Jason rolled his shoulders as he glanced out past the roof, a shake of his head as he saw the shambling of the rotters. Another morning, nothing had changed really, except there seemed to be more rotters. He reached down between his legs to grab the warm can of beer, taking a pull from it before he grimaced at the taste. Warm beer wasn’t anything to love, but it was better to get a buzz now before he had to deal with all the fucking people.
It was always the same every morning, them pissing and moaning about the rotters, lack of food, or some new bullshit.
“Jason?” A voice piped up somewhere behind him, he had to bite back an inward groan.
“Yeah?” He turned around to look at her, a tilt of his head. How in the fuck did they keep finding him?
“Johnny keeps asking for you,” she rubbed at her eyes, “woke me up.”
“Fucker,” he sighed as he took another pull, making a face as he swallowed. “I’ll go,” he held up the beer, “need the rest?”
She made a face at him, “I’d rather choke down dust than that nasty beer,” a still-sleepy chuckle came bubbling forth from her lips. “Tell Johnny to fuck himself and come back to bed.”
Jason studied her with the blanket wrapped up around her body, he was tempted, so tempted; it took him longer than it should, but he finally shook his head. “You know he’ll keep bitching until I go down there,” he pushed off the crate. “By the way, up here?” He gestured around, “my spot.”
Her lips parted, then closed, “I…” She trailed off, mouthing `sorry` before turning around to vanish through the door.
Jason nodded a bit to himself as she left, tossing aside the beer. He’d have to kick her to the curb soon, he figured, since she was already walking around like she owned the place. He knew he should eventually settle down with a girl, but right now, he was just looking for a fuck. Some laughs, some bullshit, and that was it, nothing more.
“Fucking Johnny,” he muttered as he walked through the door, heading down the steps while he fiddled with the gun at his back. A shake of his head, what did Johnny want to wail about now? He could already hear Johnny’s voice a few stories down. “Jesus Christ,” he hissed under his breath, not wanting to hurry down, but he saw some people peeking out their doors. He plastered on a smile and nodded at them, “no worries. We got this.”
When they pulled their doors closed, his smile went away, a stony expression in place as he headed down the last flight of stars. “Johnny!” He called out.
“That you Jason?”
“No, it’s fucking God, who the hell do you think it is?” He finally finished the last few steps, a tilt of his head, “what the hell?”
“We gotta talk,” Johnny stared at Jason, “now.”
“Excuse me?” Jason lifted his eyebrow, shifting his feet as he stared back at Johnny, not willing to be the first to blink. “Explain yourself.”
Johnny looked down at his feet, chastised in front of everyone as usual. Fucking Jason, who the fuck decided he needed to be in charge? “Just come with me,” he snorted as he went outside, slamming the door open on his way. He didn’t say anything on the way until they got close to the gates. “This snatch here—“
“Our guest,” Jason said in a tone that was steel.
“Whatever,” Johnny snorted, he gestured to the gates, “She wants in.”
“Then why isn’t she in already?” Jason crossed his arms, bored already, this was why Johnny had gotten him out of bed? Really? Because someone wanted in?
Johnny stopped his bluster and stared at Jason, a look of pure anger. “Nathan said not to let anyone in without talking to you,” he set his jaw stubbornly, crossing his arms and spreading his legs to show that he wasn’t afraid of Jason at all.
Jason gave him a disinterested look, “did he say to drag me out of bed while I was fucking someone? Pretty sure Nathan didn’t say that, he knows better.” The flat eyes studied Johnny before he flapped a hand, “run along, I’ll handle her.” He gestured to the people near the gates, “open them.” A slight smile skittering onto his lips, but then it faded, he wasn’t one for small talk all the time.
“Sorry about that,” Jason grimaced.
She stood waiting, nervously, and unable to entirely hide that nervousness. She was still alive. I mean, you'd think she'd have managed to learn some kind of control over herself. But then, her survival was really more a matter of luck than skill or bravery. Just fucking luck...and maybe, occasionally, a little bit of value for her training as a paramedic...back before. Too bad she'd still been in school, and not even that far into it. But, she'd bartered her way into group after group, using her meager skills as a bargaining chip. She could only hope the same tactic would work here, where there were actual walls between her and the living nightmare she'd just come out of.
She was drawn from her thoughts by the gates to the inner compound – or, she assumed that's what it was, anyway – opening after what seemed like forever. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest, a torn and dirty knapsack – one that had to contain only the most meager of supplies to judge from how empty it seemed – slung over her shoulder, with the strap clutched in one fist. Her eyes narrowed, assessing the man who strode through, though not quite able to wipe away all traces of the fear and dim hope from her eyes. He seemed confident, tough – a fighter, a true survivor, she assumed. He had that look.
The slightest of shrugs shifted the pack, a rustle of fabric falling into the silence between them. It was a silence that stretched out another few heartbeats before she visibly swallowed and spoke. “It's fine. Whatever.” She shifted uncomfortably. There was something about him that was intimidating, but...intimidating, even frightening, might also mean safety, if she could just get <i>in</i>. “What do I gotta do to get in? I, uh, I'm a medic.” She offered that last and winced at the desperation even she could hear in her voice.
“You gonna stand there then?” Jason let his eyes slide over her body, not even disguising his interest at all – but somehow, he had managed to make it not so creepy as he did it. “Come in,” he gestured with his head, thrusting one hand at the little town behind him. “We’ve got store, a house that acts like a doctor’s office – which we will be going to, a church. Well. Whatever use that is. Some crazy people, some assholes, and yours truly.”
He looked over to the guys when she walked in, “close it.
“Now, are we ready? We’ve got someone to see about your skills.”
She blinked in surprise, hope warring with caution. It just...seemed too easy, even with her offer of skills that she wasn't entirely honest about. Then she caught the look he was giving her, cold eyes practically undressing her, and she understood. Well, if he wanted that he was in for a surprise. But, whatever worked to get her in and away from the horrors outside the walls.
“Uh, sorry,” she mumbled, slipping past him cautiously and almost fleeing for the safety beyond that gate. Still, she took in his words, figuring she'd only get the verbal tour once, and might need to know anything he said, probably sooner rather than later. She tried – and probably failed – to keep the nervousness from showing, tilting her head up a bit as she hurried along. Anything, she figured, to avoid showing weakness. Ha.
What the hell would this guy do when he figured out she didn't know much beyond some basic suturing, setting bones, not much beyond basic field first aid? Her mind raced as he guided her toward a house that was, as he said, obviously not actually being used as a dwelling anymore. She was loathe to use his physical interest in her to find a place here, certain he would expect her to follow through with any flirting.
But. She wasn't really ready to test her luck back out there, either. It was just luck she'd lived as long as she had, and she knew that luck had to run out eventually.
Her only thought was, for now, to distract him from thinking about her too much by getting him to talk more about the setup here. “You're the leader here then, I guess.” It was a statement, but...there was that slight lift of tone at the end that made it almost waver into a question.
She tipped her head to look at him out of the corner of her eye, just enough to be able to study him without – hopefully – being entirely obvious about it. “If, uh, there's a store...what the hell are you using for money? 'S not like we have a booming economy anymore, or anything.”
Jason chuckled at her as he gestured for her to follow, he really wasn’t going to wait for her as he started walking. “It’s a town, well, a small little place, mostly houses. We got lucky and got some old….” A slight flap of his hand as he tried to think of what it was called at one point, “neighbor store. Mom and pop kinda deal.”
His eyes flicked over his shoulder to her as he gave her a slight look of amusement, he wasn’t even sure what he would call himself. “Something like that, they needed to put someone in charge. I won.” He rolled his shoulders, pointing out a house, “that is where we meet if we gotta talk about things,” he kept on walking instead of turning left. He stopped to look at her with a laugh, “eye for an eye. Your clothes get small, or you’re bored with it, you take it in, different clothes. You need toothpaste, you take something else in. Barter system.” He shrugged, “or you find something else out there, you bring it in. Credit.
“Hard for you to understand?” He settled his hands on the sides of his waist.
She worked to keep up with him. He was so much freaking taller than her, and his longer stride made her struggle a bit, but she refused to say a word about it. Still she raised a brow, and managed a faintly breathless laugh. “General store?” Guess that explained why this place had just sorta stuck out in the middle of nowhere...because it really was the middle of nowhere.
It also gave her a little hint about this guy; he obviously wasn't originally from around here, or probably from the country at all. Of course, neither was she, but she'd spent enough summers on her grandparent's farm to at least have some working knowledge of places like this must have been, back...before. Now, it resembled – to her – more of some ramshackle fort than any little country town.
”I won.” That statement gave her pause, and she found herself staring at him. It ran through her mind, over and over, really doing nothing but to increase her anxiety around him. Granted, if he could fight his way to the top, he probably did a good job of keeping the...uh...town-fort-whatever...safe. But...it also made him a pretty scary person, considering she'd all but lied to him to get into the safety of the walls.
