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night and day

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Part I - night

Sometimes Kimberly feels like the only good thing she’s ever done is fall in love, even though it seems at times like the only thing it's brought her is pain. Pain that feels like it's entirely her fault.

She remembers the last time they were together, really together (not just a handful of minutes between dawn and dusk where all they have time to do is make sure the other is still alive and well) like it was yesterday. And in a way, it was yesterday. Her entire life since that moment seems like sort of extended bad dream. Always moving. Always hiding. There have been times when she’s considered whether it was even worth it to keep trying. Days when the only thing that kept her going was a well timed joke from Zack or a solid, comforting hug from Jason.

The fact that they were still here, that they had stood by her (by them both) was overwhelming to her. She didn’t feel she’d ever done anything to deserve it, but she knew that she couldn’t give up entirely because then everything they’d sacrificed, all that they’d endured would be for nothing.

It doesn’t help that every passing day brings them closer to the moment when they won’t be able to salvage this, when they’ll be living in twilight and dawn for the rest of their lives.

But most days, the fact that they’re both alive is enough. The fact that there’s still a chance they can be together again, truly together, not this half-life they’ve lived for nearly two years, can keep her going. One night at a time. That’s all she can do.

It’s enough because it has to be.

+++ 

Billy Cranston’s mother always assured him that there was nothing wrong with him, that he was unique, special, that he had amazing gifts. But she’d also told him that the world wasn’t ready for him to share those gifts, that they wouldn’t understand. That he would have to hide them because to show them could be a disaster.

And he knew she was right because whenever he accidently let something slip, whenever he talked too long or too fast, or didn’t laugh when someone made what he figured was a joke, or took something seriously when he wasn’t supposed to, people would look at him sidelong. Sometimes they were just confused, but sometimes… sometimes if his mind got too far ahead of his mouth and he wasn’t being careful, he started talking about his research, and the looks become less confused and more what his mother called hostile. The hostile faces were the ones he had to be careful of. Always.

The day his life changed forever started just like any other. His mother went to work in the morning just like usual. She was one of the assistant cooks in the kitchens up in the Bishop’s house and had for as long as Billy could remember. Back when he was younger she took him with her, but the older he got, the less understanding the head cook was of him being around, and the more worried his mother got of someone finding out about his research, so now she left him at home, even though he knew she didn’t like leaving him alone for too long.

Mostly he kept to himself, staying in and reading one of his books. When his mother had first realized how smart he was, he’d found a man who tutored him. The man was old, eccentric, grumpy, but Billy was mostly immune to his moods and his surliness, and once the man realized Billy’s potential he had stopped being so dismissive of him and started really teaching him. On Billy’s sixteenth birthday, after seven years of tutoring, the man declared that he had taught Billy everything he could, gifted him half his library and then sent him on his way. When the old man died a few months later, he left Billy the other half of his library.

At night, he looked the sky through the telescope he had built based on the illustrations in one of the books. He never went out. Or rather, he rarely went out.

Occasionally his mother would set him small tasks to do, errands to run, like picking up packages she’d already arranged. It was easy and routine and the shopkeepers were kind enough to him because they liked his mother. On that particular fateful day, she’d asked him to go to the baker to pick up some bread. He spent most of the morning doing calculations on the positions of the stars he’d noted last night, and then he set out for the baker.

And somehow, that short trip had brought him to where he is now, crashing through the woods, lungs straining, muscles burning, trying to escape from armed men who want to throw him in the Bishop’s dungeons…

He wasn’t even entirely sure what happened. One minute he was standing in line, and then a rat faced boy with red hair was bumping into him, hard. The satchel Billy always carried, old and worn as it was, had split open, and his notebook had spilled out, along with his ink and the quill he always kept in his bag in pristine order. He’d knelt down immediately, trying to put it all back in place, but having a hard time because the red haired boy was talking to him. His words and his tone were cruel. The baker had come out of his shop and was telling the boy to go away. Someone had knelt next to Billy to try to help him gather his things, which was even more upsetting somehow, and Billy started to get that buzzing in his head he always did when things started to overwhelm him.

