Mina's first thought as she slowly emerged from the deep sleep she'd spent...well, she wasn't sure how long in, was that she was incredibly, blessedly warm. That alone was enough to make her resist waking. Her second thought was that she wasn't alone. She was warm because she was pressed up against someone. In fact, she was downright snuggled up against him, his arm tucked around her, holding her close. Snuggled up against him, skin-to-skin, which, even more than the blankets tucked securely around her, was what was making her so comfortably warm.
Her eyes flew open, brows knitting as her situation hit her. She fought to remain still, only to be surprised by the realization that it really wasn't much of a fight at all. She was comfortable, and she felt safe. Where the hell was she?
It all came to her suddenly. Stumbling across the fortified little area of town nestled somewhere in the hills she'd been wandering since being forced away from the last group she'd attempted to travel with, working so hard to appear okay, ignoring her thirst and hunger and the exhaustion that had weakened her dangerously – all so that she could have a hope of getting behind those walls and being safe, if only for a little while. It'd worked. She remembered being allowed in, and being given a mockery of a tour by...
Oh, god. After that poor man's suffering had been ended, after fighting with Jason, everything grew fuzzy in her memory after that. She remembered wanting to get inside, to find somewhere to curl up before she collapsed. But, instead of just collapsing into an exhausted sleep, she'd...what? Mina closed her eyes, letting the flashes of fuzzy memory come, trying to make sense of them.
Fingers trailing over a stubbled jaw, wanting to comfort.
Being cradled in strong arms, her own arms wrapping trustingly around his neck.
”Little bird,” said in a soft rumble, making her feel safe.
Flashes of being stripped down with gentle hands and gentler words.
Struggling to think, only to be understood, and able to just relax and give in.
Broth from chicken noodle soup bursting across her tongue, the wetness of it as welcome as the rich taste.
“I’ll keep you safe.”
A comforting arm pulling her close as she snuggled against his warm, bare skin.
The thought of vivid blue eyes following her down into the peace of sleep.
Slowly this time, Mina's eyes opened again. Yep. She was still snuggled right up to Jason, his arm gripping her around the waist loosely, relaxed in sleep. Shock, she realized. She must have been in shock, or...quickly approaching it. And no wonder, really. Even now, she still felt weak, and already tired again, even though she'd barely woken.
Dehydration, weakness from weeks of not enough to eat, with periods of outright starving, weeks of barely snatching a half hour of sleep here and there, never quite being warm enough, and then the shock of the events in the little makeshift hospital and the fight with Jason afterward. So. Yes. Shock.
A faint smile touched her lips briefly as she realized she was lying here cataloging her physical health while she was cuddled up to a man she'd honestly believed might kill her yesterday just for irritating him. Yesterday? Mm, from the light coming in, she decided to go with assuming it had all happened the day before. She didn't feel like it had been more than a full day, anyway. Worse, she was cuddled up to that man in what felt like only her bra and panties. As for Jason..? Well, without squirming too much, it sort of felt like maybe he didn't even have that much going on.
On the other hand, he'd somehow gotten food and liquid into her, even if she felt terribly thirsty again now. And he'd had the foresight – or maybe dumb luck, she really had no way of knowing – to realize that warming her with body heat would be the most effective way to combat the shocky state she'd been in. Jason had saved her life, as simple as that. Somehow, somewhere in there, she'd found herself trusting him. Something that seemed to have carried over to now, even though Mina was lucid enough that she should know better.
Another memory seized her. “Little bird,” said with gentle blue eyes looking down at her.
It made her turn her attention again to the man she was snuggled up against. She was afraid to move too much, some instinct telling her to just let him sleep as long as possible. She told herself it was just because things were likely to get uncomfortable when he woke, and she wanted to bask in the peace while she could. But the more she thought about staying still, the harder it was to actually do so.
Then, it didn't matter anymore. At first, the only thing to indicate that Jason was awake was the slightest tensing of the arm slung across her, but it was enough to catch her attention immediately. She sighed, a puff of breath against his chest. Still, he didn't move, even though she was absolutely certain he was awake now.
Finally, she sighed again and rolled away from him. There was the briefest flash of amusement when his arm tightened on her for just a second before letting her roll away. She laid there then, with her back to him waiting as the silence stretched out. Why didn't he say something, anything? Was he regretting having saved her life? Was he...embarrassed? That one, she had trouble believing. He struck her as far from being a prude. Unless...he was just embarrassed that he'd shown a weak, stupid girl kindness.
Eventually, she couldn't take it anymore. “Thank you,” she said quietly, “for saving my life.” She wanted to turn and look at him. She wanted to ask him about last night, to try to understand how much of it, if any, had been dream or hallucination, and how much had really happened. Because, she couldn't believe it had all been real. It just couldn't have been. Even if that trust she'd felt so strongly last night had carried over to this morning, it just...couldn't have been real.
But she held her silence, afraid to say anything to destroy the peace of the moment, desperate to make it last as long as possible before she found herself once more plunged into the nightmare life had become.
When Mina started moving a little bit more, he stirred a bit but forced himself to stay still, pretend he was sleeping; it was a talent he had acquired over the years. His eyes stayed closed but he was picturing the room already, would she get up and leave or stay? Then she rolled away from him, his arm involuntarily tightened before relaxing. Dammit, he gave himself away, but he hadn’t want to lose the warmth that she managed to generate overnight.
He never slept. Then again, he rarely slept with someone else in his bed. It was a surprise still that he had fallen asleep, he only stirred once in the middle of the night to check on everything before settling back in the bed with her snug against him. They were safe, he could sleep a little bit, it wasn’t like she was going to stab him while he was asleep.
So he hoped.
When she spoke, he gave a throaty chuckle as he shifted a bit, “I don’t usually save half-dead girls,” he moved again to prop himself up into a sitting position, not caring if the blankets covered him or not. He was not shy about his body – he worked damn hard on keeping his physique. “But somehow, I had to save you, Little bird.” He leaned against the wall to study her back.
