A/N: Hey guys, I'm sorry this has taken so freaking long to update. It seems like as soon as I made an outline for the next few chapters, it became impossible to write. Getting kicked in the teeth by life hasn't made writing any easier. I'll update as soon as I can, and I'm going to aim for bi-weekly updates, but sadly I can't make any promises. I'm currently without a beta, so I'm sorry for any errors that may be in this, especially towards the end since those paragraphs are newer and I haven't taken as much time proofing them. Anyway, farewell until next time.
"Hey, Quinn," he said, his voice small and sheepish, and her stomach felt like in bottomed out from under itself. She almost saw red at his words. She pressed the knife a little harder against his throat, and he gulped loudly. The muscles of his throat moved the blade a little, and Quinn had the decency to ease up a bit of avoid cutting him badly. With how sharp she kept it, it wouldn't take much to do a lot of damage.
"'Hey, Quinn'?" she said, her lips so tight they pulled taunting across her teeth as she spoke, making her look more like an angry animal than a human being. "That's all you have to say to me right now? You come out of freaking nowhere, tackle me to the ground, cover me in mud, let that thing escape, and all you have to say to me is 'hey, Quinn'? What are you even doing here?" She stared hard at his face, but she could see in his eyes that he was either about to wet himself, or pass out, or possibly both in either order, and she really didn't want to deal with that mess. She pulled the knife away from his throat, and took a step back.
He started coughing, and gasping, and rubbed his throat with his right hand. She rolled her eyes at his dramatics, and shook her head a little. And I thought living with an aspiring Broadway actress was bad enough, now I'm being stalked by the William Shatner of demon hunters. Wait, am I being stalked. God, I hope this isn't one of those weird crushes gone bad and now he thinks we're going to get married and have babies or something. I knew I shouldn't have been nice to him at work. What the hell was I thinking?
"I mean it, Tom, what the hell are you doing here? Why did you push me over?" she asked, her voice hard and unforgiving. If this was a case of delusional infatuation, she was not going to send any mixed signals at all. She needed to be clear that she wanted nothing more to do with him, and if that didn't send the message clear enough, she always had a really sharp knife and a couple of axes to send the message for her.
"What do you mean 'why did I push you over'? You were going to kill one of those things, and it was doing nothing but eating. Is that such a crime?" he asked, and picked him mask up off the ground. He brushed off some of the mud, and his face scrunched up when he saw how dirty it was. "Look what you did, and this was brand new. It's going to take forever to get this clean." His voice had a whiney tone to it that sounded almost childish. Any other circumstances and it would have made her smile.
"Oh God," she said, and her shoulders slumped down. "You are a demon activist, aren't you? I've heard about you guys. You're trying to stir up some trouble in the government, and bring these things to public knowledge so you can get them put on some protected list. Do you have any idea how dangerous these things can be? How violent, and vicious with no regards to anyone but their own stomachs? And you want to protect them?" She put the knife back in the sheath. It needed to be put away while she still had control of herself. "I bring my kid to this part in the spring and summer. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is knowing that these things are using it as a feeding ground?"
"Woe, come down," he said, and held up his hands in mock surrender. "Put on the breaks, check the side mirrors, and take a breath." What the hell did he just say? "I'm not one of those activists, ok? I would never use those kinds of tactics for any reason whatsoever, even if it was for a good cause. And what do you mean 'you bring your kid to this park'? Since when do you have a kid? Are you one of those crazy people who call their dogs and cats their kids or are you talking about a miniature human being you pushed out of your body?"
The Daimonas Freedom First activists were a small group of people, about thirty or so, spread throughout the city. They believed that the Daimonas that dwelled in the city were not dangerous, but simply misunderstood. They used mostly harmless tactics to get attention, graffiti-ing buildings of people they knew hunted the creatures down, even smashing in the windows of the politicians who flat out ignored their petitions to have these creatures publicly acknowledged. A handful of times their methods turned violent, and the office of a congressman had been burned; luckily everyone had already gone for the day. The government refused to give in. The public statements were all the same; that these creatures aren't real, are just an elaborate hoax by bored people with nothing better to do with their time.
"Yes, a real kid. He's seven years old, and you didn't know because you're just some guy I work with. I don't like to talk about my personal life at work, ok?" she said, and it was very clear by the look on his face that he didn't believe her. She sighed, looked up at the sky. What else is going to happen to make this night worse? She pulled out her cell phone and pressed the photo app. She scrolled through until she found a recent one; she and Martie were curled up on the couch reading one of his animal books. Apparently it was too cute of a sight for Rachel to resist taking a picture. "Here, my roommate took this about three weeks ago." She held up the phone for him to see.
