Like Old Times
“So no purple buildings so far,” I huff, readjusting my grip around her waist for what feels like the millionth time.
“People in this town didn’t like to take chances with house paint I guess.” She mutters in response, her voice low and a bit raspy.
“Then why did you say if there was a purple house we were going into it?”
“Hope?” She basically asks me. I look at her face for a moment, genuinely shocked by her answer. Her eyebrows are pulled up and inward in a kind of concerned, questioning look. It kinda says ‘ I have no idea why but I did anyway’.
“Well…” I pause trying to break the silence, not that I know what I’m going to fill it with anyway. “Keep hoping I guess.” I decide to finish on as we continue our slower pace.
“I will General Bossy ma’am!” She jokingly salutes me, and I have to stifle a giggle. I let my eyes linger on her arm and I can see it shake. She must be more tired then she’s letting on.
“You lived in this general area didn’t you?” I ask quickly.
“Well, I moved out a little while before all this shit went down… But yeah I used to live here. Why?” She asks, pointedly not looking in my direction as we continue down the street.
“Well, time for your first survival lessons then!” I exclaim, putting on a mock teacher voice. “If you know someone who knows the area then you have an advantage.”
She immediately raises her hand, and I almost chuckle before nodding at her.
“So because I know the area I might know places that others wouldn’t have searched.”
“Precisely!” I beam at her, happy she’s-
“Then doesn’t that mean you should have asked me about this before we left my bunker?” I stop us in our tracks. I can’t even- I can’t hope to get my brain back into working order.
“-What..?” I manage to sputter out, my mind still rushing to catch up.
“Well you know all of these survival tips that I don’t, hence you should have already asked me about what I might know about this area.” I tighten my grip on her arm and waist, mostly to keep myself from falling over in shock. I can’t believe that she’s pointing this out to me. She’s actually trying to mock me right now. Who the hell does she-
“Well you usually would have thought of something like that.” Her words interrupt my thoughts for a second time in what feels like ten seconds and I manage to move my head to stare at her face. “That is if you weren’t so distracted.”
“Okay! Just what makes you think I’m distracted?!” I yell back at her, my mind finally getting into gear.
“Well, I mean, I’m with you now.” She gestures to the two of us with her free hand, I can still see the tremors that shake her frame. “It must be hard to concentrate on anything with this hot person with you.”
I laugh. I can’t help it. It’s the first real laugh that I’ve had… in such a long time. It shakes my frame with it’s force, and steals my breath with it’s sound. Mystery is looking over at me, with something that can only be described as pure concern on her few visible features. I’d let go of her to hold my sides, that feel could burst at any second, but I’m afraid she wouldn’t be able to stand on her own.
“We’re- we’re living in a post World War Three world. With radiation everywhere. And you’re over here, flirting! I mean actually flirting!” I’m sure the joy and shock in my system is making its way to my voice, because I’m pretty sure her cheeks just went red. Or at least redder than they were before. Suddenly her face goes pale, and the small smile that was dancing across her lips falls.
“What is it?” I question seriously, tightening my hold on her.
“Remember earlier when I said I was going to pass out?” Her voice is barely above a whisper, and it shakes with every syllable that manages to make it’s way passed her lips.
“Yeah?” I question, not liking where my current line of thinking is taking me.
“Sorry about this,” she says her voice somehow softer than it was before. Without hesitation I drop her arm from around my neck and use my freed hand to kind of push against her back. In the same motion I drop my hand from her waist to the back of her knees. And in the blink of my eyes she’s fallen into a sadly familiar position. She’s back to being a dead weight and this time I’m at least glad I got a second of warning.
“Okay. Okay okay okay okay. I’ve been in this situation before I know how to handle it.” I huff to myself, trying to clear my head from the sudden panic that shot through me when she crumpled. I adjust my hold on her a little before, I manage to surge to my feet. It takes me a good minute or two to keep my balance, and to make sure she won’t slip out of my grip once I start walking. It’s hard to keep ignoring the way her chest is rising and falling in quick shallow bursts when I can feel each breath.
