AN: Just a little something for my new ship.
This wasn't some endless love.
He was John. (Former) Leader of Rebels. Stoic. Hardened. Chiselled. He didn't do endless love, with all its sappy mushiness and rom-com foolishness. He didn't do soulmates and valentines. He didn't do that ooey-gooey, taste the rainbow bullshit. He was John.
He riffled through the refrigerator, searching out a cold beer. He'd hidden a six pack in the vegetable drawer… but they were gone now. Consumed, by the ravenous hordes of mongrel vagabonds. His family for the time being… He grabbed a water and decided to make do. No calories this way. He didn't have crazy teenage metabolism anymore and it wouldn't do to start putting on weight.
He took his seat at the table and tried to not wince as his stitches pulled tight. Russell gave him a look. A wry, cranky, angry-nurse look.
"I'm fine," he answered, trying to stem the tirade before it began. He cracked the bottle and took a sip of cool refreshing mountain spring water.
"You're not fine," Russell snapped back. "Stop walking around like you're okay! You keep bleeding through your bandages!"
True. He'd had to change them twice already for the day. "I'll go back to bed once this gets decided. We have business to fix."
And he smiled a little bit at the mental mention of her name. He didn't know any other Astrids. She was the only one. The way there was only one Angeline Jolie.
A serious name.
A name for a lawyer, probably. Or a policewoman. Or a World War nurse.
This was a crush. Maybe.
The very beginning of a crush. The inception of an infatuation. Which was understandable, he thought. They'd spent the better part of a day together hiding out from Ultra agents. There was the little thing of him being shot and bleeding all over her and her digging the bullet out… She'd been inside of him, in some inverted semi-sexy way. Very intimate. Very ooh and ahh. Her fingers had been inside him. She'd fingered his soul, dammit. Fingered his soul and held his hand and cried big crocodile tears. Fingered his fucking soul and sang.
He took another mouthful of water in an attempt to wash it all away. Come on John, snap back to reality, he commanded himself. Return to gravity.
But that was easier said than done. The trouble was he liked it. In some unhealthy corner of his mind, he liked it. This weird, drifty, happy, excited, exalted, summersaulted, neurotic, desperate, impossible, He-Man conqueror feeling…
We can be heroes, she'd sang.
Of all the songs to sing, she'd pick that one? The David Bowie song?
The fucking Godzilla song?
Of course they could be heroes! If that's what she wanted to be, of course. They were already well on their way. He had saved her life and taken a bullet for her in the process, a very Kevin Costner thing to do. Dare he say, heroic. And she had gone all Lara Croft Florence Nightingale and dug the bullet out of his gut using her fingers. Stitched him up with a needle and thread like some kinda Martha Stewart Lady MacGyver.
He would be King.
And she would be Queen.
And they'd be fucking heroes, dammit. For a day or however fucking long they chose.
Russell was still giving him the eye. Trying to get into his brain and tell him to go back to his room. But fuck that. He had a personal interest in this little council meeting. He was invested.
How could he not be invested? Who could blame him for caring? She'd stayed with him through the whole thing, panicking and going crazy and making audacious attempts at calming him down. You're the one who's crying, he'd wanted to tell her when she'd stared in on her iterations of "You're gonna be okay." I know I'm going to be okay, so stop crying.
But her tears had been mind-blowingly cute and he really hadn't minded them at all. They'd made him think about Jesus, oddly enough. Heaven and marshmallows and fireplaces and all sorts of fluffy things. Lady Antebellum and Sarah McLachlan singing about puppies–
"So," Stephen tilted his chair up on his hind legs in that irritating way of his. The orange overhead light bulb cast awkward shadows on his face. "How are we going to do this? A vote?"
Cara frowned. In her spot on the lone armchair in the room, she looked like a warlord on a throne. All hard edges and blunt force. Fierce. Strong. Hard. "I'm the leader of this group. We had an election and the people chose me. I have to keep us all safe. They're trusting me to do that. Me."
John flinched. "And we've all seen that maybe you're not the absolute best decision maker." It left his mouth before he could do anything about it. "We should have a vote. Not a big group vote. Just us."
If he was still Leader of the Rebels, it wouldn't be up for debate. The girl would already have a room set up for her. Ultra agents had tried to kill her despite the fact that she was a normal regular homo sapien. They had tried to kill her. And he had taken a bullet for her.
In some countries, she'd have become his property. She'd have had to repay her debt with a lifetime of servitude. He wasn't sure exactly which country, but somewhere in some far place, in some parallel dimension he owned her.
