A/N: Long gone is this chapter’s name. It’s fitting once things get rolling for this one. Not much action here, just more storyline! But anywho, enjoy.
It felt odd being around people again after all this time. I’d been silent for so long that my voice felt strained. I was currently waiting my turn for my shoulder to be returned to its socket as that’s exactly what it was. They were currently tending to the boy who had yet to speak. The stab wound was deep; just barely missing some vitals. Whoever did this to him and who I assumed were his parents was sick. Attacking a child too? He couldn’t be any older than 10 or 11. It may have sounded bad for me to think this way but. The boy had everyone’s attention at the moment while I sat outside the dining room where they were patching him up. I was actually grateful for his distraction. Though emotional over his condition.
Oscar came out, probably to tell me I was next. Though I was perplexed as he just sat beside me instead.
“You’re not okay.” He said simply.
“No shit.” I mumbled, rolling my eyes.
“I’ve personally struggled with PTSD from my service in Syria. And you’re reminding me of myself; albeit a more controlled version.” He explained.
“I don’t have PTSD.” I reasoned, growing defensive.
“You don’t. I’m thinking either ASD or general psychological trauma.” He agreed.
“Can you please just drop it?” I said sharply, not wanting to dig up what I’ve been pushing back.
“You all have your respective talents. I’m just sort of here to record everything for history’s sake.” He began, ignoring me.
“But I do have talents. And I know psychological trauma when I see it. Just like you likely do.” He asserted.
I’d let him speak. I quickly learned I was surrounded by determined people.
“I’ve been watching you just as much as you’ve been watching over us. You’re young and have a lot to learn.” He went on.
“And I’ve learned you’ve carried this for quite some time. And somehow you’ve kept it down and under wraps. But this was a wall that shattered you. And when you put yourself back together some slipped through that cracks.” Oscar Ventured thoughtfully, stroking his chin ever so slightly.
“You’re smart and you realized this. Tried to put it back. But kept running into your trigger over and over.” He said, raising a hand as I was about to speak.
“When I’m done you can say what you want.” He quipped, seeming amused at taking me apart piece by piece.
“While we were at NTIDC I saw it first hand when you had went into shock. Jonas was upset that you cut yourself. And judging by how angry he was when we discovered that it must have been bad.” He pressed.
“And to conclude this conversation. Your trigger is death. I’m not even sure you realize that yourself.” Oscar finished, seeming to wait for my reply.
“That was a traumatizing incident. Something I don’t want to repeat. I didn’t intend to go that far.” I rambled.
“I’m no psychologist so I’m not sure what the term is. But you’re coping; not in a good way. You need to be around people or you might do that again with no one to stop you.” Oscar explained with a shrug.
“Why do you care?” I asked simply.
“You’re a good person outside of your trauma. I like good people. Just as I’m sure you do.” He replied just as simple.
He bested me, in the face of facts I couldn’t blatantly continue on this way. Yet it felt so right.
“I don’t know Oscar.” I replied shakily, going to move my arm and being greeted by sharp pain.
“Let’s take care of your shoulder first. I’ve had some experience popping them back in from getting into fights with my brother when we were younger.” Oscar chuckled, seeming so understanding.
It was as if nothing I said phased him. That wasn’t even something I got from Jonas; as sometimes my actions or words could shake him before he settled and saw my perspective. It was comforting. But I still wasn’t totally convinced. He instructed me to lay down on the floor as he hovered over me, eyes scanning me. It made me squirm a bit in my own skin.
“Which shoulder?” He asked softly, probably trying to distract me as I already felt his strong grip on my affected shoulder.
Softly it drifted up, and then he abruptly contorted my arm. In that moment a sickening pop could be heard as I felt a pain that caused me to shoot up and away from him with a pained shout. It hurt a lot for a brief moment but it was so intense it left me panting and feeling shaky.
“That will be sore for a little while. But you’ll live.” He said, offering me a hand as he’d already stood up.
“Everything okay?” Jonas asked as he came running out.
“He just popped my shoulder back in. It hurt more than expected.” I explained through gritted teeth as I gave it a few rotations.