His eyes squinted as he studied it, but after a few seconds his face broke out into a really big smile. "Aw, look at you two. Wow, he has your eyes, I can tell just from that picture." Quinn didn't try to hide her proud smile. She loved the fact that her son inherited her eyes rather than his father's. He already has his father's good looks, quick wit, and his gentleness. She was glad that he has something external of hers for people to notice. Her eyebrows furrowed when she saw Tom's face go white, and his eyes widened as if panicked.
"Oh God, you're not single," he said and took a step back. He ran his hand through his hair, and she wanted to laugh at how afraid he suddenly was. "Should I be worried about some dude coming to kick my ass for flirting with you? You don't have a ring, and you never talk about having a boyfriend. I just assumed you were single." By the end of his rant she was laughing, though to her credit she was trying to control it. "And you think this is funny. I'm going to get my head kicked in, and you think this is funny."
"You're not going to get your head kicked in, stop worrying. I'm not with anyone," she said and put her phone away. Her eyebrows furrowed in irritation when he let out a really big sigh of relief. "I'm so glad me being a single mother is a good thing for you. I wouldn't want you to worry about getting beaten up by the father of my child. Do you really think I would date someone so possessive and violent? What is this, the eighteen hundreds? Did you expect him to challenge you to a duel for my hand or something?"
She turned on her heel and walked off to look for her axes. To her annoyance, he followed her, almost tripping over himself to catch up. "No, that's not what I thought at all. You don't take shit from anyone, that's what I like about you, but I haven't been exactly subtle, and if you were with someone that wouldn't be cool. Wait, roommate wasn't like, code for girlfriend or something was it? 'Cause we're tracking demons in the middle of the night, being gay is so not weird compared to that." Quinn rolled her eyes, and pulled the axe out of the trunk of the tree.
"Not that it's any of your business," she said as she put the axe in the sheath. She had to clench her jaw to stop herself from crying out in pain when the charm was activated. "But I'm not gay, I'm bi, and no, I'm not dating my roommate. She has a boyfriend or whatever they are." Wow, Quinn, you didn't sound like a jealous weirdo at all. I'm sure if you were to repeat that sentence in front of Rachel, it wouldn't send any mixed signals at all.
"Oh," he said, and continued to follow as she made her way over to one of the trails and began walking down it. "Are you in love with her, but she doesn't feel the same, so now you have to watch from the sidelines? I know exactly how that feels." She looked over at him, her mouth agape, and her face contorted into an expression that could only mean 'what is wrong with you?'
"No," she shot back, her voice had raised a couple of octaves, and the strain it caused hurt her throat. "I'm…I'm just…ugh!" If she had any less control over herself she would have stomped the ground like an angry child; that's exactly how she felt at the moment. Instead, she took in a deep breath, and tried as hard as she could to calm down. "Why are you asking me so many personal questions? I'm supposed to be mad at you, remember? I need the liver and some skin of one of those Daimonas, and you let it get away. And you never answered my question: what the hell are you doing out here if you're not one of those crazy DFF freaks?"
Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion and curiosity when she saw Tom shrink in on himself. His shoulders slouched, and his head bowed as he stared at the ground while they walked. She couldn't be sure since it was dark out, but she thought she saw a blush color his cheeks. Ok, what the hell is wrong with him now? she thought, and remained quiet while she waited for him to answer.
"You'll just think it's stupid," he said, and looked up at her for just a second before looking back down at the ground. She had to bite back a smile because she didn't want to embarrass him more. God, he's acting like a little kid right now. If I hadn't just thrown a little bit of a temper tantrum it would be a little sad. Is it weird I think it's kind of cute? "You'll laugh and not want to talk to me anymore."
"Please, Tom," she said and rolled her eyes. "You're wearing that outfit and I'm still talking to you. Plus I held a knife to your throat and you're still talking to me. I think we're a little passed that stage, don't you think?" She raised an eyebrow when he looked up at her again, challenging him to question her. Instead, he very slowly took in a deep breath, and the blush on her face became a little darker. "Fine, tell me why you're here, and I'll tell you my story."
"Alright," he said after a few moments of silence. "That sounds fair." They turned down another path, and he scratched at the back of his neck as he tried to find the rights words. "I know it sounds a little dumb, but I'm just trying to learn about them. What are these things? How many different species are there? Why are they here? How did they get here? What do they want? Don't you want to know any of that stuff?"