“Are you shy now?” A soft snort as he shook his head, he knew he should have left when he had woken up earlier.
“Look, you’re safe as long as you stay in the walls. You’re safer as long as you call this,” he gestured haphazardly to the room, the walls of his place, “your home.”
She opened her mouth, then shut it again. There wasn't any point in denying what he'd said. Half-dead might not have been too far from the mark, after all. Not that she was exactly miracle cured yet, either. It would be all too easy to slip back into shock, unless she rehydrated properly and took in some decent nutrition...and stayed warm. All this ran through her head automatically as she cataloged her own state, and what would have to be done to correct it now that she might be in a position to do so, and she never gave much thought to just how automatically it came to her, nor the knowledge being able to do it required.
Her back still to him, she closed her eyes when that nickname fell from his lips, something in her clenching, then just suddenly relaxing with the wave of trust that came with the name. That part hadn't been hallucination, apparently. She wanted to say something, anything, just to get him to say it again. Something about it just made her feel safe, safer even than the walls between her and the shambling nightmares outside of them. But, she held her silence, afraid of saying or doing something to irritate him again, to make him regret what he'd done for her.
Her head shook a bit, denial that he might or might not even notice. She wasn't shy, not in the way he was thinking. His nudity, her own state of near undress, neither one bothered her in the slightest. It was too easy to think of them clinically, and of how they got that way as nothing more than necessary medical treatment. Easier that way, too, especially after that appraising look he'd given her before ever letting her through the gate and into Lawrence. Then, it had been mildly annoying and something to just be gotten through. Now, thinking back on it, it would be too easy to read more into it than had ever been meant. She couldn't afford to let herself think like that. He'd only been trying to save her life, after all. Just simple human compassion.
But then he spoke again, and she slowly turned over to look up at him. And then just laid there, staring at him for a few moments. Not that she'd openly admit that even that slight movement had made her a little dizzy. She'd shown him more than enough weakness, she thought, never realizing her expression was like an open book. But, whatever had possessed him to be so kind to her, well, she imagined it had to have limits. Yet...there was that offer, even if it was made so...well, she couldn't even describe it. It was almost as though he was making it, but trying to hide the kindness of it behind an attitude of just not really caring.
Or, she was just being stupid and reading too much into it.
She wanted to sit up, to face him properly, instead of just laying there looking up at him. But the dizziness of just rolling over kept her still. She wasn't going to give herself away to him by doing something so stupid as passing out just from trying to sit up. “So...you're just gonna let me stay here?” Her voice was rough, both with thirst and emotion she was having a hard time controlling. “What's the catch? I mean...I already owe you for saving my life. What's the price?” She winced at her own flash of bitterness, but, she couldn't quite bring herself to take it back. Two months since she'd left the shelter she'd been hidden away in since the outbreak had happened, and in that time she'd learned very hard lessons about what people expected in return for help. She couldn't even begin to imagine what would be expected for saving her life, even as worthless as it was.
But then, more words came in a rush, before she'd even thought them through. “Why'd you call me that? Little bird? Why did you even bother with me, after...” She let it die away, unable to even speak of what had happened in that little makeshift hospital the day before. Her eyes slipped closed, trying to hold back the tears that threatened suddenly. It had been her fault. She firmly believed that. If she'd been better, known more, anything, that poor man might be alive now, instead of dead with a bullet in his brain. A bullet she might as well have put there herself, just by telling Jason it was a kindness to put it there.
Jason watched her with a bit of a frown as he saw her face shift – it was almost imperceptible, but he had caught it. The fact that she laid there while tensing up said everything, before she tried to relax. He wanted to reach out and play with her hair, but figured with the bite in her voice, it would be a dangerous thing. One did not pet a hungry lion – even after establishing a friendship with it. His lips twisted a bit as he shifted a bit in the bed, settling his hands into his lap.
“No price,” he rolled his shoulders, “just safety.” He managed to keep his voice even keel instead of raging about how he had opened up his own home for her, his own bedroom when he could have just thrown her into one of the other homes or left her for Nate to take care of. But no.
He cleared his throat, wanting to say something else when she continued over him. He blinked with a chuckle as he looked away from her to his hands. “I call you little bird because that’s what you remind me of. Small. Breakable. But you know how to get away when you need to. You can just…” He lifted a hand and darted it up to the ceiling, “fly away.” Then he dropped his hand, looking away from her with another chuckle, almost uneasy.
“I would have killed him anyway, even without you there. We don’t have enough medicine to keep everyone alive, so we have to triage.” He shrugged, “he got black-tagged, I just… hurried it along.” He tried to keep his voice even, cold, and rational. Despite the fact that he had prayed over the body and made sure that the guy would be given a proper send-off, almost like the Vikings of yore… except no water to send him off on.
He looked over at her, “so it’s not on you. I’m the one that handles that shit, you and the others are my advisers.” He frowned a bit, “that sounds harsh.”
“No price, just safety.” She shouldn't have trusted that so easily, but...she found herself doing so anyway. He'd had plenty of opportunity to take advantage, and he hadn't. Even if most of the night was lost to the blackness of dreamless sleep, and only hazy memories and impressions before that, she was absolutely certain he hadn't done anything even remotely like taking advantage of her. And that, she told herself, was why it was okay to trust his assurance now. Nothing else at all.
She couldn't argue with his assessment of her, either. Well, most of it. Breakable, sure. Small? Well, compared to him, absolutely. She was short, slim – even more so now, more than half starved and exhausted, along with all the other things that had added up to starting into shock last night – so, okay, small. As for flying away? She could only wish, she thought, watching his hand almost wistfully before returning her attention to his face, or she'd have done so long ago. Instead, she only mumbled, “I like it,” not even caring if he heard her or not.
