Notes: A direct follow-up to what happened in Chapter 9. I'll be honest, I feel bad doing this to Jane. Since I started this AU, it's always how I imagined her ending up. I was tempted to change it, but in the end, went with what I originally envisioned.
Warning - again, there is violence in this chapter and possible rape triggers for some. It's pretty mild, but it's there.
All warfare is based on deception.
When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Hold out baits to entice the enemy.
Feign disorder, and crush him.
To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
- Sun Tzu, the Art of War
They crept silently as a unit, footsteps muffled by the dank forest floor. The atmosphere was thick with humidity, and a heavy blanket of morning dew coated every surface of the forest as the vegetation flattened easily beneath their boots. Their leader raised a meaty arm and the men with him halted. Their target was twenty yards ahead.
Two fingers motioned forward and they proceeded quietly, following the alpha's every move. Soon. Very soon.
He was right pissed to find that their tracker had left without them in the middle of the night. He had his uses, but the man was a roamer and often took off on his own only to return later with a fresh rabbit or canteens of water. The timing of it all was bad with them being so hot on the girl's trail.
But things were turning in their favor. At first light the youngest one had spotted the smoke line in the distance and they'd been tracking it ever since. Even the most incompetent of them could follow a smoke signal.
They closed in on the camp and formed an even circle around the bundled figure on the ground. Dark brown locks spilled out from the end of a thin, tattered sleeping bag. The leader grinned and felt a growing stiffness in his pants. Brunettes were his favorite.
"Wake up," he said roughly, his weapon aimed. She was out good. "Get up!" he said louder but there was no response.
He shifted uncertainly and caught the eyes of his other men, all of them eager but waiting. The youngest among them was still green, his expression fearful, but he would learn soon enough. They would teach him. And with that he kicked the sleeping woman so hard the sound of it echoed throughout the trees.
She continued to lie motionless and clumps of hair slid off and settled to the ground.
He shifted the body flat with his boot. Its rigid form rolled over and the hacked brown locks fell away to reveal the grisly, swollen face of their dead tracker. He was hardly recognizable.
Every man looked at the other, some dumbfounded, some slowly coming to the realization that they were being watched. That they were sitting ducks.
A shot burst through their group and simultaneously, the head of one man jerked violently, bone and brains exiting the side of his skull. Dead on his feet, the body fell to the ground, smothering the slow dying embers of Jane's decoy fire. Jane squeezed off two more rounds and dropped two more men before watching them scatter in all directions through her scope.
She positioned herself at the highest point available. It wasn't much, a mediocre incline at best, but it was an advantage. Her distance from the camp certainly left a lot to be desired. The newly acquired rifle that pressed snugly against her shoulder came with a very limited range. Unable to test the accuracy of the scope, she was happy that it proved to be excellent now. She tucked herself behind the fattest tree she could find, the long barrel steadied on one of her knives stabbed into the trunk. Jane eyed the campsite like a hawk, detected movement behind a tree, and let another bullet go. The recoil was sharp and the butt of the gun nagged at her collarbone. Wood and bark shattered, but no blood. The report echoed through the forest. Dammit. Instinctively, she took cover behind her tree.
Bullets whizzed past her, some burying into the thick trunk that shielded her body. Jane whipped around to return fire and her heart sank. Smoke. From the dead body that lay over the fire. It was slowly filling the campsite, literally providing a smoke screen for the outlaws. Fuck. She shot as accurately as she could into the group, continued to do so even as they fired back. She heard one of them cry out, and then the hammer clicked hollow in the chamber.
"Piece of shit," she grumbled, throwing the useless rifle to the ground and drawing out her handgun.
She sensed him before she heard him. A shadow passing through her peripheral vision. Jane twisted and slid low to the ground just in time to save her life. The tree exploded around her, splinters and buck shot peppering her torso and igniting her with white hot pain. She fell backwards into a thick pile of brush, her hand immediately covering her abdomen. When she pulled it away, it was crimson with blood.
