2010-12-24: Hunting Hunters Hunted

Starring:

Maggie_V5icon.pngLaurie3_V5icon.png

Date: December 24th, 2010

Summary:

"Lions, wolves, and vultures don't live together in herds, droves or flocks. Of all animals of prey, man is the only sociable one. Every one of us preys upon his neighbor, and yet we herd together." — John Gay


"Hunting Hunters Hunted"

Previously…

Running comes easy because it has to — not because joints don't woefully complain, shooting achy considerations up and down pumping legs. But a couple of strenuous strides and then tension is pounded out by the searing of all-out exertion. The goal is not a straight line, but a winding one with a constant ticking of added feet; numbers ticker by in his head; one column, the number of feet they've both traveled — the second column, the percentage of chance of a hit for the eight to twenty-seven pellets likely to be aimed at them. The counters spin by in constant relation and opposition, with always the number of Laurie's on the heels of Maggie's.

Maggie remains a constant to Laurie's percentages; her all-out run is nevertheless steady in pace, and when she veers, it's with a calculable consideration for the best possible route to the thickest trees. The snow is another constant, blowing in wicked opposition to their hard-running forms as it mingles into a wet, icy mess, an unpredictable winter rage. Sometimes the path they've cut in their minds whites out from physical reality entirely; they'll have to rely on what they know to be there.

If someone was spying down on the two figures that rocketed out of the earth, they're certainly taking their time about doing something about it.

But it's inevitable: gunfire.

Now

It may be notably belated when it arrives but it certainly arrives, as Maggie and Laurie strike toward the line of trees— Maggie's boots slam onto the branches littered under the snow marking the onset of thicker woods when the shotgun blast resounds. It's earsplitting in its closeness, a noise that can be nothing but dangerous— more than a threat. There's nothing clean about it, the burst of buckshot that chases after them; there's also nothing clean about the snow that eats them up, and maybe it's the weather than can be thanked for the fact that it's the tree trunks that seem to splinter and explode around them and graze the edges of their safety.

It's joined, but moments later, by a second jarring shot — from a different but seemingly identical weapon, its shooter hidden to their distant right, farther off and with many a tree in-between— the chief aim is off, most up ahead of them, but, running into it, an assault sails into the Kevlar at her side; a knick in the grand scheme, but the sudden force of it tosses her sideways, jarring her off her course into a strange backwards whirl that threatens to unsteady her. And it would— save for the fact that she gets an arm around a slender tree and slams hard into it instead. She's slowed up, her breath caught, but she's certainly not going to let it stop her for long. "I'm okay— " she says spinning around the trunk out of breath, "We have to get— we have to get this storm working for us!"

Indistinct noise is muffled far behind them. Distinct footsteps are too far behind, too lost in the noise of their own and the wind, and yet there's the sense of something coming.

Clusters of pellets ever expand yard by yard, becoming looser bursts swallowed by weather— no more underestimated— as scattershot sprays into the bystanding trees that welcome Laurie into their weave of forestry, everything is a little too close. Bark whipped at feet, branches violently rent into wickeder shapes; to that initial burst, he's flung that step over the threshold of thicker trees; there's a grunt as his chest heaves into cover— a close-call. He plows forward without further faltering. He's already casting a hand, attempting to tame the flutter of jacket whipping at his side, not for the pocket it provides, but to get a clear shot at his belt. It takes fingers a second try to tug the clip off, and in that moment, the steady image of the heels-ahead detective flies off cue.

Rattling that sends her to that tree inexplicably seems to make a try at him, too. Veering, he's a sudden fumble of hands. Dark plastic makes a leap, a bold black spot on the white curtain of the world— and is recovered. The hand for Maggie's back is barely there, then gone, when she proves amply able: another, closer, call.

Indistinctly, scenery goes by. At least, it can be assumed to be while legs continue to churn up the snow beneath them. All the drifting flakes ahead, and the identical rising trees they land on, could be a moment frozen — literally — in time. It's the numbers that change, keeping an analytical sanity to the piercing madness of this wonderland. Feet stomp in the newness of the snow, wary that giant mounds could be hiding solid structures underneath deceivingly fluffy cover.

"Hand," Laurie's voice barely travels to Maggie, snatched up by a wind ramming them in their exposed faces and casting noises over their shoulders. The command is followed by the stretch of his arm towards her, clutching the radio from off his belt, as he makes to slap it into her palm, passing the baton off to his partner in this wild relay race. Delegated to her, that leaves him to fish into his flapping pockets for another, sleeker, object of technology — this one… less fortunately positioned on the side that did skid full-speed into a gravely floor. Already the GPS screen blinks static and unhappy at him, while attempts to operate the buttons with a blueish ungloved hand prove unresponsive.

Blinking rapidly — against snow — but also effort, numbers attempt to stack. Theirs, the hunters, the weapons… all rising off a location as precise as if he'd gotten the flickering locator to work. But the jagged red lines that mean to form most likely paths taken to get them here— Laurie's head turns, dangerously taking his eyes off the unpredictable route ahead to the one left behind, and those expertly following it.

The full force ahead run is without further interruption by Maggie, made even more ardent in forging on after her collision with the forest; legs are plunged harder to make up for her stop, however quick. Every pause is a loss of ground that lets their trackers catch up. So far, they don't — and without another shotgun blasts at their heels, the hunters' positions become all the more vague by ears, and seemingly forever invisible by eyes. Maybe Maggie and Laurie are running faster, getting away. Or the elusiveness of the men on their tail is no accident.

The radio passed off into Maggie's hand is clutched so tightly it almost seems possible that her leather-clad fingers will crack its casing. "We were heading— north— northeast— when we got separated," she says through hr overworked breath, only bits and pieces forcing their way toward Laurie through the tornado of noise, " — do you happen to know— !" She navigates over bumpy terrain with a last minute hop, " — where we are!"

Accustomed to the standard design of the radio, her hands work the device without much need to cast distracted glances down. When it comes to life at her behest, she presses it to her ear mid-run to listen for the present transmissions at their low volume. It's static, silence, silence and silence before a crackle of intermittent voices.

"… shots fi— ? — cer Tobias is unresponsive … what do you… over there— "
"… —got eyes on the c… no sign of … "

As Maggie presses down on the radio to transmit, her free arm shoots out ahead as she carefully divides these two tasks — working the radio and working the woods. The landscape might seem unfamiliar as it blurs by, but it's taken note of underfoot: they're hitting an incline. When glimpses of the snowy realm ahead are caught, sporadic and teasing, it's a few tangles of trees there, jagged boulders there, and treetops beyond where it will all eventually descend down. To this high ground, she points.

"We went— east from there, along the— " Multitasking stalls words between breaths starting to feel restricted; the Kevlar vest that protects also crunches tightly around ribs aching to escape a growing run of daggers across them. Squinting to think, Laurie is rewarded with a slap — a face-full of needles and the snow they'd been coated with. Rubbing prickles along his cheek, the branch leaves tiny red traces, stark against the white of winter-exposed skin. It's a wake-up call. "Well, we are in the woods," he shouts in a sudden spark of joviality, a trace of laughter more telling of tire. "See if— " but the wind has other ideas, and several seconds of talking elude Maggie entirely, " — the last position of the GPS."

It's a call to action, as well. Lagging a new step behind Maggie, pockets are assaulted a second time, gaining the handle of a boxier flashlight, whose size belies its actual casual weight. Cupping a hand as shield around the bulb, he flicks it on, off, and on as test; fingers are suddenly defined in stark brights and shadows and then vanish again — even darker than before.

