A/N: This was written to be my entry for the Saudade prompt during Janther Week, but for logistical reasons I had to wait to post it. I suppose that means it's not an "official" entry to Janther Week, but in any case, here it is, better late than never. As with all the Janther Week prompts, my interpretation was somewhat loose. Mostly what I took away from this one was a sense of longing for someone who has been... removed from you.
Modern AU. This is a companion piece to The Sellsword, which was co-authored by lareepqg and myself. The events of this 2-chapter ficlet fall in between the last chapter and the epilogue of that story (which is why I had to wait to post it.) This will probably not make a whole hell of a lot of sense to you unless you've read that one first. It's a free country and all, but just sayin'.
The demogorgon shirt still smells like her.
He sees it trailing over the footboard of his bed – it had very quickly become her favorite piece of loungewear when staying at his place – and he picks it up, fisting his hand in the well-worn material and raising it to his face.
Closing his eyes and inhaling her scent.
He doesn't cry, though. He hasn't cried since Pepper sent him home, standing her ground against him in a way that no one (except Jane) ever does; insisting that he go and get some rest, that he's not doing himself, or Jane, or anyone else for that matter, any favors in his current half-conscious, half-delirious state.
So he'd come back here, defeated, for the first time in nearly a week – after making her promise, and promise again, to contact him immediately should there be any change.
Any change at all.
And he's been drifting aimlessly through the rooms of his own home like a ghost, unable to eat, unable to sleep, unable in any meaningful way even to think – but he hasn't cried. Not since stepping out of the elevator into his foyer.
Not, in point of fact, since it happened.
What he's feeling, this utter, soul-deep desolation, goes beyond tears. Miles beyond.
No, he isn't weepy. Not remotely.
Without Jane, he's just… a shell.
He wanders through the spacious rooms of an abode that, for all its impressive square-footage, had never felt too big to him before…
Before Jane had entered his life like a flame-topped whirlwind, uninvited, unlooked for, but oh so desperately needed – and changed everything.
Are you my… my prostitute?
He groans aloud. What he would give to hear her say those ridiculous words now. What he would give to hear her say anything, anything.
It feels too big now, this space, cavernous and echoing, as empty as he is – well no, not quite. Not that empty.
He ignores dozens of phone calls and texts from friends and family members – his aunts are especially persistent – only glancing at his phone's screen to make sure it isn't Pepper before hitting decline.
Passing through the main living space, he sees a pair of her tennis shoes left carelessly in front of the sofa. Probably toed off at some point during the last time they had… well.
So small, they're so small, not even as long as the span of his hand, and how… how can such life-altering wonderfulness be contained in such a diminutive package? He stares at them for a moment, suddenly unable to breathe, his chest as painful and constricted as if he'd just been kicked there.
Without any rational thought at all, he stoops and picks one up, then wanders on.
He ends up in the fencing room, of course. It's her favorite room of the entire apartment –
And because it's her favorite, now it's his too.
She has… colored every aspect of his life… arrowed past his defenses, burrowed under his skin, into his mind, into his heart… changed his opinions on matters both large and small, right down to his favorite room in his own home. Changed his priorities, his perspective, his… she's made him more, better, than he was before. A better man.
It had happened fast, but it had happened completely. And if he loses her, he loses all of that.
It'll destroy him.
Algernon must have known that, and Gunther wonders distantly which one of them he'd really been trying to kill.
Probably both of them – one directly, the other by extension – because Algernon never does anything by halves. And who's to say he hasn't succeeded?
He runs his hand along the foils nestled in their rack, the sneaker and the tee-shirt still dangling from his other fist. He thinks distantly of Linus, the little cartoon boy who trails his security blanket behind him everywhere he goes.
Right now he's trailing her running shoe, the shirt that was the last thing she wore before… before they got dressed and went out and… he's clutching these small talismans because they're all he can put his hands on at the moment. But the larger truth is that Jane is his security blanket.
He needs her. Oh holy shit, he needs her so Christing much.
Completely overcome, his legs go out from under him. He slides down the wall to sit hard on the glossy wood floor. He brings up his knees, drapes the shirt over them, then buries his face in it, in the protected little Jane-scented space it makes. Setting the shoe gently down beside him, he laces his hands together on top of his head, fingers tangling in his unkempt hair, and just…
Tries to breathe. She'd want him to breathe.
His head had been spinning when he'd stepped off Dragon onto the curb outside his building. It always spun right after a ride on Jane's bike, even though they'd been together almost six months now and this was no longer a new experience. He went out with her often enough, in fact, that he'd invested in his own helmet and leathers.
Still – he'd never lost the rush he associated with his very first ride, snugged up behind Jane, arms wrapped tightly around her waist. It's the best feeling in the world, she'd told him the night they'd met, the next best thing to flying – and she'd been right.
It was absolutely intoxicating.
He'd removed his helmet and pushed up her visor; she'd still had one leg thrown over the bike, Dragon purring gently beneath her. "Come upstairs," he'd urged her, not ready to say goodbye.
He was never ready to say goodbye.
He never will be.
