Bosque de Las Almas turkey trot

Set Nov 14th

If he was being honest, it'd been a good while since he last went hunting. Definitely sometime after the bear, but not often, and a good couple years since. Before his move out here. So, he'd had to go through all the licensing and acquiring a habitat stamp. Not a big deal. Also made sure his gun was clean, up to snuff, had the right ammo, all that jazz. That wasn't new to him. His dad had made sure to teach him pretty much everything a young boy could ever need to know about bird hunting. Turkey, quails, ducks... some stuff were faded relics, but most lessons were crystalized in his memory as good times with his father.

As promised, he picked Maxine up around noon. And as promised, she had the right things for camping, while he had the right things for hunting. Camo for both of them, earplugs and glasses, gloves, and caps. Things to change into once they got where they were going. And, just to be sure, he'd brought some extra camping supplies in case something went wrong, but it was only a night and they weren't exactly traveling far from home.

Las Almas felt different to the last time he'd trekked this way. Heavier, unmistakably claimed. Had to be Pete, someone he regrettably didn't talk to as much as he should. Though... maybe it was for the best that they didn't damage one other's brain functions on a regular basis. Still, he made a note to try and sniff her out another time. Lost cell service before he could think to text her about their staying out overnight.

It was easy to forget things with Maxine. He had to remind himself on a number of occasions as they drove up through the frosted forest that they were there to hunt for the impending gathering. Which, he was glad to have heard Asha and Abraham were planning on coming to. Made him nervous, just a bit. An unsure step onto a frozen lake, not sure how thick the ice was.

So, naturally, as they unloaded their supplies and got started on making a home out of their little patch of wilderness for the day, he struck the question, "Did the jags seem... I dunno. Seem like they just felt like they had to say yes?" Look at him, worrying so much about it. But, hey, could he be blamed for wanting something to go right? It'd been good, the dynamic they'd all had a couple years ago. It'd all crumbled, but he could see it reforming. Getting stronger, maybe. Would just be good, he figured, to have friends like that. Another couple. Or... yeah. That.



Outfit with a windbreaker jacket thing

It was nice to be back in the woods with Cliff, a place that’d been a backdrop to their growth years ago. Nice to smell the timber and evergreens through the chilly elevated air, things which had once coated her work uniform, car. Her house. Smells which had once been a constant, not the sweat and grime she came home with these days. It was nice to be heading out with him on terms which weren’t confusing, which she wasn’t letting herself overanalyse. Which she was just letting be.

Less nice, was the little bit of wind which had started to pick up. Thankfully the trees shielded them from most of it, but the tent she was getting to work on definitely had some give until she got it staked down. Which she hadn’t got to doing yet, but she was working towards!

When he spoke, Maxine’s eyes picked up to glance attentively at him. And immediately, she chuckled in good spirits. Looked back down as she crouched over the tent.

Whatever uncertainty Cliff had, Abraham had too. It was grounding to bear witness to, even if it was sort’ve sad at the same time. Saddening that it’d even transpired, saddening that she hadn’t been there to support him. But there was strength in rebuilding, just look at them. They hadn’t set each other on fire... yet! ”Asha was squealing delight about being invited,” Maxine reassured him lowly, and that was her honest interpretation. ”And Abraham couldn’t believe it. In a good way.”
Squealing! He glanced at her as he poked around the remnants of an old fire, left behind by another at some point who considered this spot as good a camping space as they did. He'd need to get wood, but he had a tinder box and a lighter, so he wasn't much worried about it. Also had a whole cooking kit in his bag, along with a cooler that contained weenies and hotdog supplies. Food important. Anyway.

"Couldn't believe it... huh." He doubted it was in the way that you can't believe you're going to see your favorite band play, probably more like... couldn't believe that the ask was genuine and not just something orchestrated by the girls. Still, he trusted Maxine in what she said. They were genuinely excited. "Good to hear." He said with a nod, straightening up as he dusted his hands, "Just, ah, hope it's not uncomfortable for anyone. Friendsgiving's sorta a new concept. Always just been a family thing."
A little bit of awkwardness felt inevitable at any given gathering, so she hadn’t put much thought into it. Maybe... well.