Land ahead is scanned anew, with specific purpose stretching beyond this risky marathon, and a stray glance almost tilts him elsewhere, until Maggie's point is made out. Up rises advantageous positioning, decked, as his purpose notes, with a section of lesser trees. The how is a litter of long dead ones, tipped from their proud stance and haphazardly cradled in their fellows because of the hill's slant. Slowly, they crush these once healthy lifelines, creating a murky and untrustworthy blot on the incline.

"There." Just beyond there is highlighted as target, as he stabs an arm at an angle in front of Maggie, having pressed to catch up. "Bank thirty degrees left right there— " stab, "Keep going— " intonation is not allowed to be subtle in the roaring conditions; he's only confident, "Get on the radio— I'm going to try and slow them down." Tally-ho! An incline means up, and, even sloping gently, some extra gait is required here and there to get over obstacles. Up, up; Laurie drives towards his presented destination, breaking out of heavy forestry into this questionably sparse zone and, in the moment in question, he darts to the same angle indicated Maggie. Only, his is a spin, not only darting but throwing himself into the thickest tree there, the flashlight snapped to attention.

"Slow them down how!" Maggie forces through. It sounds an awful lot like a contradiction to Laurie's directions, although most inflection is lost to the wind, the momentum. Whatever misgivings or curiosity she might have about Laurie's unknown plan, however, a plan which has her looking back to eye the flashlight sideways even as she runs, doesn't stop her from tearing up the incline. No time to talk, only time to run. Up, thirty degrees, beyond … she keeps going, but not far — only until the height of the incline starts to spill down and she crashes purposefully her knees to hide behind rocky outcropping beside oddly tilted trees. A scramble and she's up again — as far as a readied crouch, like a racer waiting for that first gunshot… or third, in this case.

Gulping air, blinking icy snowflakes, and casting glances for Laurie, Maggie cups a hand around the radio, protecting it from the wind, and moves her mouth in against it. "This is Powers — can anyone hear us— "

She rushes the device to her ear to listen. Static. She keeps trying. Under pressure, the seriousness of her voice — the critical importance of it — is strong, but bounced up and down by her breathing, and growing more agitated. "The suspects are— " This is backwards. " — in pursuit of us— we were heading northeast— "

Foggy, the voice might as well be from another dimension, struggling across distances. "Pow — s — we hear y — "

She recognizes the voice. "Forrester! Do you have our last location on GPS," Maggie hooks her fingers into the radio and leans all her intent into it— only to realize and cast wary glances around the forest a second later.

There's no response.

"Do you have it."

Static. A quick, adrenaline-driven, aggravated jerk of her hand nearly smashes the radio against the rocks, stopping just short.

Moments pass in tenuous wait. A movement below is easily missed. In the brush and snow, his hunting gear blends in, dull greys, browns. At first he's just movement — nothing but a shadow vaguely incongruous with the rest, meaning only. As he hones in at an angle from the left, he comes roughly into sight as a tall figure, hunched over as he walks, leading with the length of one of the shotguns that sought to assail the visiting deputies. A black winter hat is pulled snugly down over the man's head; under its brim, his young, hangdog face bears deep dark eyes and an expression telling of somebody who does not want to do what they are doing, but forges on anyway. His grip of his weapon is anxious, and that makes him twitchy. Wes Langston.

He takes stock of the area, the high ground and its potential hideaways. Boots slow, but he doesn't stop. He sets in purposefully toward the incline.

An old black-and-white movie.

Here, the shadowy outline of a pursuer, stark in disposition, molded to his surroundings, and lead by the herald of his own weapon, flushed cold by snow but warmed by grip: ready. And here, our beleaguered hero, revealed where the view pans right, fused jacket and body to the peeling bark of the patriarchal trunk overseeing that treacherous graveyard. Beaten by weather, his uncovered right hand forms a fierce grip to the tree, half-curled around its massive frame— and half around a strange object. The other cups the handle of the black flashlight, adjusting, readjusting, where fingers fight for better ground. But as the tiny, nearly imperceptible hints at Langston's approach become closer, noticeable ones, the hand stills; the grip is sure; ready.

There is no dialogue in this scene. A mute button has overpowered Laurie, showing his heavily rising and falling chest to no sound. Slit of his mouth does not even show the even, ready, puffs of breath— everything is white. Right hand tightens, clenching torn skin into rough bark, and drawing him along the exact curve of the tree. Then stop; listen. Face to the side, his cheek dragged on the same surface; he waits.

Boots are falling around the sketchy, straight-toed dash marks made by Laurie and Maggie's run, maybe fitting into the exact niches— there is no better path to see the sharp angle they disappeared to— that flicker of movement that might've been them near the top swell of the hill.

It's just Langston, steadily, smartly— reluctantly— ascending.

His step elongates to get him over a hollowed log, half-buried, that nearly tripped the runners.

Swoosh!— sans long coat and scarf, Laurie is a bundle of light-colored blurs swinging off his right hand's pull into the open in front of Langston's climb. That hand swings in and up, turning to present the bounty in its palm: a toy-like, yet official deputy badge — just as shiny as the real thing. With a distant click, an LED light bursts into existence, pinging off shine and— everything.

Everything is white.

The world explodes into a massive flare of shared brightness as the brilliant light finds every single surface a roller-coaster of reflectiveness!— mirrors flurry down from the sky in never-ending supply. This great, heavenly epiphany — at its core, its brightest spot — is all for Langston, the ant to its magnifying glass of luminosity. And it burns, too.

So overwhelming is this unexpected eruption of strange light that he reels a few uneven steps sideways along the sloping ground, skidding in awkward opposition to his previously careful steps. Just as immediate as a shout becomes caught in the hunter's throat and emerges as a loud animal grunt, a gloved hand flies to his eyes. A trick of light, it seems from afar— to Langston, more; blasted, frantically constricting eyes shut away, hiding from the tempestuous storm around him; and, too, hiding away his the deep dark secrets.

He might not even know for certain that the source of the light was one of the hunted — he can't — it was all a blur and then blindness and pain. He seems to blame them anyway. All the world's a corner when he can't see it, and he's an animal backed into it. Hands to eyes, the half-stopped shout, the stumbling— it all comes but seconds before he swings around — what direction is he pointing? — and the discharge of his weapon. The familiar sound of the shot rings out all the closer now, deafening. It's fired off into the woods — far from target. Langston stumbles again, his head down, fumbling with the familiar crevices of his shotgun.

A malformed groove in the snow goes to show for the origin of that light, rounded by a foot planting, then twisting in reverse. Brushing against his faithful cover, Laurie holds for that first shot, watching as the scatter disappears into an unexplored portion of the night. Spots dance behind his own eyelids, and are ignored. Sliding the opposite way, he takes a step down the hill, and — high knee, stretched foot, ducked head — into the layers of precariously fallen deads. Wind whistles especially through here, with an orchestra of crevices and holes to screech out a strange tune in the helter-skelter.

Duck and diving through the mess is a precious venture, but he sacrifices no speed in the doing. A gloved hand maneuvers aside one of the frail, reaching branches and it crumbles instantly, becoming like ash that stains his palm— and, more ominously, causes a general creaking in the wavering hollow structure. Blizzarding snow floods most of the smaller sections, leaving a person to sink in and out unexpectedly. The whole thing: a house of cards waiting for the slightest unsteady breath… — in the middle of a gusting storm. And, in the middle: Laurie; deftly navigating angles in what is the surest, most covered path to the ailing hunter, where even a wild shot could be highly dangerous.

The hunter prepares for such a shot. With his world cast into unsteady, burning light, it's shapes and shadows he uses as his guide. That's the cover of trees, the dangerous unknown, but he cants toward it at a quick, hurried pace. One side of the incline is as likely to house the elusive prey as the other. He picks the wrong side. He aids the decimation of distance between himself and the light-bearer, and in the midst of the cover he pauses.