But then he brought up the very subject she'd tried to avoid, and she winced. But she got it. She didn't have to like it, but then she didn't like anything about the world she'd found herself in after emerging from that little shelter. But she did get it. Triage was one of the earliest things drilled into her in her training. In an emergency – and the world was a fucking emergency now, nonstop – triage saved more lives than anything else. Unfortunately, it did little to assuage her guilt.
Though...adviser? When she'd been here less than a day? And nearly fucking died on him? She wondered on it, but decided it was something best left until later.
“You shouldn't have to bear that alone. No one should.” She wasn't even sure why she said it, but at the same time, she didn't regret having said it. If he bore that burden alone all the time... Well, she wondered how he could possibly do it and stay sane. Anyone would break under that kind of strain, eventually. Despite herself, she found herself less worried about what he might think of her or any weakness she might show, and more concerned with offering him something in exchange for his kindness, some comfort. She had a distinct feeling it wasn't something he got often, if at all.
Ignoring the slight shaking of her hand, she reached up and over to grasp at his hand meeting those incredible blue eyes as she did so, offering what little she could to him with a gentle squeeze. “I'll stay...if the offer's still open,” she said after a moment. Honestly, she wasn't sure she could haul off anywhere else in her current state, anyway. But, beyond that, she wondered if maybe, just maybe, being able to save someone, to care for someone, might allow him some small release from the burdens he bore. She was grasping, really, unsure if it was the right thing to do. But, then again, she was as much in need as she felt he was.
“It’s nice to think about, eh?” He glanced at her quickly, “you flew away from the shelter to here.” He rolled his shoulders again, “hope you find your little…” He tried to think of the right word then smiled, “nest,” he knew that was horrible, but he was rolling with it. “I hope you find your little nest here.”
He scratched at his forehead, watching her think things through, she was so expressive at times. It was amusing.
“I’m used to it, they had me become the protector before I even asked.” He shrugged a bit to shift around so he could lay down next to her, but instead, he was propped up on an elbow facing her. “It’s not so bad, Nate helps out so it’s not only me all the time.” He flicked his eyes away for a moment to the wall, considering the things they have done before shaking his head, it went back to being compartmentalized. It was how he handled many things in life before this happened; and it had taken him far, it still carried him now.
He blinked when she found his hand, he tangled his fingers with hers out of habit, it was not something that had been done in a long time either. He looked down at her with a curious look, he wanted to know why she was touching him. “Then stay,” he flashed her a half-smile, “make yourself at home. This is your house too,” he nodded, then he frowned at the tremble. “You need more to drink and eat,” he looked over at the cup that had held the soup from last night, “did you drink all of that?” A slow exhale as he ran a thumb along her fingers, “I can get you something to eat.”
It was nice to think about, she couldn't deny it, even as she nodded her agreement. Being able to fly away, it was a nice thought...even though the flight that brought her here was anything but pleasant. But, it was surprisingly nice to think about making a...nest, as he called it, here. Especially if here could be more than just Lawrence itself. Yeah, it was a surprisingly nice thought, even if she was afraid it wasn't quite what he meant. Then again, she found him so hard to read, so much of the time. So, really, who knew?
“Maybe,” she murmured, watching him as he watched her. She wondered what he saw, really, when he looked at her like that. Whatever it was, it seemed to amuse him, to interest him. Well, at least that was better than irritating him the way she'd done far too easily yesterday. She wondered, briefly, if seeing him amused was as close as she was likely to get to seeing him....happy.
“Just because you're used to it doesn't mean you should have to shoulder it alone,” she said softly. “Even if this...uh...Nate helps.” She could actually see him just sort of shut down for a moment, and it saddened her. How long of doing that until there wasn't anything left of him but the soldier, the warrior, the machine? Hell, yesterday, she'd have been willing to believe that's all he was anyway. But now...well, she knew better now. There was still something left inside of him besides the hardened warrior. And she realized when that was finally gone, if she was still alive, she would mourn that loss, even though she barely knew him.
A faint smile curved her lips when Jason let her grasp at his hand, and then even tangled his fingers with hers. God, when had she started to care so much? Last night, probably. It was amazing what a little show of kindness after weeks of struggle and terror and confusion could do. After...watching every good thing she'd always believed of people be torn away, in some of the most horrifying ways possible. Ah well, her mother always had berated her for wearing her heart on her sleeve, and caring too easily and too much. Turns out...her mother may have been right, after all. Mina just wasn't really quite meant for the world she found herself in, and she didn't believe she would ever really be strong enough to survive it.
His offer, basically welcoming her, offering to share his home rather than just give her a place to sleep, something she felt was really his sanctuary in a way, that was finally enough to tip her over into just giving in. She didn't care if he saw how weak she was anymore. What did it matter, anyway? He'd seen her at her worst, at her weakest...and instead of turning her away, he'd cared for her. That...had to count for something, right?
“I..don't really remember,” she admitted quietly. “But I probably do. I think I'm still dehydrated.” Without even thinking much about it, she slipped into diagnosis mode, as one of her instructors would have called it, eyes going a bit distant as she went over everything she could remember of the night before that might tell her exactly how bad she had been, and might be now. “Don't feel hungry, but I'm weak, dizzy easily. Tired...so tired. Still cold, but not as bad as I was. Body heat that was...” She blinked, realizing he was running his thumb across her fingers.
She looked down to her hand, now more captured in his than the other way around, then back up to meet his eyes. She swallowed, caught by the tenderness in his eyes, wondering distantly if he was even aware it was showing so plainly in those eyes she'd gotten used to giving away nothing. Belatedly, she finished her thought, though all of the clinical detachment was gone from her tone now, leaving only her confusion. “It was, uh, a good idea. Probably what saved me more than anything else, really.”