She'd smiled - he couldn't see her mouth at the moment, but could tell by the way it had crinkled her eyes - but she'd given her head a little shake. "Meeting Pepper for a late lunch," she'd said, her voice slightly muffled by her dark green helmet. "I could be persuaded to drop back by your dork hole tonight, though… if you ask nicely."
Grinning, he'd angled his head severely to the side and pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose through the window where her visor had been. "You know you can't resist the lure of the dork hole," he'd teased. "I'll see you in a bit. Be safe." And he'd pulled the visor back down into place.
She'd pressed a gloved hand briefly to his cheek in farewell, then kicked off from the curb, taking advantage of a rare break in traffic.
He'd stood there, watching; he always watched her out of sight when she was on Dragon, because GodDAMN she was a thing of beauty on that bike – and so he'd seen everything.
The white Lexus had come gunning out of the little service alley between Gunther's building and the next, angling directly for Jane, and he'd known in that instant, known absolutely, who was at the wheel and that this was deliberate, pre-planned, that he'd been lying in wait – possibly for hours.
Jane had seen him too, and had started to swerve – the doctors had said that her evasive action was probably the reason she hadn't been killed outright, instantly; that and the state-of-the-art body armor he'd gifted her on her birthday. But she hadn't been able to avoid the car completely, there hadn't been time.
He'd dropped his helmet and been running, sprinting, moving faster than he'd ever moved in his life, before the impact had even happened.
When it did happen, he'd screamed her name so hard that the world had gone dark for a second or two – but he'd never stopped running, closing the distance between them.
The Lexus had broadsided her, knocking her sideways. She'd flown clear of the bike, over the sidewalk, and slammed into the building across the street. The car had accelerated away, fishtailing in its haste, tires screeching, but Gunther hadn't even registered it, not really.
He had been focused on Jane.
Oh sweet merciful Christ, his Just Jane.
She'd actually been trying to push herself up when he'd reached her, hurling himself to his knees beside her just in time to watch her collapse again, crumpled on her side with her back to the building, one arm moving to wrap around herself, her other hand lifting to the side of her helmet before falling back to the ground.
"JANE!" He'd stretched right out beside her, facing her, hardly even aware of the people converging around them, witnesses and passers-by; he'd had, just barely, the presence of mind to shout over his shoulder, "someone call 911!"
He'd heard not one, but several voices answer in the affirmative, and that was all he'd needed. Everything else had ceased to exist after that; only Jane had been real to him.
He'd reached out to push her visor back up with shaking fingers – (had mere seconds passed since the last time he'd done this, when everything had been fine, when she had been fine!? Could that really be so? It felt as though ten lifetimes had spiraled out since then) – and the instant he'd seen her eyes he'd known she was already fading, and –
OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD JANE NO FUCK NO.
She'd still been aware, though, still cognizant, and he'd seen that she knew too, knew as well as he did who had done this to her; there was no need to waste breath, or words, on that.
"Gunther," she'd breathed, barely audible.
"Here," he'd gasped, reaching through the space where her visor had been to touch her face. "Holy HELL, Jane." It had been all he could think of to say; his mind had been blank with shock, reeling with horror.
"Off," she'd whispered. "Gunther, get… it off, I can't…b… bree..."
He'd unbuckled the helmet's chin-strap, taking twice as long as he should have because his fingers were clumsy, nerveless and numb; then had tugged the helmet off of her, as gently as he could, slipping a hand beneath her head to ease it back down to the ground.
"Thank you," she'd sighed, and then something else that he hadn't caught because Christ, oh Christ, she'd been fading so fast.
"Jane." He'd brushed a couple of stray curls off her face – most of her hair was contained in a single, thick braid, as it usually was when she rode. "Help is coming, hold on."
She'd blinked hard a couple of times, then had reached for him with shaking fingers. "Heart," she'd whispered. "Gunther, ov…over your…"
His brow had creased for a second, trying to figure out what she was asking for, what she needed from him – and then he'd understood.
He'd peeled the thick, protective leather glove off her hand and yanked down the zipper of his own leather jacket, then pressed her palm, hard, to his chest.
"Steady," she'd breathed.
"Yes." His voice had been oddly constricted. "Jane –"
"I know. I know it does. Can you hear the sirens? They're almost here."
She'd swallowed, her eyes starting to drift shut. "S'okay… Gunther."
"No, no it's not, but it will be. You will be. Jane? I've got you."
Remarkably, unbelievably, her lips had quirked into the ghost of a smile. "I know. You've had me sin… since…"
She'd exhaled one more word that might have been rose. And then her body had relaxed and he'd been screaming her name as emergency services had arrived on the scene and hauled him backward, away from her, and her eyes had closed, and –
And they haven't opened again since.
He has absolutely no memory of contacting Pepper, but he supposes he must have done so because they'd arrived at the hospital at almost the same time – Gunther having been detained at the scene by police. They'd insisted on taking his statement right then despite the fact that he'd been practically incoherent in his wild need to follow Jane.
At least, afterward, one of them had taken pity on him and driven him over. Had he phoned Pepper from the vehicle? That seems the likeliest scenario.
