A/N: This has been floating in my head for the last couple of days and refuses to leave me alone. I've been wanting to write a Bethyl fic for a while. I love them together. And finally getting my courage up to write them, here it is! I hope you all enjoy. :)
Feedback would be greatly appreciated!
Disclaimer: I own nothing, my gremlin muse says so.
She didn't like the scent in the air here. It was...too clean.
It reminded her of places she'd been avoiding, places she didn't dare enter. Because that's where they'd made her wrong.
She crouched next to a young pine, letting her fingers curl slightly against the bark, her only movement save for the flickering of her eyes back and forth - to the wall just beyond the trees, barely visible through the thick morning fog, to the woodline on the far left of the field in front of it, back again, as steady as a clock ticking.
Rain was a promise in the sky. She could taste it, feel it in her bones.
Rustling came from behind her and she tensed, her free hand inching to the large knife that hung from her belt. Then a breath was exhaled and she slowly relaxed.
"You don't like it, do ya?" The voice was a soft murmur, hardly more than a whisper. Almost imperceptibly, she shook her head, her long blonde hair catching gently on her threadbare sweater. "I don't either."
She glanced at her companion, tracing the contour of his face with her gaze. He looked tired, more tired than she probably did, but that was likely because you wouldn't have been able to tell the dark circles under her eyes from the rest of the grime that coated her skin. And that would have suited her just fine; she'd have scrubbed more dirt on if she could. Earth was good; it masked smell and sight, softened sounds.
The longer she looked at that wall, the more convinced she was that there wasn't enough earth behind it to make it safe. The faint noises that drifted over it sounded odd to her, and it only took her a moment to figure out that the reason for that was because she hadn't heard them in so long.
Cornflower blue eyes narrowed.
Those were deadly sounds, carelessly tossed into the wind as if there would be no consequences. As if no one would notice them.
As if no one would hunt them.
Her hand drifted back down to her knife, but large fingers wrapping around hers stopped the motion. She looked over, her expression blank. Her companion shook his head silently.
Don't do it. It's wrong.
It seemed like he was constantly conveying that to her, and while it was frustrating, she was grateful for it. She needed that reminder.
She just wished that it would stick.
Her hand moved back up to rest on top of her thigh, her palm skating over bare skin where her jeans had ripped. She tried not to focus too hard on the singing. It made her head hurt. Absently, she lifted her hand further, rubbing the pad of her thumb across the scar high on her forehead. It twinged beneath the contact so she dropped her fingers.
He noticed. He always noticed. The man was perhaps the most observant she'd ever met.
Well, aside from him.
She could feel his gaze on the back of her head, intense, focused as she crept forward. The bow was really too heavy for her. She felt like at any moment she was going to drop it, spooking whatever it was they were tracking. When she hesitated, brow furrowing as she stared at the odd pattern on the ground, his hands slid up her arms to steady them.
"If ya keep worryin' about it, yer gonna drop it," he muttered. "Take a breath. Jus' focus on the tracks."
She turned to look at him, tilting her head back to meet his eyes questioningly. "How'd you know?"
He snorted at her, dark blue irises glinting. "You ain't as slick as you think you are." He ticked his chin forward. "C'mon. Whatcha see?"
A flash of pain abruptly ended the memory and she winced. But the words echoed in her head like a heartbeat, compelling her to mentally catalog what she could make out in the weak sunlight.
The wall was covered in tin and reinforced with thick-looking rectangular steel tubing. Rusting, but still solid and high. Any attempt to penetrate it would reverberate like a gunshot. Couldn't climb it either. No watches posted, no visible trails where someone had been walking the perimeter, so whoever was in there, they felt right snug.
Sheep safely tucked away in their pen.
Like that place. The one she had no name for - didn't want to have a name for. But she remembered it. Remembered the dark, glistening hallways and the constant prickle on the back of her neck. Remembered the deafening crack and the stinging smell of copper and gunpowder. Remembered the agonizing pitch that she couldn't crawl out of, how it suffocated, how it closed in around her until her hands were bleeding from pounding and scratching at the-
A touch on her elbow had her head snapping to the right.
"Get outta your head." A finger was raised crookedly, pointing even further down the wall. "We got company."
Simultaneously, they dropped down on the dead pine needles. She breathed gently through her nose, her palms flat against the ground as she angled her head to watch a darkly clad figure easily slip over from the other side of the wall, hover on top of it for a second, and finally drop down. She watched them shift about a bit, as if looking around before starting to walk in their direction.
And her breath caught.
Because she knew that walk, a rangy kind of loping with one arm held up, holding onto something and the other swinging freely, the hand brushing against a knife she knew was kept on their belt. On the opposite side of where she kept hers. She couldn't have said why or how or even what made it important that she knew, but the only thing that mattered was that it was, and that she did.
