Disclaimer: I don't own these characters!
A/N: Longtime lurker, first time fanfic writer, though I do a lot of original writing in my spare time. This is mainly an exercise to keep my muse in shape, so let's see how this goes? ._. I feel like everything is super-OOC, so please do review and yell at me about anything, even if it's just typos or grammar or something! Thank youuuu :D
WARNING: gets all emotional and angsty and may come off slightly slashy toward the end if you squint (though, personally, I don't see these guys as anything more than friends). Also, quite a bit of strong language and large amounts of beating up one character in particular. Points for guessing who.
It was truly amazing how their roles had changed, Alexander Gromov mused as he picked his way through the post apocalyptic wasteland that had literally and figuratively become his life. It had been that once upon a time, many years and a lifetime ago, he had been almost godlike. The world's golden child, the brilliant engineer, the genius, the builder of glorious machines. Once upon a time, he was important. But now, after the end, he was reduced to a man named only Engie, and the role of VIP had gone to the man trudging along only a few paces in front of him.
It was infuriating. Beyond anything else, Engie hated feeling useless and out of place. He was accustomed to being good at what he did. And now that position had been taken over by Charles Snippy, ex-subordinate, ex-paper pusher, ex-insomniac, ex-tour guide. He was less than nobody before - and oh, how Gromov had let him know it - but in this new world, Snippy was the only one both sane enough and skilled to keep them all alive. Everything from supply runs to battling mutant wild creatures to keeping peace among the more ... volatile ... unstable ... no, downright insane ... members of their ragtag group.
Why does he make this look so easy? Engie wondered, as he vaguely heard the sniper mention something about needing to make good time and get back to base before nightfall.
"Keep up, Gromov."
All right, Snippy, the engineer thought venomously. You and I both know that this is child's play for you. You don't have to be so condescending about it.
Engie's train of thought was rudely interrupted as he mis-stepped and stumbled over one of the many twisted beam of metal lying in his path. He fell noisily, sending the other scraps of metal rattling down around him. Fuck. How humiliating. Doing his best to pretend that he meant to do trip embarrassingly, Engie picked himself up and rolled his eyes as the man in the black-and-white jacket navigated the minefield of debris with a practiced ease.
"Are you finished dying back there," came the less-than-concerned question.
"Ha fucking ha," Engie shot back caustically through gritted teeth.
Concentrate. Don't screw up. Don't give that blue-eyed bastard any more fodder for mockery, Engie repeated to himself.
He had no idea why he had volunteered for the mission in the first place. Earlier that day, sometime after a mid-afternoon meal, Captain had declared a "state of emergency in zee glorious kingdom of Captainia" as the food supplies had run out completely, prompting a defeated sigh from Snippy. It was staying behind with Pilot and Captain and playing a new game called (worryingly enough) "cliff top circle dancing" or food scavenging with the obnoxious, muleheaded, though admittedly, hyper-competent sniper. Snippy had immediately excused himself from any circle dancing by piping up with something about a huge warehouse of food that he found the other day that was "only" a ten-mile hike away and had looked pointedly at Gromov, electing him as the least shitty companion for such a trip.
The feeling was mutual. A food run was the lesser of two evils, Engie supposed.
The walk was endless, and the silence that stretched between him and Snippy was incredibly awkward. The sniper was in his element out in the wasteland, and the engineer was the bumbling idiot who couldn't do anything right including, apparently, walking without falling over.
"Shit," Snippy said, suddenly dropping his voice to a whisper and stopping so abruptly that Engie nearly ran into him. The marksman turned to face the engineer, pinning him down with a dead-serious look. "It'd be a good idea to be extremely fucking quiet from here on out."
"Why?" Engie whispered back. He saw the sniper look around nervously and a feeling of nervousness started constricting his chest. If the one who knew what he was doing got nervous, then that was definitely occasion for him to be downright terrified.
"Because there's a bunch ... herd ... flock ... bwah. A fuck-ton of mutant monsters around this area. Big, nasty. Lots of teeth."
"How do you know?"
Snippy muttered something about tracking imprints, reading trails, known mutant behavioral patterns, and having tangled with them before. Engie zoned out and drifted off again into his easy-for-YOU-to-say train of thought. The man really could be fatally infuriating at times, even without the extra condescension or the chance to demonstrate his superior knowledge at every chance he got. When he did get the chance to show off, he became nearly intolerable. Maybe it was just because he has nobody else to listen to him talk on and on about these things that nobody cares about anyway, Engie thought.
