It was your first day of training as a sniper, and you just didn’t feel like functioning. Sniper had instructed you to get up in time to leave at daybreak, and be prepared for hot weather. You had clambered down from your bunk in the female dormitory sleepily and got dressed quietly, not wanting to wake anyone. The female spy in the bunk beneath yours snored gently in her sleep mask with a tiny smile on her face. You envied her.
Once dressed, and after a stop by the bathroom, you carried your work boots down the corridor to the main living area. You slumped into the long sectional couch and set to the task of putting on and lacing up your boots. You glanced up sleepily to the coffee table to see a brown paper sack with a note on it. It was from the female spy:
“Good morning, Cherie. Enclosed are a lunch and a few necessities you may have forgotten early in the morning. Bon chance! P.S. If you want a quick breakfast, there are cereals. Get to them before Heavy does.”
This made you smile. Daybreak was slowly making the dark living quarters lighter, but you estimated you had enough time for a bowl of cereal. You glance in the cabinet at a few different kinds; some were foreign cereals, and the one box of Fruit Loops had “Property of Scout, Keep Your Mitts Off!” scribbled across it in black marker. You chose one and ate, starting to feel more awake. Suddenly, you heard a vehicle honking outside, and quickly went about tossing your bowl in the sink, grabbing your lunch, and flying out the door.
As you ran outside, Sniper flung open the passenger side door of his van. He held out his hand which you took happily, and he pulled you in.
“G’morning, Sheila,” he said more brightly than his usual grumble. You mumbled a “Good morning,” in response, and it occurred to you that you hadn’t used your voice yet today; you sounded groggier than you felt.
“Ah, you’re gonna need to get used to getting up this early. Need to get to our post before anyone sees us,” he replied with a gentle smirk. He started up the old van and started down the road just as the sun was starting to glow over the mountains in the distance. The Badlands were almost pretty this time of day, with the stars still peering down at you through the lapis sky.
“Coffee?” he asked, holding out a thermos. You politely declined, and he responded with a shrug and taking a slurp of the coffee himself.
Eventually, you arrived at your post, which was an old water tower near the enemy fort. Sniper grabbed a duffle bag from the back of his van, the half of it he lived in, and motioned for you to follow him to a rusty-looking ladder. Slinging the duffle strap over his shoulder, he patted a rung of the ladder playfully.
“It’ll hold,” he said offhandedly to your disconcerted expression, and he started to climb. The ladder creaked, but it felt solid enough as you began your ascent. You glanced up to monitor your progress, only to see Sniper still climbing leisurely. His lanky limbs seemed more muscular than you had thought before, as he seemed defy gravity stepping up and up with such ease. Your eyes gravitated to his behind as it flexed with each step up. Not a bad view, you thought to yourself with a blush. You felt the rest of the climb seemed much easier, even after he had climbed up and over the tower’s ledge.
You reached the ledge, and his half-gloved hand was there to help steady you. Your flushed face renewed when you made eye contact with the tall Australian. “You alrigh’?” he asked, taking notice of your pallor.
“Fine, fine,” you said quickly, trying to wave his eyes off of your face. He looked at you up and down.
“The climb take its toll on you, did it?” You nodded at this and he chuckled deeply. “Well, I wouldn’t take off my boots, but you can relax a little now, Sheila. We’re ‘ere.” He pushed on a panel of the rusted water tower, and it creaked open. The tank is hollow! He graciously motioned for you to step inside first.
Although it was dark and you didn’t know what to expect, you trusted your trainer and stepped inside.
It was pitch black inside. He followed after you and pulled the panel shut behind him. As your eyes adjusted, you could see light coming from small rectangular slits that had been cut out of the metal. Your feet were glued to the floor, not knowing where to step in the darkness. You felt his reassuring presence behind you, hearing his breath, and then his hand on your shoulder. Your heart gave a jolt. Is it suddenly incredibly hot in here? His grip on your shoulder loosened, and you felt him brush past you. Right. He just wanted to know where I was. His silhouette moved toward the slotted windows, and lowered. You assumed he sat down.
“C’mon then, mind your step.” You edged toward his voice, and felt something firm yet soft with your boot. Your eyes steadily adjusted more and more, and you crouched slightly to feel what you thought you saw. A couch? An old tattered couch was resting in the sunken floor of the old water tank. You could just make out the planks of wood that made up the multi-level flooring, like a child’s tree fort. You stepped down carefully onto the couch, and saw Sniper sitting on some cushions near one of the slits in the wall. The sun must have crested by now, as golden orange light traced his serious profile. You moved your way toward him in the dark.
