2238-02-24 - Let Slip

As if things weren't difficult enough already...

Date: 2238-02-24

Location: Picon Ranch

Related Scenes: None

Plot: None

Scene Number: 1660

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The ranch house is oppressively quiet in spite of a contained flurry of activity, laboring beneath the hush of soldiers and guerrilla fighters preparing for the assault on the mine. Conversations are terse and soft. People sit with their own thoughts, sorting through the chaff and noise of whatever doubts or resolutions they may have, searching for the one thing they'll need to hold onto as they risk everything for such an uncertain outcome. Outside the weather seems appropriately hushed in turn: overcast skies continue to shed thick, fluffy clots of snow, blanketing the ground, weighing down branches on trees. The clouds obscure everything all the way out toward the remote horizon, at which a faint line of electric pink light signals the sunset happening somewhere else.

It's the first time Ines has left Nate's room -- and the twin bed -- in days. She was the recipient of a gift of extra clothing from a couple of the other 'residents' of the ranch -- another long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved shirt to put over it, and she was allowed to keep the winter coat with the hood...all to give her a fighting shot to stay on her feet long enough to get that raider, and ultimately get help. She'd been dreading leaving the indoors to go to the draughty garage and begin to prepare with King, but after that touching gesture it came almost as a relief, murderous chills and all.

That's where she is now, poring over what little she and King have assembled by way of their knowledge of cylon aircraft and going over the inventory of things for her backpack, all by the light of a camping lantern. The vest is off, sitting on a workbench. It's heavy, and she's weak. There's no pretending anymore: she's badly off. Pale as the snow, with high spots of color in her cheeks, she leans against the table as she looks at their hasty diagrams not just out of laziness, but a real need for support. It is otherwise quiet.

-

The usual -- if such a term can be used -- routines have altered for the last week, with Ines in bed. Now, when Gage goes hunting at dusk, it's Nate that accompanies him, the boy proudly telling of his first rabbit kill (Gage later admits he was holding the bow and the boy just kind of touching it, but it counts!) While the Tauran still spends most of his nights out on watch, he's spending more and more of his free time in the room -- sleeping, or pretending to sleep -- chatting with Nate or otherwise keeping Ines company.

Today, however, that routine is interrupted.

Even apart from the normal routines of a marine preparing for battle, there's extra work for a combat engineer about to embark on a dangerous mission with homemade explosives. Most of the day is spent outside near the entrance to the sunken fuel tank, working with a handful of Piconese. It's growing dark when he finally appears -- smelling of fuel -- looking warm in his fur coat. He stands long enough in the entrance that she might notice him before he ventures to speak, his expression a variety of things -- from a frowning disapproval at the sight of the vest she's not wearing, to an obvious dismay her obviously unhealthy state.

It's in his gaze: he's assessing. Reconsidering. Recalculating.

-

As usual, she hears him -- his footsteps, and by now she knows how to identify his, as opposed to anyone else -- before he's visible, the slight turn of her head enough to signal it. She doesn't say anything quite yet, eyes locked to the sheet of paper in front of her, one hand blindly reaching out toward the shelf to pluck a spool of small-gauge sleeved wire from amidst a handful of other dusty things. She sets it down next to things she's already assembled: a thicker spool of wire, wirecutters, a gummy but serviceable roll of tape, a crowbar, a rubber-headed mallet, and things of that nature.

Then she turns, pivots to lean back against the high wooden workbench, and after a single beat offers him a smile. "Why the long face? In a couple of hours we'll be back at base, getting help for the others."

She manages to sound as though she believes it. She almost looks that way, too. If she weren't so tired, she might have pulled it off.

-

It's not when she looks at him that his expression tightens into a mask -- but after, when her optimism shines through -- like he's trying not to react with his usual pessimism in response. Finally, he moves, boots crunching as he steps in, letting the door thunk behind him, shutting out that chill wind. Most of it, anyway.

