He woke up before dawn, his heart racing from the nightmare still fresh in his mind.
The quickened beats pulsed in his ears and he sounded out of breath. His eyes snapped open, finding the land around them still dark. It was quiet but he still listened, taking deep breaths, slowing his pulse down, confirming that nothing was out of the ordinary – as if anything could ever be considered ordinary anymore.
He turned and looked beside him.
Jules was curled up on her side, covered with a heavy, wool blanket that they had found in the town that they had passed through the day before. It was cold at night – the sharp sting of winter biting in the air, nearing closer every day – and sleeping on the ground wasn't ideal for a woman in her condition but it was safer for them outdoors. If they slept in a house, it was too enclosed, too tight of a space. Anything could happen. At least, out in the open, they could see something coming and have the room to handle it. They both had developed a bit of claustrophobia over the years.
She slept soundly and he didn't want to wake her. She needed as much rest as she could get. They didn't walk nearly as much during the day as they used to. Her body ached – her back, her ankles – and he didn't want her to be pushed. She had to take care of herself. He had to take care of both of them.
Kermit, the mutt that had adopted them from a small desert town back in New Mexico, laid protectively at Jules' feet, looking after her as well – as if the dog also understood her condition and knew that she had to be kept safe. His head was down but his ears were also standing at attention, his eyes open and looking at Jason.
His heart had finally slowed down to its normal rate but he knew sleep was gone from him now. He was awake and the day had begun. It wasn't safe to light a fire yet. They couldn't do that until the sun had risen and the Walkers would no longer be attracted as much to their flames like moths. He could still find them something to eat. They were surrounded by trees. There had to be a small animal or two who dwelled there that could be caught and offer enough sustenance – at least for breakfast.
He made sure that she was covered completely with the blanket and she shifted in her sleep from his touch, moving towards his body of warmth. He leaned down and brushed his lips across her temple and his hand lingered on the bump of her abdomen. She was four months along now and the bump seemed to grow with each day. They were both endlessly fascinated with her pregnancy. They had taken a few books from a store and both had read them from cover to cover since neither had any idea what to expect in the coming months. The more Jules had read, the more excited she had actually become. She wasn't scared about the lack of doctors or hospitals or something going wrong.
"Since the beginning of time, women have been doing this. I can do it, too," she had said.
For once, he was the one unsure though he hid his doubt from her behind his constant stoic demeanor. He didn't need to tell her that he was absolutely terrified that a thousand different things could go wrong with her – or the baby – and he didn't know anything about medicine except how to treat bullet or knife wounds. This was so far completely out of his element of comfort, he didn't know what to do. All he knew to do was to keep both Jules and their baby growing inside of her alive at any cost. He would do anything if it ensured their safety and Jules knew that. She had such an intense level of faith in him. For the past three years, she had relied solely on him and now, she was more than ever.
He would not fail either of them.
He stood up, stretching his arms and cracking his back. Kermit stood up as well when he saw Jason strap his sword sheath onto his back and buckle a gun holster around his thigh.
He shook his head though. "Stay with her," he commanded the dog in a quiet voice. Kermit looked miffed – he loved to hunt – but he sat down at Jules' feet again and Jason reached out, rubbing the dog behind one of his ears. "Keep her safe," he said and then with one last look to Jules, still asleep, he turns and stepped from the clearing into the trees that surrounded them.
It was grey – dawn fast approaching – and though he couldn't see far, he could still see. He didn't necessarily need his eyes though. He had trained his ears long ago and that was what he relied on. Eyes could often lie to a person – imagining things that weren't actually there – but if a person built the skill of their ears, that was all a person needed. Jason had a gun drawn, ready, and stepped slowly over the uneven terrain of the forest floor. They had passed through Arkansas and now were working through Mississippi.
East. Always heading east. To Savannah.
