"What is your problem?" Justus's voice was low but still cut through the din of wolves scattering to get armed and ready.
Vexin looked up briefly from the Beretta he was loading, but didn't say anything. Though everyone seemed to be milling about in confusion, things were much better than he feared. This wasn't the first combat they'd seen; everyone was holding up well. Some were already in wolf form, others, finding it difficult to manipulate weapons with thicker fingers, were holding off on their transition. The sight of armed nude or nearly nude people would have been comic if the mood hadn't been so tense.
"Excuse me, what is your problem, Kai Thain?" The stress on his title was anything but respectful.
Vexin stripped his shirt off before answering, shivering in the cold. Just because wolves could endure temperatures better than humans didn't mean they liked it.
"Other than the horde of Ferox looking to tear this pack apart and it being my responsibility, absolutely nothing. Why do you ask?" Vexin was not up to having this conversation now. He didn't wait for Justus's answer- didn't want Justus's answer- and decidedinstead to run a quick patrol of the perimeter, which wasn't much of an excuse because there wasn't much of a perimeter. He'd decided they would remain where they were and use the cars as coverage- circle the wagons as it were, and let the Ferox come to them. It was risky; they had nowhere to run if things went badly. But they weren't going to run.
Justus was trailing after him, but he didn't stop. He caught sight of the newest additions. Theylooked nervous but resolute. He pitied them; it really hadn't been fair to ask this of them. It was too late now. Too late for all his regrets, not that he didn't have plenty of them.
"Why did you do that to her, Vex?" Justus was nothing if not stubborn. Vexin stopped, but didn't turn around. "She wasn't undermining you. You were being unreasonable."
"I know, Justus."
"So did you decide to go off the deep end for any particular reason, or are you just trying to keep us on our toes?"
"I want her to hate me." Vexin didn't even realize he'd spoken aloud until Justus responded.
"Huh." Vexin jumped when Justus put a hand on his shoulder. "You really are an idiot. You love her."
Vexin didn't deny it. There was pause, andthen he shook Justus's hand off. "There's no time for this- they'll be here any minute." But he didn't walk away. "She should hate me, you know. I single-handedly ruined her life."
"She had a choice."
Vexin laughed harshly and shook his head. "Some choice. I shouldn't've made her come. She's going to die, and it will be my fault. Anyone else would hate me. I do." Self-loathing rasped in his voice.
"She doesn't though." Justus sighed. "Talk to her, Vexin."
"There's not enough time now." That there might not be another time at all hung in the air between them.
"I should get back to my post," Justus said, knowing from years of experience that there was no talking to Vexin when he was like this.
Justus nodded once and ran off. Vexin watched him go.
Claire shifted, trying to keep the bracken from digging into bare flesh. They'd taken shelter of sorts behind the Mazda. Poor defense against a hail of bullets, but better than nothing. Kai and Levi were with her on the northern perimeter. They looked better than she felt. Stoic, prepared. Partly because they were both in wolf form, but still. Levi had a ruff of dark fur that stood straight up, from the top of his skull to the base of his spine. That coupled with the jewelry he hadn't bothered to take out made for an interesting effect. She spared a moment to envy them, but then her attention returned to the battle at hand. She would acquit herself to the best of her abilities, die with honor and all that.... She struggled to swallow and rechecked her gun and stash of extra ammo with trembling fingers. Maybe the boys would just think she was cold.
:I feel like my whole fucking life has been leading up to this moment,: Levi thought. His voice was faint and awed.
:Me too,: Kai said.
:Yeah, me too,: Claire piped up, thinking it rather than speaking out loud, unwilling to break the silence. They both looked over at her, eyes eerily reflecting the moonlight.
:Really?: Levi asked.
"No," Claire confessed. "I feel like this is kind of a mistake. But that's just me." Her voice seemed unnaturally loud and she switched back to thoughts. :Just didn't want to ruin the moment.:
:But you just did,: Kai pointed out.
:It's not like it was going to end up on a Hallmark card anyway,: Levi said sardonically.
They lapsed back into silence.
Claire heard the Ferox before she saw them; preternatural hearing catching the softest sounds of feet on bracken. She tensed, or at least she tensed more- she'd been pretty tense in the first place.
Moonlight illuminated the clearing before them; the enemy would be exposed when they
made their attack.
:There!: Levi's voice cut through her mind, his attention on an inky shadow on the far side. The shadow moved. Her fingers clenched involuntarily on the grip of her Browning as she brought it to bear on the wolf. More movement caught her eye. There were three, no, five of them. Had they seen her? She held her breath.