"You should be resting," he says, instead, like she hasn't been the whole week. He stops, a couple of steps away from her, weight shifting as he struggles to keep from frowning again. "Maybe," he begins, stops.

"Maybe King can do it solo. It's a long walk to the mine, and..." and he's worried. It's obvious -- obvious to her anyway -- by the way his gaze flickers over her, mouth tightening at the edges.

-

Weeks ago his fussing might have irritated her. Even a week ago, maybe. In that, they're alike; she defends her own autonomy with ferocity. Tonight it can't even come close, and instead has the opposite effect: she exhales a long breath, expression softening into subtle, muted understanding. Affection, shot through with rue. Her gaze falls low, head bent forward just a little, but after a moment she lifts a hand and reaches to lightly squeeze the outside of his arm. Her fingers paint hot brands on him, even through cloth and fur. "It's time, Tomak. It's time to do this." As her hand falls her eyes rise, and so do the corners of her lips, though the cast of that smile is gently apologetic. "The best shot we're going to have is the three of us. Waiting here doesn't make sense. A few hours of exertion..." She hesitates, then resolves to something, pushes forward. It's past time for dancing around the issue. "A few hours of exertion isn't what's going to kill me."

And with that she half-turns away, still pushing forward relentlessly, sweeping a hand toward all of the supplies she's putting together, lips pressed together as she tracks her eyes over everything. "Besides, we're in better shape for this than I'd hoped. Plenty of tools. King remembered a few things about some downed raiders the Legion salvaged." Two beats, and then one dark brow rises, her gaze ticked up his way sidelong as she leans her hip into the bench. "And you've got everything you need...?"

-

It is logical. It makes the best sense. It's the plan they agreed on already. But still, that sliver of doubt, borne by his concern for her, digs deeper despite -- maybe because of her words. A few hours of exertion isn't what's going to kill me. It stiffens his posture, and she can feel it, where her hand touches his arm, tension all through him.

Maybe her optimism is infectious. Or at least, enough to abate his pessimism for a time -- her enthusiasm when she indicates the supplies she's gotten together earns the faintest twitch of lips. Wordlessly, he leans in, one hand seeking to brush hair back, away from her forehead, as he leans in. For a moment, she can feel his lips pressing there, against her forehead, cold from the chill outside -- or maybe just cold-by-comparison with her fever.

Gage doesn't linger in the moment -- just gives into the impulse, lets it happen, and moves on like it didn't. "Got everything," he murmurs, as he straightens. "Still gotta strip my weapon -- I'll do that tonight, promised Nate I'd let him help me."

-

He's got his work cut out for him, pretending it didn't happen, because she can't. It would be a challenge even if she were healthy, and she's a long way from being that. For just a moment Ines stands, mouth open, train of thought thoroughly derailed -- and then she turns her head away because she can't stop the idiot smile that stages a coup on her expression, the hand that had been at his arm lifted to lightly rub at one cheek. Looking the other way isn't going to fool anybody, but it's done in desperation while she struggles to recollect the thoughts he's just slapped out of her mental fingers.

"Uh," she says, a portrait of eloquence. It's still two or three seconds more before she gives her head a small shake and refocuses. "Right. You'll want to take the ammunition left in mine. I have my pistol and it's just better for you to have it."

And then, as focus continues to replenish, she thinks about the rest of what he said and falters, some of that lingering shine waning. "Oh," she says, quietly. "About Nate." She ducks her head again, and something in her eyes tightens. Whatever she's about to say, she doesn't like it.

-

If he's aware of her reaction -- he's trying pretty hard to play it down -- but the tension, at least, fades from him when her hand brushes his cheek. With a long, low, exhale, Gage grunts. "I'll take your rifle ammunition, but not your pistol," he says, firmly. "Aint gonna leave you defenseless." The 'just in case' goes unvoiced, but still, it's there.

Her latter phrase earns a lift of brow, intrigued but not overly concerned by the halting words. "He's doing fine," he says, as if trying to preclude any discussion.

