camaraderie

shakin off the dust, had this scene in my head for a while.

“Eden!”

She grunted and Cam didn’t have to look to know she’d made her way to him. The next second her back nudged up against his. It gave him a kind of visceral comfort, to keep her safe. Sometimes he even let her believe she’d done it herself. Like this time, he’d armed her with an extra sidearm he’d charmed (stolen) from Barlowe. She clutched it at her hip with both hands, looking painfully like a rookie in the way he knew she thought made her look like a veteran.

The grimy band of coyotes who’d stolen Morgenrot circled. And at the top of the broken band, Morgen themself, splayed across the concrete with their tatterdemalion brown cloak thrown up over their head.

“Ready?” Cameron said.

Eden braced herself against him, choked up her grip on the gun.

“This is gonna suck.” He glanced over his shoulder at her. She nodded impatiently, her dark eyes meeting his.

He remembered the first time they’d done this. Fought together.

Cam’d just been a kid, then. Ties severed and adrift. Headed toward the river because that’s what he’d heard a drifter muttering about as the way out of the city. Hadn’t expected to be much else besides alone for a while—maybe forever.

It hadn’t mattered to him, then. Nothing had.

Even then, Eden hadn’t screamed. She’d just sort of grunted and it got Cameron’s attention. He pulled his hands out of the pockets of his coat and touched the gun against his side. Rounded the corner.

The two of them had her cornered in an alley. Her almost-black hair was disheveled, matted and clumped, a line of red dark against her brown skin. She twisted her mouth into a snarl and lashed out, and one of them cried out so she must’ve hit him with… a knife?

Cam wondered why she didn’t scream. The thought came to him dully as he stepped into the alley and wasted the guy she’d just slashed. He’d taken the heat down a couple notches so the guy didn’t evaporate like his father had. Just sorta slumped backward.

The other one spun and tried to flee but Cameron sidestepped to block his egress and took him out, too.

It didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel like anything. It just felt like maybe this lady would go home at the end of the night, instead of dying in an alley at the edge of the city.

She was breathing hard, mouth open, her fingers at the cut on her face. She didn’t have a knife.

Shit,” she said finally, focusing on him. “Let’s establish something, are you going to shoot me, too?”

“Nah,” Cam said, shrugging and replacing the gun at his side. He pulled his coat back over it.

“Well,” she said. “Good.”

He just stood there, not really noticing that he was effectively blocking her way out of the alley now, too.

So her fingers had slid from the cut on her face and she’d walked up to him, and he’d looked at her. She was about as tall as him, with a strong jaw and an unimpressed expression.

“You going somewhere, or are you just gonna stand in my way all night?”

“Oh.” He sidestepped again, pushing his back against the wall. She walked past him to the end of the alley and then paused.

“So?”

He stared at her, uncomprehending.

“You coming with?”

Starting forward, he pushed himself off the wall and followed her. She turned in the direction that would take them out of the city and Cameron thought he would’ve followed her even if she hadn’t.

“What’d you get him with?” he asked after a tense moment of silence.

She laughed, deep and rich. “My nails.”

Had to keep them from shooting Morgenrot in the fray. Had to keep them from shooting Eden in the fray. Somewhere along the line it had gone from Cam, on his own, to Cam, keeping an eye on every damn person east of the river.

The coyotes pulled their circle inward and he kicked out, striking one of them square in the stomach. He blasted another, his thumb finding the heat control and knocking it up a few—probably excessive—but the raw heat immolated the next target and he remembered how satisfying that was.

Somewhere in the midst of it the pressure of Eden at his back had disappeared. Now it was replaced with the muzzle of a gun finding a place between his shoulders, like it’d always belonged there. A sloppy shot. It’d still kill him.

He flung an elbow backward and Eden squawked. The sound of a body hitting the ground, but his elbow hadn’t connected with anything. He pivoted and there she stood, shaking her hand. The gun lay on the pavement a few feet back.

“You almost elbowed me in the fucking face, imbecile,” she said.

“You punched him?”

She made an incredulous face at him. “Uh, yeah.

“I gave you a gun.

She shrugged. And once again Eden lost any kind of transparency. Either that or Cam lacked the emotional intelligence to know whether or not she were playing at being so casual about dropping a coyote with a punch to the back of the head.

Eden walked away toward Morgen and Cam stared at her back.

“Uh, so I guess I’m carrying the moth?”

He startled forward and walked up beside her. They stared at Morgenrot for a long moment. She put her arm over his shoulders, then shifted her hand to his waist and squeezed him in an awkward hug.

Maybe once he would’ve flinched away from that sort of touch. It still reminded him a little of his mother or sister, the sort of warm familial affection that he’d burned away when he’d killed his dad. It still evoked that tickling burn at the back of his throat—guilt and betrayal and rage.

Still not quite knowing the protocol, he hooked his own arm around her shoulders and patted her arm before maneuvering out of her embrace to grab Morgen.