Engie felt desperate, helpless, lost.
He remained seated on the icy cold ground in the middle of a blizzard, Snippy lying motionless in his arms – seemingly unconscious. By now his soaking wet clothes appeared to have frozen to his skin.
"W-wake up..." Engie whispered, shaking him softly. "Don't leave yet..."
Instinctively he took off his fur lined coat, threw it over the sniper and wrapped his arms around him tightly, trying to give him warmth in a hug.
Shallow breaths let him know that hope wasn't lost yet, but time was ticking. Every minute he stayed here, the sinister cold grew, little by little.
In this moment, Engie suddenly started to realize how wrong he was all along.
He had always thought he could just move along with the others, just like a swift fish in an agile swarm. But he wasn't swift. He wasn't like them at all. He was nothing but an ungainly burden they had to drag along and watch over.
Being selfish wouldn't get him anywhere now, not someone like himself, not in this new world he had created by ordering the nuclear bombardment.
Without someone to show him the safe paths,someone to walk through the dark with, someone to keep each other warm in this cold... he would die. It was simply impossible to do all this alone. He would have to sympathize, somehow.
At least with Charles.
Deep remorse infested him for not seeing this earlier.
If only he would ask for help when he needs it, he thought, looking down at the blue goggles.
Of course... Snippy wouldn't ask him for help. He would die before begging pathetically. He wasn't the kind of man who cried from pain – in fact, Engie had never seen him complain about injuries at all.
Engie remembered once seeing him sitting in the base in a huddled position, probably due to wounds causing him pain – pain he kept suppressing and hiding from the others, just like the rest of his feelings. Someone shouldn't hold in and hide all of their feelings; it wasn't the way it was supposed be. It just wasn't right.
He felt like he should help him somehow, but he had no idea how. The engineer had never been good at being social at all, let alone understanding or comforting other people.
Before the nuclear fallout, he had spent most of his time working day and night at a computer alone, programming the ANNET network to perfection. He'd never really found out what it was like to have friends. His job had always kept him busy and alone.
But his life had changed so drastically since the day ANNET became unstable and he had to shut her down. The day he'd brought solitude upon the world and himself.
I need to do something about this. I'll just keep hurting everyone around myself and be a burden, he thought to himself.
He suddenly noticed a slight movement, then Snippy slowly rose into a seated position, wrapping his arms around his knees.
"Charles? Are you okay?" was the first thing to say that came into Engie's head as he released the sniper.
"What... why..." the blue eyed man asked confusedly and sat up further, slowly regaining full consciousness.
"You gave me your coat...?"
"Well..." Engie started, desperately trying to figure out what to say. "You really seemed to need it."
Fuck, that just sounded so stupid, he thought, suddenly embarrassed.
"Uhm, t-t-thanks..." Snippy's shaky responses didn't come out that well, as he was still weak from the cold. He kept wondering about this sudden kindness, feeling the soothing warm coat around him bring back the life to his limbs.
This was Engie's coat, and it was warm and comfortable – entirely different than its owner. At least he thought so until now, which made him wonder...
When did Gromov become so generous?
That question didn't want to leave him alone, and Snippy quickly became skeptical.
He wasn't sure if the engineer actually felt sorry for him and did this as an act of kindness, or if he only spared him from the cold death to continue having him play his bodyguard, his meat shield, his assurance for survival.
Yeah, it's probably that, he thought and wondered why he felt so disappointed.
The wind kept blowing through the area, draining the warmth from their bodies with every freezing gust that brushed over their wet clothes.
"We can't stay out here for any longer," Engie finally whispered, rubbing his arms. "If we don't find some shelter, we'll both die."
"I know," Snippy answered, taking a deep breath.
Back on their feet, they stretched away the rigidity the cold had brought. Suddenly Engie felt the soft coat being pushed towards his chest.
"Take it," the sniper said, back to his usual snappish tone. "You're probably cold."
Engie gladly took it and put it back on without saying anything further.