Of course, during this little mental freakout she was having, she'd missed the rest of what he'd been saying.
She blinked, realizing that she'd stopped. He'd stopped as well, and was turned and looking at her with impatience. He was obviously waiting for something, probably an answer, and she wasn't even sure what he'd said. Shit.
“Look,” she said, pretending to just dismiss whatever he'd wanted an answer for. “Is there maybe somewhere I could get cleaned up and get a little rest before, uh, whatever you meant by... What was it again? Seeing someone about my, uh, skills?” She did her best to sound confident, even impatient. And her desire for a little rest and cleaning up was sincere. But, her body language betrayed her, fidgeting, not quite managing to look him in the eye. She'd always been a terrible liar. And lying by omission was, for her, still lying.
“Besides...you didn't even bother to tell me your name.” She finally forced herself to meet his eyes, which was easier now that she wasn't working so hard to hide something. “Mine's Minael, by the way. Friends...call me Mina.” It wasn't so much an offer of friendship as a challenge, one that was kinda ruined by her biting at her lower lip nervously and dropping her eyes away from his again.
“General store,” Jason took that with a lazy nod, he really didn’t care what it was called, it was some store.
“You want to shower before fixing a bloody person?” Jason lifted his eyebrow as he studied her, what the hell was with this woman? “Do you need to change too? Find a little ball gown?” He sighed at her, a shake of his head as his eyes flicked around the place. When she spoke again, he looked back at her, surprised that she was meeting his eyes.
“Jason,” he lifted his eyebrow, “do you really want to get cleaned up?” He considered for a moment then gave a sigh, “come on. You can get yourself fixed up in my place then…” He gave a gesture, “you gotta see this person. Our last doc…” Jason trailed off just to explain exactly what happened. He had rabbited during a run and ended up getting eaten. Poor asshole.
She winced, actually winced, at his words. He was right to use the sarcasm on her, though. She'd been using it as an excuse to avoid whatever test she was imagining for her. Anything to avoid betraying her little...exaggeration of her skills. She deserved his mockery, and she knew it.
“No,” Mina mumbled. “I'm just...filthy.”
Then, she hesitated, realizing what he was saying. Her test? The thing she'd thought was a test? Someone was really hurt. Shit. Shit. No matter how little she may actually know, she couldn't just let someone suffer so she could get cleaned up. She had been training to be a paramedic because she wanted to help people, after all.
“Look, uh... I just gotta at least get my hands cleaned up first, okay?” She drug her eyes back up to meet Jason's once more, raising her hands a bit to show that they were, indeed, filthy, before letting them drop again. The nervousness was still there, but...so was a spark of something else, a touch of determination, and the honest desire to help.
She nodded, mostly to herself, and looked around, trying to spot on her own which house might be the one that acted as their little first aid station or...probably as close to a hospital as they were likely to have. However, to her, one house looked much like the next. “This is more important than me getting cleaned up,” she said, turning back to him. “Maybe someone could just bring me...whatever, to get my hands cleaned up while I have a look, okay?”
“We’re all filthy, some of us more than others,” he flashed her a lazy grin before he nodded down in front of them, “my place is right there. You can drop your stuff off, get cleaned up, and we can go handle the guy. He’s not dead, he’s not dy—well, I hope he’s not dying.” Jason rolled his shoulders, “come on Mine,” he muttered as he started walking toward the house, “I can give you a better tour later.”
Silence as they walked, “look, I don’t know – or want to know – what happened out there. You’re in here, so you’re protected, as long as you do your part. You’ll have to go out on runs with us, pull your own – we don’t babysit around here – and if you do that? You’re okay here. I’ll set you up in a place with some of the others.”
He fell silent as he loped towards a house, that had been more than he usually said in one breath. He grunted softly, pointing to a house that really was more of a two floor apartment deal, it wasn’t a pretty one compared to the others, but it was his.
She hesitated as he started off, all of her relief at knowing – hopefully?- the guy wasn't dying knocked clean out of her mind by what she thought she'd heard him mutter as he started to walk off. Nah, it couldn't be. He just...mangled her name with his muttering, or something. Mmhm.
She hurried to catch up, even though it hadn't been but a few moments. Curse him for being so much taller than her, anyway. Not that she wasn't kinda used to it, guys being taller. She was fairly short. But this guy? Geez, he must top probably six feet, easy.
Shaking her head, she sighed at what he was saying. She had the sinking feeling that she wasn't going to last long here. The very thought of leaving the walls, even though she hadn't been within them long at all, terrified her. She really wasn't sure she could face it out there.
Briefly, she considered just stopping, coming clean with him, and letting him toss her out now, because she just knew the longer she was here and safe, the harder it would be to leave. Or...maybe he'd just do her the favour of putting her out of her misery here, instead.
But she held her silence as they approached what might have been the only multi-story building in town...at least that she'd seen so far. More proof, to her, that he really had fought his way to the top of this little community. And...deep down, that really impressed her...just as much as it scared her.
She hesitated at the door, biting her lip. Then she took a deep breath and looked up to him. “Look, uh...Jason. I'd probably just better have a look at this guy that's hurt, and, uh...” She tightened her grip on the strap of her bag, unsure. She was torn. Admit her fear, admit that she'd really rather die than go back out there, admit how fucking useless she really was...and suffer the consequences, or...keep up the pretense, and be thrown out without any real warning when he'd finally had enough of her.
And, as usual, she was unaware that her habit of honesty tended to give away almost everything she thought to anyone paying attention, without ever saying a word about it.
He opened the door, glancing over his shoulder when he saw her finally catching up. A little look crossed his face as he realized he would have to either teach her to walk faster or he would need to slow down. He wasn’t even sure about this. Usually they had to learn how to sink or swim on their own, but the girl seemed clueless.
“Just put your stuff up in here,” he made a face as he gestured toward the door. “I’m not holding it open for my own health.”
Jason paused, sighing at her, “look, I know you’re scared. You just come into a new place and we throw you into the fucking fire. It doesn’t matter if the guy lives or dies, I just wanna see your skills.” He lifted his eyebrows, “okay? You’re not going to get kicked out, we don’t do that here,” he grimaced, “there’s a fine line between humans and savages.” Jason gestured, “now, will you get in?”
She ducked her head and slipped past him wordlessly, thinking on what he'd said. Fine line between humans and savages...but...it didn't matter if the guy she was supposed to see to lived or died. What the actual fuck? Still, if it meant she would be safe for a little longer, far be it from her to argue with the twisted logic he presented to her.
She risked a quick glance around the place, a bit surprised, if not actually impressed. It was fairly sparse, but at least it wasn't filthy. She let her pack slip from her shoulder and down into her hand before dropping it onto the floor. It made a dull thunk, not much of a sound at all, really.
She eyed it for a moment, mentally taking inventory of all she possessed in the world. It was filled with...well, not a whole lot aside from a couple of pictures, an old beat-up water bottle almost empty of water, a spare – and filthy – old t-shirt, and a couple tins of spam she'd scavenged from some old farmhouse a couple days back. It might suck, but it was hers.
With a sigh, she nudged at it with her toes until it was shoved against the wall beside the door. Then, another sigh, and she turned to face Jason. “Nice place,” she muttered, not quite looking him in the eye. She kinda thought it could do with a few improvements, but she imagined he wasn't the type to care about anything to make it seem more comfortable...considering the state of the world.
“So...I guess now we can see about this guy, the one you don't seem to care that much about, huh?” Only then did she risk raising her eyes to look at him. She wasn't happy, but happiness wasn't exactly a goal these days. Staying alive? Yeah, that was. And if that meant following along and possibly watching some guy die because she didn't have the skills to save him? Well...she'd just have to find a way to live with that.
Jason stared at her with a look of surprise before his face went carefully blank, he wasn’t even sure how to respond to that without giving in to the urge of slapping her. He had been raised to mind the women, but oh lord, the mouth on them…
“It’s mine,” he grunted, his eyes flicking upward – he hoped the girl had left already, or else that would be some weird-ass explanation he’d have to come up with. Or, not. He was a man. He had needs.
Then he rolled his shoulders, “I’d like him alive. He’s useful. I was just—“ he stopped, squinting at her as he realized how easy it would be to bicker with her. “Just make sure he’s alive.” He turned on his heel, jerking his shoulder for her to follow him back out of the door. It really wasn’t a long walk from his place to the makeshift hospital. He said nothing to her the whole way there.
When they entered, he pointed her to the room where screaming could be heard.
“Jesus Christ, Bobby, you couldn’t have put the guy out?”
“He wouldn’t take anything, Jase,” a bloodied guy responded. He looked over to the girl that had been with Jason, “you gonna fix him up? He got cut bad.” He made a gesture to the leg, “it’s barely hanging. We’d stitch him up, but…” His eyes flicked to Jason.
Jason looked over at Mina, a slight smirk dancing onto his lips, “your show, doc.”