"Fuck," she grimaced.
The tree had absorbed much of the impact but not enough, not nearly enough. Each heaving breath Jane took confirmed the stinging presence of pellets and wood driven into her skin.
This complicated things.
"I…I think I got her!" One of them yelled out. He must have snuck away through the smoke and flanked her.
It was time to run again.
But she'd never be able to evade the spray of a shotgun, especially like this. Jane imagined herself falling in a wide hail of shot, and then dragged off to God knows where. No, it would have to be eliminated first.
She re-gripped the gun in her slippery, blood-smeared hands. Jane knew her enemies well. Rotters wanted one thing and so did the outlaws. They hunted women for a specific reason and it sure as hell wasn't to kill them.
She groaned pitifully like a dying animal. Given her sorry state, it wasn't much of a stretch.
"Check on her," a voice commanded from the campsite.
Slow, tentative footsteps approached and then others in the distance. They were mobilizing to surround her, to put her right in the center of a kill zone. Adrenaline rocketed through her system, and she had to fight the urge to run like hell.
"Lady?" A voice croaked. It was that kid. Even through the distant eye of the scope, Jane could tell he was not like the others. Not yet.
This was gonna hurt.
In one fluid motion Jane sat up, her gun raised into her sights with both hands. She ignored the violent objection of her torso, her nerve endings frayed and screaming. Three quick shots pierced through his chest, and the boy with the shotgun was gone. She fired a few more in the direction of the camp, and then hustled to her feet. With her arm cradled around her stomach, she stumbled through the trees.
Jane hated last resorts. They always had a damn irritating way of being less than ideal.
She curled her arm tighter against herself to staunch the flow of blood oozing from her gut. Normally a graceful runner, her feet were heavy and leaden now, connecting with the ground in hard strikes. The aftershock of each step jabbed straight to the core of her body.
She could hear her destination, the muted roar in the distance growing louder with each stride. The trees were thinning.
Moments later the tree line broke and Jane had to lock every muscle in her legs to keep from tumbling over the edge. Gravel and debris kicked up from the tread of her boots and skipped along the ground before dropping off the lip of the ravine. She inched towards it with care. Thirty feet below, the river was thrashing from the early spring melt, its hazardous waters churning ominously. Millions of gallons rushed by in the time it took for Jane to weigh her options. This was either going to be her escape or her grave. Either way it would be her choice to make and not theirs.
Jane backed up several yards and secured her pack tightly with a few hard tugs. She gave a final glance over her shoulder, saw the brush and vegetation sway as the last remaining outlaws appeared, and then raced forward. She launched herself as far past the ledge as she could, their gunshots and shouts chasing after her.
And Jane was flying…
"Look, I'll be more careful," she said.
"What do you mean?" Maura asked, her brow furrowing.
"Next time. I'll wait for back-up."
Maura couldn't help smiling.
"I never said-"
"I know you didn't," she interrupted. "You didn't have to. It's kind of written all over your face."
Maura pondered this as she helped Jane back into her jacket, draping one shoulder of it over her injured arm. She smoothed it down, her fingers lingering on the material.
"You have good instincts, Jane. Today you used them to make a choice that I don't think many others would have made. I won't question that."
"Yea, but you want to," she said smiling, unconvinced.
"I will always question anything that puts your life in danger, but such is the nature of your job. Your instincts have kept you alive this long," she said slyly. "Your impulsiveness, on the other hand, that might get you into real trouble one of these days. Please make sure to differentiate the two."
They stood a little closer than two friends should, neither of them wanting to be alone, until Maura pushed her gift into Jane's hand. She clasped it tightly, blinked, and moved towards the door. Maura's palm rested on the small of Jane's back, needlessly guiding her out.
She turned to give Maura one last smile goodbye, her breath suddenly gone…
Cold. It was all she could feel.
That and the heart-stopping sensation of being powerless in the grip of the river.
