Still catching his breath, Reuben lifted from the bed to see Jackie redressing. He leaned on his elbow and covered himself with the blanket, watching her for a moment as she stood only in her underwear, buttoning up her black top. Her eyes shot to him, then away.
"This was a mistake," she said sharply.
"That's probably true," Reuben stated with a chuckle. "But not all mistakes are bad."
"This one was."
"I don't know you," she snapped, snatching her pants from the floor. "And you don't know the first thing about me."
"Your necklace," said Reuben, moving to sit up on the bed.
"What about it?"
"What's the story? You were in a firefight and your enemy's weapon jammed, and you won so you took the cartridge? Or maybe it's a lucky shot you made that saved a life?"
Jackie buttoned up the second to last button on her shirt, concealing the necklace from view. It was a spent shell casing, .38 Special, affixed to a silver chain that dangled nearly between her breasts. "None of your business."
"Your service weapon is a nine millimeter. That's a thirty-eight casing. So it either happened before you joined Hatch's band of merry men, or it was from someone else's weapon. Come on, you're not really gonna leave me here guessing, are you?" Pants in hand, Jackie huffed, and peered at him. She said nothing. Reuben gazed back at her with softening brown eyes, moving closer to her, sitting at the edge of the bed. "Why are you so angry?" he said. His words were deeper than they seemed; he was not asking why she was upset, but rather why there was so much rage inside her. It was a question she did not want to answer.
"It's a piece of my husband," she stated simply.
Her words pushed Reuben away from her, and he leaned back onto his hands on the bed as he made a realization. "I'm the first man you've been with since he passed, aren't I?"
Jackie gave him a look, her eyes somewhere between enraged and heartbroken, as she shoved her legs into her pants and reached for the door.
Parker moved quickly through the halls toward the reserves Clyde had pointed him to. With only a few hours until sunrise, Parker needed to replenish his rations and ammunition. First he would head to the corner of the cellar where the food was stored, luckily untouched by the chaos that had taken place there. Then he would visit the barracks, where security stocked their ammunition. Hatch had given him express permission to take the ammunition he needed.
The encounter with Alan Paddock had left him edgy. His right hand remained ever near his pistol as he moved down the corridors, making his amble slightly off-kilter. He did not care. Paranoia or not, he wanted to be prepared to draw and fire in the blink of an eye. That was all he would have if the assassin was stalking him. He nodded to everyone passing him in the hall, but he was scanning around and behind them constantly, checking every corner and watching his back at all times. It was a new level of caution for him, one he had never been so concerned about before. Every time he glanced around a corner, he wondered if this was what it was like to live in fear.
He passed the hallway that led into the section of the cellar that contained all the metal containers that he used to shelter himself in a storm of gunfire. There were still scraps of shredded steel all over the floor from he containers that were ripped apart from the rounds that had blazed over his head. He did not want to linger in that room-- it brought back bad memories. After a brief glace, he walked on down the concrete hallway.
Once he reached the food reserves, he slipped off his empty pack. It was a smaller bag he kept tucked compactly into his ruck, used for carrying miscellaneous things when he did not need his whole bag. For now, it was the vehicle for the rations and soon the ammunition as well. After selecting several packs of dehydrated food, enough to last about ten days, he moved on. He still had some salted squirrel strips to eat before getting into the dehydrated foods, but it was better to have too much food than not enough when in the wilderness. He backed out of the store room and headed back up toward the barracks.
The amount of ammunition that was collected in the barracks was impressive. The selection was slim, however; there was a lot of 9mm, the caliber of most of the security officers' sidearms. But the amount of 5.56mm ammunition was getting low because of the amount of gunfire the security force had used lately. Constant fighting had that effect on ammunition reserves. Parker snatched several boxes of the 5.56mm before glancing around for his sidearm's caliber.
There was a lot of .308, the select caliber of the security snipers. Parker idly wondered if Noric's rifle was chambered in .308. There was also an excess of 7.62x39mm, the caliber of Reuben's Kalashnikov. Parker grabbed a few boxes for him. Finally he came across the .45 ACP, and grabbed two boxes to replenish what he had used since he left Constitution. The amount of times he had needed to draw his pistol over the past several days bothered him.
