AN: Rating went up due to some mature themes and language
The warehouse rarely came across problems of violence. For the most part, everyone liked the little community that leaned on each other in hard times. Another reason why there were rarely fights without the building; when you lean on each other for basic warmth in New York winters, you tend to try to be on friendly terms with everyone. Minus the drunks and crazies (only a handful), yes, it was a tight knit community.
John wasn't sure how to feel about it at first. Everyone seemed to continue to accept him well – again minus some drunks– and began to see him as a provider and protector. Not quite to the standard of Sophia but he did tend to "appear" with random supplies. In reality, he found himself spiraling sometimes into floods of guilt. The booze helped numb it. So he would follow local criminals and gangs around. In reality, they needed to work on being less conspicuous since it wasn't using much of his skills to find them. Then, he would ransack their hideouts and take their supplies and either sell them to random shops and take them back to the warehouse. The fact that there was usually some cheap alcohol at every raid was just a plus.
When he came back, often Joan would eye him but not press for questions. Eagerly, the rest of the homeless would grab what they could and thank him profusely. "That's our John," they said, "bring home the bacon." Their words of gratitude had become quite a comfort to him as he discovered one night when he came empty handed.
Most people saw his empty hands and didn't venture to say hello. One youngster, a nine year old named Matt, however approached him with a tooth gap smile. "Jay!"
For reasons unknown, the boy had given him this nickname a while ago. John nodded to him, his beard twitching as he tried not to smile.
"Did ya bring somethin'?" John carefully shook his head. In truth, he had found a crime hideout but it only had guns and booze. He had gladly pocketed the whiskey and hid towards the outside of the warehouse where he kept most of his stash. But there had been nothing else worth bringing; selling the guns could bring suspicion and selling the booze…was never an option.
Matt's lips trembled in disappointment. "Aw…I was hoping for a new blanket. Mom always hogs the blanket in her sleep and-" here he leaned in, hand covering the profile of his mouth, "she snores somethin' terrible, whateve' she says." The boy nodded very seriously.
This time, the bearded man smiled. His face felt almost pained – he hadn't smiled in what felt like years. His skin was tight from the permanent scowl on his face.
"I'll get one tomorrow."
The youngster jumped, in excitement as well as shock from hearing John's voice – a rare occurrence. John went to his piece of cardboard and handed the boy his carefully folded orange quilt. "Use this tonight." The little one's eyes widened in awe as he took the prized possession.
"Are ya sure?"
But the man had already turned away and gone back outside. The boy stood for a while and then shrugged. Heading back to his sleeping spot next to his pregnant mother, he could have swore he heard some glasses clattering together from outside the wall they were lying against.
As for the protector part, that came from one night when one particular aggressive client of Sophia followed her to the warehouse.
Covered waist down with his worn infamous quilt, John's back was resting against an unfinished wall, eyes covered in intoxicated slumber. He woke up to a shouting match happening in the middle of the building. Blinking, he focused on the main source of the yelling. A medium height dark – haired man with peppered hair and what sounded like a slight lisp when he was fired up. The man had a navy blue snow jacket and khaki slacks. A bit of a hunchback, he noted, probably from a desk job. Sophia was facing the angry male and her facial expression was a mixture between frustration and genuine fear.
"I'm telling you, we're not finished with our business here!" Other than the lisp, the man seemed perfectly in shape, his broad shoulder noticeable under the jacket. Lazily, John found himself getting up from his watching spot.
"Hack up a lung why, don't you?" A blonde woman snapped from her piece of cardboard. A bottle of cooking wine was set next to her head. "Some people are trying to sleep here, you half-toed toad! Jack off somewhere else!"
The man's head spun to face her and he took a step toward her lying form. "Shut up, bitch," he growled.
The other people in the warehouse seemed to be slowly waking up one by one. Yet, no one did anything. They just watched, some alarmed and some seeing it as entertainment. A few, including Joan, had looks of worry about them.
"Don't mind her, she's drunk," Sophia stammered, her Spanish accent slipping in her emotional state. She attempted to reach out to the man to calm him. Instead, he saw her arm move and grabbed it roughly. The man's face pushed forcefully on her neck, nuzzling it.
"Hey, I'm not drunk-"
"Be quiet, Lisa!" Joan had walked over to the blonde and clamped her mouth shut.
"Hey get off of her!"
There were a few people in the crowd that were shouting towards the struggling couple at the center of the ruckus.
"S-stop it." Tears were threatening to fall from Sophia's eyes and her voice cracked as she tried to pull away from the client's grasp. The man's reply was muffled against her chest.
Somehow, John found next to the man and wrenching him away from the flustered woman. His instincts took over and all he could see was red. Anger, guilt, death. The name "Jessica" seemed to flash everywhere. He himself didn't understand what he was feeling or remember much of what he did. When he emerged from his rage, the middle aged man was on the floor with a black eye, bloody nose and probably some broken ribs and there were five homeless men trying to hold him back.
"Hey, John. Relax." He turned his head to the right, his beard feeling terribly heavy for some reason.
Joan was talking him in soothing tones. None of the words registered. Instead, he found himself grabbing his orange quilt as he left the warehouse wordlessly. His breathing was ragged, still heated from the brawl – though perhaps beating was more accurate. His thumb stroked the fabric and he stood a few yards away from his old shelter, staring at the blanket.
He didn't come back inside for a few hours.