Chapter 1: Found
Mark huffs as he hauls the buck up the hill to his cabin, it’s antlers heavy and bulky. He reaches his cabin and places the buck on the porch, the blood already soaking the porch. Mark kneels, quickly praying as he turn the buck onto its back. He unsheathes his dagger and begins cutting, staring at the anus.The hunter cuts upwards, his index and middle fingers slowly pushing the blade up, peeling the skin away from the muscle. Mark then replaces his blade at the anus and pushes the dagger further, now cutting the muscle. With the muscle cut and the organs exposed Mark reaches for his saw hanging which is hanging on the porch railing. He readies the saw and cuts the breastbone and separates the ribs.
Mark swats at the incoming flies, as he cuts around the anus. He pulls the anus inside the now open buck and ties it off. Reaching up to the windpipe he silently prays as he grabs the windpipe with both hands and pulls down hard. The windpipe separates and there's a torrent of blood, the organs sliding down. The hunter hefts the buck onto the railing, slicing the connective tissues around the ribs on both sides. The organs slide a little more and Mark pulls, the organs now on the porch and Mark lays the buck back down. He picks up his saw again and finds the pelvic bone, cutting along the middle.
With the buck cleaned, Mark hangs it by it’s antlers in the nearby tree. The blood drips out and Mark sets to skinning. He starts at the buck’s hind legs, closest to the hooves. He gently cuts up to the already peeled skin at the middle. He then cuts the skin around the head, going around the neck. With the skin separated Mark pulls hard, the skin and fur pulling free with the sound of wet stretched gum. The skin comes off easily, even from the front legs. Mark fixes the skin from the front legs, originally inside out.
Mark judges his work and sets the skin to dry.
“Help! Anyone!” Mark jolts, sitting up. “Please!” He grabs his dagger and wallet, throwing his front door open to see a young man limping to his door. The young man’s arms are covered in blood and he has a serious black eye. Mark runs to the man who looks exhausted . “What’s wrong?” Mark asks slowly to not scare him.
He breathes hard trying to catch his breath. “I-I don’t know where I am! I was hiking with friends earlier today when I fell from the trail.”
Mark grimaces, “Do you know what happened after?”
The man shakes his head, “I woke up in the same place but it was dark. I’ve been moving since.”
Mark nods and sees the other shaking badly, “I can help then.”
The other looks weary, shrinking away from Mark. “How do I know you’re not some crazy forest murderer?”
Mark huffs and pulls his wallet from his hoodie’s pocket. He opens his wallet and shows the man his forest ranger ID. The man sighs, the tension leaving his body. “Ok thanks. I’m Jack.”
Mark nods, slipping under Jack’s left arm. “I’m Mark. Let me help you.”
The two hobble into Mark’s cabin. Mark sets Jack onto his bed and walks into the bathroom. “Just relax. I’m getting my first-aid kit.” Mark shouts to Jack from the bathroom.
Mark pulls the kit from its spot from under the sink and checks the contents. Two full rolls of bandages, a roll of gauze, a roll of medical tape, two full boxes of bandaids, a roll of thread, and a needle.
Mark shuts the kit and walks back to Jack, who looks uncomfortable. “What’s wrong?” Mark asks, pulling a chair next to Jack.
“My ankle just really fuckin’ hurts.” Mark nods, grabbing an extra pillow from under the bed and gently taking Jack’s ankle in his hand. Jack bites his lip as Mark gently props up the ankle on the extra pillow.
“I’m gonna get a wet washcloth to clean the blood, ok?”
Jack nods, closing his eyes.
Mark stands, going to the little kitchenette. He grabs the nearest washcloth and holds it under the now running faucet. When the washcloth is wet enough, Mark shuts the faucet and wrings out the excess water.
The ranger returns and Jack sits up slightly, as Mark sits again. “Do you want to wash yourself? Or me?”
“You. I’d have no idea what to do after.”
Mark nods, bringing the washcloth to Jack’s face and gently rubbing that the dried blood and around the black eye. “I’m gonna need you to take your shirt off.” Mark says, trying to keep his voice professional.
Jack nods, his face slightly red. Mark helps Jack sit up with a hand at his back. Jack pulls his shirt up and over his head.
Mark hums at the numerous bruises, some dark and others with just a slight greenish-yellow tint. “Does it hurt to breath?”
Jack nods, “Only a little, especially when I’m breathing hard.”
Mark meets Jack’s eyes, silently asking permission. Jack nods and Mark gently presses around the bruises and at Jack’s ribs.
Jack groans when Mark presses at his right side. “Did you fall on this side?”
“Honestly I don’t remember shit. I fell and passed out soon after.”
Mark nods, “You’ve gotta take your pants off.”
Jack’s eyes widen and a blush races up to his ears. “What?!”
“Yeah. I gotta make sure your ankle isn't broken.”
“Can’t you just roll my pant leg up?”
Mark shakes his head and chuckles at Jack’s flushed face, “I need to check the rest of your legs too ya know.”
Jack looks down and slowly unzips his pants, defeated. “I’ll leave the room.”
Mark gets up and walks to the kitchenette, opening the small fridge and pulling out leftovers. He scoops out some of the food and places it onto a plate. He turns of the oven and places the food inside.
“Ok, I’m done.”
Mark walks back into the room and is surprised that Jack’s legs are so muscular. But the left ankle is stealing the spotlight, swollen and purple.
Mark walks over, sitting back in the chair. He hands Jack the still wet, but now cold washcloth. “Go ahead and clean your arms while I check out your ankle.”
Jack nods, taking the cloth and gently cleaning his left arm.
Mark looks back to the bad ankle, scooching the chair over. He gently prods the heel, noting how Jack reacts with each push. He moves to the medial malleolus, Jack huffing slightly. Moving onto the lateral malleolus Jack groans loudly. Mark keeps pressing and kneading, feeling for a break.
“I believe you sprained your ankle. I don’t feel a break and you’re not howling in pain.”
Jack nods, his arms clean. “Makes sense. Can I have some bandaids?”
Mark looks back at Jack and his eyebrows raise at the sheer amount of cuts on his arms, “Geez, that looks bad.”
Mark opens the kit and grabs a box of bandaids and notices a Neosporin and grabs that too. “Here.”
Mark watches Jack open the first bandaid. “Here let me do it, your hands are dirty.”
Jack gives Mark a Look and hands him the half-opened bandaid.
Mark wipes the cut again and then places the bandaid on. “Thanks you helping me.”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
Jack shrugs as Mark pulls out another bandaid, “Not sure. But most people wouldn’t help a stranger, especially if you live in the middle of the damn forest.”
Mark laughs, adding another bandaid to Jack’s growing collection. “Don’t come at me. I got used to being on fire watch that returning to the city was hell.”
Mark hums, placing a bandaid. “It’s where you live up in this little house by yourself and look for fire.”
“That sounds lonely.”
“It is a little, but it’s super nice.”
Jack nods and goes quiet, watching Mark work on his arms. Jack takes time to admire Mark while he’s distracted. Mark is tan and buff, he moves with authority but isn’t over confident. He works quickly and efficiently, seeming to have thought of the next step beforehand. His voice is deep and calming.
“Ok, let’s fix up your other arm over dinner.”
Jack beams and moves to get up from the bed despite being basically naked, “Yes please . I’m starving.”
Mark moves to Jack’s left, sliding under Jack’s arm to brace his weight.
Chapter 2: Dinner
Jack’s head pounds as he opens his eyes, the sun’s light not helping. Jack groans and hears a laugh in response, startling him. He sits up, confused. He panics for a brief moment before remembering what happened yesterday. Mark walks in and all Jack can do is gawk. Mark is shirtless and looks like he’s been sculpted by Phidias himself, well defined six-pack and pecs. Even the little scars that litter Mark’s chest and abdomen only seem to add to the beauty.
“C’mon you’re makin’ me embarrassed.” Mark says sheepishly, face slightly red.
Jack shakes himself and his head swims. “Do you have any pain killers?”
Mark hums and disappears briefly before returning with two Advil and a glass of water. “Here.”
Jack accepts both with a smile.
“Ready to tell me what you remember?” Mark asks, walking to what Jack can only assume to the a kitchen when Mark walks back with a place of warm food.
