Wolf shivers. She has had a small pebble uncomfortably stuck under her left breast for the past three hours and it has started to be almost painful about half an hour ago. She slowly flexes her fingers around the trigger of her rifle, just to make sure they’re still there - because she sure as hell can’t feel them at the moment.
Next to her, Quiet hums tunelessly while not moving a muscle, the barrel of her Serval perfectly still.
“Aren’t you cold?” asks Wolf.
Quiet shakes her head sharply, the barrel the rifle still not moving.
It’s an easy mission, easy enough for Flaming Buffalo to approve it as part of her training as long as Quiet is with her. Take out three men as they come out of a meeting in a tiny huddle of tents in the Kalahari desert, twenty miles north from Tsabong. Possibly take out the rest of their entourage, swipe the intel for Ocelot waiting for them on base. It’s not explicitly part of their mission briefing, but on the heli Quiet mimed a sassy cat purring and slow-blinking and it made her laugh, so she assumes bringing back some intel will please Ocelot.
Now, after three hours lying on her stomach as the sand slowly cooled under her, her ribs and hipbones aching and that damn pebble stuck in her nipple, she understands why everybody was ready to sign off the mission to her. It’s boring, mind-numbingly so, and nobody wants to spend a night sitting in silence with Quiet.
She glances up under the fading green of her bangs. Quiet is like an ancient statue, stark against the night, skin smoothed by sand and scars like stone cracks all over her. The only thing that moves is her short hair, fluttering in the cool breeze, the silver strands in it catching the starlight. She’s beautiful, and the only reason Wolf is still happy to be on this mission. She can’t wait to see her shoot.
Some of the girls she trains with, those that did not come from Mother Base like they did, are still creeped out by Quiet. They can’t handle somebody that doesn’t speak. But Wolf knows the value of silence, and also knows that Quiet is mute but not unable to express herself. And Quiet is kind to her, in a gruff manner that feels less condescending than the melodramatic pity she gets from others. They have both lost something important, and they both choose to work with it.
A change of light catches her eye and she looks back to the tents. One of the flaps of the main tent has been parted, and two men stand silhouetted against the light from inside.
“Hm,” mutters Quiet. Her barrel moves a fraction. Wolf knows her aim is perfect but that she won’t shoot unless absolutely necessary, or asked to.
So she looks into the sights and aims. Takes her time. The men’s faces slowly come into focus, crosshairs superimposed over their muddled features. She takes a deep breath. One is a target. The other is a bodyguard. She inches her aim towards the target. “Take out the guard for me?” she breathes, and then squeezes the trigger.
Quiet’s serval goes fwipt just as her own Bambetov hits her shoulder with recoil. Then, both men fall down, heads mostly gone in a spray of bone dust and blood.
“Hm!” Quiet gives her a thumbs up.
Wolf beams. Five more people come out of the tent, and suddenly they’re shouting loud enough they can hear them. Wolf reloads, looks back into the sights, loses track of a target for a second because of a flashlight blinding her. Shoots, reloads, aims, shoots. Two men down.
She reloads again, and adrenaline is starting to kick in. People are shooting in random directions, too far away to possibly hit them but still enough for the muzzle flash to make it hard to aim. Her hand shakes. The bullet hits a man in the shoulder, and the agonising scream carried by the wind makes her hand shake more.
She does not notice Quiet is not shooting or that she’s dropped the Serval in the sand until she feels her pressed against her back, gloved hands on her arms.
Her heart skips a beat.
Quiet hums in her ear, no air moving out of her mouth. Presses cool lips to her cheek, cups her hands, stills the rifle.
Wolf breathes. Quiet smells like sunlight and rain, like ozone and dirt. Her shoulders relax. She corrects her aim. Squeeze. The man’s head is separated cleanly from his neck mid-scream. Reload, squeeze, the last guard goes flying without a jaw. Quiet hums something that sounds awfully like Pet Shop Boys’ Can You Forgive Her, and Wolf’s hands aren't shaking when she takes the last shot.
The lone remaining target goes down. The desert is silent again. Sweat cools down her spine. Quiet’s hands slide along her arms as she gets up and waits for her to do the same.
Everything hurts, but adrenaline still makes her feel lighter than a feather as she wobbles to her feet, folding the rifle stand away to sling it over her shoulder. Her boots sink in the sand as they descend the dune towards the camp, but Quiet’s hand on her hip is solid and steadying.
Everybody is dead, and the camp is shrouded in the stench of gunpowder and blood. Wolf rips off every corpse’s dog tags, stuffing them into her belt pouch. Buffalo will be proud of her. Quiet slips from tent to tent, iDroid in hand, picking up who knows what kind of intel. Wolf wonders when she’ll finally get her own iDroid, too. Maybe next mission.
“Found anything good?”
Quiet tilts her hand back and forth, and then gestures at her to come closer. When she does, Quiet grips her hand and slips something around her wrist. Wolf squints at it in the dim light: it’s a bracelet, leather with tiny dark beads, and has four tiny bells attached to it. She shakes her wrist, and they chime in the dead silence, softly.
“Making sure I won’t shake next time, huh?” she laughs.
“Thanks. It’s nice.”
Quiet pats her head as she passes her on her way out of the camp, the blue light of the iDroid making the scars on her face look like deep ravines.
“Hello Quiet!” says Pequod’s cheerful voice, tinny through the small speaker. “Done with your girls night out?”
“Hrrm,” she grunts, and Pequod laughs distantly.
“Yeah, yeah, I get ya. I’ll be there in five minutes, hold on tight.”
“Mh.” She clicks off the iDroid and sits on a crate, stretching her impossibly long legs.
“Thank you,” says Wolf, suddenly self-conscious. “For...helping me."
Quiet nods, and offers her hand. Wolf takes it with a tiny chime of bells. Then Quiet presses her cold lips to her palm. Embarrassment and pride unfurl in Wolf’s aching chest. She leans closer, feeling reckless, and buries her face in Quiet’s short hair. She tastes sand when she kisses her temple.
The distant light and the muffled notes of Relight My Fire make them step apart, but Quiet is still loosely holding her hand as they wait for Pequod to land.
Wolf feels both older and younger than she did when they left, but also as if she couldn’t possibly be happier as she is right now, standing between corpses, proud, and in love.