Chapter Four

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The first five minutes of the walk was silent, until I finally couldn't stand having no idea what I was walking into. "Where are we going?"

"It's the place I've been staying for the past couple days," he replied, continuing to stare straight forward as we walked. "We're actually almost there."

I hoped his place would be better than my past ones. My tactic usually was to find the nearest abandoned store or house, and break in. I tended to stay in each place for as little as necessary. I always worried about other people finding my hide out and attempting to steal the few supplies I kept on me.

I checked again to make sure my pack was still on me. I'd managed to leave it under the tree I'd passed out behind and picked it up as we were living. There wasn't much in it. Just my map, ten or so granola bars, and a jug of water that I constantly had to refill.

A couple minutes later, I noticed a blemish in the landscape, which at first looked like just another hill. But once we started to get closer, I realized that it wasn't a hill at all, but a small metal structure.

It took around five more minutes to reach it. Once we were there, Asten pushed aside the black blanket that was covering the entrance, likely meant to keep the wind out. His attempt at insulation surprisingly worked better than I was expecting. It felt warmer inside the structure, and although it wasn't as good as some of the stores I'd stayed in, it did its job. I doubted he had to worry about other people crashing his place as often, too.

Blankets were laid out on the floor with a small fire going in the middle. I wondered how it had managed to stay aflame the entire time Asten had been at the store.

"Sit wherever," Asten said as he himself sat on a blanket close to the fire. Almost immediately, he reached behind his back to feel the cut that had been made on his shoulder. His fingers came back covered in blood. He turned to a neat pile of supplies that stood in a corner and pulled out a white kit which I suspected must be a first aid kit. I didn't say anything as he pulled random tubes and bandages.

I slowly sat down on the opposite side of the fire as he tried to wipe off the blood from his shoulder using a small towel. I felt like an intruder on this small space he'd made for himself. I still barely knew anything about him.

"Where are you from...were you from?" I asked.

"New York, originally," he replied. "But right when the snow started we were on a flight to a safe house in the equatorial region of the world. My mom was worried about the flooding. She didn't want to stay in New York. Our family owned a house down in Mexico for a long time. I guess that's where she was planning on taking us," he explained, as he attempted to clean his own cut. It took him only a couple more attempts at reaching his back before I decided to step in.

I stood up and walked around the fire, sitting instead next to him. "Let me help," I offered, holding out my hand so I could take the towel from him. He seemed reluctant at first, but when he saw the soft look in my eyes, he handed it to me.

"Thanks," he said softly as I pressed the towel onto his torn open skin. It wasn't as bad as it had looked when it had happened. "I guess it's not every day you get stabbed." I could hear the hint of a joking tone in his voice and I couldn't help but smile. I still couldn't get over how odd it was to hear another person talking to me so normally. It reminded me of a time before all of this. It was a time I sorely missed.

Once I was done cleaning the cut, I poured ointment onto a bandage and carefully placed it on his shoulder. I taped it down, so that it wouldn't fall off. I sat back on my heels, then stood up and walked, still limping slightly, back to where I was sitting before on the other side of the fire.

There was a moment, where Asten just stared at me.

"Take off your boot." My eyes found his from the other side of the fire.

"What?"

"Take it off." He stood up and walked towards me, kneeling only a couple inches away from my right foot.

"Why?" I asked, pulling my leg closer to my chest.

"You're limping." He looked genuine enough to catch me off guard. Why would he care if I was limping or not? I understood the entire idea of an alliance, but I wasn't expecting it to last.

I slowly let go of my leg, allowing it to extend. I was worried about my foot, but I had pushed it from my mind until now. I grabbed the edges of my boot and pulled downwards, pushing it off. I knew that whatever had happened was not good based off Asten's expression.

He pulled the first aid kit closer to himself and took out the bandages. "I think you have second degree frostbite."

I grimaced and finally looked down at my foot. It wasn't all black and blue like I'd seen in pictures with terrible cases of frostbite, but it seemed to be getting there. He began wrapping the bandage around my foot, and I watched as he did.

"This won't solve things immediately. But it'll work temporarily. Tomorrow I'll heat water like you're supposed to when treating this." He tied the bandage at the end, then leaned back against the wall next to me.

"How do you know that? How to treat it?"

He shrugged. "I decided to read up more about it when the snow started and I was stuck inside our family's safe house. In case I ended up in a position like this."

There was a brief pause where both of us stared at the fire, not talking. It was weird how only a couple hours ago I was planning on freeing soon-to-be servants and now I was sitting in a shelter next to someone who'd had the same idea as me.

I was still slightly worried about being here. I wasn't used to trusting anyone, and even this small bit of trust in sharing a shelter scared me. Trust usually ended up with betrayal, and I feared that this situation would be no different. But there was already a difference: we'd saved each other. That mattered for something.

But even if I didn't trust him, he had piqued my interest. There weren't many people who knew that much about the Equator. He'd mentioned, though, that he'd been around there when the snow had started. That meant he had to have known something more than I did about it.

"You said...you were at the Equator, right?" I asked. "What was it like?" I knew so little about it. Word went around that it was a refuge, but I couldn't be sure. It was possible that it was simply a rumor for gullible people who'd lost all hope.

"It's......," he began. "...I don't really know much. I left before things apparently came to order."

"Oh." A sudden gust of wind hit the blanket, allowing bits of cold air to rush in. I crossed my arms, shoving my hands into my elbows to keep them warm.

Then an idea came to my mind, a reckless one that could never end well. I wasn't planning on staying with Asten for long, I knew that. Our situation was just a temporary friendship after an accidental meet-up. Once we both were healed, we would have no need for each other. We would likely separate.

But maybe I just wanted to hope.

"What if we tried to go to the Equator...just to see it. Maybe it will help us....," I suggested, my voice trailing off at the end. He didn't respond for a moment, then he turned to look at me like he was trying to gauge my seriousness.

"We could. There's nothing to lose from it."

The way he said we, like we were officially a team changed something between us. It was no longer me and him as separate entities...because now we had a shared goal. I was tempted to smile, but didn't, since it felt like even that small bit of emotion was giving too much away. Even if we were a "we" now, even if it seemed like this partnership might last more than a day, I needed to remember who I was. And I needed to remember who he was, a stranger. Another human who I knew little about.

"Then let's go to the Equator."

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