They glided out across the rough terrain, no more than darker shadows on the dark ground. She aimed, waiting for the perfect moment; they'd be in range in three...two...one...
Levi took cover behind the car hearing the zing of bullets strike the flimsy metal. He hoped it would still drive after this ordeal and he hoped that he would still be able to drive it. Oh well, cross that bridge and all… There was a lull in the gunfire; he stuck his head out to return fire. He wasn't much of a shot but saw the dark form of a Ferox wolf stagger and fall. This wasn't what he'd prepared for. He guessed that he couldn't have every really been 'prepared' but still, he'd been expecting hand to hand combat not a long firefight. He could smell the blood from here. Scent was the thing that really made Levi realize this wasn't a movie or dream. That dying would mean more than losing four hundred life points. The Ferox who wasin the charge took cover.
"Goddamn," Kai swore. He'd resumed human form, finding it to hard to fire with claws. "I can't get him. He's holed up pretty tight."
Levi turned back too; mind-speak took too much concentration and he was all about conservation of resources. "So what do we do now?"
"Hope we have more 'munition," Claire said. "Or that he wastes his." She sat leaning against the car door, reloading.
"Not much of a plan."
"Nope, but I'm open to suggestions." She smiled sweetly. They lapsed into an uneasy silence, each hoping the others would come up with a genius plan any moment now.
"Hey, Kai, how'd you get that good with a gun?" Levi said with grudging admiration.
"It's a rifle." Claire couldn't help herself.
"My father took me to the firing range a lot as a kid," Kai said distantly.
"Where do your parents think you are?" It suddenly occurred to Levi that just because no one cared whether he lived or died didn't mean that the rest of them could disappear with impunity.
Kai shrugged, "I don't really know. They probably think I've joined a gang. I've been written off at any rate."
"Oh, Kai," Claire started, but he held up a hand to forestall sympathy.
"It's alright. It doesn't matter."
"My mom thinks I've shacked up with some skeezy boyfriend." Claire looked rueful. "Or at least that's what I told her. Though every time she calls, someone different picks up and she's beginning to suspect I'm in a cult."
"We kind of are a cult," Levi said, "Sans the robes and the Latin."
Kai nodded absently. "I'm going to try something." He didn't wait for the others to react, instead hefting his M-24, moonlight glinting off the long narrow barrel and scope. As quietly as he could manage, Kai lifted the car door handle and pulled the door open while remaining seated. "If I can get a better angle, I might be able to get him. Or he might take a risk trying to get me- Claire, be ready for that."
"Hey!" hissed Levi.
"Fine. Levi, make sure Claire is ready for that." Claire smirked but managed to look worried at the same time. Levi watched as Kai squirmed his way across the floor of the car behind the front seats, resting the rifle on the backseats. He situated the rifle awkwardly along next to him, trying to prop it up while reaching up to open the opposite car door with his free hand. Levi held his breath. Claire was at the front bumper of the small car, gun -or rifle, Levi didn't know- pointed skyward but ready to aim as soon as she heard fire. He realized that he should probably make some sort of effort. He made for the other bumper, the M-16 making his passage difficult and nerve-racking. Apparently the wolves favored the weapon because it was easier to manipulate with wolf fingers with its open trigger design. And apparently he'd been given it because it would do the most damage with the least skill. Initially it made him feel like Rambo, but now he was just hopin' to God that he didn't kill any of his friends. With his luck….
His sharp eyesight caught the door crack open through the glass of the windows. Apparently the Ferox did too; Levi heard rapid gunfire smack down the side of the car. He struggled to bring the M-16 around without exposing vulnerable flesh. Claire and Kai were already answering the fire. He heard Kai's yelp accompany the sound of a bullet hitting something much softer than metal. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
He let the M-16 drop, setting down with a thump- not wise, all things considered.
"Kai, are you okay? Kai?" Levi slowly looked into the car, stomach tightly knotted. A bright splash of blood stained the seats. Levi grabbed Kai's ankles and heaved pulling the limp Kai on to the thick weeds.
His left shoulder was a pulp. Blood flowed across pale skin. A lot of blood. If Kai had still been human he would have been dead, but he was giving Levi an annoyed look.
"I missed." His voice was thin and strained with pain.
"Dude, you more than missed." Levi applied pressure to the wound, making Kai hiss. "You're fucked up pretty bad."