"Well, I don't know exactly how many different kinds there are, but I know how they got here, and what they want," she said, and glanced over to meet his eyes. She had to bite back a small at the look of skepticism on his face, but she could tell that he's also curious. After years of seeing that exact same look on Martie's face, she would know it anywhere.
"You're serious?" he asked, and she could tell that he doesn't believe her. She nodded her head yes, and looked around at the trees. She hadn't been paying very close attention, and going home empty handed wasn't an option.
"Yeah, I really know where they came from," she looked over at him, and he didn't look as mistrusting. She made sure to maintain a little bit of eye contact, while also making sure to watch where she was going. She was already covered in enough mud for one night. "It sounds crazy, but have you heard of the Roswell crash?"
His eyebrows furrowed, causing a large crease to appear in the space between them. "The weather balloon that went down in the 40's, but a bunch of people think it's a government cover up of a spaceship that crashed? Area 51 and all of that stuff?" he asked, his voice was a little higher than normal, and he watched her face closely. She looked dead serious, and it eased some of the anxiety in his mind.
"Yep, that's it," she said, and pulled out one of her axes. She winced at the pain, but quickly continued her tale. "Well, it wasn't a weather balloon. A ship really did come to earth, but it didn't crash on its own. Someone in the military shot it down, and when it hit, a bunch of living organisms dispersed all over the ground. Over the years they've evolved, and now what most of them are looking for is a place to call home."
His eyes were wide, and his jaw had dropped slightly open. She couldn't help but smile at the look of awe on his face. "Wow, that's…that's just…wow." She couldn't hold it in anymore. She started laughing, but tried to keep quiet so she wouldn't scare off any creatures in the area, so it mostly came out at loud snorts, which only made her need to laugh more.
"Oh my god, you should have seen your face," she cried between the hard belly laughs that she was trying with all of her might to keep quiet. It wasn't working as well as she wanted, and the sounds of her laughter echoed through the trees. She looked up at Tom with tears in her eyes, and she quickly tried to wipe them away. In the back of her mind she was thankful that she chose not to wear any makeup or it would be smeared all over her face right now.
"That wasn't funny, Quinn," he said with a large frown on his face. He was trying not to laugh, even though what she had done was mean, the sound of her laughter was infectious. He had always thought so, and trying to keep it together now was like torture. A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips when she had to stop walking, and hold onto her knees to stop herself from falling over. "I mean it, you're a jerk. I'm out here trying to learn about these things, and you just lied to me for a joke. What are you, still in high school?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she said, and patted her chest in an attempt to stop the laughter that seemed to take over her body against her will. She finally managed to suck in a deep breath through her nose, and let it out slowly, hot tears still rolling down her cheeks. "It's just been a long day and I really needed a good laugh." She coughed, her throat a little sore now, and she wiped away the last of her tears and stood up straight. She started walking again, and tried not to let the fact that she was just making a ton of noise upset her. Noise meant she had probably chased the creatures deeper into the park, which meant this hunt was going to take longer than she had hoped.
"Guess I can't hold it against you if you were having a bad day," he said, and scratched at the back of his neck. She recognized that nervous tick immediately, and forced herself to take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "So…." He trailed off, and looked down at his shoes for a moment. "What's your story? How did you get involved in all of this?" He looked around at the forest, and then right at her. He watched as her breathing stopped for a second, and a somber look fell over her face.
"I did promise to tell you, didn't I?" she said, her voice low, and she sounded distant; almost as if she wasn't talking to him at all. She picked at her cuticles for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts, and an eerie silence fell between them. She wasn't sure if it was all in her head, or if the thickening darkness created by infrequent lamp posts is what 'caused her to feel like she had suddenly stepped into some weird horror movie.
"You don't have to," he said, his eyes studying her face closely. Even if he didn't know her very well, it was pretty obvious whatever the answer was wasn't pleasant. Just because she had pulled his leg a bit didn't mean he was going to force something out of her just to get a little bit of revenge. His heart felt like it stopped when she looked up at him. The amount of conflict he saw in those hazel eyes sent a shiver down his spine, and he wanted to reach out, and wrap her in a tight hug. It was the only thing he could think of that would maybe chase that look away.
"No, it's alright. It's just, I haven't really talked about it much since it happened. My roommate doesn't even know the whole story, and we've been best friends since college," she said, and took in a shaky breath. "Eight months ago I was walking down a sidewalk to my car, and there was this couple walking about thirty feet in front of me. Everything seemed so normal, and I actually felt a little jealous for a few seconds."
