the light off of the hunter's belt and flip it on again. She leaves bloody bootprints on the boards as she steps off of the 'porch' and out into the woods proper, sweeping the beam, and it's as she begins looking that she feels something again, albeit in a muted way: fear. Not for herself, but for whatever it is she might find when she finds Gage.

"Tomak?"

-

The light splays across empty ground for a short time. And then... a weird mark, like someone dragging themselves, or being dragged. It leads, a few steps later, to a foot. A leg, crooked. A body half twisted on his side, familiar Tauran tattoos on his shoulder, neck and face covered by blood. The swelling bump on his head the cause -- head wounds always bleed worse, look worse than they are.

Except he's struggling to focus, eyes half closed, dragging himself. It's a valiant effort, if it weren't in the wrong direction. He exhales a noise, incoherent.

-

Her expression gets darker and darker as she finds traces of him, until the beam illuminates a familiar figure and so much blood.

The little sound Ines makes can't decide whether it wants to be furious or sad or terrified. She glances up and around them, a cursory check for anyone else, but if there are accomplices there are a thousand trees to hide behind. It takes her a moment to clip the light to the front of her shirt's neck, but then she's on her knees in the dirt like someone who isn't injured at all, reaching for him. For his shoulders, to touch his cheek, looking for the place he's bleeding from.

Half-whispered. "It's me, I'm here. Oh, shit. Tomak. Is it just your head? Can you walk? Come on. Come on, give me your arm, I'll help you up."

-

"Correa," he mumbles, eyes focusing past her, through her, like he doesn't see her for a moment. "Have to-- stop it--" he tries to shake off her touch, though it's largely a weak gesture. "--have to, need to find her." And then his hand clamps around her wrist for a moment.

Maybe her words finally penetrate, or maybe in his addled brain using her as a crutch is the obvious thing to do. He throws an arm around her shoulder, trying to use her to drag himself up. He's heavy, though, and stumbling like he's drunk. "I heard her," he mumbles.

-

Adrenaline is responsible for every success she has in those moments. She's strong for her size and physical description but Gage is big, she's wearing that vest, she has her backpack and the rifle on, she's exhausted and still wounded. She feels none of that at all as she grasps the wrist of the arm over her shoulders and loops hers around behind him, throwing every ounce of her weight forward so that she can help him up. Once he's roughly vertical she bears up under all of that staggering weight of muscle and pulls him forward with bullish determination. She can't afford to let him fall.

I heard her, he says, and her eyes close. It feels indecent, like walking in on something she was never meant to see: being there, a witness, as a blow to the head rattles one of his private hurts out of him without his permission. If tonight has any mercy to offer them, maybe he won't remember that later.

At least navigating back to the cabin isn't difficult. The tea kettle is shrieking.

Getting him inside to those blankets on the floor is only the first of many necessary tasks to come. She has to make sure he's lucid enough not to try to leave again, check his pupils to be sure it's safe to let him sleep without needing to wake him periodically, then go out onto the porch and collect the cuts of meat and bring them inside -- away from curious carnivore noses -- wrapping them tightly in the air-tight material of her flight-suit for lack of knowing how better to store them. As much as she'd like to eat now, she has no idea how to prepare them safely. She has to strip the dead hunter of his warm attire and any tools or supplies he might be wearing, then drag him away from the cabin and into the woods, far enough away to divert predators -- four- or two-legged. She waffles when it comes time to decide what to do with the deer, having no understanding of what remains to be salvaged from it. Gage would know, but...

In the end she reopens more than one of the messy wounds on her arm by tying the rope that used to loop around its neck around its half-emptied hide and throwing the other end over a tree branch so that she can haul it up into the air, with no idea whether or not bears even exist on Picon -- bears or anything else -- and no idea whether or not treeing the remains would matter if they did.

Well-bloodied by that time by both corpses she goes looking around by the gods damned tub out back, searching until she finds a towel or any serviceable piece of cloth, and then comes back inside to shut the door against the night. She heats the remainder of the water in the bucket, and when it's warm enough she spends time using both water and cloth to delicately clean up his face and the area near the knot on his head, trying to discern how seriously he's been hurt. Concussion for sure, but opened scalp? Fractured skull? She finds the water in his pack and sets a bottle out for him in case he needs one, then begins methodically searching the cabin, looking for...anything, really. Information about who the hunter was, or what he was doing. Any supplies they can use, particularly medical supplies and most especially anything that might help Gage deal with the splitting headache he is inevitably going to be dealing with later -- if they're lucky. The dried meat she found in the cupboards earlier gets packed into the backpacks immediately.

