A/N: My muse is backwards, but I'm doubting that any of you are going to complain. This takes place in the next chapter of Gone Native, only you get to see it from Jess's view first :) I hope you like it (and review!). AND follow me on Twitter, at PhoenixPixie23, geeky fan-fic stuff only :)
Clinging to the dirt bike, I slammed over the small hills and gullies that led to the old burnt barn on the northwest side of the property. I wasn't totally sure where it was, but I had an idea, and I was determined to get there before they left. Someway, somehow, I had to help somebody tonight.
To help Rayne, even if it meant leaving Burns defenseless at the silo.
Nate and Rob would look after him.
I shoved my thoughts away from him and focused. The mountains were on my left, that was west, and I was heading north. Soon I should see outlines of the building in the moonlight. It was not too hard to see.
I skidded to a stop in front of the barn, no one in sight. After moment Eric stuck his head around the corner. We barely made eye contact before I was nearly bowled over by Rayne crashing into my side. Rachel came out more hesitantly, her right hand clutching a pistol. I reached out for the pistol and as it passed between us I felt the weight of responsibility for our little group transfer from her to me. From the look of it she was relieved to be rid of it.
I surveyed the situation: we had three small pistols but nothing that would work for long range situations. Rachel was a decent shot when she was calm but in a real crisis she would implode. Eric was uncomfortable with a gun but I knew he could be much more dangerous if I got him a computer. As much as I hated to admit it, Rayne was my best fighter.
I'd have to make sure it didn't come to combat.
Rayne was still clinging to my side but we were all excruciatingly quiet. I was sure they, like me, had heard the flurry of gunfire coming from the entrance of the silo. Had the noise carried all the way to town? Which of our loved ones were still alive? From here on out would it just be the four of us?
Not four. Five.
Burns would find us, even if everyone else was caught. We would always have Burns, the gentle, kind, funny, protective man who had risked his life for all of ours. Yes. We would have Burns.
"Is Mama..?" Rachel started but she stopped with my shrug.
"They sent me here before anything happened."
Rachel sighed and reached for Rayne who willingly slipped from my embrace into Rachel's. I examined Rayne's face—she seemed unnaturally quiet and serious, almost as if she knew she was the one comforting Rachel, not the other way around.
"So what's the plan?" Eric piped up.
Eric was always getting a bad rap around the Boulder house, but since we moved to the silo and Rayne took over his kitchen, he been much more pleasant. Rachel in her quiet way had even gotten him to open up. With just the three of us women as companions, the only person he did not like was me so were likely to have a relatively peaceful trip.
I had a good loyal crew here I just needed to figure out what to do with them.
To my surprise, Rachel spoke up, "Run fast, hide, two weeks, Canyon Road rest stop." She repeated the steps in a monotone voice and her face showed her fear—I had a feeling she was back in the moment when Burns had told her those fateful words and gone off to fight for us.
"Okay, well waiting here isn't going to do us any good." I indicated toward the hybrid, well hidden in the crumbling barn, "Let's get going." It did not matter that I had no idea where.
Eric piled himself into the passenger seat while Rachel and Rayne climbed into the back with Cole. That left the driving up to me. Wonderful. I was exhausted, but I knew that there was an energy drink in the car somewhere. I would just caffeinate until we were far enough away to be safe.
I was just about to put it into drive when Eric made a grunting noise and wiggled around in the front seat. After a moment, he produced a worn purple bear which he passed into the back seat.
"That's from Burns." At his words, Rayne composed face broke and she burst into tears. Rachel had to hide her face in Rayne's hair to cover hers as well. The gesture was so Burns. So thoughtful. If I kept thinking about it I was going to cry too.
North. South. East. West.
I had four options, and no idea which way to choose. North went through country, but it would be colder. South went to town, so that was out. West led to Boulder and the mountains, which Burns had suggested, but I wanted to stay away from. That left East. Into Kansas and Nebraska, corn fields, cute little streams, and starry nights. Camping on the prairie. We could do this.
So we drove. We drove through fields and on dirt roads. We drove when the sun came up all the way until the sun went down. We drove for hours, stopping only to take care of nature's calling and to refill the gas tank, which on the hybrid, thankfully did not need to be done often. The gas stored in the back was more than enough to get us to where we were going, wherever that was.
