By the time they’d finished their small snack, enjoying every bite and--Einar especially, though Liz was herself beginning to develop the habit--scouring the floor for dropped crumbs, the fire’s warmth had begun reaching beyond the immediate area of the stove, driving back the chill and allowing them to emerge just a bit from the bear hide without so quickly losing feeling in fingers and toes. The cold that had settled over the basin and permeated their little plateau was deeper than any Liz could remember during the previous winter although, she had to admit, the bear den in which they spent parts of it would have sheltered them exceptionally well, possibly preventing their notice of such a cold snap, had they not ventured out during it. Really though, she could not remember even a several day stretch during which they had not been out for some reason--check the traps, hunt for ptarmigans--and she wondered if the deeper cold could be attributed mostly to their greater elevation. Seemed likely, and she found herself immensely glad for the existence of the cabin; though cold enough within its walls at the moment, a series of nights spent out in that frigid fastness--especially if one was on the move and without the layers of warm hides that currently protected them during sleep--would be brutal at best, and potentially fatal. She shivered, pressed closer to Einar, who was staring into the flames as if almost believing he might absorb more warmth that way, and he certainly did need it; Liz could, despite his best efforts to stay relaxed, feel the trembling tension in him as his body tried its best to warm itself, and without much apparent success. It was going to take more than a few days of better eating for him to get past the difficulty he was having maintaining his temperature; he needed to put on fat like a bear preparing for hibernation, and Liz knew he would have to be eating an awful lot more than currently, if there was to be any hope of things heading in that direction.
Though wanting to go fix a midnight meal of rich, hearty stew and see to it that he ate a good portion before they went back to sleep, Liz knew she ought not try and push him to that extent and knew also that he was likely right about the swelling he was experiencing being due at least in part to consuming more than his body was used to, more than it could easily process. The snack would have to be enough, at least until breakfast time. From the looks of things, she’d be doing well to get him into bed before he fell fast asleep again on the floor, and she stirred herself from the warming and somewhat comfortable nest of furs there in front of the stove, threw in another log in the hopes of keeping the fire going for a good while as they settled back in for sleep. Einar scrambled to his feet at Liz’s departure, realizing how near he’d been to sleep and somewhat abashed that she’d been left to tend to the fire when he ought to have been doing it, especially after she’d gone to the trouble of preparing them the snack.
“Just gonna keep on getting colder through the night, it’s looking like. Think I’ll go ahead and sleep over here near the stove, keep things going. I can add a log or two every once in a while, have this place pretty cozy by the time you’re ready to get up in the morning…”
“Oh, you’ll do nothing of the sort! Come on to bed where you can stay warm and sleep just like I’m going to do, and in the morning we can both work to warm the place up again, if the fire’s gone and the cold has crept back in. I’m not afraid of a little chill in the morning--it helps wake a person up and get them moving!”
Einar grinned, couldn’t disagree but had thought she very well might, joined her in the bed and was heading towards sleep within minutes, the icy tension already beginning to leave his body as he was surrounded on all sides by the warmth of those good thick bear hides, Liz already asleep beside him.
Early morning, still dark, and Einar lay tossing and fidgeting beneath the bear hides, cold as once more the chill of the night filled the cabin and seeped into the bed, but not quite cold enough, apparently, to prevent his being transported to another time and place… Choppers coming in, a couple of Cobras--he could hear them, no mistaking that rumble--paired with the lighter sound of the Loach scouts that were flying with them, and he dug his fingers into the ground, tried to follow them, flatten himself, knowing what was coming next, knowing that they could have no idea he was down there amongst the enemy, surrounded by enemy as he tried to work his way out of the area and then it happened, a few shots from the ground, precisely what the chopper crews had been waiting for, target identified and the air was split with the whistle and roar of rockets as a good chunk of jungle went airborne around him, world shattered, ground moving, gonna die but he couldn’t rise to signal them, show himself, let them know he was there because he would have been caught in that hail of lead and aerial artillery fire and splintered, fractured flying rock and vegetation, and even if he’d somehow survived all of that, the enemy would have seen him and taken him as they’d been trying their hardest to do for the past…he didn’t even know anymore, three, four days, five maybe…couldn’t risk it, wasn’t worth it, had to keep still, and he did, and he lived, roar gradually diminishing around him and the jungle smoking, still; for another full three hours he lay there waiting, listening--ears ringing, unreliable--for any sign that the enemy might still be in the area, might have returned to sweep the wreckage for any sign of their fugitive, before he dared move, make his escape as darkness fell and a soft rain began falling.
No escape that night though, not yet, for the choppers weren’t gone, were apparently coming back for a second run and he couldn’t understand it, not after dark and not after the complete devastation they’d wreaked the first time, ground a flattened, smoking mess leaving little place to hide, little, aside from the now slightly raised tangle of fallen trees beneath which he’d jammed himself, and all of a sudden the situation became clear to him, their next target beyond doubt--his hiding place would appear as a dense, dark hulk amongst the smoldering wreckage around it--and the surge of adrenalin that went through him at the realization lent him a strength he would have guessed entirely beyond the abilities of his battered, exhausted body as he took off running, keeping low and hugging the still smoldering trench cut by one of those rockets, slamming his shins into broken branches and catching his feet on vines, falling, but hardly feeling any of it, trying only to reach some safety before those choppers reached the area, realizing that they’d never recognize him in that darkness, would take him as an enemy straggler if they saw him at all and deal with him accordingly but it wasn’t enough, none of it was going to be enough because he couldn’t move quickly enough and then they were on top of him again...
Einar woke in the dark, the deep, icy dark of the cabin on that frigid morning and he knew where he was, knew it more quickly than in the recent past he’d been able to know when waking thus, brought to the present by the feel of Liz’s hand on his shoulder, holding, steadying, wild sweet smell of willows still clinging to her and somehow proving tremendously reassuring but something was wrong, dreadfully wrong for the choppers had followed him, were approaching low over the basin, nearing the cabin, no time to run and he launched himself at the stove, wanting to make certain, at least, that all remnants of the fire had been stamped out…