Jack nods, “Oh absolutely.” Mark places the food onto Jack’s lap and then hands him a fork. “Thanks.”
Mark nods and sits in the chair by Jack’s side. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Well, I just moved here because my main publishing company is here.” Jack says while nibbling on a piece of bacon.
“Yeah. I don’t write but I hike for National Geographic.”
Mark’s eyebrows raise, “That’s so cool!”
Jack nods and smiles at Mark’s enthusiasm while he cuts into one of the fried eggs. “Yeah. That’s when I fell.”
Mark’s expression returns to one of neutrality, “Ah, right.”
“I was a little behind my camera man and the other hiker but not enough to be any sort of hazard, at most they were twentyish feet away.”
“What trail were you on?”
Jack thinks for a moment, polishing off the second egg.
Mark’s eyebrows furrow slightly, “That’s far from here.”
Jack now looks confused, “It is?”
Mark nods and reaches over to the night stand and pulls a map from the drawer.
Moving the plate, Mark spreads the map out. It’s a map of LA and he points to the Hollywood sign, “We’re in Griffith Park,” he moves his finger directly South. “You said you fell from Hogback.” Mark pulls another map from the same drawer, this one is of Griffith Park. Mark points to Hogback, “You probably started at the Greek Theater,” he moves his finger near the bottom right corner of the park.
“I think so. We passed a golf course.”
Mark nods, “Yep. How far were you planning to go?”
“As close as we could get to the Hollywood sign.”
Sputtering, Mark moves his finger along what Jack assumes the trail is. “This trail is a bit of a mystery.”
“Why?” Jack moves his plate onto the night stand and sits up.
“Some people who hike the whole thing have no issues while others have the exact opposite experience.”
Jack hums, “What does this have to do with me?”
“Oh nothing. But for real, how close were you to the sign?”
“Umm.” Jack wracks his brain for answers, trying to remember the part of the map his camera man showed him.
“Aha!” Jack snaps his fingers, “We were on the little hook part by Mount Chapel.”
Once again Mark sputters and moves his finger upwards, about halfway to a place called Cathy’s Corner. “We’re here. You moved for at least two miles through the brush and a couple of drop-offs.”
Jack looks surprised, “I did? I guess adrenaline is to blame.”
Mark nods and stands, picking up the plate. “At least I now know how to get you home,” he says moving to the kitchen doorway. “Also I need to check you for a concussion.”
Jack groans and Mark laughs.
“So, you’re concussed.” Mark concludes, putting the flashcards away in a chest from under the bed. “That means on sunny days you’ve gotta wear sunglasses, avoid screens, and get plenty of sleep.”
Jack huffs and falls back onto his pile of pillows, “How long will I be concussed?”
Mark shrugs, “Not sure. From what you’ve told me and the tests I just did, only a few weeks.”
“Can I get out of bed now?”
Mark nods, pulling an ankle brace from under the night stand. “Put this on.”
Jack accepts the brace and slides his foot into it, wrapping the velcro bands around his shin and tying the laces. “Ok.”
Mark holds his hand out and Jack takes it, pulling himself to his feet. “Tell me if the brace doesn’t help. I have another.”
Nodding, Jack holds Mark’s outstretched arm as the two walk to the door. Mark grabs a pair of sunglasses from the hook by the door, “Here.”
Mark opens the door and Jack slides on the sunglasses. The area around Mark’s cabin looks beautiful, natural foliage and trees. The sun is high in the sky and Jack can feel the breeze from the cabin on the backs of his legs while the heat is at his front.
“What the hell is that?!” Jack points to a pile of organs and bones by a tree whose trunk is stained by blood.
“Oh right. Sorry about that.” Mark chuckles and sets Jack down on the lone rocking chair by the door.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Mark closes the door and leans against it, “I cleaned a buck yesterday. I can’t eat the organs and I need the bones to be reabsorbed into the environment.”
Jack frowns, “Reabsorbed?”
Mark nods, sitting on the steps of the porch. “Yep. The antlers especially, they’re full of minerals and vitamins. Little critters nibble on them to get the nutrients.”
Jack stands and makes his way over to Mark, “Can I see?”
Mark looks surprised as he helps Jack down the steps and to the tree. “I cleaned the buck yesterday and got the meat from it this morning.”
Nodding Jack eyes the organs, “Do you… respect the buck?”
Mark nods and Jack is surprised, “Yeah. When I shoot it I try to cause the least amount of suffering and while I clean it I pray when I make the first cut and when I pull out the windpipe.”
“Do you keep the antlers if they’re really big?”
Shaking his head, Mark kneels and pulls the (still kinda fleshy) skull from the pile of organs and bones. “Nah. I don’t keep anything except the hide.”
Nodding, Jack accepts the skull with some difficulty, but still admires it. The antlers are huge, both tall and broad. The skull itself is big too, wide eye sockets and large teeth.
Jack hands back the skull and the ranger throws it back with the pile. “Will I be able to see you clean a deer?”
Mark pauses, mid-wipe. “Ummm, if you really want. But we have to eat the meat I already have.”
Jack smiles and then frowns at Mark’s shirt, now bloody. “Don’t wipe blood on your shirt! It’ll stain.”
Laughter fills the forest, “Ok mom.” Mark jokes, helping Jack back to the cabin.
“But really, thank you for helping me.” Jack meets Mark eyes and the ranger blushes.
Jack giggles at Mark’s red face and climbs the steps, “Can we have some of the deer meat tonight?”
Mark hums as he stirs the pot, the wonderful aroma of hot soup filling the cabin. He adds a pinch of salt and keeps stirring. He hears a stool being moved and turns to see Jack leaning on counter, bracing his chin on his hand.
“Need help?” Jack asks, Mark turning back to the soup with a smile and a pink face.
Mark shakes his head, “Nah. You need to rest,” he adds more carrots.
The stool moves again and the ranger hears the floor creak next to him. He looks over to Jack putting the half-used onion into a Ziplock. “C’mon, seriously. Go, rest.” Mark says, gently nudging Jack.
The hiker shakes his head and smiles at Mark, “No, I wanna help. It’s the least I can do.”
Mark huffs but lets Jack keep putting things away.
“So why are you a ranger if you don’t mind me askin’.”
Putting the lid onto the soup and lowering the heat, Mark turns to Jack.
“Well, my dad was in the military and he got me into space. I’m afraid of the ocean and wanted to be as far away as possible.”
Jack hums and nods, giving the half-used veggies to Mark to put away.
“It just felt right. I really enjoyed doing fire watch, and the rest is history.”
Jack nods, sitting back down at one of the stools. “How’d you get into hiking for Nat-Geo?”
Jack laughs as Mark sits next to the hiker. “Well, my friend Eveline was already working for Nat-Geo. She was the one who suggested me to the higher ups, who later interviewed me.”
Mark hums, grabbing a pad of paper and a pen. “Keep going, I just wanna draw.”
Nodding, “I passed the interview and moved here from the UK.”
Mark hums as he draws the buck he killed nearly two days ago. First sketching out the spine and joints.
“What’s your accent then? It’s not British.”
Jack laughs, “I’m originally from Ireland, but my accent generally sucks.”
Laughing, Mark moves onto drawing the body, adding little bits of shadowing. He draws the legs thin but strong, making sure the hind legs are proportionate to the front legs.
“You’re really good.” Jack comments, watching Mark’s hand move as he’s drawn the same deer a million times.
“Thanks. I took a couple art classes here and there. I even did field research for a little while.”
Jack keeps watching, Mark now drawing the head. He starts with the neck, and moves the line into the outline for the right antler.
Mark tries to ignore the feeling of Jack watching him as he finishes the head, having the buck face him as the final touch.
The timer goes off and Jack jumps, “Jesus Christ! That’s one loud timer.”
Mark laughs and moves to the pot, taking the lid off and smelling the soup. “Yeah, I’ve just gotten used to it.”
Mark picks up two bowls from the nearby cabinet and dips each bowl with plenty of soup.
“Here.” Mark places the bowl in front of Jack, spoon included.
“Thanks, smells amazing .”
“On thank you. I’ve long perfected the recipe.” Mark says, sitting next to Jack with a bowl of his own.
Jack hums happily as he swallows his first spoonful.
“Ah you flatter me,” the hunter says, making Jack blush.
