Part Of The Pack


joaquin_icon.gif roxie_icon.gif

Scene Title Part of the Pack
Synopsis Worried about Roxie, Joaquin goes looking for her just outside of Providence. Two very different people become official friends.
Date February 18, 2020

Somewhere outside of Providence

In a small field outside of Providence, the snow enhanced silence is broken by the crunch of boots in a fresh dusting of snow and a shout of surprise. This is where Roxie had said she’d be holing up while in Providence. A house half collapsed at the edge of a small field. Not the best living conditions, but the smartest, who would think someone was living there.

It’s been a few years since Joaquin had stepped foot outside of the Safe Zone, but Roxie had vanished following her run in with the police and the news her brother was in town. All her stuff was gone and a small bag of dog food. Left behind was a note that thanked him for allowing her to stay and hoping that she didn’t bring her troubles to his door.

So here he was… in the snow, in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, what he might not have expected was to be staring at an arrow buried into the trunk next to his head, watching how it still vibrated from the impact.

Goddamn it, Joaquin!

The familiar voice of his friend yells at him from behind thick brush, before an angry Roxie pushes through, followed closely by a happily yapping Goober. The branches snagging at the coat she wears and messy hair, leaving a few leaves tangled in dark strands. “What the fuck are you doing out here? I could have killed you.” Reaching up with the intent to yank the arrow out of the tree while still glaring at him like it was his fault.

In truth, Roxie was furious at herself. She’s been wound up since finding out her brother was in town and she had acted before thinking. Her heart sank into her stomach as she let loose the arrow, only to have it just miss. Thank god. “You shouldn’t be out here. What if it wasn’t me that found you? Plenty of wolves and bears out here. Not to mention bad guys and old mines.”

At Joaquin’s feet, Goober’s butt was in full swing in his joy to see his pack mate. Tongue lolling to one side he stares up at the young man, giving some focalization to his happiness.

Surprise arrows near one's face is definitely not what one wants to come by when feeling lost in the wilderness. Joaquin's yelp practically matches pitch with Goober's excited bark, and it's quickly cut by the backwards slip and crash of the young man into the snow. Arms wheel and there's a twist of his body to protect his pack because there's a guitar strapped to the top of it. But that means Joaquin lands mostly on his elbows and rolled side, smashing a sleeved forearm into mud and dirty grass.

That impromptu stop, drop, and roll doesn't put out the verbal fire slung his way, though. Joaquin pushes back his dark hoodie to reveal his face, thus confirming Roxie's fear of what she'd almost done. "O-old mines?" He echoes the last part of the list, confusion about the threat of those further evidence of his unfamiliarity with that particular danger. "Well you left so abruptly, and I- I got worried," he starts to protest as he staggers back up to a knee. Goober's joyful waggles earn a quirked smile and between-ear head scratches.

"So um, anyway," Joaquin levers himself back up, slapping away some snow pack. He looks around, then back to Roxie. The words drop off for a beat as he gathers himself while still coming down from that near-death experience. "Where's your… house?"

Yes. Old mines from the Civil fucking War,” Roxie growls out in irritation, grabbing at the back of his jacket to help him up. “You are the last person I want to see splattered all over the damn ground.”

The worry he expresses over Roxie’s disappearance, however, has surprise chipping at the edges of her anger. Cooling it enough that her words lose some of that bite. “You got my note right?”

In his defense, it had been a slip of paper torn off an envelope left under a magnet on the fridge. The note had simply read, ‘Leaving. Don’t follow.’ Not the best note, even her writing was more like that of a kindergartener, thanks to years of barely any schooling.

“I told you not to come after me.” The arrow is shoved into the belt quiver, with a rattle. Roxie lips press into a line, before she sighs heavily through her nose. “I left to protect you and Emily from my brother and his freak-hating buddies.” Even as she lectures him, the girl turns to retrace her footsteps, Goober bounding out ahead of them with a happy bark.

When Roxie does turn her back on him, Joaquin finds a scrawny pair of head hares slung behind her. More importantly, she’s leading him right to the collapsed house. A large section of it just ruble and what what’s left leans over at an odd angle.

How could that be safe?

“Come on,” Roxie murmurs, moving to climb through an open window.

Joaquin adjusts his pack, checking on the encased guitar externally, then satisfied with its lack of damage swings it back onto his shoulder. He might not think much on the idea that he could have been in bits and pieces somewhere in a dark hole at this point; hopeful naivete continues to slip through even as he adds, "I did get the note. But hey nobody so far's ever accused me of a lack of follow-ups. So I don't plan on starting that bad habit."

He does exactly so, following behind Roxie by a couple paces. The stare at her back drops down to the hanging hares, and it's a good thing she is ahead. He still hides the slight balk and blanched pallor, long enough that he recovers.