"Thank you, Dr. Levi."
Levi grinned a little despite himself. "You're also wounded."
Kai narrowed in irritation, or maybe it was just a new wave of agony. Claire spared a glance in their direction, got off a few more shots and pulled back to reload.
Levi shrugged. "Blood loss, I doubt he can use his left arm."
"Hey, right here. Don't talk over me."
"His personality also sucks, but I think that's permanent."
"Fuck you, too."
Claire checked around the bumper again; a couple of shots zinged by her head. "Pretty sure he's still there. Boys, I'm not sure this plan is going to work." She opened the front door and Levi momentarily wondered if she was going to try the same thing Kai had, but she merely opened the glove compartment and pulled out a small white box. A first aid kit.
"Don't worry," she told Kai. "I took first aid….eight years ago….for babysitting…." He didn't look reassured.
Mickey tried to keep behind Covo and the twins without looking like he was trying to keep behind them. He wasn't all too sure that he was being particularly successful, but no one was pressing the issue. The twins were clearly used to fighting together. Their teamwork was nearly flawless; where one was vulnerable the other was there quickly dispatching those that approached.
So far he'd really only shot one person. Or at least he was reasonably sure it was a person. It might have been a really big. Richard motioned silently and Mickey got down taking cover behind a convenient tree, hoping he'd interpreted it correctly. He kept getting 'get down' and 'go forward' confused.He could see Covo, crouching parallel to him. He congratulated himself- three points for Agent Mickey.
He heard wolves snarling and the unmistakable sound of a struggle in the underbrush. The jarring noise of gunfire followed and he risked a glance out, struggling to ascertain what the hell was going on. That, Mickey had found, was the hardest bit about fighting. It was all just confusion and chaos; by the time you figured out what was happening and what you should do, it was too late and something else was happening and you needed to do something else entirely. He just need time to think.
"Fuck, Mickey, do something!" Covo hefted her weapon, aiming carefully but not firing; she couldn't without fear of hitting one of the twins. They had bitten off more than they could chew, not that they weren't trying valiantly. Their opponents seemed unfazed by the twin's teamwork, in fact the Ferox wolves themselves seemed used to working together and more than capable of counter the twins. One of the twins--Richard?—took a heavy to the chest. "Mickeeeeeeey!!" Covo bellowed.
"What should I do?" he wailed, indecision holding him prisoner as he watched in terrified fascination. Mickey was only dimly aware of Covo's scream, lost as he was in the seeming slow-motion of horror. Something within Mickey snapped and for the first time in his life he quit thinking- and acted.
Later he would be unable to recall just what happened. What he did remember seemed very vague as if it was a dream or it had happened to someone else. Even without realizing he'd decided to, he was moving- throwing his weapon aside and transitioning to wolf, throwing himself at the Ferox wolves, heedless of any danger to himself. Instinct alone guided him, something far more primal than thought. There was a moment of hesitation when he joined the fray, and that was all he needed.
Covo watched for a breathless moment, as Mickey tore into the enemy. The world seemed very far away, his rage was so intense it was cold. Nothing existed but the enemy and his claws and teeth.
Minutes later it was over, blood staining fur and foliage. Mickey stood, alone. Slowly he turned to where Covo stood watching him warily and waiting for reason to return to his eyes. It was the sight of Richard's broken body that chased the remains of rage from Mickey. He didn't remember seeing his packmate go down. Suddenly the scent of blood and sundered organs was sickening instead of exciting.
He looked down at the blood dripping from his finger tips, then back at wide-eyed Covo. Shrugging a little helplessly, he said, "That wasn't so hard."
For a long moment she continued to stare at him as though she'd never seen him before, finally she shrugged. "Don't get cocky," she warned him, "It's not over yet. And we can't let them win…"
"No Ferox is going to beat us," he agreed enthusiastically shaking a fist at the sky.
"I was talking about Levi and Kai, but, yeah, them too. Come on, let's move."
Vexin pounced on the enemy wolf with a low growl. The wolf didn't have time to register the dark form flying at him until it was too late. The struggle was brief and nearly silent except for the final crunch of bone that was the Ferox wolf's spinal cord. Vexin suppressed a triumphant howl. There was nothing like spilled blood to release stress, no punching bag could compare. He took cover, waiting until the next Ferox came in range. He'd abandoned weapons almost as soon as the fight began. He wasn't a technophobe, exactly, but some things were meant to be done the old-fashioned way. The part of him that had never been human scorned such impersonal killing. It wasn't a battle unless you tasted your enemy's blood.
