Outside the half-closed cover of this hole they’ve retreated into, sand howls and whistles. Even with the protective covering of cloth over his nose and mouth, with his hat pulled down to cover his eyes, there is nothing that can keep the sand out, nothing to dull the sharp crackle of grit between his teeth and the itching wet crawl as his nose runs, his eyes water. It’s miserable. He breathes through damp cloth and presses himself closer to Walker’s warm bulk as the worst of the storm begins to roll through.
Sand pours in through the gap, but none of them budge. Not even a single muscle moves, mostly because visibility is next to nothing. Partially because there’s nothing that can motivate any of them to do much of anything at this point. There’s nothing to drive them. Nothing to guide them. Even Walker seems a little uncharacteristically lost, just rock steady where he sits in the dark. Lugo uses his mass like a shield from the biting wind… but he’s surprised when a heavy arm falls over his shoulders, when Walker leans in to share his air, the two of them huddled together like birds in the warm dark.
For some time, Lugo has been angry. All of this, every single thing that has happened in this place is Walker’s fault. Lugo got dragged along, dirtied and muddied with him. He grits his teeth and reaches up as sand crunches against hard, white enamel. His jaw screws so tight that he almost imagines he can hear his teeth groaning, threatening to break under the pressure. A hand reaches up, and slowly, almost shyly, it brushes against Walker’s armored chest. The plate is pitted, marked by shrapnel and bullets, damaged by falls and everything else. But that’s not where that hand stops. Fingers worm beneath fabric, brush against skin. He can feel the strong pulse on either side, the carotid arteries, buried deep beneath muscle, close to the bone. There is the soft, yet stiff resistance of cartilage, and when he feels a little higher, the harder impression of the hyoid bone that ties everything together.
The hyoid falls almost directly in line with the bottom of the mandible. He knows this because he has read, studied so much. It’s just a little thing, not attached to anything else, really. He knows that in cases of manual strangulation, it tends to break… And he puts some pressure on it, feels Walker instinctively start to pull back. It’s just that he stops short. He stays there, does nothing to counter this very clearly aggressive action. He just… places a gentle, heavy hand on Lugo’s forearm.
It’s not that Lugo means to stop. Not by any means. It’s just that touch. Lugo’s hand falls. The storm is starting to ease, becoming quiet like a child who has become worn out in a temper tantrum. Walker is still close, and they continue to share breaths, huddled like little birds, unsurprised when Adams joins in an effort to close off the sand, trying to prevent it getting under protective fabric. Walker says nothing. Lugo shakes. Adams, if he isn’t completely oblivious, seems to know nothing of what passed.
Eventually, the storm dies down enough to allow the men to get somewhat comfortable. Without knowing it, Lugo sandwiches himself between Walker and Adams, falls asleep with his head resting against Walker’s heavy shoulder and his own arms tucked tight across his chest. A part of him still seems to trust, however small it might be. Even though the weather clears at some point, and Walker thinks about pressing on, he stays. Lets his men sleep.
It may be the last rest they ever get.