Chapter 3: Calling
Jack’s eyes blink, adjusting to the darkness.
“Check, check. This is Fischbach, is Catbird open?”
Jack slowly sits up, listening in.
"We’re here Fischbach. What’s up.”
“Oh hey Amy. I need a pick up.”
“Why? And what the hell are you doing up at three in the morning?”
Mark chuckles, “Just now I have the time to call. And I need a pick up because a hiker is currently staying with me after an accident.”
Amy gasps, “Shit Mark! What was the accident? A landslide? An attack?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. But he fell from Hogback and somehow made his way here.”
Amy swears again, “Where’d he fall from?”
“The hook part near Mount Chapel.”
Jack’s eyebrows furrow slightly.
“That’s a ways away from your house isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Two miles.”
Amy sighs, “Ok. Good news and bad news. Good news is that we can get you a pick up, but bad news is that we can’t get it to you ‘til the end of next week.”
“That’s not bad news.”
Amy hums, “Are you finally getting laid? Is he cute? You gotta tell me more when I send the pick up.”
Mark sputters and Amy laughs.
“I’ll call you later when I get more details for the pick up.”
The line goes dead, static filling the room. There’s a quiet thump, and the static ends. A chair creaks and Jack hears Mark move into the doorway.
“Did I wake you up?”
Jack shakes his head, “Trying to send me away so soon?”
Mark chuckles and walks up to Jack’s bedside, “Yeah. You’re such a pain. It sucks that I’ll have to spend another week with you.”
Smiling, Jack gets up from bed and hobbles over to Mark. “I like your friend Amy, she knows how to push your buttons.”
Mark moves his hands to Jack’s shoulders to help stabilize him, “Yeah. Her and I go way back.”
Jack holds Mark’s arms, “I’m gonna miss you.”
Mark’s eyebrows furrow, Jack looks down at his feet. “Why’re you getting so sappy? We have the rest of this week and next.”
Jack shakes his head and leans his forehead against Mark’s chest, “I don’t know. I just-I just like being here. You’re kind and I just enjoy being around you.”
Mark chuckles and wraps Jack into an embrace. “You have better things than me back home. I’m sure of it.”
“Better things sure, but you’re one of the best people I know.”
Mark’s breath catches in his throat, “You don’t mean that. I’m a nobody, just a simple ranger.”
Jack shakes his head and looks up to Mark’s face, “You’re not a nobody. You’re a ranger. You protect the forest and care for a stranger.”
Mark blushes and Jack brings his hands to rest at the back of Mark’s neck. “You wouldn’t be saying those things if-if you really know me.”
“What is it then? We’re here spilling our guts right now.”
Mark sighs, his warm breath ghosting Jack’s face. “It’s an old story. An evil one.”
Jack pulls on Mark’s sweatshirt pocket and leads him back to the bed, “Lay with me. If it’s a sad story, then let’s sit.”
“Ok.” Mark lets himself be moved by Jack. Their backs rest against the wall and Jack is laying side-by-side with Mark.
“I was a hunter long before I was a ranger.”
Humming, Jack feels Mark’s arm move and curl around his shoulders, feeling the warmth coming from Mark.
“I was tracking a mountain lion. He actually was too old to mate and he caused the death of several dogs and injured a few people.”
Mark sighs and Jack closes his eyes.
“I was actually told to kill the old male by the state rangers, they’ve heard about me from someone.”
Resting his head on Mark’s shoulder, Jack could feel Mark’s voice rumble.
“I found the male and he attacked me. It was ugly. I still have the scars on my back.”
After a beat of silence, Mark sighs again.
“But when I finally killed the lion, I got a radio call. The rangers were panicking. They gave me the wrong lion.”
Jack opens his eyes to see tears slide down Mark’s face.
“I walked into the den and saw two little cubs, just a month old at most.”
More tears slide down Mark’s face and Jack wipes them away.
“I brought back the cubs and promptly passed out from blood loss.”
Mark sits up, Jack moving with him. “I know it wasn’t my fault, but-God I-”
Mark sobs, Jack rushing to embrace Mark. “Hey, hey. It’s ok. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”
Mark gulps and sighs, “Thanks,” he moves to get out of bed and Jack grabs his arm.
“Stay. You need it.”
Mark doesn’t move for what feels like years, “Ok.”
They settle, Mark laying next to Jack.
“You’re a good person Mark. No matter your past.”
Jack hums happily, feeling warmth surrounding him. He opens his eyes and sees the sun shining through the window. He turns his head and realizes why he’s so warm.
Mark is spooning him, their legs pressed together.
Jack turns, also realizing that Mark has his arms wrapped around his waist.
Mark’s face looks at peace. His eyes are closed and his face is calm. Jack brings his hand to Mark’s face and traces the little scar on his cheek.
Mark hums, “How sweet. You’re still here.”
Jack giggles and Mark opens his eyes.
Mark’s eyes are a deep brown and Jack is in awe. “Stop staring. You’re embarrassing me.”
Jack smiles and lays his hand on Mark’s cheek. “Can I see your back?”
Mark frowns slightly, Jack deciding that he prefers Mark smiling. “I don’t know.”
“That’s ok. It wasn’t my place to ask that.”
“Not that. I just don’t think you should see them. They’re bad.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve lived with four other siblings, I know what’s bad.”
Mark hums and sits up, pulling his shirt off in one motion.
Jack gasps, the entire expanse of Mark’s back is mostly covered in scars. But the real showstoppers are the three huge jagged gashes in the middle of Mark’s back.
“It’s bad , huh?”
“Can I touch them?”
Mark nods, “But be gentle, my back is a bit sensitive.”
Jack gently touches one of the smaller scars by Mark’s neck. “That one was from being shoved to the ground.”
Moving to one of the gashes Mark’s breath stutters. “From the lion’s claws.”
“God Mark. It looks like you’ve be at war.”
“Might as well have been.”
Jack presses his palm to Mark’s back, feeling warmth under his palm.
Mark shakes his head, “Don’t apologize, it wasn’t your fault.”
Jack doesn’t reply, keeping his palm pressed to Mark’s back.
Jack watches Mark sharpen his dagger, quietly humming. The sun is setting and Jack is no more than willing to leave.
“Come sit, I can feel you staring.”
Jack blushes, caught in the act. He moves next to Mark in the porch steps. “Sorry.”
Chuckling, “I’m just messing with ya.”
“Will you go hunting soon?”
Mark shrugs and puts down the whetstone and dagger, “Maybe. Why?”
“I might want to go.”
“I don’t know. I’m sure you don’t want to get up before the sun. Also you’re not experienced enough, I don’t need you getting more hurt or scaring the prey away.”
Jack nods, “True. Then you have to wake me up when you bring whatever you hunted back, ok?”
“Ok your highness.”
Jack laughs, “I’m no God.”
Mark finally looks at Jack and smiles, “Too bad. I’d worship you.”
Jack gapes and Mark laughs. The hikers face is red and Mark revels in it.
“Oh! So were flirting now, huh?”
Mark hums, “If you want,” he winks.
Jack slaps Mark’s arm, “But you better bring back that animal.”
“Ok, ok. Mister demanding.” Mark rubs at his arm.
Jack wakes up to a heavy thump on the porch. He sits up and moves to the door, quietly cracking the door open. Mark is wiping his brow, his hands bloody.
“Jack? I’m home. You wanted to see me clean my next kill, and I don’t wanna get blood on the doorknob.”
Jack opens the door and gawks at how much blood is on Mark’s face and clothes. “I’m here. I’m here.”
Mark gestures Jack over. “Want me to explain as I go, or just do it?”
“Ok.” Mark lays the deer onto its back, “I’m laying the deer on it’s back because I need best access to the ribs and organs.”
Mark then cuts into the deer’s skin, running the blade from the anus and runs the blade up to the deer’s neck.
“Wanna try?” Mark holds the knife out to Jack.
“What am I gonna do?” Jack takes the knife and Mark moves Jack’s hands to the right position.
“So all you gotta do is cut the connection tissues. The tissues connect the organs to the ribs, keeping the organs from pressing into the deer’s underside.”
Jack knees next to Mark and moves the knife to the deer’s ribs, cutting the tissues.
“Oh weird. The guts like… shift every time I cut more.”