With all of that done she'd like nothing more than to curl up on the floorboards beside those blankets and sleep, but it's impossible. They need this place tonight, but they have no way of knowing who might know about it.

Tonight, she can repay some of his investment in her. With her back to the wall near the puddle of blankets and wounded marine, she situates her rifle into a brace atop the peak of both bent knees and settles in for a long, silent vigil, fighting the urge to drowse in the heat by locking her eyes to the door and stoking her alertness with the incandescent fires of her own fury over what nearly came to pass. The only time she looks anywhere else is to periodically check for chest rise -- to make sure he's still breathing.

He might be angry with her later, but she lets him sleep, with no intention of waking him until he wakes on his own.

-

In his own, stumbling way, Gage tries to help, but he's unfocused, leaning on her more and more heavily the closer they get to the cabin. By the time they reach the blankets he practically thuds down, one arm outflung. He mumbles something as she checks over him -- maybe at her -- but it's incoherent at best. His pupils are dilated, unfocused, necessitating waking him every so often, which he reacts to begrudgingly and with barely a squint of eye at her, blank and no recognition -- but on the upside, no aggression, either.

Unconsciousness really isn't the same as sleep, but he's overdue for the latter, so the darkness is welcome, every time. He barely stirs when she cleans the wound -- the skin is split, but it doesn't seem much deeper than that.

Within the cabin, there's little bits and pieces. Some tins of fruit, in the back of the cupboards. A scattered handful of medical supplies -- nothing as good as the pain killers in their own kit, but it'll do -- bandages too, relatively clean-looking. Along with his bow and arrow, there's the hatchet, and a skinning knife tucked into a sheath near the door.

Almost overlooked -- because it's covered with a dusty old cloth -- is a radio. If she tries it, it won't turn on -- it's battery operated and the battery is dead. It's also missing a dial, so maybe it's broken on top of that. One other odd thing she'll find in a tightly rolled length outside on the porch -- a very brilliant orange length of cloth. It's tied, at each of the four corners, to rocks, presumably to weigh it down.

Gage sleeps through the night, well into the day. He's restless -- tossing and turning in a way that's wholly unlike him, but at least the movement is comforting in a way -- a sign of life. It's fully bright outside, another cold day -- when his tossing, restless sleep ends with a sharp noise, somewhere between a gasp and a cut-off yell. Blankets are flung back, hands reaching out reflexively to find weapons that aren't there. That makes Gage instinctively sit up, sharply, almost immediately grimacing and exhaling a breath of pain, hand reaching for his head. That, too, hurts.

<<Frak,>> he slips into Tauran, blinking as his gaze flickers around the room, and then onto Ines with a momentary blankness. And then familiarity, chased by confusion, <<Correa? What...?>>

-

By the time he actually wakes up she's too tired to startle over his sudden and stressful return to consciousness. Tired eyes angle toward him, then tighten in a sympathetic wince as he reaches for his head. Her fingers creak when she unwinds them from around the rifle to set it aside and gather herself to her feet. "I don't envy you that headache."

A few steps take her close enough to -- with some care -- sink into a crouch on her good leg, the other arranged in a gentler extended bend in front of her. To lean, tilt her head, look into his eyes. Checking his pupils again. "How are you feeling? How is your vision...?"

-

<<Like a cylon whacked me over a head with a two-by-four,>> the marine grumbles. The response is, at least, more Gage like. He watches her approach with that tense confusion and pain, gaze meeting hers in a much more focused way than earlier. Better, by comparison, but still a kind of distraction as his brow furrows, pulling his skin and making him wince again. <<Okay,>> he says in a way that very clearly suggests he's blowing off the question, because: <<How long was I out for?>>

And, because it's coming back to him, <<Where's that hunter?>>

-

A few more moments of silent study seem to pacify her, or at least set some of her worst concerns to rest. She reaches down to gently brace her fingertips on the floorboards beside her, resting the elbow of her other arm on one knee, and stops scrutinizing his particulars. << All night. Until...whatever time it is. I haven't been outside. I don't know. >>

The pause after his question isn't long, but it's noticeable; her expression doesn't change, but her voice is quiet. << I killed him. >>

Brief pause.