“No one’s coming alone,” Maxine pointed out gently, and it was mostly true! “So...” Moved onto the tent poles, glancing at him again. She didn’t want to say the wrong thing. “I mean. I don’t reckon you’ve got much to worry about on that front.”
No one was coming alone, that was true. Yeah, there was some mingling of some that didn't know one another, but everyone would have someone there that was familiar to them. It would be good. No reason to worry so much. Cliff huffed out a small laugh at his own expense, nodding, "You're right. Dunno why I'm worried." He reassured himself. Moving toward her, he made to help her in the tent building front. "Glad you're helping me get it together."
She was glad, too. Always glad to be thought of in the small ways.

”You’re worried because you care, probably,” Maxine answered for him. And chuckled lightheartedly alongside him, taking his help as she fit the tent poles and stood up.
"Me?" He scoffed playfully, scrunching his nose as he looked at her skeptically. "Naaah. I don't care about anything." He countered. Except, you know, he couldn't say that without a smirk. "Except... pretty much everything." He added after a beat. He was actually learning that he probably cared too much about some things! Neat!
Playfulness and skepticism from him. It warranted a look of charmed interest on her behalf. ”Really?” Maxine followed with, tone bright but also... treading! She didn’t know much about the way his thoughts worked. Not really, if she was being honest. And it showed here—at least to her.

”You spend a lot of time thinking about things?”
He looked from her to the tent pole in his hand, snapping it into a bendable piece so that he could stick it through the eyelet on one corner of the tent beside the pegs they'd driven into the ground. The question wasn't entire expected, and he found himself not quite sure how to answer. "Ah, I mean..." He said with a shrug, "I try to think things through. Or if I don't then I end up overthinking after the fact." It was weird to put into words, the way his brain worked, but he didn't feel shy about trying to articulate it to Maxine. Even if he sounded stupid.
Eyes met his, landing on his shoulders as he shrugged. Hmm. ”I think I’m... the opposite,” Maxine told him with a chuckle which turned pensive. Not bad though. ”Or, I don’t know. I feel like I don’t think the things that matter through, but think the things that don’t matter through. So sometimes when you or someone say things they catch me by surprise because it’s like... well. Didn’t even let it cross my mind.”

Like you know! Feelings!
His turn to listen, and he nodded along as she explained. He felt like she did a better job of it than he did. Though, she was sort of harsh on herself about it. "I think its relative. What matters and what doesn't. How much something should be thought through." He moved on to fixing the pole onto the other side of the tent, erecting the front part of the tent's frame. "You think its something that both of us should try and change?"
Cliff was right, of course. But it was borderline ironic that she had a nail-biting tendency to overthink something trivial like reaching out to folks in fear of bothering them, but when it came to flinging herself into the hands of death for them, she knew she... wouldn’t think twice?

Standing as he finished his side up, Maxine let her arms hang by her side. Her shoulders felt loose and heavy. Relaxed, in a way they usually weren’t. She thought about his question as she stood there, uncharacteristically idle because she was distantly admiring him poke poles into the tent or something equally stupid. Woman thoughts.

“Not unless it’s being a problem for you. I’ve always liked you the way you are,” she pointed out without much pause, sure of it, while her face just spoke the truth.
He was aware of being watched, slightly unsure if he should stop and offer her his full attention as they spoke. In the end, he finished what he was doing as she settled on her proclamation. Don’t change if it wasn’t a problem. He didn’t think it was one, necessarily. Just another part of him, which she decided she liked.

Smiling softly at that, he straightened up from his task and placed his hands at his hips, ”Well,” He exhaled through a curve in his lips, the cool air catching his voice in white wisps, ”Thats good to hear. Wouldn’t want you on a camping trip with someone you didn’t like.” He teased lightly with a slight squint to one of his eyes, head shaking a bit. ”Pretty fond of how you are, too.” Whatever it was that made up the sum of Maxine, he liked it. Even if it wasn’t quite so pretty. It made her who she was.

