She ran her way through the courtyard with bated breath, flying up the stairs to the top of building B, unaware that the person she was looking for was already there. He was running in her direction about to sprint full speed back down the stairs but rammed into her instead when he turned the corner, launching her slightly airborne. She winced from the impact and tried to reach out for something to stop her fall but there was no way she’d be able to catch herself at this angle.
He panicked and latched onto her jacket, practically whipping her toward him so she wouldn’t go careening down the stairwell. They fell in a jumbled mess as she drifted forward into him with Zack landing on his back just before the top of the steps with a thud. Next thing he knew he was laying flat, wondering if the sky always looks so depressing this time of year. His arms were wrapped around her, holding her body flush against his and panting like his life depended on it.
“Holy, jesus, fuck- you alright!? I didn’t even see you-”
He sat up violently, knocking her from his stomach to his lap instead. Then the realization hit that she was actually there- he harshly grabbed her shoulders-
“Wait, where the hell were you!?”
“I went to find you...you didn’t come home last night.”
“ Right ...sorry. I wasn’t able to make it back last night. Some...stuff went down-”
He was wearing the things she laid out on the sink but his bandages were still caked with blood. Her eyes moved from those spots back to his face.
She had the gist of what went down from eavesdropping but it’s not like she knew for sure and his vague description definitely left her wanting. He quickly took a look around before scooting a safe distance away from the steps with her still in his arms so he could lean against the wall of the building. Depending on how in depth this is going to be they should probably go inside but after almost killing her by way of stairwell execution he wasn’t sure he could walk just yet.
Zack was unable to look her in the eyes, wishing he could bury himself in the sweatshirt she bought for him permanently.
“I kinda, sorta, fucked up...like, really bad.”
“We don’t have to leave though?”
She was rather keen on that fact, he brushed it off.
“Nah, but money’s gonna be a little tight for a while.”
She tilted her head, searching out his eyes to give him a soft encouraging look.
“Mm, that’s okay, we’ll manage.”
His body twitched beneath her. Who’s she kidding!? They can barely manage now! Yeah sure, trying to reassure him is nice but in this case it’s fucking suffocating. Messing up this bad sucks and no matter what she says it’s not like it’s going away. Once the debt is repaid probably doesn’t matter, he’s royally fucked anyway. It’s going to take a miracle to get Rodger to trust him again. In fact he was only a few meager twists of a doorknob from leaving this town, who’s going to want to deal with him when he might fly off the handle? Normally this crap doesn’t even phase him but he was trying so hard since he’s been here to make this work and watching it all fall apart was so damn frustrating! He’s so fucking broken it’s amazing he can even function and he barely does that right.
“Stop sayin ’ it’s okay, it’s not okay ! I…”
His head canted forward until he hit into her shoulder, resting his forehead against it.
“...I’m not cut out for this shit, Ray!”
“I know you’re wantin’ to help me but I don’t think I can do this. These kinds of people especially piss me off and I was already all messed up to begin with!”
“I-...I don’t know why I ever thought I could-...”
He’s more down on himself than usual and despite his protests, she didn’t like seeing him like this, she wanted to make it go away. He's done so much for her already, she felt she owed him that much.
“Zack...most people have their share of problems...we all do- me too...”
Me more than most.
He gazed up at her, not daring to move.
“Yeah, but you fit right the fuck in, it ain’t the same.”
She stared intently at the wall behind him.
“I have to stop myself from doing terrible things too. I’m just as messed up as you are, maybe even more...”
He went quiet, knowing there was truth to her words, she looked down at him.
“You still haven’t told me what happened.”
“That bastard I worked with last night, one of our neighbors, he was sayin’...”
Does Ray really need to know what he was saying about her? No, what was said is irrelevant, he shouldn’t have let it get out of hand.
“I-It’s not really important, what matters is I shut him up and sent him right to the hospital.”
Barely held himself back from straight up killing him. Actually, it wasn’t even fair to say he held himself back, he didn’t... he thinks . He wasn’t exactly sure if he could have brought himself to stop, sure there was something going on that confused him but he was certain under different conditions whatever it was wouldn’t have been enough. If he had any kind of weapon on his person that guy was definitely dead. Hell, if no one showed up when they did, who knows? Her body went rigid, Zack really was in a fight. That anxiety she’s been feeling overflowed and she couldn’t even mask the worry in her gentle voice.
“Did he hurt you…?”
His eyes went wide, faltering there by her side as everything else seemed to fade away, everything but Ray. The weakness in her voice gave him a tightening sensation in his chest, one he couldn’t stand and yet was unable to fight.
“...I don’t think I like the idea of you getting hurt...”
Those words she spoke last night suddenly felt like they carried a lot more weight. She was...actually worried about him? Something foreign slowly sank beneath the surface, making his skin crawl . He was always telling himself not a single person would ever care, anyone else is just telling you lies. The only one who looks out for you, will only ever be yourself...and yet…
“No, ‘course not. Wouldya stop it with the worryin’ about me crap, Ray...I’m a serial killer...I hurt people...it’s what I do. I knew coming into this I’d manage to fuck it up.”
She shook her head.
“You’re not really that different from anyone else...” Her fingers tentatively grazed his back, moving in a slow large circle where she could reach, “...and, you didn’t kill anyone, right?”
He pulled away from her suddenly, making her fall away from him and onto her butt.
“W-What are you doin’!?”
“Trying to comfort you? Was it not okay…?”
“I-I dunno!? It feels... weird - d-don’t do that!”
“Sorry...I-I didn’t know.”
She looked down at the poured concrete past her knees.
“Most people are supposed to like that sort of thing.”
The disappointment in her voice was so torturous for him it made him wish he could have endured it just to avoid having to see her dismal face .