“I had to surprise him because I didn’t have anyone to hold him down.” Oscar smirked.
Another pained scream could be heard, calling Jonas’ attention back into the dining room.
“You don’t have to be alone no matter what you think of yourself. You looked out for all of us that night.” Oscar reassured me, leaving me alone and unable to respond as he went into the dining room.
I would have followed. But the sight of seeing that poor boy in that state he was in made my blood boil. And in addition to that, he triggered flashbacks of when I had to kill that infected child. So I stayed away from him for the time being. But now I was presented with a crossroads. I could rejoin everyone who was welcoming me back with open arms. Or I could continue doing what felt like the right thing. Looking out of the window I saw the sun waning as night was coming. I’d needed to head back to the cottage before nightfall. Steeling myself I prepared for the scene I’d walk into. Entering the dining room it looked as if they were done, the boy sleeping in Jonas arms now. The moment I entered the room all eyes were on me.
“How is he?” I asked, shuddering a bit internally.
“All stitched up. He’ll be okay though.” Ellis explained, his arm now in a sling.
“And how are you?” I asked him, the mood in the room tense.
“Broken collar bone. It’s what the bullet hit. It should heal in about two months.” He replied nonchalantly.
“Heading out?” Alisha asked, her tone conveying her frustration with me.
Jonas had let it slip that I wasn’t totally okay. And she understandably was angry with me.
“I have to make it back before night.” I shrugged, fighting down a wince as my shoulder was still sore.
“You could probably barely draw back your bow. You’re staying here tonight.” She asserted, Donna looking humored for a split second.
“I’d be okay.” I argued.
“Nope. Staying here. At least for a night to rest. There would be no way I know you make it back fine.” Alisha shot back hotly.
I wasn’t in the mood for fighting so I’d just submit for now.
“If you really wanna go out soon. We need to do a sweep of the land for the sick ones. And some wellness checks on the other families.” Donna suggested.
“We do it in multiple groups so you could join a team if you want.” She elaborated, offering me a little reprieve.
I’d have to thank her later.
“Now ya’ll go freshen up for dinner. It’s almost ready. And let the boy rest.” She said, probably as a way to remove the tension in the room.
“You can use the bathroom in my room.” Jonas offered.
“I’ll let you borrow a change of clothes too.” Daniel offered, seeing as were about the same height; him being just a bit taller.
“Thank you.” I said, finally giving up and just letting life take me at the moment.
Everyone trudged up the stairs after Jonas, splitting off into their rooms. I followed Jonas into his where he gingerly laid the boy on his bed.
“Did you want to clean up first or what? I don’t wanna leave him unattended in case he wakes up.” Jonas asked, already taking off his bloodied shirt.
“I’ll go first. Since you’re offering.” I sighed, honestly not wanting to be around this child quite yet. It just felt wrong.
“That works. I’ll bring in your clothes whenever Danny gets here.” He explained.
Entering the bathroom I took off my clothes. It was either from slowly starving or all the physical activity I was put through on a day to day basis. But my body had grown toned and stronger. It was like I wasn’t even looking at myself anymore. My hands made their way up to my hair. It was something I usually kept in a neat short ponytail or braided. Now my head of kinky and curly hair looked just as haggard as I felt. Looking to my right I saw Jonas’ bag. I knew he shaved and wouldn’t go anywhere without his clippers as he cut his own hair too. It was a tradition I learned about from my mother which as passed to her from my father.
I wasn’t the religious or spiritual type. But maybe doing this would offer me some solace. My hair was something I grew out mostly as a stylistic choice. But I kept it long to remember my father and his heritage. He grew up on a native reservation and from family I’ve met there told me he was good man as I hadn’t known him for long. Perhaps it was time to start over? Removing the hair tie I had in my hair, the curls fell. Reaching into Jonas’ bag I dug past various items he brought along with him, my hands eventually landing on a plastic box.
