The Hunting Trip, Part II


ace_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title The Hunting Trip, Part II
Synopsis The hunt commences, leading Harry Ace and Zachery to learn a little more about each other.
Date December 6, 2020

Somewhere in the hills of Pennsylvania

204 miles west of the New York City Safe Zone

The air is cold and crisp out here. The weather has been a tumultuous thing, trending warmer than cooler, but not today. The forecast calls later for either freezing rain or snow, accumulation that will come with the setting of the sun.

Ace is relatively certain they should be on the road again before that time.

A relaxed sigh slips from him, floating away in a cloud as he steps down from the unfamiliar vehicle he's driven into the hilly Pennsylvania countryside. It's been a long drive, having gotten on the road nearly two hours ago to chase the rising sun which has disappeared into a haze of grey high above. The Honda truck sported a clean, fresh interior, but it couldn't compare to his electric Porsche neither in comfort or speed.

But it wouldn't have done to run out of energy far from a charging station. And besides— they might need to make use of the truck's bed after all, depending on how successful they are.

The spot they've parked was once intended as a pull-off for a scenic view, but he doubts it sees much traffic these days. Ace sends the driver door shut with a flick of his wrist, not bothering to appreciate the view. The boots he wears crunch the cracked and sprouting gravel as he heads around the back of the truck, tugging the gate of it down to pull forward a gun case. "We walk from here," he calls out airily, flipping the clasps on the case undone one by one. "Make sure you've everything you need."

Whether Zachery is appreciating the view is hard to say from the look he's giving it, more registering than rumination. An unfamiliarity. Still leaned against the passenger side of the truck and stretching an arm upward to run a hand over the back of his head, his attention drifts back over to Ace with a deliberately sharp exhalation of idle amusement.

"Let's see…" Without looking, he leans past the still open door to grab onto the strap of a black backpack, yanks the bag out to sling it over a shoulder. "Baseless confidence despite a complete lack of knowledge and skill, check." The door is slammed shut. "A dubious amount of trust in a person who could have driven me here to push me off a cliff and would have an incredibly easy time getting away with it, check." Boots hit gravel, a grin spreading more to one side than the other.

"Aaand snacks," he finishes, finally sauntering up beside Ace with a needless half of a bow, arms out by his sides and backpack sagging a little lower with the movement. Incidentally, this gives Ace a momentary view of the trail runs through his hair, from the top of his head to just over his ear, of previously sutured skin still healing under only barely growing hair. "I think I'm all set."

Ace lets out the scoff of a breath betrayed only by a grin that mirrors Zachery's own while he opens the gun case, leaving it resting on the tailgate. "Well," he opines brightly but without much immediate follow-up. He hoists out the body of a black rifle from the case, pulling the strap that goes with it out from a well-worn deformation in the padding of the case. It's been a long time since he's used that particular component, it seems.

"Glad you've got everything you need." He shifts a look to Zachery at his side, resting the butt of the rifle down on the tailgate before flipping back the stiff wool of his overcoat to produce a not just a gun, but the entire holster that had been clipped to his side. The revolver in its leather sheath is turned out for him to take. "But might I suggest adding one more item to your collection?"

"You know, in case the psychopath who lured you to the woods turns on you later." Ace flashes a positively stunning smile to follow that up, sunnier than the sky overhead.

Zachery might only have one eye left, but it's a keen one for Ace's activities and movements. That smile, as well, is studied.

There is, notably, not one offered in return. The revolver is accepted with a cant of his head, and a dart of a glance off into the distance over Ace's shoulder before he aims his gaze downward to begin to figure out how to clip the holster onto himself. He is, at least, not entirely clueless — just about halfway, and clearly inexperienced.

"I'm not sure which decision of yours was worse," he mutters downward after some progress, tone of voice kept airy, "Inviting me on this trip pre-brain damage, or giving me the gun after."

Ace lets out a hmph of a chuckle as he finishes fastening the strap to his rifle. He slots the ammunition cartridge into place before slinging the rifle over his shoulder, grabbing a second clip and slipping it into the pocket of his overcoat.

Just in case.

He's dressed overall in drab grays and blacks that aren't entirely out of place in this winter-wrought environment, but definitely don't blend as well as one would expect. At least Ace has good company in the dark peacoat Zachery wears. Snapping the case closed, he pushes it back into the bed and then closes the gate with a slam, not paying particular mind to the noise it creates.

He turns his head to the man he's chosen to bring with him on this endeavor. "Now we walk." And heading away from the pull-off, with a glance at the sun to mind the general direction he heads in, he crosses the road and begins to mount the other side of the slope.

Ace isn't much for words as they head deeper into the trees that bear no leaves. They were already far from standard civilization before, but they head even further now from it, over the crest of a large hill to continue into the uneven plateau of it, heading northwest. The usual nonplussed air he minds himself begins to shave itself away the further they proceed, like it's being claimed by the altitude. Something more dead-eyed and keen takes its place.

And after roughly ten minutes of silence of questionable companionship… there's a crackle of movement overheard from trees to the right. Heavy. Footsteps— of something larger than the small game they've presumably come this far to hunt.