She winced, but only after he'd turned his back to her. Screw him anyway. She'd not been wrong, not with what he'd first said. And she really had honestly meant that the place was nice – hell, it looked warm, and safe, and that made it damn nice, even appealing enough to make her a little envious – but she realized too late he took it as sarcasm. She was just sticking her foot in her mouth all the way down to her thigh with Jason, it seemed.
She huffed a sigh and hurried to catch up with him. Or, rather, to trail after him. She wasn't about to try to apologize, not now. He was pissed, and she couldn't even quite nail down what she'd said wrong. Well, rather, how she was supposed to have known that he was...joking? Yeah, apparently joking, at first. The silence was uncomfortable, but she imagined it would be far worse if she tried to open her mouth now.
When she trailed behind him into the house being used as a...clinic? Medical center? Hospital certainly seemed a bit much to call the place. Whatever, though, the screaming immediately caught her attention. She peered past him into the room, her hand drifting up to cover her mouth in shock. Holy fuck the guy...he needed fucking surgery. A quick glance around the room told her there was no way that was happening, not in any way that would save the guy's leg.
Her eyes darted from the patient, to the guy with him – Bobby? – then up to Jason as he spoke to her. Swallowing visibly, she forced herself to look back to the guy that probably really was dying. There was so much blood. It didn't really bother her, not the blood itself, but knowing what that much blood meant...well, that was a different thing altogether.
“He, uh.. You need to give that guy something. Now.” There was force to her words, but she kept her voice lowered and as calm as she could. The last thing the poor guy needed was to hear the person that was supposed to be saving him panic. “Excuse me,” she said to..uh..Bobby, then grabbed at Jason's sleeve to pull him back out of the room.
Looking up, she dropped the unnatural calm she'd managed to keep in place in front of the patient. “He's lost a lot of blood. Too much. If you have the stuff to transfuse, he needs that...now. That leg won't be saved unless he has surgery I don't think anyone here is equipped for.” She hesitated, taking a shaky breath. But, despite her nerves, her almost panic, she was able to keep looking up at him, certain in the moment that everything she was saying was the truth, for good or ill.
“He needs put out, he needs that leg cut off, he needs blood. Lacking any of those, and he won't live. Even with them...I don't think his chances are all that good.”
“We can try,” Bobby looked at both of them, “or wait until he passes out.” He rolled his shoulders in a shrug before hurrying out of the room toward another room that wasn’t occupied by the screamer.
Jason chuckled as he went to follow Mina, “breathe,” he raised his hands. “I thought you were used to this,” he lifted his eyebrows, studying her. He put his hands on her shoulder, “look, we’ve got this. We can’t transfuse, we’ll have to make him comfortable, and…” He pulled his hands away, rolling his shoulders. “Cut off the leg, we’ll handle the rest. Somehow.”
“Should we even bother? I can put him out permanently.”
Bobby came back at those words, stilling himself as he held up a bottle of something. “I’ve…” He fell quiet, watching Mina and Jason, his eyes on Jason’s back.
“I thought you were used to this.” She should probably clarify that, soon. But not now. It just wasn't the time. Instead, she took a deep, though shaky, breath as his hands came to rest on her shoulder. Despite her intimidation, her fear – hell, near-near panic – over the whole situation, and the more personal intimidation and fear of this man in particular – who, despite what he'd said, Mina still firmly believed basically held her continued existence in his hands – she didn't flinch away while he studied her.
Besides, deep down, there was something incredibly comforting about him taking charge.
When he pulled his hand away, she slumped a bit, not even sure if it was relief or...something else. Whatever, it didn't matter. Even she could sense the defeat in the air. She'd said it, the poor guy didn't have much of a chance. And Mina hadn't even bothered to mention the likelihood of infection, even if he somehow miraculously survived the blood loss and shock.
She knew, when it came to survival in this nightmarish new world, she was hopeless. But this particular sort of hopelessness? She really hated it. The only comfort was that a proper doctor probably couldn't have done any more than what she'd put forward; the facilities just weren't available.
She opened her mouth to answer, only to have it snap shut when Bobby's voice came from behind Jason. She would have loved to say she was shocked by the seemingly casual way Jason dropped killing the man as an option, but she really wasn't that surprised. She'd seen too many killed lately with far less serious injuries. Sometimes out of fear of infection, sometimes...just because the injured slowed the living, putting them at risk.
It was a harsh world, now. People like her didn't really belong in it. But someone like Jason? It was almost like he'd been made to live in a world like this – or, so it seemed to Mina.
Dropping her eyes away, down to stare at her hands, which she'd been absently rubbing against each other, she sighed. It was a defeated, regretful sound. “Look, I was training to be a paramedic. That's it. So...yeah.” Slowly, she pulled her eyes back up to meet his, looking as defeated as she sounded. She hated this. Everything in her screamed against what she was about to say, but she knew she'd say it anyway, no matter how hard it might be for her to live with it. “You're looking at shock, suffering, agony, severe blood loss...and, if he manages to survive all that? A good chance of an infection. You, uh...”
God help her, she didn't want to just say it. She didn't want that to be on her head, should he take her advice. And yet... She raised her chin slightly, unconsciously readying herself for...something, not even she knew what, a burst of courage that even she knew wouldn't last. She wasn't a courageous person, after all.
“It might be kinder to end his suffering.”
“So you don’t know everything?” He murmured softly, under his breath, only for Mina to hear. He gave a slow nod, “we could still use you.” He tilted his head up, studying her.
Then he took a slight step back to listen to her as she explained what could – would – happen. His arms crossed over his chest as he considered the words before glancing over to Bobby, a slow shake of his head, “we don’t need that. Save it for later.” His eyes flicked to the room where the guy was still screaming.
Jesus Christ, it was worse when they screamed like that.
“Can someone shut him the fuck up?” Jason snapped as he uncrossed his arms, rubbing at his temples as he tried to think. He knew he should just handle it, but everyone was there. They were expecting him to do something – anything. But it’d be so much easier when the asshole stopped screaming.
Bobby disappeared into the room with the guy, not much was heard except for him trying to cajole the guy into being quiet. Yeah, he knew it hurt, yeah, things would get fixed. Yeah, he promised. Yes, he’d take care of his stuff. Yes. Yes.
“You might want to stay here,” Jason looked at Mina with a slight grimace on his face, “welcome to Lawrence.” With that, he stepped away with a turn of his back, his hand snaking behind his coat to take out the gun tucked in the small of his back. He tugged a bit on the gun, chambering a round before entering the room. He told Bobby to hold the guy down.
The asshole had stopped screaming, he was pleading with Jason to make things better. To make the pain stop. Jason promised he’d make the pain stop, while nodding to Bobby. Bobby reluctantly found a swath of fabric to cover the guy’s face. Jason stepped in, taking over for Bobby as he placed the muzzle to the guy’s temple.
He murmured a prayer as he pulled the trigger. The body jolted on the table. Jason paid it no mind as he continued the prayer.
Bobby stepped out of the room to get Mina, “you might wanna check him.” With that, Bobby left the house. It was never easy to lose one of your own.
She could only shake her head numbly in reply, surprised by the change, the...well, an almost gentleness to Jason's tone as he said she could be of use anyway. And...holy shit, when had he gotten so close? She hadn't noticed, but...in that brief time that he was, just before he stepped away, some calm, calculating part of her in the back of Mina's mind was studying him from this vantage, tucking away what she saw to think on later.
His decision was made when he told Bobby to put the bottle of...whatever it was away, she didn't want to think too much on what they were using as a painkiller. But she could tell, something about the set of his jaw, even more than his words, he was going to kill the poor guy. And the worst part was, she...couldn't find it in herself to argue his decision. Still, even if she'd just said it was the kindest thing to do, she had a feeling she'd be reliving what was about to happen in nightmares for weeks – if not months – to come.
Mina didn't even wince at his outburst. It was kinda cold, but she could see where it came from. She couldn't even imagine having to be in Jason's position right now. And it was then, as she watched the faint traces of his struggle with himself flicker across his face, that some of her fear of him melted away – some, he was still damn intimidating, and with good reason – to be replaced with a wary sort of sympathy for him.
She wanted to protest, to go in with him...but she was a stranger, new, even if she'd been the one to lay out just how bad off the guy was. She wasn't wanted, or even needed for this. He had that guy...uh...Bobby. He had someone familiar. All she could do was wait outside that room, listening carefully to what was taking place within despite herself. In a way, she felt some of the responsibility for the man's death. At least, for the manner his death would take. It might be better than suffering for awhile longer, but...she had knowingly said a man should be killed, and that was already tearing at her.
There was desperate, hysterical pleading, and then... Then...came the sound of a gunshot, and the muffled sounds of flesh against a hard surface. God help her, she could picture it. There was a silence broken only by the sound of footsteps coming her direction. She looked up to the doorway, to see Bobby.