-

The long silence between her preface and the moment she continues does not bode well for whatever it is she's about to say. She leaves off of pressing her fingertips against the faint blush in her cheek so that she can press them into the dip beneath her lower lip instead, eyes unfocused, a gesture of tension as she circles her thoughts around -- whatever this is.

"Rhodes stopped in to see me yesterday," she finally begins, head lifting. Eyes too, though they stay lidded, guarded under fans of lash. "She asked...if we'd told Nate about the plan. And I hadn't planned to, because I...I don't...know how to do that. I'm not..." Both brows slant, worried. Guilty. "But he deserves to know. What could happen." Solicitous, now, in the way she looks at him. "Don't you think?"

-

The longer the silence before she speaks, the more Gage's face pulls closer to a scowl. By the time she speaks, it's just shy of it, and he's silent for a few moments himself, digesting that with a sharp grunt as he straightens. Or maybe, for once, he's picking his words carefully. "He knows we're going on a mission, that it's dangerous. Aint no hiding that from him."

The Tauran shifts his weight, his long reflexive gesture to reach for his ear -- for the cigarette that hasn't been present for weeks now -- still happening, even if he doesn't bother to correct it. "If we told him everything--" including, especially -- the intention to get the raider flying and leave, "If it were me, at his age, being what he'd been through, I'd want to go with. Aint going to happen, and no good planting the idea." He seems set, jaw tightening.

-

Most of the time, going into discussions like these, Ines has firm ideas about what she believes is best or right, and pushback from him immediately inspires a stubborn look. On this she remains conflicted, though, and takes in what he says silently, weighing it against her thoughts and obvious uncertainties.

"You think he understands how dangerous?" The question is not rhetorical. "I can't stand the thought that after everything he's been through, if things..." Pause. "If things go poorly and we just...we never come back..." The thought would create a speed-bump for her to clear no matter when she articulated that, but now, and maybe especially in light of that understated gesture of affection from him just moments ago, it creates a knot in her throat that it takes her a moment to quell. "That he'd not really understand why. Why we had to go."

-

Slowly, Gage folds his arms, as explicit a statement of his own stubborn thinking as any. He seems set -- determined -- not to entertain this idea, a level of stubbornness that goes beyond his normal stance. His jaw flexes, exhaling sharply. "He aint going to be alone. The others will explain -- I've talked to the father of one of the other kids, worst comes to worst and we don't come back -- he'll look out for the boy."

Rolling his shoulders for a moment, he says, "You could... write him a note, something." It's a poor concession, and he knows it, to judge by the momentary flicker of gaze.

-

Troubled, worried eyes beneath knit brows regard the Tauran with uncommon nakedness of sentiment, opposing impulses of mysterious character nevertheless writ clear in it, tussling back and forth. Tomak is a seawall of reluctance and there's nothing for her to glean from the set of his expression, nothing between the lines to read. Gaze angled down, her half-turn away turns into a near-to-full one, facing the table and reaching for the spool of wire she'd been cataloguing. Her hand lingers on it, but she does nothing with it. There are miles of distance in her eyes.

"I just don't want him to feel abandoned," she admits eventually, words that strive for pragmatism and contain in spite of her wishes a note of something deeply personal. "Or that we didn't tell him because we- because it was easy to leave him and we didn't care enough, or..."

She quiets, and some moments later her shoulders settle. Bend, maybe -- but it's hard to see, beneath all of those layers she's wearing. "Okay." She concedes. "Maybe a letter is enough." Maybe she's trying to convince herself that this is true. "I'll...I'll write him one."

-

"We aint abandoning him," is all Gage says on the topic, voice flat. The pilot's troubled inspection of him only seems to result in an even more closed-off stance from the Tauran, going so far as turn away -- ostensibly so he can move over to inspect her gathered tools -- but really just a fiction masking his obstinate determination not to have this conversation.

It's a strained kind of silence, one that, after a time, even the taciturn Tauran feels obligated to fill: "Lot of things here. King'll need to carry it all, I'll have the explosives."