Above, what is a fairly short distance in reality seems triple the length to Maggie. The figure of Langston, visible from time to time in a haze, but Laurie has turned into a ghost down there and the gunfire doesn't argue. It's only set her on a very precarious edge, literally and otherwise; she peeks out around the edge of her temporary hiding spot, fingers hook onto the rutted surface of the large slick outcropping she's curled behind. She's ready to spring off at a moment's notice, her eyes so bright they ought to act as beacons to another hunter sneaking toward her. No one does. Everything seems to pause in limbo.

In the storm, a crackle of the singing trees seems nigh indecipherable from debris breaking under someone's creeping foot. A shot — BANG — more deafening than the last fires in the direction of the noise … nothing more than a waving branch, the tree now shattering now into splinters. Far off — but closer than the last.

The figure, to the ghost that is Laurie, becomes more imminent, a silhouette broken by the shotgun angling toward the ground as he fights blink after blink to bring it into focus and shove ammunition into its upside-down tube — and at the same time, hide, shuffling into the very edge of those near tangle of trees, dying underbrush. He's the one with the gun — if he can get it reloaded — but no cocky hunter is this; breath cools around his face in nervous clouds. A scraping noise; he drops the ammunition in the snow. There's a shift in the balance. Hunter, hunted…

… noises. The forest, once Langston's comfort zone, is turned against him. Snap and crackle of branches, the whining wind, and the whipping white flakes that lent to his condition all hound him with possibilities — noises — but quiet. As he fumbles with ammo, he's swallowed by the weather, and the looming, leering of the dead. Shattered, more of them twist, flailing drearily, and bumped out of settlement; one of the healthy ones groans under renewed weight, contemplating dumping its corpse load down the slope of the hill to flatten more brush.

The plop of ammo into the snow is much softer compared to all this — and so much more damning.

An arm: not there a second ago, wraps Langston's neck, twining above the bulky cut of his hunting jacket, the elbow hooking securely under his neck. More interference at his hands, where a foreign one reaches in between, clamping over the shotgun chambers where the gun lies uselessly open and making a solid claim on the last upper hand the hunter has. Out of the mist of snow and deadwood, the ghost has become corporeal — and in no minor way; the arm Laurie has around Langston's throat constricts very purposefully, swapping out those breath clouds for nothing.

Mist again consumes; the swoop that grabs him pulls him backwards, smoothly snatching him away from the world and into the all-encompassing watch of wavering dead branches. Laurie backtracks carefully, plotting how far he knows he can drag the throttled suspect behind swarms of fallen trees before it is too unstable.

A vague figure inside the perimeter of the deadwood, there one second and gone the next. It's all the observer, Maggie, can see; it's as if she too has been blinded.

A desperate, angry flailing is what Langston has to express. First sight, then breath, then weapon, and now movement, everything is suddenly stolen from him, ending with the highest stolen prize of all: that upper hand. He grasps for it— a struggle with the shotgun, another hand clambering to the force which constricts his throat. Dragged, his boots kick at the terrain his boots are made to navigate; a fight that starts off vigorous and starts to die. It all starts to fade. The further into the hunter is towed into the domain of lifeless trees and pale snow, the more he begins to blend in. Dead weight. His glum face contorts. A rasp of exertion emerges from his throat and rattles away.

He's out.

Maggie's in.

She can't wait, wondering, any longer. Having cut quickly across from one point to the other, she slips into Laurie's ghostly forest. It swallows her like a curtain's closing. An object — flash of red, of metal, sharpness — is clutched in her right hand. The radio has taken up secondary residence as just a faint bulky presence at her hip under her layers of jackets, for the time being useless to her. She eases down, down, down amongst the skeletal trees; searching, ducking down like a tracker in the woods herself, every step cautious but determined, hiding at every opportunity, she's something of a ghost herself.

Here lies Langston. Prone, a sacrifice to the snow, the unconscious hunter has been laid out cold in a gap amongst the reaching branches. He hasn't been dropped haphazardly, but set gingerly down, his arms and legs at no unfortunate angles; his relaxed hands are turned up to the sky at either side. All around the destroyed snow that are the drag marks he made coming in, there are a few footstep like indents, but no concrete sign of him that spirited the hunter to his final resting place.

Maggie spots the shape on the ground before she closes in; as her quiet slinking draws her ever nearer, his gear identifies him. Some relief on this realization is witnessed only by the trees, and they don't care. She brushes close against one such decaying relic and pauses in momentary study of the unknown around her out of the corners of her eyes. No movement save for the rocking branches and swirling snow that cuts away at her pale skin. Her gaze lands on the prone body. Is it his final resting spot? Time to find out. Side-winding around the tree trunk toward Langston, Maggie materializes out of her cover, a knee beginning to bend toward the camouflaged figure in the snow as if to crouch.

Only, the very instant that she breaks from trees to opening, there's a distinct cut of noise to her left— technology touted through, but no relative of the forest. It's the hard hammer of a hunters' shotgun, as the muzzle rounds on Maggie; its threatening mouth between her two eyes and momentarily filling all vision by its threat. Although just past an arms' reach away, it could seem much closer, especially for the wielder being half-hidden against the tree he's tucked beside. For both gunman and target, focus is key — not distracted by imminent threat, it's the gunman who's able to de-blur the world around the muzzle of the gun sooner; it is the one he's aiming at.

And, for it, the weapon begins to relax, angling down from its post of action. "Oh it's you…" Laurie's sigh is two-fold: relieved, and scolding — though, in the end, not all that surprised. Spare time is not lent to the ideal afterwards. Passing hands by each other, he's soon offering the less explosive grip end to Maggie. The short hike to Langston's prone form puts him back to a task interrupted — rooting into camouflaged pockets.

Muscles assigned toward one agenda prime to switch and a quick extension of knees knocks Maggie back as she springs up straighter. On the heels of alarm, her realization, surprise flashing brightly in her eyes, comes somewhere in the midst of lashing out for the weapon. By that time — mere seconds — the shotgun's offered anyway; she winds up tearing it out of Laurie's grip harder than is polite. "Yeah," she confirms — what of it! After tucking a hand into her pocket, the borrowed weapon is brought in for inspection, tipped down as she rounds the form of Langston while Laurie goes looting, keeping close so her voice travels.

"There's no sign of Curtis yet. I saw Langston, heard the gunshots— I couldn't tell what the hell was going on," Maggie explains resolutely; meanwhile, the way in which she handles the firearm against her hip, quickly checking the chamber as casually as most women might check their cell phone, speaks of a very practical familiarity with the variety of firearm. "Does he have extra ammunition?" The next question, following without pause — it's clearly been pressing to be asked for longer even in these few moments — heightens her voice to incredulous, confused marvel. "How'd you manage to take him out?"

"With the power of authority." Powerful, indeed; there's not even a protesting twitch as Laurie positively switches the hunter's pockets inside out, examining, and then transferring items straight to his own. A pair of keen binoculars is stuffed away, then a softly crunching bag of beef jerky that is turned over in more adamant interest than the tool right before. He draws out a tightly packaged flare alongside the rattling box of half-used bullets; a glance goes to where he knows a couple extras to be sitting, snow-bound at the edge of the dead tree den. "Remind me to thank the good sheriff later." Twisting in his crouch towards Maggie, she's delivered the rounds of 00 buck.

He reaches across Langston, fisting grips of jacket in either hand and rolling the other man forcefully towards him, getting those opposite pockets closer. Tugging plastic, out comes a rolled over ziplock of grade A Trailmix that peaks Laurie's interest, and his eyebrows to show it. His pursed mouth of concentration lags into good will— only to recover when the next thing into his hand is a tiny glass bottle. Rolled across his palm, its label reveals: Ketamine; and its contents mostly removed. Collecting up the companion syringe, he expertly pierces through the available opening in the bottle, extending the pump and gathering what's left into the needled distributor.