“You might wanna check him,” he man said, then slipped past her. She hesitated, wondering why the guy thought she of all people should check on Jason. But, she didn't even attempt to argue. Instead, she just stepped into the room. She paused, catching the low rumble of his voice mumbling...was that a prayer? That...surprised her.
Mina moved up to stand beside him, staying respectfully silent until his murmuring ceased. When it had, she found herself struggling for something to say, something that he wouldn't misinterpret. This was another situation where her weakness was a problem. She empathized with him. She felt for him, and it just made her want to wrap her arms around him – even as much as he intimidated her – and try to offer him some kind of comfort...any kind of comfort.
“You...uh, you gonna be okay,” she finally asked, voice hesitant. She was only barely holding back tears as she forced herself to keep her eyes on the body on the table. A few minutes ago, that had been a living human being. Now...he was...nothing. And she'd had a part in that, no matter how small. Her arms came up and wrapped around herself, mostly to try to hide the trembling she could feel. “I'm sorry, Jason. I...really am.”
Jason kept his head ducked until he was able to finish the prayer, his voice trembling in some spots as he had went on. He cleared his throat as he crossed himself, pulling away to pocket his gun. He’d swap it out when he got back to his place and clean it when he was able to sit down again. His eyes took in the body on the table, the bloodied fabric not hiding much from the imagination. A grimace danced on his features before he forced himself to separate.
Put it somewhere else, Marks, he commanded himself.
There it was, just a body again. He had to kill the body, make sure it didn’t come back. That was everyone’s worst fear – besides getting bit – coming back as one of them.
Jason had heard her come in, but hadn’t acknowledged her yet; he needed his time to compartmentalize. His eyes flicked over to her, he shifted away from the table now, “I will be.” He gave a slow nod as he studied her. “You made the right call,” Jason exhaled slowly, “I would have had to put him down anyway, especially if he got sick.” He looked over at the body, “we’ll take him out beyond the walls and burn him. He deserves that much.”
Silence. “Well, they will.”
He looked over at her again. “You okay?” He squinted, “it’s a helluva way coming into town.” He chuckled ruefully as he fixed his coat, hiding the gun. “You coming?” He gestured to the doorway, “you might not wanna be here when they take him out. There’s a….” He considered his words, “there’s a ritual we do to make sure they don’t come back.”
Without waiting for her, he went toward the door, then he actually stopped and waited. “I’m going home,” he grunted softly, explaining himself for a moment, inviting her along in those three words.
She felt his eyes on her, but she remained where she was, at least for the moment. Let him look. Let him judge. Whatever. Yet, what he said next completely shifted her perspective. Instead of judging her, or maybe agreeing with her own private thoughts of guilt and culpability in the man's death, Jason... Well, it sounded like he was saying she'd been right. She'd been prepared for him to yell, to berate her for not having a solution to save the man, and yet...here he was, being...almost kind. She wasn't prepared for that at all.
This time, when Mina felt his eyes on her, she looked up, tilting her head to meet them. “I'm...fine,” she said, swiping away the couple of tears that had escaped despite her best efforts. It wasn't entirely true – hell, when did anyone ever say they were fine and really mean it anyway – but she wasn't going to get into it. Not here, and not with him. He might have had kind things to say – or as kind as she could imagine him being – but she wasn't gonna press her luck.
She hesitated, unsure. Maybe she deserved to be here when they – whoever they actually were – did whatever it is they needed to do. Maybe Mina should know the full extent of the advice she'd given. Maybe she deserved the nightmares from that, too.
But Jason stopped in the doorway, as though actually waiting for her. She turned, looking at him. ”I'm going home.” There was a tone to it...almost as though he were inviting her along. Hell, even that he stopped to wait, and bothered to explain instead of just expecting her to follow, well, that was enough to shock her into a slow nod of assent, and even get her moving before she'd thought about it. What the hell? It's not like she had anywhere she could actually go in town, anyway.
She trailed along after him, then, with a sudden burst of speed to catch up, dared to even walk along side him once they left the little makeshift hospital-clinic thing. She was hesitant to interrupt his silence as they walked, but...she had something she needed to know. Well, maybe not needed, not exactly. But she knew it wouldn't leave her be until she asked. Even if it pissed him off.
Tilting her head to study him him, Mina spoke hesitantly, “I...what was his name? And...what happened to him?” She'd made a call about his life, and she hadn't known a thing about the man. That...it just disturbed her. She wanted to correct it, as some sort of strange way of paying respect to him. But she didn't explain herself, figuring it was something Jason wouldn't understand anyway.
Jason came to a stop as she asked about the body, his hands shoved into the pockets of his coat while he stared at her. “Really?” He spat the word out, tilting his head down at her as he squinted his eyes. He was angry. So angry. He wanted to throttle her, he wanted to scream at her, and…
That fit of anger was over as quick as it came.
His shoulders slumped as he tilted his head down to look at his feet. Fuck. He shook his head while lifting his head to look up at the sky. “Why do you ask questions like that, Mine?” He sighed at her, “sometimes people shouldn’t be remembered.” He kicked at the dirt, shaking his head, he refused to look at her.
He was angry. He was sad. He was a mix of everything.
“Dan,” he finally spat the name out, looking over to her now – leveling his eyes while studying her face. Was she happy now? “His name was Dan,” he exhaled slowly, “some of the guys were out on a run. Dan was trying to grab some…” He waved his hand, “whatever it was that was so fucking important in a store. He didn’t think twice. He got cocky.” He looked away from Mina again, his jaw working as he tried to control his feelings.
“That’s what always happens. They get cocky, then they get hurt. He was running, tried to get up some ladder, and they got him.” He glanced over his shoulder before looking back to her, “you saw what happened.” A shake of his head, “at least it wasn’t the savages this time.”
Mina winced, actually taking a step back from him when he snapped at her, eyes wide with fright. She didn't even have to be looking at him to know he was angry, really angry. She could feel it, the emotion was so sudden, so strong. It was like the potential for violence she'd picked up from him when he first came to fetch her out into the town proper was right there in front of her, and she could only wonder if he would be using it against her.
But then...it faded, his face – what she could see of it, since he turned it down and away from her – shifting, showing weariness and a mix of emotion she wasn't quite sure of. She just didn't know him well enough yet. Briefly, she almost wished she did. Fucking crazy impulse, but true nonetheless. Sometimes, she really was too compassionate and empathetic for her own good. Especially in this nightmarish new world.
Not even paying any mind what he'd called her – again – she sighed, wrapping her arms around herself almost protectively. “Because he lived, so he deserves some recognition,” she mumbled, not even caring if he heard her answer. It would probably just piss him off even more.
Still, Jason wasn't looking at her, and she found it easier to look at him when those cold eyes weren't turned on her. And she did, studying him as he spoke, as he explained to her what she'd thought he wasn't going to bother to tell her at all. She...actually felt a little sorry for him. Suddenly, she realized what a burden it must be to be “in charge” here, to shoulder the responsibilities that had to bring.
When he'd finished – some instinct telling her she needed to let him finish, to let him unburden these things to a stranger where he probably wouldn't to one of those he was more familiar with – she stared at him for another heartbeat or two, then dropped her eyes down to the ground at his feet, hugging herself even tighter. “I won't ask any more questions. I'm... Um, I'm sorry.”
She was afraid on some level he might just shoot her rather than deal with her at this point, but she knew there was nothing she could do to help that, no matter how badly she felt about adding to his problems. “Look, uh, I'll just grab my bag and find somewhere to crash, 'kay?” Slowly, her eyes lifted to him again. “God knows you don't need to deal with...” She trailed off, gesturing vaguely, not even sure herself what she meant. And, after his outburst, she could only assume his offhand invitation to join him at his place was null and void.
Jason started to say something before stopping himself, his lips parting before slamming shut again. His eyebrows furrowed as he tried to get a feel for her. She was… “What?” He finally asked as he shook his head, she was making no sense as she backpedaled while standing in front of him. “What are you talking about?” He was mystified.
Then he put his hands up, “look, Dan died. I killed him. I’m a big scary man that had to do what he had to do.” A shake of his head, “I get it if you’d rather leave, but don’t leave Lawrence.” He scoffed a bit, “how are you still alive?” Jason stopped, putting his hands down. “That was mean.”
“Look, come with me, get yourself cleaned up, get some sleep.” He looked down the road toward his house, “it’s not that fucking complicated, Mine. You stay there until I get Nate to find you a place with others. It’s not like you have to sleep in my bed,” he ended the sentence with a snap. Shaking his head, “come on.” He started walking, not bothering to wait for her.
Man, she pissed him off.
Hell, it probably wasn’t even her that pissed him off.
She stood still, nearly frozen, as he unleashed a tirade on her. Not, mind you, that she didn't feel she deserved it. Even the pointed – and, she had to agree, mean – question. It was a good question, too. She often wondered herself how the hell she was still alive. But having it pointed out so blatantly, on top of everything else...yeah, it hurt, no matter how deserved it was.
