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The Gunsmith: A Lady's Favour

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Dying Light (c) Techland


 There’s a little girl in dire need of modern day magic, and still Crane tells me: “Stay here.”

For a moment I consider knocking my shoulder into his back, so I’d get to watch him flail at the air and tumble down into the narrow alley squashed up between weathered, white brickwork.

It’d be droll. Briefly.

“Do you even know what insulin looks like?”

He snaps his head around, catches me staring, and there’s a shift in his posture, like now he is the one thinking about picking me up and throwing me off the edge.

“I can read,” he informs me, matter of fact, a slight curl in his lips hinting at a challenging smile, any threat gone. I’m partial to it, and he knows that, but I’m not about to let that change my mind.

“I’m coming with—“ I start, and his light brown eyes go to my left hand. Of course. It gets my fingers twitching, and it hurts. There’s a churning hunger in my belly too, something that pinches it painfully and brings a flush to my insides. A needy one, one I’m not proud of. I lie to myself then, tell myself it’s not that hunger that makes me want to come with him. It’s just what we do. We stick together, because he’d gotten good at being around me, and I no longer wanted him gone. “—I’m not a cripple.”

Crane sighs. My victory, his defeat, and he juts his chin down to the shutters barring the pharmacy entrance.

“Let’s get to work then,” he grunts and I Uh-huh in agreement.

We get down there and it’s stuffy between the buildings, all stagnant air and the stink of rot. No Biters though. The closest group of them loiters a stone throw up the cobbled alley, arms dangling by their sides, heads lolling on stiff necks. The shutters aren’t fully closed, and Crane gets down on his haunches, slips his fingers into the gap. He adjusts his grip, gets his legs apart, and then he pulls and he heaves, and I get to watch between glances left and right, because it’s my job to keep a look out and make sure we don’t get ourselves pinched in.

It’s his job to make a racket, quite obviously, because the moment the shutters come up an ear splitting alarm floods the streets.

“Great,” Crane mutters, just loud enough for me to hear. “That’ll ring the dinner bell.”

He snatches his crowbar from its loop. It takes a testing cut at the air while he steps into the dark, and I slip in next to him, not quite wanting to be caught in the open.

There’s too much sun in Harran, I decide, because I can’t see a bloody thing in here with my eyes not used to the gloom, but it’s not like I got much of a choice. Crane is already facing the entrance again, his back crowding me towards a counter. I feel it nudge me forward and then I’m over the wooden top, my knees snapping over it in a practised vault, thighs sliding across the surface and legs sweeping clutter to the floor.

The alarm grates at my nerves and it gets my heart hammering hard, if a little wearily because there’s really only so much tension that poor thing is able to handle these days. Living on the edge of things, balancing barefoot on a sharpened blade, it had you stop feeling the cut somewhere down the line, or you grew skin so thick it didn’t matter any more.

Sure, I’ve got an inkling about when I stopped caring so damn much. The five digits on my left hand itch in agreement to that, even the three that I’d lost.


“Any day now!” Crane complains from the front of the pharmacy and I can hear the strain in his voice. There’s a THUNK of metal sinking into meat a moment later, and a hiss and a grunt, and I can’t really tell if its him making those noises or the Biters trying to chew their way through him.

“Okay—okay—“ So there’s need for a rush, for frantic looks up and down the back wall. Luckily the triggered alarm flashes a bright red out of the corner of my eye a moment later, and it takes only a flip of a switch to shush the bloody thing.

After that it’s just a matter of waiting for Crane to shove two more Biters back out into the sunlight, while I contemplate my bow nuzzled tightly against my side. I'm a decent shot. Not stellar. Decent. But it's damn narrow in here and I might put an arrow in his back, or lodge it in his backside, and that's something I'd never live down. He's got things under control though, knocks the Biters out, and stretches himself to his full height so he can grab the bottom of the shutters. Man doesn’t even have to jump to reach them, gets his hands on them easily from down here, and hauls them back down with a rattle of metal plates grinding together and bouncing over rails in desperate need of oiling.

Yeah, he’s perfected the art of causing a ruckus, though this time he’s forgiven, because no Biter is about to gnaw its way through that.

His flashlight clicks on soon as he turns around. It hits me straight on— my poor blinkers, they’d just gotten used to the dark —and then begins a mad dance over the place.

“Clear?” He sounds all professional, like we’re some sort of special ops squad and I ought to start going OOHRAAH and pound my chest or some other such nonsense. Maybe he’d like it if I salute and bark Yessir at him.

