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.
They arrived to a hero's welcome. People who hadn't spoken more than two words to Jane in the past few weeks were slapping her ceremoniously on the back. A couple guys lifted Eric onto their shoulders and hoisted him around the Mall. Even Arthur and his minions eyed her with something resembling respect.
None of which mattered to Jane. She slowly edged her way through the crowd around her. She smiled politely, accepting their pats on the back and handshakes, always keeping her head above the crowd, her eyes searching for the one person she did want to talk to.
Maureen was no where to be found.
Maureen bent over the sink, scooping the water from the tap and pouring it over the back of her neck. Continued until the water soaked into her scalp and drenched her hair.
She curled a hand into a fist, clenched and unclenched her fingers trying to relieve the tension. She couldn't stop them from shaking. Couldn't stop the tight and queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach that made her want to puke.
Grabbing the remaining paper towels, Maureen began drying her face as she leaned upright. "How long you gonna keep standing there?"
"I don't know," Jane stood in the entranceway, hands in her pockets, leaning against a wall. "Just taking a moment to watch your back."
Maureen chuffed humorlessly. She balled the paper towels and tossed them into the garbage can. Placing her hands onto the edge of the sink she stared at Jane through the mirror. "I ran out of bullets."
"You did fine."
"Fine?" Maureen turned around, folding her arms across her chest. "It was stupid and amateurish. And it almost got you killed."
"Do I look dead to you?"
"No thanks to me."
"Listen," she stepped towards Maureen, placing her hands on the woman's shoulders. "I'm fine. You had my back.."
"No I didn't!" Maureen shirked out of Jane's touch. "If I can't watch your back during something like that, what good am I to you?" She stepped around Jane, heading for the door. "What good am I to anyone?"
Jane awoke to the smell of solvent stinging her nostrils. They'd moved out of the sporting goods store. They'd removed the bodies, cleaned up as best they could. But there were still too many reminders of the dead for Jane and Maureen's comfort with the black and wet, inky stains on the floor, splatter on the walls and rank stench in the air. Instead, they'd set up camp in the 'House of Cutlery'.
The store was no wider than twelve feet but they'd managed to squeeze seven people into it, with four more camped just outside the entrance. The tide of pubic opinion was changing. They still listened to James but more and more were following Jane. And while no one would say it out loud, they didn't trust Arthur and his ilk not to abandon them if things went from bad to worse.
Jane slid out of her sleeping bag, rising to her feet, walking towards the back of the store.
Maureen sat at the register, circled by an artillery of weaponry. She'd dismantled her rifle and was carefully cleaning the parts.
"Jesus," Jane set her hands on the counter, keeping her voice at a whisper. "A little overkill don't ya think?"
"I ran out of bullets because I wasn't prepared. I won't let it happen again."
"You did fine."
"No, you did fine. I stood helplessly and watched."
Jane sighed. She knew Maureen enough to know nothing Jane could say would make her feel better. Instead, she picked up one of the guns off the counter, inspecting it visually before raising it and aiming at a wall. "Some of the others were talking about doing a smash and grab at the grocery story up the block, wanna go?"
Maureen finally lifted her head up from her task, resting her arms. "What if he's wrong?"
"Donald, the boat captain. What if he's wrong about his boat still being docked? What if someone else had the same idea and beat us to the punch?"
Jane lowered the weapon, craning her neck back and resting it on her shoulders. "I hadn't thought of that."
"We have no way of doing any kind of reconnaissance. Riley.." she paused, flinching at the mention of his name. "If we go in there blind and there's no boat, we won't be able to save them all."
"Are you insane?" James gaped at Jane and then Maureen. They were inside the Security Guard's office, along with several others, mostly those who'd finished their rounds or were beginning them.
"It's not insane," Jane snapped back. "We need to do some reconnaissance before we take these people out there."
"She's right," Miguel piped in, still feeling guilty from having wiped out. "You saw how it was before we came in here. Who knows what's out there now."
"I know that!" James barked. He ran a hand over his now sweating bald head. "One of you should go, but not both of you."
"What?" Maureen and Jane asked in tandem.