-

In spite of her concession, the troubled look she's wearing doesn't abate. She's going to trust him, clearly -- trust his better grasp of the hows and whys of children, more than anything -- but the worries remain, anchored down to fears that predate Nate's presence in her life entirely.

Still, for him, she tries to pull herself back into mood he found her in: tired but resolute, clear of conscience. If not optimism, exactly, then a close cousin of that thing. "I can carry the lighter things. He left his-" Stirring, she finally lifts her head and turns, casting her gaze across the garage until she finds it, "-backpack." Two strides later she has a hand on the handle on top, and hauls it up onto the workbench. Sliding it strap-side down over to the place she's assembled most of what they're taking, she looks up at him. At his face in profile. "How long, do you think? To set them? We're coming with you when you do? Better we're close, no?"

-

Gage's tense, walled-off posture remains, though it slips briefly in the moment she moves over to take the backpack, worried gaze tracking her for a moment. Whatever's in his expression is gone by the time she looks up at him, though; he begins handing her things -- the crowbar, first, then the mallet. After a moment, he nods. "We all need to stay in visual contact. There's no comms, and things will get pretty hectic, pretty fast."

His mouth draws down into a frown, gaze distant. "Aint sure how long it will take. We haven't seen the fuel stores, we're just banking on them being close to the landing pad -- because it's logical. If it's all clustered, I can probably drop the backback there and remote deonate. But if they're separated, I'll have to wire the explosives and detonators to enough of them to cause a chain reaction." He speaks with a quiet confidence, either way -- this is his bread and butter.

-

In spite of herself -- in spite of everything -- there's the faint candlelight flicker of a smile some moments after he finishes explaining, a light percolating up into eyes that were moments ago heavy guilt and uncertainty. It's such a small change, but it changes her face entirely. "I'm actually going to get to see what you do," she says, words stained with realization and something almost like delight. "Well. I've seen some of it, but...you know." The pleased look lingers while she takes the things he's giving her and begins to pack them with an obvious plan in mind, according to things like ease of access and probable timing. A short, thoughtful silence later, the curl at the corner of her mouth increases, fueled by real humor. "The good stuff," she clarifies. There's a spark of amusement in her eyes as she glances up at him sidelong, just briefly.

"I put the orange cloth we found in with my things earlier, too. With the paint. King's been tinkering with the two radios -- the one from the warehouse and the one we found."

-

Gage hands her the duct tape, a vague, unvoiced approval of her efficient packing in the brief nod he gives. There's a moment or two of unbidden surprise from Gage at Ines' sudden enthusiasm. "Could've blown stuff up for you any time, Correa, if you wanted to see. You only had to ask," he says, gruffly, though there's a definite hint of a smile appearing in response to her obvious amusement.

"May not get a signal through until you're far out. Worth a shot though," he says, giving a thoughtful scratch of his beard as he hands her the wiring. "Correa," he begins, stops.

Undoubtedly he rethinks whatever he was going to say. It's too long a pause for him not to. "We can do this," is all he finally comes up with. It hasn't got half of her level of enthusiasm, but he's trying.

-

It's actually the way he responds to her interest -- gruff as usual -- that gets her to laugh, one bright note of it filling the stark, cold air in the garage, increasingly thick with shadows as the daylight, what little of that remains, fails. "Oh? They'll just give you explosives to play with, will they?" She tchs, eyes dancing with the laugh she's too tired to sustain for any greater length of time. She sleeves her words in playful lamentation. "I really did pick the wrong career track, didn't I."

She's still packing things when he says what he does. Draws her gaze before the silence that's over-long for what he eventually offers. In the past he's seen her debate with herself about whether or not to ask; very rarely, she's actually pushed for him to tell her whatever it is he meant to say. Tonight she does neither. Her lashes lower slightly, eyes slipped off of his expression to some point on his chest.

