DISCLAIMER: Painkiller Jane and its characters are the property of Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Quesada and the Sci-Fi Channel.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Vampires, Ghosts and Zombies challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Riley," Maureen spoke softly. Riley's eyes fluttered open. "I need you to drink."
Riley nodded his head weakly, groaning while Maureen helped him sip from a canteen.
Jane watched uncomfortably from a corner; one hand holding her chin, the other resting on the handle of her gun. Riley looked bad, his skin was deathly pale, lips almost blue, a sticky sheen of sweat covering his skin.
She watched as Maureen redressed his wound, a deep bite mark on his forearm, it wasn't healing. If someone were to ask her, she'd say it was getting worse. But no one asked and she didn't offer her opinion.
They thought it was a Neuro. They'd seen it before, the dead coming back to life. This time, they were wrong. Dead wrong. It was worse than a Neuro, but a virus that reanimated the dead, turning them into ravenous killing machines with the ability to infect anything their teeth sunk into.
Maureen rose from Riley's bedside, walking towards the trashbin and tossing the soiled bandages inside.
"How's he doing?" Jane asked.
Maureen placed her palms onto the wall, leaning forward and lowering her head. "He's dying."
"Do you want me to, you know," Jane motioned towards her gun. "When it happens."
"No," Maureen pushed herself from the wall. "I'll do it this time. Besides, you've done enough already."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I was talking about McBride.. and Connor."
"Oh," Jane shrugged. "He did try to eat you. And that was before he became a zombie."
Maureen smiled weakly at the joke.
"When was the last time you slept?"
"Same time as you."
"Okay, how about a shower?"
Maureen wrinkled her nose. "Sometime way after you."
"You saying I stink?"
"A little," she rubbed her nose. "Okay, a lot."
Jane reached with her hand, wrapping it around Maureen's wrist. "C'mon," she cocked her head and smiled.
"Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
"What about Riley?"
She understood the worry in Maureen's voice. Riley was more than a sick friend, he was also a potential threat. "I'll get Ted to look after him."
They'd been on the run for days. The subway was the perfect place to hold down. But, that was before they knew what they were dealing with. Before they knew McBride had been infected. Afterwards, they couldn't stay inside the place with the smell of gunpowder and burning flesh clinging to the air.
It had been Riley's idea to hide in the mall. 'For nostalgia's sake' he'd explained. They weren't the only ones who'd had the same idea. By the time they arrived, there were eleven people inside the Mall, within the next week, twenty more. And instead of taking care of three, Jane found herself in charge of thirty. They were mostly civilians, men, women, a couple children. People with regular jobs and ordinary lives. People who were unprepared to defend themselves from a horde of the undead.
They secured the building as best they could. Jane still felt like they were sitting ducks in a giant trap, too many tall windows and hidden corridors for her liking. They camped out in 'Bert's Sporting Goods', caddy corner from the Food Court.
"Oh my God," Maureen gaped. "How the Hell did you find a shower, in here?"
"I have many skills."
"May I?" Maureen held the towel to her chest.
"She's all yours."
Buried behind a plaster wall printed with the words 'Coming Soon' was a Gold's Gym, two days away from completion. Racks of exercise equipment, still wrapped in plastic sheets, littered the floor. The air smelled of drying paint, glue and new upholstery. None of which mattered to Jane, or Maureen. What mattered was it had a fully functioning shower room that had gone unnoticed because no one had bothered to look.
Maureen hurriedly stripped out of her clothes. Everything she needed had been placed neatly on a bench - toiletries, a towel, a fresh change of clothes, all probably 'acquired' from inside the mall.
She picked up the bottle of shampoo, raising her eyebrows when she saw the price. She noticed Jane leaning against a wall, still clothed. "You're not taking a shower?"
"You're leaving then?"
"No," she smiled at Maureen's questioning look, tucking her hands into her pockets. "Someone's gotta watch your back."
"Perv," Maureen stuck her tongue out before turning the water on.
"I'd be offended if I didn't know how much of an exhibitionist you are."
"God, you're never going to let me live that one down, are you?"
"Hey, I'm not the one who flashed her breasts in a bar full of police graduates."
"That's because you chickened out."