"Just listen," he raised his hands defensively. "Think about those people out there. They're not cops, or security guards, or former DEA agents, they're just people. Scared people running on fumes and hope. Our two best shooters go out there and NOT come back. What do you think will happen to that hope?"
"I'll go," Maureen spoke first.
Jane whipped around. "No, you're not."
"Yes, I am. It's my turn."
"This isn't a competition, Maureen."
"I never said it was."
"Hey!" Arthur broke through, grinning oily. "If you two are gonna fight, could you at least get naked first?"
Jane did something she'd been itching to do for two weeks - punch Arthur in the face.
"Keep an eye open," Jane tightened the gun belt strapped to Maureen's waist. "Watch your surroundings. They're faster than you think they are."
"God," Maureen rolled her eyes. "You sound like my Mom. I'll be fine."
Maureen fidgeted with her glove, pulling it back and flexing her fingers. There were four of them this time - Maureen, Miguel (who promised not to stall out again), Trisha, a Tae Kwon Do instructor from the academy across the street, and Brian, a Mall Security Guard who'd barricaded himself in a janitor's closet for a week with a desperate need to prove himself. They weren't who Jane would have chosen but she'd been outnumbered and outvoted and left with nothing to do but suck it up.
She handed Maureen her helmet. "You don't have anything to prove."
"Yes I do."
"Mo.." Whatever she meant to say cut in the back of her throat. Jane placed her hand on the back of Maureen's neck, pushing her face forward and planting her lips onto Maureen's. It was hard and soft, desperate and hopeful, and the only way Jane could say what she meant to.
She pulled back sooner than she ever wanted to. "You come back to me, okay?"
"I will," Maureen grinned, pulling on her helmet. "Besides, someone's gonna have to teach you how to kiss."
Jane chuckled stepping back from Maureen's bike. She walked around to the entrance, kneeling and taking her place along the firing line next to James.
Someone hit the button and the garage door began to slide open. Maureen and the others turned on their engines.
Jane turned her head slightly to James. "If anything happens to her, God help you."
The end of the world happened on a Sunday. When people were either still in their beds, getting ready for church, or coming home from a long Saturday night. The evacuation order had come on a Tuesday after the city had already swarmed with the dead. The Northbound highway was littered with abandoned or crashed vehicles. It was nothing compared to the Southbound stretch. Cars were stacked bumper to bumper for miles, making the occupants easy prey, adding to the dead's already rising number.
The dead wandered aimlessly along the stretch of highway. Maureen shivered as she watched hundreds of dead eyes turning in their direction, following the sound of their engines. She could hear Miguel saying a prayer in Spanish in her earpiece.
"Jesus," Brian gasped. "There's so many of them."
"Let's cut the chatter people," Maureen spoke into her mic. "We've got a job to do, not sight see."
She pushed the accelerator forward, increasing her speed, hoping having to follow her would take their attentions away from the horde less than a hundred yards from them.
They rode single file, Maureen at point, Miguel at the back, Brian and Trisha sandwiched between them. The Mall was in a suburb just south of the city. On a good day, it would take them less than ten minutes at highway speeds. With the highway now a giant obstacle course, it would take them more than forty-five.
Jane paced anxiously, biting on her thumbnail. She checked her watch for what seemed the millionth time. The ear-pieces Maureen and the others wore were only good from rider to rider, leaving them out of communication until one of them called on the cell phones they each carried. The plan was for them to call in every thirty minutes.
Maureen was late.
Jane was about to jump out of her skin.
"That's it," she tossed a hand in the air. "I'm going after her."
She felt a hand in the crook her elbow. James held firm as she turned on her foot. "It's only been seven minutes. Give her time."
"Time is the one thing we don't have."
As if on cue, the phone began to ring. Jane lurched across the floor, jerking the device off the desk. "Maureen?"
"Aww," Maureen taunted in her ear. "Was someone getting worried?"
"What the Hell took you so long?"
"The drive took longer than we thought. Plus we had to find a safe place for Brian to throw up."
"Aww man!" Brian yelled in the distance. "You didn't have to tell them that!"