He forced himself to concentrate that morning and not linger on the nightmare. He had a nightmare almost every single night now and sometimes, he felt more exhausted in the mornings than when he went to sleep the night before. Most times, he couldn't remember but sometimes, he dreamt of Seattle, of shooting up churches, of spending years living in a tiny cell with nothing but books and his own thoughts to keep him company, of the death chamber and taking his final walk, of Jules and a Walker biting her and having to kill her with his own hands. Most of the time though, he dreamt of his brother. Those were always the worst for some reason.
It had been four months since he had killed his brother. Since he shot him between the eyes. He could still hear the thud of his body as it fell heavily onto the steps of the church.
He had killed his own brother – murdered him. He hadn't even hesitated in doing so. He had killed a lot of people – before the plague when they had actually been people – but this was the only time that he had nightmares about one of his actual victims. When he thought of the church, he could hear the gunfire and the screams and he had seen the dead bodies covered with white sheets on the news but he hadn't seen any of their faces. With Adam though, he had looked him right in the eye when he killed him.
He heard a rustle in a nearby nest of foliage and he immediately froze, his gun aimed. It wasn't a Walker. The foliage wasn't big enough to hide a body behind and he waited, not moving. He had all the time in the world.
The foliage moved again and then a large grey hare shot out. He fired without hesitating, the shot echoing through the quiet still morning. Birds took off from the branches above and it took seconds for the blast to fade away. And then everything fell quiet again. He paused for another moment, waiting, seeing if it had stirred anything else, but he heard nothing and he finally moved to claim his prize. He lifted the rabbit by its hind legs and he held it up. It was a good size. He would skin it and cook it over the fire he would build. There would be enough meat for both of them – even with Jules' growing appetite.
That was another thing he worried about. He needed to keep Jules fed. Eating vegetables from cans wasn't going to be enough anymore. She had a baby she had to feed now, too.
He hadn't wandered that far into the trees and it took him only a few minutes to emerge back into the clearing. The sky was turning pink and purple with dawn and he saw Jules was awake now, crouched down next to a tree a little bit away, wanting a little bit of privacy. After three years – constantly together – modesty didn't really exist anymore; just another thing the world had snuffed out. But she was going to the bathroom more now, too, and sometimes, he knew that she just wanted to do so without him nearby.
It was still too early to light a fire.
He sat back down where they had set up camp and he pulled his hunting knife from the sheath at his hip. He cut into the rabbit and began to skin it, pulling its fur back, revealing the muscle and meat beneath. Jules had actually taught him how to do this. Her father had been an outdoorsman and he had passed the skill and the love of nature onto his two young daughters – Juliet and Erica. Jason knew he wouldn't have been able to survive the past three years without Jules. She knew direction, how to forage for food and cook meat, knew what bark from a tree could be eaten and what mushrooms and berries wouldn't kill them. She knew that when they had been desperate for water and there were no rivers they could trust or it hadn't rained, they could cut into cactuses and suck the moisture from inside.
All he knew how to do was kill.
"Look at you," and he lifted his head to see her smiling, watching him. He smiled a little, too. "My man's bringing home the bacon," she lowered herself down next to him, her hands resting on the bump – a natural position for her now. She then moaned and licked her lips. "Oh god, I miss bacon."
He smiled a little wider and continued tearing the fur away until it was completely skinned. He then found the bullet embedded in a layer of muscle and he dug it out, tossing it away. His hands were dirty and bloody and the sky was lighter now. It would be okay now. He took a stick from the pile they had lit the night before and as Jules tied the feet of the rabbit together with a few spare pieces from her pack and then fastened the animal to the stick, he stood to gather more to light. When he had enough kindle, Jules handed him a cheap romance paperback she had taken yesterday from one of the stores and had already read. He lit it with his cheap plastic BIC lighter and situated it so the branches caught, too. He found two branches tall enough and stabbed each into the ground on either side of the fire before balancing the stick with the rabbit over them, the animal hanging over the flames.
It would take a while to cook but they had time. They moved a lot slower nowadays.