Where Ace is keen, Zachery has been the exact opposite. Happy not to talk while they wander, he's followed along in Ace's trail some fifteen feet behind. Literally retreading his steps, occasionally, and to his credit - making his way forward with minimal noise underfoot. Even then, between occasional glances up at Ace, his gaze is aimed downward rather than on their supposed task. Distracted, preoccupied with matters deliberately unspoken, until — that sound.

He stops in his tracks, and rather than look to Ace this time, he looks toward the trees. But for how instant it is, the rapt attention does not look like fear. Whatever had kept him preoccupied before seems to slip from him all at once, just as the tension with which he'd kept his fingers curled around the strap over his shoulder does.

Trying desperately to find some movement of any note, eye darting over foliage and trunks, he hisses with almost no breath expended, "Come on…."

Be something interesting. Anything.

And so it is.

Humans are who emerge from the trees, rather than beasts. A trio of men, the likes of whom Ace shies not from, turning to face them. He slides a look back at Zachery then before tipping his head for him to hurry up.

"Join the party, Miller."

Hunters with no orange to mark them, and armaments to say otherwise. Two of the three flank the other, a man of greyed age and indeterminate stature thanks to the vest and coat hanging on his frame, and the woolen scarf wound down under zipper. To his credit, Gideon d'Sarthe moves as easily as he ever has, steady walk bringing them to connect with Ace and his plus-one.


"About time we found you," Gideon's gravelly greeting for Ace comes with a familiar delivery of a palm against his shoulder, the older man's mood seeming quite at odds with the cold and skeletal environment. A hand extends to Zachery, who receives an old wolf's smile as Gideon cradles a long rifle in his other arm. "Welcome to the troupe, Doctor Miller. I was surprised to hear Callahan wanted to bring a guest—" Blue eyes dart towards Ace, back again.

"—not everyone appreciates a hunt. I'm a conservator, myself…"

Well, shit.

Zachery's expression changes— but only just, in the pinch of his brow and in the brief grimace in confusion. Fortunately, he manages to lift his head back up again by the time Gideon's made his way over, conjuring a quick and practiced smile as if he'd just been squinting into the sun.

"Thank you," he accepts the handshake, as firm as the grip of forced congeniality on his crisply spoken words, "I'm not sure what I'll appreciate today just yet, if I'm perfectly honest with you, but. Surprise seems to be a theme of the day, doesn't it, Callahan?" He decidedly does not look to Ace, smile yet widening as if he's been issued a challenge. "So let's find out."

Ace accepts the pat to his shoulder with an upward jut of his chin. There's very little that could bring his mood down now, with a gun at his side, and the promise of shooting it so nearby. It's not like the type of firing he did during the war, or the one that came before that more societally-remembered one, but any use is better than none.

So long as Zachery's head injury kept him from embittering himself on this opportunity to rub elbows with the right people, all would be well.

"Gideon is a good friend and our patron for today's excursion," Ace explains politely, looking back to Zachery even if he won't look at him. "And Miller here is a man looking for new opportunity. This seemed like an excellent chance to see just what kind of person he is."

It's a test, or at the very least a measurement. But isn't everything with Ace, in some fashion?

He gestures a hand briefly in the direction he'd already been walking. "The first ridge is up ahead. We'll be able to see everything we need to from there." Ace begins to lead the way himself, much the same as he'd been doing when the party was just him and Zachery. "Shall we?" For as calm and cavalier as he presents, his forwardness betrays how eager he is to begin.

The manner of the man who has so vigorously greeted them remains unchanged for now, yet the feeling of being assessed remains in force. There is a nature to Gideon's examinations, glances— sharklike in its circling, until it suddenly isn't. The given name isn't as potentially familiar as the one spoken by one of the men at Gideon's side.

"Mr. d'Sarthe, sir, we're about five minutes out, I suggest—"

"It's fine." Not so much as a snap of words as it is a stop, and the other man silences once Gideon gives his two cents, without a look. "I specialize in opportunities, it so happens." Humor returns as if it never left. Watching Ace move ahead, Gideon starts on the same deliberate path; without a hitch he falls in step with Zachery, hand rested on the rifle now tilted back against the nest of his shoulder.

"Miller," Gideon's shadow looms large like the fullness of his voice; volumewise, it is conversational, remaining on the path with them. He remains on Zach's periphery, notably having chosen the side of the good eye. "I wasn't able to do quite as much homework as I would prefer, but I believe I know your wife. Lovely woman."

Only when Ace has turned his back does Zachery look at him again, in a lazy observation that becomes much more rigid when Gideon's last name finally reaches him. Suddenly, his gaze goes glassy, smile waning as he tries to process seventeen things at once.

Still, he does his best to play the part of an unfazed participant, leaning forward into following Ace with his attention on the trees more than anything else. A half-stumble and accusatory glare down at the ground pulls him somewhat out of his stupor, just in time for a subject to be broached that he does feel confident speaking on - and his gait gains back some confidence in the process.

"She is," he manages after several seconds' delay, unspoken thoughts pouring some gravel into his own voice as he looks to Gideon again - a quick and new up and down before his attention returns to what's ahead - the daggers in Ace's back. Caution isn't hard to spot in his mannerisms, but his voice is still a casual flat when he adds, "I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised you two have met, considering her social circles and the fact that when she does her homework, she is thorough."