“You’ll meet Nate,” Jason smiled a bit at her, “he’s good people.” From Jason, that was a huge compliment. “Well, not right now,” he glanced down at her with a mischievous grin as he took in her mostly-naked state before shifting away to chuckle. He wasn’t trying to leer at her, but he definitely wanted her to know that he was very aware.
When she slipped into that mode, he waited for her to finish. “You went far away,” he tilted his head curiously at her, “then you’re still not ready to go outside and meet everyone.” He frowned a bit as he shifted back closer to her protectively. “You need to get better first,” he ducked his head down to kiss her forehead. “Just stay here and we’ll figure it all out.
“I don’t need my little bird getting weaker.” He paused, rolling his shoulders as he let go of her hand, “or our medic.” He cleared his throat, looking to the door, “do you want food then?” He felt awkward for a moment, he wasn’t sure how to make things better. Last night had been easier, he had just let his instincts take over.
She nodded slowly, wondering, again, why he was so concerned with...well, making her at home. But, she was grateful for it. Feeling at home anywhere was welcome. Getting to do so with him, and being made to feel that way by him? Okay, shit, she thought, even as he was grinning her and making it pretty clear he was appreciative of her mostly unclothed state – yet, somehow, without making her uncomfortable in the way he did it – she might be getting a damn crush on him. She, pointedly, however, made no move to cover herself. She wasn't ashamed of anything on display. A bit bothered because she was aware she was so thin now ribs showed plainly, but, no, not ashamed. Before everything had changed, she'd been fairly athletic, and she'd never found shame in her own body.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, suddenly uncomfortable. Not by the way he'd looked at her, no. But at getting caught out drifting off from him, even if it had been what was probably a very necessary self-diagnosis. She really was starting to believe she might be the closest thing to a damn doctor they had. That was a really fucking scary thought.
The discomfort didn't last long, though. He shifted closer, and she was just too grateful for the warmth and safety he provided to care anymore, or to even be bothered by her easy acceptance of it. He was willing to provide the comfort, she was going to accept it for what it was. She needed it. Maybe, she thought as he leaned closer to brush his lips against her brow, they both did. “I'll stay,” she agreed, nodding. He kept saying it, like he was afraid she'd refuse him. Like she was able to refuse him. It made a smile flit across her lips briefly.
There was that nickname again, bringing another fleeting smile. It was even enough to keep her from completely freezing up when he called her a medic, though it dropped the smile from her lips – or, was that just where he released her hand, she really wasn't even sure. Still, if she was the best they had? She'd do what she could. She owed that to Jason now...and it was just the right thing to do.
“Soup, if you still have some?” She hesitated, realizing he seemed uncomfortable now. Or...maybe just unsure. Oh. Oh. He must have just guessed last night at what should be done. Damn good guesses, if so, but...now, he didn't seem to know what to do. She huffed out a breath, then forced herself to struggle up the bed so she could prop herself against the wall. She offered him a reassuring smile, the best she could manage with her head spinning. “I can't eat a lot at once. My stomach won't be able to handle it for a little while,” she explained patiently, her voice soft. “And I need to drink frequently, since I'm guessing an IV is out of the question.” She squinted thoughtfully, then sighed. “And I need to keep warm. It might take a little while, but that should do it.
“You...really did save my life last night, Jase.” She slipped back into the same nickname she'd used for him last night without even realizing it, smiling at him encouragingly. “You did everything you could have. Thank you.”
“I can’t have you out there half-naked, then I’d have to claim you and I think you’d punch me in the nose for it.” He chuckled at her as he shifted a bit to get comfortable while near her, still conscious of how much space to put between them. “Where do you go when you go far away in your head?” He chuckled, “it’s almost like you’re looking inside of yourself.
“Did you do that?” Jason gave a curious quirk of his eyebrow, he hadn’t seen anyone act like that, so he had to ask. He needed to understand her mannerisms to make sure that once something went down, he would know her the way he would have her know him. It was part of building a secure circle of people he could trust.
After he kissed her on the brow, he smiled, “good.” His eyes stared down into hers for a moment before he rocked back onto his elbow. “Mi casa es su casa,” he nodded, “really. Anything in here you can use, don’t ask.” A far cry from the other day where he got irritated when another woman had done the same thing – but he hadn’t extended the invitation to her. He shook his head as he thought about the woman, a fleeting memory that would fade quickly.
When she moved to sit up, he hurriedly shifted so he could sit up with her. A hand on her stomach without thinking, he watched her with a look of concern as she blinked away the dizziness. “Are you sure you can sit up?” His eyebrows furrowed for a moment before he planted another light kiss on her forehead, “I’ll get the soup. Anything else?” When she made the request to keep warm, he nodded a bit, he’d grab another blanket on the way up. At least there was a stash there.
“Eh,” he rolled a shoulder before pulling his hand away from her stomach, “I do know a little bit about keeping people from going into shock.” He chuckled uneasily before shifting away from her. “Be back soon. Chicken noodle okay?” As he asked, he pushed the blankets off of himself to stand up. When he stood, he quickly fussed over the blankets to make sure she was secure in them. “If you need anything, just call. I’m downstairs.”
He looked around for a moment before finding his jeans to tug on, it wouldn’t do to be downstairs and naked if someone decided to call on him.
Her lips twitched. “I wouldn't punch you. Slap....maybe.” She tried to keep her tone light and teasing, knowing referring back to the incident yesterday that had pissed him off so much was a risk, but, she needed to know if things were okay, if she was forgiven. It was better than just flat out asking. Maybe.
“I..uh. I guess so, kinda.” Mina glanced away, a flush rising on her pale cheeks. “I was...figuring out what was wrong with me, and what needed to be done to fix it.” Diagnosis, her mind supplied unhelpfully. She refused to use the word, though. It sounded like something someone who knew what the fuck they were doing would say, not some half-trained excuse for nothing more than a paramedic. “I'm sorry,” she said again.