Pulling it out revealed what I was looking for. Breath hitching in my chest, I opened it. Would this give me what I needed to move forward in this stagnation of thought I felt? Probably not. But it signified my willingness to try and undo some of this trauma afflicting me. Gripping my hair, I went at the top with scissors, changing a length that would usually fall to my jawline to something much shorter. I went through, cleaning it up a bit, feeling as if a weight was lifted off of my shoulders as clumps of hair fell like rain. Looking back at me in the mirror was something different. I still had some length, nothing long enough for my ponytail or bun. Picking up the clippers I went through the guards, selecting the ones I’d need.
Maybe putting some effort into something aside from surviving would help as well? My facial hair which grew at a snail’s pace was beginning to fill in. I usually kept it shaved. But I’d let it grow for a while. Cleaning up the sides and back of my head, Jonas came into the bathroom to investigate the sound of clippers.
“Woah.” He said simply, looking speechless.
“I was starting to look rough.” I said, rolling my eyes. I didn’t have the energy to get into why I was cutting my hair.
He knew why I kept my hair long. He could put together why I cut it off or draw a few conclusions until I felt like talking about it.
“Either way you looked great to me.” He said cheesily.
“Go look after the kid.” I said to him, wanting a bit of privacy as I was in nothing but my underwear at this point.
He looked a little shocked, but did just that, leaving me alone. I finished up, inspecting myself and feeling a bit more content. I’d quickly shower and head out for Jonas to have his. Gathering up my hair I’d complete the second part of the ritual when I had time. I had stripped completely, stepping into the shower just in time to avoid Jonas coming in and potentially being a pervert.
“I’ll leave your clothes on the counter and clean up your hair.” He said, his voice muffled by the sound of running water just as I turned it on.
I washed up quickly, stepping out moments later. Seeing the clothes left for me, I grimaced a bit as they weren’t my style. A goofy smiley face on a grey shirt. But luckily his jeans fit me nicely. After I dried off I got dressed, taming my now even more wild curls a bit.
“Watch him while I shower?” Jonas asked, seeming really attached to this kid already.
That’s when it dawned on me. Jonas himself was put up for adoption, spending the majority of his childhood in group homes and foster care. He must have wanted to take care of this child so he wouldn’t have to go through the same things. I was so trapped in my own mind that I hadn’t seen it.
“Yeah.” I said simply, looking over at the sleeping child.
He looked thankful as he rushed off into the bathroom. Looking around, I saw a chest across from the bed. I sat there, staring off into space. My mind was contentedly blank. Nothing negative or positive. Just emptiness. It was relaxing as I never got to doze off like this recently. What I felt was going to happen eventually happened though. The boy woke up, looking around with a wince as his hand grasped at his shoulder.
“My mom and dad.” He said, his eyes landing on me as he looked worried.
Dragging up some emotion, I put it to work.
“They didn’t make it. I’m sorry.” I apologized.
“I forgot.” He replied softly, falling back onto the bed.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, getting up to come to his side.
“I know they’re dead. I know what happens.” He sniffed, his eyes glaring back at mine.
“Well lets start over shall we.” I proposed, the boy seeming annoyed with my presence.
“I’m Issac. And the man who carried you here is Jonas. What’s your name?” I asked, keeping my tone open.
He was traumatized, just like I was. Maybe even worse. There was no telling what he’d been through out there. He struck my chord of empathy as my heart hurt for his. To be so young and going through this. It couldn’t be easy.
“My names’ Darren.” He replied, shock running through me like a cold bolt of electricity.
Jonas probably wouldn’t believe me. It was things like this that made me question my beliefs; or lack of beliefs. I quickly applied logic to this situation though, seeing it as people could have the same names. Just then Jonas walked out of the bathroom, ruffling his hair dry with a towel.
“Oh, you’re awake kid.” He remarked, looking a little happy.
“Darren.” The child replied, Jonas looking just as shocked as I felt just seconds ago.
“Well, I’m Jonas. But he just calls me Jo-Jo.” Jonas replied with a smirk, pointing at me seeming to have recovered swiftly.
“Dinner is ready.” Alisha said as she cracked the door open.
I didn’t want to be around anyone at the moment; even more so the little boy Darren. So I left the room, heading back downstairs to the dining room. Considering a surgery of sorts was just preformed on this oak table, it was tidy. Everyone was sitting and waiting. When I pulled out a chair and sat, more eyes were on me.