With that, he’d move on to getting more of the tent up. At some point, he sought to ask, ”So, camping. You do this a lot with family growing up or was it a later life thing?”
He moved it along, finding value to her words she hadn’t actually realised was there.

Maxine made a small warm noise as he shook his head, her own head softly jerking back just a touch from surprise. Fondness. Well, that was nice of him to say, even if she didn’t know how to let it settle in her head as anything other than a few words of courtesy in exchange for her own. Nice to hear though, anyway. Or his body language was nice, anyway.

By the time he asked his next question, Maxine had come on over with the sleeping pads, pillows, et cetera. It all still smelt a little of jaguar. Jaguar and bear.

”Picked it up when I came to Colorado,” she answered, eyes on the front of the tent. ”Sort’ve came with the old job, even.” Maxine began arranging the gear inside as much as she could, offering a, ”You?” in return.
It was a little surprising. Maxine seemed to be a part of the forest. Just, belonged there. Maybe it was her nature as a bear, but he couldn't imagine her not being an outdoors type her entire life. Though, not camping didn't mean she wasn't always drawn to the outdoors. Her past jobs were a good enough sign that she'd been inclined to it at least most of her life. As for him, "Feels like I slept in a tent more than I ever slept in my own bed." Cliff said in answer, chuckling lightly. An overstatement, but he did camp a lot. "We camped often. Specially to go out hunting. Just a part of our normal routine."
The image that came to life with his first admission brought with it a breathy, impulsive, ”Ha!” as well as a broad grin. ”Who’s we? Yourself and... ?” Maxine didn’t pretend to know. Could be his dad. Could be his whole family. Could be his friends from home.

She was always curious about the life he’d led before coming to Ridgefield, but knew asking for details was a double-edged sword. One she wasn’t sure she’d know how to navigate.

Leaning further in, she threw the pillows to the far end. Please don’t let the tent suddenly collapse and swallow her whole, Cliff. :(
Right, elaborate. Easy to forget that being raised by a single dad wasn't exactly common. "Ah, dad'n me, mostly. Even when all four of us were together, was more a me and him thing." Mom and sister came along a few times, but he and Dad went almost every weekend. For the record, he didn't let the tent collapse :(. In fact, he managed to get the over tarp fitted securely soon after he finished speaking. Ta-da! All done :).
Sounded like good memories. She wondered if his dad would’ve liked her, you know. Just objectively. As a human being. He had to have been a wonderful person himself, to raise the son he had.

Maxine waited until she was back out to respond, not looking to strain her voice. ”Well,” she inhaled, straightening as she looked at him. A finger tugged her pants up by the belt loop. ”Thanks for letting me crash the tradition then.” She smiled softly, meaningfully. ”What did the two of you usually do after getting all this squared away?” A glance to their home base, reviewing it, then back to him.
Was it crashing when he'd invited her? He felt more like it was making a new tradition. He watched her as she straightened herself, taking her in briefly in the fleeting moment between her thanks and her question. He could have kissed her, but the timing was off for that. Instead, he grinned at the prompt for what to do next, delighted at the irony of the answer. "Bear proofed the campsite." He answered matter-of-factly.
Sorry, that made her laugh. She suppressed the abrupt sound but it was still very much there. ”Guess you’re right. They’re not scared of us anymore.” She shifted her gaze up to a nearby tree. Were they going to hang their hunt off it? Or were they hunting tomorrow?

Unsure. Though she knew the guidebook for it, Maxine had never actually hunted and camped.

Anyway, she zipped up the tent. ”You know how I was born in Canada and all that? Place was called Kelowna. Means grizzly bear—I’m not even kidding.”
It felt stupid, having to do it, but in the end it was probably worth it. Maybe natural bears would still smell them, decide not to come closer. Or maybe they'd get pissed for their territory being trespassed on. They'd have to find out.