Her eyes sought out his after the kiss to her forehead. He just continued to surprise her, and she found she liked it. Those eyes, that smile, the shift in his attitude toward her since yesterday – all of it made him very, very appealing. She'd tried to convince herself it was just because he'd saved her life, but she knew herself better than that. He was pretty much the opposite of the type of guys she'd dated in college – not to mention, she guessed, a decent bit older than her – but now? Yeah, everything was different now, and she couldn't deny the appeal.
She studied him when he went distant for a moment or two, curious what he was thinking about. He'd just dropped the astounding offer of his home, not just as a place to stay, but his home such as it was, and all within it, offering to share it with her without reservation. And now he'd grown thoughtful. Was he regretting it already? There was a little shake of his head as he returned his attention to her, and she just tucked it away as one more thing to consider later.
“Mmhm,” she replied absently, more focused on the task of making her weakened body obey. “I'll be okay.” She offered him a small smile. His touch steadied her, helping her to keep herself focused and keeping her from letting herself just drift off after the effort even just sitting up took. She didn't want to sleep again, not yet.
Aside from the practicalities of needing to get more water into her system, and food, she just...didn't want to spend the time sleeping. Not yet. Eventually, she knew he'd have to leave her to attend to whatever he did to keep Lawrence safe and running. But he was here now, and she wanted to be awake for it, to be able to watch him, learn him. It seemed...important to her that she do so, and right now she was willing to roll with that.
She shook her head. “Just...water, if that's okay. Something to drink.” And then he was withdrawing, moving away from her, acting as though her gratitude for what he'd done – and what he was still doing – wasn't even worth the effort of thanking him. It was something else for her to tuck away to think about later, that he seemed so uncomfortable with just being honestly thanked for something like that – or, maybe it was just the act itself, that he'd saved her at all. She ignored the ache it caused when he moved away, telling herself that he'd be back. At the very least, to bring her the promised soup, and, hopefully, something to drink – the thirst was nearly a torture all it's own now.
“Chicken noodle would be great,” he said, smiling up at him while he fiddled with the blankets, essentially tucking her in securely. It should have been funny, absolutely hilarious, this tough guy tucking her in like a little kid. But she didn't find it funny at all. It was just...kind. Mina nodded her agreement, settling into the warmth of the blankets tucked around her. “I'll be fine, Jase, really.”
She didn't look away when he pulled his jeans on, and didn't even bother to hide the fact that she was watching him. No matter the reason, she'd slept beside him without clothes on. There was little point in pretending at modesty, so she might as well enjoy it as she could, since looking was about all she was likely to have energy for. And to think, less than a day ago, she'd been irritated by the interest he'd made a point to show at the gate. Life was strange.
She watched him go, offering him another smile when he hesitated by the door to look back at her. That was, apparently, enough to encourage him, because he turned and left. She could hear his bare feet padding away for a moment or two, and then there was only silence. Well, almost. Distantly, she could hear the sounds of people going about their lives outside. It sounded so...normal. She could almost let herself believe things could actually be normal again. Almost.
She closed her eyes and just listened to the sounds of people living their lives. No fighting between them, no killing, no threats of violence toward each other. She could actually picture herself here, working, living, moving on, safe. And it never occurred to her to question that all of those little fleeting pictures in her head as she dozed included Jason.
While downstairs, he rummaged through the contents of the kitchen, making a few mental notes for the next time he did a store run. He never really had thought about stocking his place because he rarely was in his own place, or if he was, it was upstairs and busy. He grabbed another can of chicken noodle, opening it up and filling another cup after he made sure it was clean. Then he grabbed a bottle of water, crinkling his nose a bit. He felt like he should be feeding her something substantial, but really, there wasn’t much he could do until she felt like she could eat again.
He didn’t need her puking it all up and wasting food.
Jason stood there, not ready to run right back upstairs just yet, she made him feel things he wasn’t used to feeling when it came to a woman. Usually women were good for a couple things then that was it, but here she was, fragile with big brown eyes and… Ugh. She did things.
Hell, it wasn’t just cutesy things he felt, but primal – especially when he had noticed her watching him put on his pants. A shake of his head as he tried to force himself away from those thoughts, she wasn’t here for that. He could get another woman for that, she was here because he knew she needed to be safe – which was what he wanted the most for her.
A slow nod of his head, he was ready to go up again, a bottle of water in one hand and a cup of chicken noodle soup in the other. He walked slow, trying to keep himself paced, she would be there when he reached the top – it wasn’t like she could run anywhere without him hearing. “Water, chicken noodle,” he held them both up. “Are you sure you’re up to eating and drinking?” He walked over to her as she stretched a bit from the dozing.
At the sound of his voice, Mina's eyes opened slowly, seeking him out. She'd started to doze off without realizing it, and she had to blink at Jason a few times as she stretched before she realized what he'd been saying. “Mmm...yeah.” She shifted on the bed, adjusting herself to sit up more, smiling up at him as she did so. “No IV, no other choice.” She hesitated, then actually laughed just a bit. “I don't think I'd use one anyway, I'm not dying...now.”
Shifting again, Mina scooted over until there was room for him beside her without having to walk all the way around the bed. Even as weak as she was right now, she was thinking clearly again. And that meant she was highly observant, to the point of noting that the side of the bed she'd been settled on last night must have been Jason's side. The mattress was just too worn in all the right ways to be a side regularly unused. And, hey, the least she could do was give him his side of his own bed back, after all he'd done for her, and offered her.
“Sit down,” she said to him, not even giving the fact that she'd basically just given him an order any thought. Had she given it thought, she might have been surprised that he did exactly that, settling himself down beside her, eyes barely leaving her as he got himself comfortable. Her smile grew when he offered her the cup of soup, and she took it gratefully. “Thanks, Jase. I... Well, thank you.”