’Hell, no.’

“Clear,” I mutter and give my stinging eyes a rub with the back of my right hand.

We rummage through the place and of course its empty. I certainly can’t find a thing— Insulin, Insulin, only looking for insulin, not Vicodin, not Percodan, not— I knock my pelvis into a shelf, stretch out to try and reach a nook with a pile of discarded meds in them. One of the labels looked familiar. Started with a Vi. Ended with an In. But I can’t reach it and I hiss in frustration, a noise that draws Crane to me as effectively as any loud bang gets Virals congregating at your door.

“Need help?” His flashlight cuts to me first, and then up the shelf, sniffing for whatever had gotten my attention. He’s standing awfully close now, crowds me against the wood, his chest brushing against my shoulders and a thigh getting cozy with my rump.

I grit my teeth.

He flicks his fingers through the pile of meds, small, empty cardboard boxes falling down around me, and I wonder when he’d lost his respect for my comfort zone. When he’d started invading it like it wasn’t a big deal.

I’ll readily admit that I never overly appreciated getting prodded at with the blunt ends of crowbars or having my chin poked with pens and flashlights because he’d worked up a fear over laying a finger on me. A decent enough gesture, I admit, especially for an oaf that didn’t know how to deal with yours truly, but really man? Prod-Prod-Prod I recall, the bump against my shoulder and his professional curiosity riding along the length of the crowbar, staring me down.

“Nothing there,” he tells me, but doesn’t move, stays hovering there, looking down at me probably because I can feel his breath ghosting along the top of my head and tickling my neck. The fingers on his right hand are tapping out a rhythm on the wood somewhere, a steady one that he favours and that I still haven’t figured out the tune to yet. There’s a part of me that wants to tilt my eyes up. Maybe to ask him what song keeps bouncing around in his head, but there’s another one that doesn’t, the one that’s all red-faced, and not because I’m not hating the proximity, but because I’d been hoping I’d found something.

My missing fingers itch again.

“You okay?”

Of course he catches on, because that’s what he bloody does, reads me like a book flaunting its pages open for the world to see, and I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

I nod at the dark shelf in front of me. His hand slips down, cups my right shoulder and treks down my arm until it settled by my elbow to give it a squeeze. Gentle. Reassuring.

“If I catch you pinching any pain meds—“ He lets the rest of the sentence trail off and I wish I’d mastered a convincing growl, because there’s a squeak in my throat. His hand comes off and the warmth against my back fades, too.

CLICK his radio goes, and he’s back to work.

Later— at the cusps of dusk with the sun painting Harran pink —we bring an old, weathered wizard his magic potion. He thanks us with a nod of his head, the gigantic, purple wizard’s hat on him bobbing listlessly, like it wanted nothing more than to be put out of its misery.

Rupert is his name and he used to be a gunsmith, until the virus happened and he’d put on his wizard’s hat (not a robe though, thank God), and started playing make believe within the halls of his very own Magic Castle. When Crane and I had rocked up at his door (whereas Crane had done most of the rocking, while I’d done a lot of shuffling) he’d been of a mind to kick us out again. But by then Crane had taken one look around the place, decided it needed a serving of heroics, and— well here we are again, Insulin delivered, quest completed, but by far not done.

He calls Troy and insists Rupert can’t take care of this on his own, that him and his wife need help. A wife we hadn’t met yet by the by, since she’d gone out to get supplies. Brave soul, that woman, but then I take one look at the old man and I hope with everything I got that he got himself a young and spry wife, because Harran’s locals don’t care much for senior citizen privileges these days. They won’t be making room in a bus and they sure as hell don’t discriminate when they take a bite.

It’s not a happy thought that, and I try not to linger on it as I wander off— and promptly find myself faced with another dilemma.

I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve got no idea what to do with kids. And there are a lot of them here, a whole roomful of them, scattered on the carpets or rolling around on messy beds. They’re making kid noises, snuffling and sneezing and TUT-TUT-TUT ing while revving up toy car engines, and here I am, just standing there with my thumbs in my trouser pockets and my back against a wall.

’Please don’t talk to me— please don’t talk to me— please don—‘

“Are you married?”

My eyes snap to the little girl in her pink pullover and the messy blonde hair tied together in a wobbly pony tail. ’Bollocks.’ There are maybe three kids in the group that speak English. Right now the lot of them are clustered together tightly, arranging themselves in front of me with their faces turned up.


’What am I supposed to do? Get down on a level with them? Make faces? Run?’