“Fuck ...listen Ray, it ain’t you. I’m not...used to bein' touched like that, alright?”
She gave a sad hum and shifted so she could sit right next to him instead, leaning her back against the cool building wall.
“My mom used to rub my back like that when I was hurt. So, I thought maybe it might help you feel better...”
He tilted his head back until it hit the wall.
“Your mom, huh?”
The blonde nodded.
“That was a long time ago…”
“...a really long time ago…”
They both went quiet, silently acknowledging that maybe they both were fucked up and that's just the way it was always going to be for the two of them. Ray wished she knew a better way to comfort him and Zack suddenly wanted to know more but he wasn't sure what to even ask her. Hey, Ray, ‘when did your mom become a shitbag?’ didn’t exactly sit right. He could mention his mom but she wasn’t big on comfort or hugs, too busy with her abusive fuckboy to help him out or feed him. Wait, that isn’t completely true...she did hug him…at least once .
Ray cut in through that thought, trying to get back to the situation at hand.
“So, what’s going to happen to us now?”
He didn’t move from that spot.
“I’m supposta be workin’ some extra shifts because the deal went bad, then everything will go back to the way it was before or somethin’ like that.”
“Hey, it’s better than being hunted down-”
He glanced over, noticing her subtle change and nudged closer.
“I know that face, what’s botherin’ you?”
She pulled her knees into her body.
“Zack, if at any time you’d rather leave this place...I wanted you to know that it would be okay with me.”
“Huh? Where’d that come from? I thought you liked havin' somewhere to go, ya sayin’ you wanna go?”
She shook her head
“No. But if we stay I want it to be because we want to, not because we feel we have to.”
Ray is right but, it isn’t like they have anywhere else to go. He doesn’t plan on staying here forever though so maybe they should just leave…? Ugh, why’d she have to say that? Now he was all confused. In any case it’s not a decision they should make lightly.
“Ugh, I dunno. I might still decide to leave if this place doesn’t pan out, doesn’t look like he’s plannin’ to kill me so, it’s not like I’ve made up my mind yet.”
“Well if you do leave, I’m coming with you.”
What is she nuts ? Does she really think he’d ever leave her? He’s dumb but he’d be a different class of moron to lose her now after all that shit he went through to get her, fuck that.
“Pft. Duh , ya think I’m about to leave you behind in this shithole? Not a chance in hell, Ray.”
“Okay, that’s good then.”
She leaned her head down against her knees and looked at him with a small but endearing smile.
That attempt at an expression was so bright he almost didn’t remember what they were doing there, or that they were even outside. He was stuck mindlessly gawking at her for what felt like forever until he realized he was even doing it. Once he came to, he decided he needed to think long and hard about what it was he wanted from this place, the pros and the cons, and if he even wants to be here at all. The way she looked at him like that reminded him that no matter where they are probably wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. They’d have to plan stuff differently and maybe find somewhere with more mild weather but now he was sure regardless of where they end up things would be okay.
Despite her appearance Ray is really resilient...
He should try to remember that more often.
After their talk, they dropped the topic of his proverbial fuck up- and for a moment, Zack forgot what had him so overwhelmed in the first place.
Even with the crazy happenings this month, time was never going to stand still long enough to let them fully digest and move on from the things that ail them. Sooner or later Christmas did hit, bringing with it the culmination of all the sour things Rachel had been feeling up until now. She quietly kept it to herself, trying not to bother Zack with her internal musings, though it took its toll on her day by day. The way she coped was by pushing her worrisome memories behind her, as if she tried to mask that unhappiness. Ray was home for a few days now from work and Zack was glad to have that nice distraction. Work for him was more of a drag than usual and the way people were more on edge with him around was pissing him off. He couldn’t blame them of course, he did just beat the shit out of a guy, but still, it was a constant reminder and he hated it.
Come to think of it he never heard what happened to that asshole.
He shook that off, doesn’t matter. Hopefully he never runs into him ever again, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself from finishing what he started. Instead he tried to ignore all that and focus on what was going on around him, the questions he was trying to answer. He wasn’t good at thinking things through. Maybe it’s because he never had a chance or maybe it’s because it was boring as all hell. All he really understood for the most part was risk avoidance and whatever gave him the most enjoyment. Spending more time together with Ray really highlighted the ‘more enjoyment’ portion of his stupid brain. Everytime he found himself weighing any of his options about living here with her he always came to the same god damn conclusion. Worrying about it at all was a useless waste of time and the whole reason they were here kept fading . She still can’t make a good enough expression. Rachel wasn’t happy enough to kill, at least...not yet.
Zack was watching Rachel curiously, noting how she was being much more of a weirdo today than usual. She was constantly walking over and taking a second to move the shade by the window, looking around like she was expecting somebody. It made him a little nervous, was someone going to visit? It's not like she brought it up.
The next time she did it he decided to ask.
“The fuck are you doin’?”
Rachel dropped the shade and turned, surprised by his question.
“It’s supposed to be a blizzard.”
"Huh? Really? That's what's got'cha so worked up? Some snow?"
Ray went back to what she was doing in the kitchen, stirring some food she was making for dinner.
It's going to be a white Christmas this year.
He should have expected the things that happened after that.
It was late, really late. Rachel was watching the snow for hours, leaning against the windowsill with this soft look on her face. When she stood up, a complete contrast to the way she was, he knew something was up. Ray walked over to Zack while he was grabbing a midnight snack from the cabinet, lightly tugging on the hem of his shirt to grab his attention. She was a little embarrassed about this but determined to ask him anyway.
He hurriedly snatched a bag when he felt the intruder and turned.
“I...I’d like to go outside.”
“Don’cha think that’s a bad idea considering we don’t even own coats?”
“It’ll only be for a little while...please, can we?” She asked, hopeful for the response she was looking for.