“Yeah, it’s weird.”
“So why is the deer propped up on the railing?”
“To let the blood drain out when we remove the organs and windpipe.”
Jack hums and keeps cutting until the organs all slide onto the porch and splashing blood onto Jack’s legs.
“Ah shit! That’s nasty!”
Mark laughs and takes the knife back, “Do you want watch me pull the windpipe out?”
“Is that an answer or a question?”
“If you’re sure.”
Mark reaches into the open deer and grabs the windpipe with both hands and pulls down, a cracking sound accompanying the motion.
“Ah!” Jack reflexively covers his mouth, eyes wide in horror.
“Ack, I’m gonna hurl.” Jack says, feeling his gut fold.
“Do it over there,” the ranger points to the other end of the porch.
“I’m good. I’m good.” Jack waves away the suggestion.
Mark raises an eyebrow, “If you’re sure,” he tosses the windpipe into the pile of guts.
“Go on inside. I’ll be in there after a bit, gotta hang up the deer and dispose of the guts.”
Mark laughs as Jack walks back inside. He walks into the kitchen and sees the same pad of paper Mark was drawing on last night. The hiker sits at one of the stools and grabs the notebook.
To Jack’s surprise the most recent drawing is of a sitting figure with angel wings, the figure’s body is facing to the side of the paper. Most of the figure’s body is shadowed except the wings. Jack flips the page and it’s the deer. The hiker flips through a handful of pages, catching glimpses of birds and flowers.
On the third to last page Jack stops. The drawing is colored, it’s of a young man with his neck craned downwards. He’s kneeling underneath a stained glass window, his arm circled around himself. The man has dark hair and his face is shadowed by the light coming in from the window.
Only half of the scene is completed, seeming as though Mark meant to finish. There are lines that lead away from the kneeling man on the floor and some stray lines at the top of the page.
“That’s an oldie for sure.”
“Ah!” Jack drops the book and nearly toppels off the stool. “Holy fuck you scared me!”
Mark laughs, moving to the sink. “I sure did. Should’ve seen your face.”
The hiker chuckles, “You’re not mad that I was looking through your drawings?”
“No. Those are nothing compared to what I have in my office.”
Jack rubs the notebook’s cover, “Would you mind showing me a few?”
“Not at all. Come.” Mark dries his hands and walks out of the kitchenette.
The two walk to an awkward little door between the bathroom and the kitchen, “Here is where the magic happens.”
Mark pushes the door open and Jack is in awe. On the wall there’s an HD poster of the milky way, a skull of some animal, and a huge shelf of notebooks and drawing supplies.
Jack walks in and sees a desk pushed along the far wall with a radio and a few scattered papers on it. “This is so amazing.”
Mark pulls a notebook from the shelf and hands it to Jack, “Go ahead. Look.”
Jack looks at Mark, who’s staring at the floor and embraces him. “You’re amazing.”
Mark hums, “You’re still flattering me.”
“Don’t think that’ll ever end.”
Mark lets go, “Go on, look.”
Jack excitedly opens the notebook to it’s first page.
It’s of an older woman. She’s sitting and has her cane resting on her lap as she braids a little girl’s hair.
Jack skips forward and is met with a forest scene. It’s more cartoony, an eagle and a fox having a conversation about the weather.
“Here.” Mark flips forward and Jack gasps. It’s of a military funeral, a young man stands at the flag covered coffin. If Jack focuses, he can see tears running down the man’s face. The man has a uniform in his hands.
“That was my father’s funeral.”
Jack looks to Mark with tears eyes, “God you have been through hell and back.”
“I suppose I have. Keep going.”
Jack skips a handful of pages, landing on a drawing similar to the sitting angel, instead the figure is of a woman.
She’s facing away and her wings and arms are spread. Her arms and torso have several scars and gashes and her wings are even missing a few feathers. She’s wearing a toga type gown.
Flipping through again, Jack finds a drawing of himself.
“Oh. You weren’t supposed to see that. Guess I should’ve ripped that out.”
Jack doesn’t reply, too enamored.
It’s a sketch of him laughing, head thrown back in joy. His eyes have little crinkles at the edges, and his mouth is wide open with happiness.
“It’s amazing Mark. ‘A couple art classes’ my ass! Your art is seriously good.”
“Not really, and yeah you caught me. I minored in art during college.”
“Oh really? I couldn’t tell.” Jack says sarcastically.
Mark laughs and checks his watch, “Oh. Umm I need you to leave the room. I gotta call in for my shift.”
“Ok.” Jack heads for the door and grabs the doorknob.
“There’s leftover soup for dinner, I’ll be in here for awhile.”
“Thanks.” Jack opens the door and leaves, hearing Mark move around the room.
so i’m currently in China (for studying) and i might not be able to post for this story for about a month. i have a lot written from the plane ride here so if i have time, i’ll be posting that.
Chapter 5: Running
“This is Fischbach checking in for night shift.”
“Hey Mark. Long time no… hear?”
“Hey Ethan! What’s tonight’s deal?”
“We’re listening in on night patrol, if they need help we’ll call backup.”
“Sounds easy enough.”
“Not this week.”
“What do mean? What’s happening?”
“Some rangers stumbled into a poaching ring that transports their goods through this park.”
“Damn. How big’s the ring?”
“Pretty big. They found a whole box of tocan skulls and elephant ivory.”
“This is ranger Scheid, I’m on the trail of the traffickers we found earlier this week. I have another ranger at a hopeful interception point. We’re by Sunset Ranch.”
Mark turns the radio dial, changing over to dispatch. “This is Fischbach, Scheid needs backup by Sunset Ranch. He’s on the trail of traffickers and has another ranger at a possible interception point.”
“Thanks Fischbach. We’re heading out.”
Mark switches back to the main station.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Backup is calling for you. They said that there’s another trafficker up by your cabin.”
“Fuck ok. Where?”
There’s a lot of chatter on Ethan’s end, several voices talking over one another.
“Mark now! They got a tracker on him.”
“Shit!” Mark shoves away from his desk and runs out of the office, grabbing his dagger and handcuffs by the front of the door and running out of the cabin.
He stands in front of the cabin and waits, hearing a faraway helicopter.
Suddenly there’s the sound of running and heavy breathing. Mark’s instincts kick in and he tackles the runner to the ground, the man kicking and trying to worm his way from under Mark,
The man surprisingly stops, still breathing hard. “So you’re another one of those rangers huh?”
Mark nods and pulls the man up, handcuffing him. “You’re under arrest for participating in illegal activities in government protected land and for the ownership and distribution of illegal animal products”
“You and your goody-two shoes rangers. We’re just trying to make a buck.”
“By selling illegal animal products.”
The man rolls his eyes, “I bet you haven’t even experienced real loss before.”
Mark sighs and notices Jack standing on the porch looking worried. “Oh hey Jack.”
“What’s going on?” He walks down from the porch and to Mark.
“Had a call from security that there was a trafficking ring going on. This guy is just one of many.”
Jack’s eyebrows furrow, “What? How come you didn’t tell me?”
“Oh Jack. It’s not like that. During my shift I was told. I was listening in live, since tonight I was to be ready to dispatch backup for whatever reason. It just happened to be catching someone.”
“Are you two together or some shit?”
Jack sputters indignantly and Mark laughs, “No. But he’s been living with me because I rescued him. I just haven’t had a pickup yet.”
“Oh. Then how long will I be out here then?”
Mark looks up, the trees creaking and the sound of a helicopter nearby.
“Not too long.”
The helicopter hovers over the three, “This is Scheid, Fischbach did you catch the offender?”
Mark has to shield his eyes from the helicopter’s light, “Yep. I’ve got him handcuffed,” he shouts.
“Ok. We’re sending someone down to get him. Also is that other fellow the guy you called the pickup for?”
“We have room for him in here.”
Mark looks to Jack and he shakes his head. “He’s not ready to leave. I’m alright with keeping him ‘till next Friday.”
“If you’re sure.”
Suddenly, there’s a guy in front of Mark.
“You can pass the offender to me,” he says, holding his hand out.
Mark nudges the man forward and the other man simply throws the trafficker over his shoulder and grabs onto the rope he came down on. “Ok. Pull me up.”
The rope begins to ascend, taking the men with it. “You did good Fischbach. Guess your not getting too old for the job.”