They didn't talk much as they continued their journey through the dark night.
The weather in the dead city seemed ever-changing, and the deeper they walked into it, the less snow fell from the black, starless sky.
Once their feet hit against the side of a pile of rubbish and their free hands made contact with countless old, wrecked cars, it was easy to tell they were back in the part of the city they had come from.
From memory, Engie recalled that this had to be the shopping lane he had passed to look for a bicycle for Captain, and wondered if they could find shelter in one of those buildings.
Suddenly, the sniper stopped him to give some orders.
"Okay, I know you hate instructions, but we have to be careful around here. This zone isn't very safe, especially not at night. Many strange creatures come out of their holes when it's dark here. I've seen a few before, when I was out to find you. So be quiet and try to not get them to notice us."
Snippy searched the blackness for walls and doors, his movements careful, his mind always wary. Engie clutched the sniper's jacket tightly as he followed after him, almost stumbling over various objects on the ground that got in his way.
In the most unexpected moment, something furry passed the engineer's left thigh and he heard a snarl.
Something furiously tore at Snippy's pants, hissing angrily. He struggled and fought the wild catlike beast until as it suddenly let go, took a run and pounced right onto him.
Unable to anticipate this sudden move, he was knocked over, landing on his back. A strong paw stepped on his chest, much like the paw of a panther. He rose his right arm to cover his face in defense and felt it being clawed up in a swipe attack. Pained by the slash wound he tore his arm back and landed a hit against the neck of the beast with his left. It flinched and groaned as its air was cut off, but that trick lasted only for a short duration that had to be made use of. In one agile move Snippy rolled over and kicked the creature in the ribs, attempting to break its resilient body.
Engie stepped back and crouched in fear at the ferocious battle going on just in front of him. He wasn't prepared for this at all. There was nothing he could do to help and in this blindness, he would only risk getting bitten or kicked.
A loud crack led to a final, pained yelp from the beast, and it scrambled away from Snippy, quickly limping off into the darkness.
"Charles?" Engie burst out, crawling towards him.
Finally his hand located him on the ground.
"Augh," Snippy groaned. "That stupid feline clawed my arm..."
"...Does it hurt?" Engie inquired, seeming concerned.
Snippy sat up, still speculating the motives behind his fellow's sympathy, and ultimately finding them suspicious.
"It's just a little scratch. I'm fine," he lied.
The copper eyed man intended to help him up and accidentally grabbed him by the right arm – a terrible idea.
With a yelp, Snippy pulled back and by pure reaction pushed him away with such force that Engie fell on the ground.
"Ah shit, I'm sorry...!," the sniper apologized, instantly regretting his uncontrolled action.
Engie raised a hand to silence him and soon got back up.
"Gromov, I-," Snippy moved his hand towards him but stopped midway as he was interrupted.
"It's okay. I couldn't know you were injured there," the copper eyed man said.
Charles felt bad for his accident and offered the engineer his left hand.
"Come. We must find a safe place to stay for the rest of the night," Snippy suggested as Engie took his hand and they firmly held onto each other's arms again. "Before more of those things show up."
Snippy could feel the fear in his fellow's tight grip.
They could only imagine what else could be lurking in the dark and had to take everything into account, from mutated felines to giant caterpillars.
"Let's try this one," Snippy whispered and yanked on one of the doorknobs of the buildings in the street.
The rusty metal door opened with a creak and got stuck on the granular ground halfway.
The cleft that opened was just big enough for the two to squeeze themselves through, one after the other. After shutting the door again behind them to make sure no creatures could follow, they inspected the place.
Wary for dangerous holes in the ground or mutants hiding in the darkest niches, they tentatively scanned every meter of the room with hands and feet.
"Hey, guess what?" Engie exclaimed quietly. "I found a drape!"
"What? Where?" Snippy asked.
"On the floor near the window. Maybe there are more?" he said with a shrug.