He left her hanging while he walked over to the window and moved the drop shade aside. All he could see was a blanket of white, not a soul in sight. Of course- who would be outside at two in the morning in the middle of a blizzard, well what was formerly a blizzard anyway. There were a few stray snowflakes here and there but otherwise it looked like the storm had passed and all that remained were untouched, fluffy, fresh, piles of white. Playing in the snow , that’s such a kid thing to do...and here he was having a hard time saying no to that prospect.
“...Okay - we can go check out the snow.”
“But I ain’t haulin’ your ass back in here when ya freeze to death!”
Rachel was more into it than usual when they got ready and opened the door to that sudden shocking breeze. Stepping out into the snow was quite the experience.
Zack’s body shivered.
“It’s way too cold!”
She follows him as chill swiftly blankets the delicate features of her face, wrapping itself about her jawline, her cheeks, and she notes how correct he is. It’s much more frigid than she anticipated. Instead of going back they continued on, locking their door and stomping their way down stairs toward the covered courtyard, careful not to slip. The sky is a steep blackness tonight, a true contrast to the whiteness found below that glows, reflecting that somber dim yellow and colorful blink of the lining building lights that circle around them. When they froze their advance, stopping by a pile of the fresh ivory, they remained silent for a moment as they took it all in. This secret world within their reach; one they had first access to- it was undisturbed, hollow, quiet , without a soul in sight. Rachel stared out into the blank nothingness of the pure white crystals caressing the ground in earnest, blue eyes absorbing the sereness in her sight. The snow seems so pure from here, devoid of color and yet, it’s so pretty . If there were ever anything truly real and perfect in this existence she believed it was this , beautiful and untouched, silent and cold. She had a soft look about her when she smiled, spinning around and falling to the ground. Her hair whisked about, catching the wind in all directions when she turned, pivoting on one leg before landing on her back. The snow crunched underneath her, breaking her nearly feather-like fall, the only sound cascading its way in through their ear drums. She was just staring into space for a while, watching the smokiness of her breath flicker in the light against the dark air while her body began to lose feeling from the cold seeping into her limbs. Zack watched her, expecting her to do something but she didn’t move at all. A minute or two passed before he decided to make sure she was actually okay. She’s so quiet...and that look in her eyes- what , did she actually die down there?
“Hah? T-The fuck are you doin’?”
With how quiet Zack was she nearly forgot her dark haired companion was with her. The reverberating sound of his voice was all it took to make her begin moving, arms and legs swaying in motion at her sides.
“Making a snow angel. You wanna try?”
“You seriously want me to lay down on the ground and flail around like that?”
“It’s not like you have to…”
His right eye twitched and he made some distance to the left of her...
Can’t believe I’m about to do this...
Then he bent down and sprawled out on the ground arms length away from her. As soon as he did he instantly regret his dumb decision. Holy shit the ground was freezing ! Not wanting to waste time he waved his arms and legs following her example and got up off the ground as fast as humanly possible. He felt like a wreck now, all chilled and starting to feel wet as the snow melted and soaked into his clothes and hair. He wondered how she was managing to be so calm with not so much as a shiver surrounded by all that snow. Rachel soon followed suit, pulling herself up and stepping back to admire their work. Her lips parted when she took in a small breath, the moment she truly took it in. Ray’s angel had a methodical feel to it, not perfect but carefully crafted and nearly so. Zack’s was sloppy and that’s definitely the biggest snow angel she’s ever seen. Much like him it had that charm that comes with his brand of chaos, impatience, maybe even a little reckless. Looking at them side by side like this really highlighted how different they were.
It made uncomfortable things plague her mind. She never gave it much thought but- what do they even have in common? Other than killing people and maybe not being one hundred percent ‘normal’ she wasn’t really sure. She stared down at Zack’s angel, eyeing the outline, taking in every little detail before moving back to her own. Despite how symmetrical and nice hers looks, it's like it’s empty somehow - lacking soul . That idea makes her sad and she decides she really likes Zack’s more because of how it oozes with his personality. Nothing truly holds him back does it? His actions and everything about him represented this freedom she wished she had within herself. There were branching paths she was reaching out for that she can’t seem to take . Even though she had the illusion of choice her heart felt restricted, entwined in bindings that she herself put in place. Like she’s simply playing a role, struggling to break free, cold and alone, dreading this life she’d been given.
Her eyes wandered toward the man standing by her side.
What he had she wanted, craved it even and maybe that’s why he appealed to her so much from the start. He was the one who had the answer she was looking for. Zack was staring down at the snow in front of them where they had left their marks, part of her wondering what he might be thinking. Probably that this was pointless or boring she figured. But still, he humored her, her chest warmed at that thought... he’s... done that a lot lately. His eyes moved as he looked towards her, reacting to the eerie sensation of being watched. Their eyes met for a moment before she shyly looked away, cheeks rapidly heating though they were already rosy from the cold. She knew she was definitely caught by him and her stomach filled with that familiar ache and the sudden thrashing that takes her heart. Her bashfulness had her too afraid to look up at him again so instead she stared off like she saw something else of interest in the direction of the city.
What is this strange feeling? Sometimes it happens when I think I want him to kill me but …
Her face tensed at that, hand moving to soothe the erratic thrumming against her ribcage.
No ...it’s something else.
And after everything that’s happened, conversations she’s had with him, interactions they’ve made…
She was afraid to get a sense of what that something else might be.
Zack, not in much of a mood to play that game with her right now, looked away and his arms closed around his body.
He shivered before taking a step back in the direction of their apartment.
“Alright let’s go, ya had your fun…” As he walked away his voice trailed off,” ...My pants are friggin’ soaked now, my legs are fuckin’ numb... ”
She followed him but felt unsatisfied.