"I didn't chicken out. I just didn't want to miss the show."
"Like I said - perv."
"Well, they are nice breasts."
A pregnant pause filled the air, something that always happened when the playful banter between them tread into the arena of flirtation.
"Like I said," Maureen broke the tension with a playful sneer. "Perv."
Jane laughed, relaxing a little more. She'd had every intention of going back into the gym while Maureen showered but didn't have it within her to move. Part of her was too cautious, too afraid to leave Maureen alone. They'd lost too many by thinking they were safe when danger had an annoying habit of appearing in the most banal of places.
The other reason for Jane, the one that was harder to define - the part of her that liked watching the water sluice down Maureen's skin. The glistening sheen of water and soap, that seemed to highlight every curve, every muscle, every line of her, from head to ankles.
Eventually, Maureen turned around, letting the water flow down her back, while her hands ran the shampoo through her hair. "Jane?" She asked with a tilt of her head.
Jane pulled her hands from her pockets, folding them across her chest. Something she sometimes did when she was serious. "You ever have any regrets?"
"You're not gonna start singing are you?"
"I'm serious, Mo."
"So am I. You suck at Sinatra." She paused long enough to notice the grim expression on Jane's face. "What's going on?"
"Aside from the end of the world," Jane shrugged. "I don't know. I've just been thinking."
Jane shrugged. She'd never been good at expressing herself, especially when it came to her feelings. "Our graduation."
"Are we still talking about me flashing?"
"No," Jane shuffled a foot. "I'm talking about you trying to kiss me."
"Are you asking if I regret getting blind stinking drunk and trying to stick my tongue down your throat?"
"No, I'm saying I regret not letting you."
Maureen spun on her heel, turning her back to Jane. "I thought we agreed.."
Jane stepped into the shower stall. Approached Maureen until she was so close she could feel the heat rising off Maureen's skin. "I was wrong."
Maureen swallowed hard. There were pink elephants between the two of them they never talked about. Maureen had tried to kiss Jane, not because she was drunk, but because she wanted to. Had wanted to since the first time she'd met her. But they were just friends, that was the line Jane had drawn in the sand. And not once during the years Maureen had known her had Jane straggled over the line, while Maureen paced and skittered, watching hopelessly as the 'best friend' through Jane's long string of boy and girlfriends.
Now, Jane had her backed up against the wall, a finger lifting Maureen's chin as lips she dreamed of drew ever closer. "Jane?" She asked one more time, just in case it was Jane who'd been the one drinking.
Jane smiled softly. Let her fingers drift to cup Maureen's neck, because she'd be damned if she was going to let her get away this time. "No regrets."
"No regrets," Maureen repeated, tilting her head and feeling the wet heat of Jane's breath on her lips.
Suddenly, before even the slightest contact could be made, Maureen snapped her head to the side. "Did you hear that?"
Jane blinked, snapping out of her reverie. "What?"
"I thought I heard gunshots."
"Mo," Jane grinned suspiciously before leaning back in. "That was just.."
This time, Jane heard them as well. Gunshots followed by screaming.
She gave Maureen the sliver of time to grab her clothes. The both of them tearing through the gym, Maureen a half step behind as she clambered into jeans and yanked on a shirt.
Jane tore through the service corridor. She yanked opened the door to the mall.
A man stood right outside the entranceway. He was in his late fifties, with a bald head and overalls. His right cheek was missing, the skin scraped and gnawed away until nothing but bone, teeth and muscle was visible.
He growled, lunging at Jane, arms outstretched. They were dead, slow and stupid but unfathomably strong. He grabbed Jane by the shirt collar, the two falling to the floor from his momentum.
The impact knocked the wind from Jane's lungs. Her grip loosened and her gun went skittering across the floor.
Jane punched him across the jaw, felt it break under her knuckles. And still he came at her, pushing his weight down, mouth gaping open, teeth bared.
She could see two more just feet away from them, a man and a woman. They were alerted by the commotion, and Jane could see them stumbling towards her.
The man atop her continued to struggle. His hands wrapped around Jane's neck, like two beefy vices they began to close. She punched him again across the skull to no avail.
Then, his head exploded.