<< What...happened to you, Tomak? One minute you were... >> Her brows knit. << ...and the next I went out, and you were...gone. >>

-

He exhales, an immediate worry and all-too-familiar tightness creeping into his expression as he considers that time lost. His expression goes distant -- considering what it might mean -- before he focuses back on her. <<You should've woken me,>> he says, reaching to fling blankets free of his legs. <<We need to-->>

The aborted attempt to push to his feet is just that -- aborted -- when she answers. Those words, I killed him, draw his gaze. It's a mixture of emotions in his gaze -- anger, regret, pity -- his jaw clenching before he breathes out. His mouth opens, but words aren't really his thing -- instead, he reaches for her forearm, while his gaze fixes on her with the silent, unspoken question. Is she okay?

Only after a few moments of silence does he grimace. <<I...>> his other hand reaches towards the growing knot standing out from his head. <<I was moving some of the deer meet, next thing I remember is waking up here.>> A beat, tension lacing through him. <<I put my back to him.>> Something he would never normally do, at least when he isn't exhausted after over two weeks of barely any sleep. His fingers clench. <<This is my fault, Correa.>>

-

He's seen Ines now when she's been at war with powerful things underneath the surface of herself. He knows what that looks like. This isn't it. She reaches out to try to keep him from getting up -- there's no surprise at all that he'd want to hurl himself back into it immediately -- and when he stills, when he puts his hand on her arm and she returns her gaze to his face, what she finds there only tempers her solemn look with something like rue. Rue that somehow means she winds up trying to reassure him.

<< It's not the first time, Gage. It probably won't be the last. >> Spoken in a tone of tired acceptance. Resignation, possibly, to an ugly reality she's awakened to overnight.

A little bit of life and fire re-enters it when he faults himself: it puts some of that stubborn ire in her, enough to chase off the worst of her weary shadows. << No. It isn't. More mine than yours. I knew -- I know how this goes. With people. I could have said something but I thought I was being paranoid. >>

Pause.

<< But it was his fault. Not ours. And...I hate to say this, Tomak, but we're in better shape now than we would have been if none of this had happened. We have meat, we have bandages, we had a place you were able to get some rest, with a stove, clean water...we can probably wash up before we keep moving. >>

This is a cold, cold calculus to make. She should probably feel guilty about it. She checks to see whether or not that feeling decides to make itself apparent, but no: only silence, inside.

-

There might be a faint kind of surprise in Gage's eyes at her resignation, but he accepts it readily enough -- a thing he himself embraces -- adding it to the mental pattern of Ines he holds in his mind, adjusting his thoughts around it.

His fingers stay lightly against her forearm. Not just for her, then, for him, as much. A solid entity in a moment of disorientation, frustration, regret. For once, he accepts her correction without argument, even gives a nod -- that turns into another wince.

The war is apparent in his expression: the need, the drive, the training all urging him to move on, to find safety -- against this opportunity. Food, warmth, being clean -- all things that are now merely creature comforts rather than a reality of every day life.

<<We can't stay long,>> he finds himself saying, like he's trying to convince himself. Reluctance paints the words. And then, with a little more wryness that is far more familiar: <<I don't suppose he has morpha stashed away under a fur somewhere?>>

-

Fingers slightly cleaner than they were settle over the ones on her arm, careful but relieved, almost: the life Ines leads now is not brimming with physical affection. She takes the comfort where she can get it, and imparts some of her own with a squeeze to accompany the change to the shape of her eyes, paired with the slight uptilt to either corner of her lips. << Sadly not. Dried meat, some tins of fruit. Bandages. I wrapped the raw meat -- it needs cooking, but we should eat that. If I get a vote, it's for one more night. We're not going to stumble over another warm cabin in the woods and we're running on fumes. >>

Pale eyes wander over him, then she pivots around on her crouching leg, looking over her shoulder at the door. << I don't know how much might be left on the deer, assuming something didn't make off with it. We should wash up, at least, even if you don't think it makes sense to wash these clothes. The stove gets hot, though. It could probably dry them in an hour. >>

She tugs her focus back around, and all at once feels something in her ribs twist. The cast of her eyes turns heavy. << I... >>

Was so worried. Was scared shitless. Thought you were dead.