"Okay…" Maggie says but, despite her agreeable word choice, she sounds distinctly less than convinced or satisfied by the answer she gets as to how Langston is now laying uselessly in front of her with his shotgun in her hand. Ammunition passed on, she slides the box open to do her own looting of its contents and goes about chambering a round with the same practiced movements. Sentinel, she keeps an eye out as she works at the shotgun. Laurie's rifling doesn't go unnoticed, however, nor does his discovery of the drug; it simply goes uninterrupted.

"You could be a little less mysterious, now, Miles," she chides — fairly good-natured in the middle of the high-danger woods, but propelled with a serious want-to-know and worry, " — one second he was chasing us and the next he's on the ground. Not that it's not great but…" The gun hangs at her side a moment as she swipes a wrist somewhat uselessly across her face, clearing icy moisture from her sights. Then it's a pull, a push, and Maggie makes the shotgun's state succinctly and audibly known: it's loaded. Respectful of its power, she hefts the shotgun up by her cheek and points it off into an uninhabited direction, feeling it out, and eyeing the wilderness suspiciously along its length. "Are you going to leave me guessing?"

Langston's sleeves are briskly rolled up, exposing long, pale arms underneath the hunter's folds. Though the blue of veins at the crook of the elbow is revealed, the arm is ultimately rotated away, affording a shot at the muscular — comparatively — area above. A jab and then careful lay of the syringe, indenting the plunger to release a small increment of the little drug left — just to top him off; all done with care, and a gentleness currently foreign to the wood and its events. Mid-task, Laurie spares a glance to Maggie, "I didn't hear any guesses— that, I would've been interested in." Banter, pushed about a little less by the wind inside this insecure hovel. Just as respectfully, he lays the attacker's arm down into the snow.

Two fingers slip beneath the hunter's collar for a pulse before Laurie bounces off his crouch. He remains ducked, shoulders bent, to avoid brushing, in his height, the tops of some overhanging trees as he makes his way to the origin of the struggle. There, from the snow, is scooped an extra round of shotgun ammo. Giving a tug to one of the branches around him, he finds one ready enough to be parted; a few twists, pulls, and it comes free. The clinging pine needles make for easier scrubbing of the footprints and drag marks that tell the story of Langston's struggles, and the falling snow promises to finish the job. "I shot a flashlight in his face," confides Laurie back into the grove, "And counted his rounds after he started panicking."

A solid sweep of the entire bottom of the hill is done, squinting against storm, then he's ducking inside, indicating Langston's prone form with a jerk of his chin. "Made easy by his lack of commitment and shy eyes— Curtis won't afford us the same opportunity." To this serious — in matter, not in tone — proposal, she's offered up the spare round.

Maggie's eyes narrow into the woods, her brows cinching together. She tosses the dubious look over to Laurie, questioning, as she accepts the spare rounds. They disappear into her coat pocket. "But a flashlight." She pushes past this lingering curiosity to update on more pressing matters. With a frown, another change of tracks; her concern angled downward at the unconscious hunter at her feet marks her as unconvinced of how long he'll lay there unmoving. Or where they'll be when he wakes up. "Small dose. What if he wakes up. The radio's reception is shot," she announces, "I don't know if we're too far out, or what, but I got through for a…"

It's sudden. A tickle at the edge of her hearing sets Maggie on edge. It's not a simple sound marking danger in the distance; on her pause, there's no change in the wind's whistling, but there was. Now it's more of a feeling, creeping into their shaky sanctuary before a rustle calls for their attention in the distance. Like all things here, it could be a trick of the ears and mind, nothing more than the storm's games. Then, somewhere far off, the brittle trees start to shake.

Sight is gradually becoming even more difficult, as the afternoon has begun to wane and dim more than usual in the storm. Turning slowly in place, Maggie, and the barrel of the shotgun, try to pinpoint the noise and the faint rumble it carries — it seems to originate off to their faraway right — but it moves, tumults back and forth. There's no pinpointing it. Adrenaline starts to peak again; Maggie's eyes are wide with a hesitant alarm; just a sheen atop defiant determination. She barely seems to breathe. She takes one small, purposeful step backward toward Laurie without looking at him, then another, faster, and another, keeping close— she'd walk right into him.

Curtis, finally picking up his hunt of them? No; nothing about din sounds like the careful steps of a hunter. In their cold, strange surroundings, it barely seems real at all. It carries with it a faint rumble, ever approaching with increasing thunder — shifting, moving, a dark shape now appearing and disappearing some dozen feet away through misty ice, snow, and black fingerlike branches; seeming something monstrous.

Halfway into offering the trailmix next, Laurie is rounded up in the sudden turn of atmosphere. Stopped in spot, his eyes cast out, watching a landscape made even more shadowy by their hideaway. To the right, there's anything— rumbling by this shape, as well as in the clouds, as night descends. Self-consciously, fingers of the gloveless right hand flex; it's going to get colder. His head drops, marking vulnerable Langston on the ground. In this distraction, there comes a bump, rustling of not beast, but jacket against plastic. Getting the trail bag by two fingers, he spreads the rest along Maggie's back, halting her retreat into him. "You don't know— " is said of the possibly monstrous, "It could be cuddly." One more likely than the other? Perhaps told in his low mutter, the way his words bear to Maggie alone, unwilling to cast them out into the wind— something Laurie turns to plot, measuring the falling snow's angle to their own. There's more than voices that can be carried on a breeze.

A low, lightly trilled whistle sounds off closer to Maggie's ear than the others. Other than that, it could be almost identical to the surroundings. Easing his body around hers, he keeps careful but graceful in moving alongside Langston for another round. Bent semi-low, he nearly slinks, leaving less of a shadow to cast, and less weight to worry about balancing as he comes in with a slight slide up to the strung out man. Reaching what distance he didn't make with his approach, he unsnaps the radio from off the hunter's belt, retracing several backwards steps — the second to last of which he already has raised the receiver to pressed right against his mouth. With fingers wrapped about it, and thumb tucked under his chin, he appears pensive with the technology.

"Cuddly…" Maggie murmurs under her breath, harboring a less optimistic image of the unknown thing hurdling through the woods. She holds something of a hunter's pose, at-the-ready with the weapon in hand.

Low-hanging twigs snap in a frenzy. The oncoming shadow seems to halt at the very edge of perception, to change tracks— half-circling them at high speeds, churning snow and shaking trees, back and forth, back and forth. It's big, and it's heavy, and it's closer, yet.

"Don't move, don't move— " warns Maggie in what is mostly a whisper, lifting one hand away from her guard at the shotgun to freeze such a gesture in the air.

An explosion of movement and life bursts into their shadowy little hideout, tearing along its inner perimeter and tearing it up in the process. It's no monster— but nor is it cuddly. Three-hundred pounds of rampaging white-tailed deer rampages through upon fast-moving hooves, tall, shedding antlers tearing at overhanging branches. Slick, dark eyes are focused not on the forest refugees but on a clearer path out.

Leaping out onto the incline, the buck goes on his merry way as if he were never there.

Almost. For Maggie, he's left relief in his wake; she breathes out. "Cuddly," she repeats once again skeptically, though it's with a look to Laurie and the quickest of smiles. She relaxes an increment, only to find a heightened sense of danger. Her gaze, at first lingering questioningly over the radio he's claimed, travels purposefully from Laurie to the way the animal approached. "Something spooked him," she assesses. "Whatever it was, it could have come from that general direction. Curtis— or, the police search party … but better safe than sorry. We have to be ready."