A tight smile pulled at her lips for a second, but quickly faded as the memory flashed through her mind's eye. She took in a slow, deep breath in an attempt to calm her racing heart. "Then they turned down this alley, but I didn't think anything of it, it's not my business to judge other people, you know? I got in my car, and I was about to go home when I heard this god awful scream." Her hands began to shake, and her lungs felt like they were going to burn up as she struggled to keep her breathing even.
Tom watched as she started picking at her cuticles again, and he waited in silence. When it became obvious she wasn't going to continue, he gently prodded. "He attacked her?" His voice was low and calm. He didn't want to add to the stress that she was no doubted going through right now. He watched as she shook her head quickly. Some of her hair came out from behind her ears and curtained over her eyes. She didn't move it. Instead she looked down at the ground to prevent herself from tripping over anything on the path.
"No," she said, her voice trembled as tears swelled in her eyes. "When I got to the alley, I saw her standing in front of him, and her hands were inside of his chest, and there was this bright light glowing in the middle of it. I tried to call the cops, but my hands were shaking so hard, and I dropped my phone. She heard it and ran after me. She beat me so bad, more than a normal person should have been able to in just a minute. She just left me there on the sidewalk to die, and all I could think about was my little boy waiting up for me to read him his bedtime story."
She hiccupped and let out a strained sob that forced its way out of her throat. As soon as she felt him touch her arm she turned, and wrapped her arms around his neck. She buried her face in his chest, and she felt him blanket his arms around her back, pulling her tightly against him. As soon as she felt his hands gently rub her tense muscles, she gave up the control she was desperately clinging to and began to openly sob. Every punch, every kick, every scratch, every broken bone, every torn part of her body; she could remember it all. What was worse, she could remember the fear that had settled over her. Fear of what would happen to Martie, and fear that no one would find out what really happened to her, and she would end up a pile of ashes in the backroom of the morgue.
"Hey, hey, calm down. Everything worked out for the best, right? You're still here, and your boy is still getting his bedtime stories," he said, and she could barely hear him over the sound of her sobs. It was obvious to her that he sounded uncomfortable, unsure, and maybe even a little freaked out. She hadn't planned on revealing so much, but it felt good to get it all off her chest. She had kept her fears hidden from Rachel, kept the truth about how bad the beating was from her best friend because she was already freaked out enough as it was, and Quinn didn't want to add more stress to the situation.
"You're right, you're right," she said and sniffled. She took a couple steps back, out of his arms and wiped her face off with the sleeve of her hoodie. "I'm sorry, you probably think I'm a total freak. I've never told anyone about that before, and I guess it's been bothering me more than I thought." She finally looked up at him when she felt his hand softly rub her arm. He had a small smile on his face, but she could tell it was forced, and it showed just how uncomfortable he was feeling.
"You don't have to apologize. You had a near death experience, you'd be crazy if that didn't upset you," he said, and a small chuckle bubbled in the back of her throat. Because she was still trying to get her tears under control, the laugh sounded ugly, and strange, and it made her blush. She took a few deep breaths, and shut her eyes while she imagined her heart slowing down. It was a meditation trick she learned about a month after the attack, and at first she thought it was stupid, but has used it every time she starts to feel anxious, or when she feels like her emotions are starting to get the better of her.
"Ok, I'm ok," she said, her voice sounded rough from the crying. I need to start bringing water when I leave the apartment, she thought, and cleared her throat. She turned and started walking down the path, and Tom fell into step right beside her. She glanced up at him, her hazel eyes rimmed red, and she struggled to come up with something to say. What the fuck am I supposed to do now? Do I thank him for letting me cry like that? Should I just ignore it like it never happened? There needs to be a guide on what to do after having an emotional moment with someone you barely know, she thought and nervously chewed her bottom lip.
"So, what happened after that?" he asked after a few minutes of quiet. She glanced up at him again, her eyebrows knit together in surprise and confusion but he was looking straight ahead. "I mean, if that thing tore you up and left you for dead then how are you still alive?" She let out a shaky breath, and let her eyes roam over the trees. She still needed to find one of those creatures and harvest the parts she was told to bring back. Martie was doing better, but there was no guarantee it was going to last.
"Someone found me," she said, and a small, tight smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. "He owns a little shop not far from where it happened, and he was working late. He heard me screaming, and he chased that thing away from me. I don't remember how we got into the backroom, but that's where I woke up, and I was covered in this nasty smelling stuff. He knows how to make healing potions and ointments, and he fixed me up. I still have a couple of scars that aren't going anywhere, but there's no permanent damage from the attack. Well, not physically anyway."