And yet, after all that, he was still offering for her to have somewhere safe to stay. Because, hey, as scary as he could be, what safer place could there be than his place? If, y'know, he didn't just kill her first. That'd be great, if not for that thing he kept doing, she suspected without even realizing it. After all, she hadn't realized either, until now. Mine. Really? She was dying to say something about it, but...she'd said she wouldn't ask any questions.
That would be fun, since she was curious about everything, and asked questions often without even thinking about it.
Taking a deep breath, she stopped herself from staring after him as he walked away, and hurried to catch up with his longer stride. She kinda had a feeling his offer was really more along the lines of orders, and she would probably be wise to treat it that way.
When she'd caught up, she tilted her head to look over at him, eyes narrowed. He really could be scary. Yeah. But he was...sorta interesting, too. And she really did feel bad for him, for everything he was shouldering with keeping people safe her.
“I don't know how I'm still alive.” She offered the words carefully, unsure how he would take them, or if he'd just get more pissed for her even speaking. Still...he'd asked, even if it took her awhile to answer. “I probably shouldn't be. I'm not like...you. I'm soft and weak and I feel everything and I'm fucking useless,” she continued, the words spilling out in a rush. When she'd finished, she bit her lower lip, eyes going wide, staring at him. She hadn't meant to say quite that much, and she was already regretting it.
She just put her head down then and kept moving, watching bits of dust puff up with each step she took, dread settling again in her chest.
Jason really hadn’t been expecting her to answer his question, it had been asked out of frustration, nothing more than that. He blinked as he listened to her speak, glancing over at her while she worked at catching up to him – so he slowed down just a little bit.
“What?” He shook his head in confusion as he listened to her verbally vomit all over him. “Okay, hold on,” he threw a hand up, “I wasn’t expecting an answer. I ask things, if I want answers, I will tell you.” He chuckled as he watched her work on keeping him up. “Jesus, am I that hard to walk with?” He laughed now, his bitter mood already forgotten for a moment as he came to a stop.
“You’re a woman.” He started, already expecting her to hurt him for that comment. “You’re supposed to be soft and weak and feel everything.” He rolled his eyes, “that’s what you’re good for. Us men are brutes, remember? It’s why we’re alive. We protect you. You keep us company when we get back.” He rolled his shoulders, “we’re back in the times of cavemen. I hunt, you keep the house.”
He gestured toward the house, “ready?”
Well, plus sides, he hadn't shot her. Or smacked her six ways from Sunday. Bonus. Still.. “Christ, okay, whatever” she muttered. Basically, just stay quiet around him. That was starting to seem like a plan; the best plan she had. Hell, the only plan she had.
At least his laugh as he stopped gave her a little hope. Sorta. Worse still, it made her relax and stop expecting him to just shoot her out of pure irritation.
Damnit, it was a nice laugh.
“You're, what, six foot? I'm like five and a half, if I stretch,” she snapped. “My legs are shorter, and you don't so much walk as you stalk.” She raised her head to look at him, a little scowl furrowing her brow. “Jerk,” she added as an afterthought, the determination to stay quiet around him already long forgotten.
“Mmph.” She let her eyes roam around the part of the town she could see from here, almost curious now. Or, so it seemed. “So,” she said when she returned her gaze to him, “are all the women here really treated like that? Or am I special?” She couldn't fault his attitude toward her, it wasn't really entirely wrong. She had plenty of skills and had been well-able be independent and self-sufficient once, but none of those skills really helped her now. But she still bristled at him acting as though all women were as useless as she was.
“Y'know what?” She positively glared at him now, anger making her careless of her words and, worse, of her actions. She took a single step closer and slapped him with no warning at all, as hard as she could manage. “Fuck you,” she muttered as she stomped away toward the only familiar place in town...aside from the makeshift hospital – and she sure wasn't going back there.
“You can be special all you want, darling,” Jason drawled as he studied her, the fire in her eyes was amazing. His lips quirking as he studied her. There she was. Not this little mouse whining about how the world was big and scary; because, fuck, the world was. He shook his head, “I didn’t say all the women were like this. I was sayi—“
And she slapped him. Hard.
His head jerked to side, his eyes shot to her face before she jerked away. He stood there, his hands curled up in fists as he let out a sharp exhale.
Breathe, Marks, breathe.
One. Two. Oh fucking ten.
He stormed after her, “what the fuck is wrong with you?” It didn’t take him long to overtake her, grabbing at the back of her arm to jerk her aside. “The world ain’t all that scary now, eh?” He snorted at her, “is that how you fight back? One of those things say sexist shit and you slap them? What the fuck is wrong with you, Mine?”
Mina was gonna pay for slapping him. She just knew it. Jason just...he'd made her so angry. She rarely lost her temper, ever. But he'd managed to push enough of the right – or was that wrong? – buttons, combined with her frustration over being so useless...and the whole shock of her introduction, of sorts, to how things worked in this town. It was just too fucking much. All of it was just too much, and she was so tired.
She was considering turning back to apologize, when a hand grabbed her arm, yanking her around roughly and holding her in place with enough force that she could already feel a bruise forming. Only then, staring up at him, wide-eyed, caught between terror and rage, did she realize that Jason had spoken just before grabbing her. And he was still rattling on, peppering her with questions.
“You are what is fucking wrong with me. This place is what is fucking wrong with me. The fucking nightmare the world is now is what is fucking wrong with me. Fuck! Even what you keep calling me is what is fucking wrong with me!” Mina was trembling now as she shouted at him, and didn't even realize, nor would she have cared if she had realized. Just like she wouldn't have cared about the people peering out from doors and windows at them, had she actually noticed any of them. But she was blind to it all, to everything but the infuriating man before her.
It was just easier let the rage take over, because it was better than the terror.
“I don't fight back. I run. I run and I run and that's all I can do because I don't know how to do anything else!” She fell silent, glaring up at him, even as the trembling grew into shaking.
When she spoke again, she was no longer yelling. Oh, she was still angry...probably. But she was too exhausted to really maintain it. Instead, a sort of numbness crept over her, some tiny voice in the back of her mind whispering to her that she was probably in shock from emotional exhaustion, dehydration, and going far too long without enough food or sleep. But it just didn't matter. “Do whatever you want to me. Or with me. Whatever. I don't care.” She paused, her eyes drifting away from him to stare off into space. “I was supposed to help people, heal people. You know what I did instead?”
A grim, sad sort of smile twisted her lips as her eyes drifted back to him again. “I shot a bolt through my father's skull and watched him die. Again.”
“Like you’re doing now,” Jason yelled right back at her when she said all she did was run. “You’re a moron if you think I’m letting you run now.” He jerked his hand away from her as if he was burned, he was angry as fuck at this girl.
Then she was just as angry at him.
He snorted as she switched gears on him, it was a chick tactic that he knew too well. He rubbed his hand on his thigh, shaking his head, his mouth parting as he was ready to say something sarcastic when she started trembling. Shit. Now it went too far. His hand moved from his thigh to his lips to rub at them. What the fuck was he supposed to do? Especially if she started crying? He didn’t do crying girls. He had no fucking clue with them.
“Look,” he started to say something when she talked right over him.
Then he snorted. “You’re not the only one that had to put down a loved one.” He looked away, he wasn’t going to tell her about his stellar past before the outbreak. He started to say something else then decided against it. “Look,” his voice was softer as he dropped his hand away from his lips, “I’m sorry.” He looked over his shoulder, uttering a curse.
You couldn’t live with them, you couldn’t live without them.
“Come on,” he spoke quietly, more calmly this time. “Please, Mina?” He gestured to the house, it wasn’t much further this time.
She stumbled a bit when Jason yanked his hand away suddenly, but she didn't pay it much mind otherwise. She'd had her burst of anger, and now Mina found it was just hard to really care – about what he thought, about what he did, about what was going to happen to her. She should have been able to recognize the signs of shock, but she was too far gone to listen to the little voice whispering in the back of her mind warning her. That wasn't important either.
Oh, she was sure a lot of people had to – how'd Jason put it, 'put down' – friends and loved ones. She really didn't need it rammed home how sheltered she'd been, how special she was. She couldn't change any of that now, or she would have a long time ago. “Don't. Just...don't,” she said, dully rejecting his apology. Hell, he probably just said it to get her to calm down, or something like that. Whatever.
Finally, her eyes left Jason, shifting to the house. With a sigh, she just nodded and, ducking her head, walked off toward it. It was kinda stupid, she realized, to put herself alone – maybe alone? – in a house with him. Mina only seemed to piss him off, just by being who she was. She couldn't change that, either, so why the hell did he even want her around? Surely there was somewhere else he could send her. Yet, she couldn't stir herself to do anything about it, it was, in the end, nothing more than idle thoughts drifting aimlessly through her mind.