A torrent of snow melt cut into every pore on her body, its icy chill threatening to consume her. The current pulled her under, tossing her every which way until Jane couldn't tell up from down. Her head managed to break the surface and she sucked in a precious gulp of air before being swallowed back under.
An array of fallen branches suddenly rushed through her line of sight and she shot her arms out in desperation. When one of her hands found purchase around a scraggly mess of debris, the force nearly jerked her arm right out of socket. God. This was almost worse than before. The water beat against her, crashing into her face and throat with a bruising intensity. It was kind of like drinking from a fire hose, but a thousand times worse. She managed a few good breaths before the bundle of sticks in her hand snapped apart and she was sent spiraling back down.
The river began to narrow, its waters constricting into a flow so turbulent that she could actually feel herself accelerating. It went on this way for what seemed like forever, and Jane focused on seizing any breath she could. If she was lucky it would be mostly air. And just when things could not have gotten any worse, she spotted an object in the distance and would have blanched were the blood not already drained from her face.
A boulder jut out from the river, ominously parting the waters that foamed and pillowed up against it. It was directly in her path and threatened to crush her on impact. Any effort to dodge it would just be wasted energy. All she could do was hit it feet first and hope to absorb most of the shock with her knees.
Jane was going faster than she realized and before she knew it, the impenetrable rock was upon her. Its surface slammed against the soles of her feet and her worn-out legs were no match. She was launched forward and screamed as her shin split open across its dull, stony edges.
The waters churned and rolled her like a ragdoll, disorienting Jane to the point where she couldn't even reach for her leg. Everything felt a blur and in her pain-induced fog, she somehow managed to sense that she'd been submerged for too long. Air. Her empty lungs screamed for it and she had no choice but to fill them with water. It was like she'd swallowed a bowl full of razorblades.
She was probably going to drown now…
Her breath hung in her throat and she could barely mask the regret in her voice.
"I'm not as impulsive as you think."
Maura, perhaps more than anyone else, knew just how true that was.
"Maybe you should be," she said lightly, not entirely sure of what she meant, and went on her tip-toes to kiss Jane on the cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"You will," she said. Her hand went to Maura's arm and squeezed it. "And the next day, and the next, and the…" A crooked smile spread over Jane's face.
She was teasing but Maura couldn't help but be touched by her friend's reassurance. A reminder that she would always return to her, that she would always be there. Jane was the only person who had ever given her that.
Jane slid past her and out the door, their bodies making subtle contact against one another, neither woman realizing that a heart other than her own was rioting in its chest.
Death wanted her. Its cruel fingers slid around her throat, offering an end to it all, promising her peace. But Jane had somewhere she needed to be and death would just have to wait.
She kicked with her one good leg, arms thrashing in all directions. The icy water stung at her eyes but a faint glow in the darkness beckoned to her. If she could only get there. Fight, Jane. Splotches of black clouded her vision and a force gripped her so intensely that for a moment, she thought she was being attacked. She realized it was her own body turning against her - brain suffocating, her muscles convulsing, nothing was in her control anymore. The waters sucked her under, carrying her further and further from the light.
I'm sorry, Maura.
It was as if the river had grown tired of Jane when it spit her out into the sky. The white light of day just about blinded her and she was flying again. No not flying. Falling. She turned her head and inhaled one sweet, healing breath before crashing through a wall of water, shoulder first.
Jane wondered how many times her life could flash before her eyes in a single day.
The violence of the river was a stark contrast to the eerie stillness she floated in now. She almost believed she was dead, but doubted that the dead experienced this much pain. In fact, she knew they didn't. Rotters. Outlaws. She would never be safe again. Claws and broken teeth came at her from the shadows and Jane's body jerked to life. Her eyes shot open and scanned around her in all directions.
She was alone with nothing but the clear water of a lake surrounding her and a light shining from above.
Half-dead and trembling, she dragged herself from the water and fell in a crumpled heap on the shore. She had nothing left. If anything or anyone found her now she was done for anyway so she lay there, sprawled on her stomach. Lungs on fire but too spent to even cough, water dribbled out of her mouth and life seeped from her wounds. Finally, she rolled onto her back and the sky never looked so blue.