Then he recalled his misfire during the firefight in the cellar, and was struck with insecurity in his carbine. That was not acceptable. As he headed back toward the living quarters, he mulled over what parts he could change, if any. In all likelihood it was probably faulty ammunition. Parker made note of this; he was still using ammunition he had bought in the factories in Louisville. This dissatisfied him; the quality of most of the goods produced in Louisville had dropped significantly after the Socialist Revolution. He made a note to swap out the loaded ammunition in his magazines with the fresh ammunition he had just gathered, which according to the package, was produced locally in Shepherdsville. Capitalism always produced better quality goods and services.
As he moved down the hallway, he was disturbed from his thoughts by a door swinging open, nearly hitting him. He took a quick step back, hand touching the grip of his pistol as if he were being attacked. The sign on the door read 'LIEUTENANT QUARTERS'; Parker did not know the Lieutenant got her own room. Through the door came Lieutenant DeWitt, barefoot, and seemingly furious. Her eyes snapped to Parker, seeing his hand on his weapon.
"What the fuck are you gonna do, big boy?" she snarled.
Stunned, Parker said nothing.
A hand reached out for her shoulder from within the room. Paranoia told Parker it was Alan. His hand gripped his pistol, but he did not draw. A moment later, Reuben stepped from within the room, covered in only an unbuttoned pair of pants. His hand grasped the lieutenant's shoulder, but she angrily pulled away.
"Get off me," she growled at Reuben, before taking a step toward Parker. "Move, Parker. Now."
Not wanting to get involved in whatever was going on with her, Parker stepped aside, and Jackie stormed past him. He cast a surprised and confused glance at Reuben, who let out a groan and leaned against the door. "Wow," remarked Parker. "You and Jackie. I didn't see this coming."
"What can I say?" Reuben replied, his voice dry of humor. "You inspired me."
"Yeah, well, looks you did a great job of wooing her."
Reuben sighed and gave Parker a scowl. Blinking in surprise, Parker decided to leave the subject alone; normally Reuben would have made a joke about it, but something was clearly very wrong and Parker did not feel it was his place to get involved. Instead, he reached into his bag and pulled free the 7.62x39mm rounds to hand to his companion.
Reuben took them without much more than a simple "Thanks." Parker nodded obligingly and excused himself from the scene.
When he returned to the living quarters, Sal was sitting on his cot, cleaning the disassembling and cleaning the bolt carrier group of her AR-15. She looked up at him when she noticed him and smiled, and Parker felt comforted by it. He took a moment to observe her; her hair was tucked into a red bandanna, and she wore an olive drab sports top with brown cargo pants. She was using a blue towel to clean and lube the bolt of her rifle and Parker could not help but admire the finesse with which she did so.
"What's wrong?" she asked. Parker was surprised she could tell so quickly that he was bothered.
"Something's up with Reuben," he stated. "I think he slept with DeWitt. I saw him in her room, and she stormed out really pissed about something. She got in my face and Reuben just watched. I don't know-- Reuben has just seemed really distant."
"I understand. You miss your boyfriend," she teased.
"You're hilarious," mocked Parker, moving to sit on the edge of the cot beside her.
"Have you tried asking him what's going on?"
"No," Parker admitted. "It hasn't seemed like a big deal until now, I guess."
Sal sighed and shook her head, saying, "What is it with you two? You never actually talk about anything. You both keep everything bottled up and then bitch when you don't know what's going on in the other one's head. I swear to God, you're like brothers." There was a brief pause before Sal looked up at him and added, "If you're going to talk to him about it, you'd better hurry. We'll be meeting by the gate in a little over an hour, and then we're hitting the road. I wouldn't want to talk about something like this while traveling if I didn't have to-- it's an unnecessary distraction."
She was right, and Parker knew it. Whatever was going on, he and Reuben needed to figure it out before they left. They could not afford to have drama in the wilderness, where at any time one person's life and death could be decided by the actions of another. Parker leaned over to give Sal a soft, brief kiss, his way of thanking her, before pushing off of the cot and moving toward the door.
"Good luck," she said, returning to the maintenance of her rifle.
Reuben finally caught up with her in the dining hall. She seemed to just be idly wandering, doing whatever she could to get away from him. Normally she was so concerned about her image, but as she rushed into the room and past the tables in her bare feet with her uniform only mostly buttoned and untucked, Reuben was thankful there was no one else in the room. As she rounded the edge of the table, Reuben reached out and grabbed her arm. "Jackie, wait, please!"