Maureen fired two more shots, connecting with the man and woman approaching Jane. They went down like the dead things they were.
"You okay?" Maureen asked, using a foot to shove the dead man off Jane.
"Took you long enough," Jane muttered as Maureen helped her to her feet.
Maureen pressed her back to the wall, just on the edge of the entrance. She waited as Jane quickly collected herself, readying her gun.
"You ready?" Maureen asked.
Jane inhaled, nodded. "Ready."
They burst into the Mall, side by side. They'd been breached. Dozens of the dead strode purposely, hungrily through the Mall. And more were coming.
Arthur, one of the few Security Guards, blasted his way towards them. "Where the fuck have you been?"
Jane ignored the slight, raised her weapon to shoot a zombie to her right. "What the Hell happened?"
"What the fuck do you think happened?" His eyes were wide and frantic. "They got in!"
Maureen stepped between the two of them. "Where are the kids?"
"How the fuck should I know?" He snapped back.
A piercing shriek cut through the air. A child's scream. The two women, ignoring Arthur who'd turned and ran in the opposite direction, ran towards the noise.
Her name was Alicia Morales, she was nine years old, with black hair that naturally curled into a Shirley Temple-esque mop. The 'Build-A-Bear' store had become her home since arriving with her brother four days ago.
She was pinned under a five-foot tall bear as two women gnawed their way through the stuffed animal to get to the child.
"Jesus!" Jane rushed towards the girl. She kicked one of the women in the face, sending her sprawling backwards before putting a slug into the woman's forehead. Just as quickly, she dealt with the other woman, firing another round.
The girl scrambled out from under the bear, rushing towards Maureen and wrapping her arms tightly around the woman's neck.
"Where are the others?" Maureen asked, stroking the girl's head. Alicia jerked her head back and forth.
Jane watched the entrance, sporadically firing her gun to keep the dead from getting too close. She could hear gunfire in the south end of the mall. It didn't have the frantic and chaotic sound of people randomly discharging their weapons, it was controlled and measured. The remaining survivors had formed a cohesive unit, effectively protecting themselves and clearing out the Mall.
They'd need help. Jane surmised the breach was somewhere in the North end of the Mall. The way the dead were streaming into the Mall and their numbers, the breach wasn't in one of the main entrances. If it had been, there'd be hundreds as opposed to less than fifty.
She pulled the clip from her gun, checking her bullets. She was running low.
"Mo," she called out, jamming the clip back into its chamber. "How many clips you got left?"
"Two," the woman answered.
"Give'em to me."
She caught the clips in the air then stepped outside the store. Before Maureen could complain, Jane had grabbed the Security Gate and slammed it down.
"What are you doing?"
"Watching your back," Jane explained. "Someone's gotta secure the breach."
"And you think it's you," Maureen thread her fingers through the gate, trying to get as close to Jane as possible. "Alone?"
"Somebody's gotta watch her," Jane nodded towards Alicia.
Maureen sighed. Someone needed to watch the kid, and Jane had already decided who that would be. No point in arguing when Maureen was in the store, locked behind a gate and Jane wasn't.
"Don't worry, I'll be fine."
"You better," Maureen forced a smile. "You still owe me a kiss."
Jane ran through the dead and towards the sporting goods store. The dead were easy to out maneuver or outrun. But once they amassed escape wasn't so easy. They could stop a person through sheer numbers alone.
She didn't know if her healing abilities would counter the effects of the virus, and she had no inclination to find out anytime soon. Instead, she barreled through the crowd, ducking and weaving like a football player through an obstacle course. She threw elbows and kicks, wanting to save as many of her bullets as possible, and not wanting to bring any more attention to herself than she already had. There would be time later to clear out the Mall, her task was closing wherever it was they were coming through.
Less than fifty yards away, sandwiched between Urban Outfitters and the Body Works shop was Bert's Sporting Goods. She should have been relieved, instead, Jane's heart sank at the sight of the store. Ten more of the dead were streaming out the entrance.
"Riley," she muttered under her breath, gripping the handle of her gun tighter.
Making a beeline towards the store, Jane raised her gun and began firing.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!