You're alive you crazy ass.
Jane laughed weakly to no one but herself, the sound of it ringing oddly in her waterlogged ears.
Her hands began moving over her body like they were on autopilot. The routine was mechanical now. Pack, check. Weapons, check. Body, check. She felt a discomfort in her stomach and almost forgot that she'd been shot. Jane lifted her head to study her wounds and made a face. God, that was going to leave a mark. She pulled the biggest wood shards and a few pellets from her flesh before abandoning the task altogether. At least they had stopped bleeding. Mostly. Her leg on the other hand - the pain flaring from her shin was damn near about to make her pass out.
"Fuck..." she mumbled. She didn't want to look but sat up anyway.
It was hard not to notice the watery red trail that flowed down from her boot and into the edge of the lake. A small swath of shoreline was now a sick pinkish hue of diluted blood. Beyond that she saw how the lake and its lush surroundings were fed by the river that nearly killed her. A modest waterfall sparkled in the distance, the cascading water kicking up in a fine mist like tiny crystals in the air. The scene would have been quite beautiful if not for the fact that Jane was dying right there on the spot.
She unbuckled her belt with shivering hands, ignoring the stiffness in her shoulders and the aching in her chest. Inky spots began to blur her vision and Jane mumbled a few profanities. After a few rough jerks, the leather whipped off her waist with a snap and she lashed it just below her knee, cinching it tight. Enough to staunch the blood but not enough to deaden her limb. With her knife she cut away the fabric of her pants and finally got a good look at her leg, then immediately wished she hadn't. The wound was gaping and grotesque, not quite to the bone and not broken, but serious nonetheless.
"Could be worse," she winced to herself deliriously before collapsing on her side. She vomited up a puddle of river water and bile.
The clouds broke apart like a miracle, sunlight streaming from sky and enveloping Jane in warmth. Jane wasn't sure if she believed in God, not anymore. But in that moment, as she hung precariously in that slip of space between life and death, she felt that someone other than herself wanted to see her live.
Unable to fight the fatigue and blood loss any longer, her eyes rolled back into her head and everything faded away.
She gripped the knife tightly in her hand before passing out.
"It was slow going after that," Jane said grimly. She stared into an empty ceramic mug that rested between both her hands. She'd gotten her first hot shower in months and her nails were a bit cleaner now, but the deepest grime held fast against the quick.
Dinner hours were almost up and only a few late-comers remained in the mess hall. They sat at the end of a long metal table that could easily accommodate twenty people. Occasionally, they would spot Jane's mom waving to them from the line and would wave back.
Neither of them had eaten much of their dinner, the plates nearly untouched since they sat down. In this environment, not finishing your food wasn't bad manners as much as it was an insult to those starving out in the wasteland. Jane had been one of those people not too long ago, and Maura made a mental note to apologize to Angela later.
She'd barely touched her coffee.
"You gonna drink that?" Jane asked.
Jane smiled gamely. "Really? You know it could be frozen for all I care. I'd eat it like a popsicle."
Maura smiled and slid her mismatched cup across the table. Their fingers brushed together when Jane accepted it.
"My God, Jane," she said. "You're lucky to be alive."
A slight nod of her head and a sip of coffee was Jane's only acknowledgement of this fact. Then her eyes darkened almost imperceptibly, chased by a subtle flinch of her high cheekbones. When she refused to meet Maura's gaze, Maura had the horrible feeling that the worst was yet to come.
"You were defending yourself," she said helpfully.
"I was," she agreed. "I was that time."
"You were discovered by more outlaws?" Maura asked, slightly confused. Jane rarely made the same mistake twice. Never, actually.
"No, not exactly." Jane's voice was hard, the tone carrying a distinct edge that Maura had heard before. She was slowly beginning to understand why Jane had reacted the way she did towards Garrett.
"What did you do, Jane?"
