New York state, 1926
All in all, it was not the most auspicious of beginnings for a romantic rendezvous. For one thing, Mr Jones was bleeding rather heavily. For another, the temperature had dropped precipitously immediately after sunset, progressing from “chilly” straight through to “colder than Satan’s asshole” without much fanfare. Neither copious amounts of blood nor turning into a human icicle had featured in Marion's plans for the evening.
“This is your fault,” Marion huffed over her shoulder, trudging slowly through the snow. There was no response. “It’s a shortcut, Miss Ravenwood, don’t worry; we’ll be back before sunset, sure, of course! Why did I even listen to you?” She should have known better. This was his first time in the area, let alone up French Point Mountain; she should have told him to stick to the trail. It was safer than stumbling around the mountain at dusk.
For that matter, she should have remembered the weather forecast and thought ahead to what that would mean for visibility. But she’d been so excited to be alone with him, she’d been more focused on what they could talk about, and if him agreeing to hike with her meant he liked her as much as she liked him, and whether he’d kiss her at the summit. She’d been so nervous that she’d barely managed to look at him at all on their way up. And at the top, as they’d paused and looked out at the glory of Lake George and the New York countryside… absolutely nothing at all had happened.
No kiss. No thoughtful, thrilling conversation. Not even a little bit of the sly teasing that they’d hesitantly indulged in back at Princeton. It was the first time they’d been truly alone, and instead of sweeping her off her feet like a Lothario or Don Juan, Mr Jones had instead cleared his throat, looked away, and said that the view was very good, but they should probably be heading back down.
“... Alright,” Marion had said, disappointment sitting heavy in her stomach.
He… he was probably busy. He had a lot of work to do before he’d be ready for his viva, after all, and her father had said…
Maybe she'd misread the situation. He was probably just trying to be kind and let her down gently.
She’d blinked back her tears and managed to paste on a smile and set off back down the mountainside, her back to the view.
And that should have been it, really. That would have been it, had not Mr Jones evidently been so eager to get her back home that he’d tried to work out a shortcut across the trail, and had not Marion been so busy being disappointed that she hadn’t done much more than issue a token protest.
Half an hour later, Mr Jones had found out why the shortcut didn’t exist when the ground had given way under his feet and he’d pitched, head-first, into a boulder that seemed to be present solely to slam into his forehead.
He hadn’t woken since then.
Marion was fairly certain that he was not, in fact, dead. He’d been bleeding rather a lot for a dead man, first of all. Secondly, his pulse had remained fairly stable throughout. Finally, no God would be cruel enough to kill her beau on their first date. It was just unthinkable.
She was a little worried that he hadn’t woken up, though. Concussion was a definite possibility, and there wasn’t a great deal she could do about it when they were still miles away from any help. No, the only thing she was able to do was to get them back to the trail, find shelter for the night, and wait for the morning.
Marion glanced over her shoulder, frowning. “Mr Jones? Mr Jones, are you awake yet?”
He stayed silent, only the top of his head visible.
After a moment’s hesitation, Marion dropped the guide-ropes and gingerly stepped around the travois poles, kneeling next to Mr Jones’s insensate form. She peeled back the swaddled bandages around his forehead, checking that the bleeding had stopped. “Well, that’s something, at least.” His pulse was also strong and steady, and he still appeared to be breathing normally. She patted his shoulder and got back to her feet, lifting the guide ropes at the head of the travois and re-tying them across her torso. “Just so you know,” she said thickly as she started again, her chest burning from the sting of the ropes and freezing air, “this isn’t what I had in mind for my first date.”
Mr Jones didn’t appear to have anything to say to that.
Marion sighed and got them going again. They had quite some distance still to go before dawn. Her father would have already set off to look for them, she was fairly certain; or if not now, then certainly at first light. She just had to get them to someplace safe and wait for rescue.
And make sure that Mr Jones didn’t die on her in the meantime.
If he dies, I’m joining a nunnery.
All she’d wanted was to spend some time with him without her father around. Even when her father wasn’t actively playing the role of chaperone, he’d seemed to be present in spirit. And all she wanted to do was go on a date; was that so wrong? She’d spent the majority of her life so far being dragged from one dig to another, or on her own in her father’s rooms at Princeton. Everyone around her was more or less a good two decades older, and it wasn’t like there were any other people her age at the digs. The closest she came to age-appropriate companionship was an occasional chat with her father’s postgrad students, and the only time any of them even spoke to her was during the faculty dinners.
The last one - a little after she’d turned sixteen - had been especially humiliating. She’d worn her new dress (made for her debut cotillion, and therefore only worn once) and had tried to make small talk with a handsome young student. You can call me - David? Derek? Something like that. He hadn’t been particularly communicative, beyond offering her his given name immediately, and so she’d tried to fill the silence herself, talking about her father’s last dig in Ashkelon and her impressions of al-Majdal. They’d been following up on Garstang’s discoveries back in ‘21, and her father had let her get involved with the excavation of one of the palisades in the pentapolis.
Donald had listened gravely, staring fixedly at her mouth as she spoke. Eventually he’d grunted agreement at some question - she couldn’t even remember what she’s asked - and taken her hand, drawing her a bit closer.
She’d stopped mid-sentence, and smiled a little.
And then Daniel had said, You know, Marion, you’d be real pretty if you just talked a little less.
The next time her father requested she accompany him to a faculty dinner, she’d pleaded women’s troubles and stayed at home.