Mina nudged open the door and stepped inside, moving only far enough into the room to shift herself over against the wall where she'd nudged her pack earlier. There, she leaned back, closing her eyes, just waiting for whatever Jason wanted next.
Jason blinked at her, it seemed like whatever he did, it was the wrong thing. Why was he bothering? Most of the times women were just things for him to fuck and make sure they were safe. So why was she getting under his skin already? He snorted a bit as he watched her walk toward his place, shaking his head.
What the fuck was wrong with that girl?
He ran a hand through his hair which caused it to go in all different sorts of directions. This is what you get for actually trying Marks, he shook his head as he finally went to follow after her. His steps were slower this time because he didn’t want to go in there and start up another fight. But fuck, he had to go in there, he had lost his temper already with her – usually he was so good about losing it later: much later.
He finally entered the house, glancing around to see if he’d find her and there she was, close enough for him to reach out.
“Mina,” he started, clearing his throat. “When this all started? I had to go back to my mom’s.” He hesitated for a moment, looking down at his feet after he made sure the door was closed firmly behind him. “We never were close, but I always made sure she had everything she needed. So I went to see her,” he looked over at her, “I found her with her head blown off. She couldn’t trust that I’d help her live through this shit.”
Silence, he rolled his shoulders, awkward that he said something like that – so fucking personal to some girl he had just met. He moved more into what made up for a livingroom, it was also a war room – there were some papers piled up in a corner, it seemed like a big fucking mess. “Look, there’s a shower, I’ve got food, some rooms. Stay here, get some rest. We can figure out what to do next for you.”
She's actually started to drift a bit, just in the few minutes it took him to follow after her and come in, enough that she hadn't even noticed him come in until his voice drew her attention. And shit...when and why had she become comfortable enough in this strange place with this frustrating man that she let her guard down like that, anyway? But, like so much right now, it didn't seem to matter enough to bother with.
She tilted her head to look at him as he spoke, watching him with solemn eyes. She really didn't want to feel, the numbness was so much easier. But...she just couldn't seem to help it. She ached for him. No matter how much of a jerk he was – and, she had to admit, she wasn't even so sure he was as bad as he made out to be, not after what she'd seen at the makeshift hospital – he hadn't deserved that. No one did.
She wanted to offer him...something, condolences, an apology, just...a little sympathy. But, she'd just turned down an apology from him, and she was afraid it would just piss him off again after he'd shared something that was obviously deeply personal to him. If the way he'd looked uncomfortable after his bit of sharing was any indication, it wasn't something he did much at all. She almost wanted to find a way to encourage it, to just...reach out to him. Yet, that was just as likely to piss him off. Damned if she did, damned if she didn't, it felt like to her.
Her eyes followed him as he moved further into the room, and the moment slipped away. “Not hungry,” she mumbled, vaguely surprised at the slight slurring of her voice. And, damn, she was still trembling, even if not as badly as when she'd been so angry. There was something about it that kept tugging at her, but she just couldn't quite grasp it.
She pushed away from the wall with a grunt, and made her way carefully – hey, walking can be hard when you're tired, right? – over to where Jason stood. It just seemed vitally important that she tell him, “I'm sorry for your mom.” She stared up at him, her hand drifting up to touch his jaw, fingertips fluttering along the skin there, catching on the stubble. “And I'm sorry for you, too,” she added after a moment, blinking and letting her hand drop away.
“Eat,” he grunted as he shifted away to look at her, she was still trembling. Oh my god, why was she still trembling? Was she cold? Jason’s eyebrows knit together in concern while he watched her, he should find her some blankets. Maybe give her one of his heavier coats. He was going to say something when she pushed away from the wall.
The concern smoothed away and was replaced with curiosity. What was she doing now?
He reached out to steady her with a hand slipping around her waist. “I…” He blinked as he felt her hand touching his jaw. It wasn’t done in a flirtatious, or a salacious way, she was just touching him. Usually the women touched him because they wanted one thing only, but she wasn’t…. She was just touching him. Almost as if she wanted to…
He shook that thought away mentally. He tilted his head down at her to study her for a moment, long after she dropped her hand. “It’s life,” he spoke softly, “it was hard enough before all this shit happened.” He chuckled softly, almost bitterly before changing subjects, “you need to eat.” He kept his hand on her waist, not bothering to pull away yet, “I’ll eat with you if you can’t eat alone.” Jason fell quiet while studying her face, he wanted to say something, anything.
But he was afraid he’d fuck it up again, especially with her trembling like a leaf under his hand. “When was the last time you ate and slept without worrying?” He kept his voice soft, almost like he was speaking to a frightened animal.
She was incredibly grateful for his touch, the feel of his hand against her waist. It made it so much easier to stand there, looking up at him. Why in the world had she ever thought he was irritating; it was just beyond her, now. She shook her head slowly in protest. She really wasn't hungry, stopped being hungry days ago, really. She'd forced a bite here and there anyway, before. But it seemed like far too much effort right now.
“I'm fine.” She even managed a faint smile as she said it. More so, she believed it. There was the warmth of an arm around her and the safety of walls between her and anything that lurked outside. God, this was pure bliss compared to just a few hours ago.
Mina squinted up at him. “I dunno. Don't remember. Not since I left daddy's hideout, I think. It was hard to find stuff to eat at all,” she said absently. Why was he so obsessed with getting her to eat, anyway? Hell, he hated her...didn't he? Though...distantly, she wondered at that, given that he was standing here, letting her lean slightly, supporting her when it would have made a lot more sense for him to have just shoved her away.
The squint shifted, her eyes growing wide instead. “Do you know you have really blue eyes?” Her hand drifted up again, slowly, to trace the skin just under one of his eyes, then trailing down his cheek before dropping away again. “Don't worry about me, Jason. I'm fine. Just...maybe a little cold.” With a sigh, she let her head rest against him, cheek to his chest, eyes slipping closed. “It's just cold.”
Jason studied her for a beat longer before letting his shoulders relax, “fine,” he would figure out a way to have her eat, but right now, he didn’t want to fight with her. “Your dad’s hideout?” He squinted, “why did you leave then?” He kept his hand there, it wasn’t just to keep her steady anymore, it was just… nice to touch someone else without feeling like he needed the escape. Usually when he touched a woman, it was just to cure an itch and forget who he was for a time. That’s why he kept getting rid of the women, they got possessive, and he kept remembering who the fuck he was.
She surprised a laugh from him, it rumbled deep in his chest as he looked down at her, shaking his head. “No one’s told me that,” he admitted that much as he shook his head again. “Cold?” He frowned as he slipped his other arm around her waist.
“Come here,” he muttered softly as he shifted so he could pick her up in his arms. God, she was so light, at first she did fight him… then she relented, curling her arms around his neck while tucking her head into the space between his head and shoulder.
“I won’t do anything,” Jason sighed as he waited for her to relax a bit. She was still trembling like a little bird. “Nothing you don’t want, anyway, little bird,” he chuckled as he looked over to her bag. “Is there anything you need before we go up?” He wasn’t going to just lay her down in any old room, he’d tuck her into his room. That was where he felt the most safe, so he figured she’d appreciate that much.
“No food left. He went to get some, came back...hurt.” Mina hesitated, then added in a mumble, “I don't wanna talk about it.” And she refused to think about it, about his death, and then the <i>thing</i> he became after that, and what she'd had to do to survive. It hurt. She felt too pleasant right now to invite the pain back in. Especially when Jason laughed like that. Yeah, he had a very nice laugh.
Her train of thought was broken by his other arm moving around her, and she went still, just enjoying the additional warmth. But it didn't last long, though she wished otherwise – at least, at first. With a mutter he was moving, and then he was lifting her up. She whimpered and struggled a little, more confused really than honestly fighting it. She knew she <i>should</i> be fighting it, should be doing anything to keep him from continuing to think she was weak and useless. But, like everything else right now, that was just...too hard.
With a soft little nonsense murmur, she settled against Jason, giving up, giving in and allowing herself to trust him – at least, for now. He was talking, but...she had to focus before she grasped what he was saying. Mostly, at first, it was just the rumble of his voice. Soothing, really. Nice. Still, the words demanded some sort of answer, she was sure of it.
Pulling herself from her half-daze as much as she could, she struggled to reply to him. “'S okay, trust you,” she mumbled distantly. “Don't need anything. Just...wanna forget for awhile.” She might kick herself for it later, for being do weak in front of him, but right now...the warmth and safety she felt was worth it. She nuzzled in against his neck, an innocent gesture, seeking out the warmth of his skin, anything that would stop the trembling she just couldn't seem to control.
She was drifting again, not quite asleep but not really awake either, breathing him in, when something occurred to her that just demanded her attention. Oh. That was what had been bothering her all this time. It seemed, somehow, vitally important that she share her realization with him. “Jason,” she said in an almost-whisper, “I...think I might be in shock.” There was a pause of a few heartbeats, then she added, “sorry.”