“Your hair. Are you okay?” Alisha asked, looking worried.
The last time I cut my hair I shaved it all off right before nearly killing myself. So it was understandable for her worry.
“Its not like last time.” I mumbled softly, all the eyes making me a bit uneasy.
“Are you native? I would have never guessed.” Daniel’s father asked, getting some nods from the others as they looked to me for an answer.
“Atakapas partially. The heron band specifically. I don’t identify as native though.” I explained.
“A line of warriors.” Jerry commented. My tribe and band I partially belonged to had a surface reputation of being blood thirsty savages. Rival tribes in history called them all sorts of things. But I was wondering if maybe I was more like the stereotype than I’d thought.
“What was your reason for cutting your hair? If that’s not too personal. I just find your culture so fascinating.” Jerry asked, seeming interested in solely me.
“You’ll have to excuse him. He’s a huge history and culture buff.” Donna sighed, rolling her eyes at her husband.
“My man.” Oscar commented with a smile.
The reason I cut my hair was unknown to me. I had gone through trauma. But had I gotten past it? Not at all. There were many reasons natives would cut their hair. A great loss, a change of ideology, trauma and moving passed it. But I couldn’t identify just one.
“Its personal.” I replied after a bit of thought.
“Oh I’m sorry.” Jerry apologized.
“Hey I’m gonna get me and Darren some food and eat upstairs with him if that’s okay.” Jonas had asked as he came into the dining room.
“Sure thing. Take a tray up there for him too.” Donna said, stepping into the kitchen alongside Jonas.
Everyone seemed to pick up on my mood and not wanting conversation directed at me right now. So they conversed among themselves. Moments later Donna came out with food, setting it on the table with Jonas’ help. She then went around the table, fixing plates for everyone. Ellis told Jonas that he could head back upstairs and that he would help. But he only had one arm he could use; the other in a sling while his collar bone healed. So I stepped up, forcing him back down into his seat as I helped her instead.
Donna thanked me with a smile as I helped her.
“I had it.” Ellis huffed, sounding uncharacteristically aggressive.
“And you’re healing. You need rest or you won’t be healing.” I shot back hotly.
“You should take your own advice.” He he barked back, taking me by surprise a bit.
It stung more than I thought it would. He heaved a sigh, running a hand through his neatly groomed hair. He got up and left the dining room silently. I was prepared to go after him but Donna caught me by the shoulder.
“He’s been upset that he can’t help out around the property with his arm. He’s a good boy who isn’t used to being down.” Donna explained.
“You’re both right about one another. Give him a minute to cool down before you go after him.” Alisha explained, her gaze piercing as I was stung yet again.
“Sit and eat child. Then you can go after him.” Donna agreed, coaxing me to my seat.
I wasn’t really hungry right now. But if I got up without eating it would cause even more awkwardness I wasn’t in the mood for. So, I quickly forced down the food to everyone’s astonishment.
“Does he always eat like that?” Daniel asked turning to Alisha.
“Usually. I wish I could eat that much and not put on any weight.” She remarked.
“The food was good. I’ll be back.” I said, getting up with my plates.
Their treatment of me was nice at first. Though now that I was here I felt like they viewed me as a fragile vase; always on the verge of breaking. I felt tempered now, still a broken mess but tempered. I went into the kitchen to wash my dishes.
“I could have done that.” Jerry called from the dining room.
“I’ve got it.” I called back. Quickly washing my plates I went back through the dining room.
“Be careful Izzy.” Alisha said to me, catching me by the wrist as I passed.
“I hit a wall, yes. I’m not made of glass anymore.” I replied quickly, shrugging her hand off.
I didn’t need coddling. Sure I felt fragile before but now it was different. If people fell apart in Ellis’ manner this place would be doomed. Sure I fell apart; but I wasn’t aggressive. It took me some time but I found Ellis outside, sitting on the steps of the porch, his head leaning against a support beam. I wasn’t going to baby him either, or he’d overpower me mentally. I hopped down the steps, landing a little clumsily right before him.
