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warm in a blizzard

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It's always been hard to sleep. But it becomes harder, having something to protect.

Something soft, and small and bundled in snow furs just to keep warm enough during the night, to conceal the fragility of her stature.

Asirpa is the strongest warrior. Though she cries and laughs and plays as commonly as any child, she’s an avid strategist, a braveheart by nature. She's a gem and a rarity but even she can't deny that Sugimoto, or any of the group is a magnet for trouble. So is why the four of them still travel in this pack---eating, fighting, sleeping in huddles. The cave they chose to spend the night in is anything but cozy and just a bit above freezing, but Asirpa snores like she’s sleeping nestled inside an animals entrails, morbid peach.

But for Sugimoto, it's hard, so very hard to sleep when her little warm exhales bounce off the sensitive hollow of his clothed back, reverberate against rock walls. It tickles. He'd like to face her because then and only then might he actually be comfortable enough, staring into her sweet face, to fall asleep. With her he may drop all guards; most of them at least, with Shiraishi in front of him and Ogata on Asirpa’s side--- it may be safe.

Not safe enough for peace or persimmons, or smiles, or admissions but safe enough to blink. For this, he's thankful. Asirpa deserves it.

He's almost lulling. Eyes heavy, lost in thought… and then he hears scuffing cloth behind him.

Ogata is awake.

The two men scowl with closed eyes, facing opposite sides of the cave but frustrated in their own rights.

As for Ogata; the man can't sleep like this.

Something, isn't right.

He huffs silently before changing to lay on his other side--- and then he's breathing in wafts of little Asirpa's sweet-smelling hair, her warmth is washing over him in tidal waves. He wiggles his toes on a whim, like they're in warm sand instead of cold leather.

Yes, this is it:

Sleepy Ogata unthinkingly crowds up on her. Throws a heavy leg over to tangle between her own thin ones, and hugs the child, security, sleepy need. This is the most content he's ever been, right now. He smells Asirpa with every inhale, his numb fingers comb through the fur of her coat.

He thinks, very vaguely, of his mother.

All the while Ogata reminisces himself awake, Sugimoto tells himself he is not an idiot. He seethes, eyes wide. Give me one more reason, he threatens mutely. Almost wanting to believe the hunter capable of innocence.

But as though on cue Ogata is sniffing Asirpa, loudly and deeply---

Sugimoto flips over too and shoves a hand at Ogata’s face---careful, of course, not to wake Asirpa--- who squints and grabs at the hand. A siblings’ squabble, childish and tame and Ogata opens his eyes to (in the most quiet manner possible) shove back. Hand to hand to leg to hip, they push and pull and box in and surround their charge with body parts, like fools. At one point they come to a standstill, every limb available being used just to keep the other man at bay and inched away from the sleeping girl.

Ogata whispers, smug and dark, “Mad I made the first move?”

At which Sugimoto snarls. "Bastard." Jabs a fist at Ogata’s throat that's only barely blocked, instead popping his lip open and then both men are jumping to their feet, teeth bared and eyes bloodshot to battle proper.

Kicking, hitting, shoving against echoing walls in desperate silence. Sugimoto gets a broken finger and Ogata a bloody nose. Silence. Weapons clatter, the sound of their heavy breathing is ferocious, such destruction carried out in cautious quiet only makes them fiercer when goaded on by the possessive look in the other's eye. When Ogata kicks Sugimoto square in the stomach, sending him across the tight space, his bayonet, which he'd taken out more as a bluff rather than with malicious intent, hits the stone ground with a loud echo.

And both men ---freeze.

Little bird, snow hare--- light sleeper Asirpa winces awake.

Both men wear an expression of concern or in Ogata's case, blank curiosity at what she’ll do.

Wrath. She sits up sharp, back to her guardians.

Bloodlust. Sugimoto bites his lip.

They watch her as she groans, like the turn of a sleepy bear's awakening, expecting a scolding.

But Asirpa yawns sweetly, and rolls over into Shiraishi. Hugs him like a teddy bear and in his sleep he folds an arm around her.

The brutes stare at the peaceful, sleeping pair with big eyes.

A beat passes.

“That was your fault.”

Sugimoto’s brow raises in abrupt shock. “My fault!?”

Both Shiraishi and Asirpa moan and mumble sleepy noises and Ogata smirks at Sugimoto's sinking shame.

“Goodnight,” Ogata says, pretending to yawn. He lays down beside them and Sugimoto exhales steam. Breathe, breathe.

Then he sighs.

Then he picks up his rifle to sling around his back, and walks quietly to the cave's edge.

It's a few more hours ‘til dawn. He sits down to ponder, watch the snow fall in slothful pellets, trees and stars glowing in the moonlight.

And see, Sugimoto is in the habit of pointing out every little lovely, mundane detail of the natural world he shares with Asirpa with receptive excitement. Truthfully, it helps him to feel young again; helps him remember why he's here at all.

The snow glows, see your breath? It’s spiritual, beautiful. It’s instinct, by now, so he feels quite foolish when he opens his mouth to speak and side-eyes the space beside him, only to see nobody there.