“You and I are the same damn age.”
“True but I take better care of myself.”
Mark huffs in fake annoyance, “Get the hell outta here and stop pestering me.”
“Ok, ok. I’ll be seeing you later.”
The helicopter flies away, leaving the forest silent and Mark’s throat raw.
“I need a glass of water. Shouting over the sound of a helicopter is harder than I thought.”
Jack laughs and follows Mark back to the cabin, “I’m sure it is.”
Mark groans, stretching his arms over his head. He sits up and sees Jack in the doorway, looking embarrassed. “What’s up?”
Mark cracks his knuckles and slides out from underneath his covers. He walks up to Jack, who blushes even more, “What’s up? Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing like that but-ugh. Sorry I’m just worked up over nothing.”
Smiling, Mark leans his shoulder against the doorframe. “Take your time.”
Jack sighs and pats his cheeks, “Ok.”
“I was wondering if you really see me like that.”
“Like in that picture you drew of me.”
“Ah.” Mark smiles, seeing Jack’s face highlighted by the mid-morning sun makes his heart flutter.
“How do you think I see you?”
“Oh. Umm, I’m not sure.”
Mark chuckles, “That’s bullshit and we both know it.”
It’s silent for a moment. Jack trying to come up with a different answer and Mark simply admiring Jack’s face.
“Ok. I’ll tell you. But you have to tell me how you feel too.”
“I think you’re pretty. Beautiful actually.”
Jack blushes even more, looking more red than pink.
“You’ve gone through hell getting here and trusted me - a stranger, might I add - with your health and well-being.”
Jack is floored and Mark revels in his expression.
Jack swallows, feeling nervous. “Well. I like you. You’re kind and handsome. You let me into your home and shared some into your personal life and past. You’re a good person.”
Mark smiles, standing up from leaning on the doorframe and Jack smiles too.
“Now. Where would you like to go with these admissions? We could keep living our lives.”
Jack shakes his head at that option, “I’m not really a fan of that one,” he says, stepping closer.
“Me neither.” Mark moves in too.
“The other option is that we could try being together. See where we take each other.”
“I like that one.”
Jack moves his hands to Mark’s face, and Mark moves to hold Jack’s hips. “See? We’re already in sync.”
Jack giggles and brings their faces together, noses brushing. They meet eyes briefly before pressing their lips together.
Jack smiles, feeling one of Mark’s hands move up his back and to his hair.
Jack parts his lips and Mark gently pushes his tongue in, hearing Jack gasp. The ranger feels warm in his gut, the little sounds Jack is making fill him with happiness.
They part and press their foreheads together, Mark admiring the look of pure joy on Jack’s face. “Beautiful.”
“Oh stop. You’re embarrassing me.” Jack’s face is pink all the way up to the tips of his ears.
Mark laughs and pulls away, grabbing Jack’s hand. “Now it’s my turn to embarrass you.”
They walk to the kitchen and Jack sits at one of the stools. “My ankle is feeling better.”
“That’s good. The bruising is starting to fade too.”
Jack watches Mark’s back as he cooks, seeing the muscle move and flex with each movement.
“Want me to take my shirt off?” Mark asks, still cooking and facing away from Jack.
“Yes, if you’re willing. And how do you always know when I’m staring?”
Mark pulls his shirt up and over his head, dropping it onto the floor. “My training to become a ranger. Also you just get real quiet.”
Jack laughs, “Guess you caught me.”
The scars look a lot better from afar. The gashes look less life threatening.
“I’m trying to raise my self-esteem when it comes to my back. You think that’s attainable?”
“Of course! You know how many people love scars?”
“That’s true. But when it comes to you… I don’t know.”
“Oh don’t stress yourself out over my opinion. I just think they’re a part of your story. They show signs of life.”
Mark hums and turns around with two plates of breakfast.
“I feel like I should cook at some point.”
“Yeah. Now that you’re feeling better I need to put you to work.”
The ranger sits at the other stool and hands Jack a fork and knife.
The sun is high in the sky, it’s light filtering in from the big window in front of the sink. They eat in silence and Jack takes the opportunity to actually look around the little kitchenette.
There’s a fridge to the left of the sink. The only real counter space is the counter surround the sink and the counter in front of them. To the right of the sink are several cabinets, the knobs worn with time. On the far right wall several pictures are hanging, a snowy forest scene, a family picture, a few drawings, and an A2 piece of an angel in a church. On the left there’s several maps pinned to the wall. Some have little scribbles and others are clean.
“What’s with all of the angel and church imagery? Not that I mind, but I just wanna know.”
“Hmm.” Mark finishes chewing, “I’m actually not too sure. I tend to get hooked into certain imagery or themes. And what’s more interesting is that I’ve had an angel and church phase a few years ago and now it’s kinda reappearing.”
Jack nods, “Do you know why it’s returning?”
“Not sure.” Mark shrugs and takes his and Jack’s plates to the sink and picks up his shirt, throwing it over his shoulder.
“What other themes have you gotten hooked onto?”
Mark hums as he starts washing the dishes, dripping a little bit of soap onto a sponge. “Almost all of my time in college I was into adding borders to all of my art.”
Mark nods, now rinsing the plates. “Yeah. Every piece I completed I added a border, like a picture frame of sorts. And my art was pretty gory too.”
“Like gory how?”
Mark dries the plates with a washcloth before putting them back into the cabinet. “Not like horror movie gory, but more… realistic gore.”
“Like car wrecks and murder scenes.”
Jack grimaces, remembering how he used to watch Dateline and 20/20.
“Would you just look up pictures of scenes?”
“Yeah. And I made up my own too.”
Jack pauses, watching Mark wash the dishes. “What’re some other themes?”
“Oh tons. Some of them last for a few days or weeks, maybe months or even years.” They leave the kitchenette and head to Mark’s office.
“One of my favorites was my space and sci-fi phase.” Mark says as he opens a notebook from the shelf along the wall.
“This is from about 2012.”
Jack accepts the notebook and is blown away by the scene on the page.
It shows a small figure sitting on a hill who’s stargazing. The sky looks like it could have been a picture taken by one of NASA’s telescopes.
Further in, there’s a figure being beamed into a UFO like one of those old horror movies. It’s set in a cow pasture, the cows hiding in the background behind hay bales.
“This one’s my favorite.”
Mark flips towards the middle and Jack is in awe.
The drawing looks like a 1960s sci-fi movie poster. It features Mark unconscious in the arms of some humanoid beast with the title of the ‘movie’ slashing diagonally across the picture. The colors are harsh yet work well together.
“This is so cool! Do you have this in as an actual poster?”
Mark shakes his head as Jack returns the notebook, “Nah. That would’ve been too expensive, I had just gotten fired that month.”
“Oh. Then how long have you been a ranger?”
“I started the first position in 2014. So about five years.”
“Heh yeah. Wanna look at another theme?”
It’s obvious that Mark is excited to have someone look at his work and Jack can’t find it in him to refuse.
Mark replaces the sci-fi notebook in its place on the shelf, “What’re you in the mood for?”
“Your first church phase.”
“Ok coming up.”
Mark quickly peruses the notebooks before pulling one out with a blue cover.
“Just an FYI, this phase is a lot more violent and more based in the Bible than the current one.”
“Ok.” Jack opens to the first page and gapes.
It’s the famous scene when Moses parts the sea, but the water is blood red. There are bodies and dead animals in the water. Moses himself looks upset with tears dripping down his face.
Jack flips to the middle and the scene is of Noah’s Arc. Except the animals Noah is herding onto his boat are monsters from Greek myth. The lions are the Chimera, the horses are Centaurs, and the birds are Harpies.
“Goddamn Mark! This is amazing. You should look into publishing some of your work.”
Jack closes the notebook and Mark is smiling, “I don’t think I can.”
“I’m a bit selfish when it comes to my art. I like having it to myself. I even have troubles showing the best of friends and family. Even you sometimes.”
Jack hums as he hands the notebook back to Mark, “At least think about it.”
“Oh I have. My family and friends have too.” Mark puts the notebook back.
I just back home from China today!
Chapter 7: Ever Lasting
Jack frowns slightly, realizing he’s been at Mark’s cabin for five days, he arrived in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“What’s with the long face?” Mark asks, stepping onto the porch stairs and taking Jack’s hand.
