Chapter Five: Save Point
Oh god. Oh, my dear Lord. I was dead! I was dead? Was I dead? Was Tilt? Oh god, please no.
I didn't want to look. I didn't even want to breathe. My eyes stayed shut for some time before my brain caught up with me, and I got enough sense to start breathing again. The breath I didn't remember holding left my lips in a fast rush, and I very slowly opened my eyes.
The man who had almost killed my dog lay on the floor, the back of his head slick with blood. It ran down the side of his face and onto the dark blue carpet, staining it black. I think I was still in shock because I stared at the man's empty eyes and his bloody head for a good thirty seconds before the faint echo in my ears that was Tilt's barking finally brought me all the way back.
I looked up, suddenly aware of another person in the tiny office.
My second (assumed) savior stood in the door way, a baseball bat stained with crimson in his hand. He was breathing fairly heavily, and I got the impression it was more from an adrenaline rush, than it was from exertion. He didn't look particularly muscled – at least not in a bodybuilder kind of way, but I could tell there was a certain strength to his form, and that he probably could have taken my intruder in hand to hand combat, even though my intruder had been about one and a half times his size. This new man was much younger than my intruder, probably somewhere in his mid twenties from a guess. He seemed to tower over me from where I still sat splayed on the floor, and I knew, even standing up, I'd have to angle my head upward to look him in the eye. There was the fine, subtle swell of muscle under his tattered hoodie jacket, either from some kind of work, surviving or both. A brown, nonconspicuous belt held up what I think had once been blue jeans, but they'd been well used, and had went from a dark blue, to a sort of soft, worn-in gray. He wore heavy black leather boots, and though the rest of him was somewhat thuggish and dismantled, I had still - for some reason - expected the laces to be loose and free, but they weren't. They were tied tight and close and in an orderly fashion, like he'd been expecting a military inspection of just his boots. It set off his whole look and bothered me in a way I couldn't quite place. Judging by the way he dressed, if I'd met him in a dark alley, I probably would have been a bit nervous, but as I looked up to his face, I changed my mind. He was handsome for sure; solid, masculine lines, and a squarish jaw that somehow managed not to look brute-ish. Compared to the rest of his paler skin, it seemed that his face had darkened with some time outside, and his skin was a warm, light caramel; though his eyes were a startling, crisp blue against that much darker face. His black hair was shoulder length and hung free and in front of his face a little, in a way that emphasized the natural elegant wavyness of it. I took in his whole face for a moment, but was inevitably drawn back to the startling blue of his eyes in the end.
So transfixed was I that I didn't hear him when he asked me a question. I jarred myself back to reality for the second time, and blinked at him.
"What?" I asked, blushing slightly and feeling a bit stupid.
"Are you all right?" He asked again, his breathing returning to normal, as those icy blue eyes flicked to the intruder on the floor. He watched him like a wary, jumpy animal, the bat in his hand still in a white-knuckle grip. It was only when the question processed, did my sliced-open hand scream out in pain. The sensation was so sharp and sudden, like my nerve endings had been backed up with pain and it was all washing out now, that I let out an audible gasp and moved my hand to my chest, looking down at it to examine.
The intruder's jagged knife had left a very angry crimson gash across my inner palm and the base of several of my fingers, so deep I could see the pink meat, and what I hoped to God wasn't the white gleam of a delicate hand bone. The edges of the gash were messy and uneven where the serration had sliced unevenly across my flesh. It hurt like hell, and I had trouble catching my breath for a moment. My whole forearm had been stained red and I hadn't even noticed until just then. Guess my brain took priority over worrying about my life, rather than my hand.
I felt warmth well up in my eyes, and I sucked it back up, not wanting to show weakness infront of this strange man.