She jerked her arm away from him and turned, shoving him. Reuben stumbled back, and before he could protest, she sent a straight punch into his chin that snapped his head back and staggered him for a moment. When he realized she was not finished, he readied himself to evade further attack. He was ready when she swung a second time, weaving to avoid the punch; he closed the distance between them quickly and wrapped his arms around her, clinching to keep from being hit again. In response, she slammed her elbow down on his shoulder blades over and over again; to neutralize her, Reuben lifted her from her feet and carried her toward the wall, absorbing the abuse for the moment. When he reached the wall, he dropped her back onto her feet and grabbed her by the shoulders, slamming her back into the wall. The concrete wall proved harder than her body, and the breath left her chest, taking the fight from her for a moment. Reuben snatched her wrists and jerked her forward, spinning her so that he was able to slip his elbow under her throat, pulling her back to his chest. He held her arms tightly with his left arm and restricted her airflow with his right, ignoring her struggles against him.
"Jackie, I'm going to be very clear. I want to know what's gotten you so angry. But I'm not going to deal with you attacking me. I'll let you go if you can act like a sane adult."
She growled, and he pulled tighter. Reuben was confident he had subdued her, until she snapped her heel between his legs and shattered his sense of victory. It was a direct hit, and Reuben, despite his best efforts, could no longer hold onto her. She writhed from his grasp and he buckled to take a seat on the nearby table, sucking in air with pained breaths.
Jackie shoved away from him and stormed toward the door, tears streaming her cheeks. But when she reached the doorway, she stopped and leaned her head against the wall, no longer trying to keep from crying. As Reuben recovered, she stood silent for a moment, before slowly returning to him. Reuben looked up to see the ashamed look on her tear-streaked face.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, as if she did not want to say it but knew she had to. Reuben just shook his head, either lacking the strength or the mercy to accept her apology. Sheepishly, Jackie took a seat on the table beside him, and laid a hand on his back. "When it comes to my husband, I get... Crazy."
"No shit," Reuben wheezed.
"Why do you want to know this stuff about me? Why are you suddenly so interested?"
With a scoff, Reuben finally sat up straight and retorted, "Why can't you accept that I just want to get to know you?"
Jackie did not have a reply ready. She let out a defeated sigh and looked away, leaving her hand on Reuben's back. Neither of them spoke for a moment, Reuben still regaining himself and Jackie carefully selecting her next words.
"I hate him," she said simply.
"Robert. My husband."
Reuben paused, trying to understand. "You hate your husband? Why?"
"Because I love him so much," she stated. It frustrated her that it seemed to make no sense, that no one else could possibly understand. "I love him so much that I feel guilty for being attracted to anyone else. I feel like a whore for wanting someone new, for being lonely and craving what he used to give me. I love him so much, and he loved me so much, and I'll never forgive him for it."
Surprised by the sudden spill of emotions, Reuben carefully grasped her hand, and slipped an arm around her waist. "How long has it been?"
"Three years," she sighed. "Three years since he died, and I still feel like he's at home waiting for me."
"You can't stay in mourning forever, Jackie," he said softly. "If he loved you as much as you say he did, he wouldn't want you to feel alone and unhappy. That doesn't honor his memory at all."
"I know," she replied, sniffling and wiping away fresh tears from her cheeks. "But I just can't make myself stop feeling like I'm cheating, or pissing on our marriage."
"So I was right, wasn't I? That I'm the first one?"
"There have been others that I've wanted to be with, but..." She trailed off, before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, you're the first one I've done anything with since he died."
"No wonder you freaked out. It's a huge thing for you." Reuben cleared his throat, suppressing his pride as best he could to say, "I'm sorry if I pushed you into it before you were ready. I didn't know you felt this way."
"No," she said quickly, before adding, "Well, you did push me into it, but I went along because I wanted to. I'm attracted to you, and... Well, I've just wanted to be with someone so bad. It's been such a long time."
"Could have fooled me," he replied with a smile, giving her a nudge. She looked up at him, and smiled weakly. Reuben was glad to see she was not always so impervious to his humor. Her hand gently squeezed his, and he took it as encouragement to learn more about her. "You said the necklace was a piece of him. What did you mean?"
Taking a deep breath, Jackie prepared herself to talk about the most difficult topic of all. "Robert was Marc's best friend growing up. When we were all teenagers, he and I started dating, and the three of us would hang out a lot, go on little adventures and things like that. Teenager stuff. Then we became of age and decided we all wanted to join the militia. Sounded like such a great idea at the time.
