Van Ry drove the hummer till they only had about an hour of sunlight left. After stopping it, he did an inventory of stuff in the back of the hummer. He didn’t find much. While he fiddled with that, Kat wandered around the scrub, gathering sticks to build a fire. He already felt the night’s cold climbing through his coat. Kat didn’t feel good in the cold. He felt strongly motivated to get a fire started.
A rustling in the brambles halted him. The sound came from behind him—to his right—and low to the ground. He recognized the kind of sound in after a few breaths. Making no slow preparatory movements, he nonetheless prepared to make a move.
In a swift spin, he made two moves: he dropped his armload of wood, and he drew and threw a knife from its hiding place under his coat. The wood clattered to the ground. The knife flicked through the air—a tinkle and a pale glint in the gloaming light.
Van Ry watched a small battle. Urgent to almost a frenzy, but with the sureness of easy familiarity with the tools and techniques, Kat built a fire. By the set of his jaw, he looked like it was a conflict for his life. Van Ry left him to it, although he laid himself out in the dirt nearby and watched, leaning on his elbow.
Soon, flames flickered among the sticks in front of Kat. In a deliberate movement, like a gesture of supplication, Kat touched his fingers—just blackened by new soot—to his lips. He glanced up at Van Ry as he did. Kat looked mildly surprised and mildly irritated. Possible comments about Van Ry learning some manners efficiently prevented each other from escaping Kat’s mouth. While his mind hopped around, Kat drew a dead rabbit with a shattered head from his side to the dirt in front of himself.
“Good lord!” Van Ry said. “What did you do to that rabbit?”
“Knife to the head,” Kat said. He took out one of his knives and started skinning and cleaning the rabbit.
“You snuck up on a rabbit and stabbed it?” Van Ry said, and after a half second of considering it changed his thought about it. “No, that doesn’t make sense.”
With an arched eyebrow and an ember spark deep in his red-on-black eye, Kat glanced at Van Ry again. Instead of snapping one of the several things on his mind, Kat coughed. Probably for the best. The things he thought he might say all sounded a bit useless. He did say something, in the end. “I won’t eat all of this. You can have some.”
“Um…thanks,” Van Ry said, his tone very nearly inquisitive. For a few minutes he watched Kat’s deft little movements. Kat’s long fingers and sharp knife soon had the rabbit’s skin neatly removed. He got the internal organs out and into a neat pile on a flat rock. With a bit of string from some pocket somewhere on his outfit, Kat tied the rabbit to a longer stick. Leaning the rabbit-on-a-stick against another rock, he started it roasting.
“You do this a lot,” Van Ry said.
“I spent a while out here by myself,” Kat said. “Mostly by myself.”
“Hmm,” Van Ry watched the juices sizzling off the rabbit into the fire for a while. “Is that is?” He asked. Kat looked—glared, really—at Van Ry. “It’ll be a bit bland, is all. Don’t you…I mean, you seem like the type who’d give a shit about flavor.”
Kat coughed again. A few thoughts occurred to him—a few ways to respond. Before he thoroughly thought it through, he said, “Festal luxuries arrive at festal times.”
It made Van Ry laugh. Kat scratched the back of his neck, frowning, feeling the heat rise up his face. Van Ry wouldn’t be able to see it in the fire-flicker and thickening gloam. That was a comfort.
Without saying anything else, though humming a tune Kat didn’t recognize, Van Ry got to his feet. He sniffed around a little bit, then reached down among some of the bristly plants of the desert. After plucking something from the ground, he returned to the fire, rubbing his palms together. At the fireside, he sprinkled the leaves in his hands over the rabbit, rubbing the last flakes in the moist sides of the meat. The few flakes that crinkled into the flames puffed into little tales of smoke that smelled acridly of pepper and distantly of rain.
“Festal wild sage,” Van Ry said through a smirk. He went back to his patch of ground and laid himself out again, watching the stars blink on one after the other.
Kat kept an eye on the cooking of the rabbit. He decided that he would never mention that the peppery, rainy smell quite improved the oily, gamy smell of the rabbit. Rabbit had been growing boring lately.