“Tomorrow will be my sixth day living with you.” Jack explains trying to not blush too hard.
“Is that a bad thing?”
Jack can hear the worry in Mark’s question.
“No. Not at all. But Friday is coming too soon.”
Mark hums and briefly squeezes Jack’s hand as they sit on the stairs, “Don’t worry about little ol’ me. I’ll be alright and you’ll keep living your life.”
“But it’ll be weird to live without you.”
Mark smiles and finally turns to see Jack’s face, “Don’t worry. I’m still in LA, just a bit harder to find.”
“Too hard to be honest. Your WiFi sucks and I’ll wanna talk to you.”
“It’s ok. You make it sound like we’re already married.” Mark chuckles, trying to lighten the mood.
A frown crosses Jack’s face and Mark sighs, turning back to the scenery of his front yard. “Don’t do this to us. To you.”
“What am I doing? Did I do something wrong?” Jack asks worriedly.
Mark internally slaps himself, “No. It’s just a me thing.”
Jack lays his head onto Mark’s shoulder, “Tell me.”
Shaking his head, “I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
“It’s not, I promise.”
Mark sighs, relenting. He can hear the worry and fear is Jack’s voice.
“I’d hate to say this, but… please don’t get too attached to me. Not because I’m evil or something, but because my job is dangerous. You saw with the trafficking guy last night.”
Jack huffs, “But you’re off duty right now.”
“Sort of. I still have the occasional night shift, but technically you’re right.”
“Then I don’t see the issue.”
“But, I’m back on duty the day you leave. I’ve been positioned somewhere else in California.”
“What makes that dangerous?”
“It’ll be bear hunting season. Hunting seasons are always different.”
“But I thought people have to have license to hunt?”
“You do, but I have to fill in data and make sure nobody’s breaking any laws. And my life has been endangered by people who just don’t care.”
Jack is silent and Mark feels guilt crawl up his back.
“Is that what some of the scars on your chest are from?”
“Just don’t worry about me ok?”
“Mark why the fuck would you tell him that?!”
Mark sighs, “Ethan you know how dangerous hunting season is.”
“If I were to get hurt, or even killed I don’t want him worry about me.”
“You’re fuckin’ stupid, you know that? He obviously cares about you, so why are you trying to push him away?”
Jack pauses in front of Mark’s office, listening in.
“I know I’m stupid, I just don’t think I’m worth his time.”
“Goddamnit Mark, you’re worth his fuckin’ time because he cares about you.”
Mark is quiet.
“Then why do I feel like I’m holding him back, holding him here?
“Technically he can’t get back home ‘till this Friday. But why do you think you’re holding him back.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s my lack of self-esteem talking.”
Jack slides to the floor, resting the back of his head against the wall by the office door.
“Mark listen to me. He cares about you. You two have shared some very personal information with one another. You two have kissed and held hands. You two care.”
“I know that Ethan. But I’m scared. That’s why, I guess.”
“What’re you scared of?”
Jack’s jaw drops, feeling disbelief rush into his blood.
“Because I haven’t felt anything like this before. Even when I was dating Amy.”
“Yeah. I just don’t wanna mess it up for him.”
Jack’s disbelief deflates and is replaced by confusion.
“Then take back what you said.”
“No. I can’t.”
“Ugh! Why not?”
“Because what if I really do get hurt during this season? What if this is my last one?”
“You won’t. You’ve done this tons of times before.”
“I know. I can’t help but worry now that I have something that I can hold onto.”
“How is it already evening?” Jack asks as he watches Mark prod at his ankle.
“I don’t know. Time flies.”
“It’s my sixth day here. Wednesday.”
Mark is silent and Jack can see him thinking.
“Just three days until you’re home.”
“It won’t be much of a home without you.”
Jack sees Mark purse his lips, “Jack, please,” he mumbles sadly.
Mark stands, “Your ankle is healing well. You won’t need the brace anymore.”
Jack grabs at Mark’s shirt and Mark freezes like a deer in headlights. “Stay.”
“Let me put your brace away.”
Jack holds on a little more, before letting Mark’s shirt go.
When Mark returns Jack moves over and pats the space. The ranger settles in and Jack lays his head over Mark’s chest.
Mark reaches over and turns off the lamp on the nightstand and the room is plunged into darkness, only the moon shining.
Jack runs his hand through Mark’s hair until his breathing evens out.
“I’m gonna miss you Mark.”
Chapter 8: Tough
Jack watches with wide eyes as Mark chops wood like a protagonist’s love interest in a Hallmark movie.
Jack walks to the open door and wolf whistles as hard as he can, startling Mark.
“Sweet Jesus! Don’t scare me like that! I could’ve chopped a finger off.”
Jack laughs, walking out to Mark.
“You look like you’re in a Hallmark movie.”
“So… I’m hot?”
Jack giggles, making Mark smile. “Well duh! Do you know how many people I know who would drool over you?”
“No. I only know you.”
Jack blushes, “Well, a lot of my friends would.”
“I’m flattered.” Mark says, leaning on the stump he was just using to chop logs.
There’s an awkward silence as Mark places a new log onto the stump and readies his axe.
“Oh yeah! I’ll be inside making lunch.”
Jack stares at his phone’s contacts, wondering if he should call Evelien.
“What’s cookin’ good lookin’?”
Jack blushes and turns to the kitchenette’s doorway, “Something good.”
Mark laughs, “Always a good thing,” he sits at the counter.
Jack holds up his phone, “Imma see if I can make a call. My friend at Nat-Geo is probably worried sick.”
“Go ahead! I’m not stopping you.”
Jack smiles, walking into the guest room. He opens Evelien’s contact and calls, hoping the WiFi will hold out just long enough.
She picks up on the first ring.
“Holy crap! You’re alive! Where are you? Are you hurt? It’s been seven freakin’ days!”
Jack holds the phone away from his ear, not wanting to go deaf. “I’m ok. I’ve been staying at a ranger’s cabin for the time. I’m coming home this Friday.”
“What ranger? Did you know them before all of this?”
“No. I just stumbled onto his porch and he was kind enough to help me.”
“Please tell me more, I wanna make sure he’s not some crazy imposter.”
“He’s not, I know. He started his training to be a ranger in 2014 and he has an in date ranger’s license.”
“Wait, how do you know it’s in date?”
“Might’ve done a little bit of snooping. Saw some official looking papers in his kitchen and they turned out to be license renewal papers.”
“If you’re sure. But how are you gonna get home? You said this Friday, but you’re basically in the middle of nowhere.”
“I think a car will pick me up? I’m not too sure, but I know I’ll be home by then.”
“Ok. Hey I gotta go, but thanks for calling and assuring me that you’re alive.”
“No problem and see you soon.”
The call ends and Jack walks back into the kitchenette, seeing Mark cooking.
“Hey! I thought I was cooking this morning?” Jack walks over to Mark, watching him make scrambled eggs.
“Too late. How’d the call go? Did the WiFi work?”
Jack nods and cautiously leans into Mark’s side, “Yeah, my friend was so relieved I was alive.”
Mark laughs, “I’m sure she was.”
Jack feels Mark lay his arm around his shoulders, “Did you have anything in mind for today? It’s you’re second-to-last day here.”
Mark sets aside the scrambled eggs, dropping a few pieces of bacon on the pan.
“Look at more of your work.”
Mark’s eyebrows raise, “Really? Not pick berries or hunt with me?”
Jack shakes his head and Mark smiles, “Then your wish is my command.”
“So, what’re you in the mood for today?”
Mark chuckles and pulls a notebook with a green cover, “Here she is, this is from last year.”
Jack flips open the book and smiles, it seems to be a candid of two little children playing in a creek.
“Can I guess what the theme is?”
Mark nods, “Sure, but it might be a little tough in the beginning.”
Jack moves on and the new picture is of a young man graduating. He has a large smile on his face as he holds his certificate.
“Which graduation is this? I know Americans have a high school and college graduation.”
“It’s high school.”
Jack hums and flips again, seeing another young man laying in a hospital bed. A woman is hovering over his side. The man has several tubes connected into him, making Jack wince slightly.
“I think I have a guess.”
Mark's eyebrow quirks up.