The recovery is short-lived when he looks up to see the ramshackle… shed that might pass for a house before them that she deems a sanctuary. His eyes take in the state of the roof and three-and-a-half walls, his brow creasing with uncertainty. "Are you sure," he starts to say as she's climbing, "sure that's safe?"

Where's the door? The door is, oh. That's the half-a-wall collapsing under rotting drywall and weathered wood, judging by the leaning frame. Joaquin then glances down to Goober, sharing a concerned look with the dog before he steps up to the open window. His gear goes in first, followed by the lanky young man clambering through.

"How did you even find your way back here," he wonders aloud, standing centrally in the space and rubbing at his arms in self-soothing gesture. The roof gets another eyeful, then his gaze drops back to Roxie.

The question gets a shrug. “I’ve been doing this for… well, since the fucking war began, I guess. I mean, who the fuck is going to look in a place like this?” The pack is swung off her back and deposited on the ground with a clank of cans. The bow is treated much more lovingly as she sets it down, dropping the arrows that she had next to it. Their fletching wasn’t even a consistent color, clearly picked up here and there in her travels.

Looking around, he’ll find a sleeping roll, a pile of wood, set up next to a chimney that has seen better days, but still well used. Looking up there is a definite hole in the roof, but luckily away from where the woman sleeps. Goober flops on the bedding and rolls on it, rubbing his face and sneezing. “Goob! You’re getting it muddy!” Roxie admonishes him, only to get a happy look as he rolls on his back, mouth wide and tongue lolled out.

Fire? The dog asks when he stops, sprawled out on his side, with only his head lifting to look her way.

The rabbits in her hands are not her first, a few pelts are rolled up against the wall. Ready for trading. Her current kills are hung up on a nail that probably once held a photograph, freeing her up to work on a fire.

Roxie twists a look back over her shoulder at Joaquin, not exactly proud of her home, her mood somewhat subdued. “It works for what I need.” A place to hide. Attention is returned to stacking wood in the fireplace and lighting it. After smoke starts to curl over it, she sits back on her haunches and watches. “And right now, I need to damn well figure out what to do next, without fucking risking people.” Which meant him… and Emily. It also clearly states she hasn’t figured that out yet. Boots scrap on the wood flooring as she twists again to look at her friend. “You realize just being here and talking to me means you could potentially have been a target, if Roman knows I’m in the area?” Roxie’s eyes shift to the window, watchful. “And if these Earthers are like my family was, don’t fucking matter what’s in your veins, if they think you care about me.”

"Nobody," says Joaquin in mild agreement to the notion that should anybody come looking in here for residents, they'd be… "Kind of loco" is the muttered under breath finish. He huffs a sigh and sheds his own pack similarly against a sturdier wall and bites back an amused chuckle at the antics of Goober's roll around. Roxie's admonishment reminds Joaquin of his own appearance. He glances down to his muddy boots and dirt pocked pant legs. The urge to reach down and rub off the smudges gets stifled.

Instead, Joaquin clears his throat and has a proper look around in the dim light. The fur pelts, the hung up animals, her newest additions soon to join them. He joins her in silent support of her effort to light a flame, inwardly amazed by the fact that the fireplace holds up. But it makes sense she'd have chosen a hiding spot with a working fireplace, if nothing else actually does within the structure. Folding down to a sit, he turns over her words as well. "I don't doubt that," he notes with a long sigh of breath. "But, you know you can't control that risk very much out here any better than you could control the weather." He purses his lips tighter, withholding commentary due to indecision and not wanting to launch into brutal honesty yet.

Fingers pick away at slow drying mud. "We… We all have blood in our veins." It's meant to be stubborn, sarcastic even, but Joaquin's tone falls short of the latter attempt. He looks back over to her, sympathy and thoughtfulness intermixing. Wiping his fingertips on a clean part of his pant leg, Joaquin pushes himself back up to stand, moving back to his pack of supplies.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Roxie - I do care about you." Joaquin starts extracting things from the pack: a small size sauce pan, three bottles of water, a sheathed knife, and a clear plastic baggie of herbs and spices labeled with Sharpie "KFC#23" The pan is loaded up and he comes back over to the fireside, standing by her and looking down. "I mean, you're out here hiding because you want to protect us, I get that. But what are we supposed to do, if we want to protect you? You don't have to be alone. After all that you've been through."

He reaches out his hand, not to help her up but to indicate he wants the rabbits on her belt. Dinner, he’s got it.

Her nose wrinkles when Joaquin talks about caring and protecting, Roxie wasn’t good at emotions. Even if the whole reason she’s out there was for that very reason. She cared about the few friends she’s made. That might be why she’s really wrinkling her nose. “Alone means you don’t have to see people you like die,” she finally murmurs under her breath adding a few more branches to the crackling fire.

