kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Proof that the spirit has not died: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The skyline was beautiful on fire by kawuli
Chapters: 4/?
Fandom: Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games Series - All Media Types
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Original Female Character(s), Original Male Character(s)
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, District 9 (Hunger Games), District 6, Normal people make the rebellion happen, Minor Character Death, Canon-Typical Violence
Series: Part 3 of These are truly the last days: Panem's rebellion from below
Summary:

"If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. For every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died."
--The Grapes of Wrath



Zea walks down the hill and into an argument. “We can't just head back out and hope we get lucky,” Milo’s saying. “What’re they thinking?”

“They're thinking that every hour that fucking track is open they're flooding people out to hold Six, and Joe’s guys are getting shot at while we’re sitting here arguing,” Sara snaps. “We weren't looking out before, I bet we'd see the damn things if we were paying attention.”

Alister’s standing with them, just watching for now. Zea stays back.

“Sure,” Milo says, “and when you get blown up I won't even be able to say I told you so.”

Great. Milo’s always had a temper, it's what mostly got him into trouble, as long as Zea’s known him. And Sara’s her own kind of stubborn, not to mention Zea only sent them to bed six hours ago and Sara’d been irritable already last night.

“We can't just sit here, or what's the point?” Sara snaps. She turns. “Alister, come on.”

Alister looks between the two of them. “He’s not wrong, Sara,” he says mildly. Then when Sara opens her mouth to shoot back, he cuts her off. “But neither are you.”

“So what’re you suggesting,” Milo says, the words level because they're taut, tension stretching across Milo's shoulders, his crossed arms.

Alister sighs. “We need to contact District 13,” he says. “We've done the best we can, but they're going to need to help out. We need metal detectors, and they need to take out the line themselves to give us all some time. Us and Six,” he adds, looking at Sara.

Zea’d practically forgotten about District 13. When she thinks about it though, it's infuriating, that there's a whole district out there with hovercraft  and who knows what and they're out here on their own to get killed.

“Great, so you got a friend there you can call up?” Milo asks, sardonic.

Alister’s mouth pinches a little tighter. From him it's practically a scowl.

Sara’s eyes go wide, though. “I…might,” she says.

They both turn to stare at her. “My friend Rokia, I heard she went there from Eight.”

“What?” Alister asks. Zea almost giggles, it's so funny to see him caught out like that. “Wait. The Victor from Six?”

Sara nods. Alister keeps watching her, then shakes his head. “Well, it's worth a try,” he says. “Beetee’s been doing all those propos, maybe your friend can put in a word someplace.”

Sara's mouth tightens at the emphasis, but she doesn't say anything.

Milo just shakes his head. “You guys with your fancy connections,” he says, but he doesn't sound nearly as angry. “I don't mind going back out there,” he adds. “We just gotta be smart about it.”

Sara looks at him, then sighs. “Yeah,” she says. “I just fucking hate this,” she adds, looking away. “I’ll get on the radio, see what we can do.”

She walks away without saying anything, grabs the radio from the transport and starts climbing the hill. She passes a couple feet from Zea but doesn't say a word, just nods a little in recognition and keeps going.

Zea makes her way over to the others. Milo gives her a crooked grin and walks off toward the stream. Alister’s still standing there, looking at the map. Zea hesitates. She doesn't want to admit it but he intimidates her, even still. But he knows the most about what's happening, and once again Zea’s world feels like it's too small.

“What's going on?” Zea asks, a little carefully.

Alister looks up at her. Sizing her up, looks like. “Here? Just figuring out what to do next.”

“But… District 13? If they can help, why haven't they done anything till now?”

Alister sighs, reaches up to scratch behind his ear. “I’ve heard they did some bombing up in Eight,” he says, cautiously. “Their materials are limited, so they're careful about where they use them.”

There's quite a lot missing from that explanation. Zea watches him, but he's not giving anything away. “But they could help,” she presses.

“They could,” Alister admits. “And hopefully they'll see we need them now.”

