Liz sat down beside Einar, taking his shoulders in the hopes that she could keep him in the present and perhaps reach him just a bit with her words, glad when he didn’t put up any resistance. “I had to make the fire…Einar I’m so sorry but I didn’t know any other way to get you out of that corner, and you were freezing over there. Dying. Do you understand me?”
“Gonna see us.” Voice strained, shaky, but it was his, and the eyes were his, too, dark and solemn and perhaps even a bit afraid, but they were his, and Liz could not have been more glad. Knew the moment of clarity might not last long, especially considering how cold he’d become and she hurried to get a pot of water on the stove, wanting to take full advantage of the tiny amount of heat that might manage to radiate up through those stones before the flames were inevitably doused again.
“Come to bed, and I’ll put the fire out. There haven’t been any helicopters so no one’s seen us yet, but it’s either bed, or the fire.”
“Gonna see us with…fire and… Don’t want to…got to be…ready to move and blanket weighs me down. Sit right here. Fine.”
“You’re not fine. You’re so cold you can hardly speak, and if you try to sit here all night you’ll be dead before morning. Dead. And then what? What if they really do come, and you’ve left me all alone to face them because you froze in the night? Talk about taking the easy way out! I would have expected better of you than to take the easy way out, of anything, and especially something like this! Guess I underestimated you, didn’t I?”
Einar was mad, confused, wanted to counter her accusation but couldn’t find the words and guessed--mind slightly clearer between the surge of anger at being falsely accused and the ongoing and very imminent threat of the fire in the stove, sending its heat up the chimney like a beacon--that she might just have a point about the cold, though he didn’t feel it, not at all. Felt fine. Ought to have been able to find words though, and he couldn’t. Wanted to go to sleep. Sleep would help. Help what? He didn’t remember, wasn’t sure, even, what they’d just been talking about, gave Liz a confused little smile and sank to the ground, chin on his knees, eyes half closed. Sleep. She struck him, a hard blow to the shoulder with the rabbit stick, hard enough to draw blood and he grunted, looked up in surprise, not understanding, not moving quickly enough to have responded, even had he wished to do so. She hit him again. Had to make sure he’d stay awake.
“See, now what would you have done if I’d have been a fed just now, slapping you with one of those tranquilizer darts? You’d have sat here and let it take effect, let them take you--and me, and the baby--that’s what, because you’re too hypothermic to do anything about it. Now, into bed! Come on, I’ll help you if you can’t make it, but you’re not staying here. You’ve got to be ready in case they end up coming, and the only way to do that is to warm up.”
Now he remembered. Knew she was right. Losing it, Einar. How could you forget a thing like that? Especially with this fire right here in front of you… Too cold, that’s how…brain’s all froze up and you’re… “Yeah, come for…little while. Warm up.”
A struggle getting into the bed--he wouldn’t even make an effort until the fire was well and thoroughly out--Einar clumsy and seeming to forget several times along the way what he was supposed to be doing, and Liz helped how she could, covering him with both bear hides once he was there and hurrying to get in beside him before he could take a notion to leave again, bringing with her the pot of half-warmed water from the stove, and a packet of the bearfat, berry and sheep meat mixture she’d been eating all day, hoping he might be persuaded to take some. Which might have been a possibility had he remained awake, and Liz, anxious to see him take in some energy so his body would be able to begin producing more of its own heat, debated briefly whether she ought to try and bring him back to awareness, but decided against it. Most important of all was to get him warm; the eating could come later. At least he wasn’t at the moment struggling and fighting her anymore, insisting on returning to his frigid corner as she’d known he might. Liz hoped very much to keep things that way, wrapped herself around him as well as she could with the baby in the way and worked to get him warm, nearly weeping at the way his bones seemed to protrude every which way, worse than ever, shoulders so sharp they dug into her arms as she held him and nothing but a bit of tight, sunken skin stretched over the ribs on the upper part of his chest, heart beating slowly, so terribly slowly beneath that she found herself waiting in anxious anticipation for each dull thump, somewhat fearful lest it not come. He was, though, beginning to shiver again and she knew that was a good sign, meant his body was starting to respond to the warmth and make some effort to restore itself to a more livable temperature, and if only his mind would allow it to carry on with the task, he’d come through just fine. Which I certainly hope your mind will do, or you just may end up with some brain damage out of this little incident, because you’ll be hearing from the rabbit stick again, and I really don’t want to have to do that to you…
Took a very long time for Einar to get warm and Liz, hoping to keep him there with her through the night so he could get some good rest and perhaps have a new perspective on things in the morning, sought to engage him in conversation as he became able, feeling--his body tense, listening, and she knew he was thinking of that helicopter, wondering if it was about to make a return visit--that he wasn’t yet ready to go to sleep.
“Do you remember the first time we met, when I was house sitting for my aunt and uncle down by the river…?”
A grunt from Einar as he stirred a bit, shifted position in the bed. Body hurt, every inch of it, ribs, legs, shoulder where Liz had slammed him with that rabbit stick and he couldn’t seem to get even remotely comfortable, but didn’t much care. Liz was warm, unbelievably warm against him and he was--now that he’d finally warmed enough to realize the extent of his need--grateful for her presence. “Yeah. Right before my first winter out here. Figured for a while there you were about to call the feds on me… Why didn’t you, anyway?”
“Call the feds? I wouldn’t have done that.”
“Maybe not, but you didn’t have to help me, either.”
“Sure I did. It was no accident that I found you that day. I’d never even walked that part of the riverbank--ever--only that day I did, and there you were.”
“Yeah, do you bring home every drowned rat you find floating face-down in the river, or just the ones as wild and ugly and ornery as me?”
“You weren’t floating face down! You weren’t even in the water actually, not quite. I seem to remember that you’d managed to crawl up out of it by that time, and wedge yourself in between some rocks.”
“Well, that doesn’t answer my question. And anyhow, my memory of the day’s a bit fuzzy, seeing as I’d been running on about an hour of sleep out of the last sixty, had just covered about fifty miles of rough high country being chased by dogs and choppers and guys in Jeeps all with a busted hip and shoulder and without having a drop to drink for the last couple days of it, then ended it all being knocked in the head by a bounty hunter and accidentally inhaling half the river on my way down to your place…yeah, memory could definitely be clearer, but I sure can’t see why you ever bothered! Would have saved yourself an awful lot of trouble by just leaving me there. Or taking any one of the numerous opportunities you had in the meantime to break contact with me and get on with your life.”
“But I didn’t. And now here we are about to have a baby…”