Rachel put that pressing thought aside, for now . Despite the biting cold she didn’t want to go inside yet either and that feeling that she needed to open herself up to him a little more lingered on, coating her ever perceptive brain in a fog. She never thought to do things impulsively and unlike other children growing up she rarely ever wanted to do things just for fun. Something inside her changed at some point or it was always that way and she was busted from the very start. All she knew was that it made her different , her parents often told her so. Always overthinking things and her problems, never allowing her emotions to guide her, calculating and detached - ‘ wrong ’. Zack might be a little extreme with his emotions sometimes but unlike her he’s always honest, speaking or doing whatever is on his mind. Perhaps that’s a part of her problem and why it bothers her so much...maybe, just maybe , if she could learn to let herself live in the moment then …
Those small steps of hers suddenly stopped when she bent down, curling her already barely functional frosty fingers into the snow, patting it together so that it created a dense ball in her hands. He didn’t notice the lack of her presence before it was too late when she lightly chucked her icy creation, hitting him dead center on the back of the head. Did she just - his eyes went wide and he pivoted, practically falling over. He wasn’t really in the mood due to how tired and cold he was, plus the surprise attack kind of hurt!
“What’s the big idea, Ray?”
She tossed another one at him and this time it hit him square in the face. Her body cringed slightly when she saw the impact, that’s not good, she was afraid he might actually get mad at her. His teeth clenched from the chill of the snow and the pain of the impact as he wiped his face clean. Fuck , his bandages on his face were all wet now too!
He bent forward and pulled in as much snow as he could manage. Then he packed it together into a large hunk and baseball-pitcher tossed it as hard as he could aiming at her face. Rachel fell back immediately and landed on her butt, dodging it, and watched the large object fly halfway across the courtyard. She adjusted a bit but was stuck, kneeling now on the ground, astounded. He tried really hard to hit her there! All that effort he put into it was completely in vain. His frustration melted away when he put all his strength into one move and the immediate disappointment when it didn't work out was evident all over his face.
That expression . He looked so... funny . There was a sensation there, playing in her lungs while she watched, blooming into something unfamiliar. What happened then completely caught Zack off guard...
She covered her mouth and with a muffled giggle she spoke.
His everything went numb, like he forgot how to breathe while something more terrifying than displeasure made his heart increase it’s pace. Is she...she’s...playing around with him? A burning welled inside of him listening to the sweet sound of her voice and for some reason, he couldn't bring himself to hate it. It was infectious and made him snicker instead. A wide grin made its way onto his face.
“Are you making fun of me!? Oh, you’re gonna get it!”
Zack bent over and grabbed more snow, making snowballs as he went and threw them at her one at a time as he walked towards her.
She put her hands up and waved them furtiley, attempting to block his assault.
“N-No, haha, s-stop...Zack!”
A sensation whipped through him when he could hear her little laughs more clearly. Sensing those subtle hiccups of enjoyment spilling from her lips- it was hard to think of the beautiful sound as anything other than cute. This past week worrying about how badly he sucks at blending in didn’t matter anymore, he wished he could forget all about it, and all of a sudden Ray made that happen. Lightness of the chest and an exhilarating chill from the air surrounded him as he went. He hated to admit it but this was kinda fun ! His laughter picked up as he moved closer, filled with this strange giddiness he almost forgot how cold it was.
“Haha, shoulda thought about that when you were throwin’ snowballs at my face!”
She put up her hands in his direction with closed eyes.
At that the snowballs stopped coming, she couldn't hear Zack moving either. Her eyes opened drenched with question, immediately drawn to the figure directly in front of her who had that answer.
He loomed over with a grin, bent down, arm extended toward her to help her up,
“Good, cuz I’m freezin’ my balls off out here. Let’s go home and warm up.”
“I would but, I-I’m too cold to get up…?”
He leaned back and clenched his teeth, then took a deep breath readying himself to pick her up.
“Don’t people lose limbs and shit in the snow?”
She yelped as he lifted her up off the ground with another slosh of that soft sound.
“If you were that cold ya shoulda said somethin’ sooner.”
She leaned in closer and hooked her fingers into the fabric of his hoodie. Ray could feel his heart against her cheek in this position. He’s... warm .
“I thought you said you wouldn’t help me if I got too cold.”
She leaned in for more warmth, marveling at the way his heart picked up in pace when she did so, causing hers to feel like it skipped in response. She didn't understand why this feels so good, she's never felt this close to him before.
“Huh?” He laughed as he continued to step over a few more piles of snow, “I said if ya died and-...”
“... you’re ...lookin’ plenty alive to me.”
When they got inside he put her down and offered to help her get her things, but she shook her head.
“No, I think I can get up on my own. I’ll start the bath, if we use the water we can warm up faster that way.”
He tried not to overthink it, he was starting to think maybe she just wants to be more independent. Suit yourself .
“‘Kay, I’m gonna start taking this stuff off then.”
He kicked his boots off and set them on the tile by the counter first then gripped the seam of his shirt and sweatshirt, pulling it over his head in one motion, leaving him in nothing but bandages and soaked pants. The bits and pieces of wetness along his hands and face especially bothered him but he wasn’t comfortable taking off his wrappings in a setting where Rachel might see. He didn’t like looking at himself in the mirror so why the hell would he make her do it? His stomach twisted a little at the thought of her looking at him with this disgusted expression and it stifled every thought he had about removing them at all. He wasn’t sure why it bothered him so much, because it was definitely more than normal but yeah, it was never going to happen.
Ray slowly worked herself up to a stand after slipping off her shoes and rubbing her feet by the radiator for warmth. Then she made her way to the other side of the room. Even as she grabbed some clothes from her nightstand her eyes were trained on him. It was rare to see him so...unclothed. For some reason she kept thinking about how easily he hauls her around while she secretly traced his muscle definition on the way to the bathroom. He watched her and the way her eyes kept glancing over, what’s up with her? By the time she made it to the door handle she did it like at least five times.