Zea stares at the map again. The railroad track is traced in red, a thin line cutting across the road grid and the rivers and the hills. All clean on paper. Neat and tidy. Not so much in real life.

“They don't really care about us though,” she says, halfway surprising even herself. Alister looks over, raises one eyebrow. Zea keeps her eyes on the map. “They only care because they need us,” she goes on, figuring it out as she goes. “So they'll only help if they decide it's worth it. That we’re useful.”

She glances up then, and Alister’s giving her a very calculating look.

“I’m not stupid,” Zea says, because he looks surprised that she's figured something out. “I just never knew—” she stops, because she's not sure how to end that.

“No,” Alister says. “You're not.” He takes a deep breath. “And you're right. They'll do what's best for the rebellion, not necessarily what's best for us.”

“Why do they get to decide?” Zea asks. “What's best for the rebellion, what does that even mean?”

Now Alister almost smiles. “Now you're talking politics,” he says. “I'm just a Peacekeeper, I wouldn't know anything about that.”

Zea narrows her eyes. “Sure you don't,” she says. But he doesn't give her anything else, so she sighs, steps back to wait.

Alister just goes back to staring at the map.

 

Sara comes down a little later, frowning, her shoulders tense. She puts the radio back in the transport and leans against it, looking away from them. Zea waits for her to say something, but she just stays quiet, tapping two fingers against her lips absentmindedly.

“You get ahold of your friend?” Zea asks finally.

Sara nods, then straightens up and runs a hand through her hair. “Yeah, I told her we needed help, she's gonna see what she can do.”

“You think it'll work?” Zea asks, trying not to sound skeptical.

Sara sighs. “Apparently she’s been go-between for Joe the last couple weeks, so I guess she's got some access.”

Sara glances at Alister, shrugs her good shoulder. “It’s probably our best shot.”

Alister nods. “Good,” he says, and looks back at the map.

Sara walks off down the stream.

 

Zea keeps herself busy checking over all of the vehicles, trying not to imagine doing it with Emmer. She bags up the last of the fertilizer, wonders what they’ll do when it’s gone, wonders if the big truck’ll start since nobody’s driven it since they got here. Too noisy, too obvious, too fuel-hungry.

Sara helps off and on, she knows her way around an engine. But she’s on the radio a lot, to Joe and to her Victor friend in Thirteen, and sometimes Alister goes up with her, up the hill to where the signal’s better. Sara’s tense, wound up taut and always in motion, listening for the chime that signals another call.

It’s two days until District 13 decides to get off their asses and help.

Two days of Sara swearing every time they hear a train whistle in the distance, telling them about the Peacekeepers flooding into Six with her jaw clenched and her eyes hard. Zea keeps her mouth shut after she suggests Sara rest and about gets her head taken off, restricts herself to the job at hand instead.

Finally, Sara and Alister come down and tell them they’re about to get a supply drop and a bridge taken out.

“That’s not gonna keep ‘em down very long,” Durum says. “They been getting bridges up in four, five days.”

Sara smiles. It’s the first time she’s smiled since it happened, Zea realizes with a start, and it’s not the same smile—this one’s got sharper edges. “They’re taking out the bridge over the Miss.”

Zea’s eyes widen. She’s seen the bridge, coming into the City from the north. It’s gotta be half a mile long.

“That ought to give us at least a week,” Alister says, “And it’ll give those Peacekeepers something to do in Six, getting materials made and shipped out.”

“You said they were dropping supplies?” Lucerne asks.

Alister nods. “Metal detectors. I asked for more explosives,” he adds, glancing toward the truck, “but they say theirs are all assigned.”

“Rokia said they want us to get creative,” Sara says, darkly amused.

Milo rolls his eyes. “We’ll just make some fuckin’ TNT out of tree bark, will we?”

Sara has a look in her eye like she has an idea, but she doesn’t say anything, just laughs a little. “Sure, let’s get right on that,” she says, then glances at Alister.