“Big fella ain’t up yet. Good. We have some time yet,” he muttered to himself. He narrowed his blue eyes with the precision of a bird of prey as he scanned the fort below. His expressive eyebrows scrunched together, illustrating the fine lines on his forehead. His strong jaw clenched to form a concentrated frown, his weathered lips forming one fine line. He found your face in the darkness and gave a small smile.
“Don’ worry. As day breaks, this place’ll light up.” He motioned to the room behind you. “Assembled this place m’self, from whatever scrap I could find. It ain’t much, but it gives us a place to be.” You could see a hint of pride in his eyes, and it wasn’t unattractive. He wasn’t unattractive. In fact, his distinguished profile was quite handsome, and it was all you could think about as he started to unpack his duffle. Even when your eyes left his face to see the weaponry he had brought, you thought about how handsome he was.
This man. Sniper. Who you were going to be near all day. Alone. Your mouth twisted into an idiotic smile.
“Now then, are ya familiar with one a’ these?” he asked, producing a sniper rifle. Dazed, you responded with a negative shake of your head. “Well, it’s quite simple. Single-shot, bolt-action rifle with a massive telescopic scope ‘ere. Even got a laser sight underneath.” You kept on nodding, watching him handle the weapon as if he was explaining the components of a pb&j to a toddler. He was so professional, and you were lost, simply hypnotized by his movements and the deep richness of his voice. Wake up! He was handing you the rifle with a smile, and motioning toward a slit in the wall.
“Now then, hit me that can a’ Bonk on the fence there,” he instructed hopefully. You raised the scope to your eye, and found the fence and the can he was referring to. You lined it up with the crosshairs, and eventually the laser found its target. Holding your breath, you pulled the trigger and braced yourself for recoil. It clicked. Nothing happened. Sniper groaned.
“Oi, Sheila, what did I say? You need to load it first! Finding the target is only half of the sniper’s job, right? Hittin’ it is what gets us paid.” You looked up from the scope, expecting his expression to be angry. Instead, you found his brows furrowed and a condescending smile on his face. He gently took the gun from you and inserted a cartridge, and cocked it, handing it back to you. You took a deep breath, realigned your shot, and when you were certain it was true, you squeezed the trigger. The rifle was louder and more powerful than you had anticipated; the bang and force of the recoil had startled you and flung your upper body backwards…right into Sniper’s waiting arms. You looked up, right into his upside-down face, a small grin dancing upon his lips. He knew I’d fall back.
“Did I hit it?” you asked.
“Hit the fence anyway. Some Scout’ll be along to collect the can later. We’ll practice on him then,” Sniper replied dryly. You couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. “Let’s try something a little gentler, shall we?” he offered, producing a bow and a quiver full of arrows. You take the bow in your hands, feeling its weight and looking cautiously at the black tape around the handle.
“This beaut’ may be old, but he’s functional, fast, and quite easy to get used to. Call ‘im the Huntsman.” The rising sun was illuminating the room more and more now. The light glared off of Sniper’s glasses from where you were sitting, but you imagined he was staring at the bow, allowing you to stare at him instead. “He’s not fancy, no scope or nothin’, but learn to see what he sees when you draw an arrow and he won’t let you down. Now, let’s see if you can ‘andle him.” Sniper pulled a single arrow from the quiver and rested it against the bow, snapping it into place on the string. He shifted himself to sit behind you, and straightened out your left arm holding the bow. His large gloved hand closed gently over yours on the handle. A flush crept slowly from your cheeks down your neck and up to your ears.
“Now, hold the string, with one finger above the arrow, and two below.” You did as instructed, gripping the string like your life depended on it. “A little gentler now, tha’s right,” he murmured near your ear. His face was quite close to yours now, just behind your right shoulder. You turned slightly to hear him better, and could faintly smell black coffee and tobacco on his warm breath. “Now, mind where you’re aiming… the fence post would work…and pull back.” You pulled the string back slowly. Your arm wanted to shake, but he placed his other hand on your elbow to steady you. “Bring your hand all the way back to your cheek, line up your vision.” It was harder than you thought to bring it back that far, the string’s tension being heavy to your inexperienced arms. His hand guided you there though. “And…let go.”