"I know," is what she says, softly enough that it's entirely possible she's responding to whatever she believes he didn't say, and not the thing he did -- an impression made stronger by the pause between those two words and the ones that follow, which really do address his voiced opinion. That, as she stirs again. Resumes packing. "We're good at what we do." Pause. "Even if he can't get it working for outgoing, he thinks he might be able to use it to-"

Another pause. This one is sudden and sharp, and she stiffens where she stands. Her head turns, eyes slightly wide, locked onto him. Realizing. Hearing what he said. Really hearing it.

"What do you mean, 'until you're far out?'"

-

"I mean, if you ask the right person, yeah." Gage is probably boasting far over his ability to bribe anyone who knows him well enough to give him random explosives. He follows that with a snort of amusement. "Don't know. Aint seen you flying yet, only ever seen you crash," he says, with a twitch of lips.

"Use it for...?" but that distraction certainly isn't going to fly, not with her stiffening posture and sharp gaze. He's casual, deliberately so. He also doesn't look at her. "Misspoke," is all he says. "I aint the one flying."

-

It's not going to fly. 'Misspoke' ought to be something she can believe, it ought to be enough, but...

But it's Tomak. And she knows him. And it's the kind of thing he would do, isn't it? Stay behind. Try to help the others.

She ought to know. She ought to know better than anyone.

The wire cutters clatter on the floor, dropped, as she turns to grasp his near arm with one hand and push, intent on getting his other arm with her other hand. And her grip is strong, for all that she's weaker than usual: it contains every ounce of the breathless storm building in her chest.

"Gage." The sheer volume of the thoughts and feelings contained in that single utterance of his name is astounding. "Look at me." Pale eyes rake his face, scouring it for hints of a lie as she tries to convince her lungs to take more than the shallowest sips of air.

-

She knows him. It's exactly the sort of thing he would do. Stay behind -- for the others, for Nate, to not leave him alone. To not have that conversation with the boy, because it's not needed.

It's when she utters his name that Gage's posture stiffens, ruining any attempt at pretence or dissassembling. She knows. And now he knows that she knows. It paints his posture in reluctance when he does, eventually, look at her.

His jaw is tight, determination in his expression, wanting to bear up under the scrutiny of her expression and largely succeeding by sheer dint of well-practiced stubbornness. "You know I have to," he says, after a beat of silence. "Rhodes, Arda, Nate, the others -- those they'll free. Can't leave 'em."

-

She lets go of his arms with the suddenness of someone struck, pulling her hands off of him as though he'd been too hot to touch. Recoiling. Astonishment and injury flash raw through her expression, sharp and bright. It takes her breath away.

"You bastard," she whispers, wide-eyed words that don't contain any vitriol at all, full of something else that struggles to surface through her stunned disbelief. Soft, like wonder. It's all she can say for long moments, but she does eventually find her tongue.

"And what about me? Gage? What if-" She finally fights her way into a deeper breath, but the longer she goes on speaking the harder that is, small pants of air snatched from between fragments of increasingly wobbly sentences as the ground erodes out from beneath her emotional control. "Rhodes told me about Hyperion, how the brass wouldn't let her go back for the others and what if they do that again? What if they tell me we can't come back, what if- what if you frakking die out here while we're trying to get back?"

Her expression remains shock-neutral, so there's no way to see it coming at all -- no hint of a buckling, no overt misery beyond a subtle tremble of the lips. She just blinks once and her cheeks are wet, a sudden spillover of tears that seem to come out of nowhere. She doesn't even seem as though she's aware of them, though she must be; there's no way her vision isn't instantly a blur of color and darkness. "Please. Please don't. Please don't do this to me."

-

Gage opens his mouth, shuts it. He takes the initial accusation with little more than a tightening of jaw, as if it's to be expected -- as if it's his due. Her reaction is definitely not something the Tauran anticipates. Yelling, maybe, or arguments, but not quiet, teary pleading.