What annoyed him even more was how painfully obvious it was that without Snippy, he would be dead in less than a week, tops. If not from starvation, then definitely from being fed to a giant whale or being crushed by Pilot and Captain's giant irradiated pet worm monster. He quickly changed his train of thought. It made him uncomfortable to think that he owed the sniper something as vital as his miserable continued existence on this miserable planet.
"Be quiet," Snippy commanded. "You hear me?"
"Yes, sir," Engie retorted sarcastically. Easier said than done. He didn't much appreciate being told what to do, especially not by Charles Snippy of all people, useful and life-saving though the information might've been.
Engie proceeded in silence, following the sniper's example, or at least he attempted to. Every footstep he took sounded like a gunshot, every breath was grating and loud, and every rustle of his clothing seemed deafening. To settle his nerves and keep alert, he kept his eyes on the scarily silent, focused man ahead of him. The sniper seemed to move like a ghost, somehow instinctively knowing where to step, how to flicker from one patch of shadow to another, and the best places to stand so that he blended in perfectly with the jagged landscape.
After a protracted, circuitous march through deserted alleyways and side streets to preserve their cover, Snippy finally stopped in front of a large pile of fallen bricks. As soon as he stood stock-still, the jagged black-and-white patterns on his jacket helped him meld right into the background. Only the blue of his goggles stood out sharply against the otherwise drab debris. He's just like some blue-eyed chameleon freak. How does he do that?
Engie felt a sharp poke in his ribs.
Over there, motioned Snippy. Warehouse entrance by that alleyway.
Engie nodded and shrugged in a so-what's-the-plan gesture.
Easy in, easy out.
Nod of unhappy understanding. Nod of reluctant approval.
Exaggeratedly overconfident and sarcastic nod of are-you-kidding-me-I-was-born-ready.
The two men dashed across the open, uncovered street at a quick clip and flattened themselves against the wall of the alleyway next to the cavernous warehouse building. The tension kicked up another few notches, and Engie was close to hyperventilation. When they finally got into the building and started picking out the decent cans of food, his hands were shaking so badly he nearly dropped everything he was holding. Snippy assured him that it was a relatively safe area and that they had plenty of cover, and with that, blithely continued picking up and discarding cans of food at his discretion as he wandered through the tangle of shelving units that comprised the entirety of the huge building. They really had struck gold here, though Engie noted that his companion had one hand on his gun at all times, which was hardly reassuring. He kept hearing things. Growls, rustling, rumbling, shuffling.
He dismissed them all as his imagination, or the wind, or the natural ambience of the wasteland, or something that wasn't a mutant monster waiting to maul him to death.
By reminding himself to think happy thoughts, he managed to weather out a decent hour or so in the warehouse. When they finished, however, Engie felt no better about the long sneak back to base. Ten miles. Daylight fading. Wind picking up. The (very literal) jaws of danger. Maybe cliff top circle dancing wasn't so bad after all.
"Ready?" Snippy asked, slipping on a backpack full of canned food and shouldering his sniper rifle.
"Let's get the hell out of here," Engie said.
"I'm being practical. There won't be enough daylight for us to make it back in time. It's a ten mile walk."
But as soon as they exited the store, Snippy stopped joking around and tensed up immediately. He glanced sharply to the left. Engie's heart stopped. He looked over at the sniper, copper eyes dark with fear.
Engie nodded and froze.
A massive furry creature poked its head out of the alleyway beside them, ambling up to and zoning in on Engie immediately.
It sniffed at him.
Then it roared, a horrible, keening, rumbling noise that promised nothing but pain and death and that echoed through the abandoned city and shattered the peace. Engie stared down its throat, just inches away from its wickedly knife-sharp teeth.
"HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD!" he yelled, completely forgetting about being quiet and staying still and everything not related to the thought of oh God, I'm going to die RIGHT NOW.
"Damn it. Gromov! RUN!" Snippy shouted.
The two men took off instantaneously, right as another one of the mutants burst out of the alleyway beside them. With all pretense of stealth gone, the two men leapt and stumbled and tripped and cursed as they tore off down the street, two monsters in hot pursuit.