He’s quiet and unreadable as usual. “Zea and Lucerne, why don’t you take watch,” he says. “They’ll drop the stuff tonight, apparently they’re not completely certain of their stealth capability.”

 

Zea’s got the radio on low while she watches, waiting for news. Thirteen’s broadcasting some things unencrypted, showing off, bragging about military victories and reporting the Capitol’s latest atrocities. This is secret though, so since Zea doesn’t have the codes for the encrypted channels, doesn’t know the code phrases that go out with the unencrypted stuff, she listens to the Peacekeeper channels instead.

She’s still waiting for news when she hears a low rumble and a hovercraft appears above her as though from thin air.

It’s smaller than the Capitol craft she’s seen, dark and snub-nosed and noisy since it’s just above her. As she’s watching, two small shapes detach from the craft and sprout parachutes, gliding toward the ground like gifts in the Games, while the hovercraft vanishes—first to her eyes, then to her ears as the sound fades into the distance.

The stuff isn’t landing at camp. It’s landing on the other side of the ridge, a few miles on foot and probably no road. She’s just wondering how they’ll get to it when the radio crackles, comes alive with shouts and far-off explosions.

Lucerne comes over from her post to listen—surely this is enough to distract anyone looking for them—and squeezes Zea’s hand, looks up with raised eyebrows. “Looks like they did what they came for, then,” she says.

And then everything’s drowned out by the crack of gunfire and the shouts turn triumphant.

“Enemy craft eliminated,” a voice says, through the chaos. “Move in for retrieval—“

“Negative,” another voice calls back. “It’s at the bottom of the river.”

There’s a pause. Zea feels her heart pounding. Eliminated. They shot down the hovercraft. The people in it, the people who just gave them what they need to stay safe, they’re dead. They’re at the bottom of the river. They’re—

“All right, postpone retrieval, we’ll get a dive team to check for intelligence.” The man sounds annoyed. “Let’s get a damage assessment and call it in.”

 

Lucerne clicks the radio off and looks over. “We need to check in,” she says, and starts down the path.

 

Everyone’s up, even though it’s nearly midnight. They’re all huddled around the other radio, and only Alister looks up as Lucerne and Zea approach.

Zea walks up and stands beside him. “What happens now?” she asks.

Alister nods, takes a deep breath. “Sara,” he says, and she looks up at him. “We need to go collect our gifts.”

“Now?” Zea asks. “How will you find them in the dark?”

“Transponder,” Alister says, “Small, low-range, but we’ll pick it up once we get close to the coordinates.”

Sara’s gone back to her bedroll, comes out with a bag slung over her good shoulder. “Come on,” she says, “Let’s go.”

 


  

Sara follows Alister up the ridge, weaving between the trees and trying not to trip over roots and branches. Twigs snap against her torn up skin, she’s still sore all over and she’s struggling to keep the pace Alister sets, but she’s so happy to get out of the fucking camp she doesn’t care. So happy to be doing something finally, that it doesn’t matter if she’s hurt and tired, she’s moving, finally, and that’s all that matters.

Alister stops at the top of the ridge and looks back at her. Sara straightens her shoulders and looks right back. She’d make some smartass comment if that wouldn’t give away how hard she’s breathing. But Alister notices anyway, of course he does, leans back against a tree while Sara catches her breath.

“You haven’t been sleeping much,” he says mildly. “Tired?”

“Fuck you,” Sara snaps.

He smiles a little. “Okay then, let’s go.”

He pulls something out of his pocket when they get most of the way down into the next valley, looks at the small screen that lights up, and changes direction. They stumble through underbrush for a while before Sara sees the parachute, caught in a tree branch.

“Alister,” she says, and he looks up from his gadget and sees it too. “I’d get it for you,” Sara adds, “but I’m pretty sure the medic would bust my ass.”

Since he’s the medic, and he’s already been at her about—well, everything—he just shakes his head and heads for the base of the tree.

 

They collect both boxes, fold the parachutes and tie them into a manageable package, and Alister finds both transponders, turns them off. Then he turns to look at her.

