Day 9

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To Clare's surprise she was leading. She turned to Brandon with concern. "Are you all right?"

Brandon's legs were heavy; lifting one after the other was taking great effort. He was tiring. Clare watched him, tracing her steps back to him. "What's the matter?"

He shook his head. "Nothing, go ahead, I'll catch you at the tree line"

"You look pale."

"I'm just a little tired ...didn't sleep last night," he pulled her into a hug and kissed her head, "...don't worry about me...I'm fine".

Clare hung back, watching him struggle to find his footing. She was beginning to panic. Something is wrong. Something is really wrong!

When they reached the tree line she spoke again. "I'm exhausted. Can we rest for few minutes?" She leaned against a tree, wondering how long Brandon would take to recover. She could tell he was extremely exhausted.

Brandon stood watching the sky gathering heavy clouds. His shivering was worse, especially his hands, thus he hid them in his pocket. As minutes slipped by, his condition turned severe, his body began to shiver. He tried to keep his mind off the inevitable. If help isn't found soon, I'm going to die. He bit his lips as pangs of pain shot through his cold limbs. His joints were beginning to stiffen. He told himself to get a move on and turned to Clare... and through the silence heard a strange gurgling noise.

He walked into the trees and he stood there, struggling to identify the sound. Clare's footstep crunched behind him. "Do you hear that?" he asked.

"Hear what?"

"Listen!" he turned around, "it could be a river, there may be a settlement somewhere along its bank, right?" Clare nodded. Brandon tried to grab her hand but missed and continued trying to get hold.

Clare had already noticed his lack of coordination and increased shivering. She reached out for him, holding his hand tightly. "You want to check it out?" She paused. "Are you okay, Brandon? Honestly?" He nodded and she couldn't help clench her teeth with fear. She was watching the strength in him slowly ebb. He stumbled like a drunk.

"I'm so sorry" she said, steadying him with her shaky hands.

"Why?"

She stared into his blood-shot eyes. "For all this... never asked how you were doing..."

"All I need is a good meal and a good night's sleep..."

"An hour ago you gave me your sweater. Brandon, stop pretending, I can see myself in you. The way you had looked at me then, that fear on your face. You knew that didn't you?"

"Knew what?"

"Whatever's happening to you now was starting to happen to me then".

"I don't know what you're talking about, Clare," he said defiantly. "A little shivering never killed anyone". He struggled on his shaky, cold legs buckling beneath him. His breathing was shallow and drowsiness was settling in as he held onto a tree. He turned to the source of the sound outside of the small thicket of the trees.

"You coming?" he slurred.

His vision blurred, heavy eyelids blinked against the snows glare. His condition was severe, he had already stopped shivering. His joints were rigid from the lack of blood circulation, yet he thought he was absolutely fine. This worried Clare; really worried her.

Her heart sank with fear as she followed him out. Brandon was clearly not fine. She kept pace beside him, noticing his rigid legs searching for the solid ground beneath the snow. His drowsy eyes strained. Once or twice he even stumbled on his own leg and she steadied him. Once outside the holds of the thicket, Clare saw that he was worse than she had perceived. He finally admitted that he needed to stop.

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