James began motioning with his hands. Jane rolled her eyes. "Maureen, I'm putting you on speakerphone."
She pressed one of the many buttons on the phone, setting the phone back on the jack. James pressed his hands on the desk as he leaned in. "Maureen, this is James. How are the roads looking?"
"The highway's congested with abandoned cars but passable. Don't know how Downtown's gonna look 'til we get there. If the boat's there, I suggest moving everyone out ASAP. The Southbound is packed with'em and they may be heading your way."
"How long do you think it'll take to get to the dock?"
"I wanna say thirty minutes max with the way the streets look.."
Suddenly, a shot rang out followed by anxious yells in the background.
"Look," Maureen's voice cut through the fray. "We gotta go, we're starting to attract a crowd."
"Maureen!" Jane yelled, jerking the phone off the device and pressing it to her ear.
"You call back in thirty and not a second over, okay?"
"You got it."
Maureen cut the connection on her end.
Jane grit her teeth, exhaling under her breath. "I should have gone with her."
"Brian!" Trisha yelled, firing her weapon into the crowd.
They were on an access road that lead on and off the freeway. On one side was a twenty foot high concrete wall. On the other, a row of brickstone buildings, mostly bars and small cafés. The buildings were over sixty years old. And now they looked it, with the broken window fronts, blood spatters and dead bodies littering the insides.
Brian had stepped away from his motorcycle to vomit. Then, stepped around a corner to relieve himself. Now, he was trapped by a wall of the dead that stood between him and his bike.
"Shit," Maureen turned her bike around. "Miguel, Trisha, cover me!"
She gunned her engine and drove straight towards the crowd. They formed a semi-circle around him, backing Brian against a wall and leaving him no where to go.
Miguel and Trisha weren't expert marksmen. Their shots cut holes into bodies, which did nothing but deter the dead. Maureen lifted her gun, fired three times, hitting two in the head to clear something resembling a path. Some turned towards the gunmen, the rest, like sharks smelling blood in the water, continued to press towards Brian.
She drove towards the thinnest part of the herd. Maureen slammed on her front brake, twisting the rear hard and into the crowd, knocking them down like bowling pins.
"Get on!" She screamed. Brian needed no more motivation. He jumped forward, landing on the back of the seat.
Something grabbed Maureen's left shoulder. With a vice grip, she could felt teeth digging into bicep. With her right hand, she raised her gun and fired right between its eyes.
"Go! Go! Go!" Brian wailed in her ears. He kicked wildly at the encroaching dead, unwilling to release his arms from around Maureen's waist.
She gunned the engine, the bike lurching slowly forward as if it were stuck in molasses. Too many hands holding onto Maureen, Brian and the bike and more were closing in.
Miguel and Trisha began firing again. A little less wildly this time, more controlled. Maureen could feel it in the inertia of the bike, more wheel getting hold of the cement. Within seconds, they broke free. The tires screeched across the pavement, they wobbled and teetered but Maureen managed to get control of the bike.
And they were free.
She shot up the street, Miguel and Trisha quickly behind them.
"Next time you need to piss," she growled at Brian through her earpiece. "Hold it."
"Tell me how much you wanna kiss me right now?" Maureen purred in Jane's ear with a playful voice.
"Oh," Jane smiled. "I wanna do more than that. You found the boat."
"We found the boat. With a tank full of gas and a galley full of food," Maureen bit loudly into an apple.
"Tease. Did you run into any more trouble?" She ignored the stares of those around her, waiting for her to put Maureen on speakerphone. Something she had no intention of doing.
"We had to mop up a couple off the boat. Other than Brian needing a change of pants, we're fine."
"How long 'til you get back?"
"Shouldn't be more than an hour now that we know what we're up against. I'm leaving Brian and Miguel here to guard the boat, to keep any strays from wandering onboard."
"Good," Jane sighed as a wave of tension seemed to roil off her shoulders. "The bus should be packed and ready to go in about four hours. Can't say I'm sad to leave this place."
"Yeah, hopefully this island hotel has a sauna."
"I'll settle for a bed."
"First you say you're gonna kiss me, now you're trying to get me into bed?"
"You have a one-track mind, you know."