“It’s fine, just got to get her to some shade and cool her down is all. Stop freaking out. I’m better than freaking out.” I try to sike myself up. No. I’m trying to keep the pure panic and the thoughts of ‘but what if that’s not all it is? What if she’s-’ out of the front of my mind. I take a good look at the street we’re on. Most of the houses have pretty extensive damage, at least all of the close ones do. I wouldn’t step foot into those houses when I had a working phone with 911 on it, and I’m certainly not going to do it now.
“Okay.” I draw in a deep breath and let it out shakily. “ Get your shit together and get things done.” I order myself, taking another breath before I let it out. Much smoother than the last one. “There’s still hope for a purple house yet.” I mutter down to Mystery as I start walking. The extra weight on my arms and back is going to end up coming back to bite me in the ass later, but right now it’s a comfort. Just knowing that she’s not lying on the ground bleeding out is enough to get me through anything. And that thought is absolutely terrifying to me. She shifts in my arms and I have to force myself to keep my eyes on the street in front of me.
“Shade first, everything else later.” I whisper to myself, picking up my pace a little bit. If I can just- I don’t know- focus on one thing, then everything else is better. It doesn’t seem as bad. Or as important.
“Please,” Miss Mystery groans in my arms, and my head snaps down my eyes locking on her closed lids. There’s sweat covering her tender face and her features are contorted in...pain. Tender face? When did I start thinking of her face as- wait pain? I do a double check and the pain is still clear in the lines on her face.
“Shade now,” My mind pushes the thought to the front. I move my feet as fast as I can manage without actually running or jogging. She was right. Not everyone is cut out for walking through the night and then walking in the boiling sun in what amounts to a portable oven. I didn’t start out like this, she shouldn’t either.
“Shade now!” My mind supplies again, and I look back up to the street. Right at the end of the street looks to be a house. Like an actual house. Not a burnt husk of a home or a major safety violation.
“Don’t worry, I’ll cool you down,” I whisper down to her, my steps growing more confident the closer I get to the house. “Just don’t give up on me.”
Getting into the house, without having to put Miss Mystery down, was a bigger task than I originally thought it would be. It took at least two good kicks to the door to get it open. The house is on the smaller side of the spectrum, but thankfully there’s a couch sitting neatly and untouched in the living room. Not wasting any time, I gingerly lower her down so she’s lying comfortably.
“Okay, shade.” I huff to myself. I pull off my pack and set it by her feet, freeing myself from its weight. I’d rub a hand across my face if I didn’t have a gas mask on. I take a second just to look her over. Her breath is still coming in short shallow gasps, and she looks like she’s swimming in her own sweat. That can’t be good. I need to cool her down. And I need to do it fast.
“Please…” She groans again curling in on herself a bit.
“Okay, I need to cool you down.” I force my eyes from her and to the rest of the room. There’s a T.V not far from the couch sitting on a stand, a few end tables that have forgotten cups sitting on coasters and not much else. There’s an archway a bit behind the couch and I make a move towards what I hope is the kitchen.
To the credit of whomever lived here the room is spotless. A nice granite countertop island sits in the middle of the room, drawers closed and covered in a thin layer of dust. Cabinets line half the walls in the room and rest about the little counter space that is left. A deep stainless steel two sided sink rests in the middle of the counter space.
“What are the odds that it works?” I mutter to myself, taking a step towards the sink. I pause and quickly turn to the cabinets, before I start wrenching the doors open. “If it does I need something to catch the water in.” I think to myself, moving to a different cabinet. There’s a lot of weird stuff in these cabinets, tupperware and something the might have been an ice cube tray. One of them just has random assortment of cooking… stuff. Like non-stick spray and pepper, and just a big bowl of either salt or sugar I don’t know which. It’s just white, and I really don’t think it’s drugs. This would be a bad place to keep it if it was.
