drabble piece on just a regular on the job casualties for Joel and Tess
"Run, goddamn it! RUN!"
They bolt through the streets like bats out of hell; their shoes hit gravel and water and god knows what else as gunfire rings around them like a church bell sounding. Bullets ping and zip and threaten to burn into their skin, and Joel's shoving Tess from the side like a linebacker just as the sound of a bullet burns past her ear.
They collide into a wall, and Joel's snarl echoes off the buildings.
"Fucking shit -!"
"Joel!" There's blood spilling from his arm, around his back somewhere and Tess does her best to press down on it to keep him from bleeding out. Rage surges through her like venom; those sons of bitches shot her partner - he took her hit, which makes things worse for the ones holding the gun because Tess holds a grudge to the end of time. "Goddamn, god-fucking-damn I'm gonna rip their balls off for this. I'm gonna fucking gut them -."
Fuck fuck fuck their ammo is so low already - god damn if it wasn't though -.
He grips her arm like a vice, she'll probably find a bruise there later but now's not the time to think about it as she stares into Joel's rapidly paling face. "Now's not the time, Tess," he grits, and she can see his teeth grinding from the way he works his jaw with every breath. Very roughly he's shoving her forward, ahead of him and away from the echoing gunshots and jeering as they disappear down into a tunnel.
Out of range, Tess whirls on the man, pressing her hands wherever she thinks the blood is coming from. "Christ," she gasps, and hates the taste of bile in her throat and the fear that causes it. Her eyes dart to his face from the wound, she bites her lips hard because the way he's having trouble keeping his eyes open disconcerts her. "Okay, big guy, we're okay. We're gonna make it back and we'll get you nice and fixed up okay?" She presses to his side, bearing most of his weight as she rushes them through the tunnels, baring her teeth and hissing under her breath when she hears wheels on gravel and talking from up above.
She ducks them into a corner, and presses her hand gently to Joel's heaving breaths as the shadows move. "Easy," she whispers to him, and her voice quivers enough for her to notice, but Joel's ragged breaths warm against her skin and it's a feeling unlike the times he sleeps with his face in her neck.
"I'm gonna get you out of here, big guy, I promise," she whispers, and they're not sure who she's trying to convince more. "I promise."
"Don't sweat it, babe," he grunts, and lets her haul him forward into the sunlight. "I'll be right here when you need me."
They make it out in one piece, but Joel's bleeding all over the apartment floor by the time she gets him into the couch. He's groaning and choking and swearing out loud, and Tess hates the way his blood looks on the floor and on the cushions. (They're going to stain and she's going to hate them for the rest of her life but Joel probably won't be happy with her if she burns them.)
"Here - let me see, let me see." She's pushing at his shirt frantically, ripping the fabric away even as Joel protests weakly at ruining his shirt. It makes her smile for about a second, quick and mostly for his benefit as she uses the torn cloth to staunch the bleeding. "It's already fucked up, Joel. I'll get you a new one from Bill next week. Something Hawaiian maybe."
Joel bellows as she presses down, and Tess croons and coos faulty reassurances at him until he's stopped clawing at the couch cushions and biting down into his lip. She sees the red of his blood again on his lips, trickling down his chin where she reaches up to wipe away absently. His eyes refocus on her, and the man makes a chuffing noise through the pain.
"I'd rather walk around naked," he mumbles, and sits upright with help from the woman. It's not as bad as it looks, or so he thinks, and when Tess peels away the bloodied cloth, he sees the extent of the damage he's taken. "Huh. Well now - guess these things aren't as bulletproof as they used to be."
Tess lets out a breath, heavy and relieved before she scowls at him, already armed with the half-empty bottle of peroxide and gauze as he helps her clean off the blood with a damp rag; flinching instinctively when she reaches out with a soaked gauze pad.
"I haven't even touched you," she huffs, and the woman makes another face at him when he reaches out to touch the forming bruise along her jaw. Her hand slaps his away swiftly, she turns to grab her needle and thread. He watches her silently as she surges to her feet, trailing her with his eyes as she produces their bottle of scotch and a glass.