“Ya keep starin’ at me like you’re wantin’ to say somethin’, but you’re so damn quiet over there. The fucks up with you?”
She didn’t answer him right away, avoiding more of his eye contact. She’s been acting all funny around him a lot lately…
“What? Like what ya see? ”
“I-I didn’t say that!”
She shut her eyes, ran in, and shut the bathroom door behind her at a speed he didn't know she was even capable of.
I know I'm not the best looking guy but...damn.
He let out a rough sigh and stood up, worrying a hand through his hair. At least now he can take the opportunity to shimmy out of his wet pants. He stripped down, leaving him in his boxers before wrapping himself in his blanket. The bath was running so she’ll probably go in soon. She surprised him instead by opening the door a crack and he instantly flopped down to the floor, wrapping the blanket as tight around him as he could.
Her hand traced the handle, thinking about how that conversation probably made him feel. It didn’t seem right to leave it like that while she warmed up.
“Sorry- about before, I didn’t mean anything by it…”
You nearly gave me a heart attack...
“I’d like to talk some more, if you don’t mind.”
“While you’re in the bath? Can’t it wait?”
“It’s not like I want you to come in with me…I can leave the door open like this so we can hear each other. I have a question that I don’t want to forget.”
He could hear the sound of her lighty wading through the water until she settled down and he moved over and leaned against the wall there to the left of the opening so he could hear her. They’ve definitely relaxed a bit more since living together, allowing Ray to do things like grab his clothes while he’s in the shower. Haven’t done this before though. She had the curtain half drawn while she was sitting in the bathtub, face flush, arms laid against the top of the tub wall, head leaning on top of them. The warmth of the bath water after being in the cold is so nice...she felt so relaxed all of a sudden.
“Did it ever snow when you were living out-...on your own?”
His head tilted slightly, resting against the sliver of the wall behind him.
“Hmm...yeah. A few times. It got cold and everything but…”
He struggled to recall a time where there was snow covering the ground like the way it was right now.
“I 'm sure there was at least one time it snowed but it didn’t get anywhere near this . The weather didn't really change all that much. For the most part it felt like it either rained or it didn't.”
“It was the same for me...but that meant when it did finally snow, it made it really special.”
He laughed a bit.
“Of course you’d like it- it’s all wet , cold, and dreary.”
He felt that dampness from the melted snow heating under the blanket and against his skin through the bandages.
“You almost done? I’m dyin’ over here.”
“Mmhmm, I feel much better.”
She rinsed off, hit the latch for the drain, and started to wring out her hair before fully drawing the curtain. Ray dried off and got into her nightgown, still tending to damp strands of when she made her way to the main room. They exchanged places and he started to further undress.
“Do you need a towel?” She asked through the door.
He could feel a bit of a blush forming underneath his wrappings, damn it he always- how'd he forget that?
“Y-Yeah just uh, lemme get in the shower first, okay?”
Rachel stood to the right of the door and leaned against the wall there, waiting patiently for him to finish undressing and hop into the shower. Once he was settled inside and everything was set up she left, leaving the door open a crack and leaned against the wall again. She tilted her head towards the bathroom so she could speak to him more clearly.
“You know my parents used to give me hot chocolate after I was out playing in the snow...when I was little.”
It was strange, when he heard her voice...he didn't feel all that uncomfortable talking to her like this. He thought being nude would make it really awkward but maybe he's getting used to having her around? He knew he was , this is just really freaking jarring.
He let out a hum and stretched out as he spoke, trying to warm himself up in the water.
“Hot chocolate, huh? Never had it.”
That’s like a drink, right? He thought about the concept of warm or melty chocolate to drink and there was no way that could be bad. Damn, now he wants some. Add that shit to the shopping list next time for sure because if they do this crap again he wants to at least have something to look forward to.
“Yeah...it was nice. Definitely warmed me up after playing outside. Sometimes I would be out for hours and it was the only thing that convinced me to come back in. Mom used to put a little cinnamon in it too...it was my favorite.”
If he didn’t know any better he’d say she almost sounds happy talking about her past. Listening to her speak that way about her mom reminded him of their ‘hug’ outside, the lost lingering questions that suddenly hit the surface. When he had to learn more about her to get her back from that crazy doctor there was nothing really about her life before she snapped. That room of hers was full of all those weird dolls and the music box, the one where he found her picture and that plate with her name. Come to think of it, didn’t she say her parents gave her that music box? He struggled a bit to remember but he was pretty sure. Then there was the Rachel in that picture, a girl who was definitely her, and also so very not her all the same. Sure at a passing glance they appeared to be indistinguishable but to him they may as well have been two completely different people. He heard a bit from her own mouth in that interview about her home life but it’s not like it was nearly enough. Some detached incomplete snapshot through Danny’s lens was in no way helpful. He stared down at the tub floor, watching the water drip and flow down the drain, trying to figure out what he’s even doing here. Since when does he ever delve into the lives of others- become invested the way he has? He’s so damn deep now, thinking about her the way he does, he probably doesn’t even know how to find a way out...and he doesn’t really want to anymore. After what they went through together, especially after living together for a while now, he found himself wanting to know...
“What is it?”
He spoke low, not really used to this type of unknown territory of curiosity.
“I know it’s none of my business but ...the hell happened to your family?”
He probably sounds like an idiot asking it like that.
“I saw what happened after, I mean the before.”
Does he really want to know ?