The fight was moving westward; the only sound to catch his ear was that of a mauled wolf, dying and piteous. He decided to move out looking for new opponents. Stalking out slowly he scented the air and kept close to the ground. The wind was out of the east this evening. So there was nothing to give Rutger away. Vexin might never have been aware of the rival Kai Thain except for the small but unmistakable sound of claws on the textured grip of a Glock. There are times when one has moments of crystal-clear, but wordless understanding. A primal and instantaneous realization that transcends language. As Vexin slowly turned to find Rutger looking at him through the cross-hair he realized two things. The first was that he was going to die. The second was that he'd never told Claire he loved her.
The pain was abating slightly, Kai wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe his wolfy powers were kicking in, or maybe he was just dieing. He decided to go with wolfy powers. He wondered how much time had passed since he'd been injured. Pain had a way of making time slow and it felt like forever, but it couldn't have been more than a couple of hours. Right? He tried to shift, which sent fresh waves of pain through his torso. He grimaced.
"You ok?" Levi asked. That question just got more ridiculous each time he asked it.
"Yeah, I'm peachy fucking keen. Don't I look it?"
"Better than a dumbass like you."
"Boys!" Claire hissed. Her face was pale and he could tell the helplessness of their situation was getting to her. If there was one thing she hated it was inaction. The sound of sporadic gunfire seemed far away. The odds of someone coming to their rescue in time seemed slim. He wondered how the battle was going elsewhere.
"He started it," muttered Levi, settling back, trying to find a comfortable seat in vain. "Aw, fuck this. We need a plan."
"We're all ears." Kai just looked at him.
"…I was hoping that would inspire one of you." Claire rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine how about if, um, we…." He was drawing a blank. "Here- Claire you cover me, I'm just going to run over there and kill him." He said it casually, as if it wasn't a form of suicide.
"You're kidding, right?" Claire didn't bother to hide her scorn. "Because that definitely ranks up there on the list of bad plans. Somewhere between the Donner's party's 'Let's take this shortcut' and Custard's "Let's make a stand.'"
Levi shrugged, which wasn't much of an argument. "Not a whole lotta choice."
Claire's mouth hung open for a second before she closed it with an audible click. Levi didn't wait for an answer, instead reaching out a hand to squeeze Claire's briefly. He came to the awkward crouch that they were forced to adopt or risk getting shot. He looked at her and she nodded; she was ready when he was. He took a moment to change to wolf- he would need the form's power and speed if he was going to have a chance.
Time seemed to slow to that surreal crawl in which he was hyper-aware of every detail. Though his legs pumped furiously it took forever to cross the small clearing. The bullets zipping past him seemed extremely loud and he hoped to God that they were Claire's and that her aim was steady. He was so focused on the ultimate goal that he nearly missed the sight of another wolf just in the edge of his peripheral vision . The realization so surprised him that he nearly tripped and did in fact stumble, awkwardly catching himself before he went completely down.The plan, or whatever there had been of it in the first place, was now royally shot. Oh well, he pressed on. It was too late to turn back now. He'd just have to take out two. Easy. Kinda. Shit.
He ran faster. He had to beat the second Ferox to the first's hiding place. It would be easier to pick them off one at a time than to try and fight them simultaneously. Stretching his legs to their fullest extent, he practically flew. He made it just before the other wolf- why hadn't Claire shot him?- and he threw himself at the first wolf. It had seen him coming and was ready, gun raised. He twisted to the side as it fired, narrowly escaping a bullet to the chest; instead it caught him in the left arm. He still had use of it though, he noted in grim satisfaction as he closed in. He caught the barrel of the gun and pushed it away as he landed on the wolf in human form. The man didn't get a chance to even the fight though, the force of being thrown into the ground stunned the man; Kai landed on top of him an instant later, sinking him into the loam and rotting leaves. Heavily clawed hands dug into the man's torso, snapping ribs and crushing lungs. The Ferox was dead, but his packmate was closing in; Kai didn't have any time to prepare for the attack. He swung at the wolf anyway, but was unable to get any real strength behind it. The Ferox must have known this but he danced out of range anyway.
:I'm in your fucking pack, moron!: The wolf cried, desperately backpedaling under the onslaught.
Levi pulled up quickly; the sharp voice that resounded in his brain was indeed familiar. He struggled to place it.