Technically, Laurie never stopped moving. Inching very slowly here and there, he's ready to be on his feet when the buck blazes on through— not exactly a gentle passing for the overlying trees, either; one larger is unable to be held up, most of the supporting branches having snapped off, and it squirms in the wind before thudding heavily into the snow, knocking trunks with another gone long before. Fellows all around them groan under the disturbed conditions.

"I'm sure if he wasn't in such a hurry, he would've been very cuddly," the consultant affirms as he stands — not quite as bouncy as previous times. Not charged with the high-speed energy of pursuit, cold bites at all the sore spaces, pain giving tingling reminders at the back of his neck, knuckles, and the skinned streaks across his cheek.

He turns that cheek into the wind, and then back. Teeth rub along chapped lips. "That's the thing," a finger uncurls from the radio clutched tightly in his hand, wagging at her, "Curtis is methodical, patient. He could wait us out here for hours— it's what hunters do." Shielded by torrential blasts, the incline is hardly visible; the buck's prints faded and whipped as if he passed hours ago; still, Laurie narrows in on them. "They follow the game…"

Chills on top of chills pass over Maggie; little movement in the past few moments has done her body no favours. Fingers unfurl and clench to make sure they still can. She brings her arms in tight as she angles the shotgun down in a deceptively casual grip and takes a few long but shuffling paces through the snow, directionless. Moving for the sake of moving, moving to futilely fend off cold, moving because not moving doesn't seem like an option anymore. There's plans to be made. "Until the right moment — sure." Chapped lips of her own press together as she regards Laurie, her gaze considering … hesitant for a moment … then studying, as if she could see into his mind. "But we're not average game, and we're not his victims. So what do we do?"

Lips part, cracking as if unfamiliar with the smirk they form; Laurie, staring her down with anticipation, is riled by a bit of playfulness when she doesn't catch on. High stress only adds an extra twitch, blending until he's only excitable on the outside, enthused— just short of eager. Too much practicality layers his words for them to reach that edge; too much reality, too much cold. He spies it in her as much as acknowledges it in himself. "We— " he tells her determinedly, "Give him a game." Directly after, the radio is jumped up to its ready point against his mouth. Unhesitatingly, he settles a thumb against the button: bzzz; now transmitting. And his voice peaks — curious, nonchalant, prodding: "Polo." He lets go.

The radio is a ticking time bomb in Laurie's hands. Maggie's attention flies there, alarm alighting. She stops her move about to fully analyze the game being imagined in front of her. Creases of concern that already seem frozen on her face only harden. Alarm swaps out for analytical thought and the purse of her lips; moments pass as nothing but silence answers Laurie's polo. Both warning and considering aloud at once, she says, "Playing with fire, Miles."

The radio crackles to life as if on cue. "Come again?" It's not a question so much as a challenge. It's not a voice so much as a snarl of self-assured defiance.

Maggie's eyes move up and down: radio, Laurie's face, radio, Laurie's face. "It's risky," she states. Distinctly concerted; not dismissing.

It only brings Laurie's smirk to forefront, grinning at her with a wild man's glint — daring, in a separate way than he goads the voice over the radio. To him, the facade is voice only, telling the tale of relaxation that doesn't show in the cold, bruised body — but hints in the smooth, readied stance; Laurie's as much faced off with Maggie in that cool as the remaining hunter, convincing her with a pinned stare and raised eyebrow. "Yeah, well, aren't you cold?"

Click of the button, opening the floor on this cat-and-mouse styled airwave. "Got the impression you were looking for me— " all the while, eyeballing Maggie, blue to blue; no going back on it now, "Way things are going, thought you could use the help." Slyness does nothing to disguise the smug. If anything, the more he evens out the ego, the more condescension sneaks in. That, and the dare: tag. You're it.

As his thumb eases off, Laurie hums out an unresponsive note, choosing a glance over her shoulder and up away where snowy clouds meld into the distant top of the hill. "Mmmmm— there," he defines, giving her a nod to point, "He'll track me to the top… hmm," a rub, thumbing over chin, picking at the peeling of his lower lip, "But to truly drop his guard, he'll have to believe he's won."

Undeniably cold, a bit of a smirk tugs wind-burned lips for Laurie's wordplay. With a long of visible breath, and a thought-heavy glance up the hill — as if, for now, shelving her qualms — Maggie gives a nod. She commits to this incendiary plan that's already rolling into motion; she quickly rolls along with it. She steps in to eye the incline. "He's used to getting his way," she says, a statement borne of experience — not pleasant experiences, by the unfavorable opinion flatly expressed in her tone.

"How the hell'd you get this radio?" The voice starts off incensed. "Oh yeah? Got the impression, did you. Well, this isn't how it works,"// croons Curtis, hateful and mocking."I'll find you sooooon enough."

Maggie, her jaw clamping down, waits for the transmission's end before she picks back up where she left off. "The hill, at the top, it slopes down. It's rocky." To that end, a straightforward: "Fake it."

"Saucy." At a similar conclusion, his wind— and blood— reddened face is a'shine with approval, pleased as their thoughts come together. "Aye aye," he adds, rubbing hands together, radio between them. One step plots his way around her, up through the deadwood, and towards that goal of a horizon, plunging into the unknown snowy decline. Aligned to her shoulder, he pauses to look along his and hers to her face. "No matter what, you wait until he's broken cover."

So saying, it's careful picking toward the winding, branch-filled way Maggie came down. He bends along the angle of the incline, hunkering shoulders against the push of wind, and dipping swiftly through meshes of scattered wood. Throughout, his thumb has put him through to his target hunter: "I picked it off another guy who thought his gun made him a man. And it sure seems to be working for me so far." Gloating would speak of weakness; Laurie's confidence is smooth in fact, "There's not a problem, is there, Curtis?"

Arming the radio at this side, he goes one-handed through the worst of the tangle, straightening briefly at its opening point to assess each variable as it sits, visible or not, out there in the wilderness. A last pause; in a second, the snow will take him away from the hollow, and her.

Beyond the point of no return is reached, there's Maggie, weaving through the deadwood — one, to find just the right cover with the best angle by which to look out upon the risky venture, and two, to call out when she's just far enough, a figure between the tangled branches, there, as he pauses that one last time. "Miles," her voice rings out, its high pitch almost indiscernible from the whistle of the wind that swoops in from up above just then and threatens to carry it off. "Don't gamble with him. Be careful."

Her call halts him on that last step towards the arena, his hands poised for the push instead pulling him backwards to find blonde hair among the trees. The wind playing with the mess of his tossed and tumbled hair, the same wind that seems to whip a roguish grin on his face; the expression slapping on, sudden, in the high tension moment, then disappearing as fast — carried away. His voice is not so; it's spirited right to her, before he nudges off the post, becoming instantly bludgeoned by unkempt storminess. "You trust me."

There's no sign of him. The wilderness outside the hollow seems as untouched as it seems untouchable.

But he's out there. Somewhere out there. His boots step upon snow in silence, undercover of trees and growing shadow. Camouflage hunting gear barely brushes branches in his passing; not a pine needle is knocked from his terrain. All noise, the only noise, emanates from the radio hooked on his jacket's breast pocket and the sneering twist of his mouth when he's spurred on to answer it in this game of cat and mouse.

"Not for long it won't be." Where Laurie's voice is smooth and confident, the hunter's is filled with a flare of excess anger and spite — but he sounds awfully confident in his own right. "You think you're somethin' special because you took down my partner, is that it?" he snarls. "The guy's a fuck-up." Intimated: and he? Is not. "Hope you can run fast…"

"Well, I won't lie; I was never on a team…" crackles the prey's optimistic tones through the notches of radio receiver. "And he might've been that, but I figure he provided something— He at least took those pictures."