"This way!" Snippy shouted, dodging into the tangle of alleyways they had emerged from. "There's more cover."
"When the hell ... did these fuckers get smart enough ... to ambush us?" Engie panted as he attempted to trail Snippy around another sudden turn in the twisting and turning maze they were entrapped in.
"They're smarter than you! At least they know to KEEP THE FUCK QUIET!" Snippy shot back, not even the slightest bit out of breath.
Engie didn't have the breath to respond.
In fact, breathing in general was growing very difficult.
So was moving.
His brain told him to keep running.
His body would not obey him.
"Come on!" Snippy screamed, catching him by the arm and dragging him to the front. "Keep going!"
EASY FOR YOU TO SAY! Engie yelled mentally, and pushed himself forward with an effort.
The sounds of pursuit grew closer. The two snarling, raving mad wild beasts skittered on the asphalt behind them, barreling indiscriminately over walls, around corners, and down tight passages with a speed that belied their bulk. With a sinking heart, Engie realized that the monsters were catching up. They were already outnumbered - two mutants against two humans was hardly an even match. And now they were being chased down.
And, as good as the sniper's intentions were, running the hapless, inexperienced engineer out in front was a bad idea.
An extremely bad idea.
Skidding ungracefully around a right-hand turn, Engie was confronted with the worst situation he could imagine. A fifteen-foot tall fence topped with razor wire stood between them, open ground, and hungry, angry wild mutants.
He muttered a steady stream of expletives as he pushed himself up against the fence, rattling it, desperately looking for a weakness, a hole in the chain link, something, anything so that they could get out. The monsters were on the prowl and growing closer - Engie could hear them clear as day - and every second they delayed was a second closer to their potential demise.
"No," Snippy said with finality. "You have to climb."
"Wait, but-" Engie said frantically.
"Shut the fuck up and climb," Snippy ordered, rounding on the engineer and prompting him to scramble for footholds and handholds on the slick twisted wire. Helped up by Snippy, he ungracefully made it to the top, almost ensnared himself on the razor wire, pulled himself free and flung himself off the other side, landing with an ungraceful thump next to the marksman again, albeit separated by the fence. "Take this."
Snippy easily flung his backpack of food up over the fence to join Engie on the other side. The sniper then mounted the fence himself, pulling himself up swiftly.
It wasn't fast enough.
One of the angry beasts clawed its way down the alleyway and leapt viciously upon the sniper, who was halfway up the fence. The thing caught Snippy by the arm.
"Gromov, RUN!" the sniper yelled, flailing and thrashing in the jaws of the monster, trying to free himself.
"Just RUN - ahh, fuck!"
The sniper screamed in pain. With one final, desperate effort, he jammed the butt of his rifle as hard as he could into the monster's nose, causing it to release the man with a pained, pissed-off roar.
Engie, seeing this, took off running. He heard the fence rattle as the sniper scaled his way up. The enraged shrieks of the monsters snapping at him again. The cursing as he too got entangled in the wire and the painful gasps as he tore himself loose.
He glanced backwards over his shoulder just in time to see Snippy leap off the top of the fence, hit the ground in a nearly graceful break-fall tumble, and pick off running immediately.
"Come on, Gromov!" Snippy yelled, and the two men resumed sprinting through the wasteland. Instead of climbing or giving up in search of easier prey, the determined mutants opted to hurl themselves at the fence, and within half a minute, had battered it down with their sheer weight. The chase was back on.
But at least in the twisting, turning, tight alleyways, they had a chance. In a straight chase over flat land, there was no contest.
"Snippy," the engineer panted. "There's no way ... we can't outrun them ... not here."
"Exactly," the sniper said. "You see that? Scrap heap?"
Engie's gaze alighted on a veritable mountain of tangled scrap metal and concrete chunks - remnants of a once-glorious building, he was sure, but that hardly mattered now.
"Wh - ?"
"FUCK, GROMOV, JUST DO IT!"
The two men catapulted themselves at the scrap heap, grabbing at any footholds or handholds they could, sending chunks of concrete and steel beams avalanching below. Within seconds of concentrated effort, they were both on the top of the pile, breathless and panting.