Before it could get too much worse, everything had suddenly gone quiet Everyone around him seemed to freeze and they’d backed away from him as though they’d all been stung. The only one who remained near was the red haired boy, who was being held in place by the baker.

Billy, still reeling from the distress of the moment, had looked up to see a four man patrol of the Bishop’s guards approaching. No wonder everyone had gone quiet. The Bishop had absolute power here, and his guards were known to exercise that authority in unpredictable ways… yet another reason Billy usually stayed out of sight. Handling unpredictable situations wasn’t always his strong suit. He continued to shove things back into his satchel (the strap was broken, but the bag itself was still whole). As he reached for his notebook, gloved hand beat him to it.

His eyes followed the movement, and he stood in order to keep the book in sight. He didn’t look at the face of the man who held it.

“What is going on here, then?” asked the man holding his book, using it to gesture at him and at the baker. Billy thought his voice was low and calm, but the baker was standing stiff, and his normally friendly round face had gone motionless and grim. Billy wasn’t great at reading moods, but he knew enough to know when something bad was happening.

The baker spoke now, “This man was harassing one of my customers for no reason.”

“He’s a freak!” spat the red haired boy. “We’ve all seen him wandering about talking to himself about heresy and nonsense.”

The baker opened his mouth to protest, but he was cut off by the guard, who was looking at the book in his hand, “Heresy? Surely not. Such a… peaceful looking boy.”  And then he opened the book, flipped slowly through the pages, and saw what Billy had written…

That’s when they’d grabbed him by the arms and began wrestling him towards the castle, his bag still clutched in his hands. Billy could barely think with their hands on him. It was making his skin crawl, but somehow he managed to latch on to a single thought.  His mother. What was it his mother had told him… if someone was to find out about him, if they looked like they were going to hurt him or take him away…

“Don’t worry about me, Billy. If someone tries to take you away, just run.”

And so when the men got distracted by a commotion up the street (someone being robbed perhaps?), he had kicked out at one of them. In their sheer surprise, they dropped his arms, and he’d run towards the edge of town as fast as his legs could carry him.

+++

He thought they would give up once they got into the forest. The forest outside town was supposedly haunted. Everyone had heard the stories. People strayed off the path and were devoured by foul creatures or attacked by evil spirits and returned changed and incurable. Everyone claimed to know someone who had seen something.

Billy thought the stories were silly. Logically, he didn’t thing such things could exist, so when he got to the forest, he didn’t hesitate to split off from the path. However, evidently the Bishop’s men weren’t as superstitious as Billy’s neighbors because they crashed in after him. He’d evaded them as well as he could, but unfortunately it wasn’t that well. He had no experience of being chased, or of being in the woods outside of what he had read in one of his old teacher’s books.

He was crashing loudly through the underbrush, he had no idea how to walk without sound. And he was tiring quickly as he ran between trees and through bushes, thorns snagging on his clothes, sweat running down his back. He knew his mother would be upset when she saw the state of his shirt. She spent so much time cleaning and mending his clothes when his experiments didn’t go the way he wanted.

It was also getting darker. The sun had just sunk beneath the horizon as he crashed through a thick copse of trees and into a clearing… a clearing with someone’s camp set up in it.

There are two well used, oft mended but sturdy canvas tents set up around a fire pit. There’s an iron pot suspended over a fire pit with a low fire burning in it, but no people around. Billy wanted help, but for all he knows the people here were as bad as the men following him.

Unfortunately, the moment he’s taken to examine the camp has slowed him up enough that the Bishop’s men have caught up with him. The four of them have crashed through the bushes behind him, and Billy grunts as the lead man slams into him hard from behind, bearing him to the ground and knocking the wind from his lungs. The guard, huge, unwashed and stinking of mead, grabs Billy and in one swift movement, pulls him roughly to his feet and turns him around. Then he punches Billy hard in the face, and he falls to the ground again, landing hard, feeling as though his left cheek is exploding. He can taste blood in his mouth.

The guard goes down on one knee next to Billy and grabs him by his collar, pulling his top half off the ground and growling, “That’s for making us run, you piece of shit!” right in his face. Billy cringes, the man’s proximity making his skin crawl for a hundred different reasons.