"I.. I'm okay, just my hand..." I said, focusing very hard on my still intact finger tips and swallowing the lump in my throat several times. I glanced back up to him when he moved and watched him come to me and kneel, setting the bat on the side of him farthest the intruder. He grapped a tattered edge off the end of his jacket sleeve and ripped, pulling off a long strip of gray jersey cloth; I felt a little bad about ruining his hoodie, but my palm really hurt. He took my hand, and even though it was gentle, I still winced and made another audible sound before I could stop myself. He wiped off what he could of the blood running down my arm that hadn't already dried, and wrapped the cleanest part of the cloth strip around my palm. I can't say I was exactly quiet when he suddenly tightened it into a knot around the middle of my hand.
"Sorry..." He apologized, his voice sincere, "Have to keep it kinda tight to stop the bleeding and keep the edges together."
I swallowed hard again, and snuffled a bit, feeling girly and weak, but I managed to nod. He watched me for a few seconds, until Tilt trotted over to us, his tail wagging a mile a minute, and licked at the dried blood on my elbow for a moment before turning his tongue on the intruder, and licking at his face. Blue-eyes obliged Tilt and ruffled the thick fur around his neck; I think Tilt was trying to say thank you for me, and I appreciated it the help, even if it was Tilt just being an excited dog. I buried my free hand in his fur as the pain in my hand dulled to a numbish ache, and he lay beside me, his tail slowing.
"You okay now?" He asked, after having given me a moment.
"Yes... I think so. Thank.... you." I said, moving to stand. Blue-eyes took my free, good hand and helped me up. I brushed myself off and fixed my rumpled shirt, smoothing my dark hair behind one ear and feeling a bit awkward. He smiled at me, as if sensing something I did not and moved a hand to rest it lightly on my shoulder. I started to protest, but it was nice to have human contact that didnt involve nearly taking my fingers off.
"You're welcome," he said finally, flashing me a gentle smile which I returned on reflex. It wasn't a presumptuous, unprompted reply; just something I wanted to hear. "That guy had been creeping around the area for a while, while we were here, and it seemed awfully fishy for him to be breaking into a fortified Wally-World, so we figured there was another survivor in here. He was bad news..." He said, eyeing the man on the floor with the kind of look you give an old enemy, while I mentally mulled over his word choice of 'we'. There was a tense, pregnant pause before he looked back at me, though the kindness in his face returned.
"Really though, you should come with us. I've learned from experience that it's not good to stay in one place too long, or the Leeches start noticing and bad stuff happens." He jerked his head toward the man on the floor.
I looked down at the man, and his bloody head, and his open, empty eyes that had already begun to film over, and it was right then that it sank in: he was dead, not just strangely unconcious. I was surprised not that the man standing in front of me had saved me by taking the life of my intruder, but that I felt nothing for the dead man on the floor. A tiny, dark voice at the back of my head told me he had deserved it for ruining the poor excuse of a thing I had called my life up until this point, and that if I had had the opportunity I would have killed him myself. Perhaps more viciously.
I shook the thought from my head and looked up at Blue-eyes as he stood a good three or four inches over me, putting him about about six-three, or six-four. Did I really want to go with a man I had just met? A man who had just killed another? The alarms in my head should have been going off, telling me, no, of course you dont go with a man who's capable of killing, because he could just as easily do it to you. It was probably a trick of some kind, anyway, but none of those thoughts crossed my mind in any prominant fashion. Something was different about this one... something about him felt safe, and comforting somehow. Almost as if it was perfectly natural that my next step should be to go with him. Besides, he was probably right. If I stayed here, there was a good chance another Leech would find his way here, and I didnt really want to think about going through this scenario again.I also didn't think he would have gone through the trouble of saving me, had he only meant to harm me later. I mentally shrugged to myself and thought "Well, why the hell not".
"Whats your name, anyway?" I asked, tilting my head to look up at him curiously.
He gave me one of those friendly, all-natural smiles. "My name is Tobias."
I returned it again, holding out my good hand. "Avery."
