re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
[personal profile] re_mybrains
March 30, 2004

As the gates clang shut, Jess tucks the gun into a back pocket and leads the way into the building. Tom trails a step behind, cricket bat over his shoulder.

"Welcome to my lair," she tells him cheerfully as they step inside, footsteps echoing. "Look out for Wolf."

Tom blinks at her. "Wolf?"

The clatter of nails on the floor is the only warning he gets before something flings itself at his legs. He yelps, dancing backwards.

The rather raggedy bichon frise who's just impacted his shins dances back at him, panting happily.

". . . Wolf?"

Bark. (Or, more accurately, yap.) Jess grins.

Tom is beginning to think he's fallen in with a group with a very weird sense of humor.

Jess leads the way through a few grand, empty hallways, with Wolf clicking happily along at their heels and trying to entice Tom into playing with her. She finally takes them through a door marked STAFF ONLY into a considerably more mundane hall of offices. It opens out into something that looks like an employee lounge further on.

"Hey!" Jess calls, and a cheerful female voice from the lounge calls back "Hey, yourself!"

"Great, you get a welcoming committee."

"Thought I got one already," Tom says dryly, nudging Wolf away from his shoe as they enter the lounge.

The scene that greets them is almost domestic: a teenage boy with his feet up on a coffee table; a bearded man wearing a yarmulke with a book in his lap, sitting next to a round-faced woman wearing a headscarf; a college-age girl in glasses just coming in from another hallway. It's sort of pleasant and homey.

Except that the round-faced woman is cheerfully cleaning a pistol rather than, say, sewing or something, and the young woman entering the room is carrying a shotgun. That's a little incongruous.

(He realizes a minute later that it doesn't seem as incongruous as it should, which is a little unsettling in and of itself.)

Tom swallows and lifts a hand. "Hi."

There's a chorus of "Hi"s in return, cautious but fairly friendly, which makes him feel a little better. Jess takes over.

"Everybody, Tom. Tom, Tim" -- she points at the young man -- "have fun with that. Val" -- the young woman with the shotgun -- "Alan" -- the man in the yarmulke -- "and his wife Elizabeth."

Val lifts a hand in solemn greeting. "Hile."

"Um," says Tom, feeling something is expected of him. "Hile."

Elizabeth laughs. "Nice to meet you, Tom. You can call me Betty."

Tom blinks, and looks at Alan. "Can I call you--?"

"No."

"We get that a lot," Betty adds, resigned but amused.

"Ah." Tom glances around. Tim and Val shrug. Jess is giving him a curious look.

". . . I've walked into someplace pretty weird, haven't I."

"They don't look like Presbyterians to me," Betty murmurs, and Alan snorts.

"Is that a problem?" Jess asks.

Tom huffs out a laugh. Compared to evil mistletoe, women with wings, sentient computer programs . . .

"Are you kidding? I feel right at home."



Some time later, after they've eaten (Betty and Tim cook; the vegetables are homegrown, even if the rice tastes kind of stale and the meat is just Slim Jims; Tom tries not to take more than his share, but when they notice, they encourage him to take seconds), Jess offers to show Tom to his room.

Which turns out to be a cubicle in the office section.

Tom blanches.

"We gave away our last spare cot last week, so I'm afraid you're gonna have to make do -- are you okay?"

"Is there anyplace else?" Tom manages. "I, uh -- when it all happened, I was -- just. Yeah."

Jess winces sympathetically, nodding. "Gotcha. You can crash in the lounge, if you don't mind people wandering through."

"No, no, that's cool. Can I take a watch?"

Jess looks him over. "Maybe tomorrow. You look wiped. Get some rest."

"Thanks." He follows her back out to the lounge and drops his stuff by one of the armchairs. "Thanks."

"No problem. Sleep well."

She turns to go, and Tom straightens. "Um, Jess?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I have my gun back?"

She turns and looks at him for a moment. "Can I have the bullets?"

He sighs. "If you have to, yeah."

"This place is safe. Safe as anyplace is these days."

"I know. I just. I'd feel better."

". . . Yeah. Okay." She pulls the gun from her back pocket and passes it over. Tom lets out a breath as he takes it.

"Thank you."

"Security blanket, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah." She nods. "Sleep well."

"Thanks."

And for the first time in a week, he does.
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