She struggles to find a way through articulating what she wants to say, which is none of these things and also all of them. She can tell him she shot a man dead, but this...?

In the end, she can't quite get there. "He said something about needing to turn one of us in. He told me just...'walk away.'" Another splinter of wrath surfaces in hardening eyes, ever so brief. "I don't know what he was talking about."

-

Neither is Gage overly given to physical affection, though there's a brief glimmer of something when she squeezes his hand with her own. <<You get a vote,>> he says, gruffly, as if to hide whatever else might lie under the tension. <<You saved my, our lives, Correa.>> The acknowledgement is his thanks, it would seem.

His hand drops free as she pivots, passing a hand over his eyes. He looks tired, still, but not exhausted in the way he was when they first met the hunter. <<We should take advantage of it while we can. I aint no masochist -- I know just how bad I smell,>> he says, with a grimace. <<You first, though. I'll see to the meat.>> He makes as if to try and stand again, but that single syllable pulls him to stillness, pulls his gaze back towards her.

The Tauran marine waits out her silence, oblivious to the nuances, eyes resting easily on her expression, seeing the struggle even if not the reason behind it. When she does finally speak, he exhales. <<There are those that work with the cylons. Willingly or otherwise. Maybe they helped him with some of this, here,>> he gestures around the rustic cabin. <<Maybe they had something -- someone on him. Don't think about it.>> Don't dwell on it, is probably what he means.

-

It's the 'someone' that has her ducking her head, a shadow painted into a notch between her brows. Because that's always the truth of it, no matter how resigned she may feel: there's a side to every story, and pulling that trigger means she'll never know what the other side was. She'll just never know.

<< I can't help it. >> There's probably no more succinct truth about her character than that: always, those thoughts are endlessly busy. She plants a hand on her thigh and gets to her feet with only a faint tightness of the eyes, to return to her pack and retrieve the wrapped slabs of meat, setting them down with a heavy thump. << The meat you cut is here. The rest of the deer is hanging up outside...I wasn't sure what else to do with it. >>

The popping of vest buckles is loud in a silence underpinned only by the sound of fire in a wood stove, chased with the soft whisper of a relieved exhale as she lowers it down to the boards and plucks at her shirt, unsticking the fabric from her body. Gross. When she opens the door, sunlight streams in, clear and cold.

She still has a hand on it, a dark silhouette on the threshold, face in profile over her shoulder when she pauses to say, << I don't regret it. You saved my life, Tomak. I would kill a dozen more men just like him if I thought it would keep you safe. >>

-

<<I know,>> Gage acknowledges, with another grimace. <<But try. Focus instead on the moment. The small things. The warmth of the air. Your breathing. The pulse in your throat. The things that are real and present.>> His gaze tracks her when she rises, and returns, expression still serious, solemn.

And then, finally, with a groan, he pushes to his feet. There's a bit of unsteadiness that means his hand reaches out, instinctively, but whatever dizziness is there passes as he exhales, long and low. The floorboards creak as he crosses to the stove, bending to inspect it, reaching for one of the logs of wood and crouching -- carefully -- to add it.

The play of the firelight is all over him as he turns to regard her, framed in the light from outside. <<As would I,>> he says without a moment's hesitation. It's not even something he thinks about, just a fact, even if the weight of her words makes him regard for for a moment longer. And then: <<Take your rifle with you.>>

-

The glare may make it difficult to see the faint quirk at the corner of her mouth, lashes drawn low over pale eyes. "I know. I know you would." They're grim sentiments as expressions of loyalty go, but her tone is warm, if tired. This morning it feels like a grim world, and anything more blindly optimistic might have rung hollow.

She's starting to step through the door when he reminds her about her rifle, and she hesitates, turns back-

"Oh."

-and laughs.

Just a little, at her own absent-mindedness, but when it happens it feels for the first time since they met that man in the woods as though she might not lose her mind. "...Right." Two steps later she claims it, and on her way out the door offers a parting sentiment that seems a thousand times lighter than everything that came before. "I won't be too long."

-

Her laugh surprises him for a moment, but it does pull a twitch of lips and the briefest of grins in turn from the marine. "We're not in any hurry," he murmurs, as she steps outside. "...For once."

There are comforts to be found in what could be called normalcy, after weeks of abnormality. Of course, cooking isn't normal, not within a marine's life, though carving up the meat into smaller chunks -- using that hatchet -- and tossing it into a pot with some additions doesn't take much. There's not much to work with -- some salt, a bland, near-tasteless local herb.

That he needs to stop for a moment, one hand against the wall or bench or anything convenient is a minor issue.

All the while, he hums to himself. She's probably never heard him do that, and it's definitely out of character, except... well, it lets her know he's still there. That seems important enough to him to do. The tune is one she may or may not recognize -- some Tauran folk song.

The smell of cooking meat drifts out after a time. By comparison to the bland rations that they've had, it's positively divine.

-

There are two reasons she doesn't take any longer than she does: the first is the smell of cooking meat coming out of the cabin, and the second is that she's at serious risk for falling asleep in there and drowning. She's carrying most of her dry, dirty clothing when she comes back inside, down to her hastily-washed underthings and broad, sweeping map of bruises, and in spite of the bitter-cold run around the outside of the cabin she's still steaming when she hits the front step, tendrils of mist rising from warm skin and wet hair.

...and clean.

"Tomak, you're up! I -- ai, gods. I'm so hungry." She leaves wet footprints and drops of water behind on the boards as she closes in to lean and look at the pot, pushing her face toward the steam with a lid-eyed expression of anticipation. "I can watch it while you bathe." Wry, suddenly, she tilts her head and angles a glittering sidelong look up at him: "But only if you promise to keep singing."

-

Gage has been through the cupboards looking for plates and utensils. All he's come up with is a single metal plate, and a wooden spoon. "He wasn't much for entertain--" the words kind of cease as he catches sight of her. It's not her undressed state that makes him stop so abruptly -- they've lived together on the Dauntless in close quarters for months. It's the bruises, the story they tell, that makes his jaw clench for a moment as his gaze lingers.

...and then he's moving, belatedly. "Shouldn't need much longer. Just keep stirring it so the stuff at the bottom doesn't burn," he tells her. He reaches for his own rifle -- leaning against the bench where he set it after she left, hooking the straps over his shoulder even if it isn't a far walk. Pure habit.

Her latter words earn what's probably a familiar growl. Despite that, however, a few moments after he's disappeared outside she can hear it, distantly, along with the splashing of water. It's probably good she went first -- it sounds like he's sloshing half of it over the edge in his attempt to remove weeks of caked filth from his skin and clothes.

-

All his aborted sentence gets is a light pat on the back -- not even so much as a glance. Without that vest, things would have been so much worse. Worse in a possibly final sort of way.

"I know how to cook, Tomak," the pilot drawls in unaccountably good spirits for someone whose evening was, without exaggeration, a distillation of the things she fears most. "Believe it or not. I was quite good at it before the war, you know?"

She tosses her filthy clothes down onto the floor -- probably getting the floor dirty in the process -- and then settles as close as she dares to the stove, prodding at the contents of pot and listening to those signs of life from beyond the gapped and rough-shod walls.

And thinking.

Thinking and absently trying to work the tangles out of her hair, stirring intermittently.

-

And, in time, Gage returns. He's wearing his shorts, his tattoos standing out against his darkened skin, his shirt and everything else is slung, dripping, over his left arm, while he holds the rifle in his right. Kicking the door closed, he sets the rifle against the bench again.

His wry, "Did you burn it yet?" is as challenging as it is a perfectly normal statement for him.

He glances at her clothes -- on the floor -- and then settles for laying his out flat near the heater -- but leaving enough space for them to walk around. He runs a hand through wet hair -- still long and scraggly like his beard, but at least clean -- before he winces as he hits that lump. "You go first," he says, an altruistic gesture. At least until he adds, "If it's horrible, at least I'll be prepared."

-

He won't be able to see the roll of her eyes -- she's still facing the stove -- but he can probably sense it regardless, given the way her head tilts and her weight shifts. The word she says is in Leonese, but it's dry enough to do the job of communicating anyway.

It only takes her a moment to spoon some of the pot's contents onto that single plate he turned up in the cupboards, and true to form his challenge meets with a matched willingness in her to best it, one of her brows arched at him pointedly. "I didn't know you had such a delicate palate."

She takes a bite that's probably cautious more for the temperature than the taste. Expression utterly neutral, she chews, then swallows, holding his eyes the whole time.

...and then slooowly turning away. "It's awful," she tells him, perfectly solemn. She glances down long enough to put another piece of shredded meat in the dish of the spoon. "Don't worry. I'll spare you the horrors of it."

She almost -- almost -- makes it through all of that without cracking a smile.

-

"I'm practically a Leonese Princess. It's why Davy and I get on so well," Gage says, blandly, as he lays out his pants on the floor. For a moment, he watches her while she eats -- she might be able to hear his stomach rumbling.

"Kind of you," he snorts, as he steps closer. He'll try and snatch that meat on the spoon and -- if he's successful, it'll be in his mouth soon enough.

Either way, he's soon rummaging through cupboards. He's already checked them -- but that was for something to make the food palatable. "This beard is driving me crazy," he mutters, scratching at it, like suddenly it's worse now that it's clean and prickling against his skin.

-

As much mischief as there may have been in the threat of thieving the plate of food away from him, she yields the spoon quickly enough when he gets after it. She may be coasting on the uprising thermals of their turn in fortune -- paid for at a high price she still hasn't done thorough accounting for, granted -- but she's still too tired to make much more than a playful threat, and in any case he needs it. She picks at chunks of meat on the plate with two fingers in a manner that's almost absurdly dainty, all things considered, but Ines can't help what she is.

There's a very near miss where she almost leans back against the scalding hot wood stove with her almost bare ass before she does the smart thing and relocates, sinking down to sit next to the wall.

"There was a really sharp knife of some sort by the door. I put it in your pack." She gestures that way with the plate. "Maybe sharp enough to make it shorter?" She tilts her head, gaze wandering over the beard she hasn't really seen, in spite of looking at it every single day. "Not going to keep it, then?" Two beats later, she looks wry. "Thank the gods. The true tragedy of this misadventure would be your turning up back at base with a thing for mustaches like Rooper."

-

Almost immediately, Gage veers towards his pack, rummaging through it. Locating the knife, he frowns for a moment, finger testing the edge. Then, with his left hand, he grabs a chunk of hair from his scruffy beard and slices. The slight flinch is immediate, making a face at the slight cut to his skin, grunting. "Maybe I'll do that first thing tomorrow," he concedes.

The knife is returned to the pack -- presumably in case of their need to move quickly -- as he moves back over towards the stove, lowering himself down next to her with a grunt of effort. He reaches for some of the meat from her plate, chuckling briefly.

"Not like his," he says, with a smile, that fades almost immediately. "I wonder if he was on the op with us. Not in my squad, but there were a few different ones, and we all had different briefings." His expression darkens more, as he undoubtedly goes through the roster in his mind.

-

Head settled back against the wall, when he joins her she lifts the plate in the hand on the side he occupies to hold it up so that he can help himself, her eyes lidding. With food in her stomach -- not too much; she's ravenous, but she apparently learned her lesson after the cramp she gave herself at the river -- and a bath behind her, plenty of warm air and the assurance that the marine she's traveling with isn't going to die from bleeding into his brain, everything about her is starting to feel heavy again.

His words meet with silence for some time, and the seams of pale green that make up her irises are distant during the quiet. Eventually she stirs a little -- just enough to roll her head onto a slight angle so that his profile is visible in her peripheral vision, though she doesn't look at him directly. Her voice is subdued, pitched quietly, like a confidence. "It was so quiet at base." In the pause, she's remembering.

"As much as I wish things were different..." Her free hand lifts, gesturing impatiently between them. "You and I being -- being back at base, the rocket, the- everything? I'd still rather be here than on that quiet base, not knowing."

-

Gage, as always, seems perfectly at home in the silence. He reaches, now and then, to pick some of the meat off the plate, chewing and swallowing mechanically. She's right; it's not the best, but it's food, and his stomach rumbles again at the merest taste of it.

