Episode 9 – Shared Burdens

Episode 9 – Shared Burdens

The fire crackles softly, casting flickering shadows on the makeshift camp. Rania sits close to the flames, her eyes scanning the surrounding darkness. She feels the weight of the day’s journey settling into her bones, but her mind remains sharp, ever alert for danger.

Cael tends to the fire, adding a few more sticks to keep it alive. Mireya, wrapped in a blanket, sits on the other side near the kitten, her wide eyes reflecting the firelight.

The camp is set by a quiet river, the gentle sound of flowing water providing a soothing backdrop to the crackling fire. The sky was clear, stars twinkling like distant beacons of hope. Despite the tranquility of the setting, Rania remains vigilant.

Rania opens a can of beans they found earlier, passing it to Cael. “Here, eat,” she says, her voice soft but firm. “We need to keep our strength up.”

Cael takes the can with a nod, using a makeshift spoon to scoop out the contents. He hands it to Mireya after taking a few bites. “Your turn,” he whispers.

Mireya accepts the can, her movements careful. She eats slowly, savoring each bite as if it were a rare delicacy. The sight tugs at Rania’s heart, a reminder of the innocence lost in this harsh world. The kitten sniffs at the can, curious but content to stay close to Mireya.

After a brief pause, Mireya asks, “Cael, could you tell us a little about yourself?” Her voice is small, hesitant, but curious.

Cael looks into the fire, his expression contemplative. “I had a younger brother. His name was Liam. We were close, did everything together. After the outbreak, we tried to stick together, but…”

He pauses, taking a deep breath. “Liam didn’t make it. I lost him early on, and it’s something that haunts me every day.”

The silence that follows is heavy, filled with unspoken emotions. Rania watches Cael, seeing the pain in his eyes. She knows that loss all too well.

“I’m sorry,” Mireya says quietly, her eyes downcast. “My family is gone as well.” The kitten nuzzles her hand, offering a slight comfort.

Rania shifts, feeling the need to share something of herself, to bridge the gap between them. “I was in the military before all this,” she begins. “I had a team, people I trusted with my life. We were on a mission when the outbreak hit. Everything went to hell so fast. I tried to save them, but…”

She swallows hard, the memories flooding back. “I lost my team, my friends, and my family. I carry their loss with me every day.”

Mireya looks up, her eyes filled with understanding and empathy. “You saved me,” she says softly. “You saved us.” The kitten purrs quietly beside her.

Rania offers a small, sad smile. “I did, and I’ll do my best to keep everyone safe.”

They sit in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. The fire crackles and pops, the sound a comforting reminder of their temporary safety.

“Do you ever think about what you’d do if things went back to normal?” Cael asks suddenly, his gaze shifting from the fire to Rania.

Rania considers the question, her mind drifting to the life she once had. “I used to have plans,” she says slowly. “A career in the military, maybe a family one day. But now… I don’t know. I guess I’d just want a chance to rebuild, to help others do the same.”

Cael nods, his expression thoughtful. “I used to be a combat medic in the Army. If things ever go back to normal, I’d like to use my skills to help people again, maybe even open a clinic.”

Rania recognizes the sorrow in his voice, prompting her to ask, “You were a combat medic?”

“Yeah,” Cael replies, his eyes distant. “I saved a lot of lives, but there was this one mission… I got hurt badly. My heart stopped. They revived me, but I had to adapt to not being able to do as much as I once could.”

Rania feels a pang of sympathy. “That must have been hard.”

“It was,” Cael admits. “But I’ve learned to adapt. And being here, with you and Mireya, it gives me a sense of purpose again.”

Mireya looks between them. “I don’t remember much about the world before,” she admits. “But I’d like to see a world where we don’t have to be afraid all the time. A world where we can just be happy.” The kitten snuggles close, a tiny source of warmth.

Rania reaches out, placing a hand on Mireya’s shoulder. “We’ll do our best to make that world a reality,” she promises. “We’ll keep fighting for it.”

The fire burns lower, casting long shadows around them. The conversation drifts, touching on lighter topics, memories of happier times. Laughter mingles with the crackling of the fire, a rare and precious sound in their bleak reality.

With each passing hour, Rania feels a stronger connection forming between them. They are not just a group of survivors thrown together by circumstance; they are becoming a family. The shared burdens, the stories of loss and hope, bind them together in a way that goes beyond mere survival.

“Thank you,” Cael says quietly, breaking the comfortable silence. “For sharing your stories. It means a lot.”

Rania nods, her heart feeling lighter despite the weight of their shared pasts. “We’re in this together,” she says simply. “We have to be.”

Mireya yawns, her eyelids drooping. “I’m tired,” she says, snuggling deeper into her blanket. The kitten follows suit, curling up against her side.

Rania smiles, brushing a strand of hair from Mireya’s face. “Get some rest, sweetheart. We’ll keep watch.”

Mireya nods, her eyes closing as she drifts off to sleep. Rania and Cael sit in companionable silence, watching the fire burn down to embers.

“I’m glad we found each other,” Cael says softly, his gaze on the sleeping child and the kitten. “It makes it easier to face this world.”

Rania feels a warmth spreading through her chest. “Me too.”

As the night wears on, Rania and Cael take turns keeping watch. The darkness is filled with the sounds of the forest, the gentle rustle of leaves, and the distant calls of nocturnal animals. But for now, at this moment, they feel a rare sense of peace.