Ray was hesitant at first. No matter how much she told herself it didn’t bother her anymore she knew it still hurt. Clinging onto her good memories and pushing the bad ones away felt like the best way to keep herself sane. Not that she was completely sane anyway, but she already knew that. It was getting harder to keep those horrible feelings at bay but her and Zack don’t know much about one another other than what they were told in that building and the things they’ve picked up along the way. He’s answered so many of her questions at this point while they’ve been together like this so if Zack wants to know more...she couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse him.
She looked up at the ceiling and spoke at a volume he was sure to hear despite the rushing water.
“I was still young when it started...we had issues with money in the beginning. Mom was the one keeping the house running and my dad was the only one working…”
”Dad was having issues at work so the money slowed down, but mom still needed it to do things for us like shop for food and keep us clothed. They tried to keep it from me but I figured it out when they started to argue about it, it was hard not to hear them after a while. Eventually I think my mother became bitter and my father resented her for it.”
“I’m pretty sure that he paid for a <REDACTED> and that’s when the fighting really picked up. Whenever they were in the same room they would always yell. Dad picked up a bad drinking habit after that which made the money situation much worse...and eventually he stopped coming home at night…”
Her voice trailed off, she had no confirmation Zack was even still listening anymore. She didn’t need to wait long though.
“... and, is that it?”
His genuine interest surprised her, just enough to keep it going.
Rachel’s voice strengthened again as she continued on.
“...Things just seemed to escalate from there.”
“I remember the first day dad hit mom because she spoke up about his drinking. Following that dad would hit her almost every time they were together... and sometimes I was even caught in the crossfire .”
“I remember wishing they would get along because no matter what, they were my parents, I still wanted to believe I loved them after all. Our house became so chaotic, I didn’t really want to be there anymore. I avoided it as much as possible by going outside but in the end…”
“...there was nowhere else to go.”
The only time they would speak to me then was to tell me how horrible or messed up I was...how I was no good. I never listened...I was a bad girl...no one needed me... no one would ever want someone like me . That's when I wanted to be the perfect child...I wanted them to see me as perfect...I wanted them to be perfect.
Remembering these things drew her further into that dark place calling to her mind since December began. The air itself around her grew a little more bleak, fuzzy, losing it’s saturation in the wake of her wandering lost eyes. She would never be perfect. Especially not after the things she’s done and her family is gone with not a trace of them left anymore. All she ever does is make the people she cares for suffer . This world , it’s terrible ... I don’t want to be alive anymore . Her hands collapsed on her ears as the sound of the running shower blended like white noise making her atmosphere fall silent. As if that darkness had the ability to suffocate her...
“Well...you’re here now ain’t ya?”
She could feel the sensation of air moving in past her lips with a vivid gasp, a revitalizing breath, while it took a second to seep beneath her skin.
His words cut in, reaching, as if he somehow knew how she was falling. That darkness that tried to cave in her subconscious melted, allowing those precious blue orbs to wander around their apartment as a desperate reminder of where she’s been all this time. Their home is meager, small traces of their existence remain, but she should never forget where she is. Zack was the one who brought her here, just like he pulled her right back from that despair that had a hold on her. She didn't live in that house…
...they aren’t alive, they can’t hurt me anymore.
“Things obviously didn’t end the way you wanted them to...and it’s not like we're livin’ it up or anything...but I uh…”
“I would much rather be here than go back to what I was doin’ before.”
Her mouth opened as she silently gasped, fighting that tightening sensation in her chest. Did he really mean that? A warmth went through her, swelling to her face and her eyes. She knew that question was ridiculous, of course he does...he's Zack.
Ray choked back her rising tide of emotions, responding to him in a shaky breath.
“... me too …”
Even though he could barely hear her the sound of her voice saying those words rang in his ear. He smiled and shut the water off feeling somewhat satisfied by her response.
Her heart was racked with nervousness when she saw him again, all tranquil and ready for bed, still running a towel over his hair. He said he doesn’t very much like touch and she didn’t want to ruin the moment by hugging him but all of a sudden she really wanted to. She watched Zack make his way over to the window, noting the resuming snowfall outside. Knowing Rodger he’ll probably ask some of the residents to take care of this and with his luck he’ll probably be one of them. He’s totally on the old man’s shit list at the moment...that’s going to be a bitch to take care of.
The room was so warm now as they laid down for bed but with all the excitement that started from their playtime in the snow, neither of them were able to wind down enough to sleep. So they were up, staying awake, talking instead. Progressively getting closer as the remaining twilight hours flew by along with the swaying snowflakes dancing aglow outside their window. Firstly laying on their pillows, under their respective blankets, eventually sitting up when they realized they weren’t ready to say goodnight yet. Then when fatigue started to rush back in they laid down close by to one another, no pillows or intent to sleep, but not enough energy to stay upright anymore. Zack had his arms behind his head while he lounged, and Ray folded hers over her stomach, as if she could stop that ever present numbing sensation there. They continued where they left off of course, mostly speaking about trivial things about the past lives they had before they met. Things they never thought they’d share with anyone...and never like this.
Her eyes flickered toward the window.
“Did you used to see the stars a lot?”
Even when he was outside, roaming around the streets, he never had an opportunity to look at the sky, he never thought to. He was so much more wrapped up in other important survival shit, or even killing people, he really didn’t have time. It’s not like he took in the sights or how ‘nice’ stuff was before...
“Nah, I didn’t care about stupid crap like that.”
“Much rather have a roof over my head...don’t have to worry about shitty weather like this.”
“Eventually the weather is going to get nice and the sky is going to clear up so we can see them, if you want to join me I think I’d like to do this outside.”
“You wanna...watch the stars?”
“Mm- I dunno about you but I think I’m camping avoidant after our last trip.”
“We wouldn’t have to go too far, just outside of town so we can avoid the city lights...but if you don’t want to then...I’d rather stay just like this...” She reassured him.
“...I-I didn’t say I didn’t want to.”
“C-Can’t have ya wandering off on your own, ya might get lost or somethin’.”
She smiled a bit thinking about laying on the grass and looking up at the sky instead of the white ceiling. It sounds nice but looking at the weather it doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon. That idea makes her sad. What if they don’t make it together that long? It’s been awhile since she’s thought about the promise. Is that a good or a bad thing…? She doesn’t know but she doesn’t like that fact. At least she knows Zack likes it here and of course she’s been better off but- what about when it all is supposed to end?
They laid down in their makeshift beds after a while, the sun would probably be up soon but they were off from work so neither honestly cared.
He turned to face her.
“Ugh, I don’t know about you but I’m sick of sleepin’ on the floor.”
“It is a little uncomfortable. Mm…”
She stood up and shifted her pillow closer, plopping the item so his and hers could be side by side before turning off the light. He gave her a suspicious glance.
“I-Is it too close?”
They settled back in bed, the night sky slipping in through the window illuminating their room. Whatever time it was Zack was having trouble keeping his eyes open, it was almost sunrise soon, had to be.
“I have another question...last one for tonight.”
He shook his head and nearly laughed.
“You always say that. Well, what do ya wanna know?”
It’s true that she had one more question. One that wouldn’t thoroughly kill the peaceful mood they had going on, but it was about to come close.
“Zack…have you thought about how you’re going to kill me?”
She seemed adamant about it, almost...not angry but maybe a little bit. He probably should have expected it at some point, it’s not like they’ve talked about it and his thoughts have been really on point about avoiding it.
“ How ? That’s a weird thing to ask.”
Does it really matter how he does it? Other than a few moments where killing her crossed his mind in the past he didn’t think about it much. After what happened to her...when the Doctor almost killed her, imagining her dead made him feel like trash. Even when they were in the woods that shit was like torture so especially then he actively tried to stop doing it all together. Who even does stuff like dwell on the shit that hurts you? Masochists freaking do.
“So you haven’t? I figured with how easily you’ve done it before-”
“ What , have you been getting some like fucked up fantasy about it, Ray?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
Her change of tone diffused things a bit.
“You’re such a creep , hold on...”
He sighed and wedged upwards a little so he could see her, propping himself up on his elbow and leaning his face against his palm.
If he had to choose, how would he do it? Normally a clean slice through the torso with his scythe is more than enough to do the job so there usually isn’t much to think about. This is a whole different thing though. Slicing through Ray...the neck or...the heart maybe? Something occurred to him then, a realization that he’s never really given much consideration to before. Killing her like that...it’s going to hurt, right? He felt silly even posing the question- idiot , obviously dying is definitely going to hurt. She’ll die either way so maybe this thing he’s mulling over is stupid, maybe there’s nothing that he can do at all. But if he can, he’d want to do it in a way where she wouldn’t have to suffer, some way she could go out feeling the least amount of pain. It doesn’t surprise him that this is the only time the thought ever crossed his mind where it wasn’t purely experimental. He’s thought about how he’s killed people before or figured out the best or easiest ways to do it over the years. Mostly by practice . In the end he usually defaulted to whatever was the most fun!
With Ray though...he’d do a specific kind of death, like a mercy killing, one where the lights would be out quick.
Something he’d reserve only for her...
Imagining her expression going from the smile he conjured up for her to one of pain made his heart hesitate to play it out, his mind wavered there as he went quiet, staring intently at her chest.
If he...did do it, he guessed that would be the best spot. A stab to the heart. Ray would lose consciousness pretty quick that way and then she’d bleed out the rest.
Her eyes were trained on him, his sight, and she followed along his gaze until she figured out his train of thought. Delicately her fingers trailed to that spot, eventually finding its home over her steady stream of beats.
Her eyes slowly closed, leaving this world behind, allowing Zack to dissolve beyond the darkness of her eyelids as she focused on the rhythmic feel of her heart and the warmth it gave her thinking about it. In that hollow place beneath her eyelids all at once his expression when he held the scythe to her neck that night in the woods began to play, finding its way to the foreground and banishing all else. Her memories caused that warmth she had to quickly fade, replacing it with an ever confusing state of despair. It consumed her and her features tembled...leaving her to wonder if the idea made her happy...or sad. Her eyes slowly opened back up, focusing her attention back on him with a look that seemed so unsure, expression unnerved, somber .
In that moment, the gaze they shared was one in the same.
He didn’t say another word, scowling a bit then turned away from her, facing the wall with the window. His hand clutched at that spot where his heart was in an attempt to stop this awful crawling sensation there. The idea was making his chest physically hurt, like he’d somehow be stabbing himself there too.
What’s wrong with me…?
She didn’t need to be sorry, he should be able to readily answer something like that...even if he can’t. He refused to move from his spot, thoroughly ruined by her stupid question.
“Then you should stop askin’ me crap like that.”
It’s not going to change what will happen anyway. There was a small sliver of himself that was hoping she could be sympathetic, she wasn’t though.
“I’m still waiting for you to kill me-”
The way she said that, is she trying to imply he's taking too long? He was just as frustrated as she was. It's more complicated than he thought it would be, that's all. Maybe if she would stop messing around they might actually get it done. He thought about that...nah, the one who’s been fucking around about it was him, he should be doing more to help her or something.
"That parts a given!”
He huffed and span back around
“I know I will and I still want to when ya make a better face, but-”
He trailed off when he saw her face, those sleepy eyes of his careening for some spot on her pillow before coming back, he leaned closer and caught her gaze.
“Ray...what about the shit were doin’ right fuckin’ now? Y’know, this …?"
Being together, enjoying each other’s company, actually giving a fuck. The whole thing! Even when they were out there playing and laughing there was something going on there but it sure as fuck wasn’t the need to kill her. Her eyes went wide as if she was trying to figure out exactly what he meant by that...then it fell into something more soft and somber. She wasn’t feeling sad she thinks, she just didn’t know how else to process the things suddenly coursing through her.
"I know that I’ve said it before but whenever I think about what we need to do until then the only thing that ever crosses my mind is…”
Her hand reached out, the side of it and her fingers tentatively touching his own, as if she could somehow make him understand exactly what it was that she was feeling. Deep down a part of her hoped he could.
“...as long as we're together it doesn't make much difference to me, Zack..."
Ribbons of light shone in through the window, breaking over the horizon, illuminating her face and the slight emotion she had playing in those blue eyes of hers. Apprehensive and weak, tired and...something else. Something that he didn’t really recognize, like she desired more from him. The air grew heavy- like it was all being sucked right out of his lungs, and he wished he knew what it was she was asking of him. All he knew was that her gaze was unfamiliar and he’s maybe seen it before but...towards him? No, no one else ever has. The words hit him next in the moments that followed and he found himself asking what the hell it was he wanted from all of this? Who would ever want to stay together with someone like him? To be real, it’s not like he isn’t enjoying her company, but he’s not a nice or good person. Not only that…
She wants to die, she wants them to stay together, she wants to be close to him, she wants to keep away. The things she says and does never make sense and he didn’t even know what to do with it.
But really, he was afraid to think that everything happening is only because she wants to die.
He pulled away from her and laid down on his back, covering his eyes with his hand.
“I don’t know how the fuck you manage to say shit like that with such a straight face…!”
He started to laugh, mocking the tension, he did it so hard he was tearing up in the corners of his eyes.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t think there was anything wrong with what I said...”
He turned and grabbed the hand that was touching his only moments ago.
“ Are you nuts !? There was tons wrong with it!”
“You asked what we’re doing now-”
“Yeah! We're wastin’ time and I’m not any closer to doin’ it! How long are ya plannin’ on stayin’ with me, anyway!?”
Her face flushed, not sure how to react to that. She didn’t think she would be alive now so staying with him long term wasn’t something that ever crossed her mind.
“W-What…? H-How long?”
He realized then he let some of his inner musings out into the open, he tried not to trip over himself in an attempt to make it less awkward. He was planning to talk to her about this at some point anyway, maybe not now- too late to take it back I guess .
“I-It wasn’t a weird question or anything! We have a deal and we’re out of that building already and you still can’t even give me a real smile!”
”I don’t know if ya noticed but that’s kind of a problem for me. I’m fine with stayin’ here, but you’re the one who wants to die. Unless you wanna stick around forever - you need to be happy, right?”
That thought made her very nervous and all of a sudden her face was burning hotter than it had since they got here. It occurred to her that she definitely can’t let that happen. What if Zack wants to move on with his life? Or...wants a family or something? He probably wouldn’t but what difference does that make? He has that right and the promise would have him stuck to her...forever. All of a sudden that made her really guilty. She should probably start seriously helping him so he can take care of himself.
“...I-I’m not sure I know how to be happy and I know I’m still really bad at smiling. I think part of it is because I want to help set you up so you don’t need me anymore. I’m not sure if I can manage to give you the smile you want until I’m definitely finished, until I’m sure you’ll be okay.”
“ Is that so? ”
The answer to why he’s been so frustrated about this whole thing seems stupid obvious to him now. He’s always thinking that if she smiles he’d be able to do it, if she’s happy that’s all it’ll take. Turns out he’s going to need to get off his ass and make that happen because no one else is going to do it for her. He needs to speed this shit along, he needs to fix her lifeless expression, he needs to. Else at this rate he may as well be lying to her face.
“Y’know what, you do what ya want, Ray. Fix me up so I can go off the grid, out of the country, whatever the fuck your plan is for me and I’ll worry about fixin’ that borin’ expression of yours...”
“ What ?”
He buried his head in his pillow and got more comfortable, done with this whole ordeal and itching for sleep to take him. He hauled her hand in closer to his chest so it would be easier to sleep while holding it. She came along with him just a bit, shifting her spot near the edge of her pillow in one swift motion, wondering what it was he meant. The warmth of the sun coming into their room was doing it’s magic on all of his muscles. He didn’t know how long he could stay up at this rate.
He gave her a sleepy smile, not paying her any mind while he struggled to keep his amber eyes open.
“...I don’t lie and I sure as hell haven’t given up…”
“Ray- I’m gonna do whatever it takes to put a stupid grin on your face. I’ll make you happy if I gotta...if it’s the last thing I friggin’ do…”
He trailed off and his smile went soft as a tired sigh fell from his lips.
“...might...need more snowballs to get it done though, a truck full...maybe two...”
He let out a light chuckle as his body went undone and she could feel the moment his fingers twitched and then loosened their grip on her own. He must have been really tired- her heart wouldn’t stop pounding...
...I’ll make you happy...
She couldn’t move or speak, too overwhelmed by what he said that she wasn’t able to pull herself away. His expression looked so at peace she didn’t want to . Those words were all it took, their back and forth exchange here, to make Rachel decide she won’t be asking him about the promise anymore. He still wants to do this for her and she believes he’ll do it when he’s ready...even after all the things she’s put him through, even though it's difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the way that it makes him feel but, he still has a smile, he still wants to. Her face and body seemed as if they were melting into the floor, a serene sensation that brought her peace as her lips curled up- she was content. Her head edged closer, only daring to move so far that it was touching the edge of his pillow and laced their fingers together. She wanted to take in the warmth his smile gives without having to strain her neck, this way she wont lose sight of him while her tired body shuts down.
Ray thought then, succumbing to slumber steeped in the soft sunlight by his side, that maybe there are some things in this world, things beside the fresh fallen snow that are perfect- and the things that aren’t, the things that may never be…
They...can be beautiful too .