"It took awhile for things to get better. My leg, the infection, the pain…" she sighed, the frustration rising in her voice. "The downtime set me back for weeks. Day after day, I kept thinking about what happened. I wondered where they were and what they were doing. Who they were hurting..." She took a big gulp of coffee, its bitter flavor muted by the acrid words forming in her mouth. "When I was good enough to travel, I stopped avoiding the outlaws. If I found them, I…"
Jane's words trailed away, but the implication was crystal clear.
"I see," Maura said. Jane always was an opportunist. She probably expected her to be shocked or disgusted, but she wasn't. The only thing that mattered was… "You could have been killed."
Maura's unyielding compassion sank into Jane's heart like a blade and made everything hurt that much more. This wasn't what she wanted. She shook her head and scoffed bitterly.
"Is that all you have to say? I was never going to be killed. I was the one doing the killing. I hunted them, do you understand?" She leaned forward. With her chin down, her face looked frighteningly gaunt. It was the same face she'd given those men before delivering their deaths. "I hunted them like animals, every chance I got. I waited and killed them in cold blood and it was easy. You wouldn't believe how good I was at it."
"Please stop," Maura whispered, unable to look at her.
Jane was shaking from the cruelty of her words.
She hated herself so much.
Hated what fate had given her as she travelled in a vicious world of corruptible men and flesh-eating monsters. Wandering from place to place with a heart half-full and crippled. That was the thing about empty hearts, they didn't work. Not until they were full again and Jane had been so desperate to fill the gaping hole in her chest. It had been absurdly easy for the cold comfort of vengeance and death to get inside. They masqueraded as justice and occupied the place in Jane that for so long belonged to the woman sitting right there in front of her. A woman who had snuck into Jane's heart just as effortlessly.
It was no place for her now.
Maura's face was stricken with sadness.
"You want me to hate you, but I won't. I can't, Jane."
"You should," she said, her voice faltering.
"Why should I? It's clear you despise yourself enough for the both of us," Maura said sharply.
It was true, of course. Maura would never turn her away. Jane would just have to find more creative ways to punish herself and maybe she already had. She frowned, observing the lines in her hands. She opened and closed her fingers a few times, trying to flex away their trembling. The weather had deepened the grooves in her skin and hard living had done the rest. Sometimes if she looked long enough, she could swear the flecks of dried blood were still buried there.
Then Maura's hands slid across the dull cafeteria table and enclosed around hers. They were smaller and soft against Jane's rough skin. Healer's hands that had been wasted on the dead. She had the ridiculous urge to bring them to her face, to burrow into them and have them shut out the world.
They could heal Jane if she let them.
"Something changed didn't it?" Maura asked. Whatever vendetta Jane had, she'd abandoned it long before coming here. The examination proved as much - the age of the scars, the lack of any major defensive or offensive wounds, her knuckles clean and unmarred.
Jane sighed wearily. "When you spend every waking minute wondering who you're going to kill next, it's a pretty good sign that you've taken a wrong turn. I thought I was winning some kind of battle out there, that I was fighting a war. But it's not a war. Not really. It's just…it's just the world. One day I realized I didn't know who I was anymore."
Blood covered her hands and face, its texture sticky and thick from coagulation. She ran her tongue over her split lip and across her teeth. A familiar copper taste filled her mouth and she spit a wad of bloody saliva into the brook before plunging her hands into the water. The coolness brought instant relief to her swollen knuckles. The knives went in too. The stream swirled red, then pink, then ran clear, carrying away all her sins. She stripped her shirt off, rinsing as much blood out of the fibers as she could, and then draped it over a rock to dry.
Noon. The sun was at the highest point and not a cloud was in the sky. She tilted her face towards the warmth and wondered idly when spring would turn to summer. Her hair was getting long again, strands of it stuck to her skin and water dripped from their wavy ends.
To her left, a disturbance in the water and a barely-there splash brought her gun into her hands, aimed and ready.
Jane couldn't believe what she saw.