He'd barely been into the lobby when he'd heard her shouting his name, turned in time to nearly be bowled over by her. She'd virtually launched herself into his arms, hysterical, screaming questions at him that he didn't have the answers to – he'd just been repeating the same thing over and over again, dazed, stupefied; "it was him, it was him, fucking Christ, Pepper, it was him."
And then there'd been nothing to do, for a long time, but wait.
Jane had already been in surgery by then, they'd soon learned.
Because she'd managed to swerve, at least partially, she hadn't lost her leg – which she certainly would have if Algernon had struck her fully broadside as he'd intended. Then again, if things had gone as Algernon had intended, she'd have been dead, so perhaps it's moot.
It is broken, though – the leg. Badly broken, in more places than one. She has a fractured clavicle and broken ribs too, one of which grazed a lung. Internal bleeding. And she'd impacted that wall so hard that the doctors have even bandied about the term brain damage.
Gunther doesn't believe that. He can't believe that.
He won't believe that.
Pepper must have put out more calls because others had begun to arrive, clustering together in the waiting room; Jethro. Rake. Jester and Bunny, newly a couple. Then Bunny must have put out some calls of her own because the next thing he'd known, his aunts had been there too.
He hadn't done anything that first night except sit in a hard plastic chair with his head in his hands; hadn't spoken, hadn't even looked up as far as he can remember. When someone – he cannot say who, not if his life depended on it – had pressed a Styrofoam coffee cup into his hand, he'd drunk the bitter liquid without comment.
That had been night one.
Following her second surgery, Jane had been placed in a medically induced coma.
She hasn't come out of it. Even though she should have by now. Which means, he supposes, that she's lapsed into an actual coma.
Sitting on the floor of his fencing room, Gunther shudders with despair.
The next few days had passed in a blur of grim-faced doctors and beeping machines, tongue-tied well-wishers and terrible hospital food, cold coffee and sleepless nights spent slouched in chairs that had made his back spasm. Until Pepper had sent him away, had sent him… home.
Except it doesn't feel like home, not anymore. Not without Jane. Which is crazy, because despite his incessant cajoling, she has never actually moved in. All right, so she spends about half the nights of the week here, and when she's not here, he's usually with her in her flat, but still… how can someone make a place they don't actually live in feel like home? To the point where their absence… sterilizes it, somehow?
He doesn't know, and the ability for analytical thought has all but deserted him. He only knows it's true, and that it's breaking his heart.
He raises his head and blinks stupidly. Dusk has fallen; when did that happen? The room, for all its expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, is sinking into darkness. He sits for a while longer, staring sightlessly out at the cityscape spread before and below him as the myriad lights come twinkling on.
The force of it hits him suddenly, and it hits him hard. He's swamped with it, nearly drugged with it; he needs to rest.
But he doesn't want to go down to the bedroom with its overlarge, cold bed, and isn't entirely sure he'd make it that far, even if he did. He crawls the short distance to the nearer strip of padding that cuts the hardwood floor lengthwise, taking the shoe and tee-shirt with him.
He collapses onto the padded strip and rolls onto his back, looking bleakly up at the ceiling. Is there anything he needs to do before he goes under? Any other calls to make?
On his second full day in the hospital, Gunther had recovered enough of his wits to start… handling the various matters that had needed handling. The first thing he'd done had been to arrange for the repair of the motorcycle. Jane will be wanting her dragon back. There is no acceptable scenario in which she won't.
That done, he'd moved on to… larger things.
The fact that the vehicle which had struck Jane does in fact belong to Algernon had been quickly established beyond doubt. The entire incident had been caught on Gunther's own security cameras, which are mounted all along the front façade of the Kippernium; and a closer shot, including a clear plate-number, had been captured by a quick-thinking witness on her cell phone.
The arrogant bastard hadn't even made an attempt to hide his identity.
And for all of that, he has yet to be found.
Gunther knows the police are looking. He respects that. He does.
But the police are localized, and he very much doubts that Algernon will have stayed local. Algernon has money, resources, connections. He might not even be in the country any longer, despite the fact that he wasn't booked onto any commercial flights in the hours or days following his attack on Jane.
He's probably somewhere sunny, working on his tan and congratulating himself – he may not even know that Jane survived. Or – far more chilling in its implications – perhaps he does. There had been press surrounding the incident, of course.
But Gunther has money, resources and connections too. More, he'd be willing to hazard a bet, even than Algernon.
And so he'd placed some calls.
There are people looking for Algernon now – a good many people, actually – who answer to Gunther alone. Dedicated, highly skilled, resourceful and ruthless people, and he's given them a blank check to scour the world if necessary. Algernon can run, but he can't hide – at least, not indefinitely.
Oh, they'll find him. It's just a question of when.
And he has a second blank check set by for when that day comes, so as to call in a different sort of… specialist.
Jane will recover. She will because she has to. He needs her to. And Gunther will not run any – any – risk of Algernon ever hurting her again. The Algernon problem needs to be solved once and for all.
And it will be.
But no, there's nothing he needs to do on that front right at the moment. Right now it's time to rest.
He rolls onto his side, wads up the shirt for a cushion. With the sneaker in one hand and his phone in the other, he closes his eyes.