2238-02-13 - Happy Birthday

Worst birthday present ever.

Date: 2238-02-13

Location: Ranch, Picon

Related Scenes: None

Plot: None

Scene Number: 1644

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The ranch is full of people now -- most doubling up in the beds, which have been cleaned and aired -- or on the floor. The well has been carefully tested and pronounced good; the fuel tank that Nate referred to has been located. Things feel more settled here, and more and more, the talk has been of freeing the prisoners.

Gage does not participate in such conversations, expression hardening whenever they happen in his presence. For the last couple of days, the Tauran marine has kept to a routine. He's out at dawn and at dusk, with his bow and arrow, hunting. The first morning, he goes alone, but the next evening, he invites Ines along. The nature of the work -- waiting patiently, quietly for prey -- precludes talking, something that he seems to favor right now.

The game is scarce -- it's winter, and most of them are hibernating. Throughout the night, he volunteers for watch, stalking his way around the perimeter of the property, sleeping fitfully at best during the day on the floor of the kid's bedroom that housed Nate. Nate who seems better now, who seems spry, though wary of the newcomers still.

The second day, he's preparing to head out again at dawn, fitting bow and arrow over his fur coat. He seems more withdrawn than even usual for him -- something about the set of the shoulders, his distant, wavering expression that anyone else might mistake for tiredness after a long night's watch. His thoughts are far away from this place, and the things they discuss -- the normality everyone tries to bring. He bucks that routine, heading out into the dark, boots crunching over the cold, dewy grass that's near frozen.

Ten days ago they found their way to the ranch, and some sort of fragile understanding -- even if Ines wouldn't be able to describe the shape of it to someone else. Even if she were the type to want to try. She tried to sleep in a bed for all of an hour before giving up and taking to the floor instead, visibly disappointed by her own inability to appreciate that luxury.

The arrival of other people meant plenty of work alongside the inconvenience and discomfort of noise and unfamiliar faces, and Ines took to it without complaint. In fact, she seemed almost entirely like herself -- where 'herself' means 'the warm, wry, quietly playful person who joined the Wolves on Caprica.' Little Miss Sunshine. Completely natural, absolutely normal. Inviting. Accessible.

...Until she has the opportunity to be by herself, or out with Tomak, and lapses into relieved silences that hint at the effort required to sustain it.

She's groggy today, but she's said she's not sleeping well, too many bodies in the house, too much noise, too used to sleeping lightly while they traveled from the factory to the warehouse. She finds her way into the coat she borrowed from one of the refugees for the purpose -- big enough to go over the vest that she's still wearing, though the longer they're out here the bigger it seems on her -- and she's still rubbing gently at her eyes as she trails along in the dark shadows left behind by his boots in the ghostly frost on the grass.

Although Gage says nothing, he quickly becomes acutely aware of her presence -- obvious by the way he slows his pace just marginally to accommodate hers. It's bitterly cold out here -- likely the only reason Tomak seems inclined to sleep indoors when he can -- but it is peaceful. The sound of birds beginning to stir and chip to welcome the dawn surround them.

Peaceful, but the Tauran is not at peace. His steps, usually silent, have a kind of clomping cast to them, like on some unconscious level he really doesn't want to go hunting, just wants to scare the game away and keep walking into the unknown dark of the surrounding forest.

Something rustles in the bushes to one side -- an animal, something small at least -- but it quickly darts away before Gage even pulls the bow from his shoulder, earning a grunt of displeasure.

The yawn Ines is beginning to indulge in abruptly arrests as she hears something, only it scurries off into silence and leaves her exhaling a cloud of white. She sniffs once and then takes a few quicker, longer strides to catch up with him a bit, giving his stalking tread a side-eye.

"What?"

It isn't accompanied by any other words, that single syllable, but the tone fleshes out the intent: like 'what is it?' or 'what's the matter?' or 'what, what's going on with you?'

"Nothing," Gage says, reflexively, gruffly, not even looking at her.

He's lying, of course. Whether or not she accepts it, he's pressing forward with it: "Game's scarce. Aint gonna get anything this morning." Despite that, he's moving again, maybe as much for the cold, as to avoid further questions.

He's definitely lying.

Her eyes narrow, her head tilts. She slides them up along his side from his boots to the profile of his face, searching, but she's almost never puzzled him out just by looking. She sniffs against the cold again, tucks her hands into her coat pockets, and tugs the hood more securely forward, something subtle and guarded casting a veil through her expression.

"Oh."