"All that horsepower rumbling between your thighs for an hour has a tendency to do that. Think you can compete?"
"I think I can give it the old college try."
Her voice was low and throaty. "You know what else we can try?"
Jane tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, turning her back to the guys to keep them from seeing her blush. She and Maureen had exchanged their fare share of blue language between them. But nothing quite prepared her for the coarse and suggestive language purred seductively into her ear as Maureen described in quick order what she'd do to Jane if they were alone with several minutes to spare.
Jane's voice was barely above a whisper. "You kiss your mother with that mouth?"
"No. Because that would be wrong, illegal and incredibly icky. Besides, I haven't even gotten to the good part yet."
She could feel the numerous sets of eyes boring a hole into her back. "Maybe that should wait until you get here."
"Fine," Maureen huffed. "You do remember I can tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue, right? Now just imagine what I can do to your.."
"I'm hanging up now!" Jane blurted, Maureen giggling in her ear as Jane ended the connection. She finally turned around to the group standing behind her.
"Well?" Marcus from Wichita asked. "Is she coming?"
"Yes!" Jane blurted, slapping her hands together and heading towards the door. "Hopefully sooner than later."
Maureen and Trisha rode at a decent clip through the Downtown corridor. Having been through one, they had a better idea of which streets to avoid. They both knew they still had a long day ahead of them and possibly an even longer night, but their spirits were high. The tiny beacon of hope had grown from a flicker to small flame.
Maureen couldn't help her mind from wandering. A dangerous activity considering the dead still wandered the streets and blurred the corners of her vision as she drove past them. She couldn't help it. Something had changed in her relationship with Jane. It pulled the corners of her lips into a soft smile. She imagined the look on Jane's face during the course of their ribald conversation.
Trisha's voice cut through Maureen's thoughts. She turned her head to look back. Trisha had stopped her bike before a small hardware store sandwiched between 'Subway' and a exotic rug store.
"Trisha," she called back to the woman. "What are you doing?"
"I thought I saw something." She hopped off her bike, leaving the engine on as she stepped onto the sidewalk.
"Trisha, wait!" Maureen yelled out to her. She cursed herself internally. She'd let her mind drift, allowed Trisha to fall too far behind.
She watched as Trisha stepped towards the boarded windows, placing her hands on the slats and peering inside.
"Trisha!" Maureen barked. She slammed on her brakes, her bike skidding to a stop next to Trisha's. "I thought I told you.."
A hand jerked through the slats, grabbing Trisha by the wrist.
"C'mon," Lisa pouted. She was sixteen soon to be seventeen. Something she'd told Jane ad nauseum. She had wavy auburn hair, dark brown eyes and pert teenaged breasts that always seemed to be bouncing in Jane's face. Because Lisa had a crush on Jane that bordered into lust territory. Sure, Jane figured, it must suck to be the last teenaged lesbian on the planet. But Jane would be damned if she'd be the one to cross that particular line.
"Please?" Lisa leaned forward on her hands, which pinched her breasts together as she jutted them forward. "Let me have a gun."
Jane didn't want to spend the next half hour waiting for Maureen's call wearing a hole in the floor. So she chose counting the weapons inventory. A task that usually calmed her mind. A task made more difficult by a teenager practically in heat and damn near close to throwing herself at Jane.
"I am not giving you a gun," she sighed, placing the gun in her hands at the end of a neatly arranged row. "Your dad would have my hide."
"What he don't know won't hurt him. Can't we," she batted her eyelashes, licking her lips. "You know, work something out?"
Jane rolled her eyes, picked up another gun off the pile. "I swear, if you're about to give me the 'I don't want to die a virgin' speech, I will shoot you."
"Who said I was a virgin?"
Before Jane could pick her jaw off the floor, Eric ran into the room. He skidded to a stop, gasping between breaths. "Jane, it's Maureen. Something's wrong."
The door to the Security Guard's office banged hard and loud against the wall as Jane barreled into the room. She grabbed the phone from James' hand. "Maureen, it's Jane. What's wrong?"
"We've got a problem," Maureen answered flatly. "I found more survivors."
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