Steps cautiously plotted to keep footing are not done so to stop sound; Laurie's far from noiseless; brushes here and there of his coat sway the trees within the confines of what are now very familiar sounds of storming. The ever constant backdrop of pelting winds melts into its own white noise — in more ways than one. In comparison, the consultant's weaving footsteps have more of a snap, lending validity to his presence, and the weight of his passing.

Nursing a curved path towards his goal point at the rounded summit, he rolls up against a stronger tree, head lifting to the darkening sky as the radio rises. "That's the thing about partners, Curtis. They validate you— empower. That's what Langston did for you when he slunk around, obsessed over those women— needed you. No, I don't think I'm special…" The beat lingers, stringing the cat along, making him obey Laurie's rules merely by waiting to hear: "I know I'm more powerful than you."

Like dangling string in front of a riled cat, no sooner are the inciting words out than Laurie twirls off his post, darting through a stretch of tantalizingly open ground, before he's slithered into a row of prickly hedges along a row of higher rocks.

Silence. Not because the radio isn't transmitting from hunter to prey: because the hunter himself is incommunicado. The forceful radio silence takes on a tense quality; rigid breath held until it strains into a growl, forming low-voiced provoked words. "We'll see how powerful y'are when I've got you— "

A flash of movement slips by in a world tinted by hunting goggles that adapt sharply to the low light; even beneath the overhang of Curtis's tattered grey cowboy hat. " — cornered…" Steady footsteps quicken, tree to tree, in stealth. Tracking movements would be indiscernible from military maneuvers until it all speeds up— a hidden, crosswise, uphill path toward the same goal— that same patch of brush. Far from touching open space, his approach, still distant but oh, so targeted, is only audible in what isn't audible: the radio. No commentary; until the next round of provocation. He'll flush his prey out like a rabbit.

It's this — silence across static waves, a flutter of possibility amongst the snow and nothing else — that reassures Laurie, in the end. Nothingness holding the promise of a pursuer. Concealed by brush, his body laid in momentary rest along the curve of the highest rocks, he's able to cast an eye to where he started; somewhere, waits a woman with a shotgun. In his own squinting effort against the weather, he lingers longer than he meant in the one spot, wondering only — sorting, between that length and the on above. Even through the glove, the cold seeps into his hand, not boding well for the one that's been without cover this long. His attempts to flex are stiff, and the knuckles have started to meld into immovable clutches around the radio.

This isn't what makes it into the communication to Curtis. "Is that why it's always been women, Curtis?" A musical lilt, that plays with curiosity while, underneath, it's firm with knowing. The question is not for his own benefit. "You can blame Langston's fascination— " feet knock against rock, scrapping to a crouch as he begins to wind his way along the stones; but the more he rises, the less they cover, the hill opening up soon above. "Or woman's deserving— " their paths, moving towards inevitable intersection, heightens Laurie's voice, as rising from two sources that move ever closer. An echo on the wind. "But I think we both know where this is going…"

This — conversation, the probing — or the game they play, hunter and hunted. An ending that could seem just as inevitable. Pausing, his shoulder nudging the last section that completely hides him, his eyes are for down the hill, instead of the top he is paces from reaching.

If eyes look back up at Laurie fro down the hill, or, for that matter, from anywhere, they're invisible. Curtis slows under cover of trees. The row of rocks and hedge settles roughly into the scope set upon the hunter's shotgun, a near match to that which was lifted from his partner. Snow blinds the way. Rocks and brush angle up into his sights from afar. What could be movement, a shoulder, could be wind, a branch. And his prey keeps talking. "I think it's goin' toward me turnin' this radio off," is conveyed caustically across distances; though angry, that growl in his voice, it's held steady, controlled… but only tentatively. "Whoever the hell you are, you talk more than a fuckin' woman."

It's distracted; the hunter can't work the radio and properly wait for a shot to line up at the same time. A rustle, static; he waits…

"You have a weakness, Curtis." The hunter's complaints, threats — idle, impotent; the radio's still on; Laurie cuts to the quick with a brass authority. He could be that — he darts a look to the hill — but ultimately remains poised, hunkered against stone that radiates the cold. His hand resting along the top of a curve of rocks is tentative to the threat of ice beneath. "Man is the biggest game of all, but here we are— finally— and you've already lost your partner."

One is here, crouched amongst unforgiving rocks, his weight eased gradually from one side to the other when his body protests inactivity after so much stressing. "You want me to believe that everything is inferior to you; you hunt what is inferior to you— so why only women, Curtis. Where are the men?" A certain intrigue has filtered into the smooth narration, turning the avid profiler's words up, tilting his head in the otherwise quiet of waiting. Carefully, a leg begins to sidle backwards, edging him along the sheltered spot towards his goal. Lifting off his front leg, he redistributes towards the slope, a prelude to rising. The rustling of his movement has become the same merry one as the radio — all gathered to tease — tease the hunter. Like prodding a lion in the gut. "Could it be you're not man enough — "

That's all it takes, in the end. The way ahead is suddenly red — Curtis is seeing it; the words set him off. It ceases to matter that the shot isn't good; he reacts not as the carefully stalking lion, but as the lion prodded in the gut.

Laurie gets no response — on the radio. Curtis has a different kind of retort. Evened out in aim mid-level to that hedge, the shot rings out like a crack of thunder. Like lightning, he follows the angry cluster of buckshot, striking out of his cover to arc across the hill toward his daring quarry. The hunter's ferocious run is uneven on uneven ground, but fueled by a fire that doesn't care. The blasting snow and wind only serves as fuel for his rage.

Fair in aim, but poor in clearance — spared, but for the forgiving spread of a many, expanding group of pellets that make up a buckshot. Rocks reverberate with them, fragmenting with multiple buzzing hits; cascades of tiny ice particles litter the air, glinting — and cutting — like glass. The brunt that made it has pummeled near Laurie's shoulder where jacket meets Kevlar, tossing him mid-rise to the matching rocks behind. That radio is what's struck with the exactness of a dart; it explodes with a shrieking crack of plastic, too many pieces to count blown innumerable distances in a radius around the rocks, gone. Obliterated; its purpose fulfilled. Empty, his hand smacks surface, but the now leading exposed hand balks at the sleekness.

Severe ricochet keeps the shot in play long past its explosive birth, pellets striking a line along an outstretched leg, or a hand groping for purchase… in the end, they're not kept track of. Stings here and there are only the side-effect of the ringing in his ears, and pittance to the break away from the blasted rock-face.

Once — twice — he basically slithers the first step before getting a foot up that incline. Up and to the crest, looking over; a whole untouched, hunterless wonderland awaits — and it does past boundless amounts of snow, and a much more treacherous extension of the rock maze beside him.

It takes only a second to chart the path of least resistance down.

The explosive aftermath of the shot and the dashing of the figure toward the crest are only tantalizing bait for the trigger-happy rage of Bradley Curtis. Taking the path of least resistance up, he tears up the terrain, ready for another go. His speed is hindered slightly — a limp that comes and goes; he pushes past it. The shotgun rocks as he runs; and his target does the same, on the move. His marksman instincts kick in; his antagonism runs hotter and stronger. Regardless of potential outcome, the trigger is pulled — and another onslaught aims to gun down the mouthy profiler at the top of the hill.

It comes faster than expected — not the shot, once fired, but the firing at all. A second to chart is a second that couldn't quite be spared in the grand scheme of things. Tipped to take the easiest route downwards — that of gravity — Laurie is a funneled blur in the wake of the oncoming blast, and all its spreading neighbors. In such a blur, all that's immediately clear following the echoing chamber of fire is that he's gone.

