I could hear footsteps approaching in the distance, but I couldn't bring myself to leave his side. Were it me, my present self, I still wouldn't have left. I felt his stuttered, unconscious breaths on the tips of my right ear in between the beats of his heart echoing in my fingers and prayed that they didn't stop.
The footsteps came nearer, and I clutched his shoulders tighter, closing my eyes to hear him better.
The footsteps stopped, and a man yelled out to me with an commanding tone, but Kip's breaths were louder in my ear than anything I could have heard in that moment. The man called once more, some sentence with words I didn't understand. There was a brief pause while he waited to see if I would move, but I didn't. The silence was cut by the sound of a gun rising, and more words, louder words.
I realized then that I couldn't protect Kip if I died here, so I opened my eyes and stared at the stranger with the gun pointed at me. He had rough skin, and a large leather hat covering his head and ears. His eyes were not afraid, not angry. Instead they were resolutely absent, the eyes of a man who had given up being happy long ago. He had a partner; too young to be a spouse, too old for a daughter. She had a similar hat, and a long, thin spear that was taller than she was. I knew my words would only do harm, so I looked into her eyes, and spoke in that silent language that animals and children use.
She turned to the man, and beckoned, "Apo..."
He ignored her, and kept his eyes fixed on me. She approached me, remaining suspicious. With just a little bit of effort, she grasped my arm fully, and pulled hard, but I struggled, intent on staying with Kip. She pulled back, this time much harder, and hurled me off of him. I let out a cry of longing and fear, and she quickly gathered my arms together behind me, and lifted me up to stand. She yelled a command to the other man, and suddenly we were walking back where they came from. I turned to look back at Kip, and she pulled my shoulder to keep looking ahead. My arms and legs, my inner fight had turned off. My eyes were burned with salt, and my skin red with the cold. I could still feel the heat from Kip's breaths on my right ear, and for a second almost believed I could hear them too.