He grasped it and shook, firm enough that it wasnt limp, but not so firm as to crush my hand. I almost sighed at the sensation of having skin on skin contact with another person after having not even seen one alive in over a year. It didn't matter that it was only our palms that touched. I must have held on a little bit too long, because he made a small, amused sound and released my hand, moving to grab a few things from around the room.
"We'd best get moving, Avery. Leeches multiply fast."
My pail cheeks were a bit pink, but I nodded in agreement, moving to the edge of the soft pallet, near where the desk had originially been at the start of the night to grab my messenger bag, and tuck what few belongings I had left into it. I reached for the small plastic case that had my medicine treatment in it, and remembered that it was empty, and that I had nothing left. The thought of being out of my medication worried me a bit, and even more so was that I couldn't break into any old drug store and restock; it was the last bit of last incarnation of the treatment my father had concocted especially for me and my unique sickness before he disappeared and left me at the facility. I lingered on the cool, nagging sensation of dread at the back of my head but finally shook it off. I'd been out for a few days and hadn't felt bad yet... I might be okay. Perhaps I'd even get lucky, and find the generic version somewhere, the one I had started out on before Father had made his own. Yeah... that's what I'd do... go back to generics.
Tilt padded up to me with a slobbery brown object in his mouth, and dropped it at my feet; it was the leather bound journal I'd found earlier that day. Tilt looked expectantly up at me, his tail wagging so fast that his butt moved from side to side. He obviously wanted me to take it, and with a slight roll of my eyes, I obliged, picking it up and wiping it off on my pants before tucking it into my bag. He probably just wanted me to carry it so he could chew on it later 'cause it smelled good. Dogs...
I rummaged around the corner of the room where I'd kept my little items, like my reading glasses, and a watch, and when all that was packed away, I stared again at the plastic case with its empty vials of serum, sitting there on the carpet. Sighing, I shoved the small, hard plastic container into my pack as well.
I turned to find Tobias rolling my many layers of soft things up into a bundle. "Do you mind if we... ah... take some of... the stuff in the store... for, um, us..?" He asked, trying to phrase it delicately. After all, thats what the intruder had originally been trying to do, right? Take my stuff? After he killed me, of course. Either way, it would have been incredibly selfish and stupid of me to have said no and made him leave it because it was mine. I nodded in reply and he smiled once again, though it was more of a relieved smile now.
To be perfectly honest, I would rather have stayed in the Wally-World with my life time supply of dry cereal (among other things), and been safe and moderately happy, but that just wasn't going to happen. I had no choice but to go with Tobias, and whoever 'we' were. I could always duck out at some point if he ended up crazy too, I suppose. Maybe. As for him taking my accumulated supplies, well... I'm sure there were other Wally-worlds I could escape to eventually. Besides, maybe he and 'they' needed them. The fact of the matter was, I could no longer stay here, no matter what Tobias' motive was.
With the possible need for a future escape in mind, I moved to the body of my intruder and rummaged through his clothes until I found the serrated knife that had cut my palm open. I wiped it on my pants and folded it closed, slipping it into my back pocket. I then grabbed the bloodied bat from the floor where Tobias had left it. If this guy was crazy and out to get me for whatever stupid reason, I wanted him to know I would be prepared this time. I gave him a meaningful look, but eventually softened my expression. It was time to toughen up and stop crying, especially if I was going to be in potential danger soon. I didn't get that vibe from Tobias, but it never hurt to be prepared.
"I'll go unlock the back room, so you can take some stuff out." I said, moving to the still open office door, Tilt close behind me. Tobias smiled at me gratefully and moved with us to the door.
"We should probably find some carts or something." I suggested. I didn't know where Tobias was intending to move these supplies, but I sure as hell wasn't going to carry a pallet of Cheezies myself.
"No need." He said, and brought his fingers to his mouth, letting out a long, loud whistle while I raised an eyebrow at him, puzzled.
The sound of several running footsteps echoed in the darkness shortly after.