She sipped at the soup, biting back a moan when the broth hit her tongue. After so many meals that more often than not consisted of scrounged scraps from the groups she'd managed to talk her way into joining, or what little she'd been able to scavenge while on her own, the soup was better than any meal she could easily remember. She took a few more sips, feeling Jason's eyes on her, watching her with an intensity that should have have made her uncomfortable, but...somehow didn't.
When she'd finished the soup, Mina finally turned her attention back to him. “Why?” The question came suddenly, blurted out. She was endlessly curious, or had been, once, before. And some of that was coming back to her, her spirit perhaps not as beaten as had originally appeared with her arrival at Lawrence. “Why are you so intent on helping me? Why...all of this?” She gestured around vaguely, indicating his home, everything he'd offered her, everything he'd done for her. “You can't tell me you do this for everyone that comes here. So...why? Why me?”
Jason lifted his eyebrows at her order, amusement dawning in his eyes before they faded, he placed the bottle of water on the night stand before settling onto the bed. He leaned against the headboard and crossed his legs over the top of the blankets. “Here,” he offered the cup of soup, his eyes watching her while she took some sips. “I was gonna heat it up, but it means going outside, explaining everything and… I don’t feel like talking.” He rolled his shoulders as he offered that explanation. “And don’t worry about it,” he chuckled, “I can’t have you half-dead.” A smile settling on his lips.
Silence fell between them as he crossed his arms over his chest, his body relaxing while she drank away beside him.
“Hmm?” She broke the silence which got him to turn his head to study her for a moment, a curious look on his face as he heard the question. He was about to ask her what she meant when she blustered on through. He chuckled as he uncrossed his arms, shifting a bit on the bed so he could see her, “you remind me of somebody I knew once.” His voice was soft, “I couldn’t help her, but I can help you.” He chuckled, glancing away from her to the bottle besides him, “here,” he took the bottle and gave it over to her.
“So I figure, I can get right with the world somewhere, might as well start with you, Little Bird.” He smiled somewhat. “You don’t mind, do you?” He caught her eyes with his and held them in slight challenge.
She shrugged lightly, honestly unconcerned with the temperature of the soup. Just to have it at all seemed like a miracle to her. She mused over his admission, not feeling like talking. For all that, he sure didn't seem to mind talking to her. Maybe it was just that she was a stranger, with no real history with him, no knowledge of him aside from what little she'd seen yesterday – only half aware, or less, really – and this morning.
The silence between them was comfortable, at least for her. It was pleasant. Nice. Safe. And that was it, wasn't it? He was just safe. Whatever had happened between them last night, she couldn't deny that he'd become a safe place for her, someone she could trust. Mina had no idea what to do with that, not really. But it was that feeling of trust, of safety, that prompted her questions.
She'd avoided his gaze when Jason turned to look at her. Instead, she just stared down at her hands wrapped around the cup, listening to his explanation, unsure what to make of it. On one hand, it made a lot of sense. She was just a surrogate for someone else, someone from his past. It wasn't personal, not really.
But, on the other hand, she was surprised at the stab of... Well, she wasn't even sure what it was, really, but it made her chest clench up almost painfully. If it wasn't personal at all, it meant...he probably didn't really care about her at all, beyond whatever it was about her that reminded him of whoever it was he'd lost.
She glanced up when he offered the bottle, then settled the cup into her lap and took it. She was about to open it, when Jason continued. Her eyes went to his at the use of that nickname, and again came that clenching in her chest. Unable to tear her gaze away from his, those intense blue eyes seemingly looking right into her, she only shook her head at first. It took her a moment or two to find her voice, and when it came it wasn't much more than a whisper. “No, I don't mind.” Still, she couldn't quite keep the disappointment from her voice, even as quiet as it was.
It'd been stupid of her to think he felt anything for <i>her</i> she told herself. He was older, wiser in the ways of the world – especially as it was now – and he didn't even really know her. Just a crush, something stupid because he'd been kind to her when she was vulnerable. She let her eyes drop away, fidgeting with the bottle a bit before opening it and using the need to drink to cover her confusion.
He blinked, giving her a look of confusion, he had been telling her something personal and there she was, shutting down in front of him. What the fuck? A shake of his head, he should have known better than to tell her something like that. He looked away from her, working his jaw as he tried to decide what to do next. He wasn’t sure if he should storm out or sit there and make faces at her. Hell, did she not understand that what he was doing wasn’t normal for him?
He finally cleared his throat, running his hands through his hair. “What the fuck did I do wrong?” He looked over at her, waiting for her to finish drinking.
“I was telling you something and now you’re all upset.” He frowned a bit as he had to work his way around to the side of the bed to stand up. He wasn’t even sure what to do with himself while she sat there mopey and quiet.
“Well?” He stood there at the side of the bed, “I was trying to tell you that I cared about her – she wasn’t just some pity fuck. She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful soul. Big eyes for days. Didn’t need anybody but let me take care of her.
“There. Happy? You’re like her. I LIKE that. None of those girls out there are like you or her. You are fighting sort.”
He snorted, turning away from her to look at the door, working his jaw again. What the fuck was with women? Tell them something nice, they get mad. Tell them something mean, they get madder.
It was like she could feel it in the very air of the room, the shift that turned everything suddenly uncomfortable. It only confused her further. She must have done something wrong, but she couldn't imagine what it had been. Was she not supposed to agree with him? Had Jason expected her to argue? The more she thought about it, the more confused and agitated she became.
“What the fuck did I do wrong?” Wait, what? She blinked, but gave no other indication she'd even heard him. It wasn't really on purpose, but only that she just didn't know how to act. And if she'd learned anything over the past couple of months, it was to stay still and quiet when any situation became unfamiliar, until she could better understand what was going on. It went against her basic nature to always question everything, to try to understand everything immediately, but learning that lesson had saved her life on more than one occasion.
