Author's Note: I've grown to dislike the way lowercase titles work, and decided to start capitalizing 'Sniper' and 'Engineer'. All previous chapter have been edited and it will be written this way from now on. Thank you.
The Sniper cracked his bleary eyes open to find his head resting on a soft, comforting arm. For a brief, delirious moment he had no desire to question it, basking in the wonderful unspoken contact. But as he blinked away the lingering fog of sleep, he felt a tight grip of panic wrap its fingers around his throat.
He quickly sat up and turned to see the Engineer snoring against the wall, his mining light resting his lap. They had been making shadow puppets, pointedly facing away from the shattered orb in the sky, pretending that it didn't exist.
The Sniper instinctively looked up, as if expecting to see it still hanging there, staring down at him. But all he got was the painful hiss of the blazing sun.
He couldn't see the moon, but it still weighed heavy on his mind in a way that made the pit of his gut feel cold. That didn't happen. That wasn't real life. Could he have dreamt it? He was tempted to shake the Engineer awake and ask him if it had really happened, but there was something cruel about rousing a man from much-wanted sleep in this kind of situation.
He looked back at the sleeping man and recalled the overwhelming sense of brokenness he had experienced the night before, and that awful feeling came back to him again, albeit weaker and more numb than anything else. He remembered being held tightly and told everything would be okay, and at the time it had slowly thawed his panic and melted it into something warm and satisfied, but now, as he thought back to how he had clung to the Engineer and buried his nose into his neck, he felt shame.
Pathetic, he thought to himself bitterly. Weak, worthless and pathetic.
He groaned and buried his face in his hands. He didn't enjoy having feelings like this. In fact, he didn't quite enjoy having feelings to begin with. They were easy to stuff down and sand over with layers of stoicism and impersonality when keeping at a safe distance from high up in his vantage point, but being with the Engineer day in and day out for days, or weeks, or however long they'd been there had pushed him beyond the boundaries of his socially detached comfort zone.
It had gotten to a point where he started to care, and that frightened him.
Having too many emotions and thoughts at the same time was far too confusing. It had hit its boiling point and come to crash the night before, and now he just felt exhausted—even more so than usual in the oppressive heat of this enigmatic desert.
He needed to get up, walk around and clear his head.
As he gingerly stood up, he leaned against the wall for balance, and took a moment to stare at his fingers as his palm pressed against the wood. He balled his hand into a fist and lightly knocked, wondering how much of the world around him was truly real. Nothing happened. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting—maybe for it to shimmer like a hologram, or fall over like a slice of cardboard.
He just wasn't sure what to think about anything anymore.
He grabbed his bow and quiver and slung them over his shoulder. The Spy might be dead, but after what happened to the moon he wasn't even sure if he could trust so much as a wooden crate.
As he descended the steps he looked out beyond the fence that caged them, squinting out into the distance to where the angles blurred into nothing. He saw no trees, no buildings, no dips or hills or valleys. It was as if they had been dropped in the middle of a blank canvas, a part of the world that had been unfinished and left to collect dust.
His tongue felt bitter, and he clicked it against the roof of his mouth thoughtfully. He reached behind his back and brushed his fingers against the feathered end of one of his arrows, a scenario running through his head in which he shot it with his bow out past the fence, only for it to stop midair, embedded in a thick wall painted to look like a horizon.
The claustrophobe inside him shivered at the thought. If it were a reality, he wasn't sure how he would react. The smartest thing to do would be to not dwell on it, but the more he thought about it, the more it nagged him. If he and the Engineer were locked up in a giant box, he wanted to know.
He slowly pulled the arrow out and slipped it into place. He drew the bow, squeezing one eye shut and aiming at nothing.
Just as he began to uncurl his fingers from their grip, a piercing caw threw him off. He spun around to see the silhouette of a large bird standing on the Capture Point, digging at the feathers under its wing with its beak.
With a sharp inhale and not a moment's hesitation, he swiftly drew his bow again and shot out an arrow. In half a second, the bird was dead.
His mouth cracked into a wide grin, and with a sudden burst of energy that he didn't think he was still able to have, he briskly ran to the Capture Point, where a fat crow lay dead, his arrow protruding from its belly. He yanked out the arrow and snatched the corpse by its feet, holding it up as he ran back to where the Engineer slept.
"Truckie!" he cried, bounding up the steps. "Truckie, wake up! I got a bird!"