The guard leader, the one who had spoken to Billy and the baker back in town, is still holding the notebook, “Running only makes it harder on you, my boy,” he says, his voice still deceptively calming, matter of fact. He gestures with the book, “You should have come quietly. Now we must make of you a lesson…”

The guard holding him pulls back his fist and punches him again in the same place he did before. Pain explodes through Billy’s  head again, this time accompanied by a little light show behind his eyes, and he groans loudly. He’s too stunned and distressed to even try to move or get away. The guard’s grip on his shirt is strong. The leader gestures to another one of the guards, this one small and lithe with the face of a weasel. The man holding him drops him roughly to the ground and gets out of the way as the smaller guard draws what looks like a black jack from his belt, covered in leather, weighted and cruel looking. The weasel man grins broadly as approaches, raising the weapon over his head.

Billy screws his eyes shut and braces himself as much as he can to take the hit… but then he hears a solid, fleshy thunk, and a loud groan of pain. He looks up just in time to see the man who was about to hit him grab at the hilt of the dagger sunk into the center of his chest and fall heavily to the ground.

“Four against one doesn’t seem fair,” says a voice behind him. Despite the pain and fear still threatening to overwhelm him, Billy scrambles around so he can see the source of the voice, the guards having temporarily forgotten him. His left eye is swelling closed quickly, but he can still see relatively clearly. And what he sees is surprising.  There’s a woman standing in the entrance to the tent. In the light of the full moon above, she looks almost luminous. She’s wearing what looks like a cotton sleeping gown, light and loose. It might have once been dyed red, but now it’s faded to a sort of rose pink. Her hair is brown and slightly mussed and hangs loosely just above her shoulders, not at all like the hair of the women in town, who wear their hair long or pinned tight to their heads. Her feet are bare.

The leader glares at her, “That was foolish, woman. This was none of your affair, and now you have consigned yourself to the boy’s fate.”

“We’ll see,” she says. Her voice is confident and authoritative, almost eager. She’s moved into a defensive stance and is holding another dagger in her left hand and light sword in her right. Billy has never seen a woman do such a thing before, and it’s clear the Bishop’s men haven’t either. They can’t seem to get past the fact that she is a woman, they don’t seem to see what Billy sees: that this woman holds those weapons like they’re extensions of her arms. This is not the first time she’s fought…

He hears one of them chuckle, “Stand down, girlie. We don’t want to hurt you.”

“I very much doubt that, handsome,” she says, one eyebrow rising, “You have a choice here. Leave or I’ll make you regret that you came.”

The men laugh. The one who’d punched Billy says, “Hoff was my best friend. I’ll enjoy killing you, bitch…”

The woman’s mouth curls into a grin as hard as the look in her eyes, and Billy thinks that if he were one of the guards, he would run. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

Billy’s isn’t sure what the guards are expecting, but it’s probably not for the woman to come charging at them so fast she’s practically a blur. She makes such quick work of the men that he can barely keep track of her movements. She ducks under a sword, and dodges a fist before driving her dagger into the first man’s throat and slashing her sword hard across the chest of the second, knocking him back groaning. She pulls back her elbow, catching the nose of the third man who was trying to charge her from behind, then turns and runs him through.

Almost before Billy can register any of these things consciously, three more bodies are on the ground and the woman stands over them with a fierce look of satisfaction in her eyes. “They could at least have made an effort,” she mutters. She takes a deep breath and then looks at Billy.

“Are you all right?” she asks, her face and her tone significantly softer than it had been a moment ago. Her eyes are a dark brown and filled with concern. Her skin is a shade Billy has rarely seen. There are a few Moors like him in this part of the province, but this woman’s bronze skin is too light to be Moorish, but too dark to be native French, even if she got plenty of sun.

Billy nods a bit dumbly as he lets her help him to his feet, and once he’s standing, blood rushes to his face, and suddenly, he’s hit with a wave of throbbing pain. His eye is now well and truly swollen shut, and the whole left side of his face feels as large and round as a melon.