She lets him get out ahead of her again, watching his back from beneath dark brows, increasingly worried.

Does he know?

Cautious, then. "We could just go back?"

The Tauran is oblivious to her expression, to her guarded demeanor. "No," he says, the word muffled since he doesn't turn back to say it, but keeps moving. "It's crowded back there anyway. Can't sleep amongst that." He can't, anyway.

He keeps moving -- heading not to where the woods are thicker, but where they thin out, marginally. A place that opens up into a little clearing, next to a bed of rocks that might -- at certain times of the year -- hold water, but now is frosted over. He clumps on over to the fallen log nearby, dusts it off -- it already looks like someone's done that before, recently -- and settles down.

The sky, inky black, is starting to lighten, pale colors of orange and yellow reaching like fingers upwards.

The faint knit of her brows gains a little bit more secure foothold on her expression and her footsteps lose some of the regularity of their cadence, slowing as she tries to digest that. It isn't until they arrive at the place he's decided they're going to (ostensibly) try to hunt something -- and she sinks down a few feet from him to sit, and casts a skeptical look around what amounts to something like a clearing -- that she speaks again.

"You're not sleeping at all?"

Already the cold is pricking color into her cheeks. She pulls at the drawstrings that secure her hood, tugs her hands up into the sleeves of the jacket and closes the ends, arms wrapped over her middle, leaned forward into and over them. Not a complaint to be heard -- they've got warmth to return to, after all, which is more than they were able to say two weeks ago -- but everything about her posture screams 'freezing.'

Swinging the bow off his his shoulder and resting it across his knees, Gage sets the quiver of arrows down by his leg. A hand trails down to adjust the tip of the rifle, pointing it down, taking mental stock of its exact location.

His, "Some," is a concession. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Likely slanting more towards the latter, today of all days, his mouth thinning.

Caught up in his own thoughts, the sky lightens more before his habitual awareness check takes in her posture, with something amounting to surprise. "You're cold?" The wheels turn, brow drawing downwards as sharpening gaze takes in her posture. No.

This knit of her brows is dry -- knit and skewed in a look of skeptical near-amusement. She turns her head and lances him with a dry look, though it's brief. "You're not?" The words are wreathed in pale white. She shifts her attention out and forward, sniffs, unfolds her arms to itch with a few trilling fingertips at the hollow behind the hinge of her jaw. "It's cold."

The silence that follows is only brief. "Is that why you're in a bad mood? Not sleeping?" She's teasing; her tone is light. "Maybe we should go take a look at some of the other ranches. A few days away? You can get some sleep. Better to be rested. They sound serious, about doing this thing."

It is cold, but... he knows her, too. Her light, teasing tones ring more alarm bells than her serious ones.

"Correa." It's just a word. Just her name. But it's tinged with so much greater an undertone than he could ever expressively verbalize. That dark thing, the fear that's sat between then ever since she expressed those gods-damned words: we can't know what would happen.

It works with almost everyone else. But then, Gage isn't everyone else, is he?

Her name yanks her eyes back from their wandering in the tree line, and for just a moment she entertains the wild fantasy of being able to successfully lie to him, hit on just the right story to pave over the pothole they've just hit in the road. Or maybe not that, she thinks in the next second, maybe just balking and refusing to discuss it, the way he does with so many other things. Maybe silence. Maybe denial. Maybe pretending.

But it all seems impossible, a cliff face too high to scale,...and after everything they've suffered through, all of the things they said, everything they've never said and might never say whether they get the chance or not...

For a moment he's in her thoughts calling her a coat-twister -- what the hell is that, though? She still doesn't know and hasn't been able to find it in herself to ask -- and then she presses the soft shape of her mouth into a line. There's a question in her eyes, or a petition of some kind, unrelated to whatever it is she says next. Some thin scrap of optimism she barely thinks about.

"It might be a cold. All those, you know- all those people, suddenly."

Anger washes through him in an obvious way, pulling his body into tight tension, as he simultaneously pushes to his feet, even as she's finishing those words, that excuse that he can't even for a second make himself believe. The bow tumbles off his lip and to the ground, forgotten as he stalks away. That pacing that she's seem before kicks in, boots crunching in the snow with more force than needed. He doesn't look at her, jaw tight.

Up and down, he paces, scowling, frustrated by his inability to do anything about...

He stops.