Slowly, she lowered the mostly empty bottle, cautiously watching him out of the corner of her eye as he shifted himself around until he was off the bed and standing over it. She listened to him rant, her eyes turned now back to the bottle, absently picking at the worn and faded label, a remnant from when it had been new. This girl he was describing, she couldn't imagine why he thought <i>she</i> was anything like that at all.
But, something was happening, as he said he liked that she was – in his mind, anyway – like this girl from his past; she was getting angry with him. She was trying to be respectful, mindful of the fact that he'd offered her a place here in his home, his territory. Trying to be mindful that he was the leader here in this place, and surely had better things to do than look after a silly, useless 'half-dead' girl. Trying to be mindful that she was alive thanks to him and his kindness.
But it was hard. In such a short time, she's just started to see him as Jason. Not as a leader, or a soldier, but just as a man. Someone she'd found herself trusting and depending on. Someone she'd found herself wanting to trust and depend on. Someone she...cared about. And now, it felt like that was all going to hell, and she wasn't even sure why.
Tears burned in her eyes, and she fought them – both because she didn't want him to see her cry, and because she knew deep down she really couldn't afford to lose the water from her system yet. Taking a deep breath, she slowly and deliberately shifted herself over on the bed to set the bottle and the cup on the nightstand. When she looked up from that, his back was to her, facing the door. He was going to walk out on her, she just knew it. And that thought terrified her enough to set her in motion.
Stubbornly ignoring the dizziness and trembling, she moved to sit on the edge of the bed, and then forced herself to stand so that she was just behind him. “Jason.” She huffed out a breath, faintly annoyed at how much effort it took just to remain standing. “I'm not like her. This girl of yours, this...ghost, I'm not like her. I'm sorry.” She stood for a moment, looking at him, watching the tense line of his back, his stiffened shoulders, and something in her broke; she'd caused this, after seeing him so relaxed, she'd caused this.
Mina decided at this point she had nothing left to lose. What was the worst he'd do? Throw her out, maybe. She certainly no longer believed he'd kill her, or even toss her outside the walls. The worst he could do was throw her out of his house. Well, no. The worst he could do was never speak to her again. That...would hurt. But it was worth the risk, because she was afraid the situation was headed there now, as it was.
She understood, at least a little. He'd opened up to her again, as he had when he'd followed her into the house and told her about his mother. Even, in a way, the way he'd done when he'd cared for her, protected her. And...the way he'd done when he'd offered to share his home with her, not as a guest, but as more, as an equal. It had taken awhile, maybe too long, but she was starting to understand.
With all this running through her mind, she carefully slid her arms around Jason's middle. She leaned against him, resting her cheek against the bare flesh of his back, feeling him tense up further at first. She did her best keep herself from trembling too much where she was pressed against him, but she knew she couldn't hide it completely. She could only hope he'd understand this wasn't a bid for pity.
“I'm sorry,” she offered again, when he didn't push her away, or seek to escape her. “She might not have needed anybody, but... I do. I'm weak, I'm useless, worthless, and I do need someone. I want that someone to be you. I don't know why, it makes no sense, but... I want to stay here, I...need you. I want to be allowed to need you, Jason.” She sighed, leaning further into him, trying to ignore that it was as much to stay upright as because she wanted the closeness she'd woken up to. “But I can't compete with a ghost. I wish I could.
“I wish you could care for me like that...” She let her words trail away, the wistful tone to them the longing, saying, perhaps, what she'd been unable to speak aloud.
“Did I say that I wanted you to be like her?” He snorted as he kept his back to her, shaking his head in disbelief, trying to figure out why he had bothered allowing her to stay in his house. He could have just pushed her off onto Madde, at least Mads would know how to handle her. He tensed as he heard her continue talking, “I was just telling you why I bothered.”
He could hear her stepping behind him, the floor creaked ever so subtly, he wasn’t even sure what she was doing besides standing there like an idiot. Her body wasn’t ready and there she was just… standing. Then there her arm was, slipping around him, his body tensed up – he wasn’t sure if he could trust this. His eyes closed as he felt her body press against him, the swell of her breasts against his back and he slowly exhaled.
Did she not understand what she was doing?
He cleared his throat, giving a slight shake of his head, he was still confused. Pissed the fuck off. And there she was, just holding and talking and talking. Why didn’t she just stop talking for a minute? A slight snort came from him before he shifted around in her arms so he could face her. When he managed to turn around after a brief moment of awkwardness, he looked down at her. “You’re not supposed to be standing up, you’re not ready.” He shook her arm off so he could slip his arms around her. “You’re in my house,” he paused, trying to figure out how to explain.
“You’re here, I don’t let people stay for long.” He looked up as he tried again. “Look, I’ve fucked girls, I don’t do relationships, it’s complicated. But you remind me of someone I did try it with once. I didn’t say you’re her. That I’m wanting you to be her.”
He exhaled, “fuck, I’m just saying the wrong things.”
“No. I...” It wasn't more than a whisper, and she was sure he probably hadn't even heard her in his anger. But she had to do something, anything, to try to recover the situation. Her heart ached, so far beyond even trying to tell herself that she didn't care.
She shifted when he turned, arms loosening. She was, honestly ready to just turn and flee, if she could have managed it. Yet, instead of berating her, he showed concern, though he still seemed angry. It confused her, put her off guard. She didn't even resist – if she even could have – when he pushed her arms away only to put his own around her.
She didn't stop him, but...she stubbornly refused to lean anymore, or to allow him to support her. She couldn't even bring herself to raise her head to look at him, instead staring off to the floor beside them. He spoke, again, and she listened, trying to grasp what he was saying.
And then she sighed, and just gave up. It was too difficult, and too tiring, and she just didn't care anymore about pride or saving face or pretending she was anything but exactly what she was. “Just shut up,” she said softly with no real bite to the words, looking up at him, tilting her head to see him better. She leaned into his hold, letting him support her.