The sniper fumbled his way through the room along the walls, but didn't find any more potential objects that could give off some warmth, not even a carpet or some old seat covers. All he could recognize in the dark were an empty clothes hanger, a broom, a broken chair and some metal cans.
"No, nothing," he reported and with a sigh.
He slowly slid down close to the wall on the opposite of the door. Tired of the night, the biting cold and his never ending bad luck, he contented himself with the snowless ground of this windless building.
"Well, congrats, Gromov. Have fun with your lousy old drape. I won't need it," Snippy said sternly, masterfully hiding his frustration behind plain crudity.
Engie remained silent. He knew that Snippy lied again in his pride. In the end, he was just human. He couldn't stand this cold for much longer, no matter how tough he always pretended to be.
Wet cloth rustled as he paced over to the sniper, dragging the old drape along, and sat down just half a meter away from him to his left.
Snippy was cold, his muscles burning from tension and his shivering stopping in exhaustion.
He really shouldn't sleep, not in this state, Engie thought.
"Charles...," he finally said. "You do need a cover. You're not Seven. I believe he could go swim in an icy lake all night long and not die from cold, walk through a burning building and not die, fall from a skyscraper and get out of it alive somehow. I don't know how he does all this. I stopped caring. But you're not like him, no matter how hard you try and hide your feelings behind your incessant toughness. You should confide in others more."
"So you think that you know everything..." Snippy said sullenly. "Well, let me tell you what confiding in others brings you in this world: You'll get mocked mercilessly by Pilot and Captain, probably receiving a silly sentence or mission on top of it after offering them a laughing show."
"Do you still think that whining will get you anywhere? Wake up from your pretty dream..."
The engineer put his hand on the other's arm and felt him tremble again, unsure if it was from cold or emotion.
Snippy abruptly shoved his hand away and got up, shuffling across the room and remained standing there.
Something told him that he shouldn't, but driven by a strange feeling in his chest, Engie got up and followed him.
He heard shaky breaths and a sniff, followed by a long gasp. There he found him, facing the wall.
Engie reached out and his hand first touched his back, sliding up to his shoulder, remaining there.
"Yeah, now you see me crying. Go on... make fun of me," Snippy muttered. "Have a laugh. I don't care anymore."
Engie tried to think of something to say but his head was so full of thoughts that he couldn't keep a clear mind anymore.
The tension inside his heart was killing him and he couldn't hold back any longer.
In that moment, he pulled Snippy closer in a one armed embrace, leaving his other hand on the shoulder, and felt how much he shivered.
"I won't laugh at you. And we'll share the drape. Nobody will ever find out. I promise."
The blue eyed man exhaled and paused for a few seconds. He could barely believe what just happened. It took him some time until he got a clear head and could relax his tense muscles.
That hug seemed heartfelt – coming from a heart full of remorse - which made him realize something. Gromov wasn't such a bad guy after all. He was alright. Maybe he could trust him.
His head spun a little. For now, all he needed was rest.
"I'm tired... Let's just go to sleep, we can talk tomorrow," he finally said, and the other let go as the sniper walked over to pick up the old drape. With a thin clang his rifle was dropped to the floor.
In no time, Engie was stood beside him and picked up the other end of the drape. They laid down somewhere in the middle of the room, back to back, relishing the warmth of each other.
They didn't talk for the rest of the night and even managed to get some hours of sleep.
Engie woke up a few times because he heard noises outside in the dark, but tried to calm himself down, reassuring himself that they were safe here.
Once he woke the sniper up because he thought something had rattled on the door.
A couple of times Snippy startled awake himself after nightmares of cancer, but he huddled back into the cover and was quickly asleep again.
Finally the morning dawned.
Snippy felt like that was the longest night he'd ever had.
He mentally praised the first sunbeam that came through the ash covered window of their room.
Even though his whole body hurt horribly, he was happy that his clothes had dried on him over the night.
For the first time in what had seemed like an eternity, he saw his surroundings, and he sat up.