She left out the part about Syndri being a Daimonas. Even just the thought of telling Tom about that made a ball of anxiety coil in her stomach, and set her on edge. He stopped her from killing that one, risked his life so it could get away, but she had no real way of being sure what he really wanted with it. Part of studying a species is taking samples, dissecting them to learn about how their bodies work. She wasn't about to risk the life of the one creature she had come to depend on for trusting someone she hardly knew.
She watched his face closely as he absorbed her words. She made a point to look away every few seconds, scanning the trees for any signs of the Daimonas that she needed so desperately. She took a deep breath, willing away the anxiety that settled all along her spine, and focused on what was right in front of her instead of letting her mind come up with dangerous scenarios of what could happen if she doesn't find another one of those things.
When she glanced back at his face, she couldn't help but tense up a little when she saw him biting his bottom lip with a very pensive expression. Not wanting to deal with what that look could possibly mean, she looked forward again and concentrated on the task she needed to accomplish. She let her eyes wander and didn't even bother with holding back the annoyed sigh that bloomed in her chest. She didn't see anything, and the thought that maybe she wasn't going to find another one was too much of a weight for her to bear.
"So," Tom said, finally breaking the silence that was starting to grow thick, and almost tangible between them. "You were attacked by one of those things, you were saved, but how did you get involved in all of this?" She looked over at him with her eyebrows furrowed, and he nervously scratched the back of his neck. "When you were screaming at me, you said you needed some of that thing's parts, what do you need the parts for?"
A sickening feeling settled in the pit of her stomach, and she felt like a belt had been wrapped around her chest, and was being pulled so tightly she could hardly breathe. She couldn't tell him about Martie. She didn't trust him, it wasn't a safe idea, and just the thought of opening up to a near stranger about that made her want to run, or puke, or both. She shut her eyes for a second, and focused on the sounds around her. She ignored the anxiety and instead thought of the soft rustling of the trees from the soft breeze blowing through; the sound of their shoes moving across the dirt; the occasional animal noise from somewhere nearby; and in the far distance, the sound of midnight traffic.
With her nerves back under control, she opened her eyes, and glanced over at him. She licked her lips and let out a shaky breath. "I'm not ready to talk about that, yet." She saw his face fall for a moment, and his shoulder slumped down. He had been nothing but nice to her, didn't fight back when he was attacked, and had every right to at least take a swing. She felt like she owned him, but she pushed that feeling down because there were more important things at hand than giving into her guilt and sense of obligation.
"Don't take it personally," she said, and made sure to keep her voice even, and calm. The last thing she needed was to put him on the defense by unintentionally hurting his feelings. "It has to do with my son, and I just don't know you well enough to get into it, ok? Only two other people know about it so it's not like you're the only one I'm keeping it from or anything." She let out a relieved sigh when he nodded, and stood up straight, falling back into the casual step he had before.
He opened his mouth to say something, but he was cut off when one of the Daimonas ran out onto the path about twenty feet in front of them. It had a branch in its hand, and it was very slowly ripping the bark off of it. It sat down on a small, flat rock and continued eating its meal. It didn't seem to notice the two of them at all as they stood there, frozen in place, their minds blank at the sudden shock of the creature's appearance.
Quinn very slowly pulled one of her axes out of the sheath, and bit her tongue to stop the small gasp of pain that tried as hard as it could to escape. I'll get used to it, just stay positive. If this thing will help than it's worth the pain, she thought, and took her aim. Why does it have to be so fucking cute? It looks like a little porcupine but without the quills. Guess I'm going to have to grow a thicker freaking skin. She shook her head a little to clear her mind of all thought, and let out a slow breath as she took the shot, and when it hit its target perfectly she tried as hard as she could to mentally prepare herself for what was to come next. Syndri better be fucking appreciative when I show up tonight 'cause I am not in the mood for his attitude.
"And now for the gross part," she said, sparing Tom a glace as she pulled out her knife. She tried as hard as she could not to notice that his eyes were wide in shock, and he wasn't breathing at all. Her best guess was his brain was having trouble processing what he had just witnessed, and she couldn't blame him at all. Killing these things was easier when they were big and nasty looking, but she didn't have the option of discriminating on the basis of cuteness, and she didn't have time to feel guilty for her actions as she starting cutting into the creature, her eyes watering despite her best efforts. Please let this be as special as Syndri hopes. Please, just…please.