Well. Mr Jones, she was sure, wasn’t like that. For one thing, she had known him for six months, and they had yet to progress to first name terms. For another thing, he actually seemed to like it when she talked. She’d mentioned Ashkelon in passing to him and he’d immediately asked her about it. When had she gone there? What was the condition of the site? How was al-Majdal? Did she speak much Arabic? Was she intending to go into archaeology herself?
It was possibly the first time Marion had been asked by someone other than her father what she wanted to accomplish in her life.
“You were supposed to be taking the lead here, just so you know,” she informed Mr Jones’s insensate form, shifting under the weight of the ropes cutting into her shoulders. “You were supposed to do something, maybe even kiss me. You were not supposed to fall over and split your head open. This was supposed to be a date.”
Well, she thought determinedly, there was very little to be done. She’d have to get them to a safe place for the night, get Mr Jones back to safety in the morning, and then ask him out on another date - a proper one - once he’d regained consciousness.
Honestly, this whole dating lark was nowhere as easy as the romance novels had made it appear. She hoped that Mr Jones was worth it.
Her main focus at the moment however was getting them camped down before the light went completely out. There was a sheltered outcrop not too far from the main trail, and it would do as a bivouac site. If she could get them out of the wind, someone would be along by daylight, she was sure. All she had to do was get them through the night. She could just about see the edge of it, the sharp white jut of rock limned by the fading wintry light. It was maybe an hour away, maybe a little less. She could do that. He wasn’t that heavy on a travois, even on such a steep slope. An hour was doable. She could do an hour.
“This wouldn't have happened,” she told Jones, panting, “if you'd kissed me instead of falling off a mountain.”
She was trying to tell herself that he just wasn't interested. Or that he was interested, but maybe not ready. Or interested and ready, but frightened of her father. Or interested and ready and not frightened of her father, but afflicted by crippling stupidity.
This whole thing was her fault. She’d been the one to suggest the hike, after all, under the guise of showing him the view across Lake George. She should have known that things would go south almost immediately - certainly Mr Jones seemed to have a lot more scars than the average archaeological postgrad, which spoke of clumsiness or carelessness or both - but she’d been blinded by his seeming-competence and assumed that there couldn’t possibly be anything to catch on fire or fall over in New York. How was she to know that he'd rather break his head open than kiss her?
She wasn't that plain-looking, surely.
The overhang was painfully close, but the last few meters were difficult with a travois. She dropped the ropes and considered lifting the travois poles herself, but that just seemed even more likely to result in Mr Jones being dropped on his head again. “Mr Jones, are you awake? Come on, you have to get up, now. We’re at the shelter, but I can’t carry you up the final part. I’ll need you to help.” She pressed a hand to his cheek. “Mr Jones?”
One eye slowly blinked open. “You could call me Indiana, you know,” Mr Jones wheezed.
Marion stared at him. “No, I couldn't."
“You could,” Mr Jones insisted. He managed to get his other eye open. It looked like it cost him a lot. “You're rescuing me from mortal peril." The corner of his mouth quirked up in a faint smile. "You should probably call me Indiana."
There were many suitable responses to this, the clear winner being, "but that's not even your name!" She'd checked with the registrar.
He laughed a little, despite the pain. "It is. Trust me, Miss Ravenwood. You - you can call me Indiana." He levered himself up on his elbows.
Marion shook her head, grabbed him under the armpits and pulled as he pushed, staggering under his weight. “I’ll bear that in mind,” she huffed. Christ, he was heavy. “This way, then. Indiana."
Slowly, painfully, they made their way up the final few meters. Jones crawled under the overhang and slumped down as Marion returned back down the slope to retrieve the now-empty travois and drag it up with her. As Jones watched her with heavy-lidded eyes, she disassembled the travois back into its constituent parts - one jacket, the sleeves turned inwards; two hiking poles; three balls of hiking rope - and propped the jacket up between the poles to serve as a wind-break at the mouth of the overhang. That accomplished, she hesitated a moment before crawling in next to Mr Jo- Indiana, and letting him wrap an arm around her.
“They’ll look for us in the morning,” Marion said unnecessarily. She had opted to lie down facing him, despite the intimacy of it, to make sure that she’d know if he was in difficulty. His wound didn’t seem to be bleeding too much now, but you could never tell with a head wound how serious it was. “I’m sure they’ll reach us soon. And I have my hand-mirror with me. Once the sun is up, we can use it as a heliograph.” She didn’t know why she was saying this. Indiana wasn’t panicking. He hadn’t even inquired about her plans for the rescue. He’d just… put himself in her hands and passed out.
She found his lack of skepticism disturbing.
Indiana made a noncommittal sound at her commentary and rested his cheek against the top of her head. “I’m not worried about that. You’re very well prepared.” Unlike me, he didn’t say, but she heard it just the same. He paused for a moment. “That was some hike, Miss Ravenwood.” He made it sound like it was a good thing.
She felt her lips twitch involuntarily. "It was supposed to be a date."
"So I gathered." He was silent against her for a moment. "You really are quite extraordinarily, Miss Ravenwood," he whispered. He exhaled, his warm breath ruffling her hair. “Thanks for saving me.”
Marion looked up at him with a crooked smile. “You’re welcome.”
She pressed her head against his chest again, closing her eyes. She wasn’t worried. It wasn’t that cold here, the wind-break doing a decent job of protecting them from the mountain currents. They could last the night, no problem, and in the morning, they’d be rescued.
Not quite the romantic stroll she’d had in mind, but… "Indiana?" She murmured.
Marion closed her eyes and moved closer, turning her head to rest her cheek against his chest, listening to his heart beat. She breathed out slowly, her stiff limbs relaxing. "You can call me Marion," she said.