Panic kicks around in my chest, and then turns to amusement. Children scare me more than Biters? Wow, who would have thunk. It’s almost enough to make me laugh, but that girl keeps staring at me, like she’s actually expecting an answer.

“No?” I say eventually and she pouts.

“You two should get married.”

“What the fu—“

“Hey,” Crane cuts me off just in time, and my lips snap shut. ’Smooth.’

He looks a little spooked himself, eyes cutting between the trio of little bodies, and then tries on a wavering smile. Oh great— we’re both useless in the face this particular threat.

“I think she’s talking about us,” he educates me, the wavering smile gaining a bit of ground on the right side of his mouth, tucking the shadow of his beard up nicely. At this point I regret not having knocked him off that ledge, because now my ears are burning and it’s not shame this time, or the itch in my fingers, but something a lot easier explained and a lot harder to ignore.

He hunkers down in front of the junior people, asks one of the boys his name, and I tuck my right ear against my shoulder, rub at it as if that’d put the flames out. For a beat there’s just me and my embarrassment, but then my treacherous heart picks up on the soft cadence in his voice, the tenderness and lift to it.

The sound tickles at me from the inside, reminds me that I’m a woman. A slow burn eats itself way through my gut, a primal and lightheaded need that wants my attention. I click my teeth and my knees knock together. There’s a warning banner flapping around in my head, one that proclaims I’ve left the harbour of sanity and am headed straight for looney town.

“Can you keep a secret?” the boy asks Crane and the man proclaims that “Yeah—Yeah, sure I can.” and that we two have a secret to share if he feels like trading. Well I know I do at any rate, and its threatening to sink me like a ship that sprung a leak. My heart whines. The sea out there isn’t liking me very much, it’s rough and it’s dangerous, and I don’t like it, because it feels right, but I know it isn’t.


Turns out the boys secret isn’t much of a secret, but a child’s venture down some stairs it shouldn’t have gone venturing on, leading to the sad loss of building blocks. Crane seems amused by that, and when the boy asks if he could go fetch them for him, he’s all set to be the hero, even if it does sound like a tall order and there might be casualties on the way.

“I got it,” I hear myself say. There’s something wrong with my voice, I realise with growing concern. It comes out all squeaky.

Crane does what he so does of course, he notices and his brows rock up on his forehead. But he doesn’t say anything as I flee the room, my heart up in my throat.

The blocks aren’t a problem. I take my time with them, enjoy the chill in the abandoned staircase which helps cool down the flush.

The noise, now that turns into an issue. A wheezing breath filters through the basement door at the bottom of the stairs. Even faint as it is it sends familiar tension climbing my spine, and I know its a Biter, even if I can’t see it. I test the door (since Crane had been rubbing off me with all his stupid heroics). Locked.


My heart slinks back down, settles somewhere by my kidney, getting all cozy where it shouldn’t be.

It’s a guess, of course. A terrible one. Could be anything. Any one . But I tell Crane anyway after I deliver the building blocks, and it turns out Jasmine, Rupert’s wife, hadn’t been around to help in a long while and she wasn’t about to get back to it any time soon either. Or ever, really.

He pleads with Crane for a little while. Tells him he can still hear her voice in there. Somewhere. Tells him that he’d rather let her kill him than lay a hand on her. At that point Crane’s shoulders take on a defeated slouch and I can see how he doesn’t want to do this, but its what he does. He goes and he fixes what other people can’t, like it’s his responsibility to be more than he’d been made to be.

This time I don’t argue when he tells me to stay back. I sit with the kids, the ones that believe us warriors (the knight and the archer lady) who’d come to save the day, and I find out that crayons can get very sticky and like to smear fingers with paint.

It doesn’t take him very long and I look up when he trudges into the room. He lifts his eyes from where they’re busy keeping track of his steps, and stares at me from across a landscape of colourful carpets and a sea of scattered toys. There’s a frown on his lips, and I decide I don’t like it. I gather my legs up under me and push myself up to my feet, but his hand gives me a very direct order. Stay, it demands, and I settle back down, because you don’t argue with Kyle Crane, it never really ends well. At least not far as I’ve got to experience.

He vanishes into the small side room where Rupert sits with the sick girl, the one we’d brought the magic potion for.

That takes longer. By the time Crane rejoins me there’s a deep red flush to the skies, and I know we’re not going back tonight.

He gets down on his haunches next to me. The frown is still there, thought it blunts itself a little as he looks at me, goes to war with his professional calm.

“Troy is sending a few people over tomorrow, so I figured we could stay until they arrive. You cool with that?”