“You wanted to learn to shoot?” Alister asks.

“Yes.” It comes out almost before he finishes.

“Well, better to make noise here, so they can’t trace it back to camp,” Alister says, pulling his pistol out of its holster.

“And I’m guessing they’ve got bigger things to worry about at the moment,” Sara adds, smirking a little. It stings to have lost the hovercraft, but the biggest bridge anywhere Sara’s seen is destroyed—pretty damn thoroughly, if the PKs aren’t lying. For tonight, Sara’s calling it a win.

“That too.” Alister grants the point.

Sara steps up beside him, watching carefully.

“First rule,” Alister says, looking her in the eye. “Never point it at anyone you’re not planning on shooting. Ever.

Sara nods.

“Not even if you’re sure it’s unloaded. Never. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Sara says, her enthusiasm turning more serious given the tone of voice he’s using. “I got it.”

“Okay,” he says. “Second rule: don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.” He turns so Sara can see how he’s holding it, finger along one side.

She nods again. “Okay.”

He goes through quite a few more rules, but none of them have the same deadly seriousness. Then he hands her the thing, and she tries to hold it like he showed her. It’s heavy, dark steel, and the handle settles into her palms like it belongs there.

Alister steps behind her, puts his hands over hers. Sara can smell sweat, and metal, and something sharper. The trees all seem to stand out a little more in the dark.

“Okay,” Alister says, “That pine tree, see if you can hit it.”

Sara moves her finger over the trigger, carefully, adjusts her aim. Alister’s hands are still over hers, but he’s letting her do the work.

“Okay,” Sara whispers, takes a deep breath, and fires.

The shock runs up her arms and she might have stumbled back if Alister wasn’t there. The sound echoes in the hills and then dies away.

There’s a broad groove in the side of the tree, bark splintering where the bullet passed.

Alister steps back. Sara lowers the gun, mindful of Rule One, and turns to look at him. She just fired a Peacekeeper’s gun. For the moment she feels invincible.

“One more, on your own,” Alister says, “then we’ve gotta go, that’s enough noise for one night.”

Sara nods, turns back to the tree. This time she braces herself, so the recoil jolts her shoulders, hurts enough where she’s beat up that she can’t hide the wince, but the bullet hits the tree.

It’s not dead center, and the tree’s not even that far away, but she did it.

She’s grinning when she hands back the weapon, feels her eyes gone wide. Alister smiles a little bit. “Well done,” he says. “Now let’s get this stuff back before someone comes out here to find us.”

 

Sara takes the parachutes, Alister takes the crates, long and thin, one under each arm. It’s a long slog up to the ridge, a short scramble down to the camp. Zea’s back up on watch with Lucerne, Milo and Durum are asleep, and everything’s quiet except for the bugs and the wind in the trees.

“Tired?” Alister asks again. “You should sleep a bit.”

“What’ll you do?” Sara asks, because Alister sounds like he wanted his choice of pronouns to go unnoticed.

“I’m going to open these up, see what we’ve got.”

“Something in here you don’t want me to see?”

“No, just thought you could use the sleep.”

Sara looks at him. “Let’s get the damn things open,” she says, refusing to dignify that with a response.

Alister looks down, that funny little smile almost hidden in the dark, heads for the transport and the toolbox inside. Sara sits down to wait, because she’s not too tired for this but she is tired.

Alister comes back with a hammer and a flashlight, pries out the nails on the tops of the first crate, and Sara pulls the lid back.

Encased in some kind of solid foam is…a stick with a box on the end, basically. She lifts it out—it’s heavier than it looks—and a sheaf of papers falls to the ground.

Alister picks them up, thumbs through and then stops. “This is for you,” he says. “From Rokia, it says.”

Sara practically shoves the thing at him and reaches for the papers.

On top is some kind of manual for the gadget itself, but clipped to it is a batch of printouts, the top sheet in Rokia’s handwriting, her name at the bottom. Sara can hardly read it in the dim light from a sliver of moon, but when she looks up Alister is handing her the light. She pulls off the manual pages, hands them to him, then snatches the light and walks away a few steps, as though she was having a private conversation instead of reading a scribbled note.