Ahead, blind but not deaf to the conversation, Ace lets out a silent breath of laughter, a grin cutting away across his face. He hears the sound that's entered Zachery's voice. And he supposes he'll hear an earful of tones more excited on the drive back. Either Zachery will prove himself a man of discretion, or he won't, by the end of this day.

That's the gamble Ace makes, with his card face up and variable. He can only hope that Zachery turns out to be the jack he's hoped for.

If not, he'll adjust.

"I'll get us started," he indicates over his shoulder, jovial in tone. "Then we can head down into the valley."

"We go way back." Gideon adds, once he's ascertained that Zachery has partly grasped the situation he's now in. Downhill from here, even though they're headed up.

"Knew her back when she worked for Linderman. I'm not at all surprised to see how far she's gotten, scars and all." Arms crossed loosely in front of himself, his steps and volume remain careful and quiet. The men with them stay helpfully silent, keen on bringing up the flank. "And you, well… long way from a morgue these days, aren't you?"

"War criminal, felon, hospital piss-pot boy, back-alley first aid, hot mess, married man, Raytech personnel… now that's a roller coaster. Not bad with that uphill climb, hm?" Gideon may as well be listing off names like Santa Clause, with the ease he does it.

A sound leaves Zachery on an exhale— like he's had the wind knocked out of him, and he stumbles another step besides. But when he manages another inhale, it's used immediately for a laugh, unrestrained and delighted.

Alright. Cards on the table, then. "Hospital piss-pot boy," he repeats, grin only blossoming further outward when he tries the words out for himself. Again, he laughs, and on the end of it looks to the side and tacks on, "I think you missed— thief, traitor, and con-man somewhere in the middle, there, Gideon."

One of the men at their flanks is beamed at, before - like a weight's physically been lifted off of him - his stride eases, and he speeds up with newfound enthusiasm. Dead man walking mode engage, head high. "This is wonderful," he says, too loudly, words as sharp as his grin. Let's fucking go.

"I thought 'felon' mostly covered that, I suppose not." Regardless of Zachery's sharp edges, d'Sarthe laughs, smile not quite to his eyes. Something about the degree of Miller's reaction delights him right back.

Perhaps it's the newfound vigor.

Ace trudges forward through the trees with more care than before, avoiding making undue noise where before he simply did not seem to care. They come up before long against a sharp descent, a ridge of sorts though there's relatively safer walking should they circle back slightly and head down the hill at a different angle. When he nears the ledge by which he could be seen below, he slips his rifle off his shoulder and flips out a small stand near the end of the stock.

He turns back, mostly for Zachery's benefit, and indicates with a single finger to be quiet. Sound up here— well, that could carry down below. And they'd not want to frighten the prey that ambles in the distance.

With Ace at the front to begin the first pinned location, Gideon remains at Zachery's flank; it's a quiet, if strained trek up the side of the hill. The pair with them appear to be having a slightly more difficult hike than the older man they've followed here. Truth be told, d'Sarthe's efforts are— very low.

Crouching down to the ground, Ace lets the gun brace against its stand, the nose of the rifle off the ledge facing below, his elbows in the vague damp of the fallen, rotting leaves. If he cares greatly about the state of his overcoat, that's something he'll balk about later. Not now. Not at this moment. Not in this moment. He moves forward on his forearms to brace himself properly against the stock and sight, hand curving around the grip. His eyes close, then he steadies his breathing and opens them again.

Up here, without the tools the gunman has, there's very little to note about the waves of trees visible from this range. But surely, something is out there to see, to shoot. Otherwise, why else would they be here?

With his long rifle, Ace lines up a shot down into the valley below. It takes seconds that pass in a crisp silence for him to perfect the alignment of his eyes over the glass again, and long seconds more for the nose of the gun to roam in its goal of finding something other than the trees to be pointed at. "There you are," he murmurs with relief when he finds his target. It's just as he expected based on his initial survey of the area. His brow twitches, eyes narrowing as he makes a small adjustment— altering his decision on where he'll shoot.

His rifle reports with a muted crack as he fires, echoing loudly through the hills.

And then the valley below erupts with a brief crackle of automatic gunfire, like the landed shot carried with it an explosive firework.

But that's not how that works at all. And animals don't carry guns.

Ace lets out a hummed sigh, not moving from his position. "There was a second standing watch down there," he reports with an absent coolness, more focused on following movements down the sights rather than making himself personable to anyone up here. "Another shot may more clearly give away our angle of approach, but I can pick him off easily. He's not run yet." Airily, he asks of his patron, "Preference?"

Trees and leafless brush provide the group dappled cover, sun at their back for whatever manages to leak through the hazy winter clouds. Birds in the space below take flight at the rifle's bark, Gideon's own rifle remaining shouldered. There's naught but silence until the sniper's voice comes from his audible sigh.

"Let them simmer, for now," Still on his feet, the older man remains obscured by the trees at Ace's six 'o clock, rifle now lowered muzzle-to-ground. "Fanner, go check the east trail, stay there until you see us again." One of the two tagalongs gives a nod and a murmured assent before slipping off of the site. The other remains with them, not at the ready, though appearing to accompany Miller while they observe.