From here, Engie finally got a good look at their pursuers:huge beasts the size and shape of bears, but fleet and vicious as wolves, and with long, blunt snouts and mouths full of dagger-like teeth to rival those of a shark's. Their dirty black-grey fur, long, spiky, matted strands the color of ashes and charcoal, was shot through with bone-white, and their three eyes, a characteristic of any mutant out in the wasteland, glowed demonically red and baleful.
"What are those things?"
"Fair game," Snippy responded bluntly, unslinging his gun. "Get down."
This time, Gromov didn't waste breath asking why. He immediately ducked into a crouch at his companion's feet.
Snippy released the safety on his namesake sniper rifle, chambering a bullet. The sharp sound seemed to echo through the wasteland, and the engineer's heart raced as if he were still running. The sniper braced himself, legs apart, and drew in a few steadying breaths.
Engie watched in wonder as time seemed to slow. The frantic chase, the desperation, the adrenaline, all the terror and the anger and the frustration that the sniper must have been feeling, everything, he seemed to be able to just turn it off in a single instant. All tension melted away as the marksman centered himself, preparing his shot as the targets drew closer.
How does he do that? Just shut himself off like that?
In one fluid, easy motion, Snippy breathed in deeply, raised the gun to eye level, and without even seeming to aim, fired off a shot. Down on the ground, a solid hundred yards away, Engie saw one of the monsters toss its head and roar in anger, but it otherwise seemed unharmed. Unfazed, Snippy lowered his rifle, reloaded with a smooth, practiced motion, and raised it to eye level again.
Another shot rang out. The mutant in the lead stumbled and dropped down, unmoving.
Lower the gun. Reload. Breathe in. Raise. Shoot.
The second monster dropped down dead in a splatter of blood, a bullet hole dead center on its forehead.
God, he's terrifying.
"And that's that," Snippy declared, not moving and not lowering his rifle. "Let's go before more of them show up."
Engie just stared at his companion, who after another few seconds of scrutinizing the horizon carefully, decided it was safe and put his gun down and snapped the safety back on. He dumbly nodded and started half-climbing, half-sliding back down the scrap heap. Once both men were safely on the ground, Snippy started marching off without a second word, though now that the action was over, Engie could tell that he was furious.
The engineer rolled his eyes, expecting another lecture about keeping up and responsibility in the near future.
The rest of the walk back to base seemed to drag on for an eternity. The sun set, plunging the world into darkness, and the two men were forced to slow down and pick their way across the uneven ground, always on the alert for more potential hungry, pissed-off mutants. They finally stumbled back into the ruined building they called their home and dropped their bags wearily on the ground with a loud clatter that brought Pilot bounding in like a large, overexcited, green-eyed dog. Captain swept in shortly after, long coat swishing about his heavy black boots.
"Mein minions! Excellent job collecting zee food. But you took too long. Pilot and I are hungry and we have been kept waiting." Pilot nodded emphatically as Captain continued, "many points will be deducted for zee delay!"
"We were being graded?" Snippy asked in flat, unamused bewilderment.
"Yes! And you failed! Too slow, you shoes!" Pilot announced, dancing around and gleefully echoing his CO, who, perhaps sensing an argument ensuing, had tactically stepped back a few feet. He somehow sipped at his tea through his mask, awaiting the oncoming show.
"But Gromov-" Snippy started.
"Don't start with me," the engineer said stridently. "It's not my fault."
"Sure. You couldn't keep quiet for three seconds when I asked you to like fifteen times and you almost get us both killed. Tell me how that isn't your fault."
"Oh, yeah, like that was so easy to do. You would scream, too, if you had to look death fucking reincarnate in the face. Don't act like you wouldn't!"
"For fuck's sake-I would at least know well enough to shut up when it came down to saving my own ass."
"Oh? Really?" the engineer sniped back.
Something in him snapped. All the pent-up terror and rage and downright frustration that Engie had been holding in since the mission started suddenly came flooding out in a torrent of words.
"Oh you think it's that easy to just-just do all that shit that you do? Just because you're oh-so-perfect at everything and make it look so goddamn easy doesn't mean that everyone else thinks it's easy and it sure as hell doesn't mean that I think it's easy, you bastard, and it doesn't give you the right to be so fucking condescending about everything you do! So you're so much better than all of us here. So you think everyone else is an idiot because they can't keep up with you. Fantastic. So how does it feel? All those years in your dead-end job as a tour guide, all that time being on the outside looking in and you finally get to show off how superior you are? Does that feel good to you? Finally being somebody? Finally meaning something? Finally doing something right once in your worthless life? You fucking lifelong failure."