Looking down at his hand, he followed the trail of dried blood up to his arm and discovered the awfully hurting, deep slash wound. He would treat it once they were back at the base – hopefully before the others were awake.
He looked back to his fellow.
Engie just laid there on the floor, taking up most of the cover, eyes peacefully shut. His shades were on the floor not far from him, near the wall.
Snippy put his gear on, got up silently and opened the distressingly rusty door, which creaked loudly and completely ruined his efforts at being stealthy.
Even though the air was everything but clean and fresh, he took a walk outside to catch a breath.
The soothing morning sun plunged the decayed buildings in a soft, gleaming light, which made him forget about the cold for a moment.
On his way back he spotted Engie in the distance, who lowered his shoulders in relief as he caught sight of him.
"Where have you been?" he asked, trotting towards him.
"Just on a walk. Let's go home," Snippy said. "Before the hungry caterpillars come out of their hideouts and begin their morning hunt."
The engineer secretly winced and looked around, which the other quickly recognized as fear.
"Pssh, calm down. We'll be there in no time," he said with a smile.
Slightly embarrassed, Engie pouted behind his mask and walked along next to him.
For a while he just looked at him from the corner of his eye and noticed the blood covered right sleeve. He felt a pang of guilt about it, but decided to not convey his reaction to his companion.
Further on the way home, he began a conversation.
"Charles, I forgot to say something important..."
"Thanks a lot for saving me from the flare-eye. And I really mean it this time. Thanks," he said a little uneasily.
"Some things just have to be done. You're welcome."
Once they arrived home, Engie gladly welcomed everything he saw with open arms... except the Captain – he welcomed them.
Ah shit... does he ever sleep at all? Engie thought in fright.
"Welcome back Engie! You've been out for very long. Did you find a vehicle for your Captain?"
"Well..." he muttered quietly, trying to make up something the crazy leader wouldn't blame him for.
"Bikes were sold out," he replied finally.
"Ah, what a bummer," Captain said and gestured dramatically with his hands, as he always did.
"You'll have to serve me as a mount then."
"What- NO!" the engineer protested loudly.
At that moment, Snippy came in and tried to bypass the leader. Not having that, Captain caught and firmly grabbed him by his right arm.
"Unggh...!" Snippy suppressed a pained gasp behind gritted teeth.
Engie contorted his face and brought his hands up to his face at the sight.
"Mr. Snippy, where are your manners? Running in without saying hello? Minus infinite credits for both of you!"
He finally let go and the sniper dashed through the arch behind him, disappearing in a small room at the end of the hallway where he closed the door and released a noise-damped cry of agony.
Engie instantly picked up the pace to check on him and entered the room.
He found Snippy standing there by an old sink, clasping his arm, hunching over in agony. Blood was dripping down from it – the wound must have been ripped back open when Seven touched him.
Gromov soothingly put his hand on the shoulder again, watching him startle at the unexpected touch.
"I'm gonna help you, if you let me, and we'll get your arm fixed," he offered.
The sniper kept quiet and carefully took off his gear and jacket to reveal the line of deep scratches on his arm. He stared blankly at it, watching the blood trickle.
Feeling slightly nauseated by the view at the torn flesh, Engie pulled himself together.
"I'll go get some tools," he finally said, finally looking up to the sniper's face.
He looked pale and distanced, probably from staring at the wound for too long.
"Better sit down in the meanwhile, and try to focus on something else... okay?" Engie suggested.
Without a word Snippy sat down on a nearby chair.
"I'll be fine. I won't faint," the blue eyed sniper said with confidence. Engie nodded and walked away, keeping up eye contact until he finally left through the door.
Sometimes he really worries too much, Snippy thought with a smile.
And deep down he couldn't help feeling that he was rather nice.
That was the second and final part of Frostbitten! I hope ya'll liked it!
Big thanks to eight_of_hearts for inspiration, test reading, and saving my backside so many times while working on this.