"Mnn. How many heads are we looking at, Callahan?" As if this were all about the weather. Gideon turns those hard blue eyes to Zachery, forehead piqued. And not unlike dad taking them for a game hunt, "How is your aim, son?"

Zachery, now standing back with one shoulder against a tree that may or may not provide him with any cover at all, has been quiet. The reason for which is suspicion piled atop suspicion, like a slowly dawning sun screeching siren-like warnings only audible in his own head.

But when you get pushed into the deep end, you swim. And if you walk yourself in there voluntarily— you'd best keep your head up while you do it.

By the time the first shot rings out, he's braced himself for it, but he still pointedly and unblinkingly looks to the brush off to the side as though the following automatic gunfire might suddenly come from closer by. And when he's asked a question, he struggles not to laugh again, brow slanting uneasily as his arms are folded over his chest.

"Well, father," he swallows down a failed attempt to suppress a grin that must, at this point, be nine out of ten parts anxiety. "Didn't aim to do this today, and yet…" His gaze drifts to Gideon, one blue eye offered for two given. "I'm fairly sure I could hit the ground, if it's scorned you lately." He lifts an eyebrow, expectantly.

Ace nearly had come up from the leaves when it was indicated they would let the first shot simmer awhile, but he stayed eyes on glass to watch one man several hundred yards away crouch by his shot companion, observing the panicked turn of his head as he fights to determine where the fire had come from just as much as try to nurse the hole in his fellow's chest with little more than a single hand.

He feels his own blood begin to rush when the target comes to his feet, grips his gun with blood-spattered hands, and regards the treeline with murder in his eyes. He's not looking nearly high enough, but this is exciting in its own way.

And Gideon d'Sarthe asks him for a total count. Ace blinks once to pull himself back from his bloodlust, his desire to shoot the dirt just before the standing man to make him dance, and instead looks further through the shade of the trees. He keeps his voice down as he relays his findings. "Their little compound down there has three trucks, two buildings and a storage shed. Outside currently, there's the dead man and his fellow on the south side, and up the driveway by one of the trucks there's a smoker. Door on one of the buildings opened to let out one more…"

He frowns when no more follow. "Based on the report from the escaped driver, though, we should expect no less than ten total. So either a few of them are out on another ambush of their own right about now… or they've not decided to come out yet." Something below displeases him even more than that, leading him to look back over his shoulder at Gideon and Zachery both.

"They're being awfully brazen down there, even for cowards hiding in the woods," he notes, flinty and dry. "It's been a long time since I've seen a Humanis flag fly." He pushes himself to a crouch first, glancing once more to the valley before folding up the stand on the bottom of his rifle and coming to his feet. "It's practically a relic now. A piece of history."

Ace laughs, a coldly joyful thing far from being actually happy. "It'd be a shame if it burned, wouldn't it?"

Somewhere between insolent and offensive lies Zachery; it's not entirely as bad as it sounds. The manner of the response given at first looks like it may get him more of a reaction; maybe it does, but it doesn't show.

"It may have." Gideon's short reply is borderline terse; luckily it isn't, yet. He falls silent as Ace relays the notes on the small encampment down below. It doesn't take an ability for Zachery to see that the latter additions displease d'Sarthe. Consideration gone from his eyes, there is an aura of venom when he turns fully to Ace. "It'll be a fossil when we're done." That gravelly voice comes with the dryness of restraint clear within.

The gunman only nods, of a similar mind. "Dust," he echoes as he comes closer to the group. He lists to one side, nearest Zachery. An eye is spent for how he's taking the situation, one that doesn't move when his employer speaks again.

"Let's move. Keep your boy with you." A heavy hand lifts to gesture towards Zach.

"I'll radio Fanner with the update. We'll have him draw eyes. You know these ones are stupid when they go on alert." d'Sarthe smiles, a sidelong expression with a longtoothed grin. "It's a pity Mines couldn't make it. I'm sure he'd enjoy a chase."

There is no visible recognition from Zachery upon hearing any of these names, gaze unfocused. His arms fall slowly down from where they were folded over one another, fingers of his right hand brushing just lightly against the black wool of his coat. A thought entertained.

"'Your boy'," he repeats, somewhat belatedly, the humour gone from his voice entirely.

He turns to Ace, his grin a dead thing now, his monocular stare too hard. "Imagine if I just shot him." He gestures with his left hand right back at Gideon, and his men. "Imagine if this is how it ends."

Ace wonders the odds that Zachery's muttering carried just now. He finds that either way, it needs addressed immediately. He steps to the side, putting himself firmly in the line of sight between Gideon and Zachery, eyes sharply on the latter. He looms somehow even despite their nearly equal height, his stare just as hard as the one being leveled on him.

"I'm sorry," he hisses in an undertone between them. He's not, for the record, sorry at all. Annoyed, though? Very. "I thought it was perfectly clear that the weapon I gave you was for your protection, not your suicide."