He went to go gather up food things, considering on if they should eat before or after the hunt. Maybe before, lest the bears decide they wanted to do a bit of hunting on their own. He was going to see what Maxine thought, but paused to listen. He knew about Canada, yes, but had forgotten the name. Kelowna. Grizzly bear. "Huh!" Cliff huffed, eyebrows up, "Man, talk about irony. Or you think its destiny?"
If it was destiny, they’d missed the mark by a fair bit still. ”Irony, probably?” she grinned small. ”Don’t know how much I believe in that other stuff.”
Irony. Cliff agreed there. "Yep," He said as he lugged the ice chest of food from the truck nearby. "Don't think the universe or whatever had much to do with. Still cool, though." He assured. Destiny and karma and fate... it was all sort of hard to fully put much stock in. Things happened, and... yeah. They just happened! And the neat thing about life, was that you got to choose how to react to those things happening, and even make things happen the way you wanted them to. Neat!
If there was more still to go and collect, she’d meet him halfway to take the ice chest.

”’Course it’s cool. I’m the... coooolest,” Maxine affirmed with some city swagger. He’d asked to go camping with a Midwestern lady, alright!! Quirky naïveté and bad jokes were all she had.
"Eesh," He squinted, though maintaining a grin as he headed back to collect the gun case. "You can sleep in that chest, then." Except, that would be sad :(. The thunk of the truck's bed shutting punctuated the end of what was left to collect from it.
Paired with his timing of the handover, the chest felt like it plummeted in her grip. It didn’t, of course, but you know. She’d learned sub par drama feelings from him.

Maxine fixed her gaze on the chest as he went back to the truck, not bothering to walk back until he was walking with her. ”I get warm at night though, so?” she tried to redeem herself as she nodded, inhaling past her teeth.
"Oh, if that's the case." He said with a waggle of his eyebrows, "I think I can make some room." He decided, walking close enough that their shoulders brushed for just a moment, the kodiak snuffling the tiny ears that he loved so much. "Sure you wont melt?"
Maxine was already melting. Maybe not overtly, but inside. Bits and pieces of melting glass sliding through her body like honey.

”Mmm!” she tried to say, but it sounded stiff. Her head went all cosy thanks to the bears. After another moment, and with lips which were fiercely fighting a smile, ”You sure you won’t melt?”
He cast his gaze to the side of her face at that, his smile more obvious. "Maybe. I guess we'll have to find out." He said, and moved to place the gun bag down near the tent for now. And, you know, just casually and totally jokingly, added, "Not too worried, though. I sleep naked."
Easily, she lowered the ice chest wherever he’d set up their little meal area. Tucked her hair behind her ear.

”Right. Course. Guess I should too. Only fair.” And then, jacket still on, she jokingly began to tug her top up solely for the purpose of one upping him.
Whoahwhwhaoahowhaywhoa. Not only was she taking his pitch like a fucking champ, she was committing to just... what! Stripping down!? Cliff laughed, head shaking as he moved to grab at her wrists, "Not sleepy now, are you?" He questioned.
Golden reaction. Maxine obviously... wasn’t going to strip, she was only seeking a reaction, but she did make it about halfway up her midriff before he attained her wrists. She laughed sweetly, apparently feeling loved up as she bumped into him.

Wait... is my king telling me off?” Laughs turned to chuckles as she found his eyes, smiling.
He was looking. Respectfully! But he did glance down at her exposed skin. The accusation was cruel. Because, why would he ever scold her for that? But at the same time, they had things to do today! Glancing back up at her, he laughed through lightly parted lips, "No ma'am, I'm only wondering what you want today's schedule to look like." He countered. Bed time in the middle of the day? Only if she insisted.
Wait, sorry. Jokes aside, it was really... like, well. Maxine had a say? In initiating? Her smile faltered, but it was in the best way possible, expression replaced with something deeper as he lifted his gaze again.