The other side of the slope tells a clearer picture: blown off his intended trajectory, Laurie slams into the slippery snow off-kilter, and several extra feet below his mark. Spun by the sheer power of the closer blow, he comes down half on his side, jarring that shoulder till bones squeak together. Skidding from the force, and the surfaces of ice, his body catches up snow like a plow, half-burying a leg before he grinds to halt where the protruding rocks begin to peek out beneath drifts.

Behind, Curtis is on his way to cresting the top of the hill in the wake of gunfire. Who's man enough now, his arrogant smile stretched across gnashing teeth seems to say, predictably smug. "Obviously I don't got any problem takin' you down," he snarls. One boot forward, the top of the hill— the next, he's standing on it. Though his shotgun seeks out the form snowplowing on the ground, buckshot doesn't rain down. Not right away. He's got his prey where he wants it. He's come to loom — and to gloat.

Both predictable, and levelly met by a look of ease from his target — cornered, not cowering — though a grimness edges in at the corners of eyes, and a more sallow dip to dimples. Efforts to lift from the impromptu rock and snow trap cease where Curtis appears, and Laurie chooses to lounge. A hand that might've scrambled now braces behind him, swathed in twisted jacket material. Back to stone, legs unraveled up the hill, he sits as an offering to the triumphant hunter; what's more, in the animalistic instinct of the hunt, the scent of blood is king. It blossoms around the downed consultant's right leg, fresher than a myriad of other scrapes and stains. "Obviously," the wounded prey concedes without fight, "And yet— " heavy breath detains his words, but doesn't take the sharpness from them, "I'm still more powerful."

Curtis dawns atop the hill, striking a strange figure. He's actually shorter than his partner in crime, but worlds tougher. His face is barely visible around hunting goggles and shadow of the oddly out of place hat, strapped tightly on along with the rest of his hunting gear; it's only the stubbly lower face bare and the thin twist of his mouth. A scoff; he stubbornly clings to the obvious. "Yeah? If you're so powerful, how come I've got you cornered?"

The sight of Laurie lounging there is bewildering, but the lure of the blood switches his mind into a shark-like frenzy. Hurt prey means he can go in for the kill. "Nah, it's all the same, in the end. I'll bleed you like a buck. Girls, though. Girls," he growls, excited, "Girls are just more fun." Readjusting his weapon, it's aimed at the wounded man and he takes one step down.

"Hey, Curtis," a sharp, undeniably female voice makes an effective snare for his attention behind him. "If you're so powerful, how come I've got you cornered? Well, you said it yourself," this, cynically skeptical of his interpretation; she goes on with confidence all her own, "I mean, they do say … girls just want to have fun." The sound of a shotgun priming to fire is unmistakable through all else: click-click, a leather-gloved hand pumping the chamber forward. It's a bold declaration of warning at his back: I'm behind you, in case you haven't figured it out. "Women, too, so I've heard."

Loosened snow tumbles down the hill like so many pebbles over the precipice as Curtis freezes. Camouflage patterns of his coat ripple as his shoulderblades instinctively come together, feeling the target painted on his back.

Warning given, Maggie is also allotted the power to advance. Rounding about him, she steps up atop the incline and keeps the shotgun trained, just out of grasping range. This serves a few purposes: bracing upon level ground, keeping astride of the hunter's reactions, and gaining the ability to cast a quick, practical glance down. Whatever she notes of Laurie goes without present reaction; wholly unwavering blue eyes bore into the hunter, and she adds, "Women, too, so I've heard."

Maggie's hair has been pulled back in the interim, free and clear of the wind and the shotgun. By the very nature of her pose, rounded over all the weapon like a boxer in the ring, with hands upon it instead of inside boxing gloves, she looks ready for a fight. And as at ease with the firepower as the hunter himself.

The sole one not wielding a 12-gauge scope-assisted barrel of deadly shrapnel heaves up along the push of the arm behind him. In pulls the right leg, with a little trickle of red on pure white to show for its passing. Whole mounds of snow displace, too, shoveled over the blood here and there as if the wound could be erased. Legs under him, he pushes half to his feet, getting away from the rock and a step in up the hill to meet the tense line of pointed weapons all leading to him. His gloved fingers shove off, uncurling from the ground, but hover to angle out from his side, with no express practical purpose. His others' have never quite disengaged from the tangle of jacket. He doesn't fully commit to a steady, natural pose; there's a readiness that attests to the continued armed status of the man between.

By now, the Kevlar is half exposed near his collar and below, and his chest expands tightly against it with each hearty breath. "It's my partner," Laurie announces, as matter of fact, the double dose of blue on the hunter where he stares at him, just above, "That makes me so." It's the same confidence Curtis has been made familiar with, and a touch more — So ends the lesson.

Which… doesn't always mean so closes the mouth. A beat off of the momentous declaration, and Laurie's eyes jump away from the clear and present danger of a shotgun muzzle to sort out a critical eyeing of said partner. "Really, though— girls just wanna have fun. That's a— choice…" One side of his face scrunches up, noncommittal to even this, painting a hesitance to accept. His mouth twists to the other side in quick thought. "There's one about a t-shirt," his finger turns in, waving a circle above his chest where such a saying might go — or drawing a perfect target on himself, "saying girls kick ass that's a little less used… No disrespect to Cyndi Lauper, whom I admire— "

"Miles," Maggie cuts him off; she's a little busy up here. More than the familiar voice and the particular words said, it's Laurie's particular position that draws a more concerned glance to roll down the hill. It's fast — she barely takes her eyes off Curtis — but those couple of seconds are jam-packed with tension not befitting the demeanor of her partner below. Ultimately, her focus on the hunter only amplifies. "Drop your weapon." The authoritative voice of the law where no lawful emblems exist — in sight. Her leveraged grip on the shotgun seems to tighten.

If Curtis was infuriated now, he's doubly so now. It's all forced into containment by his stay-still. His blood very well may be boiling as he cuts enraged glances between the two; each provoke unique brands of resentment. "The h— ! Nahhhh," he replies impudently with a tobacco-stained sneer to the gun-toting woman. "Nah, I'm gonna keep it right here and finish what I started." He hunkers over the weapon, aiming at the invisible target Laurie has circled on himself.

"If your finger moves toward that trigger," Maggie warns, words forced through a jaw clamped down half in sheer serious determination and half to prevent herself from chattering in the bitter cold, "I'll shoot."

From the hunter, a disbelieving snort, but his tensions remains high. "You? You're all talk."

"Do you want to test that theory?" she counters. The warning lacks bravado, but isn't left lacking; it's straightforward — honest. "You're an experienced gun owner. I know you know what buckshot can do at this range." Sounds like she certainly does — and so they exist in standoff, neither of the armed figures that make up the triangle flinching, their inaction only daring the other to move.

"It'll probably even shred the vest at this distance," weighs in the unarmed, Laurie, who, by the law of the land, represents the weakest link. "Probably." Some evidence: he brandishes a cavalier attitude, but not without a price; etched lines on the side of his face blend with streaks of dirt, but do exist. Subtly, he's leaning off one leg. Toil builds up, but it only adds a crisp undertone of realism to his devil-may-care.

"Do it." Eyes focused on Curtis, the order demands action momentarily of either of them, and does not distinguish in its light exasperation for the waiting game. "It's all about the kill, right," duh; here we are, it says. Two fingers spread in light demonstration of their position, "So drop the prey, get taken out by another hunter. The world goes 'round."

Narrated by Laurie, the two don't move an inch … and yet it feels like their confrontation is reaching a pinnacle. Do it, he said; both seem primed for it. Each have their reasons; each potentially dangerous in their own right. The glare of Curtis intensifies with a flare of bloodthirsty ardor and a hint of Laurie's devil-may-care. Hyperaware, Maggie stands on guard, conscious of every minute detail. The detective's face is one written in hard-lined conflict and growing anger and fortitude — not murderous intent, but there's a piercing look in her eyes that shan't be trifled with.