"If you mean to make an embarrassment out of yourself and out of me, do it by making your way back to the truck, Miller." If he even remembered the way back properly, in this unmarked, hilly wood. Ace bares his teeth momentarily in that dare. "Otherwise walk on, stay behind me, and don't even think so much as another smart comment in my patron's direction."

"If you want legs to walk home with, you will heed me on this," he warns severely. "Gideon d'Sarthe is not a man to be fucked with, and goodwill from me vanishes each second you pout because you're a little surprised the opportunity I've brought you doesn't look quite the way you thought it would."

Scolding apparently finished, he straightens. "If he tires of your charm…" If that happens, Ace won't stand in his way. If that happens, Zachery may not go home. And for what?

Rather than waste time saying as much, he juts his chin forward on the path they'll take down the hill. He waits only a beat. "Which direction are you walking, Miller?"

Slowly, once again, Zachery's hands move - this time until they're up by his shoulders, palms forward. It's a mismatch for the defiance that remains in the rest of his posture.

"Sorry," the word leaves him also, for the record, with no hint of apology, "For pissing over your fun spot of surprise murder. At this point, I genuinely can't tell what part of this is brain damage and what part of is abject absurdity. So."

Though he continues to stand just as he was, he does aim just a dart of a glance in Gideon's direction, before— deciding not to lean into this act any further, finally. "Let's stop trying. Lead the way."

The tension bracing Ace's shoulders relaxes several degrees, and he lets out a long sigh from his nose. Good. Good, they'll be fine now, perhaps. "Remind me to follow up on that little brain damage comment you keep making once we're back on the road. You know, somewhere amidst the release of pent-up complaining."

They'll have several hours of a drive back for that, at least.

He leads, but stubbornly refuses this time to let Zachery lag behind. With a touch of a frown, he glances to the man at his side, more appraising than he has been this entire morning. "Do you actually have an idea how to handle yourself with a gun?" Ace asks quietly, no snappish edge. For once. For now. "Can I trust you to shoot at the right people when we get to the bottom of this hill?"

A beat passes, during which a pop of gunfire erupts around the other side of the hill, in the direction Fanner went.

"It's very cathartic, you know. Killing." Tongue in cheek, he takes in a breath, supposing, "But if you opt for a self-defense only route, I won't blame you for that, either."

Zachery keeps up, this time, his steps less careful than they should be, but motivation carrying him forward all the same. Maybe it's the eagerness for getting to said point of complaining, even if his expression's sunk to nothing short of grim. "I don't think catharsis couldn't reach me if it came up and asked me for directions," he answers only once the gunfire starts.

Only way out is through, now.

"As for being able to handle a weapon—" He looks down to the gun he's slipped out of its holster, then back to Ace, wry smirk as he lifts the weapon and all. "Time to find out."

If Ace finds that particularly encouraging, he doesn't show it. His humor is vanishing, butt of his rifle raised to his shoulder as they reach the bottom of the slope. He looks back over his shoulder to see the progress d'Sarthe makes in comparison, holding until him and the other man join them.

Whether or not Ace's benefactor pays much heed to the heat exchanged between the two remains to be seen; at the very least, Gideon seems outside of earshot while they bicker amongst themselves. Which, good, that is excellent. It takes the effort back to Callahan.

The pop of gunfire in the distance puts Gideon and his man on higher alert than before; the latter unclips a nastier looking rifle than one for hunting game. Or, rather, the greatest game. Gideon levels his own ahead of him at the ground, quiet as they come up on the next stop. The camp below is closer now, comparatively. More clearly in sight, however, are the trucks and the backs of the shelters.

Wordlessly, d'Sarthe tugs a tucked pair of small binoculars from around his neck, casting Ace a look of readiness before taking a closer look for himself.

From the back of the site, windows into one of the buildings reveal a trio of men around a table, in the midst of getting up to grab their coats. A man standing on the porch points into the trees, while the man who'd initially been standing guard has abandoned his fallen comrade and is now shooting into them. They caught sight of Fanner, unless there's someone else out in these woods.

But at least they're not surging out just yet. They don't feel they have the right numbers.

Yet. But that'll take only moments now.

Ace lifts his rifle to his shoulder and levels it down the way at the man on the porch. The one firing, they don't have a clear line of sight on through the vehicles parked. "Miller, be ready to go behind that building and keep to the trees," he suggests with warmth of all things.

"Covering fire on your count, Mr. d'Sarthe," Ace announces his ready.

"Nah." Zachery's response comes barely audible, from further away than it should be.

He is not, notably, where he ought to be. While the gunfire in a different direction has kept rapt attention, he has kept walking, his budget of fucks now officially diminished to a number starting with the same letter as his own first name. His steps have been careful and unhurried, and the gun at his side, when he lifts it, is already trained on the man otherwise obscured behind the vehicles.

The only thing he calls back just shy of when the gun recoils in his hand is, "Think fast!"

The words carry far more pep than is on his face, his teeth bared with a sneer. He needs no help to know where to shoot - inexperience leads him to aim for a larger target than the head, but that does not mean he doesn't point the gun with a specific purpose — preferably, to take out a lung or two.

Shooting somewhere into the trees gets them nowhere; Fanner does draw the fire downhill, but in a few moments, so will Zachery.