 

Sara—

I pulled files on a couple types of mines that look like what you described. Should help you disarm them, if need be. You always were good with the fiddly wiring stuff.

Sorry we couldn’t send more supplies, we’ll keep trying. Meanwhile please try not to get killed, hopefully the detectors will help.

No news from up North.

Stay safe,

Rokia

 

Sara’s eyes prickle, stupidly. It’s not a sentimental thing, it’s business, except that cryptic note that must mean Rokia hasn’t had word about her sisters.

But it’s Rokia, her handwriting, her words, smudged a little like she’s writing quickly, it’s the first thing Sara’s been able to hold in her hands that says Rokia is alive and okay.

And now Alister has the other crate open and is watching her, so Sara swallows, pulls the page away  from the rest and folds it to fit in her back pocket. Then she walks over to Alister and shows him the diagrams.

“I think I know how to solve our explosives problem,” she says.

He looks at the papers, at Sara, back at the papers, down at the detectors. “You have got to be fucking with me,” he says, flat.

The tone of voice, the epithet, the fact that Rokia didn’t-exactly-suggest this, it all makes Sara a little giddy. She grins. “Oh no,” she says. “Come on, it’s perfect. Blow them up with their own damn mines.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing,” Alister hisses, trying to keep his voice down. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“Nope,” Sara says, “And I do know what I’m doing. I’ve got fucking labeled diagrams to show me.”

“Just because your girlfriend sent you plans, that doesn’t make this a good idea.”

“I can do it, I know I can,” Sara shoots back, refusing to take his bait. “And we’re gonna have to do something, there’s hardly any fertilizer left.”

Alister snaps his mouth closed, hands the sheaf of papers back to Sara.

“Go sleep,” he says. When Sara opens her mouth to protest he sighs. “I’m coming too, I’m just going to collect this stuff and put it in the transport.”

“I can help,” Sara says, but Alister shakes his head.

“I’ve got it. Go sleep.” It sounds like an order, and Sara’s never been much good at following those, but she does have to admit that it’s a good idea.

“We’ll talk about it in the morning?” Sara can’t help suggesting.

Alister takes a deep breath. “Yes,” he says, and picks up one of the crates, starts walking toward the trucks.

Sara looks at the pages one more time, tucks them under her bedroll and goes to sleep.

 

She wakes up feeling better than she has since it happened. She has something to do now other than sit around listening to the radio tell her how many trains are flooding into District Six.

Alister is studying the detectors when she walks out into the sunlight. He looks over while she’s blinking and waiting for her eyes to adjust, looks at the papers in her hand and sighs.

“I guess there’s no chance you came to your senses after a night’s sleep,” he says, resigned.

Sara shakes her head. “It’s gonna take a lot more than that,” she says, only half joking.

She sits down next to him and unfolds the plans. It’s been a while since she’s looked at something like this— and even back when she worked for Sal she had Rokia to help her make sense of anything weird. Here she’s on her own.

Well, not entirely. Alister peers over her shoulder intently, but he doesn’t say anything while Sara traces a finger over the thin lines. It’s not actually that different from the detonators they make, in the end. A firing pin, a spark, an explosive detonator, fuel, explosion. Just more compact. And the ones Sara makes don’t have extra shrapnel built in. No wonder she’s torn up. She’s lucky it isn’t worse.

The next page is an instruction manual for arming the thing, how to place it, how to disguise it, and Sara hears Alister suck in a sharp breath. “How did she get these?” he asks, sharp. “This is current.”

Sara grins. “Well, looks like Beetee can do more than jam propos,” she says.

 

“We don’t even have to disarm them completely,” Sara says, a little later. “It’s not very much explosive, we’ll probably want four of them, and really if we just take out the detonator charge it probably won’t go off.”

Alister looks at her. “Probably.”

