14. Decorated (D2)

He was regretting every moment of this. There was no reason to put his life at risk again. Especially now, just so he could win Patricia over to his side. She had been kind enough to wait until he was somewhat confident enough to walk on his own but it meant that if they were forced to run, only one of them would be making it.

The halls, although familiar, instilled a worse terror through him than the first time he had been through them. If not for Patricia’s confident stride and security weapon they both now carried, Jimmy would have gone straight back to the elevator and stayed put with Zoe. It wasn’t like the weapons would do much more than delay the inevitable anyway. He held his growing panic in his chest and forced himself after the woman, cursing her inside his mind every step of the way and whispering every turn they needed to make to her.

The office was exactly how he and Roberts had left it. The welcoming body preventing the entrance door from closing now, while the pitch black tint prevented anything from seeing in or out. Patricia turned to him and Jimmy nodded toward the black room.

“You can’t miss him,” whispered Jimmy.

“You’re coming with me,” she said.

Jimmy pursed his lips and forced himself on. She clearly didn’t trust that he wouldn’t just leave again, like most women. Or maybe she believed him to be mentally unstable enough to have an episode if left on his own. 

Or maybe he was the one concerned more about that.

He stepped in after her but stayed by the door while she scanned the dark room with her light. The uniformed corpse was in the exact spot they had left it. Patricia turned around while keeping the light over the corpse. Jimmy nodded and turned away, feeling strikingly uneasy. He felt as if he were being forced to retrace steps in order to make him admit fault. Like a trip through guilt that would somehow change reality from what it was into being blamed for both Zoe and Roberts.

Patricia held up the corpse’s hand in a wave that forced Jimmy’s attention toward her. “His fingers are missing,” she said.

“Use the other hand,” he said as he turned away. He shook his head of all the thoughts and told himself to think straight. No one could hear him but he. The more he allowed those thoughts to roam free, the more control he gave up. He was not crazy.

“What other hand James?” she said.

“Shit,” he grumbled as he remembered the man’s arm fly through the air and spray blood everywhere in the holo log. He turned around and closed his eyes. “Hang on, it’s in here.” He envisioned the arm flying through the air, trying to figure out where it could have landed. He opened his eyes and flashed his light around.

Sure enough, the cleanly cut limb rested on the floor, a small ring of dried black tar around it. “Here,” he said as picked it up. It was much heavier than he had expected but he held it up for Patricia to take. 

“How’d you know it would be there?” she asked as she took the arm and stuffed it into his bag. Jimmy bit his tongue to prevent himself from snapping at her for turning his bag into a corpse collection. He especially didn’t like Vanessa and his work being held hostage alongside it.

“Let’s just get out of here,” he said.

Once out of engineering, Jimmy begged to rest. His side throbbed and his head was pounding. Patricia, however, would have none of it. She insisted they move on, refusing to put themselves into further danger than they needed to. Jimmy figured it was her excitement to test the fingers on the door that kept her driving her slave ship.

Even through his limping and terror-touched steps, they were making double the progress they had the first time around. They had found what they were looking for and had no more need to stop.

He had expected Patricia to insist they head straight to the labs but was pleasantly surprised when she was the one who suggested they get some rest. His feet ached, his scar throbbed, his ears itched to the point of discomfort and his head pounded like a noisy mechanic trying to ram a jammed part loose by sheer brute force. He was ready to sleep and hope to make it all go away. 

He entered Patricia’s room like an awkward first encounter. She took off his bag from around her shoulder and tossed it by the dresser. She took the liberty to remove her shoes by her bed as she swayed toward the restroom. He stood by the door foreign and uncomfortable as if he was now unworthy of sharing the same room with her.

He listened to the steam power up and took a seat on the chair by her personal system. It felt like a book bag was removed from over his head that let him breathe freely. It was comfortable, enough so that he let himself sink further into the chair. As tired and beat as he was, his mind seemed to have no intention of letting him rest yet. His eyes were glued to the restroom door, wondering if it had been left unlocked for him. He had caught her glancing at him in subtle ways she thought he wouldn’t notice but Jimmy had become great at catching women red handed.

At first she had been obviously looking back to ensure he would not collapse on her but when they had taken short breaks, he would pretend to be lost in thought only to catch her eyes gazing in his direction, taking him in fully like a teenage girl curiously eyeing her father’s work partner. Sure enough, when he would shift his body in any way, her gaze would instantly leave him, pretending like it had never happened. Except it had.

He stood, ready to walk straight in there and burst through the door. As he limped over,  the steam powered down and Jimmy stopped cold. He tried to calm his racing heart as he sat back down, forcing himself to think of other things, even tell himself she was not interested or else she would have been in there longer. His body did not want to listen. He had simply missed his opportunity.

Patricia walked out as she finished tightening her suit. “You should clean yourself up,” she said as she sat down on the bed. He had missed his opportunity.

“Yeah,” he said, taking a deep breath which caused her to look up and smirk. She’s toying with me. She knows what she’s doing to me and loving it.

Jimmy walked toward the door, his eyes creating a tunnel straight to it only to feel Patricia’s hand in his own as he walked next to her. He looked down at her. “Be quick,” she said softly, “we have a lot to do tomorrow.”

He didn’t know what that meant but he made sure to be as quick as he could without sacrificing his cleanliness for her. He didn’t think crusted blood would sit too well. His mind raced, back and forth, deciding he was delusional, convincing himself the signs were all there and he had been through this enough to know when he was right. He was always right.

He had only ever felt like this with Alice and looking back, he should have trusted his gut then.

But Alice had never had to see or deal with the massive deformity at his side. No, she had seen him as the perfect creature that he was, until he had spent too much time with her and slowly his perfection began to fade. She had grown as bored of him as he grew of every woman he had ever been with after her and, just like him, she had cast him to the side.

He put on his suit and stepped out to find Patricia toying with Zoe’s unit. He wasn’t sure how she had pried it free and wasn’t about to ask. He only hoped that the rest of the arm hadn’t landed back in his bag.

“I should’ve known it’d be locked,” said Patricia. 

She tried to come in. Why did I lock the door? 

“Think your AI can get us in?” she said as she looked up at him.

He felt Nee prompt him to respond. They wouldn’t need Nee, he could get in himself but it wasn’t something he was ready to admit. “I should be able to access Miss Ackles unit,” said Nee.

Patricia smiled and placed the unit on the small table next to her bed. “Great! Then we’re set.”

Jimmy nodded and walked toward the chair. “Hey,” he heard behind him in a soft tone. He turned around and saw her pat the bed. “Come on,” she said. He stared at her for a long moment, unable to decide what he should do. He felt like a timid child, excited yet nervous. It was completely unlike him, yet everything about it brought him back to Alice.

“James,” said Patricia, drawing his attention and smiling. “I’m not letting you sleep on that chair.”

He walked over to the edge of the bed and sat. He could feel her eyes on his back as he was unable to bring himself to lay down. He heard and felt her shift toward him, her hand resting over his shoulder.

“What’s going on?” she said as she positioned herself next to him.

He refused to look at her even though he could see her trying to get him to. He stared at the ground. “I don’t know,” he said, “I just feel…” insecure, “lost.”

“I do too,” she said, her hand running over his back in a gentle stroke, just like Alice. “We’ll have answers soon and we’ll get off this shithole together.” She scooted back to her spot, “For now, let’s get some rest.”

He winced from the pain as he scooted back. He had to admit that it felt a thousand times better than the chair but his head was still unable to read the situation properly. He would have expected her to make some kind of pass at him, how Alice had, but instead they were laying together without any clear sign of leading anywhere.

“Better?” she asked as she watched him turn toward her. He forced a smile, which she returned. “Good, let’s get some rest.”

She turned around and lay away from him, leaving him even further confused. She had to know. She was just torturing him. Or maybe she wanted him to make the move. 

Or maybe he truly was delusional and would manage to fuck up his relationship with the only living person left.

He was tired, his eyelids heavy and warm. The rest of his body felt like cement that would require energy to move, which he did not have, and yet his mind was laser focused on the woman that lay in front of him, turning things over in his head in an endless loop. Her figure was outlined just inches from him urging him to touch her. He was unable to close his eyes as he took too much pleasure from watching her body rise and fall.

It seemed like ages passed without being able to shift his thoughts. The two demons fighting between each other for so long he had no idea if she was asleep by now. If she was, one of them had won and maybe it was for the best. There was no need to rock the boat out in the middle of the ocean. But the other demon observed her breathing, unchanged and waiting for him to take her. He throbbed so badly that even if she were asleep, there was nothing stopping him from waking her.

Her body rolled back like a snake leading his eyes down past the crease of her back. She was so close that if he moved a few centimeters toward her, she would feel him pressing against her. Maybe she had only adjusted herself in her sleep, or maybe she had wanted him to press himself against her. 

He loved the excitement he felt but hated how out of control he was. He was not one to doubt himself. The outcome would resolve itself. He was a god, especially with women, and he would not allow himself to succumb to the insecurities he had felt with Alice again.

He reached out with his hand, placing it over her hip, and shifted his body toward her so all of them touched. When she did not move away, he hovered his lips over her neck. The warmth of his breath caused her head to tilt, exposing more of her skin. There was no way she could not feel him between her legs.

He ran his fingers over her waist and down her leg, each time further up and down until his arm reached no further. He pressed the seal of the suit at her hip and allowed it to release, slipping his hand inside and letting his fingers caress her warm bare skin. She shifted her hip and his hand squeezed just enough to let her feel the pressure of his desire. She was awake, and he was ready to release his excitement. 

Both of their breathing had changed into short, heavy bursts. He reached further in between her thighs and saw her arm reach down to assist him. His hovering lips pressed down onto her neck and quickly opened enough to allow his tongue to send a chill through her.

“James,” she whispered as her hand gripped his own under her suit. He gently bit her neck as his arm pulled her closer to him with force. His side sent a shock of pain through him that he found exhilarating. Her hand squeezed his harder. “James.”

There was an animal lust in him that grew as he heard her say his name. He reached in, blowing straight through her grip and pressing his hand over her center. She pulled her body away and turned over, keeping her hand on his chest. “Enough.”

He breathed heavily, staring at her in dismay. His body trembled, yearning for her.

“I’m flattered,” she continued after a moment of letting his mind come to terms with it, “but this can’t happen.”

Flattered? You’re fucking toying with me! 

“I have a family,” she said, “and I love them.”

“Then why keep staring at me every chance you get?” he said.

“Because you’re pleasant to look at,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean I want to fuck every person I find pleasant to look at.”

The confusion set back in. He turned on his back and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t understand,” he mumbled.

“What?” she said.

Jimmy shook his head. “We’re the last two people alive in a giant graveyard with no chance of surviving and you’re worried about what your family will think?”

Patricia laughed and said, “you’re not used to this are you?” He stared at her with confusion. “As much as I would love to have you, I made a pact with my partner. And even if we don’t survive, which we will, it’s not about what they think. It’s about what I would.”

“I…” he started before realizing he had nothing to say. “I’m sorry,” he finally mustered.

“Don’t be,” she said as she reached out and placed her fingers between his and squeezed. “Can’t blame you for getting the wrong idea,” Jimmy looked at her and found a coy smirk on her. “Just didn’t think you’d be interested in an old woman like me.”

“How could I not?” he said, turning to his side so they faced each other. “You’re beautiful. There’s something about you. The way you carry yourself. I couldn’t want you more.”

She gazed at him, neither of them saying a word. It felt as if any moment now she would breach her own invisible boundary and kiss him.

“You remind me of Mathew, my partner, when he was younger,” she said. He didn’t like being told he reminded people of others. He was unique. The only person he ever reminded anyone of was himself. “The girl in the photograph,” she said, “Who is she?”

Jimmy snorted. “Nobody,” he said, trying to turn from her but her hand squeezed tight and held him in place. He could have forced himself away.