“It’s you growing up.”
Mark is silent, making Jack look up in concern.
Mark is teary eyed, but is smiling. His lower lip trembles a little and his breathing is a bit clipped.
“What’s wrong? Am I that wrong? I know I’m a bad guesser b-”
Mark envelopes Jack into a hug, shaking his head. “You’re not wrong at all.”
Jack slowly wraps his arms around Mark in return, confusion obvious. “Then what’s with the tears?”
“It’s just that… I’ve never shown that notebook to anyone other than my mother. And you guessed the theme from only three pictures.”
Jack smiles, “The young man in all of those pictures just… spoke to me. I was just lucky.”
“What did the young man say to you?”
“That growing up is tough.”
Mark huffs and Jack feels a wetness on his shoulder.
Chapter 9: Goodbye
y'all are finally catching up to where i have my doc at!
Growing up is tough.
Mark sketches furiously, Jack’s words written clearly across the bottom of the page.
Mark jumps and clutches his shirt where his heart is, “Christ you scared me!”
Jack yawns, “Sorry. But can I ask you something?”
Mark drops his pencil and fully turns to Jack. “Sure, what’s up?”
“Can we sleep together tonight? It’s my last night and-”
Mark stands and turns his desk lap off, reassuring himself he’ll finish the piece tomorrow. “Of course. Guest bed or normal bed?”
Mark nods and Jack grabs Mark’s hand. “I’m gonna miss you.”
Mark closes the door and Jack tugs on his shirt.
“You’re too kind.”
They lay down together and Jack immediately cuddles into Mark’s chest. “Night Jack.”
“Good night Mark.”
Mark just finishes the coloring as Jack walks into the office, “The car is here.”
Mark picks up the page, tucking it into a folder. “Ok.”
Mark stops and smiles, “Go ahead Jack.”
“I want you to come with me.”
Shaking his head, Mark pushes the folder into Jack’s hands. “I need to get ready. I don’t want to keep you here any longer.”
Jack frowns, clutching the folder moving to peek into it.
“Don’t look. At least not yet.”
Jack nods, “Come with me. Please. ”
Mark’s expression softens, “Ok. But let me talk to the driver.”
Jack smiles wide and hugs Mark.
They head to the car and Mark smiles. The passenger side window rolls down and Amy’s smiling face greets them.
“Hey Mark and guest. Ready to go?”
“Not yet. I need to change into uniform.”
“I’m on duty, it’s bear season.”
Amy sucks her teeth, “Ah, right. Well go ahead and change and your guest can sit in the car.”
Amy smiles as Jack gets in, “No problem.”
“You’ve got quite a crowd waiting for you at Greek Theater.”
Jack looks confused, “I do? Why?”
“While you’ve been away from everything, your producer and the other hiker you were with filed a missing person’s. Thankfully Mark called in and explained where you were.”
“I didn’t even know that happened.” Jack mumbled, feeling guilty.
“Hey don’t worry about it,” Mark jumps in, “Think of it as if you’re returning from a vacation.”
Jack nods, “I guess that makes sense.”
“Can you drop me off at the body shop? I gotta pick up my car.”
“Oh is that why you couldn’t drive me back yourself?” Jack asks.
Mark nods, “Yeah. Something was wrong with the engine.”
“Sure. Just make sure to say goodbye to your guest.” Amy adds as they pull into the parking lot of the Greek Theater.
Jack’s eyes widen, there’s flashing cameras and press people all over the parking lot. Out of the mess of people, he manages to see Evelien
The car stops and the press basically swarm the car. Jack turns to Mark.
“Thank you for saving me,” he says with tears in his eyes.
“Thank you for trusting me.” Mark replies.
They hug and Jack already misses Mark. “Open the folder whenever you’re home alone after this.” Mark mumbles into Jack’s ear. Jack nods, wishing he and Mark could stay like this for a little longer.
They separate and Mark smiles.
“Can you get out with me? Walk me to my friend?”
“Not to ruin the moment, but you need to get out so I can park. Mark, meet me after you drop your friend off.”
Mark nods and he and Jack get out.
The press start taking pictures as soon as the doors open. Jack joins Mark and feels intimidated by all of the people.
“So where’s your friend?”
Jack scans the crowd and sees Evelien as she’s rushing towards them. “She’s running over.”
Jack is quickly embraced by his friend and Mark backs away, giving them space.
Jack and Evelien part and Jack looks to Mark, but he’s walking away.
And suddenly, he’s embraced again and Jack’s heart aches.
Jack sighs, leaning against his bedroom door. He’s exhausted.
The hiker makes his way to his bed and sits on the edge, the folder Mark gave him still unopened from the day he got back from Mark’s cabin.
He feels the urge to open the folder hit him again and looks away to the door. He imagines it to be Mark’s cozy little cabin, the door to the guest bedroom.
He wishes that Mark would just walk through.
But the door never opens.
Jack looks back to the folder and grabs it. He runs his fingers along the side and opens.
He gasps, the first this he sees is a drawing of himself standing in front of the sink in the morning sun. He’s washing dishes and looking out of the window. He remembers doing that, it was the morning after Mark made deer soup and Jack woke up early to wash the dishes as a thank you.
Jack flips the picture over and there’s a little note:
Jack, this is the moment. The moment I saw a good person. A beautiful heart that shone through.
Jack tears up, looking through the rest of the pictures. The rest of the pictures were like the first, cataclysmic moments in their briefly conjoined lives that made Mark’s heart melt.
The last drawing made Jack’s collection of unshed tears fall.
The piece is of Jack caught unaware. He’s looking down and smiling. There’s a banner drawn across the bottom, reading Growing up is tough.
Jack puts the folder aside and cries into his hands. His breath shaky and his hands trembling. He takes a deep breath and looks up, wiping his tears and face with his sleeve.
He grabs the folder and puts in on the nightstand.
Laying down, Jack turns the lights off and sleeps with red-rimmed eyes and an aching heart.
His phone is buzzing. Out of annoyance he angrily unplugs it and sits up.
The text is from Evelien and Jack’s eyes widen, quickly asking what about Mark.
Instead of texting she calls, “Jack! Get to the hospital!”
“What? Why? What happened to Mark?” Jack asks, feeling himself become frantic.
“I’m going as fast as I can!” Jack slips on his shoes and runs to his car. Jumping in and pulling into the street.
Jack runs into the lobby and sees Evelien. He comes up to her, “What happened?”
She embraces him and Jack can feel how tense she is. “You know that woman who drove you back? Mark’s friend?”
The two part and Jack nods, “Yeah, Amy. How do you know about her?”
“She brought Mark in.”
“What do you mean?”
Evelien takes a deep breath and pulls Jack over to the sitting area. They sit and Jack thinks back to his conversation with Mark about him not worrying.
“You know how Mark said he was on duty after you left right?”
Jack nods, biting his fingernails.
“And you know it’s bear hunting season?”
Jack nods again, “Just spill. God you’re making me more anxious.”
“Mark was shot.”
Jack is stunned. He can’t imagine never seeing Mark again. Never walking back into his little cabin. Never seeing the beautiful art Mark drew.
“Please tell me it’s not fatal. Please tell me he’s going to be ok.” Jack mumbles, looking to Evelien.
She has tears in her eyes, “It’s undetermined.”
“What do you mean? There has to be a way!”
Evelien shrugs, obviously exhausted.
Both Jack and Evelin turn, a doctor stands at the lobby’s reception desk. She makes her way over, her eyes pensive.
“Hello Evelien. And you are?”
“Jack, Mark’s friend.”
The doctor nods and holds her hand out, “I’m Doctor Ge. Mark mentioned you.”
Jack shakes Dr. Ge’s hand, “He did?”
She nods, gesturing for the two to follow her. “He’s in rough shape. While he’s ok for now, recovery will not be easy.”
They make their way down the hall, the sounds of hushed conversations and heart monitors makes Jack feel uneasy.
“He was shot in the shoulder, and was ambushed by the hunter’s friend.”
“What happened in the ambush?”
“At the end of it, Mark had an arrow stuck in his leg.”
Jack and Evelien share a look of pain.
They stop at a door, T-15. “Please be quiet, he came out of surgery just a few hours ago.” Dr. Ge opens the door and Jack walks in.