Jason listened to her explain about her dad, giving a slow nod as he let her change the subject. He understood the pain that came with talking about before – especially when it came to family. His mom was the only tie he had, everything else had been severed before he went into the killing business. That was how he had viewed the world.
Until now. Everyone forced this shit on him because of that ability to separate. However, it was getting harder to separate. Especially when he had to start putting down the men he knew.
He chuckled softly as he felt her give in, her softness against him, and god, he wanted to protect that softness. Even if it was just for one night.
“Are you hurt?” He spoke in a rush, a concerned look on his face as he tried to look down at her, her head in the way of letting him do just that. He shifted her a bit in his arms before moving up the stairs, he didn’t go too fast because he didn’t want to jostle her… but he wanted to hurry. He need to check her over to be sure.
When they got onto the second floor, he did a quick look-around to make sure the other lady had gone and that she hadn’t left anything behind. Surprisingly, she hadn’t. The last woman, he had to put everything of hers into the store. That had ended up in a screaming match.
“I’m going to put you on the bed, little bird,” he murmured softly as he scooted toward the head of the bed to lay her down onto his pillows. “I’m going to have to…” he gestured to her clothes, this was awkward for him because usually he didn’t give a shit. And usually the girls were asking him to. “take those off, I gotta see if you’re hurt.” He fussed a bit as he waited for her permission, pulling his blankets over so she could burrow in them when she was ready.
He made a mental note to get her some food, water, and let her sleep.
Shock was a nasty beast if you let it take you over.
Mina left her eyes closed, noting absently the change in moment that made her think, maybe, he was taking her upstairs. That, like so much right now, didn't make any sense to her. She could have happily curled up on the floor to rest. Not that she was really ready to object, either. This...well, this was really nice, too.
The rumble of Jason's voice tugged at her awareness, the tone of it different from before. She frowned a bit. Had she upset him? She hadn't meant to upset him. It seemed like a strange thing to be asking. She hurt a little all over, it was a constant thing and not even worth thinking about. Though, there was her arm, that hurt. But she wasn't going to admit to that, either. Maybe he'd get angry with her once more for bringing it up, and then she'd be cold and alone all over again.
“Not hurt. 'M okay.” Oh, wait. Shock. Right. He might be worried she was really hurt...injured. That...made a little more sense to her. Certainly more than the idea that he was just being, well, caring – as much as she might wish otherwise, in the moment.
Unfortunately, by the time she'd pulled her muddled thoughts together enough to try to form a proper answer, to try to explain to him why she might be in shock, she found herself cushioned on something delightfully soft. Mina forced her eyes open, blinking up at him a few times. “Not a bird,” she murmured, his words sinking in. “Just a dumb, helpless girl.” There was a pause, then a tiny little smile. “But you can call me one, if you want. 'S pretty.”
Mina blinked up at him a few times before she understood what he was trying to say. He wanted to take her clothes off. “'Kay, go ahead” she said finally, nodding slowly. She couldn't see what the problem was, but if it would make him feel better, that was just fine. She was willing to do whatever might make the worry she could see in those blue eyes go away. They were much prettier without the worry in them. She even considered tell him that, until what she'd meant to tell him before finally resurfaced in her muddled mind.
“Dehy...uh...” Damn, there was a word there, but it wouldn't quite come to her. “Not enough to drink...or eat...” She let it trail off, huffing out a soft breath. It was right there, what was wrong with her and why, but her thoughts skittered away it seemed almost as fast as she reached out to grasp them. “Too much,” she finally added, unable to put into words how the shock of what had happened in the little makeshift hospital had just tipped her over an edge she'd been balancing on for far too long. It wasn't enough of an explanation, but it was the best she could form at the moment.
Mina's eyes slipped closed, and she just let herself drift again. “Jase?” It wasn't much more than a whisper, though there was the slightest edge of fear to it. “Don't wanna sleep. Don't wanna see stuff.” Her eyes opened again, seeking his, almost desperate, the trembling growing a little stronger. “Can I just be warm for awhile? I'll try really hard not to make you mad again, if I can just be warm for a little while, 'kay? Please...”
“Bird,” he smiled, “little bird.” He chuckled a bit as he listened to her, she sounded like a little kid who was fighting the fuck out of sleep. Jason studied her for a second, not sure if the agreement was an actual agreement or if it was her being dopey. He wasn’t sure if she would just take this event and use it against him later, scream rape or something like that. He fidgeted as he thought about it before exhaling, “fine,” he muttered. “I’m just taking your clothes off, leaving your underwear on,” he paused, “if you have any.”
He forced himself to compartmentalize again. It was just him making sure she wasn’t hurt, that’s all. Nothing sexual. Nothing overt. Just get her clothes off and look her over, then wrap her up in a little cocoon.
“De…” Jason shook his head slowly as he tried to think of what the fuck she was talking about. “Oh, Dehydrated.” He finished for her, watching her nod her head slowly as her eyelids opened and closed. Like a little kid. “Lemme look you over, then I’ll fix you up something,” he spoke softly. She really was shutting down and it worried him. What the hell was the girl doing stumbling into some camp half-dead?
Jason sat down on the bed next to her, nodding slowly as he made up his mind. Then he started murmuring as he worked on taking her clothes off, talking to her while going through the process – explaining exactly what he was taking off, where he’d touch her. He made very sure not to touch her in places that could cause awkwardness. When he was done, he leaned back a bit, his eyes scanning her critically. There were no injuries as far as he could see – except the blossoming bruise on her arm. He had winced when he saw that – that had been his fault.
What an asshole.
“I…” When she sprang awake and locked her eyes on his, he wasn’t even sure how to react. This was probably as bad as crying. “I…” He gestured to the door, “lemme fix you something, then I can sit with you.” He spoke softly, awkwardly. Jason hadn’t spoken to anyone like this in a while – ever since his mother.
There was a little giggle at the very thought of not wearing underwear. I mean, they were as filthy as everything else she wore, but she still wore them. She'd been raised properly. She might have even mumbled that, but she couldn't really be sure. It didn't seem to matter anyway.
Mina blinked up at him, slowly nodding when she realized it was the word she'd been searching for. He understood. That was...yeah, it was good. If Jason understood, she could stop struggling so hard to think and give herself over to him. It was just nicer this way. God, she was so tired of struggling, and he was being so nice to her now, even though he'd been so angry earlier. Besides, he was calling her pretty things, he couldn't be mad anymore.
“Mmhm,” she agreed easily enough. It was nice of him to make sure she was okay. Mina listened carefully to what he had to say to her – this was a struggle that seemed much easier, because he was just talking to her in that easy, soothing rumble of his, and providing her with easily followed instructions – trying to help where he indicated.
Eventually, she was laid out bare on the bed, just continuing to blink up at him innocently. Though, the time between each close and opening of her eyes was growing longer and longer, until, by the time he was done with his examination of her, Mina was drifting again. It was drifting thoughts that brought her back awake, fear of being left in the cold and dark with those things again.
It took a moment or two for his words to sink in, and she relaxed as much as she could while still trembling like a leaf in the wind. Being alone wouldn't be so bad if she could stay here. Here was safe. Jason wouldn't let anything get to her here. It was, after all, his, and in a flash of insight surprising given her state, she understood immediately he would guard fiercely anything he claimed as his.
“Okay,” she agreed easily, squinting at him for a moment before letting her eyes slip closed, already starting to drift again. “Just gonna wait here, try to get warm. It's so cold, Jase...”
Jason watched her carefully all the while, he wished he could do more than this; but the world wasn’t perfect so she’d have to take what he could do. He tugged the blankets around her, brushing hair out of her eyes real quick. “Be right back,” he looked at her with a slow nod, “I won’t leave the house.” He watched her, waiting for a slow nod from her before he left the room – after checking to make sure the blankets were securely tucked around her.
He watched her quickly before slipping out of the room to head downstairs toward the kitchen. It was a mockery of a kitchen, he didn’t really cook much or care to. Most of his food were either caught out there or out of cans. Some of the women would give him some home-made goods. He’d be fucked if he tried to actually cook things besides reheating shit.
He found a couple cans of chicken noodle, which was good, the broth would be easy on her stomach while giving her enough fluids for now. He didn’t want her to go too crazy. He opened the can up and poured it into a large cup, he even thought to grab a spoon before going back up the stairs to her. “Mina?” He spoke softly as he entered the room again, watching her from the doorway before he lifted the mug when she acknowledged she was there.
“I put it in a cup so you can pretty much just drink it,” he explained as he crossed the room to her. He gestured a bit for her to sit up before he gave her the cup and spoon. “Don’t drink it all at once,” he stepped back and started tugging off his jacket. “I…” He looked down at himself before looking up at her. “You gotta get warm,” he rumbled low in his chest as he worked his shirts off, not looking at her as he did it.
Purely for survival, he told himself.