Twelve hours after we embarked on our adventure, Rayne signaled that she needed to relieve herself again. A small stream enveloped in huckleberry bushes was in sight, so I pulled off the little-used dirt road and toward the stream. It was a beautiful little oasis amongst all the farm country, and I could see us camping here, the huckleberry bushes covering our supplies while Rayne played in the stream. My decision made, I pulled the car further along the stream until I found a hovel that it would fit into. Just a bit further than that was another one that would house our tent just fine, and I could see a round clearing next to the stream that would work for a fire and a play place for Rayne. We could easily stay here for two weeks, covered in huckleberries and wildflowers. This was about as much the middle of nowhere as we were going to get. The GPS confirmed the nearest town was 52 miles away.
"Let's set up camp here. We have enough supplies in the car to get us through two weeks if we supplement our diet with the berries and other plants."
Rayne nodded—I knew Sarge had trained her well how to survive on the prairie. Once again, she would be my greatest asset.
It only took an hour to set up the tent and our supplies. It was sunset so I was glad when we were able to make a fire and gather around it, swatting mosquitoes away and roasting hot dogs. We all went to bed early, the girls in the tent and Eric in the car, and woke up the next morning to peaceful birds chirping and rabbits licking the morning dew off the grass. It reminded me of camping when I was younger with my family.
Soon, everyone had a job. Rayne would take Eric and teach him how to gather edible plants. I would act as watchman and would keep my pistol handy to see if I could kill a small beaver or rabbit so we could make stew. Rachel volunteered to keep our dishes and clothes clean.
It took very little time to develop a rhythm and soon all the huckleberries around us had been picked and eaten. Rachel tried to make a pie, but it was a dismal failure that we ate anyway. We laughed and joked and played card games, each of us keeping busy in our own way to keep our minds off Sarge, Maria, and the rest of the group.
We had been gone four days when I started to feel it. I went to bed early, but by morning I was too sick to get out of bed. Rachel, whose leadership had been tested on this trip took charge at once, and she and Rayne took turns caring for me during the day. The next day was worse. On the third day, one week after leaving Burns and the silo, I woke up in a moving vehicle, Rayne and Cole both looking at me seriously. I tried to ask where I was, but no words came and I slipped back into unconsciousness.
This is all wrong, I thought. I'm the one who should be taking care of them. But it didn't matter because I was too tired to sit up or think or even breathe.
Time lost meaning. Rachel woke me up every time they took a stop so I could relieve myself but I never noticed where I was or where they were going. By this time I only vaguely remembered running, leaving Burns and the boys. I knew we had been camping for a while, and in the car for the rest of the time, but it could have been a day or a month. I had no idea.
At one point my mind comprehended that I did not appear to be contagious because Rachel, Rayne, and Eric were all fine, but as I continued to go in and out of consciousness, it became clear that I was far from fine. My fever was burning up and what little I was able to drink and eat was not enough to sustain me. Sometimes in my dreams I heard Eric and Rachel discussing what to do in hushed voices while Rayne slept in the back next to me. They decided that in order to keep Rayne safe their only option was to go back to Burns. My unconscious thoughts agreed with them, but by now I was too far gone to speak.
They dropped me and Cole off while Burns was out in the fields. They lowered me into the cellar under the kitchen, covered in blankets and with a water bottle lying nearby. Cole stayed up top, a note tied to his collar. They knew that if Burns saw Cole, he would know that I was around too. These details were unimportant to me. Burns would find me and take care of me. That was all I cared about.
I woke as warmth enveloped me. I was being lifted by large, strong arms and the sensation was disorienting. Whispered encouragements floated by as I was carried, but I could not make sense of them. Instead, with what little strength I had left, I clung closer to the warmth and whispered "home."
I was just about to slip into unconsciousness again when I heard Burns whisper back, "You're home Jess. Don't worry, I'll take care of you."
I felt a slight pressure on my forehead and then I was asleep again. Peacefully for once.
The next time I woke up, I found myself in my old bed at the farmhouse. I glanced around the room in a daze and found a glass of water by the bedside table. I was not thirsty, but I reached for it knowing my body needed it. My arms did not obey me though, and I accidentally knocked it over, its contents splashing onto the wood floor beside me. I heard a quick intake of breath and then Burns was there, his hair a little wet but with a compassionate smile on his face.
"More water?" he asked softly.
I had dumped the water on Burns! Would the embarrassment never end?
