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Following the backroads, the four of them made it past the city limits and towards a small suburban area. The further they went the more life took the concrete; the empty city of ash becoming but a small cluster of buildings shrouded out by the green behind them. A neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses sprouted up in their path. Each building almost identical to the last. The same four windows and the same beige color. It was funny because they all seemed to be in a similar state of decay as well. Each one cracked and crumbled corresponding with the next one over. Even the apocalypse couldn’t destroy the nightmare of sameness that subdivisions seemed to strive for. Two trees were planted in each house’s lawn; now the trees were overgrown and towering above the rooftops. The leaves creating a thick canopy that hung over the weed-ridden road they walked across.
James didn’t even realize he had fallen to his knees until Bear’s voice broke through his train of thought; or more accurately, his lack thereof. He had felt like he was on a ship since they left the city. Everything moved around him while his focus was kept on putting one foot in front of the other. But now he was on the ground, heaving desperate breaths of air.
He blinked open his eyes to see Rose was now squatting down in front of him. James watched her pull back his jacket to see his bloodstained shirt. Shifting focus, Rose took two fingers and touched the skin on his forehead around the cut, just away from the bruising that had turned purple by now.
Bear held Kobu beside her as Rose examined James; the dog whining to get closer. James blinked again at Rose, his breaths still a tired wheeze.
“Here,” her voice was soft as she reached one arm under James’ shoulder and helped him up to his feet.
He walked alongside Rose as she lead him towards one of the houses. James heard her shout something at Bear but he was too tired to make any sense of it. The pounding still echoed inside his skull.
Before James realized it, they were inside. They moved down the hallway into where the living room would be. A hole in the roof allowed creeper plants to spill inside, creating a curtain between the entrance and the large room. Rose helped James down on the floor, leaning his back against a shredded couch behind him. James groaned until his head was against the couch cushions. From there he let out another hard sigh and closed his eyes.
Faded orders were thrown from Rose’s mouth along with the sound of shuffling. James wasn’t sure how long his eyes were closed until he opened them again. His jacket had been shrugged off and shirt had been pulled back away from the wound. The soaked wrapping from before had also been removed from his side. James blinked a moment before spotting Rose threading something through a needle.
“Will this work?” Bear appeared beside her holding out a large bottle of whiskey; her grip struggling to keep up the weight of it.
“Perfect.” Rose took the bottle from her as she set down the needle. Delicately, she took off the glass lid of the whiskey and turned back to James. “Here, drink.”
“What are you doing?” He grunted, trying to pull himself up.
“Closing your wound.” She nodded, extending the bottle out to him. “Drink.”
James paused before taking it from her hands. The amber liquid inside the glass made a sloshing sound as he raised it to his mouth. James winced at the strong flavor once it hit his pallet. He gave it a couple more sips before handing the bottle back.
A sudden stinging burn shot out from James side, forcing his tired eyes to fling open again. His teeth gritted together as he looked down to see Rose pouring the whiskey over his wound.
“Sorry,” she shrugged. “I should’ve warned you.”
James let out a grunt as Rose raised the bottle up to her own lips, taking a swig before placing it beside her. She wiped her mouth and then picked back up the needle, leaning over him.
She stopped at his voice, turning back to him.
“Give it to me.” James nodded.
Rose scoffed. “You gonna stitch yourself up?”
He held his hand flat out to her.
Rose chuckled before shaking her head, putting the needle in his hand.
“What is this?” James frowned as he looked over the stiff milky green thread looped through it’s eye.
“Dental floss. The doctor had all our actual supplies but that’ll work. Promise.”
James glanced over it a moment longer before turning down to the stab wound, pulling his shirt up to his chin so it was easier to see. Luckily, most of the stitches were still intact. The wound hadn’t been a large one, but an extremely painful, bloody one. But even with the ones still holding, a good chunk of the gash would still need to be restitched. He bent down, gripping the needle in his shaking hand. James then froze, the tip hovering over his skin. A few seconds ticked by as Rose watched him, arms crossed.
She tilted her head to the side. “You alright?”
“Yeah.” He muttered back.
“Do you need another drink?”
James kept the needle hovering over the wound as she watched with a bit of amusement in her eyes.
Finally, James let out a huff, turning away from Rose and handing the needle back to her. She grinned, taking it in her hand as he leaned against the couch once again. Rose lightly placed one hand on his bare chest as the other focused on the stitching. James tightly gripped the edge of his shirt once she began. He flinched a bit, keeping his eyes clamped shut as she worked. A few painful pricks went by and finally, she was done. James opened his eyes to see her pull out a cloth rag from her backpack.