"I was the only one that made it. Robert and Marc washed out in Boot. They weren't cut out for it, but I was passionate about it. I graduated and went on to the policing sector, and spent the next few years fighting the gangs for control of the industrial and impoverished districts. But Marc resented me for making it into the militia, and later I found out he got involved in some of the gangs. I've always wondered if he did that in spite of me.
"Robert was the one who told me what Marc was doing. From then on I was terrified I'd be pulling the trigger on my own brother. I ended up transferring for Scout training because of how afraid of it I was, even though I didn't really want to be a Scout. Contact died between Marc and I, and Robert and I got married. I got a position as a Spotter and started making real money. Robert ended up getting a job as a surveyor, charting the land around the city walls to help make accurate maps, you know? I hated him doing it. He loved it so much, going out into the unknown and marking down landmarks and pathways. But I hated that he refused to get any kind of training, and always just thought that as long as he had that stupid revolver of his, he'd be fine. Well one day, the worst finally happened, and he got attacked."
Jackie fell silent, and Reuben looked away. That was all he needed to know. He prepared to speak, but Jackie continued instead. It seemed like she wanted to get this all off of her chest, and Reuben could not help but wonder if she had ever told anyone before. "He was bitten on the hand, and again on the shoulder. I remember when my CO told me that my husband was outside the city gates, screaming for someone to open them for him. They couldn't. When I got to the gates and saw the blood, I just... I knew. I knew he'd been bitten, that he was already dead. Once he saw my face, he knew too. We cried, we touched through the portcullis, we said a few stupid little things to each other, and then he drew his revolver and... He was gone."
Reuben pulled his arm around her and hugged her to him. "He told me not to look," she added. "I'll never understand why I didn't listen to him."
"I'm sorry," was all Reuben could think to say. "I can't imagine what that must have been like."
"My CO gave me his revolver," she said. "I was never really able to handle it much. It just hurt too bad. But the day I got it, I opened the cylinder and took out the shell of the bullet that killed him. I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it. It's a part of the last thing he ever did for me-- he took his life so that I wouldn't have to."
There was a strange and twisted romance to that concept, and Reuben found it touching. He gave Jackie another squeeze and tried to find words for her, but came up short. She nestled her head into his chest, leaning over his lap, and let out a heavy, weary sigh. "Now Marc is gone, too. He was the last bit of family I had."
"I'm so sorry, Jackie."
"Don't be. It was a twisted sense of cosmic irony that put him here in my unit in the first place. He hated me, and I hated dealing with his bullshit. Apparently he couldn't hack it in the gangs either, so he thought private security was his gig. Shows what he knows. I don't even know why Commander Hatch took him in." Despite the hatred in her words, Reuben could tell there was a sadness in her chest she would not let out. "Still, he was my brother. We should have known that was a trap. We should have done things differently."
"It's not your fault. You were just following orders. You weren't the one who made the choice."
Jackie scoffed and quipped, "If not me, then who?"
"Parker. He's the one who bought the hitman's bullshit story, and then rewarded the bastard for it."
Pulling away slightly, Jackie looked up at him in surprise and said, "Isn't he your friend?"
"It takes a real friend to say when you're being a fucking moron," Reuben defended. "Parker made a dumbass choice and people died. What kind of friend would I be if I let him go on to make another stupid choice and get more blood on his hands?"
"Reuben," she gasped, "that's a horrible thing to say."
"You know better than I do the amount of damage bad leadership can do. You lost people you know, people close to you, because of him."
Disgusted, Jackie moved away from him and said, "I can't believe you would put that kind of weight on his shoulders, even if you're right. Some friend you are."
As Jackie slipped from the table and moved away from him, Reuben let out an annoyed sigh. It seemed she was just determined to be mad at him. He watched her move to the doorway, and grumbled as he stepped to the floor to follow her. As he rounded the corner to follow her down the hall, he saw Parker standing in the doorway, leaned against the wall, a pained expression on his face. Reuben felt his gut sink when he realized Parker could have been standing there the whole time. Parker peered at him through eyes that were colored with an emotion Reuben could not place.
"Meet the group at the north gate in forty minutes. It's time to go," Parker said blankly. Reuben simply nodded, and Parker turned away to move back down the hall. The two said nothing more.
Last edited by Tribunal Power
on Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.