”Reckon I need a clear head for turkey hunting. Might shoot the wrong thing on accident.” If he let her free her hands, she’d run one up the sleeve of his fleece until she had both locked behind his neck. ”But um. You know.” Mmm!
All very sound arguments, he thought. Clear head for shooting. But. Um. He let her wrap around him, his hands instead moving to hold at her waist just beneath where her shirt and jacket had slid back down. "It's a proven fact that naps help clear your mind." He pointed out helpfully.
Such an enabler. :(

”Oh really now?” she grinned, really not even sure what either of them were saying at this point. Just knew that it was good. The addition of his hands had Maxine locking her arms a little more surely around him.

”You still sore?”
Hey! Alright. Okay, he was going with this. No big deal!

Also, the question reminded him of an observation he'd made after the last full moon, that being the fact that... he almost felt entirely back to normal. "Feeling better than I have since July." He answered back, his hands sliding across her skin and locking behind her lower back, holding her closer against him. A gentle sway, but no movement toward any direction just yet.
Feeling better, bit by bit. She took a deep, heavy, breath as he brought her closer against him. A breath always made it feel like there was more room. Not that she needed it, but.

”Could make you feel good. Or we could...” Maxine swayed her own feet towards the tent, keeping eye contact.
Alright, well, who in their fucking right mind would ever deny that. He let her lead in picking the direction, stepping back toward the tent with trust that he wasn't going to trip and fall and impale himself or anything. The pillows and blankets she'd set up were comfortable enough, but the warmth they created in the confined space rendered them entirely unnecessary. For the record, neither of them melted.

Calories burned and heads thoroughly clear, the next logical step was to eat. After gathering wood for a fire, they spent some time cooking hotdogs and making quick work of the trail mix and jerky he'd packed. Full and energized, Cliff sat away from the fire, inhaling heavily as he looked to Maxine with a warmth that didn't come from the proximity of the flame. "Ready to go ruin some turkey's days?" He questioned.
Hey, he was letting her lead them in. Which Maxine was going to interpret as agreement to the first, at least to start with. Which Maxine also had no problems fulfilling. The bear stayed nudged up right against his, and being less in her head this time around, she noticed how they overlapped in some ways. She didn’t like it or dislike it, she just sort of... ignored it? In favour of the tangible world that was him.

Anyway. She was sipping her meagrely spiked hot chocolate when he spoke this time, and her gaze shifted to his. Roguish smile. One last sip from the mug. ”Sure am. I saw... camo? In the truck.” That have anything to do with it?
"Wha! How'd you see it?" Cliff questioned, feigning shock as he looked to the truck. "Guess its some shitty camo." Ba-dum-tssssssk.
”Shitty hiding,” she blamed him meanly instead! In his own words, too. But even then, there was a softness to her tone. No bite, really.

Lowering the mug, Maxine started tying her hair up. ”Don’t think I’ve been in uniform since we left Graupel,” she realised, encouraging him up with a foot.
Wow, how dare she? Wasn't camo supposed to be invisible anywhere? It couldn't be blamed on him!

Dad jokes aside, he nodded to her recollection. When was the last time he'd worn camo? "Well, this is the closest we've been to Graupel in a while. So its fitting." He observed, getting up as per her request and moving toward one of the bags he'd brought along.

From it, he pulled out two sets of camo overalls, and a matching jacket for each of them to pull over whatever amount of clothing they wanted to keep on. "Your dress for the evening, madame." He proclaimed, offering it over to her. Having shed his pullover earlier and kept it off, he worked on removing his flannel, leaving him in only a black undershirt.
Oh, wow. He really had gone all out on the uniforms. How did he even know her size! Brief moment of internal panic about either article of clothing not fitting as Maxine took them, but she smiled through it. ”Thanks,” she huffed warmly at his silliness. Bit her lip in. Madame.

Was better than she deserved.

The campfire burned low in the background as he got to changing. She was slower, not really sure which way was front or back with the overalls as she prepared them, but she did take his lead and strip her sweater in favour of the long-sleeve underneath.