"Hey," he reaches a thumb to brush at some of the wetness on her cheek. "This aint Hyperion. We're Wolves. We don't just give up." And he's a gods-damned marine on top of that. It isn't in him to leave others behind, and that instinct is so strong there's not even a trace of apology in the thread of his admittedly soft words. "Besides, you're too much like me -- too damn stubborn -- to leave us behind, yeah?" He tries for a light tone, even a flicker of a smile.

There's no hesitation -- he reaches for her, to pull her into him -- to wrap his arms around her. "Gonna be okay, Ines. I promise." It's not a promise he has any right to make, with the battle still ahead of them, let alone anything else that might come after. But he makes it all the same.

-

Ines Correa has not cried -- really, truly, actually cried -- in three years. She can vividly remember the last time she did, because she'd had the very real fear she might never be able to stop. She's managed to leave that behind in the time since, along with so many other things she thought made her weak. It's a lonelier, less indulgent life, but she thought she'd made a fortress of it. And then: this gods-damned marine.

She cries now because she can't not; because it's the least price of the precious thing she made an exception for -- against every last rule she invented for herself when she decided she was finished with crying forever. Somehow, she's absolutely silent as she does.

It's fortunate that he's so unhesitating when he reaches for her, because for some moments she has no choice but to give him her weight, dizzy with fever and denial and pre-emptive grief and fear and things she has no name for, yet. She lets him do it, and it's so obvious, the way she wants that embrace more than anything, fingers clutched hard into fur and cloth, and simultaneously wants to fight off any attempt from him to even so much as touch her.

It takes time for the shaking of her shoulders to stop -- time counted in whole minutes -- and when it finally does she's exhausted, burning up, eyes unfocused on the workbench with its optimistic collection of tools for an escape she suddenly feels very differently about. There's defeat in her expression: she can't force him onto the raider, and she knows that. She learned all about the impossibility of making him do anything that day by the fence, when he refused to put on the vest. But it's a deeper defeat than that, too. She cannot bring herself to hope that things will turn out to be alright, and so, already, she's trying to comprehend the inevitable loss of him.

-

He's silent, while she shakes and cries -- arms tightening around her as if he can stem the flow, lend her his strength -- something. But all he can really do is wait it out, knowing and all too aware she's crying because of him. That he's doing this to her, and even if he'd a mind to, he wouldn't change it.

When her shaking subsides, he presses lips into the top of her head. His, "I'm sorry," is murmured there. "You weren't--" he breaks off. Even he's acutely aware telling her she wasn't supposed to realize until it was too late would only make things worse. He tries again, this time his voice cracking with unvoiced emotion, washed over with regret: "I should've told you."

-

Ines doesn't tense at that broken almost-admission -- probably because she realizes that, given it slipped on accident. She doesn't say anything, and she doesn't answer his last words, either, silent and quiescent, staring at nothing. The silence is long. Like maybe, if they just stay there, that way, it doesn't have to happen the way she's afraid it's going to. Like she can put it off forever.

...She can't, though. They can't. Eventually she makes herself let go, but only after straightening onto her own two feet, a hand cautiously kept on him to make sure she hasn't just wept herself into dizziness. She wipes half-heartedly at the tears on her face, well beyond caring about that, though it would mortify her under other circumstances.

"Let's finish getting ready," she says, finally, hoarse and quiet, for lack of knowing what else to say. There's still no anger in it -- just sad resignation.

She can't quite bring herself to look at him, afraid if she does the tears will start all over again, but she does lift one hand and seek the side of his face briefly with one hot and humid palm. It's as much forgiveness as she can manage in the moment.

-

When she moves, he releases her reluctantly. She might not be looking at him, but Gage is watching her, sidelong. Taking in that resignation, and hardening his own expression. He bends to pick up the wire cutters, handing them to her in silence.

It's only in that moment -- only when she presses that palm against his face for a moment -- that his expression cracks, a sharp inhale of breath and a stifling of noise. It stills him for a moments, before he keeps moving, now not looking at her either, but more at ease than moments before.

It's enough. It's all they have.


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