The hand held out catches Roxie attention, pulling her eyes first to it and then to the pan with an arched brow before unhooking the rabbits and offering them over. “Careful of the pelts.” Roxie knew better than to turn down a prepared meal, cause it might be awhile til the next. “I can normally get a couple of bucks or trade for some eggs n’ shit.”

Goober watches it all with interest, head resting on grimy paws.

Roxie drops to fully sit on the wood floor, legs folded before her and elbows resting on her knees. Even though the place was a dump, the portion of the house she occupied at least seemed cared for. It was homey in its way. “You really don’t want to get mixed up in all this shit, Joaquin. These are bad people.” There is a distracted way about her, lost in thought as she watches the growing flames.

The soft glow of the fire makes it impossible for her to hide the painful emotions. “Fuck, man…. I had really hoped Roman got away from all that shit. It was supposed to be a better government and system.” It doesn’t seem to be occurring to her that… in a sense… the system failed her, too.

Rabbits received, Joaquin responds with a short huffed breath to her caution. Still, he nods. He'll be careful. The processing of the rabbit goes relatively quickly once he finds a decent flat surface - the back of the sauce pan - to rest the carcass as he makes quick, steady cuts. It's here he demonstrates an experience, a skill, and no squeamish stomach compared to other times he's appeared to be more delicate. Not so when he's working with the knife blade.

"I think it's still better than what it was," Joaquin chimes in gently, halfway matching her distanced tone with his own. "And I don't know about your experience but. Bad people are always going to be around anyway." He sighs softly at that, finishing the point with a crunchy crack of thin ribs as he cleans out the rabbit.

Guess what, Goober? You get dibs on the soft and squishy parts. Joaquin dangles a bit of the organs out with an enticing tongue click. Hey, it's not dry kibble this time.

"What happened? I mean. What do you think happened? After you, uh, after you left the home?" He turns back a glance to the girl, head angling as he seasons.

Roxie just shakes her head at the question as she watches the flame grow; she didn’t know. “I can only guess,” she sounds miserable and bitter. “I guess he’d drank more the of the mother fucking Kool Aid then I thought.”

Goober is all too happy to relieve Joaquin of some yummy goodies, dragging the viscera off to a corner to enjoy. Not even his human’s sour mood will stop him.

It is clear that Roxie is lost in thought, fingers playing with the slightly longer lengths of hair on the top of her head. “Fuck.” The word is very suddenly and vemenantly spit out, that same hand slaps hard on the floor under her with a meaty smack. “I turned in the group to protect him. To save him.” Head falling forward, Roxie combs fingers through oil strands. “I got our parents hanged and put a target on my back to give him a chance, so he wouldn’t become one of them.” A grimace scrunches of her face as something prickles at the back of her eyes.

“I was too slow, Joaquin. I was too -fucking- slow.” Roxie rubs the heel of her palm hard against her eye, looking at it in confusion when it comes away wet.

Joaquin jumps a little at the sudden smack of noise, but holds steady after. "I'm sorry," he trails off, finishing the seasoning and slice and dice motions of cutting up what is eventually to become dinner, appetizers started already with Goober. It's the bit of distraction he needs to not focus on the invisibly growing knot of distress as she mentions the fate of her parents, the seeming same predestination of her brother. The pan gets set over the fire to heat, and he watches the licking flames for a moment before turning back to her.

He picks at the knot with a quiet tone, seeking to disentangle them from it. "It's not your fault, though. Your parents, they… they chose fear. I'm just sorry that they didn't get the chance to really see the world starting to come around." He slowly works on zipping the spices bag shut with a knuckle. "But you're wrong; you're not slow. You did everything you thought you could. You did give your brother that chance. You just…"

Pursing his lips tight, Joaquin glances away and blinks at some of the stinging along the edge of his eyes too. A quiet, heavy sigh huffs from him as he turns back to her, stares steadily and says, "You've still got a lot of shit to learn, Roxie. The world's different than what you knew, but that's nothing to be afraid of. So… So don't you give up and don't you run away from it." He swallows thickly, sets down the knife in his hand, and reaches out to draw the girl into a hug.

Human contact like that is not something that Roxie has a lot of experience with. So when Joaquin tries to hug her, the young woman flinches away startled. Hands come up out of instinct as if to ward off a blow. “The fu—!” But there is none.