In the end, the overalls were a snug fit. Comfy, though. Like strangely comfy! Probably because they were padded. The jacket was a bit bigger. Maxine took the sight of both him and her in with a carefree chuckle, eyes bright. ”Gosh,” she remarked, and then added, ”Actually suits you.”
In truth, he'd guessed with sizing! It could have been easier just to ask what she thought she'd be, but overalls like these were sort of meant to be a little baggy anyway. He made himself not stare at her as she pulled hers on, instead focusing on not falling into the hot coals of the fire as he wiggled into his. Once all was said and done, he grinned over at her as she proclaimed her surprise.

"Expect anything else from a redneck?" He teased, straightening his jacket a bit more before moving to dig into the bags to pull out two hunter orange caps. "We'll wear these while on the move. It helps any other hunters in the area spot us. We'll take em off once we find the birds. Turkeys can't see color, but they can spot different shades " He explained, moving to playfully fit the cap atop her hair while pulling his own on.
Maxine scrunched her eyes as the cap was pressed against her hair. She’d thought switching back and forth between the role of best friend and someone he was seeing would make these sorts of things complicated. But, like everything else, Maxine was quickly being shown that... it really wasn’t so hard to go with the flow of things.

The universe wasn’t there to suddenly and chaotically break every good thing that was granted passage into her life.

”Yes sir,” she acknowledged the instructions, hand flattening atop her cap as she pulled her ponytail through the gap at the back.
"That's King Sir, to you." He teased, head shaking at himself as he fitted the cap on and bent to grab up the gun bag. At some point, he'd gotten it all assembled and ready, just needed shot, which he wouldn't load until they found a turkey. Which, he was realizing, would be much easier nowadays than as a human. Thanks, Were senses. They'd just have to find a trail, do some calls, and wait.

"Ready?" He prompted, inhaling through his teeth, and exhaling in a billowing plume. Air was getting colder the later the hour went, but he wasn't much worried about it. They'd hopefully be back before it got too dark.
Hah, King Sir would never happen. But other than that, Maxine had no issues falling in line! This applied in a broad sense and in a narrower sense--to this, too. She nodded just once, glancing to the somewhat forged path ahead of them. "I'll follow." If that worked!?
That worked! In no time, they were hiking out away from camp, leaving it cleaned up and bear proofed, fire out completely. The weather was forgiving, they'd gotten lucky with the snow not being unrelenting quite yet. There was only a few patches of it in the shadowy places, and it was mostly just mushy stuff that'd frozen then melted and frozen again. It made it a little harder to tread quietly, but they had their ears to keep them keen on anything nearby that could hear them.

Soon, the musky smell Cliff was looking for caught on the wind, redirecting their path to the west a bit. Further, they walked, thicker it grew. Until eventually, if he stood still, he could swear he heard the sounds of the fowl's feathers rustling as they stepped through the brush and picked at the leaves. Cliff slowed where he was, holding out a hand to signal for Maxine to stop.

Spot was good, butted up against a low ridge on one side, while the other side of them spilled out into a more patchy area of forest. From the direction the scent was coming, the flock seemed to be in the direction of the clearing. "We'll hunker down here, use a call to draw them out into the open. You still sure you want to shoot?" He questioned as he knelt, voice low as he unzipped the bag to bring out the gun, and a small wooden rectangular box along with it.
Alright... shit. Maxine wasn’t sure what the hell she was doing! The necessary silence had her clenching her hand into a fist here and there, feeling inadequate for her inexperience, but that’s what she had him for, right? As long as she got the shot. That was the main event. All that mattered.

She distinguished the musky smell they were after a little later. Heard the sounds a little later. Stood still when he did, the bear vying for a view on hind legs in her head.

And then... did she want to skip out on the shot? What! ”I can do it,” she assured herself firmly, quietly, as she lowered to the ground beside him. Removed her cap. ”Just one shot?”
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