With audible vibration, the string sent the arrow flying. It landed firmly in the dirt and few yards shy of the fence.
“Need to work on your distance, but your form is good,” Sniper offered encouragingly as he let go of your arms. He stood up, and regained his seat away from you. “Now,” he began, offering you another arrow, “do it again.”
You repeated the steps as best you could without his strong hands to guide you. As you pulled back, however, you trembled. You gently relaxed the string to try again with more momentum, but you were sweating. He was watching you. The rising sun must have been beating down on the water tower, because it was getting so hot in there. The air felt thick with the heat and scant traces of Sniper’s scent. You pulled back again, arm wobbling, aimed for the fence, and loosed the arrow.
Searing, scratching pain immediately raked down your forearm. You cried out in pain, and Sniper lurched forward. At first, you thought he was going to save the Huntsman whom you had dropped, but instead, he was looking at you with concern. You folded your throbbing left forearm to your chest and grunted with pain. Your arm felt wet.
“Lemme see,” Sniper ordered quietly, but you resisted him. You whimpered slightly as he straightened out your arm, which was bleeding in several places from a multitude of shallow scratches. The bow string had lined up against your wobbling arm, and scraped against it when you let go. Much of your top layer of skin was missing. You felt woozy looking at all your blood. You started to lean into Sniper from the dizziness.
“Whoa, easy there,” Sniper held you up, trying to get you to stand. When your knees went weak, he picked you up. It was amazing, the ease with which he carried you like a baby to the door. “C’mon wombat. Let’s get you patched up.”
He gently eased you over his shoulder and climbed down the ladder to the ground. The pain in your arm wasn’t what was making you weak anymore, it was his strength. His confident yet nurturing manner, the heartbeat in his chest, the smell of his neck, everything about him made you feel weak and feminine, but it was nice. He carried you over to his van, which was safely hidden from the enemy fort by a large billboard and some bushes. He opened the back door, and stooped as he entered with you in his arms like a new bride.
The camper was nicer inside than you thought. It was warm, comforting, and musky with the smell of him and his coffee and cigarettes. Your head was swimming in the intoxicating scent, until you remembered the searing pain in your arm. He sat down on the small futon he apparently slept on, and cradled you, easing you into a sitting position next to him with your legs across his lap. He leaned forward, and produced a first aid kit from beneath the futon.
“Alrigh’ then, let’s see the damage,” he murmured in a low, quiet grumble. He held your hand to straighten out your arm in front of him. It didn’t look so bad in the daylight; streaks of pink irritation ran down your arm, splattered with droplets of red. He tore open a small packet from the first aid kit with his teeth, and removed a small moist towel.
“This may sting a bit,” he mumbled, as he pressed the towel to your arm, and squeezed your hand in his. You groaned loudly as the moisture bit at every inch of your already hurting skin. Tears sprang to your eyes, but you bit your lip to keep from making any more noise. Once the wound was clean, he removed a roll of bandages from the first aid kit and began to wrap it around your arm over and over. Your arm was stiff from the wrappings when he was finished. Even though you couldn’t move it, it still stung quite badly. The tears still remained heavy in your eyes, and the lip you were biting was quivering. Not here, not in front of him. The last thing you wanted to do was cry in front of Sniper, who was always so cool-headed and strong. This was too much. The thought of crying in front of him made you want to cry even more. He looked into your face, over the top of his glasses. He gave a concerned smile.
“There now, it’s not so bad, is it? You’re allrigh’.”
You sniffled to try to keep the tears from falling. “Di-did anything like this h-happen to you? When y-you were learning?”
“Oh sure!” he replied, removing his glasses. He rubbed the bridge of his nose slightly and put his glasses aside. “This very injury happened more than once when I was a li’l bloke. Caused me mum a good bit a concern… Know what made it better though?”
You shook your head sadly, the tears finally welling over and plopping on your arm. He gently raised your arm to his lips and kissed your wrist tenderly. You gasped inwardly and stopped wanting to cry immediately. He left tiny kisses trailing up your arm to your inner elbow. It stung a little, but left a pleasant warming sensation up your arm, causing a flush to spread all up your neck and face.
He looked you directly in the eyes, and smiled. He stroked your cheek, his calloused fingers making sure there were no more tears.
“See now? Tha’s much better, isn’t it?”