“What the hell has been bothering you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Can you just leave me alone?” He groaned, glaring up at me.
I crouched down to his level, unmoved.
“You sound a lot like what you told me not to do.” I replied.
“If you can be a hypocrite then so can I.” He bit back, getting up and stalking off.
I got up and followed right behind him. The little puppy that was Ellis was gone. It made him pleasant to be around. And if I could get that back it would improve the morale of people. Catching him by his uninjured shoulder I stood firm. It took some effort but I slowed him down at the cost of some shooting pain in my very own shoulder.
“You’re sulking around because you feel useless, huh?” I pressed, finally stopping him in his tracks.
Anger wasn’t an emotion that seemed to rule him. He calmed down, his puppy-dog-like demeanor coming right back as he looked a little lost.
“I can’t do anything to contribute ’round the ranch.” He admitted with a shaky sigh.
“You’re still recovering. I don’t think it’s expected of you to do things right now.” I explained, toning down on my approach as I’d chipped through his armor.
“I just feel so damn useless.” He huffed, looking at me with hurt eyes.
Behavior like this stemmed from childhood; at least in his case. A little digging is all I had the mental strength for tonight. There was no telling what I’d be subjected to tomorrow out in the wilderness of the property while checking on the other families. And in addition to that I was in a weird state of mind. But helping others was what I was putting myself through college for. So why stop now?
“What was growing up like for you?” I asked softly, striking a chord as his brown eyes shot up to look up at me.
“My parents always pushed me and my brothers to do our very best at everything. Be the perfect boys.” He explained, his thoughts seemingly racing.
“My older brother did that. I’ve did it. And my younger brother is in the middle of it.” He elaborated.
“If a neighbor needed help with something. Me or my older brother would help; or have the idea dropped in our ear.” He went on, his tone wistful.
“And appearances were everything since our mom was and still is a politician. We had to be the perfect all American family in that small town.” He scoffed.
“Old habits die hard. Its bullshit thinking. And that hero complex will get you nowhere.” I said bluntly with a shrug.
“It just bothers me, not being able to contribute.” He sighed, looking troubled.
“Heal up. Then do just that. Work until your heart is content. But for now get your rest.” I explained, offering a small smile.
“Forever the hypocrite.” He remarked, nudging me in the shoulder with his unbound arm.
“Even therapists and mental health professionals have their flaws. I’m no exception.” I replied with a shrug, admitting to my imperfections.
“So what are you going to do now? You seem. Different?” He asked, seeming curious.
“I don’t know. I feel different. Still just as repulsed at the idea of being around people. I’ve got a lot on my mind though.” I answered.
“Well. Be safe on that patrol tomorrow. I’ll be stuck here.” He huffed, offering a small smile.
“It’s best that you do stay here. Let us take care of it since we’re up and moving.” I soothed, turning to leave as my battery for social interaction was running out, a feeling of tiredness overtaking me.
“Where are ya off too?” He asked, seemingly curious at my sudden change.
“Not all here. At my limit for the day. I need more alone time.” As I already felt the buzzing sensation of rushing thoughts.
It was a risky balance. And I had fallen onto the negative side of the spectrum quickly. If I went about my isolation it could give me that blank state of mind where I could slowly add things one by one to pick apart. Though with the way life was now; it was near impossible to avoid the rush.
“You’re not going back out there are you?” He asked, catching up to me.
“My shoulder is busted, can’t fire arrows. And swinging a sword with enough force to kill is hard with one arm.” I replied, slowing my pace for him.
“So I’d say we’re in the same boat.” He mused.
“I’ll be going out tomorrow morning as distractions are good. Until I sort myself out they’ll have to do.” I shrugged, ignoring the pain in my shoulder.
I’d find my balance. There was no such thing as perfection or balance to me. But one could be as close to the center of the metaphorical scale as possible.
And here we have Izzy building himself back up. Bringing all the pieces that shattered against that metaphorical brick wall. It gets me a little emotional writing a character of this nature. I’ve delved into the broken character type. Just never so dark and raw. It gets darker from her on out. And I’ve kept the constant progression of darkness linear even with breaks it seems. Let me know what you all think! I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts!