AUTHOR

JESSICA JARMAN

LOVE IS A JOURNEY…NOT A DESTINATION.

REFUGE


“Not much farther today, man. Hang in a bit longer.” Isaac Ryan tightened his arm around his friend’s waist as they both staggered slightly.

Jack’s breath came out in harsh pants, and his hand gripped the back of Isaac’s jacket.

“Maybe we should stop now. He’s not looking too good,” their young companion said softly, hesitantly. She glanced sideways at them then down at the ground in front of them.

Despite the worry gnawing at his gut, Isaac smiled at Katie. That was probably the most words the fifteen year old had strung together since she’d joined the two men a week before. Shy and quiet and very, very wary, that’s what she was. Though, with what she’d been though…he couldn’t blame her. She was just beginning to relax and let her guard down around the two of them.

Jack gave a tired chuckle, and his head bumped against Isaac’s shoulder as he struggled to put one foot in front of another. And failed. He stumbled and went down on his knees, nearly pulling Isaac down with him.

“Damn it,” Isaac swore under his breath and hauled the other man back up. “At least hang in long enough to get you to a tree to laze against.”

“Of course, don’t know what I was thinking,” Jack said softly, words slurring. “Sorry to inconvenience you, you dick.”

“Watch your mouth around the kid.” Isaac led his friend toward a large tree and carefully held on as Jack lowered himself to sit beside it. He set the crossbow he carried on the dirt at his side.

“Not a kid,” Katie protested, kneeling beside them and shrugging the two packs from her back. She’d been carrying Jack’s as well ever since he’d needed Isaac’s assistance to remain upright. After pulling her canteen out, she removed the top and held it to Jack. “Here, drink.”

He weakly pushed it away, leaning his head against the tree trunk and closing his eyes. Katie looked at Isaac, and he could read the worry in her downturned lips and creased forehead. Taking in Jack’s appearance, he shared her concern. His friend looked like shit. His face was pale, except the flush high on his cheekbones. His normally dirty blond hair appeared darker and was plastered to his head with sweat. Chest rising and falling rapidly, Jack licked his chapped lips and let out a low moan.

“Don’t want to drink from yours…get you sick,” he mumbled.

“I was sick first; you got it from me, remember?” Katie pointed out.

Isaac could hear the guilt edging the words as she again held up the canteen. This time, she brought it to Jack’s lips and tilted, effectively forcing the man to close his mouth around the opening or end up drenched with more than sweat. With her other hand, she reached out and laid a hand on his forehead.

“He’s really, really hot. Hotter than before, I think,” she said softly. “Do we have anything…?”

Isaac pressed his lips together and shook his head. “We left too quickly to get more than basic stuff. Fuck.” He slapped his thigh in frustration.

“Now who’s swearing, you ass?” Jack pried one lid open to peek at him. “And don’t worry; I’ll be fine. I didn’t survive the freaking epidemic to die of some measly cold.”

“Shut up.” Isaac forced a smile. His friend was suffering from something more than a simple cold, and they all knew it. They also knew, in this new, fucked up world, dying of a cold wasn’t something unusual. Another thought occurred to him, gave his gut a twist. “Let me see your stomach.”

He lifted the layers covering Jack’s abdomen and pulled the crude bandage off, revealing the long gash. Leaning a bit closer, he studied the wound his friend has sustained when they’d left, fought their way out of the group they’d been staying with previously. Relief washed over him. While it was far from pretty, the injury showed no signs of being infected, and seemed to be healing well enough. He replaced the bandage and pulled Jack’s shirts back down.

“A little more.” Katie coaxed a bit more water into the sick man before sitting back on her heels and looking questioningly at Isaac.

“We’ll make camp here tonight,” he decided, grasping Jack’s hand and giving the clammy fingers a squeeze.

Jack shook his head, wincing in pain and pulling away. “It’s not even getting dark yet. I can make it farther, just needed a minute to…catch my breath.”

“No.” Isaac stood. “You need to rest; we all do.” When he glanced down to find fever bright, blue eyes trying to focus on him, he gave into the urge and brushed the wet hair from his friend’s brow. “No arguing, Jack.”

Katie nodded and pulled a thin blanket out of her pack and draped it over the sitting man, fussing with it until it was up by his neck and tucked around him. Isaac removed his own pack and set it on the ground.

“I’ll get a fire going then see what I can hunt up to eat.”

“Okay.” Katie stood. “I’ll get more water.”

He watched as she rummaged through all the packs, pulling out the bottles, as well as a small pot, from the mess kit. She headed through the trees toward the sound of rushing water. They’d kept close to the river during their journey, grateful for the source of water for drinking and cleaning, for the fish they’d been lucky enough to catch and the fact it had kept them from wandering aimlessly through the forest.

As he gathered wood to build a fire, Isaac kept glancing at where his friend dozed against the tree. Even from a distance, he could see Jack was shivering, and his face was twisted in pain. Damn it. Isaac didn’t know what else to do. Without the aid of medication, all they could do was try to make Jack as comfortable as possible and pray his body fought whatever sickness was currently wreaking havoc on him.

While Isaac was arranging the sticks and dry pine needles he’d collected, Katie came back from the river, full water bottles and canteen tucked against her body as she balanced the pot of water in her hands. After a few minutes of juggling, her arms were free, and she was digging through her things. She withdrew a bandana and dipped it into the pot before wringing it out. Gently, she wiped Jack’s face, brushing his hair back and out of the way. Isaac couldn’t help but smile. She really was a born caregiver. Even in the early days, when she hadn’t even been speaking to them, she’d fussed and tended them like a mother, despite their having ten-plus years on her.

Once he had a fire going, thanks to his flint and blade, Isaac stood and retrieved the bow he’d laid on the ground. He hesitated a moment, causing Katie to lift her gaze.

“Go. I’ll take care of him,” she promised.

When he ran a hand over her dark brown hair fondly, he noticed her slight flinch, but was reassured with the wide smile that followed.

“Be back soon.”“Not much farther today, man. Hang in a bit longer.” Isaac Ryan tightened his arm around his friend’s waist as they both staggered slightly.

Jack’s breath came out in harsh pants, and his hand gripped the back of Isaac’s jacket.

“Maybe we should stop now. He’s not looking too good,” their young companion said softly, hesitantly. She glanced sideways at them then down at the ground in front of them.

Despite the worry gnawing at his gut, Isaac smiled at Katie. That was probably the most words the fifteen year old had strung together since she’d joined the two men a week before. Shy and quiet and very, very wary, that’s what she was. Though, with what she’d been though…he couldn’t blame her. She was just beginning to relax and let her guard down around the two of them.

Jack gave a tired chuckle, and his head bumped against Isaac’s shoulder as he struggled to put one foot in front of another. And failed. He stumbled and went down on his knees, nearly pulling Isaac down with him.

“Damn it,” Isaac swore under his breath and hauled the other man back up. “At least hang in long enough to get you to a tree to laze against.”

“Of course, don’t know what I was thinking,” Jack said softly, words slurring. “Sorry to inconvenience you, you dick.”

“Watch your mouth around the kid.” Isaac led his friend toward a large tree and carefully held on as Jack lowered himself to sit beside it. He set the crossbow he carried on the dirt at his side.

“Not a kid,” Katie protested, kneeling beside them and shrugging the two packs from her back. She’d been carrying Jack’s as well ever since he’d needed Isaac’s assistance to remain upright. After pulling her canteen out, she removed the top and held it to Jack. “Here, drink.”

He weakly pushed it away, leaning his head against the tree trunk and closing his eyes. Katie looked at Isaac, and he could read the worry in her downturned lips and creased forehead. Taking in Jack’s appearance, he shared her concern. His friend looked like shit. His face was pale, except the flush high on his cheekbones. His normally dirty blond hair appeared darker and was plastered to his head with sweat. Chest rising and falling rapidly, Jack licked his chapped lips and let out a low moan.

“Don’t want to drink from yours…get you sick,” he mumbled.

“I was sick first; you got it from me, remember?” Katie pointed out.

Isaac could hear the guilt edging the words as she again held up the canteen. This time, she brought it to Jack’s lips and tilted, effectively forcing the man to close his mouth around the opening or end up drenched with more than sweat. With her other hand, she reached out and laid a hand on his forehead.

“He’s really, really hot. Hotter than before, I think,” she said softly. “Do we have anything…?”

Isaac pressed his lips together and shook his head. “We left too quickly to get more than basic stuff. Fuck.” He slapped his thigh in frustration.

“Now who’s swearing, you ass?” Jack pried one lid open to peek at him. “And don’t worry; I’ll be fine. I didn’t survive the freaking epidemic to die of some measly cold.”

“Shut up.” Isaac forced a smile. His friend was suffering from something more than a simple cold, and they all knew it. They also knew, in this new, fucked up world, dying of a cold wasn’t something unusual. Another thought occurred to him, gave his gut a twist. “Let me see your stomach.”

He lifted the layers covering Jack’s abdomen and pulled the crude bandage off, revealing the long gash. Leaning a bit closer, he studied the wound his friend has sustained when they’d left, fought their way out of the group they’d been staying with previously. Relief washed over him. While it was far from pretty, the injury showed no signs of being infected, and seemed to be healing well enough. He replaced the bandage and pulled Jack’s shirts back down.

“A little more.” Katie coaxed a bit more water into the sick man before sitting back on her heels and looking questioningly at Isaac.

“We’ll make camp here tonight,” he decided, grasping Jack’s hand and giving the clammy fingers a squeeze.

Jack shook his head, wincing in pain and pulling away. “It’s not even getting dark yet. I can make it farther, just needed a minute to…catch my breath.”

“No.” Isaac stood. “You need to rest; we all do.” When he glanced down to find fever bright, blue eyes trying to focus on him, he gave into the urge and brushed the wet hair from his friend’s brow. “No arguing, Jack.”

Katie nodded and pulled a thin blanket out of her pack and draped it over the sitting man, fussing with it until it was up by his neck and tucked around him. Isaac removed his own pack and set it on the ground.

“I’ll get a fire going then see what I can hunt up to eat.”

“Okay.” Katie stood. “I’ll get more water.”

He watched as she rummaged through all the packs, pulling out the bottles, as well as a small pot, from the mess kit. She headed through the trees toward the sound of rushing water. They’d kept close to the river during their journey, grateful for the source of water for drinking and cleaning, for the fish they’d been lucky enough to catch and the fact it had kept them from wandering aimlessly through the forest.

As he gathered wood to build a fire, Isaac kept glancing at where his friend dozed against the tree. Even from a distance, he could see Jack was shivering, and his face was twisted in pain. Damn it. Isaac didn’t know what else to do. Without the aid of medication, all they could do was try to make Jack as comfortable as possible and pray his body fought whatever sickness was currently wreaking havoc on him.

While Isaac was arranging the sticks and dry pine needles he’d collected, Katie came back from the river, full water bottles and canteen tucked against her body as she balanced the pot of water in her hands. After a few minutes of juggling, her arms were free, and she was digging through her things. She withdrew a bandana and dipped it into the pot before wringing it out. Gently, she wiped Jack’s face, brushing his hair back and out of the way. Isaac couldn’t help but smile. She really was a born caregiver. Even in the early days, when she hadn’t even been speaking to them, she’d fussed and tended them like a mother, despite their having ten-plus years on her.

Once he had a fire going, thanks to his flint and blade, Isaac stood and retrieved the bow he’d laid on the ground. He hesitated a moment, causing Katie to lift her gaze.

“Go. I’ll take care of him,” she promised.

When he ran a hand over her dark brown hair fondly, he noticed her slight flinch, but was reassured with the wide smile that followed.

“Be back soon.”