“Thank you,” he says, polite like his mother taught him, his words come out half muffled because of his face, and talking makes him ache, but he still can’t stop himself rambling, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to come barging in, but they were chasing me, and I don’t even really know why. My mother just wanted me to buy bread, and then someone ran into me, and then the guards showed up… oh no my mother. She’ll be wondering where I am, and where her bread is, I can’t…”

The woman puts a hand on his arm gently to stop him, then removes it just as quickly when she sees him stiffen, looking just a little affronted by his reaction, although her words are soothing, not upset, when she speaks, “Don’t worry I won’t hurt you.”

“It’s not that it’s just…” Billy looks at the ground, feeling bad because this woman had just saved his life with the most impressive display of swordsmanship he’s ever seen in person. He didn’t want her thinking he didn’t appreciate it, but… “… I don’t like to be touched.”

Her brow furrows.

“Really, it’s not you…” he looks around at the clearing to avoid her seeing her face, and whatever hurt or confused or angry look might be there, and his eyes fall to his notebook. He exhales a huge sigh of relief and bends over to pick it up, reeling slightly when he stands, feeling light headed.

“Go easy, friend. You took a bit of a beating. My name is Kimberly,” she says it gently, and he feels like she’s probably trying to let him know that she understands he wasn’t trying to offend her.

“Billy. Billy Cranston, my friends call me Billy Cranston… not that I really have any friends I don’t go out a lot and when I do sometimes stuff happens that…”

Kimberly holds her hand up, still smiling, “I don’t mean to interrupt, Billy, but your face needs tending to,” she looks around at the men at her feet, that hard look crossing her face again (although there’s a certain satisfaction there as well). “As does this trash,” she mutters under her breath as she leads him slowly towards a crate set up by the fire as a makeshift chair. She settles him down gently and says, “I’ll be back in a moment. Don’t go anywhere.”

She heads back into the tent she’d come out of, and he can hear her moving things around inside. A part of him belatedly realizes that maybe he should be more wary of someone who just took out four guardsmen in less than a minute and hadn’t even broken a sweat, but she was being so kind to him that he almost felt bad for thinking she might not have the best intentions. His mother had always told him he needed to be more careful about who he trusts but…

Before he could complete his thought, there was a rustling in the woods he was facing towards, the ones behind the tents. He’s frozen in place, his mind suddenly in overdrive. What if it was more guards? Enough that even someone like Kimberly couldn’t handle them all? What if it was someone who wasn’t as nice as her… what if…

The rustling got louder and suddenly a huge brown shape burst out of the undergrowth and came charging across the camp. Crying out, Billy scrambles away in an inelegant tangle of limbs, falling off the crate backside first and frantically moving backwards, his eyes trained on the creature that’s now stopped about four feet away, watching him in a way that's far more calculating than he thought wild animals could be.

His panicked mind identifies it as a wolf. A huge wolf, at least twice as big as any he’s ever read about. Its murderous yellow eyes are trained on him, ears back, teeth bared. He can see the powerful muscles beneath the dark brown coat of fur, flexing as it advances on him, slowly now. There’s a rumbling growl coming from deep in its throat, the kind of sound that’s been causing primal terror in human beings since the dawn of time. 

It stops again, a foot away now, and he thinks it might be getting ready to jump on him, crouching, muscles coiling. Billy braces himself for attack for the second time in less than a quarter hour… and for the second time the attack doesn’t come because of Kimberly.

He hears the tent flap rustle, and his eyes fly open. He opens his mouth to warn Kimberly that she needs to run, but the sight that greets him surprises him almost as much as the wolf’s sudden appearance had.

“Where have you been?” Kimberly asks conversationally. She doesn’t seem in the least bit worried that this massive wolf is standing here still glaring at him like he’s dinner. She’s changed her close and is now dressed like a man: leather vest worn over a roughspun linen shirt, and a pair of worn leather breaches, her feet now clad in sturdy leather boots. Her sword is sheathed on a belt at her waist and she has a leather satchel slung over one shoulder.