I tried to nod, but could not seem to make my head move. Burns got the idea though and returned within seconds with a glass of water and a straw. I sipped a few times before falling back onto my pillow in exhaustion. As I slipped back into unconsciousness, I tried to whisper thank you, and felt that familiar pressure back on her forehead.
My dreams were wild. Scary. Inescapable. I was running from someone, and they had already eaten my family. It was just me and Cole and I was terrified. I woke up in a cold sweat, my arms reaching down to the floor to find Cole. Cole would comfort me.
Instead, my weak movements connected with skin, rough under my fingers. Dazed as I was, I grabbed onto the hand as I cried, begging for comfort and relieved when the person sat up and reached for me. With seemingly no effort, he pulled me, blankets and all, into his lap and settled my face on his shoulder. I cried until I fell asleep again, safe in the comfort of his arms, his lips pressed into my hair.
The next time I woke up, I was back in my bed. Cole was back in his normal spot beside the bed and Burns was in the corner reading a book. When he saw my open eyes, he smiled.
He got up and walked over to where he could crouch next to my bed, easing Cole down the bedside a little. "How ya feeling?"
I searched for a word that would answer all my feelings in one, "Drained."
He nodded, "You've been though quite an ordeal. I have been trying to get in contact with Rob and the Healer, but they're doing a good job staying out of sight. Whatever sickness you have seems to be stabilized for now, but I doubt you'll get better until she gets here. She knows a lot more than I do.
I let the question of who the Healer was go unasked—Burns would never put me in danger so whoever she was, she was reliable.
"How long have I been out?"
"About a week."
I was shocked. The time had passed much more quickly than I could have ever imagined. I would have guessed one day, maybe two.
"When are you going to get everyone? Today? Tomorrow?" It was around the time for everyone to reunite again.
"What do you mean you're not! We have to go get them from the rest stop and bring them home. They're alright, right? Rayne and Rachel and Eric are alright?" The emotion brought me up out of bed, but Burns put a gentle hand on my shoulder and eased me back into the pillows.
"Shhhh," Burns put a calming hand on mine, "They're all fine. When Eric dropped you off he left a note saying they would make their way back here on their own. I can't leave you."
"Oh." I looked down at my tiny hand, covered with Burns' large tanned one, and steeled myself for what I somehow knew came next. He was too kind. There would be the inevitable fall. The rejection. The heartbreak. The mask that everything was fine.
I eased back under the covers, turning my face away from Burns, and tried to keep the tears from his eyes. His hand was still holding mine, but when he reached over to give my forehead a kiss and got up to go back to his chair, I barely held back the tears. Of course I would fall for the one guy I could never have. Thanksfully, sleep came quickly and all I had to do was deal with terrible dreams of a man who held my hand but could never come any closer.
I woke the next morning, slightly stronger than before. I found Burns next to my bed asleep, but most surprising was the fact that our hands were intertwined. He had held my hand as I slept, and had slept on the hard, wooden floor in case I needed anything. I sighed and tried to stay still so I could watch him as he slept.
It did not work as just moments later he woke and blinked sleepily.
"Hey yourself." I whispered back. I made no move to remove my hand from his, not wanting to bring it to attention. He sat up and seamlessly pulled his other hand up and grazed it over my hair and cheek.
"How are you today?"
I was far too distracted by his warm hand on my cheek and hand, but managed a "fine" when he asked.
He stroked my cheek a few times and then leaned close. With a soft kiss on my cheek he whispered, "Breakfast?"
I was sure I would be unable to eat a thing, but I nodded anyway, unable to speak. He brushed his hand down my cheek again and pressed a long kissed on my forehead. "You scared me. I thought I was going to lose you there for a little while."
Unable to do anything else, I shook my head. He would never lose me.
A/N: I posted a TINY one-shot of the Eric/Rayne relationship a few days ago (Sunshine on a Cloudy Day)... I think it might evolve into a bunch of tiny chapters about Rayne interacting with all the characters. She's such a popular character and we rarely get to see her outside of Burns' POV, so maybe go check that out and in your review let me know if I should continue with POVs from everyone. And review for this! This is my favorite part of the story so far and I want to see if you agree!
PS, am I the only one who checks her phone obsessively every ten minutes after publishing to see if I got reviews? It's like giving life to my muse...(Translation, reviews=faster updates, it's sad, but true).