One hand lifted in Ace's peripheral vision, the old man's grip becomes single-handed; only when the man is far enough from him does Gideon angle his head from the sights to catch his independent path; he says nothing and doesn't interrupt, instead waiting and listening. Judging a man over meeting him for such a short time is difficult, but he has met Zachery's kind before.

What kind that is… well, who knows for sure.

Between the rapport of Fanner's own gun and Zach's, two different barks, Gideon d'Sarthe tenses but a moment before signaling a two-fingered gesture for Ace to fire; in the shadow of the silent command, Gideon raises his own rifle back to sights.

"Jesus," Ace breathes out in a murmur when Zachery passes through his sights and keeps on moving. His eyes flick up for just a moment before he quickly resumes his own position, aiming for the man on the porch. He holds. He holds.

How the fuck these morons don't hear Zachery's steps on the gravel is fucking beyond him.

"For the record, when I said I thought this one was dying to live a little…" Ace prefaces everything that happens next, seeing already this is like to pan out poorly.

People act to surprise in different ways. Some people jump. Some people freeze. Some people slack. When Zachery ambles close enough that his depth perception deficit is no longer an issue, then shouts out like that while standing between two parked vehicles, the guard who's firing into the trees has enough time to turn and make himself a broader target before Zachery fires into his chest.

The time between Gideon's signal and Ace's reaction is so little it may as well be non-existent. The moment Zachery lifted his gun was when Ace stopped his own breath, the sound of Zachery's explosive greeting a starting gun for him to pull the trigger on his own shot.

But people act to surprise in different ways, and Ace Callahan isn't a precognitive. He's not even a great judge of character, and this is one such moment that makes itself prevalent.

He expects that the man on the porch will take a startled step back at the sound of the gunshot, and it's there he aims. When his own rifle cracks and fires, the man hears it fly past his ear and pierce the wood of the cabin as he's stepped to the side as a way of getting 'back' from the shock of the report from Zachery's borrowed revolver. A startled half of an expletive makes its way from him. He doesn't know where he's being shot from.

But he sure as fuck sees Zachery now.

The man raises his gun, points it at him. "You f—!"

That's as far as he gets before Ace's second shot pierces his temple; sends blood and brain matter flying from the other side of his head when it opens up from the concussive force it's been struck with. If there's any thoughts still left in his head, they thankfully aren't ones that cause him to fire, even instinctively. The man falls over in front of the cabin door, not dead, but certainly not useful anymore.

Ace lifts his head, taking his eyes off his scope to shout, "Take cover, you fucking imbecile!" down the range at the man he promised to take home in one piece.


With the momentum of refusing to back down carrying him forward, Zachery continues toward the man he's already shot, lowering the gun— but not all the way.

On the next overly determined footfall, the revolver is fired again, this time at the guard's legs. Really anywhere in the vicinity will do, he's only barely looking - it's only a distraction so he can keep rushing forward and do as he's told. That being apparently slipping behind the man he's already injured and wrapping both arms around him, aiming to keep him up and hostage in the process.

"… TERRIBLY SORRY!" He calls out, cinching the guard tight with the gun still in his hand, resting between them, revolver's barrel poking unceremoniously into the other man's cheek. The view of brainsplatter comes into focus, but only adds to the sing-song quality of the enthusiastically posited question that comes next. "BUT WHO DID YOU SAY THESE PEOPLE WERE?"

"Well, Callahan, I can definitely call him bold." It's an understatement, given the nature of the sudden shoot'em up. "Manners could use some work." Gideon doesn't give another signal, Ace knows what to do. The man drawing fire downhill sounds like he is making his way up, given the sound of firing and the pop of tire treads.

Ace lets out a quiet laugh at the joke made, swiveling his view back toward the house. Just where were the other bodies needing shot?

With the second man at his side, Gideon huffs before growling his way out of the treeline. This whole trip was a message in itself, and his revealed presence for such a thing indicates his need for a much higher, much more personal priority.

Whatever his experience is, Gideon d'Sarthe still knows how to insert himself into a battlefield. Contrasting starkly with the smiles and suits of a business office, the heft of the rifle in his hands makes it seem weightless. Yet— he's no Ace Callahan, and though he is able to pepper the wake of a man's feet, it's Zachery that pulls his attention away and has him clipping instead of hitting.

"It doesn't matter," Malice is missing— just irritation. "Finish it."

A shot flies wide of Gideon d'Sarthe when he comes almost leisurely up on the fallen soldier he's clipped; cover from Ace and his right hand in particular keep him focused as a boot comes down on wrist, gun releasing under the crack of tiny bones.

"Did you all have fun? Was it worth it?" Zachery may find something weirdly comforting about the way Gideon's laugh barks deeply out of his chest, voice raised. "Was it—" Boot grinds, pulls away. He leans in to grab the back of the man's neck, throwing him like a ragdoll into one of the trucks. "Worth it?!"

As the truck rocks, the impact leaves a massive dent, and a broken man on the grass. One gets the feeling it was not, in fact, worth it.

Ace offers up no additional explanation as to why they're here. Even if he were the patron of this excursion, he likely wouldn't. The attempt to fire on Gideon brings his attention about to a shooter potshotting from one of the cabin's windows, and he returns fire, bringing them to take cover.