Of course, as soon as she reacts, Roxie immediately feels like an asshole when she realizes he was just trying to make her feel better. Scooting a touch away from him, she looks nervous. “Sorry,” she says quietly, looking so guilty. “I didn’t mean —”

Her reaction startles the dog who drops a length of intestine he’d been chewing on. A worried whine escapes the dog and he slinks forward. However, it isn’t Roxie that Goober goes to. With ears back and body low, he slips over to press against Joaquin’s side, soulful eyes turned up at him. It was like he was apologizing for her reaction.

“I won’t blame you for leaving,” Roxie finally breaths out after calming her nerves. “I’d deserve it really.” It was a shitty thing she did… even if it wasn’t intentional. “I… I haven’t had a real friend for a very long time and you startled me,” she quietly admits, fingers rubbing at the woven bracelets on one of her wrists.

The protracted swear and flinch screech Joaquin's forward movement to a halt as invisible emergency brakes deploy. A confusion seeps into his expression, but it doesn't take him long to register her nervousness. It fizzles away as Goober's soft whine and then soft form and eyes reach him. He glances down. A hand that retracts back closer diverts so he can pet the pup, but that action also halts when he sees the ichor on the fingertips.

"Oh no, I, um," Joaquin stammers a bit, shakes his head, and reaches for one of the half empty bottled waters to splash some of the liquid onto his hand and rinse it. "Urk… I'm sorry that was kind of gross, huh?" If he means the unexpected physical contact or the rabbit remains on his hands, is somewhat unclear. He eventually settles on both. But Roxie's apology lifts his gaze back to her and he shakes his head again dismissing it. "It's okay," he says as he summons up a small, genuine lopsided smile. "I should have asked first. Should have let you choose." That's what they were just talking about, after all. Choices.

In light of an attempt to assuage her worries, Joaquin dries off the freshly rinsed hand on his pant leg and instead holds it out to her, knuckles fisted. "Here. Try this one instead? A fist bump," he encourages her. A second glance cuts briefly to Goober. Joaquin waggles up a brow. Will she understand? With this offering, he hopes she’ll see his true intention of friendship. “I’m not going to leave,” he adds with a look back to the girl. “Unless you really do want to go looking for me in the bottom of a dark mine hole in the morning or something.” Joaquin laughs quietly. Nervously.

The fist held out gets an arched brow, she might know… but she doesn’t engage it yet. He can see the guilt still there from ducking away and the flush of her cheeks. “It’s okay,” she says with only mild annoyance, lips pressing together briefly, before she sighs out the irritation.

Roxie looks down where she fidgets at the bracelets on her wrist and swallows. Hooking a thumb into one of them, she works it loose. “Like I’ve said. I have a lot to fucking learn about trust and friends. Goober thinks you’re good for me, tho.”

Quietly, Roxie works one of the bracelets off her wrist and loops it over his outstretched fist to settle it on his wrist. “I made this… I think it’s the first one, actually. When you are alone like me, you find things to keep you busy.” Gingerly, she pulls at two knots and tightens it a bit. It’s a simple thing. Made of a variety of colors, not at all complimenting, it looks a bit more worn than the others, maybe a bit dingy.

“There,” she murmurs after a moment and then gently presses her own closed fist to his and holds it there for a second. “A found thing for a found friend and an apology for being a crap friend myself.”

Goober gives a bark of approval after sniffing at the trinket and Roxie can’t help but laugh. “He…uh…” she scratches at the side of her head, watching the dog go after his food again “…says you are now an official part of the pack… but with less words.”

Roxie’s nose wrinkles at her own corniness and the corniness of the moment. “So help me if you try to fucking hug me, again, I will punch you in the arm… even if I won’t blame you.”

Joaquin keeps the fist out as she debates. As awkward as the gesture may feel the longer he's left hanging, there's nobody else to play third-party judge but the dog. Just as he's about to consider retracting, though, he stays still as she loops the freed bracelet from her wrist on to his and finally completes the bump. His head tilts to a side, and then he pulls his hand back to him to look down at the friendship bracelet. His thumb runs over the textured bumps as he studies the colors.

When Goober barks, the noise startles him out of his momentary reverie. With the 'less words' but explanation, Joaquin smiles slowly, the expression warming over his features. Brown eyes seem to glimmer a little bit more wetly in the firelight. He starts to lean forward, weight shifting, up until he receives that second warning in reminder. "Right, right," he utters as he sits back more flatly, gaze averting in classic acceptance of boundaries given.

His fingers touch at the friendship bracelet again, and he smiles. "Thank you," Joaquin says after a sidelong glance to both Goober and Roxie. If there was more to say on it, the words disappear into the sound of the pot of rabbit stew beginning to simmer over the fire. "Few more minutes," he informs the other pair with a gentle stir of the pot. "Then it'll be soup's on."

Joaquin turns to attend to it, letting the moment slip into something more present, more peaceful with the makeshift pack together.

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