:Oh. Sorry.: He fidgeted with the safety of his weapon. It hit him. :Hang on- you're Brandt, right?:
:Yes, you stupid fucker, I'm Brandt.: He sounded seriously annoyed, but Levi couldn't seriously blame him. Friendly fire would be enough to make anyone testy.
Justus thought the fight was nearing its end but everywhere he lookedthe signs of it remained. Bodies of the dead and dying lay broken and splattered with gore. By this point, no one was unscathed. His own left arm hung nearly useless from a gunshot. He didn't feel it, though with the adrenaline singing in his veins. Marking his next victim he padded stealthily out. The wolf spotted him, bearing his fangs in an obscene smile. Justus howled his challenge, bounding to meet his adversary. They collided heavily, struggling for the upper hand. Justus twisted and writhed, eluding the flesh-rending claws. The other werewolf was stronger, he realized in an instant. He had to finish this fight quickly, or die. Feinting right, he ducked under the wolf's guard and sank his teeth into his opponent's throat. The wolf didn't go down immediately, claws raking down Justus's side He felt them nick his ribs like a stick down a washboard. He bit harder, jaws aching, blood trickling down his throat and drenching his muzzle. Still harder and the wolf sank first to his knees then lay prone. Justus waited several long breaths but the wolf was dead.
He rose a little unsteadily. How long had the battle drug on now? He wasn't sure – hours, maybe. His limbs were shaking with exhaustion. The gunfire had died down and a quick survey of the surrounding area didn't reveal Ferox- as least not any live ones, but Claire's wolfish form a waysoff. He howled to get her attention. She whirled and dropped into a fighting stance. He nearly laughed.
:It's me, Claire.:
She relaxed some. :Oh thank God, where is everyone? What's happening? Kai and Levi went off on some heroic charge...: He could hear her concern; it was much harder to cover fear mentally. :So I'm, you know, holding the fort. Have we won yet?:
He barked jubilantly. :Yes, kiddo, I think we just might have done it. Not that I doubted it for a second, of course. The fighting is pretty much ov-:
Shots rung out, cutting him off. He jerked convulsively as bullets tore through his chest shattering muscle and bone. He looked down in confusion; shouldn't he feel pain? Claire was screaming. He wished she wouldn't as he sank to the ground and into blackness.
Claire watched in uncomprehending horror as Justus fell; her keen eyesight picking out each drop of crimson as it splattered across the rocky ground. She was screaming, her voice reaching the mind of every wolf in the area. Her eyes narrowed as she caught sight of the lone gunman struggling to loadanother clip. Without conscious thought she was running, taking to all fours in a lope that thoroughbreds couldn't match. The gunman realized he'd never get it loaded in time and dropped the gun in favor of changing to wolf. He managed it just as Claire caught up to him, tackling him with enough force to bear them both to the ground. Her claws found purchase in his stomach, rending muscle and exposing guts. The agonized yelp died in his throat as Claire caught him under the chin and ripped it out.
Stumbling, she returned to where Justus had fallen and collapsed, the gravel biting into the soft flesh of her knees. She hadn't even noticed the transition back to human. The adrenaline had left leaving her limbs watery. Struggling to shift Justus's cumbersome weight, she straightened his skewed limbs, trying to be careful of sickening wounds. He'd returned to human form and they stood out even more on the smooth, furless skin. A little voice inside her told her it was useless even as she pressed her hands against pulverized flesh. "Oh, God." Tears tracked unnoticed down her face. Hesitantly, knowing what she would find and dreading the confirmation, she put her first two fingers to his neck. There was no flutter of life under her touch. "No, no, no nononononono. Justus! Justus..." She shook him as though her were merely sleeping; his head lolled lifelessly.
Curling up next to him, she lapsed into a sort of half-consciousness, oblivious to all but her grief, head resting on the stilled chest.
:It's over for you.: Rutger's voice was calm, stating the obvious rather than gloating. Vexin straightened slowly, meeting Rutger's gaze but saying nothing. There was nothing to say, really. Empty threats or bullshit posturing meant nothing, and they both knew it.
:You came very close,: Rutger conceded. :I underestimated the clairvoyant.It doesn't matter now.: He pulled the trigger.
Vexin flinched. But pain did not follow. How could Rutger have missed?