Sara shrugs. “I mean, there’s a slight chance that if you bumped the firing pin it could light the main charge directly, but I don’t think that’s likely.”

He’s still giving her that flat look.

“And if we totally remove the pressure plate, we’ll probably fuck it up somehow, and then we can’t reuse it.”

Alister sighs, but looks down at the pages Sara’s studying. “You really think you can do it?” he asks.

She looks him in the eye. “I really do,” she says.

Alister looks over at the truck. It’s almost empty. They’re almost out of material for detonators. Sara knows she’s right, knows this is the best plan they have unless District 13 decides to airdrop them something more—and if they didn’t do it before, they’re not likely to now.

The Capitol wants to hurt them? Fuck that. Sara’s going to blow them up with their own damn weapons.

Finally Alister closes his eyes for a long minute, reopens them. “Okay,” he says. “We’ll try it with one, do you think it would work as a detonator for the fertilizer-based fuel?”

Sara nods. “It’s a similar explosive as our detonators.”

“Then we’ll try it like that first.”

 


 

Zea’s enjoying the idea of a few quiet days, even if Sara does seem impatient to get back to blowing things up.  But then Alister decides that since they have the days off, it’s time to move camp.

“We’re lucky we haven’t been spotted yet,” he says, once Zea comes back with Milo. “And we don’t need all these vehicles now.”

Lucerne looks thoughtful, then nods. “You got us a spot to move to?” she asks.

He gives her a curt nod. “It’s not far, if we could do it in a straight line. Driving, it’ll take a couple hours.”

He’s not telling them, Zea notices. Not even the direction.

“We can probably get what’s left of the fertilizer into one of the pickups,” she volunteers. “The barrels of diesel and the rest of it can go in the other.”

Alister hesitates, glancing over at the transport, but then he sighs. “You’re right. We’ll leave the transport here, and the truck.”

 

They leave that night. There’s only half a moon, and Alister has forbidden Zea from using her headlights, but at least he’s going first so she just has to follow him.

Milo’s sitting next to her, Lucerne next to the window. And they’re not driving out to a site to cut or to plant, they’re following a District Two Peacekeeper through the woods and the hills. And hoping—

“You trust him?” Zea blurts out into the silence. “Alister,” she adds, because she can’t risk looking over and she wants to make sure they understood.

Lucerne takes a deep breath, lets it out. Milo’s the one who speaks first. “If he was gonna sell us out he’d’ve done it already,” he says. “Had plenty of chances.”

“I know,” Zea says, “I guess I don’t think he’d sell us out to the…other Peacekeepers, but…” Saying it out loud it sounds silly, but Zea does it anyway. “Well, what about Virgil?”

“You think it wasn’t like he said?” Lucerne asks, and she sounds skeptical but not offended, so maybe it’s okay.

“Him and Sara both said Virgil stepped on a mine, weren’t nothin’ they could do,” Milo says, gruff.

“You can’t blame him for what the Capitol did, Zea,” Lucerne says softly, “And he’s not somehow infallible, but yes, I trust him.”

Zea closes her mouth and focuses on driving.

 

If he’d been trying to disorient them all Alister couldn’t have picked a better route. It’s barely a track, overgrown and grassy and snaking alongside the stream—and through it in places. The water splashes against the tires but doesn’t get high enough to flood the engine, and if Alister can make it through, so can Zea.

And then finally they stop. They couldn’t have made it up here with the big truck, the trees are so close together even the pickups just barely fit.

And there’s no natural overhang like before, instead there’s a falling-down wood house, holes in the roof, a tree growing out of one corner.

Alister’s climbing down, so Zea turns off the engine and follows.

“I know it’s not much,” he says, “But we’ll use the parachute fabric for groundcloth and then the plastic tarps can patch the roof a bit.”

Durum’s coming over, one hand tracing along the back of the other truck, squinting in the dark. “Ha,” he says. “Just like old times.”