"Here." She's got a glass poured out and shoved into his hand before he can blink. "Bottoms up, old man." She turns away immediately, knowing that he'll probably get it down in a breath while she sterilizes the needles and thread.
He watches her even as his throat burns from the scotch, and he pours himself another glass as he watches her back and her hands work. He's familiar with the way her shoulders tense to her ears and then sag heavily under some unseen burden in her mind - the burden that's most probably him.
"That was too close, Joel." Her quiet voice throws him somewhat - he's expecting her to rage and yell at him for being a dumbass and putting his life at risk; he doesn't expect this. She turns to him finally, before he can reach out and make her, and sees the flash of guilt and shame in her face. It's there with the frustrated anger and fear, but then it's gone and she's pressing the alcohol soaked gauze into his skin.
"Fuck - OW!" He flails an arm out to ward her away, but Tess presses her fingers hard enough into his arm to keep him from moving - if only to stop her from hurting him. "Damn it, woman, I'm banged up enough already!"
Tess huffs, but is hardly apologetic. "Sit still and maybe I can get you to stop bleeding all over the damn place." She dabs the wound as gently as she can, rolling her eyes every now and then when Joel flinches or hisses sharply with the contact. The cotton is soak in red immediately, and Tess goes through another four before she decides it's clean enough to stitch shut.
"You're stickin' your goddamn finger into my bullet wound, how the hell am I supposed to sit still with that?" he growls, and there's another tumbler of scotch down his throat as the needle digs in. He sits as still as he can, fussing every once and a while and Tess does her work without much fanfare either, only clicking her tongue or sighing here and there.
When she's done, she dabs the blood away, holding a fresh gauze to the wound as she scowls at Joel and does the only thing she knows how. "You really oughta quit takin' one for the team, y'know that? I'm a big girl, Joel."
Joel laughs, harsh and dry as she takes the glass from his hand and downs the rest of his shot. "And let this happen to you?" He shakes his head incredulously. "Damn Tess, if that's the thanks I get for savin' your ass -."
"I didn't ask you to save my ass," she snaps impulsively, and the tension underlying comes out and grows thicker between them. The space between them suddenly seems too close; their emotions are palpably bubbling too close to the surface for either of them to be comfortable, but Tess seems twice as troubled. She drops her hand away from his chest, slouching forward onto her knees as she wipes at her brow restlessly.
"Damn it," she breathes, and Joel's hand encompasses the bony angle of her shoulder. It's warm and drying with his blood on it, but she looks up when he squeezes, and she sees the honest, worried look he's giving her. It's also partially apologetic and so very Southern that Tess feels her mouth twitch, even if it's into a sad sort of smile that breaks his heart a little more.
With a resolute huff, she scoots in closer to him, dabbing at the rest of his minor wounds. "I swear, Texas; that flawed sense of honor you've got there for saving damsels is gonna put us both in our graves early," she mutters wryly, smirking crookedly when Joel snorts a chuckle at her.
"You're many things, Tess, but you sure as hell ain't a damsel in distress," he tells her, leaning back into the couch when she palms his chest with the silent order. "You are my partner though," he adds casually, as Tess leans over him to inspect the cuts dusting the edge of his cheekbone and jaw. "And I believe we established that I don't do well with sharin' you - dead or alive."
Her mouth curls. "You sound creepy as hell, did you realize?" She leans further into him, rolling her eyes benevolently when Joel leers down her top as she dabs at a nasty looking bruise on his brow ridge. "I don't want to wake up in the middle of the night and find you standing there watching me sleep."
(He doesn't tell her that sometimes he does it anyway - when they're in bed and he can't sleep he lies down next to her and watches her sleep instead.)
He hums at her, taking the damp gauze from her. "You make me sound like a perv." He grasps her chin in his hand gently, and starts to tend to her wounds too, but Tess pries the swab from his hand and pats his chest.
"Rest," she tells him, and Joel frowns at the space she leaves behind on the couch. There's a gleam in her eyes that he doesn't particularly like, especially not when he can't come with her to be sure that glint doesn't get her killed or worse. "I'm gonna run down to Joanne; see if she's got our batch of goods with her yet."
