Rating: T

Spoilers: none

Summary: blood water dirt wind fire

Disclaimer: not mine, don't sue

Author's note: this has got to be maybe the fifth P/F introduction I've written… I can't stop

And the weight that rests on your shoulders

Could be the wings that carry you home

Live, Wings

He cloudily remembered it was early morning – he had felt the dew at his ankles. He remembered the sudden stillness, the ambush, the reverberating gunfire and the tangy smoke.

He ran like his ass was on fire among the brush, boots still loosened from slumber. Gun in one hand. Still in Santiago greens – it was still chilly to ditch them, and he hadn't yet encountered anyone, let alone someone to trade with.

Except, then, who was carrying him? That he didn't remember. And why was he in a position to be carried.

Had he been captured? Shit. If so, he was on his way back to the City. And death. Why hadn't they just killed him then? Did he fetch a higher price alive; did Santiago want to do it himself?

Ok. How do I go about getting out of this one? He gingerly opened his eyes, which were covered with something sticky. Mud, he gathered. It was in his hair, ear, and down his neck. He didn't see anyone. That didn't mean much; the others could've gone ahead.

Something hadn't looked right, so he stole another glance. He didn't want the soldier carrying him to know he was awake.

His vision was limited by his position in an over-the-shoulder carry, but he could tell his captor's pants weren't any type of Santiago issue. The also very un-military sweater pressed against his face had a strange, distinct smell to it, and… was he feeling what he thought he was under his leg?

He started. Alright his captor – she – definitely knew he was awake. So much for your training, he though. And your plans. Outside the fence four days now, tracked down, shot at, probably wounded, abducted by an unknown and rather strong woman.

Maybe it wasn't all so bad.

Abruptly she stopped and bent down to set him down, mindful of his wounded side. He didn't get a good look at her as she raised three arms to pop three vertebrae, then disappeared into the brush.

So he was no closer to her identity, and no closer to knowing whether he should wait around to find out. The second was essentially a moot point, he realized, as he tried to stand. His left ankle was a mess, the same side torn up, both arms rather battered, and his head was reacting violently to the change in altitude.

He slumped back down, resolved to checking on which of his possessions he still possessed.

A weapon was not among them, but he wished it were when he heard a noise in the bushes. He tensed up and sought the closest opportune weapon – a branch, but it was only the woman. She signed 'let's go' with a flick of her head and extended her hand to help him stand. He did, somewhat.

"I'll walk," he said before she could offer anything. She looked at him and he could feel the foolishness. "Really. I'll just… get a branch or" – the one he had broke – "another one." She verged on annoyance. "Just leave me. It's alright." Exasperation.

A staring contest ensued, which she won. "Fine." She pointed to her chest, the signed flicking something away. "What?" Her habit of not talking was getting on his nerves. She reached for his chest. He pulled away, but stopped. She tapped.

His chip. His goddamn chip. Quite useful in tracking him. But what could she do about…. Oh. She pulled out a pocket knife. She looked plainly at him and he nodded. Welcome to the Realm. He held his T-shirt away from the site. And clenched his teeth.

The pain was manageable, her hand skillful, and thoughts of infection put aside as she crushed the chip between two rocks.

She whipped around and made as if to pick him up again. "Wait." She made another 'let's go' and widened her eyes. She put her hands apart then pointed to the ground, that they were close to another point. Short distance. "Fine."

He couldn't exactly feel embarrassed, he rationalized, because there was no one around to see him except her, and she was in no position to judge him. Was she? Still, the fact of his injuries put a damper on plans and their extent puzzled him. If he were so hurt he couldn't walk, why hadn't he digitized when he'd been shot and hurt? And why hadn't he noticed any blood from the wound on his side when she'd put him down? Awkwardly, he yanked his shirt up and felt the skin underneath.

Instead of open wounds he found healing scabs, still pink, he guessed. Yet his shirt was peppered with holes. He looked at his hand, no drying blood, no pus, not even mud.

Something very strange was going on.

She tapped his right leg to, he guessed, stop him from fidgeting. "Who are you?" he asked instead. "What have you done, what do you want with me?"

She didn't answer, except to tap 'quiet' in Morris code on the same leg. "Great."

She kept walking for a few minutes, then set him down in an unremarkable area of forest. He sat, half reclining on his hands, while she took a drink from a small canteen. "No thanks," he replied when she offered him some. "So what now?"

She didn't answer, didn't even look at him, just placed her hands flat a few inches from his wounded abdomen, palms down.

"What the hell?" He grabbed her hands and her eyes flew open angrily. Thoughts were slowly forming in his mind. She pulled, but he didn't let go. "Do you speak?" he asked roughly. She stared at him. He'd heard rumors, both worried and fanciful, about this sort of thing, but…. And the chances of one being the first person he met Outside – astronomical. And she was getting more pissed by the second.