Not in a slave way, because that would be weird and wrong, but in a fun, sexy way. In some other dimension, she'd be the one changing his bandages, not gross Russell with his beard and inappropriate jokes. She'd look up at him and be all, "I live to serve you."
She'd cook his meals herself and feed them to him. She'd give him baths and towel him off. Wash his hair and laugh at the soap suds when they got in her eyes… And he'd kiss her… And–
"John!" Cara, calling him back to fucking earth.
Back to the world as it was and out of the world as it should be. Back to the dingy dimension where nothing ever went his way. "Yeah. I'm here. Pain meds are making me a little woozy. That's all. What are we doing?"
"We're voting." Cara closed the door to the kitchen and returned to her chair. Her face tightened as she sat back down. It was the stone cold bitch face. The face he'd gotten more than accustomed to these last couple of months. "I'll go first. I vote no. She's not one of us, and while I sympathise with her situation, we can't just take on her troubles. We're not the Salvation Army. We're already on Ultra's radar as it is. Why should we draw more heat on ourselves. We can't help her. We should put her on a plane to Siberia. Somewhere out of Ultra's reach. That's the best we can do for her."
Leadership hadn't sat well with her. It had morphed into some sort of permanent PMS-having soviet militia cyborg. Everything she did, she had to think about the people. And what was right. And who'd be responsible and accountable. Everything with her was about war and winning and survival.
"Well," Stephen's chair landed with a wooden thunk, "I vote yes. She's my best friend, has been my only friend for years, and it's my fault she's in this mess. I can't just turn my back on her. I can't just carry her back to her house and let Ultra kill her."
"You guys shouldn't have brought her here in the first place." Russell. He was staring at the tablecloth not meeting any of their eyes. "This is a hideout for Tomorrow People. No humans allowed. I don't see why we even have to vote on this."
Betrayal. Stinging red betrayal. He'd counted on Russell being pro-Astrid. He played the piano. She sang. They should have been kindred spirits. Birds of a feather and all that. "Come on, Russell. You're gonna kick her out?"
"I don't know her, John." Russell answered with a shrug. "I shouldn't have to risk my life for her."
"You met her at the pizza party! The pretty girl with the curls!"
"I know who she is, John, but what I'm saying is that compared to the other guys… We have to put Tomorrow People first. We can't endanger ourselves any more than is necessary."
"This is necessary!"
"I'm sorry. I'm voting no. Nothing personal against the girl. I just think it would be safer for everyone, her and us, if we hid out in separate places."
John groaned. A sound born out of frustration, understanding and pain. His meds were wearing off and sitting upright wasn't helping. "Well, I'm voting yes, so we're tied. Two for, two against."
Cara cleared her throat. "As I'm the leader here I think my vote should count twice."
Stephen's fist slammed into the table. "Fine then. I didn't want to pull the rank card, but as the Chosen One, I think my vote should count twice. I'm voting on behalf of my father – the guy who's going to save all of our asses. "
"And we're still tied." Cara deadpanned.
"Cara, I am begging you," Stephen persisted. "Let her stay. Not forever. Just until Ultra cools down and I can figure out what to do with her. Do this for me. Please. Forget about everything and give me this."
A long silence passed. A pregnant silence, as they said. A silence of doubt and darkness and hope. John squirmed, trying to get into a position that was less painful. What he had to do was go take his painkillers, but the tension in the air was too crushing. Where all his pleading had gone in vain, where all his wishes had been cast aside, Stephen might succeed. Stephen and his special connection might prevail…
The lone woman in the room, Cara, who he'd known as the most stubborn hard ass of all time, sighed. "If I let her stay–"
"Thank you!" he and Stephen said at the same time. Both of them giddily happy. Smiles on their faces as though they'd just one some type of prize at a county carnival. Their eyes met across the table… and the world froze around them. Each one seeing the other for the first time.
The best friend.
He should be grateful. Astrid was staying. Astrid was safe… Where he had failed the Chosen One had succeeded… Stephen Jameson, who had wormed his way into the heart of the Tomorrow People, had got what he wanted once again. Cara had anointed him the Chosen One, and he'd just swept John's world away piece by piece…
John stared. Trying to see what he'd missed before. What he had overlooked.
It was beyond clear enough how both women felt about the boy. The fucking high school boy. Obviously Cara loved him. They were always in each other's heads working on their link, their special connection, their bullshit. It was only a matter of time before they slept together again. Every day they got closer and closer and closer…
And as he drifted closer to Cara the Rambo Woman, he drifted further and further away from Astrid the girl…
Astrid the pixie. The girl who was just a girl. The girl who sang about being a hero, just for one day.