His voice is tight -- tight with anger and fear and the sliver of hope he allows himself: "You and that other jock -- you're going to put your heads together. Figure out how to fly one of those gods-damned raiders. I've inventoried everything we have -- figure with the fuel cells we saw down there we can make a plenty big distraction -- enough for Rhodes and the others to spring the prisoners -- enough to pull the guards from that landing pad. Enough to give you time to figure out how to work that thing, and fly the frak out of here."

It's a desperate plan, a desperate dream. But it's all he has.

She's been around when he's been within earshot of the plan to break out the prisoners, and seen how he's reacted. How he leaves, more often than not.

Not that she doesn't understand why he might have a sudden change of heart, but none of the other reasons to object have changed, and that's enough on its own to have her sitting up and watching him pace, some of his anxiety pulled through her as though she were distantly connected to those marionette strings, herself. "But...they'd still be- all of those people, Tomak. We talked about it. Right?" He's not looking at her. She's looking at him, waiting to catch his eyes, but he's not looking at her. "How they'd just be- if the cylons are going to try to recover them. And we still don't know if we can do it. Rewire it. At all, or in time for, for..."

The long list of reasons to object to the rescue are well-tread by both of them at this point, and gradually she loses steam as she chases him back and forth with her eyes.

When she eventually finds her tongue again it's to lodge a half-distracted, troubled protest. "We'd have to leave all of them. There's not that much room."

They are, indeed, well worn arguments -- arguments with merit, arguments and sentiments he might have agreed with wholeheartedly, before...

Now, the Tauran marine is resolute, unswayed: "That doesn't matter. The important thing is getting you away. There's time for the rest -- to come back with the cavalry -- later." Getting away will be the difficult thing, and his words are carefully chosen, almost forcefully so.

His gaze travels to the sky, lightening into something painted bright and glorious, writ large. "Ought to head back. You need to rest up."

Ines gets up off of the log.

Maybe she's going to agree. Maybe she's going to quietly make her way back to the ranch, go into the room the boy's been sleeping in, and rest.

Maybe she'll sleep enough to stave off the flush in her cheeks that, on second glance, seems to have less to do with the winter chill than it does some hidden fire in her, quietly catching, growing steadily hotter. Maybe she'll sleep through the week obediently, save planning with Hunter King; maybe Hunter will tell her he knows how to rewire a Heavy Raider -- used to do it all the time with the Foreign Legion, no problem -- and they'll put together a flawless, watertight operation and descend on the mine, take to the skies, return to base, summon reinforcements-

And maybe the cylons are all going to spontaneously turn into actual toasters, and the war will end with a celebratory toasting of a billion bagels.

"There are a lot of important things, Tomak. A lot of them. Like thirty of them! Or - maybe more, gods. I don't know. Thirty-one, if we're including Nate. Are we including him?"

He's going to drive her insane with the pacing. She reaches out and grips the fur on his sleeve, prepared to be dragged at least one stride in the doing, before he relents. "Can you just-?"

It's always easier in his head. The words come out, and it's done, and he can focus on something to keep him distracted, keep him from thinking about all the things -- some of them very definitely at the top of that list -- that he can't do anything about. But this... this he can. He will, by sheer force if he has--

Her hand catches his sleeve, and he stops, more out of surprise than any strength on her part. Gage's expression changes, fleetingly, reluctantly. "Nate counts." Because of her sacrifice. Because it has to mean something.

His gaze pulls towards her, flickering over her in that assessive way of his, taking in that color in her cheeks with a less-than-pleased expression that deepens into a scowl after moments. But, he stops, at least.

He turns to look, stops, and then?

Well, Ines?

A few sidling steps take her around more directly in front of him. She looks good, actually; better now than she has in a while. That's the benefit of fever -- a blush of sudden life, in bright eyes and cheeks with color in them.

"I want you to think about what you're saying. We don't know- we just don't know. There are a lot of things we don't know. We don't know if it's an infection, or if I'm sick. We don't know if the Raider can be rigged to fly for me, or if Hunter can make that work. We don't know if we'll have enough time to do it, or if, when we get it off of the ground, we'll be able to get away. And if we get away, we don't know what will happen. If the cylons will hunt everyone else down. All this time you've been, we've been saying it's a bad idea unless we have another way out first..."

Her open mouth closes for a moment. She quiets her voice. "We can't undo this once we start. And I'm..." It's still sinking in for her, too; he'll see thoughts arrive, sending her eyes off to one side, enough to have her bringing one hand up to press it to her forehead as she tries to process everything. "If...it goes wrong, all of these people wind up- and we went along with it just because I caught a cold, Tomak..."