He let go and she moved a foot away. "Hey – I didn't know. I'm new here… I wasn't sure." Lord knew he could really use her help. "I'm sorry." Nothing. "Really." She continued to stare but her gaze softened. She moved forward again and repositioned her hands. He sat back.

The sensation was unlike any other. It tingled, then inched intensely, then became very warm, while the last part felt like a gel was being poured. Hot damn. He pulled up his shirt to look at the results. He couldn't tell he'd ever been shot, or even feel it. He allowed a small smile, and she returned an even smaller one.

She moved to heal his foot and suddenly stiffened. Her face became blank, and her eyes locked on his. She held up two fingers and pointed to her left. He didn't understand. Two – point to his jacket – woods. Shit. Two guards, and he still couldn't walk.

Without words she picked him up like a baby, like you'd carry a wife over the threshold. Now he was embarrassed. She set off in a particular direction, quickly. He scanned behind them – not that any warning he could provide would do them much good – until she stopped. They were at the edge of a large and rather clear lake. Great. He looked right, as far as he could, then left. Right was pretty better because it put more distance between them, but the terrain looked harder.

While he'd been deciding this, he realized, she'd taken several steps into the lake.

Well ok. He could swim, though not very well with a bum foot. She probably could, or this course of action probably wouldn't have been her first choice. Or maybe she had a general disregard for life. Her life, he meant. In any case it didn't look like he had much in the matter. He'd always thought he'd die with at least some dignity, though.

She kept walking, steadfastly into the water, past the tops of her boots, past her knees. He felt it now – it rushed into his own boots, down his back. At her waist now, and then a ther bent arms – across him. He hoped none of his limited possessions would be ruined. Probably not, as they were mostly Army issue.

When the liquid was shoulder height she released him. She swam out further and stopped. He followed. His treading was awkward but passable. It occupied his attention while she scanned the shore.

The first time she pushed him under he was unprepared. He had not taken a breath, had not realized he'd be going under. It took a concentrated power of will to keep from floundering back up again. He pulled his arms upward to keep himself under, and concentrated on not feeling the burning in his lungs.

She tapped his head again. He rose as quietly as he could, and looked as soon as his eyes were out. No one. He exhaled in relief, silently, and took several lungfulls of air in to return to normal.

When she signaled him to submerge again he was ready. He had superoxygenated, filling his lungs several times with large bursts, only breathing out a little air in between, and made sure he sank deeper. He shifted the air between his lungs and abdomen, and finally mouth, and only released one bubble at a time. He wove slow loops as well as paddled with his arms.

Still, he felt about drowned when he felt her tap again. He surfaced. Something about the way her hair plastered to her forehead caught his attention, but when she tilted her head in a question he nodded toward the shore. She shrugged.

They remained in the lake, silent, watching. He guessed it had been about half an hour when he realized his left leg was numb. Her lips were on the verge of blue as well, jaw tightly clenched.

A sudden crash made them both dive under. He counted, got to six before realizing it wasn't anywhere near man-made. This time he was up before she was. The glint in her eye told him she realized it too. They swam for land. He paddled into as shallow water as he could and after resorting to a sort of crawl, stood stooped on one leg. Finally he looked at her. She picked him up and carried him out the same way he'd been carried in.

He felt even colder out of the water. She put him down in a muddy spot near the lake in the woods, and removed her vest and sweater. She hung them in a low tree, clad in a dirty, clingy grey tee. Then she turned her attention toward him. While she healed his foot he watched the remaining color drain from her face. She sat back, obviously exhausted and chilled. He made to stand. She shook her head, wrapped her arms around herself and pantomimed shivering. Cold. Well, no argument there. Then, a fist on her chest, squeezed and released. "Heart." She nodded and continued, wavy fingers like rain to the ground. "Heart… pump, blood. Blood loss?" She nodded. "I'm ok." She stared at him and he remained. She propelled herself up.

When she returned he'd removed his jacket, boots and socks, as well as everything in his pockets. The sun was setting but the wind had picked up. He had cleared out a shallow impression for an eagerly-anticipated fire. He was wringing out his own T-shirt when she appeared with an armful of firewood, shivering. He put the bundled shirt in his pocket and took the wood from her. "Sit, sit," He instructed, trying to remember whether wet clothing was better insulation than no clothing. "I'll light a fire – waterproof matches," he said, producing them. She wrapped her arms around her knees. He remembered that he'd be so much worse off without her. She picked up a stick. He arranged the wood, twigs, leaves, and grasses first, then bigger ones. As he lit a match he said, "I know I said it before but I didn't mean it-" no shock revealed on her face in a quick glance, "but thank you." The fire caught. She nodded and pointed to the ground next to where she'd scratched her name. He read it and nodded. She moved closer and fed her writing stick to the fire.