Eyes blinking open, Jim awoke slowly. At first everything seemed black, then light slowly seeped into the cave from the entrance, fine cracks in the walls. The air was cool around them, rippling with the breaths and movements of the other bodies crammed around them. He gently raised his head from Blairís chest, stretching cramped muscles as best he could in the minuscule space. His foot nudged a Maquisard sleeping in front of them, and Jim apologised softly as the woman grunted.
Sitting upright, he coaxed the still sleeping man to rest against him, stroking his fingers through the long curls as Blair rested his head in his lap, snoring slightly. A flash of movement caught his eye and he looked up, relaxing a little at the sight of the little arachnid on the wall.
Jim watched the spider creep up the rock wall above them. Delicate paper-thin legs extended, tentatively feeling out and gripping the surface, then contracted again, pulling the long body upwards. It moved with an odd sort of grace, each slow movement captivating him. He watched entranced as it delicately skirted a little trickle of moisture, gripping onto a minuscule outcropping before overcoming the obstacle and continuing upwards.
There was a muffled little grunt from the man snoozing in his lap, then Blair shifted upwards, groggily wiping his face. "Jim?" he instinctively searched for his friend
Ellison gently patted his cheek, then gestured behind the Maquisard. "Careful, Chief."
"Huh?" Blair peered over his shoulder, then jumped as the spider crawled up at nose-height. "Yeeegh!" He picked up a rock to smack at the crawly, but Jim caught his hand.
"Look," he said softly.
Blair followed his gaze upwards, to a gossamer-thin web spreading out, covering the juncture between the wall and roof of the cave. Hundreds of tiny little bodies crawled around the pinwheel structure, their legs making the web shimmer in the dim light. Baby spiders.
With a little smile, Blair gently puffed a stream of air at the large spider, making it scurry upwards into the haven of its home. It fussed around the edges of its web, carefully stepping around the tiny industrious bodies.
Jim had been horribly glad of the silence from the town. Ex-town. It probably didn't even exist any more. Apparent silence gripped the night, but when he listened he could hear the shifting sounds of fabric and skin against rock, the occasional snore from the Maquis in the cave, and further out, the same sounds from the German soldiers. Funny how they all sounded the same in sleep.
The silence from the town clawed at the Leftenant now as he watched those diminutive lives in the web above him, guilt and sorrow washing over him in waves. How many people had been in Vassieux? How many of them were murdered? How many were hiding, like they were, waiting for death to come and steal them away?
Sensing his distress, Blair squeezed him reassuringly, wrapping his arms around the larger man as best he could, tucking the dark-haired head under his chin as his fingers trailed soothingly up and down the strong back. Jim returned the embrace, his head directly over the steadily beating heart of the smaller man, letting the rhythm soothe him a little.
After a long while, Blair gave him another squeeze, then got to his feet. Stepping carefully around the reclining bodies and rock-littered floor, he made his way to where Megan sat beside the wounded. Fourteen, fifteen of them had been injured during the battle or the mad flight, broken bones and gunshot wounds. Seven had died already, bodies stacked to one side to make room for the living, pale hands dangling limply onto the cold floor. With a sad look on her face, Megan carefully tugged a tattered shirt to cover the face of the last, a seventeen year old boy who had finally succumbed to the cold and his wounds. She looked up as Blair sat beside her, resting a hand on her shoulder. She touched the hand once, with a watery little smile, then scrubbed the tears from her face and moved back to the rest.
Blair reached down to brush a lock of hair back from Serena's face. "Bonjour," he said softly as her brown eyes opened dully. "How do you feel?"
She smiled weakly and tapped the blood soaked bandages covering her side. "I have been better," she joked. Carefully she moistened her lips. "Water?"
"Here," Megan tenderly lifted the woman's head and neck, pressing a canteen to her lips. Serena drank gratefully, then let her head fall back. "Thank you," she whispered before her eyes slid closed again, pain and exhaustion dragging at her mind. Reaching out, she fumbled her hand to touch Blair's. "Thank you."
"Shh." Blair rubbed her hand gently. "Sleep. Rest. We'll be leaving here soon, and I expect a full meal in payment."
With a little chuckle, Serena slipped into sleep, a small smile on her lips.
Blair kept up his own smile until he was sure the woman was asleep, then it melted off his face, sliding like butter in a pan. "How is she?"
Megan shook her head once, in reply.
Tears prickling his eyes, Blair made the woman more comfortable on the floor, then moved to help Megan with the others.
The day dragged on into night, then back into day, and they were still trapped. Starved stomachs no longer rumbled, used to long periods without food. The thirst was the worst, dry, parched mouths working convulsively in a futile attempt to work up saliva, clothing pressed to damp walls and sucked eagerly of the pitiful moisture.
Hands itching for something to do, Blair helped Megan, wiping gathering sweat from trembling, pain-filled bodies, soothing fevered dreams with a gentle hand, every so often looking up, towards the mouth of the cave where Jim stood lookout, exchanging encouraging smiles, grasping the small hope their continued existence offered.
Wiping the back of a trembling hand across his forehead, Blair ushered Megan to a less-uncomfortable spot in the rocks. As the only trained medic they had, the nurse was overworked, exhaustion heavily lining her once-pretty face, making her look old and haggard.
As soon as she was asleep, Blair gratefully handed his role over to Rafe and Joel. Straightening, he cast a weary gaze around the cave and tottered over to where a young man sat alone, pressed deep against a moss-covered wall.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" The young man looked up and shook his head, and Blair saw he wasn't a man after all, only a boy, barely old enough to hold a gun.
Gratefully he sank to the ground, tilting his head back and resting it against the cool surface. The boy next to him shivered, and Blair opened his eyes again, pushing his exhaustion aside. Something about the boy was familiar somehow. "I know you...yes?" he furrowed his brow, trying to think "From the Academy. You're.."
"Alec Winters," the boy managed through chattering teeth. A brief smile appeared, a brief flash of teeth, then it was gone.
"Alec." Blair treated the boy to a warm, genuine smile. Now he remembered. A childhood prodigy, his arrival had been all the news at the Academy. Blair had even tutored him once, back in a time before the madness. "Small world, isn't it?" Alec shivered again and Blair drew him gently to his side, shrugging one arm out of his jacket and tugging it over the boy so that they were sharing the little warmth it had to offer.
Alec gratefully nestled into the comfort. "Not so small. When the war broke out, my family, they sent me back home." He looked up for a moment, and the boy was gone, leaving behind the old, old eyes of a man who has seen too much. "They're dead now, aren't they?"
Blair wished he had an answer.