Anxious eyes slice over his face, raking over it in search of -- who knows what, really. Searching and slightly plaintive. "Are you really sure? Are you really sure this is what you want? To risk so much for so little?"

While she goes down the list of 'what if's' that makes her take pause, Gage's expression hardens. He waits her for her to say her peace, and then a moment longer. Not to gather his thoughts -- but to try and keep his tone even, a studied neutrality that, by the end, leeches something far less so by the end, despite his wishes otherwise: "What if this is our one chance to make it work, and we don't do it, and the cylons double, triple their guard? What if it is an infection, and we wait too long to try, and he can't fly it without you?"

A brief pause: "What if you die?"

His fingers are cold, a shock maybe, when his left hand settles against her flushed cheek. "It aint little. It's everything, Correa." It's her life. And maybe some part of his, too, if the vehemence of his tone is anything to judge by.

It was three weeks ago that Ines looked at the glint of a rocket on the tail of her viper and thought to herself: this is how I die. The day that she crashed, was rescued by the person she'd been flying that mission hoping to rescue in the first place, and the first thing she did the moment they were somewhere safe enough to do it was lay into him for not getting his ass on the raptor when he had the chance.

It was five days after that, sitting in the woods, that Ines hit the nadir of her resilience. Shed actual tears in front of another person, told him she still wished he'd gotten onto it, because even though she'd probably be dead five times over, at least it would just be me.

The impulse is to repeat the sentiment because it is still, in its way, true: if she had to choose, she still grasps the logic in it being one person rather than thirty, even if the one person is herself.

Every last word turns to ashes on her tongue when he cradles her face with one hand. It sends an unpleasant chill down her spine -- icy contact and fever aches waging momentary war -- but her lashes lower, then press down into fans against her cheeks, brows knitting in clear capitulation. Enough of her expression crumples that for just one uncomfortable moment it may seem as though she's about to cry, but it passes -- some outward reflection of an inner turmoil she elects not to share.

Everything is different, and it is the best and the worst thing she can possibly imagine.

"Okay," she says, just a breath, followed with a sniff. Fingers like icicles, on the back of his hand, on the side of her face. "Okay."

"Okay," he echoes her, just as softly. There's relief on his part -- relief that he doesn't have to fight her, for her life. Relief that he can hold onto that slim sense of hope, rather than the darker thing that hovers behind it, everpresent.

His other hand -- just as cold -- reaches up to mirror the gesture, cradling her face. His gaze flickers over her expression, intent, like he's capturing her expression, everything about her, in that moment. It's an intense, charged moment, weighted -- and finally won -- by a hesitation that flickers across his expression.

"We should go," he says, finally, hands dropping free from her face, reaching for his rifle -- for his bow and arrow that aren't there -- before he turns away, crunching over the ground to collect them from where he dropped them.

It's impossible at that pensive proximity to miss the shiver and tight swallow that follow on the balancing of his hands on her, one a symptom of the crisis that brought them to this point and the other a symptom of something else entirely, another different and lasting and thus far incurable malady that had no small part to play in the remedy they've decided on. Pupils that dilate even after she opens her eyes again, dark pools seamed with reflections from an incongruously cheerful dawn; at least enough light, in enough colors, to make the darkness of his own silhouette in them plain to him while he looks, his own reflection an obvious shadow.

Subtler things to notice, too. Like the way she stops breathing, no mist in the air at all, and the way the visible tic of her pulse in the side of her throat quickens, and the angle of her eyes gradually trickles aimlessly down his face like rainwater on a glass pane-

-that shatters as he turns away. Light and sense pour back in as a deluge and win a momentary closing of her eyes, one indrawn breath that steels her back into the flow of linear time after full seconds of disconcerting weightlessness. She lifts her hand to the edge of the slightly displaced hood of her jacket and pulls it forward again, a stream of pale breath ribboning out of it as she starts to retrace their steps.

"Maybe there'll be breakfast."

Gage settles bow and arrow on over his shoulder, turning his back on the brilliant sunrise that now spills across the woods. His, "Happy birthday to the idiot of the Picon woods," is muttered under his breath, self deprecating grimace rippling across his features for a moment.

The Tauran falls into step, not in front of her, but beside her -- undoubtedly so he can keep track of her pace, setting an easy one himself. Her comment earns a grunt of acknowledgement, but little more -- focused as he is on keeping his demeanor closed.

Maybe they will be breakfast, but there definitely won't be sleep.


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