She fired in quick succession. One after the other, heads exploding on impact raining blood and gore as bodies thumped lifelessly onto the cement floor.
Inside the store, Jane reached up and pulled down the security gate, leaving a small gap at the bottom just in case she needed a quick exit. She could hear the others in the distance getting closer.
There were seven more inside the store. Jane quickly dispatched them, careful not to get too close, or cornered someplace she couldn't get out of.
She found Riley in the back of the store, amongst the boxes and cleaning supplies munching on a leg. It belonged to an insurance salesman named Hank from Wisconsin, who had a tendency to leer at Jane's breasts for way too long leaving no guess as to what he was thinking. The rest of him lay face down in a bloody heap. His eyes were open, a part of his skull was missing.
"Riley," she sighed softly under her breath. He raised his eyes up towards her, mouth opening and curling into a feral snarl. Jane said a silent apology, raised her gun and fired.
"We need to get out of here!" Mona, a senior from Saratoga Springs, yelled over the crowd.
"Yeah," Dirk from Vallejo snapped. He was a junkie who'd gone cold turkey because all the dealers were dead. "Tell us something we don't know."
They'd gathered in the center of the Mall, where there were fewer windows for the dead to peer at them through. They were down to twenty-one - seventeen adults and four kids.
"All right people," James, a cop from Sante Fe and de facto leader to the men in the group who didn't take too kindly to being told what to do by a woman, he stepped on the edge of the cement barrier to the water fountain addressing the crowd. "Snapping at each other isn't going to solve our problem."
Jane watched from the edge of the crowd more than happy to let James take lead. If listening to him calmed them all down, she'd accept the slight from the sexist pigs unwilling to listen to her.
"If we're going to get out of here," James continued. "We need a place to go. A safe place."
"What about the military base?" Someone asked.
"Which one? I heard they closed down."
"What about Alaska? The dead can't chase you if they're frozen!"
"Have you been to Alaska?" Someone fired back. "It's summer. Not exactly the land of snow and ice."
"Beacon Isle!" Another voice filled the air. "You know, the place where all the rich folks go. There's nothing but a hotel and a lighthouse. And completely surrounded by water."
That seemed to get the crowd's attention.
"And how are we supposed to get there?" Arthur asked, his voice dripping with disdain.
"A boat, you moron."
Arthur stepped angrily in front of the man. "You got a boat that can hold twenty people?"
"I do!" A portly older man who eerily resembled Santa Claus stepped to the front of the crowd. "I skipper a boat for those dinner cruise tours. On a good day, she can hold over forty people. And I'm sure she's still stocked with plenty of food."
The crowd began to murmur excitedly.
Jane felt a hand press on the crook of her elbow. She turned towards Maureen. The brunette leaned in to her, whispering as she spoke.
"I think I've found a way to get us all out of here."
"Maureen," Jane smiled. "I think I could kiss you."
"That's what you keep saying," Maureen smiled back, tilting her head coyly. "And yet I remain unkissed."
They were standing on the roof of Nordstrom's peering down onto the south side of the expansive parking lot. The dead were below, hundreds of them wandering aimlessly across the pavement. 'Residual memories', the only Doctor among them had called it. The desire to be around something familiar even if they couldn't tangibly recall what that familiarity was. Jane called it creepy.
But they were interested in the horde of dead less than a hundred feet beneath them. Maureen had brought Jane onto the roof to point out her escape plan - a yellow school bus sat on the edge of the parking lot like a giant, yellow beacon of hope.
"Oh, I'm gonna kiss you alright," Jane exhaled, gazing at the thousand feet of pavement crowded with the dead that stood between her and the bus. "Right after we figure out how we're all gonna get on that bus."
It had been a couple years since Jane had been to the Harley Davidson store. She felt like a kid in a candy shop, knowing she didn't have to pay and anything in the store was hers for the taking. She grabbed a pair of thick leather over pants, a leather jacket, the cut was shorter than she'd prefer but it'd have to do, gloves and boots that came up to mid-calf. The dead were strong, but even they couldn't bite through thick leather.
"What are you doing?" Jane asked as Maureen began stripping out of her clothes.
"I'm going with you," she stated flatly.
"No," Jane placed a hand on Maureen's arm. "You're not."