He sat down next to her, the blood on his hands now dry, and she leaned into him, resting her head against his bicep. They watched the fire and the clearing become lighter around them with the rising sun.
"You had another nightmare," she said softly, almost as if she didn't want to say it at all. He didn't answer – both knowing that he wouldn't. "Do you want to talk about it?" She asked and then shook her head. "It's okay," she then answered her own question.
He had opened himself up completely to her about his past and the man he used to be but he was still quiet. He didn't just open his mouth and start talking. That had never been him and it wouldn't be now. She knew that though he knew she wished for it to be different. He knew she wished he would talk to her more but he didn't see a need to. She knew how he felt about her. She knew he loved her and would protect her and keep her safe. If she knew those things, why did she need to hear the words?
He didn't want to touch her with his blood-stained hands but his hand slid onto her stomach, resting on the bump. She smiled and rested her hand over his, nestling into his side. His other arm wrapped loosely around the small of her back, keeping her close.
"I've been thinking about names," she told him.
He shook his head. "Not until the baby's born."
She rubbed her thumb along his knuckles. "Everything is going to be fine, Jason," she said, her voice quiet yet firm with conviction. She firmly believed in what she said. "No matter what it is, would you like to name it a traditional Hawaiian name?" She asked.
He shifted on the hard ground. He would like that a lot. "Not yet," he shook his head again, staring into the fire.
She was quiet after that and her thumb continued running along his knuckles. He closed his eyes for a moment. It felt nice. He had never been a man that had had a lot of affection bestowed upon him throughout his life – not true and genuine affection that contained love and warmth – so he supposed with Jules, he was still getting used to it. He looked at her small hand covering his large one. He was originally from Hawaii, his skin tan, and she had been from a mixed family – a black mother and a white father – and her skin was something of a creamy mocha. She had beautifully colored skin and mixed with his, though he didn't even want to think about names, he couldn't help but wonder what color skin their baby would have.
Jules lifted her head from his arm and turning, she tilted her chin up, looking at him. She lifted her other hand and brushed a lock of his black hair back from the corner of his eye. She didn't say anything and he watched as she reached for her pack, pulling out a comb.
Without a word, he shifted and she moved to kneel behind him. The fire popped and crackled and the rabbit slowly cooked as Jules began to gently run the comb through his tangled hair, humming a song to herself, her fingers running along his scalp. She did this for him most mornings and it was something he always welcomed. The feel of her fingers and the comb raking through his hair, her song, soft and gentle, it brought him a comfort he was able to experience with nothing else.
"Koa," he said before he even realized it.
"Koa?" She asked.
He nodded and she worked carefully on a snarl in his hair. "Koa. It's a boy's name. It means brave, bold and fearless."
"Koa," she echoed and he wasn't looking at her but he heard her faint smile. "It's perfect. I love it. What about a girl's name?"
A part of him still didn't want to have this conversation. If they talked about names for their baby, maybe it would shift something in the universe and something would happen. He normally wasn't a superstitious type – not at all – but when it came to Jules and their baby, he was becoming a man who couldn't be too careful.
"There's a word in Hawaiian. It means righteousness and goodness and… hope."
"I love it already," she commented and he actually smiled a little at that.
"Pono," he said, staring into the fire.
Her fingers paused in his hair and then her arms slid around his neck and she hugged him from behind, her cheek pressed to his. "Pono," she whispered. "For a girl or a boy?" She asked and he nodded. "Pono," she said again and then exhaled an almost sad sigh. He lifted his arm and bent it back, resting his hand on the back of her head. "It'll be okay, Jason," she whispered, squeezing her arms around his neck.
He allowed himself to close his eyes and lean back against her. It had to be okay. He had Jules and she was safe and they were going to have a baby. Things were already on their way to being okay. It couldn't very well get any worse.
A/N: Please comment if you read. I'm still brainstorming a possible sequel to this story. Thank you very much in advance!