Her tone as she speaks to the wolf confuses him. It is chiding, Billy thinks, but fond, like the way his mother talks to him when she walks in and finds that Billy as forgotten to clean up one experiment before beginning another, or has neglected a chore in favor of working.

The wolf growls again (in response to Kimberly’s words??), but this time it’s more like a huff than a snarl.

“Leave the boy alone. It isn’t his fault you made an assumption,” she looks at Billy and shrugs apologetically, “Apologies. She doesn’t always have the best manners.”

“This is your… pet?” Billy asks, not quite sure what else to say.

Another growl. Not nearly so friendly. The wolf looks at him in a way that he thinks is meant to be reproachful. He’s not great with expressions on humans, though, so figuring out what a wolf is doing is a tiny bit beyond him. The message is fairly clear though: Not a pet.

Kimberly kneels in front of the wolf and puts her arms around its neck as easily as if she were greeting an old friend. But there’s something that tells him there’s more than that. Even with his difficulty grasping feelings, he can sense something between the woman and the wolf, and it’s almost… intimate. He feels like he’s intruding as he watches the girl bury her face in the thick fur at the wolf’s neck, eyes closed, everything about her relaxed and soft in a way it wasn’t even when she was trying to put Billy at ease. She’s entirely unguarded. The wolf has also relaxed and has her head draped over Kimberly’s shoulder. He thinks Kimberly is speaking to the wolf quietly, but he can’t make out what she’s saying.

After a long moment, Kimberly stands and the wolf rises from its crouch, no longer standing aggressively. She’s still powerful, still radiates danger, but she’s no longer coiled to strike, no longer angry, although her yellow eyes are still intense and guarded, almost human in the way they look at him now.

Which is, of course, ridiculous.  He’s heard the tales of half creatures and werewolves, but that’s old superstition, the kind of thing that holds men like the Bishop and his followers back. Billy is about progress. About science. It’s why his mother always tells him he’s destined for something great.

He forgets about the wolf briefly as Kimberly walks over and offers her hand to him again. He takes it and she rights the crate and sits him down on it again. The wolf nudges Kimberly in the side, looks up at her as if asking a question. She runs her hand over its sleek head and scratches briefly behind the ears, and nods, “Sleep. You know you’re always tired after you eat.”

The wolf trots a few feet away, curls up by the fire and takes a deep breath before going to sleep. Kimberly gives the animal another one of those nakedly fond looks again, and then turns back to Billy. She seats her self across from him on another crate, and puts the satchel down in front of her. She pulls out vials filled with different colored liquids and a roll of linen bandages.

“I’m not the best doctor we have, but I don’t think you’re hurt too badly. I can at least patch you up a bit. Then we can light the fire,” she looks at him carefully, “I’m going to need to touch you to do this, is that all right?”

Billy is intensely grateful for this simple question. His mother was the only one who ever asked him things like that. He nods, and then closes his eyes as she begins cleaning up his face with a soft linen cloth.

She begins humming softly as she works, and soon the humming turns to soft singing, her voice low and lovely, something about yearning and two souls as one and lost love. Her soothing hands and gentle song lull him, and by the time she’s done, he’s fallen asleep sitting up.

+++

Jason Scott doesn’t like leaving the women alone in the camp, and it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re women. He was a man of his time, and he had been raised to believe that women should hold a certain place, but he’d met Kimberly Hart when he was thirteen had left home to begin his training as one of her father’s personal guardsmen. The girl was a year younger than him and a half foot shorter, and he’d thought her father was being too indulgent when he’d told his master of arms to start training her alongside the guards. But he was quickly proven wrong.

Some of the other men had resented her, or laughed at her, but Jason had admired her immensely. As much as he’d been taught women had their place, his father had also told him that men should be judged on their own merits, and he had begun to think that maybe that included women too.