“Don’t do that,” she said, “talk to me.”

“Why does it matter?”

“Because I like you James,” she said. “You’re very difficult and have been a pain in my ass so far, but you’re not simple. I can tell you’re hurting.”

“Am I your patient now?” he laughed.

“No,” she said, smiling back. “I’d prefer we not have to create boundaries.” 

There was nothing ingenuine that he could read from her. She was in no way flirting with him or trying to lead him on. She appeared truly interested in a friendly way. There was no reason for her to want any information about him except for her own personal knowledge. She couldn’t use it to her advantage down here.

“Is she waiting for you?” she continued.

I wish she were. “No,” he said. Vanessa’s days of waiting for him were long gone.

“Was it recent?” she said while wincing as if she felt it too. He smirked and shook his head causing her to smile. “The one that got away, then.”

“More like the one I got away from,” he said with an awkward chuckle. He immediately felt bad. “I just wasn’t ready.”

“But you regret it,” she said.

Every day. “No,” he said. “I would have fucked things up for her. She didn’t deserve that.”

“What about your family?” she said.

“What about them?” he said back, glad she had changed the subject but not fond of the subject she had changed it to.

“They have to be worried about you,” she said. He knew what she was trying to ask. Why carry a photograph of an ex but not his family?

“We’re not close,” he laughed but as she said nothing it quickly faded. “They care for my son while I’m gone and that’s it.”

“Do you think they would watch your child if they didn’t care about you at least a little?”

He smirked as if she were climbing a wall only he knew was unclimbable. “When appearances are all they care about, yes,” he said. “They think they’re better than me, so they would never stoop as low as leaving my son. You said it yourself. I’m difficult, and I turned out different than what they wanted me to be.”

“And what’s that?” she asked. There was something about how intently she watched him, her eyes never leaving his for even one second other than to blink, that made him feel wanted. It was a different wanting than he was used to. Innocent.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, adopting an adolescent carelessness. “I am who I am.”

“Yes you are,” she said, smiling. They lay for some time in silence until she said, “Sometimes it’s nice having the acceptance of others. Especially of loved ones.”

“It doesn’t last,” he said without thought.

“What makes you think that?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said. Her long silent gaze urged him to say something, anything. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“Okay,” she said with a faint smile. “I used to think I would never be a mother.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Jimmy, causing her to laugh. “You don’t give off the vibe of someone who has the patience for a kid’s headaches.”

“You’re not wrong,” she said through her chuckles. “My husband and I make a good team.”

Jimmy smiled and nodded. It felt strange as she actively forced him into a platonic relationship. He had never accepted it before, from anyone. He would either make it clear his opportunities would stay available or he would leave altogether, yet here he was, letting it happen. 

“You don’t really give off the patient parent vibe either,” she said while nudging him.

“He’s low maintenance,” Jimmy smirked. “Long as you feed him and play with him a bit, he’s golden.”

“Aren’t you lucky?” she said. “I still can’t see you changing diapers or waking up in the middle of the night when they cry.”

“You also haven’t known me very long,” he said, raising his eyebrow, “but you’re not wrong.” He briefly paused as he thought of a way to deliver it to her. “I pick up his shit when we go on walks but he rarely cries. Really only when he gets hurt.”

Patricia’s eyes narrowed. “You son of a bitch,” she said, causing his lips to curl up. She pulled her hand from his and slapped his bare skin, forcing him to laugh. “You’re a piece of shit!”

He tried to take hold of her hand but she kept smacking him as he laughed. She tried to force her frustrated grin away until Jimmy gave up trying to stop her hand and just reached over her and pulled her close.

Their bodies were tightly pressed against each other, their joyful faces centimeters away. She tried to struggle out but even through his injured body, he was still stronger. She eventually gave up and stared at him with her playful smile and angry eyes. His own perfect smile glowed, dissuading her in the process.

They gazed into each other’s eyes. Jimmy felt the urge to kiss her and could see by the way she glanced at his lips, she did too. He leaned in and brushed his lips over hers but before he could press into her, she said, “I should’ve let you die out there.”