When the shirt was off, he worked his boots off then the belt before undoing his jeans. He paused in the middle of unbuttoning them, could he just hold her topless? He grimaced, what the fuck was wrong with him? With a shake of his head, he hurriedly worked his pants off before walking around the bed to get on the other side, tugging some of the blankets up to cover himself. He was so conscious of the fact that he was completely naked while she was not.
The feel of cloth being drug over her bare skin made her eyes flutter open again to see Jason above her, fussing with blankets. Oh, Mina thought wonderingly, as his fingers brushed against her brow to move away errant strands of hair, he was covering her, trying to help her be warm. She almost stirred herself to ask why he was doing all this, why he even cared when it wasn't like she was dying or anything – besides, if she was dying, she'd just be put down...though she might even welcome it - but she didn't quite make it there.
She only managed to nod when he took the time to tell her – again – what he was doing, reassuring her. Jason hovered, fussing more with the blankets already tucked snugly around her so that all she could feel below her chin was a comfortable pressure and the faintest hint of something that vaguely promised warmth to come. Mina found herself watching his every move, studying him in a distant sort of way, a dull curiosity trying to figure him out somewhere in the back of her mind.
Once he was done fussing and hovering and just watching her with that confusing look in his pretty blue eyes that she just couldn't quite decipher, she thought she'd just drift off into that comfortable place between sleeping and waking. But Mina found it wasn't quite as easy to do that without those eyes on her. Peculiar.
Instead, she just turned her eyes up to the ceiling above her, grateful that there even was one there. Her thoughts drifted, skipping around at random, making little sense even to her. She thought of stars overhead, and how it used to be a welcome, cherished sight. But now, it was just one more reason among so many to be afraid; stars overhead meant being out in the open, being potential prey to the shambling nightmares.
Mina remained more aware than she really wanted to be. She was so tired. Even if she had too much trouble trusting to sleep, that lovely in between place was close enough. Too bad she couldn't seem to drift back off into it. At least, not without Jason. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was even capable of realizing how incredibly fucked up that was after everything that had happened between them.
Her name in his voice drew her from her twisting, rambling thoughts. With only a little effort, she shifted her gaze until it met with his, the faintest of smiles flitting across her lips. She hadn't doubted him when he'd said he'd be back, but there was still a little spark of relief that he had, anyway.
She struggled with the weight of the blankets – and, maybe, her own body, slight as that was – to sit up as he'd indicated he wanted her to. She...didn't really want to. She just wanted to lay there. Maybe drift off again now that he was back. But, a cup meant liquid, and she could almost feel her throat clench with the desire for water, for any liquid, and that motivated her as much as his urging did.
She tugged her arms out of the blankets and took the cup and spoon gratefully into trembling hands, peering into it to see what it contained. Noodles...and...oh, god, was that chicken noodle soup? She only flicked him a glance at his warning before she brought the cup to her lips and took a cautious sip. The sensation of liquid hitting her tongue made her whimper, and then the flavour itself hit her, bringing a soft moan.
Still, she heeded his warning, continuing to sip at the soup when everything in her screamed at her to gulp it down as quickly as she could, before someone took it away from her. Jason was the only one here, and she was still pliant enough with the haze of being on the edge of shock that she trusted him. She was weak, people would always take anything of value away from her. But...he wouldn't take the soup from her, of that she was certain.
Mina remained occupied by the soup, by sipping at it slowly, steadily, that she paid what he was doing no mind. She only nodded slowly as she sipped, easily able to agree that she needed to get warm. Being warm was the only thing that sounded better to her than the soup. She didn't even pay him any mind when he moved around the bed, other than to note that he wasn't leaving the room. As long as he stayed near, she could allow herself to not be on guard. Not that she'd have been able to manage that anyway, even if she was too gone to realize it.
It was the tugging of the blankets that finally made her look away from the cup of soup – now more than half empty from her steady sips – and up to him. “Oh,” she said softly. That was...a lot of skin. Slowly, she lowered the cup and the unused spoon, never taking her eyes from him. But there was nothing there that was judging, nor was there any sign of fear. Instead, she was mildly curious as to why he suddenly had no clothes on, and just as mildly confused about it.
After some consideration – which showed plainly, as masking any of her thoughts and expressions was clearly beyond her right now – she held the cup out to him, all innocence. It never occurred to her she could have just slipped it onto the table beside the bed, really. He gave her the cup, it made perfect sense to her that she should give it back to him. Maybe he was hungry or thirsty, too, after all. He'd been so nice not to take it from her that she wanted to share it with him.
Slowly, it occurred to her that she should say something, instead of just waiting on him. “C'mon.” She tugged at the blankets, pulling those still tucked in around her down further until most of the rest of her her bare belly was exposed. She thought she ought to feel colder that way, it really seemed like she should, but her trembling body – barely putting out enough heat of its own – hardly noticed the difference.
She waited until he finally accepted the offer – it never occurring to her that it might have been what he'd intended all along – before she wiggled back down into the bed. She'd started to scoot closer to him drawn by the warmth she could feel coming off him, warmth she craved more than anything right then, when an errant thought made her freeze up. Her eyes – grown wide again – sought out his. “I...don't wanna make you mad again. 'M sorry I made you mad.” She hesitated, biting at her lower lip as she regarded him, a bit of that fear returning. Her hand drifted to her arm, covering the bruise there. “Please, don't make me go, please, Jase?”
She never clarified if she meant leave his bed, or his room, or his house, or even Lawrence itself. But, she didn't really need to. Remembered terror of things far, far worse than he could ever be at his most enraged shone in her eyes as she stared at him. “I just wanna be warm...safe...”
Jason suddenly felt self-conscious as he stood there while she looked at him, he wanted to grouse at her but she wasn’t really doing anything bad. She was just… staring. He shifted a bit, crossing his arms, but it didn’t do anything but make him feel more self-conscious. He hated this feeling. Then she offered him the cup, he almost snatched it, grateful for an opportunity to do something with his hands. “Thanks,” he considered the cup before moving to her side of the bed.
Now that he had a purpose for walking around, he forgot he was naked for that moment. The cup was placed at her side of the bed, “I’m not that hungry,” he smiled somewhat. “You should finish it when you can.”
When she pushed the blankets down her body, he had to look away while clearing his throat, bobbing his head in acknowledgment. His chest tight. “I’ll be there in a sec,” even his voice reflected the tightness in his chest.
Survival, Jason. Survival, he reminded himself as he walked around to the other side. He was trying to keep the girl from keeling over. That’s all.
Another round of clearing of his throat before he climbed into bed beside her. He shifted around a bit to get a comfortable spot, he had given up his side of the bed to her- so this side was foreign to him. When she froze up, he stopped moving, unsure if he had scared her. He wasn’t really trying for anything. Not this time. He looked at her as one would look at a frightened animal, “why would I get mad?” He spoke softly, keeping his voice low as he tilted his head, shifting down so he could be in a more optimal spot if she ever chose to snuggle down into him. That was what he wanted.
When her hand went to the bruise on her arm, he uttered a soft curse, “I was an idiot, not you.” He reached out to her, his movements slow, “I want you to stay and sleep. I’ll keep you safe.”
Mina completely missed how uncomfortable watching Jason made him. Which...was probably a good thing, as being that aware would have made her just as aware of her own situation. And then there would have been no peace at all.
But, after he'd crawled into bed and spoke to her so gently in response to her fear, she relaxed as much as the trembling would allow. His voice was soothing, and all it really took was him being near, offering to keep her safe, and she returned to being pliant and content. “'Kay, Jase,” she murmured, “trust you.” She shifted closer to him, seeking out his warmth, and the comfort of his presence. As long as he was near, nothing could get her.
Snuggling in close, completely unselfconsciously, Mina breathed out a soft sigh against his skin. It finally occurred to her that he was nude, and she was nearly so. But, instead of it bothering her, she was grateful for it. It was just that much warmer that way. With liquid working its way into her, and nourishment filling her shrunken belly, and the warmth Jason was providing, the trembling brought on by her nearly falling completely into shock was easing, her body pulling back from that edge.
She started to drift off, eyes finally slipping closed once more, able to relax fully for the first time since leaving the shelter she'd hidden away in for so long. On the edge of sleep, she nuzzled that tiniest bit further into him, mumbling nonsense little noises. And then, just as she was falling into sleep, surprisingly clearly, she whispered, “please, don't hate me tomorrow...”
Jason shook his head at her when she finally settled in against him, he shifted a bit so he could wrap an arm around her midsection while tucking the other arm under his head. It was crazy to have a girl trembling so much in his bed, usually the girls in his bed were ready and willing – and they made damn sure he knew it.
But here she was, his little bird and she was trusting him. Him.
He just made a small sound at the back of his throat in response, tugging her in closer while closing his eyes a bit. He’d just nap a little bit while she settled down into sleep then go downstairs and make plans for his runners.
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