There was a resounding silence following this outburst.
Engie realized that he had gone too far. Extremely, completely, absolutely, entirely too far. He met Snippy's eyes and with a feeling of dread gnawing at the pit of his stomach, realized that even through the lenses of his respirator mask, the sniper didn't look enraged or annoyed. In fact, there was no emotion at all in his vivid blue eyes. He just looked blank and lifeless.
Oh God. I'm didn't mean all that.
Oh God, I'm so sorry.
Yell at me.
The silence stretched on, long, cold and empty. Pilot, shocked into silence for the first time Engie could recall, backed up away from the two. Captain stepped forward, intending to berate the engineer for his extraordinarily uncalled-for words. But the sniper beat him to it.
"Go eat dinner, Gromov," he said simply, turned, and walked away.
Dinner was extremely subdued. After unpacking and cataloguing all the food they had brought home-and it was really an excellent haul-the three men had built a fire, each opened a can of their choice, and ate quickly without the usual talking, arguing, and camaraderie. The sniper had wandered off to nobody-knew-where and wasn't with them as he usually was. After dinner, Engie lounged around by the fire, feeling warm and cozy enough sitting on the floor to take his jacket and gloves off and make an impromptu pillow, although he had no chance of sleeping as his mind spun with inner turmoil. As he lay there, exhausted but unable to sleep, Captain broke the awkward silence.
"Engie," he started. "I am giving you a mission."
"Ja. You must go find Mr. Snippy."
"I think that I should just leave him alone for a bit -"
"Find him and apologize," Captain said over his objection, his usual blithe tone suddenly turned intense and absolute. He leaned forward and locked eyes with the engineer, and Engie flinched beneath the intensity of the purple-eyed man's deathly stare. Up until now, he hadn't seen Captain as anything but a bumbling buffoon, albeit an extremely lucky one, but now Engie clearly understood why he was their leader. He commanded absolute attention like no other, and as insane as he might have appeared, it seemed that even he knew that there were certain problems that had to be solved, or else the group would tear itself apart. This was Captain, slightly annoyed. Engie shivered to think what he would be like when he was truly angry. "Understand me, mein minion?"
"Yes, Captain," he said unhappily, dragging himself up from the warm fire.
"Excellent!" he said, backing out of Engie's personal space, all cheerfulness and brightness and happiness again. "Off you go!"
And thus began Engie's uncomfortable chore of wandering the halls to apologize to his colleague. Luckily, he didn't have far to go before he found Snippy, who had ostensibly holed himself up in the surprisingly clean, intact bathroom of the abandoned building. Engie nearly muttered something about being cliché and crying in the bathroom like a girl, but after realizing that it was his fault that the man was in there in the first place, stopped himself from thinking or saying anything mean. Gromov, he mentally berated himself, you've caused enough damage. Snippy is right. You really have no idea when to shut up.
Engie hovered outside the door of the bathroom, which was slightly ajar, and prepared himself to confront the sniper. He pushed the door open, got ready to take a step in, and stopped in his tracks.
Snippy was seated away from him at an angle, in front of a large, full-length mirror. On the counter beside him was a burning candle, and next to it, laid out neatly on a clean rag, were needles, thread, rubbing alcohol, a bowl of water, and bloodied bandages. He hadn't noticed the engineer's attempt to enter, as he was too focused on the task at hand.
Engie himself watched in sickened horror as the sniper, stripped of his jacket and shirt and huddled in front of the mirror, sewed himself up with the same amount of calmness and deliberation he had demonstrated earlier that day atop the scrap heap. The injury he was laboring over was bloody and extensive - Engie could see a torn, jagged arc of teeth imprints tracked across his upper arm. Every once in awhile Snippy would look up to check his progress, run the needle through the flame to sterilize it again, swipe at his arm with the rubbing alcohol, or stem the flow of blood with a towel. Even from across the room, he could see the man trembling in agony but refusing to make any noise except the slightest of hisses when the pain became absolutely unbearable.