"Yes," she swung her arm out of Jane's grip, snapping at her angrily. "I am."
Jane had come up with a plan. An insane, definitely dangerous, and probably fatal one that involved driving across the parking lot on motorcycles, straight through the dead and onto the bus. The plan had evolved from Jane going alone, to realizing she wasn't very good at hotwiring a car, to a small group of three. A number that didn't include Maureen.
"Dammit, Mo," she snapped back, grabbing Maureen's arm. This time tight enough to keep her from wriggling from Jane's grasp. "You can't go."
"Because I need you here. You're a better shot than me. Always have been, especially with a rifle."
"Someone needs to watch your back."
"And you will, on the roof," Jane exhaled, releasing her grip on Maureen's arm.
"I can take care of myself."
"I know. But I can't do this if you're with me."
"Two hours ago, I put a bullet in Riley's head. You're the only family I got left now. I can't keep a clear head if you're out there. Not this time. Just.. just do this for me."
"Fine," a tiny smile strained on her lips. "On one condition."
"And that is?"
This time, Jane didn't hesitate. She cupped Maureen's jaw with both hands, running a thumb across the full lips, memorizing the feel of them on the off chance she'd never get the opportunity again. Maureen opened her lips and Jane felt the heat and wetness of her breath. And Jane wanted more.
She leaned in, gently and slowly, pressing her lips to Maureen's. She inhaled it all, Maureen's scent, her breath, her taste, the rising pulse of her heart as Jane pulled closer, feeling Maureen's arms threading around Jane's waist and molding their bodies together. She wanted more. She wanted to tear off her leathers and feel Maureen's skin against her own. Wanted time to stop, for the world to go away so she could stay there and kiss Maureen forever.
"It's time." James voice cut through the tension like a chainsaw through butter.
They pulled apart, ending the kiss but arms still wrapped around each other not quite willing to let the other go.
Maureen placed her head into the crook of Jane's neck. "You come back to me in one piece, okay."
"It'll take more than an army of the dead to keep me from you."
"Let's do this," Jane flexed her fingers within the tight leather gloves before gripping the clutch.
For the past hour, the majority of the survivors were on the roof of Nordstrom's making as much noise as humanly possible. They screamed, banged on pots and pans taken from Bed, Bath & Beyond. Michael from Steilacoom had taken several boom boxes from Sears and turned the volume up to ten. Jane could hear Beck's 'Devil's Haircut' all the way on the South end as clear as day.
The dead were attracted to noise. The plan was to move as many of them as possible from the South side of the Mall.
Atop Sears, Maureen lifted the slip cover from her optical site, leaning into position. "I'm ready." She spoke into her earpiece. The order relayed into a walkie-talkie by one of the survivors.
"Jane," she added. "There's still at least a hundred in the lot."
"Easy peasy," Jane replied, sliding on her helmet. "Open the gate."
Arthur nodded, pressing the button. The engine whirred to life, the chain pulling the gate open.
Jane, Eric from Seattle, a 19-year-old former delinquent who could hotwire anything on wheels, and Miguel a mechanic from Los Angeles, they gunned their engines. The sound echoed off the walls like a sonic boom.
A dozen of the dead stood right outside the Automotive Center. James and five others, formed a line to the left of the open gate, firing into them, mowing them down with a hail of gunfire.
Jane shot forward, Eric right behind her. The bikes were new, straight from the factory floor. Miguel's stalled ten feet outside the gate, skidding and sliding onto the pavement. He cursed loudly as James pulled him back into the garage.
Maureen exhaled, calmly, coolly, taking her shots between heartbeats, clearing a path to the school bus, their heads popping open like champagne corks, bodies slumping to the ground.
"Mag!" She shouted, another one quickly placed into her hand.
A zombie lurched for Eric. He screamed inside his helmet, jerked the handlebars too far to the right, bike lurching onto its side, skidding slammed into a parked car.
"Jane!" He screamed. His leg was pinned under the bike, the weight too much for him to move on his own. And the dead were closing in. Six of the dead stumbled and staggered towards him.
"Jane," she heard Maureen's voice in her ear. "Eric's down."