He aims right of the window where the figure moved to, and fires again into the wall.

The man Gideon tossed doesn't move once he hits the ground. The one under Zachery's arm, though… well, he wasn't smart to begin with. Leg down, left arm down, but he's got the right, and he starts to struggle. "Y-you son of a bitch…" He takes in a breath that sputters and gasps. "The hell'd you even come fr…"

He groans and weakly attempts to elbow back into Zachery's side. The truck they're pulled behind pings with bullets from a shooter behind the opened door of the house. The valley is singing with gunfire, and more of it comes from the hillside as fire is returned on the house from that direction.

Ace does the math; both of his remaining shots and the men remaining standing. "This can't be all of them," he notes quietly, eyes still fixed for signs of his window shooter— if the man was still alive on the other side at all.

There isn't much movement from Zachery from where he stands while watching Gideon draw nearer, craning his neck to see past the head of the struggling man he's holding in place, the way one might watch an oncoming car that they're not quite sure will stop before they can make it to the other side of the street they're already walking across.

Only once the stray elbow grazes his ribs does he draw breath again, inhaling sharply and leaning forward to say, "Shh," before he pulls one of his own arms back and pulls his prize abruptly onto the ground beside him. "It's safer down there." With the guns and all.

As such, he almost immediately lowers himself down there too! Sinking halfway down with his knee crashing into the other man's sternum, most of his weight distributed on a single point. He doesn't need his ability to know how much this hurts - as much as he'd like to have that particular insight.

The pistol he was holding is shoved back into its holster with equal parts gracelessness and haste, and he lifts both of his hands in front of him, fingers of one hand brushing the others. He frowns, as if his previous question being left unanswered leaves him genuinely clueless as to who he's even looking at. "Now, I know I was told, but I just…" He slowly shakes his head, words barely carrying with the sound of bullets sent flying - but just as he peels the wedding ring from his left hand and slips it into a coat pocket, memories fall back into place and his eyebrows pop up. "Oh! Yes," he suddenly says, "I remember."

His grin promptly widens, as if in relief, but still none of it finds the top half of his face. This addendum, too, is matter-of-fact: "Filth." Finally, he bends forward again, grabbing a handful of fabric before he begins to wail on the face below, fist thrown heavy and hard. Once, twice, thrice, with no sign of stopping.

Finish it, like a video game mantra.

The cover Gideon takes is the shadow of the truck he'd moments ago put a giant dent into. The man at his feet only makes faint noises, an internal struggle to not only breathe— but recover, to no avail. Tossed like a rodeo clown.

The click of a short range radio is tinny at d'Sarthe's broad shoulder; he speaks into it, one hand lifted to depress it. As if he were just talking on the phone. No big deal. "«Do me a favor, send the truck up, would you? We'll be needing the bed space. Trunks stain.»"

It's important to dictate this, of course.

"Oh, shut up." Wheezing at Gideon's feet stops sharply as he brings his boot down on the soldier's neck.

"As fun as this has been," Remaining behind the cover of the vehicle, machinations are hidden from the house and in view for Zachery. "I think that I've made a point. Sometimes you have to do things for yourself."

And sometimes… the thrill of it. He doesn't get out like he used to. Gideon slides something from the inside of his vest, considering it for a few seconds before stepping out and pitching it through the open door of the house; it hits hard, wherever it lands, the envy of a Major Leaguer.

The light comes first, then the pop, the rumble, the breaking of glass and the sudden coating of accelerated flame.

"I should have brought something for the campfire. Don't you think, Miller?"

"… Doctor Miller," Zachery interjects between blows, guttural with strain but enunciation crisp despite. "Thank you."

A scream erupts from within the house, wordless and panicked. Whatever has caught in there caught on one of the shooters too. "Fuck. Fuck!" And there's the other, apparently still alive. Ace narrows his eyes at that, but lifts his rifle. They're going to be occupied for a moment.

It gives him a moment to look down the drive. He begins to frown. "Not just going to leave the bodies here?" Ace questions, more out of a tactical sense than any balking. Surely there was a reason. He smirches his tongue off the back of his teeth. "So long as the rest of them don't show back up while we're loading them up…"

The groaning, painfully pinned man underneath Zachery has been attempting to fight back, refusing to give up the ghost easily. Sense is knocked out of him in the first trio of punches, though, and they don't stop there. Ace has half a mind to warn him about damaging his hand, but far be it from him to keep a man from ending a man Zachery has gone into a frenzy over. He'll not ruin the moment, the sound of fragile cartilage being beaten in on the guard's face, fragments of bone splintering where they shouldn't. Blood coats Zachery's hand, and it's not his own.

Ace and Gideon in the meanwhile can hear the sound of glass breaking on the side of the house— an escape attempt in progress.

"Let one runner go with the message?" Ace wonders delicately. He'd relish one last opportunity at a long-range shot. The runner didn't need to make quick progress.

After one more switch of hands, punching with his left, now, the rate of Zachery's assault slows - until he's just holding the collar of a man so damaged he may as well be cold already.

He shoves himself back to his feet, blinking as if momentarily off balance, before squaring his shoulders and taking a deep breath. With the blood still dripping from his hands, he squares back his shoulders. Standing steady again. Better.

