Still not easy to speak, half frozen as he was and besides greatly inclined to maintain his silence for a number of days after nights like that last one, but Einar was determined, and through a concentrated effort finally managed to get the words together so that they could be understood.
“Was…never any reason to think that was anything but…routine skiing accident and rescue, was there?”
“No, there wasn’t.” Simple, direct; she did not try to soften the blow.
A nod. Didn’t really change anything, his acknowledging having been in the wrong, but still he had to do it. “Know that now. Should have known it then.”
“Yes, I think you should have.”
“Pistol’s in…belt on pants. Can’t get it. Hands are no good. You take it.”
Moving carefully, not wanting him to change his mind at the last minute without her having some warning of it, she took the weapon, set it aside. Needed to look at his hands, get him inside and treat them for the frostbite she was sure he must have suffered in the night, but wasn’t certain he would let her, just yet. Didn’t seem to be done.
“Knife too. Take it.”
She wouldn’t. “No. I don’t want your knife. This isn’t the answer, and besides, I know how antsy you get when you don’t have a weapon of one sort or another close to hand. It’s not a good thing.”
“Neither is this.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Don’t know what to do.”
“Neither do I. We can talk about it later.”
Would have to talk about it, were a lot of things they had to talk about, but she could see he was in no state presently to be having that conversation, could barely get two or three words strung together and was going downhill fast, so instead she held him, wrapping herself around his slight form where he lay curled up in the parka--he wanted to get away from her, didn’t believe he had any right to her attentions, but there was nowhere to go, so he simply pressed his face into the ground, let the tears go unseen into the dirt--hating the feel of his bones through the layers of fur and hide, sharp, pressing, and wondering once again how he did it, day after day, how he went on like this. Supposed he hardly did, really, and it wasn’t doing him any good lying there in the tunnel. Wasn’t making any progress. Needed warmth.
“Come on.” She was lifting him. “Let’s go inside. Your hands need attention, and you’re freezing. There’s no way you’re going to warm up out here all huddled in that parka with no additional source of heat. Pardon my saying so, but you’re just too far gone, and it won’t work. Your temperature’s too low, and you’ve got nothing left for your body to burn to make heat. You’ll freeze to death, lying there. Finish freezing to death. It’s not a lot warmer inside, but I’ve got a candle going, and it helps a little.”
“Will is your son. Come inside.”
He went. She was right. The cold was killing him, and if he didn’t intend to let it finish the job in pretty short order, he’d got to do something differently, for a while. Just a little while. No longer than it took to get him thawed out just a bit, and then she’d surely kick him out again, or, if for some strange reason she did not, he would have to do the right thing and remove himself from the cabin.
Pot of lukewarm water in his lap, cold-reddened hands submerged up to the wrists and the rabbit hide blanket secured despite his objections around his shoulders--had believed, and not without some measure of truth, that by going on freezing he would be making things safer for everyone, but Liz had pointed out that such methods, though perhaps not without merit, simply weren’t conducive to restoring circulation and saving his hands, after which he’d allowed the blanket, but nothing more--Einar shivered against the water barrel, thawing. His hands hurt. Bad. He welcomed the pain. Knew from past experience that it helped keep things real, himself in the present where he needed to be, and that was a very good thing. Figured he could probably justify remaining in the cabin with his family, so long as he had that insistent and irrepressible reminder to keep him tethered firmly to present realities, feet on the ground and with no doubt as to which way was up.
Hoped he wasn’t going to lose any fingers. Hard to throw a dart, fire a rifle or run a trapline with your hands all bandaged and rotting, as his toes had been the year before. Such injuries would be nothing short of disastrous, for a man who quite literally makes his living with his hands, hunting and foraging and constructing and fighting; he’d be quite lost without them. Doubted things were going to get that bad. Not the way he hurt. Might be some damage, probably would be, after a night during which he had entirely neglected to monitor the state of his fingers while sitting stone-still in the snow and wind--what could you possibly have been thinking, Einar? Really don’t know why you’re still alive, at this point--but continued numbness would have been a much worse sign. Something was definitely alive in there, was screaming at him in its aliveness, and as Liz added a fresh round of lukewarm water to the pot--scalding him, felt as though it was scalding the flesh right off, but his eyes told him otherwise; stuff wasn’t even warm enough to be steaming in the cold cabin--he had to clamp his jaw to keep from screaming right along with it. Managed to remain quiet, watching Liz with wide, staring eyes and wondering if she might be finding some justice in the hurt she was bringing him. Knew that wasn’t the case. She wasn’t like that, not at all, and for a moment he almost wished she might be. Would have seemed right, in a way. Definitely would have seemed right.
Instead, she finished feeding Will, laid him on the bed and sat down beside Einar with a pot of candle-warmed water, heavily sweetened with honey and thickened with lily root starch. “Drink.”
“You weren’t wrong, you know.”
“I don’t want to be captured. You know I don’t want that, for any of us. And you weren’t wrong to have a plan to prevent that. Problem is that you were ready to implement it over a couple of injured skiers, and that can’t be happening. What are we going to do about that?”
“I’ll go away. Stay up at…overlook, in the cliffs, give you two the cabin for awhile.”
“That’s not going to help things any, and besides, you wouldn’t make it out there.”
“Normally of course you would, the man who taught me most of what I know about getting by in the hills and timber, but right now…you wouldn’t last. Einar, half the time you end up seriously hypothermic just sitting here in the cabin with a fire going, slipping away because you’re living so near the edge still that you can’t tell when you’re starting to slide over it, so surely you must see that you wouldn’t last the week out there, the way things are right now. And even if you did, it’s not going to do anything for the real problem, here. Not going to make things any better. Please. I want you to stay. We can figure something out.”
“If I stay…there are things I can do to make sure I stay…the way I should be around you two, but you’re going to have to let me do them, not try and stop me.”
“What sorts of things?”
His face darkened, didn’t want to speak of it, but already she had some idea, feared for him, but their options were looking awfully limited.
“Yes, of course I’ll let you. Won’t interfere.”
He nodded. Thankful. Exhausted. Yes. Good. Could work, and when she dragged over one of the bear hides and draped it over the two of them--time to get warm--he did not try to move away.