"Snippy," he said, and Snippy flinched and immediately grabbed for his jacket to cover himself up, but he had left it near the door and had no choice but to sit there, watching the engineer slowly sidle across the room. As Engie drew nearer, he could see that the wound was far worse than he imagined. He remembered that Snippy had gotten bitten climbing the fence, but he had no idea it was that bad. After all, the man had easily shot those creatures dead right afterward-seemingly without even a second thought-but with his arm in that condition?
Recalling that the creature's teeth were nearly the length of his hand, the engineer realized that that there was no way that one man should have been dealing with the open, gaping wound by himself with improvised medical tools. He felt nauseous just watching the impromptu surgery and felt that he should help, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the sight. The torn flesh, the white flash of bone that the creature managed to bite down to, the dark red blood coating his arm, mixing with the other cuts and scrapes etched up and down the sniper's arms from the day's misadventures.
"Here to mock me, Gromov?" the sniper asked dully. Though he had moderated his voice very carefully, Engie could tell that he was barely able to speak for the excruciating pain he was in. He had a feeling that Snippy had only kept his mask on because behind it, he was crying.
"Listen, Snippy ..." Engie said, but shut up as the sniper plunged the improvised surgical needle into his arm again. In spite of everything, the sniper's hands were completely steady and sure. "Um. I'm really, really sorry for what I said. Earlier, you know?"
"Did Captain put you up to this? Your mission's done. Now fuck off."
"He did, but that's not - that's not why I want to apologize. Snippy, I shouldn't have said what I did earlier. You're right. I don't know when to be quiet."
"So I'm right," Snippy said bitterly. "But will you admit that you're wrong? Will you stop thinking this is so easy?" The sniper finally stood, and Engie got a full view of his reflection in the mirror. The sniper's body was covered in injuries, some old, some fresh. Dark scars stood out starkly on his pale skin. Long clawed scratches across his back, scabs and angry red scrapes on the backs of his hands and burn marks twisting up his wrists. A raised knot of tissue across his collarbone that could have only come from a broken bone. What looked like two bullet holes on his right shoulder blade. Bruises dotting his ribs, some black and purple-blue, some greenish and yellowing. And, of course, centered directly in the middle of his chest, just below his sternum, the gaping circular scar where Cancer had impaled him.
"You're not wrong. This is easy," Snippy said caustically. He finally turned to face Engie. "It's not like I get seriously hurt trying to find food or shoot monsters or do stupid pointless missions or even keep myself alive, let alone keep everyone else alive and happy. These scars are just for decoration. It's not like anyone cares when I break my collarbone falling three stories or get caught in a fire or get my arm half chewed off by fucking wolf-bear-things. No. Of course not. I don't get gratitude. But you know what I do get?"
Snippy took his mask off and set it down. It was now obvious that he'd been crying, but apparently he had gone past the point of feeling any humiliation. He reached over and slipped the engineer's mask off as well, making sure that the engineer could hear him and that he could look eye-to-eye with the other man, blue and copper, fury and remorse.
"You're not fast enough. You can't shoot well enough. You didn't complete the mission. You don't do anything right. You can't do anything right. You are a fucking failure. Sound familiar, Gromov? It shouldn't, because you've never heard any of that before. Because you're good at what you do without having to try for it. Because those words didn't make up your entire life. Because you don't know what it feels like to never be good enough, and then when you finally try to do nice things for other people, and people think you're just being condescending and showing off and they think that they could do a better job themselves and nobody's grateful, and then you feel like you should go kill yourself and save everyone else the trouble, and - argh, fuck!"
Snippy suddenly doubled over in pain, clutching at his arm. He glared at Engie one more time, slowly took a long breath, and did that amazing, terrible trick where he turned his rage and fury completely off at the blink of an eye. All the pain in his expression smoothly glossed over. He turned away and moved to pick up the needle again.
"No. Don't," Engie said. He couldn't handle it anymore - seeing Snippy blocking off all his emotions and pushing them down and trying so hard to be sane all the time. He couldn't handle knowing that the sniper had probably felt this way for years. That there had never been anyone there for him, that there was never anyone he could talk to. That the sniper, always so cocky and overconfident and so seemingly, unshakably well-adjusted, had to hide alone in a bathroom, pretending not to cry, trying to save himself from dying from injuries gotten trying to make others happy. That this was by far not the first time this had happened, just the first time someone had thought of going after him and talking to him.