A gentle grin met him. Jimmy sighed and released her. “I’m still not sure why you didn’t.”

“You’re pleasant to look at.”

“Yeah, how could I forget?” he laughed. The thought lingered in his head, causing his smile to fade. It’s all they ever cared about. He was beautiful. There were times that he wondered how far his natural talents alone would have gotten him in life.

Better not to think morbid thoughts.

Patricia took his hands between hers and squeezed, drawing his attention back to her. He shot her a half smile, hoping that she would let this uneventful situation die, but he had already learned that Patricia was not one to be easily dissuaded. He rolled onto his back and she released one of his hands while the other stayed firmly held between hers. He stared up at the ceiling and listened to her breathing as he hoped she would not continue.

It seemed to work. Her breaths slowed and he felt no movement from her whatsoever. He allowed his eyes to close and prepared himself to join her in sleep but it wasn’t long until her voice interrupted his dozing.

“What’s up there that made you want to do what you did?” she said. He opened his eyes and turned his head toward her, shooting her a puzzled look. “You say you have no one you want to get back to, I guess I just don’t understan-”

“Do I need to have someone?” he asked as the thought of Nee crossed his mind. She’d be with him here or anywhere. Places did not matter to her, only he did.

“Of course not,” said Patricia, “that’s why I ask.”

He thought about her family waiting for her. Desperately hoping she was alive and wishing to greet her with open arms. It was unlikely even his parents knew what was happening. He normally would go weeks, sometimes months, without contacting them. They would have no reason to be alarmed, let alone give a shit when they finally did receive notice of his disappearance. They’d finally be rid of the untalented shame of the family. Deep inside, he wished he had what she had, but knew he was incapable of maintaining it. No matter how hard he tried, he would never be able to have lasting relationships. Not after they saw what his parents saw in him.

“My life’s not over,” he said in a weak voice, unable to build up the anger and determination he usually enveloped these thoughts with.

She seemed to eat up the sorrow in him. He could read her desire to comfort him in her eyes. Alice had done something similar, he had believe it as it happened but later as he turned it all over in his head, he had seen the selfishness behind it. She had pretended for her own needs and when she had grown bored of him, she had treated him as if he had been nothing. She had never truly loved him. 

His parents had been no better. When Alice had broken things off with him he had turned to them, hoping they would help him. Provide him counsel or just help him through it all emotionally, but they heard only what they wanted. The reason why their child was nothing like they wanted. They had made sure Alice was gone and branded him to the world as the kid who was raped by his teacher. The girls had envied her, wishing it had been them instead of Alice while the guys idolized him as if he were a god for fucking the woman they all lusted after. Again, no one listened.

No one cared about his pain. They all had their own expectations.

Yet here was this woman, watching him as if nothing else in the world was more important than listening to his pain. If she had an ulterior motive, he could not tell what it could be. She didn’t seem to judge him. She wasn’t trying to label him or write up a report of all his flaws to prove there was something wrong with him. She knew there was something wrong, she had seen his weakness, his psychotic nature, yet here she was. 

She cupped her hand over his cheek. “We’re going to get out of here,” she said. “I promise.”

She smiled warmly at him. He liked the way her hand felt on his skin. There was nothing sexual about her touch which somehow relieved him. He felt comforted. The pressure of having to impress or please her was gone and he was left stripped bare. He was no longer a god, just another flawed creature trying to survive.

It was obvious in that moment that they needed each other in order to do so. 

She leaned in and kissed him. It took him a moment to realize what was happening. He closed his eyes and kissed back. It was as if she understood he was a sexual being and accommodated him for it while still letting him know there were boundaries that he would not cross. She pulled away and gazed at him.

Neither of them said anything, their eyes speaking for them. She pulled her hand from his cheek and returned it into his own hand. Jimmy didn’t want the moment to end and he had a feeling it was mutual. He didn’t know how long it lasted but he could see her eyelids growing heavy. His own felt the sear of fatigue at the edges as they tried to force themselves closed. He fought them until he saw her own shut and smiled as he allowed himself to join her.

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