Zea glances over. Milo’s come around next to Durum, and he’s grinning. “Not everyone wants to pay through the nose for barracks space, Zea,” he says, teasing. “Used to be you could find old houses out by Bley’s place, before they tore everything down.”

Zea doesn’t mind paying for barracks space—and more importantly, barracks heat and running water. But she’s not about to complain in front of everyone. They’ll make do.

 

They’re getting everything unloaded when Zea hears it. Faint whirring, just on the edge of hearing. She freezes, looks around. Alister’s staring up at the sky, and Zea looks up just as the hovercraft uncloaks and drops its bombs. It’s wheeling away, disappearing again, when she sees the glow to the East. Too early for sunrise, too red, and then she realizes: fire.

Alister drops the tarp in his hands and heads up the hill. Zea hesitates for a second, then follows him up to the crest of the ridge.

The view from here isn’t as clear as from the old place, still too many trees in the way, but what she can see is a shock. A huge swath of the forest is burning, and up here Zea can feel the heat on her face. Alister glances over at her as she comes up beside him.

“Do we need to move?” Zea asks, because the fire isn’t very far away.

Alister shakes his head. “We’re upwind,” he says. “This is why.”

“They knew?” Zea asks, “They knew where we were?”

“The drops,” Alister says. “Last night.”

“But that was a ways away from camp, wasn’t it?”

Alister shrugs one shoulder. “That’s why they’re burning such a large area,” he says. Zea nods, watching as the fire spreads, trees lighting like torches in the night. “Come on,” Alister says, “Let’s get set up.”

 

Sara’s up in the rafters when they get back, stringing a tarp across some of the gaping holes, reaching to tie off one corner. Milo’s on the ground giving directions, Lucerne and Durum spreading out parachute fabric over the crumbling concrete floor. Zea looks around. It’s claustrophobic here, even more than the old camp. The hills rise on either side, the trees crowd close, leaning over the house, branches meeting over the small stream. Zea can’t see twenty yards before the tree trunks block her view. There’s a faint smell of fire, floating over the smells of rotting leaves, of damp earth and pine. Zea heads to the trucks, starts pulling out bedrolls and supplies, and before long the little house is cozy enough Zea can almost understand why Milo and Durum might’ve liked it.

Alister looks around, nods. “I don’t think we need to set watch on the ridge, at least not tonight.”

Sara shrugs. “I can go if you want.”

He gives Sara a long look, until she looks down. “They won’t be back until the fire’s out,” Alister says. “I’ll sit up outside, you all get some rest.”

Zea’s glad enough for the sleep, given the last couple days haven’t exactly been restful. Sara, of course, is the one who protests. “I can watch with you,” she says, “Or you should sleep, you drove.”

Alister shakes his head. “Go to bed, Sara,” he says.

“Come on,” Lucerne adds, reaching out as Sara turns, then dropping her hand to Sara’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Come get some rest.”

Sara sighs, but she lets Lucerne herd her towards her bedroll. Zea looks after her, turns to see Alister watching too, before he shakes his head and goes out.

Zea’s bedroll is next to Sara’s, just like the old place. When she crawls in, Sara turns to look at her, smiles a little. “You should teach me how to drive,” Sara says.

Zea’s so surprised she almost laughs. “Oh yeah?” she asks “Why’s that?”

Sara rolls on to her back. “Oh, just in case,” she says. “I’ve driven before,” she adds, a little sharp. “Just that was… a little electric truck, just for around town. Not sure how much different these’ll be, but they go a hell of a lot faster.”

Zea shrugs. “Okay,” she says. “Not sure where we’ll go, but I can try.”

Sara glances over and smiles, pleased. Zea feels her face warm. She hasn’t seen that smile in a while—just the sharp brittle kind. She reaches a hand over, finds Sara’s, and interlaces their fingers. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Zea says, soft.

It’s a stupid thing to say, and why now? But Sara just squeezes her hand, then lets go and curls up facing Zea. “Goodnight, Zea,” she says.

“Goodnight,” Zea echoes. Nothing’s changed, but somehow she feels better.

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