The Engineer woke with a start, the way people do when they dream they're falling. He blinked in bewilderment, looking around as if he were trying to recall where he was. He sniffed and rubbed his eyes, then looked up at the Sniper. His mouth was open to speak, but when he saw the bird his eyes widened and for the first time in a while, he grinned. "Well I'll be."
Feeling his ears grow warm, the Sniper broke eye contact, coughing into his fist and then scratching his cheek with a shrug. He still felt a bit breathless from running all the way back. "Yeah, it—uh—the moment I saw it I didn't even think, just shot it."
"That's—that's just fantastic, Slim." The Engineer chuckled hoarsely as he stretched his shoulders. "Help me up, would you?"
The Sniper offered his arm, and the Engineer clasped it tightly. He rose with a grunt, and was subsequently handed the fresh kill.
"So where was this little varmint hiding, anyway?" He was looking it over as if he didn't even believe it was real. It was still warm.
The Sniper shrugged again. "I don't really know. I just heard it caw, and I turned and saw it sittin' on the CP. Like I said, I didn't really take the time to think about it."
The Engineer's head suddenly shot up, his eyes electric. "Say that again."
The other man blinked, confused. "Er, I heard a bird cawing, and I turned and saw it was standing on the Capture Point?"
There was a growl and a vigorous head shaking. "No, that's not what you said before, you said—"
The Sniper scratched the back of his neck. "Uh, I called it the CP?"
"Yes!" Shoving the bird back into the Sniper's arms, he reached into his pocket and withdrew the wrinkled slip of paper that they had found in the dead Spy's hand.
'The Sudden Death Experiment'
Need ENG - CP
Helen will know
"CP…" the Engineer murmured, running his thumb over the two letters. He snapped his head up, looked out at the Capture Point, and immediately took off.
Trotting as fast as his weakened body could, he began to make his way to the Capture Point. Flutters of hope danced in the Engineer's chest as he ran, and even then he attempted to form scenarios in his mind. Did it open up to reveal an enormous, winding staircase into a pit of darkness? Did they have to stand on it to signal a helicopter to come and get them?
If only he knew what 'ENG' was supposed to mean.
"Oy! Slow down!" Behind him, the Sniper tried to keep up, panting as he stumbled along. "I ain't exactly young anymore!" He caught up to where the Engineer was standing, scratching his head as he stared down at the large, gray circle.
He looked up at the Sniper and shook his head. "I don't know, Slim. It says 'E-N-G' here, but I haven't got a clue what that's supposed to stand for."
The paper was unceremoniously snatched out of the Engineer's hands. Holding it up, the Sniper squinted at it. "You sure it stands for something?"
"Well, what else could it be?" The Texan gaped at the taller man. "To the best of my knowledge, Mister, 'ENG'ain't a word."
"No." The Sniper lowered his arm and smirked at the Engineer. "But it's part of one."
The Engineer's mouth slowly closed and his eyes widened as it sunk in. He wordlessly pointed to himself, asking a question without speaking.
The Sniper answered with an equally silent nod.
Immediately, they both dropped on their hands and knees and began to crawl around the vicinity of the circle, sweeping for a knob, a lever, any kind of indication that they were on the right track—at this point, it was their only hope. They frantically searched in zigzags, only to come at a full stop dead in the middle when their foreheads collided with a synchronized "Oof!"
But as they rubbed their sore heads, muttering obscenities, they both looked down to see a circular plate of metal, bolted into the center of the point and marked with the Engineer's iconic wrench symbol.
"Run and get my toolbox, would you, Slim?" the Engineer asked breathlessly, running his thumb over the symbol. His heart pounded in his chest as the Sniper hurried back to the Resupply room. Here it was: the way back home.
It was almost over.
His back and armpits drenched in sweat, the Sniper blindly heaved the toolbox through the pressing heat. He returned and dropped it with a grunt, then crouched over with his hands resting on his knees, panting. It was pathetic how feeble he had grown during their entrapment. The thought frustrated him, and he tried to cover his gasps for breath with a cough into the crook of his elbow. The last thing he wanted was to be perceived as weak by someone he'd been trying to impress every chance he got.
The Engineer snapped open his toolbox and withdrew a screwdriver, and immediately got to work. His hands shook a bit, but he managed to unscrew all four corners. He pried off the plate, and revealed underneath a large red button.
He reached for it greedily, but then stopped himself, and looked up at the Sniper, who had been standing over him with knotted eyebrows, wringing his dirty, calloused hands.
"You ready, pardner?" he asked him.
The Sniper forced a mild grin. He nodded, but he wasn't sure if he ever would be.