I trusted Jack. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe he’d deceive me. Besides, he’d shown me his ‘secret hideout’. It only made sense that I showed him mine, what little there was to see.
As soon as the door closed behind us I slipped out of my jacket. I felt the bulge in the pocket, the knife – I must have kept it after cutting through the plastic… Well, I’d given it to him, I had no right to it.
I held it out to him. He met my eye, I was going to tell him not to do anything stupid with it but surely he knew the stakes by now. Before I had a chance he dropped his gaze to his feet, shuffling uncomfortably. I guessed he didn’t need telling.
If I was going to be fighting, I needed to make sure I was in the best condition reasonable, that meant I had to deal with the cuts and bruises I had from last time. I turned away from him and, for the first time since I’d met Jack, pulled up my shirt to take a look at my side. Hot red flesh surrounded the gash the bullet traced through the muscle. Infection? Again? I poked the edges, and was rewarded by stabs of pain. It hurt more now than when I’d first dressed it, not a good sign.
“I kind of expected something cooler,” Jack said, as he walked around the cramped space I called home.
I ignored him, concentrating on the task at hand. I had little knowledge about treating wounds, but I didn’t think the best thing was for them was to be dunked in the Montreal River, then left to soak in a damp t-shirt for a few days.
I figured the thing might want a chance to properly dry out, so I took off the bandage and after a moment’s hesitation, the three day old t-shirt. I needed to let it get some air.
“Close your eyes,” I said. I didn’t much care if he did, I felt too numb to feel something so trivial as embarrassment. Plus, he was young, if anything it was to save him the pain of seeing my scarred body.
That decided, I took the opportunity to strip down to my underwear and wash using the basin. I should probably be more disciplined about my cleanliness, no wonder I was getting an infection. I hadn’t washed for days, nor changed my clothes.
Idiot, I was going to kill myself from neglect. This time I didn’t have Beth to come and look after me if shit got serious. She would never forgive me if she woke up and I’d put myself in the grave. If she woke up…
When. When she woke up.
Of course, I couldn’t do anything when things were serious for her. I was powerless. I sniffed to get rid of an annoying itch in my nose, my head hung low over the basin. A moment’s rest.
I cursed my pathetic excuse for an immune system, for a body. The pale, scarred, child that I saw in the mirror just looked so pathetic.
I looked away, I had to concentrate on the important things. I had work to do, equipment to sort out, people to… whatever.
My gear was in a mess. I’d been in no state to clean it after coming back the last time. There were still some brown stains of blood, mine or otherwise. I tried to scrub them out with water, but all I managed was to force it into the weave of the fabric. Then I remembered from somewhere that spit worked well with bloodstains, where had I heard that?
I tried it. It was true.
“You’re really weird you know that?” I’d forgotten Jack was even here, becoming too focused on preparing for a fight. I looked up, kneeling on the ground after spending five minutes spitting on a blood-stained ballistic vest and trying to rub blood off.
“Yeah, I know.” There wasn’t any point in denying it. “I told you to close your eyes.”
“Doesn’t… Doesn’t that hurt?” He was eyeing my side, I would have been embarrassed but he was a lot more interested in bullet wounds than my skinny chest.
“Yeah.” I figured it had been uncovered enough time to dry, and Jack’s curiosity was making me uncomfortable after all. I picked out the last dressing large enough for the wound. After a liberal dose of antiseptic cream I tore the plastic from the glued back and pressed the bandage to my side so hard it hurt. As if the pain would somehow mean it would heal better. I hoped I could at least forget about it for a few hours.
Cleaning my gear gave me a chance to give it a thorough check-up. It was sorely in need of attention. The stitches on my vest were already started to loosen on the shoulder. I picked them out and re-stitched it by hand.
“Want some help?” Jack was sitting opposite me, messing about with the knife, flicking it in and out of its handle.
“Sure.” I threw him a piece that looked easy. “Cut the threads where they are loose and pull them through.”
It sped up the process, and soon I was happy with its condition.
I had two pistols, and an assortment of clips and bullets. Ignoring the ‘cool!’ and occasional exclamations of awe from Jack at my apparently copious armaments, I consolidated the ammunition. I chose two clips that fit the gun I was most familiar with and made sure everything fit in my belt. The Velcro held it, but it wasn’t ideal. Not like a real holster would have been. I added that to the mental list that I’d need to get next time I went to Jim’s.
I had no knives, but I picked up the sheaths and straps anyway. It was part of the uniform I’d constructed… besides, knives were something you occasionally obtained while fighting. It made sense to have somewhere to put them.
Jack coughed, getting my attention, and presented me the knife I’d given him, handle first. “Here.”
I refused, “No, That’s yours. Besides if you’re coming with me you might need it.”
His eyes lit up and I realised my error. “Not that you are going to be anywhere near! You are staying well back, you’re far too young.”
“Hey, I’m not much younger than you,” he whined.
“Yes you are, I’m sixteen.” Nearly. I could get away for his age if I needed to, helpful at times but it caused trouble when I actually wanted to seem older.
“No way.” He looked at me doubtfully.
“Jack. You wanted my help, this argument ends. Now.” And it did.
My batons, chipped but intact, were still resting in the corner. Unmoved from where Beth had placed them. I hesitated, knowing that she’d been the last to touch them, as if her hands had left some residue of her presence that I would disturb.
I shook my head and dismissed the stupid thoughts, taking each baton in my hands. The weight felt odd, after so long.
Odd, but comfortable.
I gave an experimental swing. A silent mass of solid steel bar. Enough to send a shiver of giddiness down your spine. If you were that kind of person.
I threw the cleanest dark t-shirt I had over my narrow bony shoulders and shoved on my cargo pants. Then I started the process of strapping on my armour and belts, checking and re-checking each buckle was tight.
My chest rose with each methodical movement. A layer of protection, it made me more than I was without it. It made me strong. My weapons extended my reach, increased my power. The armour took blows I’d never survive without me even blinking.
I could relax. I felt it as I slipped on the empty knife straps, a blanket of security settling over me. It dampened my inherent paranoia. I felt free.