So he knew Kimberly was more than capable of taking care of herself, but that was part of the problem because she also had a serious temper and never backed down from a challenge if she could help it. If someone didn’t turn and walk away from the fight, she would go at them full speed no matter who they were. She’d spent nearly two years restless, and angry, and sad and sometimes so overwhelmingly depressed she could barely stand to get up out of bed. Any chance for a release was welcomed almost too enthusiastically. (Jason hated sparring with her on her particularly bad days)

But they’d been running low on food and supplies and information, so he and Zack had ridden out to town to pick up what they could. The girls had to stay at camp because if they were identified it would be the end of all of them. It had only been a day and a half, but Jason knew that Kim was probably getting restless, and he never liked them to stay in one place for too long anyway, so he was anxious to get back.

His worst fears seem like they’ve been realized when they drive their small cart into camp at least two hours after midnight and take in the sight before them, illuminated by the nearly full moon. The wolf lies by the fire, eyes half open and tracking Kimberly as she moves with purpose around the camp. The wolf never took her eyes off Kim if she could help it. Kim herself was busy dragging a man who looked about twice her weight from the middle of the camp to the bushes near the edge, where she’d dug a deep trench. Her clothes were smudged with dirt and her face shone with sweat.  From his angle he could see that this was not the first body she’d deposited into the pit.

Zack grins, shaking his head as he slides off the wagon’s bench and starts unhitching the horses, “So ran into a little trouble then, Princess?”

Kim sends him a baleful look, and the wolf by the fire gives one of her blood curdling growls. Zack likes to push, but even Jason knows that calling Kim by that name is entirely off limits for either of them, “I just killed four men and this pit has room enough for at least one more,” she growls before she heaves the man into the pit with an unladylike grunt.

Zack raises his hands in surrender and shoots his most charming smile first at Kimberly and then at the wolf. It has little effect as per usual, “All right all right. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Jason meant when he told you to ‘Keep out of trouble’”

“Trouble came to me, thank you very much,” Kimberly retorts, looking over at Jason before she picks up the shovel leaning against the pile of dirt next to the pit and starts pouring dirt back into it, “And I’m cleaning up the mess. It’s fine.”

Jason walks over to the edge of the pit and looks down at the men. He groans, “It’s not fine, Kimberly. Those are the Bishop’s men! You were supposed to take her and keep out of sight if they showed. I knew we shouldn’t have camped this close to town.”

“It’s not that close, and we’re a half mile from the path,” Kim says, her tone calm and logical, as though killing four of the Bishop’s troops was something completely reasonable, “And besides it wasn’t as though I had a choice. They were going to beat an innocent man within an inch of his life.”

“We have to stay safe, Kim. We can’t just trying to right every minor injustice we see…”

“If they were just harassing him or taking some coin, maybe. But they probably would’ve killed him. And you know as well as I do that if we don’t stop something like that we’re no better than…” she trails off but Jason knows who she’s talking about. And he knows she’s right. Which is annoying because Kim is always insufferable when she’s right.

He sighs, conceding the point without saying as much, “Where is this person you saved exactly?”

“The tent. He basically passed out while I was cleaning up his wounds.”

“Well, good to know he didn’t end up in the pit too.”

Kim gestures with her head towards the wolf who was now being given vigorous behind the ear scratches by Zack (which causes Kim to smile fondly), “Almost did. She came back from finding her dinner while I was changing clothes and fetching the supplies. Nearly gave him a heart attack.”

“So she almost killed someone?”

Kim’s smile drops instantly. She stops shoveling and turns to face him. He’s five inches taller than her but he suddenly feels like she’s towering over him. Some combination of an imperious regal manner that no amount of rough living can fully wash away and the fact that she’s got one hand on the hilt of her sword has him fighting the urge to take a step back. He stands his ground, but he knows that anyone who didn’t know her as well as he did would’ve retreated.

“I was joking, Jason. She didn’t do anything.”

“She threatened an innocent man.”

“She saw a man surrounded by dead bodies in the middle of the camp and we were nowhere near.”

“You know that she’s always tracking you, Kimberly. She knew you were still alive.”

“But not that I was well. Just knowing I was in the tent and breathing meant nothing. She’s just protective. She’s always been protective.  It’s not like she tackled him. She just growled at him a little. She calmed down as soon as I came out.”

"Kim..." he's not sure what to say now. Her stance is still fierce, but he can see her eyes shining. She knows that this hurts her. That talking about this is painful. That every moment of every night is painful.

