“Jesus Marika,” Cassie says as soon as they’re out of the RV, “I thought you were dead.” She drops her backpack beside the RV and throws her arms around Ringer, pressing her face into the curve of her neck.
“You two know each other?” Zombie says, easing down beside their small fire and letting Dumbo fuss over his bandages while the rest of the Squad pretends not to stare at them.
Ringer doesn’t say anything, just brings her own arms up to clutch at the back of Cassie’s stolen uniform and breathes in the scent of her, earth and talcum powder and sweat.
“Yeah,” Cassie says, lifting her head and resting her chin on Ringer’s shoulder so she can see Zombie, “We meet a few days after I lost Sam and Dad, I wasn’t in the best place. I thought you were dead.” She repeats, pulling back from the embrace and just staring at Ringer.
“I’m not that easy to kill,” Ringer says, dropping down opposite Zombie and pulling Cassie down with her, “You of all people should know that, Sullivan.”
Half the squad start at Cassie’s laugh, none of them missing the double meaning to Ringer’s words. Nugget sits down beside Cassie and wriggles under her arm, and one of her hands comes up automatically to smooth back his curls. Something that Cassie had used to do to her late at night when Ringer had trouble falling asleep.
“Squad, this is Cassie. Cassie, this is Squad 53.” Zombie says, “You’ve got Dumbo here, Poundcake, Teacup, and then you know Ringer and Nugget.”
Ringer bites down on her bottom lip to stop the smile that threatens to appear at the way Cassie scrunches up her nose when she hears their names.
“Okay, do you guys have a plan?”
“Just to get Nugget out of Camp Haven, past that no,” Zombie says, wincing as Dumbo rebandages his gunshot wound, the one that she gave him.
“What happened there?” Cassie asks, jerking her head at his abdomen.
“I shot him,” Ringer says, because she doesn’t want Cassie to hear it from anyone else, “So that they would extract him from the field and take him back to the base so he could get Nugget.”
“Huh,” Is all Cassie says, still stroking Nugget’s hair with one hand while the other rests against Ringer’s thigh. “I have a rondeau at a hotel a couple of miles south of here, I’m meant to be meeting Evan there.”
The name means nothing to Ringer, but it clearly means something to Cassie, and to Zombie.
“Cassie,” Zombie says, looking at her with something a lot like pity in his eyes, “No one could have made it out of that place alive, Evan is most likely dead.”
“No,” Cassie says, her voice so sure, “He’s alive, you don’t know him like I do. He’s alive.”
Ringer can’t help but wonder why Cassie didn’t have this sort of faith in her.
“Okay then,” Zombie says, “We go to your rondeau then, it’s the only plan we’ve got.”
That night, once Nugget’s asleep, Cassie crawls into Ringer’s tent. Her hair glows under the light from the moon as she’s silhouetted in the doorway before she zips the door shut behind her, lying down beside Ringer and tucking herself into her side.
“I missed you,” Ringer says, quietly enough that if anyone other than Poundcake, who was on watch, was awake they wouldn’t be able to make out what she was saying.
“I missed you too,” Cassie says, her breath warm against Ringer’s shoulder, “When I was out there, after I thought something had happened to you, I felt so alone, like I was the last person left on the Earth. And I just missed you.”
“Well you don’t have to miss me anymore,” Ringer says, “I’m right here.”
Cassie props herself up on her elbow and stares at Ringer for a moment, eyes darting back and forth like she’s trying to memorize her face. Her free hand comes up to cradle Ringer’s face, thumb stroking her cheek idly.
“Cassie?” Ringer says, and Cassie comes back to herself, smiling sheepishly down at her.
“Sorry, I get a little lost sometimes.”
Ringer reaches up and slides her fingers into Cassie’s hair. It feels softer than she remembers, sliding easily through her fingers, and Ringer notes that Cassie has put on weight since the last time she saw her. When Ringer slides her hand up Cassie’s side she can’t feel the notch of each of her ribs like she could a few months ago, can feel where Cassie’s curves have started to fill out again.
Cassie leans down when Ringer tugs at her hair gently, kissing her slowly and carefully like she is something precious, something to be protected. Cassie swings her leg across Ringer; her knee’s bracketing Ringer’s hips and her palms pressed to the ground on either side of her head. When Ringer does that thing, or rather one of the things, with her tongue that Cassie likes the other girl makes a soft sound in the back of her throat, pressing down with her hips.
“Marika,” Cassie groans, voice high and breathy, when Ringer pulls back.
“I really missed you.”
“You can tell me about it later,” Ringer says, reaching up to push Cassie’s hair out of her face with a fondness that’s almost unfamiliar to her. “Right now sleep is in order.”
Ringer can think of a lot of things she’d like to do to Cassie, but she doesn’t think either of them is ready for that right now. Cassie seems to understand that too.
“Alright, but I’m holding you to that,” Cassie says, wriggling into the sleeping bag beside Ringer, resting her head on her shoulder and slinging an arm across her waist.
“Goodnight Cassie,” Ringer says, curling one arm around Cassie’s waist while the other rests beside her sidearm.
“Goodnight Marika,” Cassie says, “Sweet dreams.”
When Ringer wakes up for her turn on watch it’s to Cassie’s head on her chest and Zombie’s knowing look.