I nod.


His lips tug up, and he’s about to open his mouth again when a small hand grabs for his shoulder and the pink-sweater girl gets his attention.

“Whats up?”

“Can you kill the troll for us,” she asks and we both get our brows all pinched up in confusion.

“The what?” That's the both of us too, and I'm tempted to say jinx, but he beats me to it and flashes me a grin that I swear ends up searing itself into brain and lingers on while time passes.

“There’s a troll, it lives right outside. It’s always very loud and we can’t sleep.”

Crane glances at me. I shrug. Kids. Crazy little buggers. Right?

“Yeah— I— I guess,” he rubs his hands along his thighs and pats at his knees before he stands back up. Damn that man is tall, why couldn’t he just be decent about it and shrink himself a little?

He looks down at me while he rotates his shoulders and pumps his fingers into fists. Already warming up, ready for more work, even if I can see the fatigue on him. It’s subtle, all the way until it isn’t, and then it’s too late to even bother with it. I wonder if he’d ever admit to being tired, or if dead on his feet was the only acceptable operational mode on him.

“I’ll ask Rupert about that— uh— troll, be right back.”

“Okay,” I tell the spot of ground that had just been occupied by a Crane, and try not to watch him go. It’s something I’d been doing a lot, and a habit I’d like to break.

“You should like, give him a kiss.”

’Urgh..’ My eyes go up to the girl and then she sits down next to me, bumps a little shoulder into my side. I flinch.

“I don’t think so,” is all I manage and she doesn’t seem impressed. In fact, she’s straight out disappointed, judging by the heavy sigh she’s puffing up. It’s a very grown-up sigh, way too meaningful for such a tiny body, and she makes me feel like I’d just said something ridiculous.

“Okay, but then—“ Her little fingers poke at my hip and I look down. She’s tugging at the dirty, blue bandana looped in my belt, the one Crane had given me a few days ago saying You need more blue. Whatever the bleeding hell he’d been on about then I still didn’t know.

“You gotta give him that,” she concludes and I just frown at her, because I know what she’s on about, but come on now. Seriously?

And what does she do? She pouts at me, little lips pulling down, and tiny brows all furrowed.

“All knight needs a lady’s favour when they go battling monster.” The And you should know that, you stupid old goose, hangs in the air between the cheeky little skunk and me, and I admit defeat.


That gets her smiling then, and when Crane returns with intel on his troll, and I get up to join him, she’s not far behind.

“I can handle this one. It’s just one of these goon things down in the parking lot,” he tells me. Of course he can. Not a moment wasted to make me feel like I’m not really of that much use. I’m not arguing this time though, because I’m tired, and unlike him I’m okay with admitting it.

I sigh. Grab his wrist. The warmth of it reminds me that we're both alive, not like that's an easy thing to forget, but it is a good thing, and there's so little of that going around these days that being reminded of it isn't half bad. My grab for him jolts him though, since he's not used to me reaching out without a threat of sorts looming over us, and my name bumps against my ears, confused and a little alarmed.

“She made me do it,” I mutter and loop the bandanna around his wrist, just where the joint pops up and his glove ends. There are scrapes on his skin there, old ones and new ones, and I'm of half a mind to consider my gesture more of a first aid exercise than a stupid favour tacked on the Zone's very own knight. My teeth start chewing on my bottom lip as I work, and its slow work, because I don't want to make a mess of it, and there's a chance I look silly already since I seem to have forgotten how to tie a knot. His fingers busy themselves with ticking against my forearm while I try to remember how this is supposed to work, and the touch of them stirs up more trouble in my gut. I grit my teeth. He sees how my jaw flexes and he chuckles, a soft and disarming sound that does very little to ease the pressure building where it had no business building at all.

“What, no kiss?”

Of course. I glare at him and his lips twitch up in a rueful smile.

“No? Okay.”

The stupid smile isn’t going anywhere though, even once my fingers fall away from the tied favour in blue. They linger on the tail end of it a little longer than I really want them to, but just a goon or not, he’s going out there and just really doesn’t mean anything in Harran.


When I let go he steps away, doesn’t miss a beat and doesn’t say goodbye or thank you or whatever else you’re supposed to say, because he’s convinced he’ll come back. All I've got to do in the meantime is wait, and I suppose I've gotten pretty good at that.

So I don't watch him go. Instead I go look for Rupert, a yawn already threatening to tear my jaw off its hinges, and decide to get a head start on the whole sleep deal that Crane likes to neglect.