She interrupts his thoughts, "And if she had truly threatened him? Then what? What would you propose we do, Captain?" she says the last word like she’s twisting a knife, and that’s when he knows she’s truly angry, because that’s the only time she goes out of her way to wound. And it works. The reminder of his old life, of their old life and the way he failed them all still stings even after all this time. "Shall we put her down like an animal, put her out of her misery?" and even as she says it he sees the anger being overtaken by sadness, the tears well and truly rolling down her face now, her voice cracking. 

She swipes at her face angrily, managing to spread more dirt over her nose, obviously upset that she's cracked like this. She hates to show this kind of weakness, and Jason doesn't like it either. It's not just that he hates to see his best friend in pain, it's knowing that starting down this road can lead to one of her dark days or worse.

Before he can respond, they hear a low huff and Jason looks down to see that the wolf has appeared at Kim's side, nuzzling her nose into Kim's side and looking up at her with calm yellow eyes. Kim buries her hand in the scruff of the wolf's neck and closes her eyes, her body relaxing, sagging slightly into the wolf's side as it remains standing solid and steady by her side, even though the tears continue to leak out of her eyes.

With her guard down, Jason can see how exhausted Kim is. The dark circles under her eyes, the way everything about her is half slumped now that she's relaxed even a little. He sighs. Kim is on edge. They all are. They all have been for a long time. He takes a step forward and takes the shovel from her. Her grip yields immediately. She opens her eyes and looks at him, the anger drained away, leaving only a sort of melancholy calm.

"Rest. You need sleep. I'll finish this."

Kim nods and reaches her free hand out, puts it over his on the shovel's handle, "I'm sorry, Jason," she says, "I didn't mean it. I'm just..."

"I know. I'm sorry too. I know you were only doing what you thought you had to," he gives her a half smile, a sort of peace offering, "Even if you were perhaps slightly more vigorous than necessary."

She gives him the ghost of a smile as well, "Well, you know I'm not one for half measures."

"No, indeed you're not."

He holds her gaze for a long moment, then she turns back toward the center of camp, leaving Jason to finish filling in the grave. He goes to it immediately, not even turning around to watch Kim walk away. He knows that if he did look, he would see the wolf settling down by the fire once more, now awake and vigilant, and Kim lying down next to her, head resting on the wolf's chest eyes closing. He knows she'll fall asleep to the strong, steady heartbeat she can hear there.

It’s not the most secure way to sleep, out in the open, but Jason can’t bring himself to discourage it. He knows the situation is nearly impossible, but he can’t take this away from Kimberly, from either of them. These small moments of imagined peace are all they really have these days.

He shovels dirt into the rapidly filling hole in silence for a while, and then he hears Zack walk up behind him, "I've sorted the supplies."

"Good."

"Is Kimberly all right?"

"As much as she ever is."

Zack sighs ruefully, "That good huh?"  He looks into the pit, "Bishops men?"

"Yes."

"That's going to be a problem,” it’s a statement not a question because they both know the Bishop notices everything and that he is not a forgiving man.

"Most likely."

"You know there's a man sleeping in the tent?"

"I was informed."

"Is that going to be an issue too?”

"It's a possibility. Especially since evidently he's seen the wolf."

Zack frowns, "A big issue then."

Jason just grunts, lifting the shovel again.

Zack waits for a few moments, the only sound the crackling of the fire and the shucking of the dirt. Then he says, "What are we going to do about it then?"

"What we always do."

"Stumble around in the dark until we blunder into a solution that somehow miraculously ends up with us escaping certain death at the last moment?"

He almost laughs at that, "You make our lives sound much more exciting than they are. But yes, something like that."

Zack nods and pats him on the shoulder, "I'm going to make some dinner" Then he retreats back towards the camp, leaving Jason alone with his thoughts again.

They have a new set of worries, yes, but they've survived this long on their wits and their luck, so perhaps it will continue that way. He hopes things will look better in the light of day and then laughs to himself for even daring to do so.  It's not like the daylight has ever held fewer dangers for them than the night.