The reason, Vexin quickly saw, was this: Rutger had been tackled and was wrestling, struggling to bringhis gun around to bear on the sandy-colored wolf. Mickey, Vexin recognized in some surprise. He quickly got over it and tried to aid him, just as Rutger succeeded in getting off a few shots. Only the sticky spray of red indicated that Rutger had hit his target. Mickey's attack only heightened in its ferocity. He caught Rutger's wrist with an audible crunch, his other paw he pressed down inexorably down on the enemy Kai Thain's throat. Rutger writhed wildly, but it was like fighting with a vise. His struggles grew weaker, until they stopped altogether.
Mickey rose unsteadily, taking human form. He'd been shot twice, in the shoulder and above his left hip.
"Kai Thain!" Mickey grinned. "Didja see that? Oooo, I don't feel so good..."
Vexin caught him as he started to fall, also taking human shape. There were some things that claws just weren't good for.
"Yeah, I saw that- I seriously owe you one. Here, we need to get you cleaned up. Those wounds are nothing to sneeze at."
"Yeeeah...." Mickey's eyes widened suddenly. "What'f they go septic? I'm allergic to penicillin. Ow, ow...It really, really hurts..." He tried to touch the hole above his hip, but Vexin pushed his hand away; the last thing he wanted was a panicked Mickey. "People can bleed out in a matter of-"
"Hey, what are you going to tell Kai, Levi and Covo? Weren't they making bets which one of them would kill Rutger?" Vexin interrupted, his voice artificially happy.
"Who?" Mickey was having trouble focusing through the pain and blood loss.
"The guy you just killed."
"Was that him? Oh, yeah. Hey- that's right. Just wait 'til I tell Kai, he's going to be livid..." Mickey sounded positively gleeful.
"There's my boy," Vexin said, hefting Mickey's weight and staggered on.
It took them four hours to collect the bodies of the fallen. Phaedra was among them, the twins as well. Claire watched numbly as Kai and Levi loadedPhaedrainto one of the vans; she seemed much smaller in death. Justus was next; she insisted on helping Levi carefully lay him out next to the others and cover him with a sheet. She didn't know who'd thought of bringing sheets- probably Phaedra; she thought of everything. Had thought. Claire knew she should be crying, but found she couldn't. She just felt hollow. Something occurred to her through the fog of her grief.
Levi just looked at her. Kai shrugged. "I don't know."
"He left." They turned. Mickey was slumped in the passenger seat of a waiting car, andCovo was trying to keep him from getting blood on the upholstery. He gestured feebly. "That way."
"Shit." She was already running.
"Should we come?"
"No! Get the others ready to go. I'll- we'll- be back soon," she yelled over her shoulder, not even looking back to see if they were obeying. Instead, she concentrated on avoiding the slick patches of blood-soaked ground. Branches tore at her face and caught in her hair; her feet were raw and bleeding, but she didn't have the strength or concentration to change forms.
It seemed like it took longer to find him than it actually did. What felt like hours couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes. He was sitting with his back against an oak, examining a gun as if he didn't know what it was, fingers idly tracing the black lines, lingering over the curve of the trigger.
"Vexin," she gasped, breath ragged. He didn't look up, fixated on the Browning he held. Tentatively she approached him, as if he might flee like a wild thing. "Vexin."
"Life's a funny thing- he saved my life and I cost him his," he said it in an off-hand sort of way, belying the raw tension he held in every muscle and the red rimming his eyes.
"Here, give me the gun, Vexin." She kept her voice soft but insistent. He looked at her then. She reached out her hand, willing him to give it over.
"You think I'm going to kill myself." He sounded almost amused.
"No, of course not." That had been exactly what she was thinking. "I just-"
"I'm not going to kill myself, Claire. Maybe I should, but I'm not going to." She sank down next to him, nearly shaking with relief.
"Oh, God, Vexin."
"I didn't mean to scare you, sorry." Her hand closed around the barrel and he let her take it from him. His face tightened and twisted with tears; she felt her own do the same. Seeing his grief made hers rawer. Vexin pulled her to him, andshe let him, and vaguely aware of hot tears on her neck. When she'd sufficiently recovered her composure, she pulled away.
"We should get back. We need to get out of here. They need their Kai Thain." She stood and brushed her hair back as if that would makethe blood-caked snarls more presentable.
"Yes, you can." She wiped away tears with the back of a dirty hand. "You have to, Vexin."
"I can't forgive myself."
She took his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her. "He forgives you."
"You can't know that..." His fingers closed around her wrists as he searched her eyes for the truth.
"Yes, I can."
He took a deep breath. "I love you." Even after everything, the words still stuck in his throat.
"Yeah, I Know."
She offered him a hand up.
He took it.