She needed it; he was right, she wasn't ready to be standing, not for any length of time. But this was important to her. Somehow, it had become the most important thing in the world to her.
She reached up, letting her trembling fingers trail along his jaw, her eyes following her own fingers as they moved across his cheek, then touched his lips briefly before she moved her hand back to slide around his neck. Her fingers settled then, just brushing the hair at the back of his neck, while her eyes moved up to meet his.
“You're right. I'm in your house. You offered me shelter. You saved my life. You...were kind to me.” She hesitated, her eyes darting away, only to drift back almost immediately, drawn back. “And I'm nothing but a silly, uselessly girl. I...can't fly away.” She huffed out an unsteady breath, giving in and leaning against him then, tilting her head to lay her cheek against his chest. “I don't want to, anyway,” she continued, voice weary and nervous, but so sure of what she was saying. “I want to stay here.
“With you, Jason.”
He opened his mouth before closing it again and squinted down at her. He wasn’t even sure why she was telling him to shut up, but right now, that sounded like the best idea either one of them had since they met. He chuckled with a shake of his head while he resettled his arms around her, ready to catch her if she fell.
He tilted his head down at her with a curious look when he felt her fingers touch him, not sure why she was doing that. Women were always doing things like that, but this was different. She was… what was she doing? He had no idea of how to explain it to himself in a way that made sense. His eyebrows furrowed at her fingers touching his lips before pulling away, “what are you doing?” He had to ask, she befuddled him.
His lips parted, then closed. His eyes catching her and he chuckled softly, “you’ll fly away when you’re ready.” A roll of his shoulders before he settled to let her lean against him. “You know I’m not asking for anything, right?” He frowned, “I just want you safe.”
God, he was stupid. It was the very first thought that came to her when he asked what she was doing. She'd thought it was perfectly obvious. But, maybe not. She wasn't exactly very experienced at such things, after all.
“Not gonna fly away.” It was a murmur, but there was determination behind the words anyway. And then she laughed, more a giggle than anything. God, she was so tired, and a little dizzy, and somehow what he said just struck her as so funny. She'd been stupid, and Jason..? Well, he was still being stupid.
She shifted in his arms so she could look up at him again, still giggling a little bit. “I can't decide if you're that stubborn, or just being stupid, you know.” Shaking her head, she lifted her other hand – the one not still nestled comfortably against the back of his neck – and touched a finger to his lips again, letting it rest there for a long moment before letting her hand drop away to rest against his shoulder. “I know you're not asking for anything. I trust you on that. I shouldn't, not after....well, everything that's happened to me. I shouldn't, but I do anyway.
“Fuck, Jason. I'm just a silly girl to you, I'm sure. But I'm offering.” She huffed out a breath, clearly frustrated, even as she closed her eyes against the wave of dizziness that washed over her. “Or...I would be, if I didn't feel so shitty.” There was a slight shake of her head, trying to clear away the dizziness, before she opened her eyes and turned them back up to him. “Crush, gratitude for saving me, whatever.. I'm falling for you, no matter how stupid it is.”
Closing her eyes, she finished, “so you can kick me out, or you can do something about it. Ball's in your court.”
When she started laughing, he looked completely lost. He wasn’t even sure how to follow this conversation. “Why are you laughing now?” He was suddenly self-conscious while holding her, the giggling wasn’t even supposed to be a part of this very serious conversation. “I’m not being stupid,” he exhaled, “I… just have no idea what the fuck is going on.”
He closed his eyes for a moment at the feel of her fingers, sighing as her finger dropped away, he looked down at her. “Well, thanks for trusting me.” He wasn’t even sure what happened, but he wasn’t going to ask. That was up to her.
“I didn’t say you were a silly girl,” he gave her an indignant look, “I keep trying to tell you that I care and you keep getting mad at me.” Then she rushed on explaining herself. “You…” He paused, gesturing between them, “really?” He blinked, “really?”
She was laughing again, helplessly. She recognized on some level it really wasn't quite the appropriate response, but...then again, she was exhausted, weak, dizzy, still thirsty, not at all recovered, and...she'd manage to pick the very worst time possible to decide she was interested in a man. A very difficult, very amazing man.
“Yes, really,” she finally said once she'd managed to stifle the laughter and catch her breath enough to speak. “I'd really like it if you'd maybe reconsider your stance on...doing relationships. Because I would really, really like to be more than your roommate, or...whatever it was you were trying to offer.”
She wanted to say more, explain how she felt, anything, really, but a new wave of dizziness swept over her. Instinctively, her hands tensed, clutching at him. “I think you're right about not being ready to stand yet,” she mumbled, eyes closed now, pressing her head against his chest while she fought to keep her knees from giving out.
“I think, maybe, I should sit down.”
He looked at her with confusion once again at the laughing before letting it go, she was tired, she was giddy. She was.. He really had no idea. He chuckled a bit as he shook his head at her a bit. “I’m not offering just sex,” he huffed a bit before he rolled his shoulders, “I guess we could try,” he muttered a bit, scuffing a foot against the ground. He wasn’t used to a woman running things like this, he was used to making the calls when it came to women and sex.
He rubbed his chin against his shoulder quickly before looking down at her, “then sit,” he frowned as he pulled her in closer against him to support her. He shifted a bit so she could sit on the bed, he scooted over a bit so he could sit with her. “Lay down, whatever you want to do. I’m not going anywhere right now, Nate’s got the camp.” He smiled a bit as he shifted so she could scoot back on the bed.
He wasn’t even sure what to do now, she was weak and he was still reeling over this whole thing. Last night, he had been just trying to take care of this half-dead girl, and today, he was in a… relationship?
“You should nap. I’ll just…” He made a random gesture with his hand, he wasn’t really going to go anywhere.
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