They half ran, half staggered away, weaving between tree trunks in the cool morning air, the experience for Billy crazy, surreal--from shooting at giant leech monsters in the dark to a run in the woods, birds singing their morning songs overhead, a light breeze ruffling their dirty, matted hair. They kept moving, Billy silently counting down, until he got somewhere near zero.
He stopped, looked around as Rebecca also halted, breathing heavily. They'd come out of the woods to a small clearing, high on a hill that overlooked the eastern Arklay forest.
"Here looks good," Billy said. He took a deep, cleansing breath and dropped, sprawling on the ground, his muscles cheering. Rebecca did the same, and a few seconds afterward, the countdown was over.
The explosion was massive, shaking the ground, the roar of it washing across the forest, over the valley beneath them. After a moment, Billy sat up, watched the smoke billowing up over the treetops. As tired as he was, as sore and hungry and emotionally drained, he felt at peace, somehow, watching the smoke of that terrible place drift off into the new day. Rebecca sat with him, also silent, her expression almost dreamy. There was nothing that needed to be said; they'd both been there.
He absently scratched at his wrist, at a tickle there--and the handcuffs fell off, landing in the grass with a muffled clink. Billy smiled. At some unknown point, the second cuff must have come loose. Shaking his head, thinking of how nice it would have been to have lost them about twelve hours before, he tossed them toward a stand of trees. Rebecca stood, turned away from the smoke, shading her eyes.
"That must be the place Enrico was talking about," she said. Billy forced himself to stand, moved to her side. There, maybe a mile or two away and well beneath their vantage point, was a huge mansion, shrouded with trees. Its windows glared against the morning light, giving it a closed and empty look.
Billy nodded, suddenly not sure what to say. She'd be wanting to get to her team. And as for him...
Rebecca reached over and grasped his dog tags, tugging them firmly. The chain gave, popped free, and she fastened the tags around her own slender throat, looking out at the mansion.
"Guess it's time to say good-bye," she said.
Billy watched her, but she didn't look at him, only stared at her next destination, that silent house half hidden by trees.
"Officially, Lieutenant William Coen is dead," she said.
Billy tried a laugh, but it didn't take. "Yeah, I'm a zombie now," he said, a little surprised at the sudden wistful feeling in his chest, in his gut.
She turned, met his gaze, held it with her own. He saw honesty there, and compassion, and strength--and he saw that she, too, felt the same strange longing, the same vague sorrow that had dropped over him like a soft shadow.
If things had been different. . . If circumstances weren't what they are . . .
She nodded, ever so slightly, as if reading his mind, agreeing with what she read there. Then she straightened, her head high, her shoulders back, and snapped a salute, still looking into his eyes.
Billy mirrored her posture, returning the salute, holding it until she dropped her hand. Without another word, she turned and walked away, heading for a gently sloping decline among the trees.
He watched her until she disappeared, lost to the shadows of the woods, then turned, looking for a path of his own. He decided that south sounded pretty good, and started walking, enjoying the warm sun on his shoulders, the song of the birds in the trees.