Turtles. Small ones, big ones. Their elaborate shells dotted the sandy edge of the stream like a miniature army. What could only be described as a pile of them sun bathed on a flat piece of slate rock - a few of the more adventurous ones crept lazily towards the edge and plopped into the water. Spring was here and they must have come out of hibernation, emerging from their gravelly tombs to venture into the world once again. Not exactly privy on reptilian life cycles, she knew this only because Maura had subjected her to countless documentaries over the course of their friendship.
Maura. She smiled automatically and then paused because she couldn't remember the last time she'd thought of her. For a few minutes, Jane struggled to recall the exact shade of her eyes.
Her fingers went limp, the gun in them clattering down onto the smooth stones beneath her feet. She stared at it, suddenly dizzy, and rocked back from her haunches to sit on the ground. Her daggers lay benignly in the stream, cleansed and renewed, the blades glinting in the sunlight. Beautiful and deadly, just like her.
The pain hit Jane so deeply that she was nearly left breathless.
It forced her to dig frantically through her pack until she found what she was looking for. The box sprang open and pictures tumbled out everywhere. With crazed fingers, she searched until she had it in her hands - Maura and her beautiful smile. Her eyes bright and care-free and the two of them full of joy. Full of each other.
Jane wasn't sure how long she stayed that way, hunched over the photo, her leg throbbing, memorizing every detail and refusing to look away because she might forget again.
What was she doing?
Her hands dove into every pocket of her stiff cargos and Jane almost cried when she felt it. The scarf bunched sloppily in her palms, the ends drifting out and brushing the ground. The only blood staining it was her own.
Tears stung behind her eyes as she began to wind it around her hand. Over and over, not even bothering to cover her wrist. She couldn't even finish the job when the sobs came. Choking up from her throat like caged animals, her body became wracked with them. She pressed her hand against her mouth, muffling the horrid sound of her cries, and bit down hard into the fabric.
Jane blinked and glanced up to find Maura waiting on her.
"Guess I kind of lost my way," she said. "Forgot what I was looking for."
Maura blinked a few times, slightly puzzled. Her eyes flickered to something behind Jane before returning.
"What were you looking for?"
Jane froze, her expression mimicking that of a deer in the headlights and Maura couldn't help but smile at the paradox. Here was the most extraordinary person she'd ever known, reborn from the ashes of the apocalypse; a cold-blooded killer by her own words, and Maura had rendered her speechless with a simple question.
She had the suspicion that Jane wasn't telling her everything and yet trusted her completely. It really made no sense at all, but it had to be true because when Jane looked at her like this, brown eyes dark and glassy and full of emotion, Maura felt it.
She felt whole again.
Maura tapped the lip of her coffee mug. Her smile was easy and caring and more than Jane deserved. "We had a deal, remember?"
"Maybe…maybe another time, okay?" she asked timidly.
Maura unconsciously drew her thumb down the inside of her wrist, not noticing when Jane swallowed visibly.
"Okay," she acquiesced but couldn't quite let it go. "Did you find it? Whatever it was you were looking for?"
This time, Jane didn't hesitate to answer.
Their eyes locked together as gentle, bittersweet smiles grew on their faces. Smiles that told of unspeakable heartbreak and loss.
Both feeling the same way. Both not knowing where to go from here.
"Your mother," Maura sighed.
"What? No. I mean yes?"
"No, your mother," she repeated and waved at someone behind Jane.
Over her shoulder she could see her mom headed their way. As always, the woman had perfectly awful timing. Jane turned back and nearly smacked noses with Maura, who was leaning across the table, hazel eyes riveted on her.
"I told you before that I wanted you back. I meant it, Jane." Maura touched her cheek gently and the whisper of her fingertips trailed down Jane's skin until they fell away from her jaw. "I will never give up on you, even if you've already given up on yourself."
Jane's heart began doing that thing again as it sputtered and slowed into one frantic beat.
Maura stood up suddenly, a polite smile spreading over her features, and welcomed Angela to the table.