Then he, too, looks to Gideon, his grin gone but the look he levels over focused for the first time since he left home this morning.

"«No,»" Gideon d'Sarthe stands in the light of his arson, sounding strangely satisfied. "«And we're only taking one with us. It will do.»" Blue eyes raise up towards Zachery, entertaining a detail.

"Finished, Doctor Miller?" The older man corrects himself openly, rifle held down at his side, wrist turning to check the time. "God, I wish I got out more. I'll have to thank Mr. Callahan properly later, for the suggestion…" An interesting way to handle something, to say the least.

"Bracing." Waiting for the last windows to break and the flames to start licking out of them, Gideon looks the part of a man loving a campfire, one hand on his hip and shoulders back as though he could get jovial at any time. Unbothered by the world around him. "Marvelous."

The moment it was clear the runners weren't permitted to live, Ace had floated off out of cover. His shadow faded from the ground, rifle still held to chest as he moved to provide a better angle. Now, standing apart from the house, he waits for the man in the process of climbing from the window to throw himself over the sill. Light hits him strangely, none of it catching on him in a way it should. He's visible, just…

His shadow casts behind him again a flicker of a moment before he opens fire. The man trying to climb from the window falls, unmoving.

The man Zachery releases to the ground likewise hits the ground, unmoving, unbreathing.

Truck wheels rolling up the road can barely be heard over the sound of the growing fire. The single man trapped inside begins cursing loudly, bemoaning his state. Then it shifts to pleading. The shout of a surrender as the fire spreads inside a house he either cannot or does not leave.

Ace lets out a faint laugh at that as he reapproaches Gideon's side, getting a proper look at Zachery as he comes back to his feet. The sight of him brings his good mood back entirely, grinning a flash of knowing canine. "There's the man I was hoping to see today… welcome back to the land of the living." He turns back to Gideon, head dipping. "I'm glad the opportunity I saw here was as … satisfying for you as it has been for me."

"I feel like we all learned something here today." His eyes lift to the flagpole next to the house, the one on which a white flag with the words Human is FIRST emblazoned in black paint lists impotently in the wind.

Zachery may as well not have noticed the fire. He doesn't respond to the sound of it, nor to the cries of desperation that are born from it. He just stands, bloodied fingers twitching inward.

Is he finished, though? A corner of his mouth twitches outward, but the question hangs unanswered while reality catches back up with him. In the wake of it, he turns his stare to Ace, expression twisting momentarily into a scowl after the other man's attention is turned upward.

By the time he lifts a hand to shove some errant strands of hair back - leaving a streak of red on his forehead as his fingers disappear into his hairline - his face is already forced into a tight-jawed semblance of neutral again. "Close enough," he grates, looking back toward where they came from, "for now."

"You know me. Just keeping the land clean." I'm a conservationist echoes back when Gideon turns his back on the fire and the limp flag above the flames, raising a hand to the approach of the truck and running a hand over its hood as it comes to a brake.

"Good to hear it." is the gravelly voice Zachery hears as d'Sarthe rounds the truck bed to open up the latches one by one, the hard cover windowless. The bubble around Zachery is broken with a whisper as Gideon approaches and grabs the lifeless frame nearby, the man now without much of a face. "Looks like you needed it as much as me." Amusement, a laugh, the crease of blue eyes that wouldn't be out of place on a Christmas card.

The rest is silent, as Gideon picks up the body by the belt and coat, delivering it right into the open truck with a grunt. "One is enough to make a point. The rest can stay. I'll send someone later as a firewatch." He raises a brow towards the crumbling roof of the building behind them. "Because there is always an ember or two to snuff out."

Firewatch is probably another thing on this little adventure that had a double-entendre meaning, just like hunting trip had.

Regardless, Ace looks back over his shoulder at the truck, airing for anyone happening to listen, "With the fire already burning further south… I'd love to say one more wouldn't go amiss, but—" He clicks his tongue. He knows better. He takes a moment to finally appreciate the burning house for himself, taking in the sight of it to get his fill of satisfaction before looking back to Zachery again.

"I believe this is our exit," he notes to the other man, then nods his head off in the direction they came from. Then he looks back to Gideon, one hand raised. "Safe travels."

There's a twitch from Zachery as Gideon passes him, neither toward or away, before he steps back and watches the body with annoyance hardening his expression again. He opens his mouth, looking distinctly on the brink of an objection when Ace brings up their departure, and his shoulders sink.

Only when he turns to begin walking does he look toward the fire, gaze lingering as if in confusion - but owing to his growing determination to leave, he does not stop, muttering while leaving the site, "It's been a pleasure, good friend Gideon."

The bang of the bed hatch and lid punctuates Ace's words, and Gideon remains there, one hand on the edge of the truck, the other at his hip while he watches Zachery move after Ace— his chaperone, more or less. Judgement on Callahan's choices stays until later, when Gideon eventually decides how to feel about this one.

"Good to have you. Fresh air does wonders." His low voice takes on a significantly more amused tone, a sharp toothed smile lingering in the light and the sounds of cracking timber.

"May we meet again, then."

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