A crushing feeling of pity suddenly weighed on his chest. Without thinking, the engineer stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the sniper, pulling him close.
"Gromov," the sniper said quietly, standing there unmoving. "I don't know why I told you all that. I - I think you should forget all that and -"
"Shut the fuck up. Just - just be quiet," the engineer said, and pressed Snippy closer to him. The sniper finally relaxed and latched tightly onto the engineer, belying his desperation for some sort of human contact. Engie knew full well that the man's outburst hadn't been directed at him. Snippy could have let those feelings fester for years, but Engie had been the one tactless enough to set it off, and that was exactly what he needed. Just to get all this off his chest.
Engie couldn't even begin to imagine what the sniper had gone through, was going through, minute by minute, day by day. He didn't say anything, firstly because he was terrible at comforting people, and secondly because he really and truly had nothing to say this time. What the sniper had told him wasn't a joke. It wasn't the usual snark and biting sarcasm and nonchalance. It was so pained and tortured and personal and real that to say anything more would just be downright cruel.
They stood like that for a few minutes longer, until Engie noticed that Snippy looked paler than usual and was trembling violently, and that his breaths came too shallow and that his heart was racing too fast.
"Blood loss," Snippy said weakly. His head spun and he struggled to find the right words. "I wanted to finish before it got to me, but ..."
Engie set him down gently on the chair he had been sitting in before, and reached for the needle.
"Just ask," he said. "I'll do it. You don't-you don't ever have to go through this alone again, okay?"
"Oh? Getting soft? Like you actually give two shits about anyone that isn't you, yourself, or Alexander Gromov."
And there it is again, I lost him, Engie thought despairingly. Snippy had gone back to his carefully constructed couldn't-care-less attitude, hiding his darkest emotions behind an impenetrable facade of offhanded comments. But Engie could see the questioning look in the sniper's eyes, a bright gleam of desperate hope that possibly maybe this was for real and that someone really did care.
"Snippy, I mean it," the engineer said. "I don't care if you don't believe me, but I'm serious. You can't keep shutting it off and waiting for it to feel better, 'cause it's not going to. These kinds of feelings will kill you if you don't release them. Talk to someone next time." But who can he talk to? Pilot? Um, no. Captain? Maybe. So I guess that leaves ... "Talk to me, all right? I'll listen."
Snippy didn't respond, and Gromov winced. Of course ... there's no way in hell he'd trust you, and what kind of advice was that anyway? He took a second look at the man to realize that he had slumped down in the chair, seemingly unconscious. In a panic, Gromov checked his breathing and pulse. Steady, deep, even breaths, weak but steady pulse. He was just sleeping from well-justified physical and emotional exhaustion; there was no danger. At least he trusts me enough to fall asleep here, right?
With a sigh, the engineer picked up the needle, trying as gently as he could to finish the row of stitches Snippy had started. He was hardly a medic and didn't have the practice that Snippy had from constantly fixing himself up, but he was highly competent in his own right at figuring things out quickly. As he progressed, he noted with satisfaction that the wound had stopped bleeding. He just had to make sure that the sniper stayed put for awhile. He tied the surgical thread off, cut it, and sighed. The physical injuries would heal up just fine, but what of the deeper, more painful ones within his own mind? Best not think of that for now. I'll wait until he wakes up.
The engineer draped Snippy's arms around his shoulders and hauled the man up. He was surprisingly light, and he carried him easily over to the fire they had built earlier. He laid him gently down on the ground, which was warmed up nicely from the radiant heat. He sat next to the unconscious man and, absently, without thinking, traced his fingers over the scars on the sniper's back, wondering how he had managed to get all of them. Those scars weren't the mark of someone who had it easy. Far, far from it.
Engie picked up his fur-lined parka and draped it over the sniper, determining that it would keep him warm enough, and watched the man settle down. But it appeared that not even sleep came easily to him. He seemed fitful, troubled, always shifting around restlessly and crying out.
I guess this isn't easy. Not for anybody, and not for him, Engie thought as he too started to drop off into a hazy, dreamless stupor. Nothing in this world is. Nothing is ever so effortless ...
I hope you liked it! Even though I know nothing about guns, medicine, overly emotional situations and how to react to them, or story conclusions and how they work. Holy crap I tend to ramble like hell with anything I write ...