John held on to the table for support and pulled himself to his feet. Standing was such a chore now that his abs were decommissioned. His whole body felt like it should be decommissioned. He needed rest. A soft bed with pillows and clean sheets. A good movie.
This wasn't his battle. He was just John, the former rebel leader. He didn't have battles anymore…
He shouldn't care, really. The girl was Stephen's friend, not his. It was Stephen's concern what became of her.
Except suddenly he now had this odd, awesome desire to smash Stephen's head in with a shovel. Let him stop time and be all messianic with his skull caved in.
"If I let her stay," Cara continued, "She'll have to sleep on a couch, because we're out of rooms as it is."
"Fine," the both of them answered again, him and Stephen.
"Knock, knock," he said as he slid into the armchair next to the sofa. Not the best opening line he'd ever used, but it would have to do.
She rolled over to face him and pulled the buds out of her ears. Her eyes were big and puffy and red. Sad. Very sad, all crumpled in on herself like a lamb in a dragon's den. A sad little lamb.
"Jesus, what happened to you?" he asked, a grin on his face to let her know that he meant no harm. "You look as though you took a bullet in your gut."
She sat up and pushed her hair back out of her face. A whole lot of hair, he noticed. He'd never really taken in the extent of the girl's hair. "How are you?" she muttered.
"I've been better."
"Haven't we all?"
He coughed as he stifled down a chuckle. It hurt to laugh. It hurt like hell. And there was nothing to laugh at really.
"Not that I'm not grateful for the hospitality," she continued, "But you guys literally live in a hole in the ground." She sighed in exasperation and let her shoulders fall. "And I'm crashing on a couch in a hole in the ground. Which makes me the most pathetic person on the planet."
He shook his head. "Living down here, that makes us hobbits," he winked. "And speaking of hobbits, I've come up with a bucket list." He couldn't stop himself from beaming. "My list of things to do before I die."
"Don't look so excited about it. Hopefully you aren't dying anytime soon."
He shrugged. "Who knows? It might be a year from now, or a decade from now or, ironically enough, tomorrow. There's no time to lose."
"Okay?" she squinted at him, reeking cautious doubt .
"You have one, I thought I should get one too. And we'll work on the two of them from time to time. Slow and steady we'll get through it all and I was thinking we could start tonight."
"Hmm?" Her eyebrows pulled in tight. "Tonight?"
"Well, my list is a whole lot simpler than yours. I only have one thing on it so far," he reached into his pocket, pulled out a heavily folded piece of paper and passed it to the girl.
She read it with a mask of scepticism plastered over her face. "Watch the Lion King?"
"It's a classic, I hear. The best Disney movie ever made. It was on a list in the Rolling Stones magazine. A lot of people say it's really good."
"It's…" She hesitated. "It's alright, I guess."
"Right, so I was thinking we could watch it. It'll be fun. Better than you sleeping on a couch feasting on your sorrows.
"Yeah, but there's no TV," she groaned. "I've been through this place thoroughly. Zero TVs."
"Really, I hadn't noticed." He smirked, "Of course I know there's no TV. Obviously I meant that we'd go somewhere and watch it. All we need is a hotel with an empty room. That's easy enough to come by. You'll be surprised at how often we actually do stuff like that. Sneak out."
"I thought it wasn't safe."
Well it wasn't safe. Life hadn't been safe for him since the day he'd been born. So what? "It's not, but at the same time, it's not extremely dangerous. We're just breaking in to a hotel to enjoy some domestic comforts like normal human beings."
She gave him a look. A look he was starting to recognised as her 'mildly offended' look. "I'm a normal human being."
"Exactly," he smiled. "You're making my point for me. We've had a tough day and, by God, we deserve a little R and R. I'm not going to spend tonight sleeping on a couch. I'm sleeping somewhere fancy, the only question is if your in… or out?"
She gave him a grin. Wiped at her eyes and made another attempt to pull her hair back from her face. "I've seen the movie at least a hundred times. Do I have to?"
"Well, I took a bullet for you, so yeah, you kinda have to."
The smile spread across her face, lighting up every inch of it. "Why can't we just teleport into a cinema and watch something new? We could go see every single movie that's showing."
John shook his head. "If you want to do that, you'll have to put it on your bucket list. Tonight is my night. And I'm thinking Lion King."
"Fine," she grumbled, looking anything but put out. "But we'll need pizza, ice cream and alcohol."
"Deal." He leaned over and took her hand. "Ready?"