"I'll come," he mumbles, and it slurs more than he'd like to admit. It's probably the blood loss and alcohol and fading adrenaline, because even with a struggle Tess can keep him pinned to the couch. He stares up at her face, indignantly. "Aw Tess -."
"Stay." She presses her mouth to his briefly, a sweet little peck that keeps him in place as she had expected it to; running her hand over his jaw before she's at the door. "I'll be back in a flash, Tex. Just do me a favor and don't die while I'm gone, okay?"
He passes out fifteen minutes into waiting for her, and when he wakes god knows how many hours later, it's to a ratty blanket wrapped around him and a clean wrap for his shoulder.
She's asleep by the window; probably watching the city like she does sometimes. She's stolen one of his shirts and sits swallowed by the material, and he sees the blood and bruises and sloppy bandage work around her hands and arms and legs in the moonlight. Her gun still sits by her leg, an inch away from her bloodied knuckles and bruising fingers.
With a marginal amount of effort he manages to get himself upright, and by the time he's limping over to her, Tess is awake and staring blearily around the apartment for him. "Hey," he murmurs quietly, when she stifles a yawn and staggers to her feet. He has his hands on her immediately, holding her swaying body steady as he inspects the new battle wounds in the light.
He makes a sound in his throat; pained and disapproving when she shrugs simply. "Tess..."
Joanna probably hasn't seen Tess in weeks.
"They needed to learn," she tells him quietly, and shrugs again when Joel frowns at the way her cheek is deeply bruised. She looks away from his face because staring too long into Joel's eyes makes her feel things she's not ready to address (and probably never will be) and licks away the dried blood of her split lip. "They hurt you, so I hurt them back."
It's a simple theory of life that Tess abides - hurt someone she cares about, and she'll rip out your nails and make your crawl by your bleeding fingers to beg for death.
Joel sighs heavily, pulling Tess into his chest even as his mind whirls with all the things that could've gone wrong, but he pushes it aside when he feels Tess press that much closer into him and sigh into his bare chest. "C'mon." He guides them to bed, the both of them limping; battered and broken bodies too tired to do anything but lean on each other.
They collapse into bed carefully; Tess nestles herself into his side once she knows he's comfortable, and her long leg hooks into his like always. "I'm not a damsel in distress, y'realize," he murmurs into her hair, kissing the side of his face even as Tess scrunches her nose at the way his beard scrapes her cheek. "You don't have to defend my honor."
"Pot, kettle, black," she mumbles, and with a pat on his chest again, Tess settles down for the night to Joel's hand stroking circles into her arm. As she sprawls herself a little further onto her chest, he feels her mumble more than he hears it. "I don't like sharing either, just so you know."
Joel smiles in the dark, and the man knows that if he could find some way to make it so; they wouldn't have to share each other with anyone.
The next morning he learns of the massacre Tess had left behind for him. New spreads fast and the streets are a little bit safer now for them because of the ghost stories the smugglers tell each other of the curse of Tess. Business goes good for a while, and Joel wonders if it says anything about his masculinity when stories of a woman is more terrifying than he is.
It doesn't matter though, because the next week comes in, and Tess gets three new knife wounds to tell stories about. Then there are new tales of the deadly duo - now with stories of Joel and his ungodly strength that's torn men in half.
He doesn't tear them in half though; he just breaks enough bones to mangle. So they can't stab Tess anymore.
Tess finds it amusing, and she asks him one day if they should dress up as each other for Halloween and scare people for shits and giggles.
"I'm sure the world's got enough on their hands with us as ourselves already, don't you think, sweetheart?" He grunts as he pulls back on the arm of the smuggler he's holding, relishing the sound of snapping bones and the pained wailing scream that follows. "Best lay low for a while till this all blows over."
She rolls her eyes, pressing the muzzle of her gun into the face of the man she's standing on and pulls the trigger twice. "I'll lay low when my trigger finger's broke and sore - and even then, I'd probably just switch hands."
"One day, Tess, you're gonna have to take me up on that offer."
"And when that day comes, we'll go somewhere warm - like Hawaii or somethin'. I still have that shirt Bill got you."
Evidently Tess and Joel don't like it when someone tries to mortally wound their partner. and they don't take well to it either.