the pearl


For a fire lookout in the middle of nowhere, it was surprisingly comfortable. Spartan, of course — four half walls, a trap door leading to a ladder, a shingle roof overhead. No screens on the open spaces, which would have been painful in the middle of mosquito season, but it was the dead of winter, a sharp, cold, and still night, where the day's stormclouds had blown away, leaving each tree fringed in glittering frost and tall drifts between the trees only occasionally marred by a meandering deer trail.

The snow muffled the usual sounds of the forest, the quiet broken only by the faint sounds of a person walking along the trail towards the lookout.

The shuffling crunch of snow underfoot grew closer, and Cougar adjusted the sight on his rifle, looking out onto the shadow-laden trail, hidden from the moonlight by the tall spruce trees on either side.

The moonlight peeked through a gap in the trees, and the person was suddenly thrown into stark relief. Short and thin, even in the large parka and snowsuit, snowshoes barely leaving a mark on the trail as they came towards the lookout.

Cougar carefully released the safety from his rifle, still keeping the person in his sight. Another gap in the trees, another flash of moonlight, and the person paused, looking up towards the outlook.

A second's pause, and they pulled down their hood, breath pluming out as she looked back up towards the outlook, eyebrow piercing glinting in the moonlight.

Cougar slipped the safety back on and opened the trapdoor.


"I don't know why you have to be out here tonight," Aisha said as she slipped off the straps of her ruck. "Weather says another storm front is coming in the morning — any tracks you left would've been swallowed up before the meet."

Cougar shrugged. "More coverage."

She shrugged back and reached into her ruck, pulling out three thermoses. "Jensen made me bring soup, coffee, and tea. Any preference?"

Cougar caught her eye and raised an eyebrow wryly.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," she said, handing him the one labelled coffee. She put the soup back into the ruck, and unscrewed the top of the one marked tea. "He was going to come up, y'know."

Cougar huffed under his breath. "In this?" He gestured with one hand towards the snow-covered forest.

Aisha smiled again, teeth glinting in the moonlight as she raised the thermos to her lips. "I believe that's what Pooch said, only with a few more hand gestures." She paused to take a drink, looking out over the forest. "I always forget how quiet it is."

Cougar nodded, drinking his coffee. After a minute, he looked at her. "Why did you come?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Who else could?"

Cougar matched her eyebrow. "Pooch."

"Driving the snowcat."


She scoffed. "Yeah, that would happen."

He smirked back at her. ""

She held up her thermos. "Ta-da."

"I could have gone alone."

Aisha shook her head. "No, it works out fine. I can't be seen by Schultz, you need someone to keep watch while you sleep, Jensen, Pooch, and Clay get to deal with the weapons dealers and we get to watch." She held up her hands again. "All part of the plan."

Cougar tilted his head towards the thermos. "And the coffee?"


He chuckled.

She smiled and then reached into her ruck again, pulling out an emergency blanket. "Wake me in four hours. I'll take second watch."


The storm rolled in towards the end of Cougar's watch, thick clouds darkening the sky before the snow began to fall. The faint breeze sharpened, cutting through even the thickest layers of his parka.

He shivered, and reached for the coffee, frowning when he discovered it empty.

"There's still the soup," Aisha said from the corner, muffled by the emergency blanket and parka wrapped around her face. "Top pocket, under the other emergency blanket."

Cougar pulled out the soup and slowly unscrewed the top. Steam rose from the interior and he inhaled deeply.

Aisha stretched, blanket crinkling around her, and then reached for the tea thermos. She drank from it quickly. "Cold," she said, making a face.

Cougar walked over to her, gesturing with the soup thermos. She gratefully held up the thermos lid and he poured some in. She leaned in to inhale the steam and then gratefully sipped. "Thank you," she said.

He sat down next to her. "Got colder."

"Yes, it did.". She stood, staggering slightly, and went to her ruck, pulling out the second emergency blanket. "Here," she said, throwing it towards him. "I've got this watch."

He caught it gracefully, and was soon wrapped in it, hat pulled down over his face. Aisha went through a series of stretches, glove-covered fingers reaching towards the roof, and then frowned at a faint rustling sound.

She quickly scanned the area and then pulled out her binoculars for a closer examination of the trail. There was no obvious sign of life, but the rustling continued.

She glanced over at Cougar, then sighed before noisily walking over.

He glared up at her from underneath his hat. "What?"

She shook her head. "Move over.". When he didn't shift, she moved to the other side and sat down next to him, resting her blanket behind them and pulling his over both their bodies.

"What are you doing?"

"I can't keep a lookout if you're going to keep shivering," she muttered. She gingerly slid her arm around his shoulders, stopping when he tensed against her. "I'm not going to explain your corpse to the rest of the team. You'll have to accept this."

He swore under his breath, then moved closer to her, shifting so that the blankets covered them completely.

She pressed her body against his, chest firmly against his back. "Don't worry, papi," she said teasingly. "This is just between us."

He grumbled again, then his breathing slowed as he drifted off, Aisha pressed against him, watching the snow fall.


The sun was slowly rising, faint streaks of pink in the eastern sky. Aisha shifted, moving the still-sleeping Cougar more against the wall than her, and stretched, looking out over the forest.

She stopped mid-way, frozen, staring out onto the trail.

The mountain lion stood there, looking up at the lookout. Its eyes held hers, locking her in place.

They stared into each other's eyes for a minute, Aisha tense, the big cat calm, until, suddenly, the cat looked away, and began to walk further down the trail.

Aisha breathed out slowly, her breath thick in the cold air, and turned to look back at Cougar, still asleep in the corner.

She shivered, unrelated to the cold, and reached for her emergency blanket. There were four hours until the meet, maybe one hour until Cougar woke up, and she sat facing the sun to watch it rise.

This The Losers story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at