His eyes, too, are heavy, sliding closed after the silence persists. He's still awake though -- the rumbling of his stomach makes sure that, every minute or other, he's reaching for another of those chunks of meat.

Her words, when she speaks, draws his gaze. This close, she can see the understanding in his dark gaze, the brief twitch of lip that is probably agreement. "I would think the same, were it me." He rubs a hand over his chin, into his scraggly beard again, as he says, "Not for nothing, though, I wish you'd been spared this. Even if..." he exhales, leans back. Doesn't finish the thought that visibly troubles him.

-

He'll probably know, even if he doesn't look, when she turns her eyes to the point she can see him out of the corners of both. Probably sense the long moment during which she tries to decide whether or not to ask. She usually does. It's Ines. She always wants to know.

What she does instead, when that internal debate comes to an end, is allow the slow dawning of a wry smile, lidded eyes struck with a spark of something that presages more of that tired mischief.

"Even if...the little pilot from Leonis did you the courtesy of soaking three rockets in less than twelve hours?" The smile widens incrementally. She leans just enough to jostle his shoulder with hers, and then edges the plate further in his direction, obviously to be taken. "Not many people would do that, you know." Free hand lifting, she turns her head hard away to cover her yawn. "And I wouldn't do that for many people. Actually. I'd like to try not to do that for anyone else. I'll try anything once, but I didn't care for it, if I'm honest. It's exhausting."

She looks exhausted. She sounds exhausted. All of it sounds like a segue into the need for sleep, rather than the question it could have been.

-

There's a flicker of something, brief, in Gage's expression that might be gratitude that she doesn't press. He grunts at her words, instead, taking the jostling without one in return -- probably because he's happy she's handing him the plate. No protest there -- he'll grab two more chunks of the meat and start chewing. "Make sure you put it in your report. Three rockets," he says, in between swallowing, a little smile creeping up at the corner of his mouth.

He's aware of that exhaustion. It's contagious -- not that it's hard, not after everything they've been through, and the warmth and the feeling of a full belly for the first time in weeks. "You should lie down," he tells her, quietly. "I'll wake you, later." Maybe he will, maybe he won't. She probably knows by now it's more than likely the latter.

-

"I'll mention it when I write you up for insubordination," Ines says, voice stretched over the rack of audible soreness as she presses her palms into the wall behind her to help her rise. All of those things she did last night after getting him inside were necessary, but they were a considerable drain on her -- she's just weaker than he is, and not just because she's wounded, either.

"Which I'm going to do." Stepping over and past him, she gives one of the outgrown forelocks of his hair a light tug, then stoops to retrieve her rifle so that she can bring it over to set it on the ground beside the blankets. She stares at them for a long, uneasy moment that has nothing at all to do with the prospect of sleep. "Don't think I've forgotten."

In the end, the need for sleep wins out over her discomfort. She settles down, tilts over onto one hip, and curls into a knot beneath the blanket on top, trying not to think about how that fabric probably smells like the man who used to bed down here, until she filled him with holes.

"Save me something to eat later," is the last tired thing she says, before her breathing drops off into regularity.

-

Snorting in apparent amusement, Gage mutters, "Hoped you'd forgive that -- what with me being right and all. Should learn never to question me, Correa." He makes another noise when she grabs some of his hair, though whatever expression -- she can probably imagine it as a scowl and not be wrong -- is given to her behind her back as she moves away.

He moves through the motions, to keep himself awake: stores the rest of the meat away, cleans the plate, restacks the logs in the fire, shakes out and turns over their clothes to better dry on the floor. His shirt is still wet, and so he borrows the dead man's furs, slipping into them and stepping outside. He does a circuit of the cabin, stopping at the slung carcass of the deer, but not lingering. He circles further out, until he finds the body of the hunter -- again, he doesn't touch it, just notes its location.

Finally, excuses done, he returns, shrugging off the furs -- and seats himself down by pile of blankets, leaning against the wall, exactly where she sat, rifle resting on his lap. Maybe it's a surprise, later, when he actually does wake her with a gentle shake -- little more than, "Your watch," before he rolls into the blankets beside her.


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