“Come on where are the cups or bowls?” I complain to myself opening yet another cabinet. Cups and mugs of different sizes and shapes greet me. “Now that just feels like they’re mocking me,” I grumble, quickly grabbing the largest cup I can find. It’s one of those special large plastic cups you used to get at the movies sometimes. Miss Mystery groans again from the living room and I don’t waste anymore time. I quickly shove, the cup under the faucet and turn the handle. Nothing happens.
“It was a long shot.” I look to the stainless steel fridge and my mind is set. In a few steps I’m there and I quickly pull open the doors. I nearly gag at the sight and the smell that manages to make its way into my mask. Without power for so long everything in here that can spoil and rot has. There’s milk in one side of the door, and it looks chunky and there’s a good chance that there’s mold growing at the top of it. There’s at least mold and flies growing on all the meat and cheese that’s been here.
“Oh my god,” I manage through my gags. I haven’t seen something this disgusting since finding that gas mask. Regaining my composure I take stock of the fridge. Most of it is useless, but on the top shelf there’s at least ten unopened water bottles. I look back at the left door on the fridge and my eyes stop. There’s a little button and what might be a spout under it. I move my cup under the little spout and press the button. For a second nothing happens, but in a blink there’s water.
“Holy shit!” I exclaim, much louder than is strictly necessary. I stay there, a bit in awe if I’m honest, as the water starts to fill up the cup. It’s only about halfway full before the flow stops, showing no sign of starting again. To be honest I didn’t think that it was going to work in the first place. Half a cup of water is better than nothing.
“If she was awake I don’t think she’d approve of this plan,” I mutter to myself, quickly making my way back into the living room. I set the cup down on the nearest table and move back over to Mystery. Her breaths are still shallow, but at least she seems to have spread out, if only slightly, on the couch. I quickly unzip her hazmat suit, and start working it down her shoulders. It doesn’t take long for me to have to sit her up and pull the suit down a bit awkwardly with only one hand.
“I bet she’d say something about getting to undress her,” I joke a bit, maneuvering to sit behind her. This way it’s easier, to keep her upright while I get the portable oven off of her. I carefully pull her arms from the sleeves, my hands slip a few times, she really is covered in sweat. The rest of the suit is relatively quick work, and in another minute or two she’s free. I toss the suit aside, and grab the cup of water. Not wasting a second I let the water drip and fall down her body. The effect is instantaneous. Her breathing slows, and the pain the lined her features, and tensed her body quickly dissipates. She looks calm and peaceful. Like she’s just sleeping, instead of having passed out.
“I’m glad one of us can relax.” I sigh, letting my shoulder drop in relief for the first time in what feels like days. With the most pressing matter handled, I go back and actually close the front door. The lock is busted, but the door itself still shuts pretty well. I move to the windows next, making sure each is closed and sealed tight. There must have been at least twenty windows, I mean what kind of a house needs so many windows?
“She should be much cooler now,” I think to myself, looking out at the dropping sun as I check the final window. “As much as I’d like to keep her out of the suit, I can’t take that chance.” It doesn’t take me long to make my way back over to her still form. Her legs are covered in bruises and cuts. Not like there are a good number of bruises and cuts on both her legs; but like the ‘did someone beat you’ kind of completely covered in bruises. Like the overlapping yellow and purple and blue kind of bruising.
“It’s okay,” I shudder, a chill going down my spine and hitting my core. “You’re with me now.” I grab the hazmat suit from where I tossed it, and make my way back to the couch. “I’ll keep you safe.” I sit by her feet, just letting myself take her in. Letting myself know that she’s here. That she’s fine. That I’ll do anything to keep it that way.
“Now just how am I supposed to get this suit back on without her?” I question looking at the material in my hand. “This is going to be a pain, I can feel it.”