There's an almost imperceptible movement between them. The gears are moving. Someone's going to pull a trigger and spill more blood on the snow.

To the east, a bark sounds before its source can be sighted. A second follows, a third like one forceful command after the other. All the barks serve to do is solidify the fact that they're not alone. Tension rises. Maggie and Curtis only share similar glances — hers more cool — and don't move.

Dashing in like a small freight train, the source flies out of the storm, a natural born hunter — or in this case, Retriever. Barking up a storm of her own, she bounds, snow-covered, into the midst of it all from behind Laurie. Beside her new friend, a pause to bark and growl bloody murder; she's off. Petunia, heedless of the impending gunplay, hurdles up the inline straight for the man in the hat.

She brings chaos on her fleet-footed paws. It all happens in seconds.

Move and he's open to the damn woman. Don't move and he's getting attacked by the damn dog. Curtis is behind a rock and a hard place and it doesn't matter to him anymore — he swings his shotgun to the right where the dog clambers toward him. The second he does, Maggie's bounding toward him too, a hand risking away from her weapon to give him a solid shove that sways his would-be aim. She fights for claim of it; they struggle in her attempt to keep the his shotgun aimed away from anyone — man or dog.

Dog — Petunia to the rescue, biting down on the aggressively posed hunter's leg; a sensation Laurie is familiar with but, here and now, she's even more ferocious for the real culprit. Curtis shouts out in pain, anger, and most of all, frustration as the Labrador remains determinedly attached. A slip in the snow; a sudden, cumbersome clamber; he starts to slide upon the soles of his boots slightly downward, torn out of his struggle with Maggie.

Made yet taller by the slant of the rocky hill, she's there to aim at him. Not with the muzzle of the shotgun; it's with the opposite end that she fiercely strikes the side of his head, and he reels, twisting, face-down across the incline on top of his weapon. Down, but he's still kicking — literally.

A knee is waiting for him. Jammed up between his shoulder blades, it lands with the force of falling more than a controlled attack; Laurie's as happy to get off his feet as plant one on the hunter. The pop of clear plastic into the air, then there's nothing between needle and skin. At the back of the neck, where the dislodged hat bares a spot, the instrument easily plunges, like the smooth slide of the plunger inserting every last drop of fast-acting ketamine into the man's system. It doesn't have the same impact as the pistol-whip, but is done with similar relish.

As the countdown clock begins to ticked for the drugged Curtis, his former prey, once letting an uncomfortable grunt escape for the expenditure — and never again, claims the hunter's wrist, wrenching the arm quite unnaturally behind the back. If you'll excuse me is the kind of forceful yet casual air in which he performs a digging about underneath Curtis' unguarded side, eventually wrestling the shotgun from beneath the man's bulk.

The weapon redistributed into the — worn, bloodied, dirt-covered, and frostbitten — hands of authority, Laurie twists around, plopping into a lazy sit right there on Curtis' shoulders. His legs spread out bonelessly in front of him for this invisible easy chair. Shotgun strewn over his lap frees the hand that, without looking to there, he offers out to reward the hunter of the hour — Petunia, the Labrador Retriever. "… Hey, lady."

Petunia's attack has come to an end with everyone else's, and she wags her tail and noses into Laurie's hand, but backs up, unsettled. Something's wrong; she doesn't even search Laurie for the stolen treats he has tucked away.

As the efforts of Curtis weaken and soon come to a stop, Maggie steps back. Though she still bears signs of ferocity from the struggle, it's over now, and she gives a rather massive sigh of relief as she looks around, taking stock. Heaving breaths force their way past the snug Kevlar beneath her layers; the sort of exerted breathing that feels like icicles in the lungs in this cold. Each is cut short.

She crouches slowly and stiffly by Curtis's head with the shotgun on her lap as well. A glove is peeled off, a cold, pale hand emerging so that she may check the hunter's pulse, but it's a rather idle concern; she seems thankful just to rest for a moment, too. "Well," she assesses, "we did it — with a little help." A tired smile is thrown Petunia's way, but Laurie is where her gaze catches. Less idle is her concern for him — now that they have a moment of silence, he's met with a more scrutinizing study of knicks, cuts, and— "Are you— you got hit. You're bleeding," she says, apprehensive, with a look to the legs spread out before Laurie.

Bark! To really hammer in her point, whatever it may be, Petunia interrupts. She barks yet again at the unmoving man being used as a seat. She backs up, barks, backs up, her leash trailing in front of her— no time to rest, slackers.

"Yes," his hand raised against his face, Laurie rubs cold comfort into a face just as chapped. Fingers spread as he eyes out between them at the overly insistent animal. "I'm bleeding…" Leaning over causes a wince, but, at this point, what doesn't. "You probably are, too." Rolling forward, he slips a hand so frozen it's questionable how much it feels the underside of the leg he's prodding. A few holes speckle the denim where buckshot debris was large enough to penetrate through, and the largest one seems to have called out the most blood, drying, into the dark fabric. "I think— I think it went through; it's just… a lot of blood."

The grimace again seizes him when he flexes to sit up straighter. "On the other hand," is the grumble as he drifts all his weight to his left side, pushing off Curtis' prone shoulder-blades to rise, the first step stumbling, "I may never… wear Kevlar again." Rallied by the barking, it's the path Petunia backs up that he begins to pursue, glancing over with some challengingly — or hey what could this be — eyebrows at Maggie to see if she feels the same.

Worry lingers and makes unconvinced furrows of Maggie's brow when it comes to the state of Laurie's bleeding; never mind that she has a similar affliction. There's not much to be done about in the middle of the woods in winter. Eyebrows raise further as she looks to Petunia; she nods. Might as well check it out.

First, it's her turn to plunder pockets, however, doing so with no relish: she quickly, practically checks what's available to her on Curtis, digging into a coat pocket at his side. It's all she can reach. She comes away with a prize, stolen away in her palm, and plants the shotgun against the ground like a walking stick with which to heave herself up. It seems an increasingly immense effort to move with any sort of efficiency.

As Petunia bounds back the way she came, turning and doing the dance of barking and backing up only to whirl about and bound ahead, Maggie, tearing some manner of colourful plastic package with her teeth, comes up next to Laurie to purposefully follow the path being charted by the dog. The Labrador's adamant barks degrade into yelps and insistent whines. Plastic rustles in Maggie's hands, now, the shotgun tucked under an arm. "Whether it went through or not," she comments on the injury throughout, "It doesn't look a lot like— " she's momentarily distracted by tugging something out, " — faking it, Miles," she finishes without much chiding at all; it's good-natured, save for a more starkly concerned glance aside. Still half ungloved, she holds one bare hand out to the other — Laurie's, faring worse to an extent she can't know — and offers her revealed prize: a small white packet upon her palm. A hand warmer. Small blessing.

That hand — in all its stiff, yellow and red patchiness — casually waves her off. The only burst of warmth Laurie indulges happened just before; upon reaching the edge of the rock outcropping, clear of trees patterned along more of the slope, he'd ignited the percussive tube found on Langston, releasing the small but brilliantly lit flare rocket into the sky, beaming through the bleakest weather conditions to show off its position. "I'm more of a method actor," he says, in the now, glancing off her, and more steadily following the wayward leaps of the dog — almost exactly what launched current events. The pace does not match, however; he keeps to a brisk, but ailing walk. Despite a few stray looks, even, for the clotting leg, his trouble does not stay localized there. Though it should come as no surprise: him — both of them — being veritable paint-by-numbers coloring pages of bruises by now.

Maggie just hangs on to the bit of warmth herself all the same, tugging her glove on over it as, in the sky, she watches for the last remnants of the brilliant flare, wondering.

(TO BE CONTINUED...)

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License