Did recognizing it mean that she'd found some answers?
She wasn't sure. Her head was mostly a jumbled mess, half-recalled memories that felt more like dreams, and things that she understood without knowing how. Names, places, dates - they were out of her reach, even though she comprehended that they were just as important. She just couldn't have said why. And that mystified her, because they shouldn't be.
What good would knowing who she'd been before...before the man beside her had found her...what was the point of it? The question always made her chest tighten in a weird way. Perhaps because, on some level, she knew that it was important to the person she had been that she figure that out. Who she might still be, under all of it. Searching for that...answer, though, was secondary. Surviving, watching his back while he hunted for whatever it was he was looking for...those things were her primary focus. Who she was now made those things doable.
After all, she couldn't say that the person she was before wasn't the reason she had ended up here to start with. And if that was the case, she thought she'd prefer to leave that past in shadow, and only see glimmers every now and again.
But watching that stride, realizing that it was familiar...well, she didn't know what to think about that.
So she stayed hidden, listening to her instincts as whoever it was passed them by. They were noiseless, their steps easy, but measured.
She squinted after them, daring to turn her head just enough to track their movement. She caught sight of long, lanky brown hair, a lean build, and dark clothing before they vanished into the trees across the field. Reflexively, she started to push up, move after them, but stopped herself at the last minute. Her head turned again, back towards her companion, canting slightly as if in question. He simply nodded to her, one quick jerk of his head. See what you can, don't engage unless you're cornered. That's what the motion told her. It's what he always told her. She returned the gesture shortly.
Then she was gone, up and slipping between the trees. She kept one hand on the hilt of her knife as she moved, her eyes roving between the ground and her surroundings. Whoever they were, they were good. The tracks were barely noticeable. They kept to the grass, kept off of bare dirt or dry leaves. But the signs were there.
Silently, she followed them deeper into the woods, mindful of her back. The trail seemed aimless at first, until she came across deer scat. Her quarry had seen it too, seen the split hoof impression in the soft soil and the roughly carved ruts in the trees. Buck, she noted. From the depth of them, she hazarded to guess that it was a nice sized one too.
They were a hunter.
Feeling an anticipatory flutter in her belly, she licked her lips. When she started again, it was to move upwind, picking her way through the underbrush to make as little noise as possible.
She wasn't careful enough. Or maybe she was just out of her depth. Whichever it was, the tracks disappeared at the base of an old oak, and that brought her up short. There was an itch on the back of her neck and she immediately drew her knife, her fingers curling around the worn handle. Pressing her back to the tree, she edged around its side, like a child peeking around the corner. The buck was dead in a small clearing, a bolt sticking out just behind its front leg. Clean shot. But it's killer was no where in sight.
That was when she heard the footstep.
The command was spoken gruffly, the voice deep and a little hoarse, as if it hadn't been used in a while. Low, barely leashed, warning that there'd be no hesitation if she didn't obey.
So she did as she was told, dropping her arms and letting the knife fall to the ground. Tension was tight in her shoulders. She waited, letting it coil down her spine into the muscles of her legs.
She paused for the span of a heartbeat. Only the soft click at her back prompted her to follow the order. She turned slowly, keeping her hands loose at her sides. She heard a sharp intake of breath before she raised her eyes from the ground.
Her pulse started to pound as a cold sweat broke out across her skin.
She knew those eyes, sharp and blue like ice, blown wide as they stared at her from over the top of a crossbow that she'd held in her own hands. She knew the arms that wielded it now and how strong they were, lifting her off her feet on more than one occasion, when she wasn't able to move quick enough for his liking. She knew the rough texture of the fingers that were tensed around the trigger, because they'd slid across hers in a graveyard that flickered at the edge of her consciousness. She knew the tight expression of disbelief that crossed features she'd have been able to pick out anywhere, because he'd worn it when she'd screamed at him in front of a shack that reeked of moonshine and stale cigarettes.
She knew him.
The name flashed in her mind so fast she hardly caught it. Her thoughts jumbled together, getting tangled up in a rush of emotion and memory that nearly made her stumble. Her eyes were stinging and she had no idea why. It hurt. Suddenly everything just hurt.
And it got worse when he lowered his bow and mumbled one word. One word that sent her eyes rolling back into her head and made her legs buckle out from beneath her. A word that was laced with so many things that it didn't make sense that only one could hold them all. A word she hadn't thought she'd ever hear again, not even inside her own head, because she hadn't remembered it until he said it.
And when she did, the dark that she'd spent so long running from swallowed her whole.