"Shit," Jane slammed on her brakes, planting a foot on the ground and spinning the bike around. In the space of a heartbeat, Eric was more than 30 yards from her and quickly being swarmed by the dead. He had ample room to run, but couldn't from being pinned by his bike. Soon, they'd be on him.
"I could use some help down here!" Jane barked into her earpiece.
"And I could use you not yelling in my ear!" Maureen yelled back. She resituated her stance, placing her eye before the eye piece. Eric was surrounded. Worse, the dead were blocking her sight of the man. She couldn't take the chance of firing without the risk of hitting Eric as well.
"I can't get a clean shot!" She yelled, firing into the edge of the crowd, trying to thin out the herd.
Jane gunned her engine hard. Keeping one hand on the clutch, with the other, she grabbed a pistol from her belt. She fired wildly into the crowd in an attempt to get their attention, and kill as many as possible.
She smacked her bike into a couple wearing matching sweat suits, then fired her gun into both their foreheads. Next was a waitress named Sally. Jane glanced at the name tag still pinned to the dead woman's chest before firing two shots into her.
Something heavy and hard hit Jane from behind, knocking her to the ground, her gun skittering across the pavement. Instantly, she rolled onto her back, pulling another gun from her waist. He was old, and fat, and naked, still impaled with a jagged tree limb that jutted out of his gut like a third limb. Before Jane could fire, he lunged at her.
Then, his head exploded. The impact sent him sprawling backwards onto the pavement.
Jane turned her head towards the roof, scrambling to her feet. "Thanks."
"No problem," Maureen replied. "Left!" She shouted into her headset and Jane ducked just as a football coach, arms outstretched, mouth gaping open, lunged towards her and Jane watched as the front of his face disappeared in a puff of black and red mist.
"JANE!" Eric screamed for her. They were on him now. A pack of eight, young and old alike, all dead, swarmed upon Eric. One had grabbed his arm and began gnawing at the leather sleeve.
She pushed, shoved, blasted her way through the crowd. She could feel their hands on her, grabbing at her jacket.
"A little help, please," Jane groaned, putting her hands under Eric's armpits and pulling.
"I can't get a shot with you in the crowd, Jane."
"Would you just fucking fire!"
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Maureen fired quickly, almost aimlessly into the crowd. Her aim was off, and not all the shots went in the head.
Even with the crowd around them dropping like flies, the dead kept coming. Those that hadn't quite made it to the North end were becoming aware of the commotion. She could see them coming towards them from around a corner. It might have been her imagination, but it seemed like they were moving faster.
"I'm trying," he squeaked back.
"Jane, we got a problem," Maureen paused. "I'm out of bullets."
"Did she just say she's out of bullets?" Eric asked.
Maureen's words seemed to motivate Eric more than a horde of dead hellbent on eating him did. He placed his free foot on the seat, pushing with everything he had to lift the bike.
With one last grunt, the two pulled Eric from under the trashed bike. He'd jerked his foot out of his boot, losing his sock in the process. Jane jerked him to his feet, pushing him towards the bus.
"Run!" Jane shouted. They bulldozed their way through the twenty or so dead standing between them and the school bus. Eric used his handgun. Jane used her shotgun.
Eric made it to the bus first. He skidded to a stop. The door was open in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on edge. Bloody hand prints were smeared all over the glass. And even through the visor of his helmet, the odor of death stung his nostrils.
"What's wrong?" Jane asked.
"I don't think it's empty."
"For Christ's sake," she shoved him through the entrance. "Just get on the goddamned bus and get it started."
He was right. The bus wasn't empty. There were three of them onboard. Jane took care of them in quick order. But she was faster than Eric. The engine made a groaning sound before sputtering out.
"I thought you said you could hotwire this thing?"
"Hey, cut me some slack," he snapped back at her. "I've never done a bus before. I think this thing might be out of gas."
"What?" Jane growled, marching her way towards the front of the bus.
Before she could wring his neck, the engine whirred to life. Eric pumped his fists, before jerking the vehicle into gear.
Maureen breathed for the first time in what seemed like ages. She rested her elbows on the ledge, then pressed her chin onto her arms. "They did it." She muttered softly, watching the bus weave its way towards the building.
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