Jack’s heart aches, Mark is hooked up to so many machines. There’s two different IV drips going. Mark looks sickly, far too pale.
Mark opens his eyes and Jack rushes to his side.
Mark smiles, moving his hand from his side to the guardrail on the side of the bed.
“You worry too much. Told you to not do that.” Mark whispers.
Jack takes Mark’s hand, “Well, it’s too late for that. You’ve got me hooked.”
“Mark, a nurse will be here in a few hours. If you need anything just use the call button.”
Mark nods at Dr. Ge, and she leaves.
“You didn’t meet me, but I’m Evelien, Jack’s friend from Nat-Geo.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Mark looks back to Jack, “Told you to let me go. Hunting season is dangerous.”
“Too bad. I care about you.”
Mark smiles, the door opening. “Mark!”
Jack and Evelien turn and see two men walk in and make room for them at Mark’s side.
“We heard what happened. Sorry we couldn’t get here sooner.”
“It’s ok. It’s not your fault.”
One of the men shakes his head, “But I was on duty that night, you were my responsibility.”
“Tyler.” Mark objects, “It was not your fault. It was the hunter’s. She was the one without a permit, the one who shot me.”
Tyler shakes his head, “Still. I was in the car with you. I should’ve gotten out the moment the girl started getting angry.”
“It’s ok, really. What’s done, is done.”
Tyler huffs, but drops the subject.
“Oh hi, I’m Tyler,” he introduces, turning to Jack and Evelin. “And this is Ethan.” The other man smiles and gives a little wave.
“We’ll see you tomorrow ok?” Tyler asks, eyebrows pinching together.
Mark nods, giving a weak smile. “Sure.”
Tyler nods, he and Ethan leave.
“Jack. I’ll see you at the office?”
Evelien nods and pats Jack on the shoulder as she heads to the door.
“Evelien said it was undetermined that you’d live. Is that true?” Jack asks, taking Mark’s hand in his own.
Mark shakes his head and Jack sighs in relief, “It was undetermined when I first came in.”
“Oh thank god! I was so afraid that I’d never see you again.”
Mark smiles, “Awww, you’d miss me?” He weakly presses a hand over his heart.
“Of course I would. Who wouldn’t miss someone like you?”
It’s silent as Jack moves a chair to sit in, still holding Mark’s hand.
“I told you not to worry about me.”
Jack closes his eyes tight, “Why are you pushing me away?”
“Because at anytime, I could die. Jack. I could die and you’d have to grieve over me.”
“Why is that an issue? Do you not like me?”
Mark shakes his head, “I like you, a lot. But I just don’t want you to attach yourself to me because my job is so dangerous.”
Jack opens his eyes and looks to Mark, “But I want to grieve over you! I like you. I want to be a part of your life.”
“But being a part of my life could mean that you’d have to bury me too.”
Jack’s next reply is caught in his throat, realizing something. “What happened between you and Amy?”
Mark freezes like he’s been caught doing something illegal. “What about that?”
“I know you overheard.”
Jack frowns slightly, “What happened Mark?”
Mark closes his eyes for a moment and sighs. “Amy and I had dated about three years at that point.”
Jack squeezes Mark’s hand.
“It was elk season and I was stabbed. I was rushed into surgery and almost lost my life.”
Jack closes his eyes.
“A new student was assisting and he dropped a scalpel and it stabbed into my stomach. I was originally stabbed by a barbed knife, which was why I was in operation.”
Mark sighs, “My stomach was pierced and stomach acid went everywhere. The doctors managed to fix it and I was in recovery before I knew it.”
Jack opens his eyes and sees Mark fiddling with the blanket around his hips.
“Amy broke up with me the day after surgery. She was afraid to bury me, she just couldn’t do it.”
Jack squeezes Mark’s hand again and Mark looks over, “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“Don’t apologize if it’s not your fault.”
“Mark, please let me in.”
Mark’s breath hitches, “Are you sure?”
Jack nods so hard he’s sure to give himself whiplash.
Mark giggles and pulls on Jack’s hand. “Please be patient with me.”
Jack stands, “Of course.”
Jack leans over the side of the bed and presses his lips to Mark’s.
do you guys want to see Mark's recovery? there's a little bit more left that i have written from before, but Mark's recovery isn't really included in that.
Chapter 11: Recovery
“I’m sorry Mark.” Dr. Ge says, as she walks into the room.
“What is it?” Mark asks, sitting up.
“When you were shot, the bullet clipped a mass of nerves called the brachial plexus. It’s connected to your spinal cord and sends messages to your hand, arm, and shoulder.”
“What does that mean for my movement then?”
“Since it was just clipped, it might severely hinder the usage of your hand and arm or simply cause stiff joints.”
Mark sighs and rubs his face with his one good arm. “Is that why I’m struggling using my other arm?”
Dr. Ge nods, “Unfortunately that’s not all. In the worst cases there will be extreme pain or the complete inability to use your arm.”
Dr. Ge continues, as if she didn't hear Mark swear, “If it becomes the latter, you might have to consider amputation. But if not, just be aware that moving your arm now will severely affect the outcome.”
Mark nods and purses his lips, “Thank you Doctor.”
“Oh, one more thing.”
Mark frowns slightly, glad that Jack isn’t here.
“Your leg wound from the arrow isn’t as severe as we thought. However, it will need lots of care and attention. We treated it as a shallow stab wound, simply stitching it and waiting.”
Mark nods, “Good to hear”
Dr. Ge smiles, “A nurse will be in soon to change your bandages,” she leaves, gently closing the door behind her.
“Did you miss me?” Jack asks as he walks in.
Mark sits up and smiles, “Of course I did.”
Jack sits in the chair from yesterday and takes Mark’s hand.
“I have some… news.” Mark looks away, not wanting to see Jack’s reaction.
“What kind of news?”
Jack frowns and settles into the chair, bracing himself.
“My other arm might have to be amputated.”
Jack gasps and Mark squeezes his eyelids shut. “A bundle of nerves were damaged, and there are a range of symptoms.”
“Like what?” Jack’s voice is small, all quiet and soft.
“Ranging from slight stiffness, or pain, or even complete loss of my arm.”
Jack’s heart clenches and Mark opens his eyes.
“Are you sure you still want to be with me?”
Jack looks to Mark, who doesn’t meet his gaze.
Mark finally looks to Jack with tears in his eyes, “Even if I’m missing an arm?”
Jack brings Mark’s hand up and kisses his knuckles, “Of course. I’m sure of it.”
Mark can’t bear to look at Jack’s expression, instead he looks to the window.
The sun is setting and the light is casting over Mark’s legs and bad arm. He leans back and relishes the waning sunlight.
Mark and Jack look up to Dr. Ge with surprised expressions.
"Your arrow wound is fully healed, and you're ready to start P.T. later today."
Jack cheers and kisses Mark's cheek, and Mark smiles.
"For now, we're going to test your range of movement to see what exercises you need."
Mark nods and Jack gives an encouraging smile.
"Can you lift your arm outwards from your shoulder?"
Mark's arm shakes as he manages to move his arm only a handful of inches away from his side.
The nurse hums and purses her lips, "Are you in pain?"
Mark huffs and lets his arm drop, "A little, yeah. It's just stiff."
"Where are you on the pain scale?"
"About a four ."
The nurse hums, "Ok, try to reach forwards to me."
Mark reaches forward and it's the same result as before, he sighs.
"Painful?" The nurse asks, seeing Mark's frustrated expression.
"Yeah, it's about the same as before."
The nurse thinks for a moment, "Ok," she rushes off before returning with a large blue exercise band.
"Take the band and wrap it a couple times around your left foot."
Mark does and he's told and holds the other end of the band in his good hand.
"Now slowly raise and lower your arm to stregthen your shoulder. It may not completely open up your range of movement, but it'll definitely help."
Jack watches with furrowed eyebrows as Mark huffs in frustration as he slowly rolls his shoulder is small circles. The nurse looks on with worries eyes.
Mark looks over to where Jack is sitting, "Yeah?"
Jack stands and walks over, "Don't push yourself too hard, you're gonna strain the muscle."
Mark huffs, "I just don't want to be debilitated."
"I know, I just don't want you to end up doing more harm than good."
Mark pauses and slowly flexes his fingers.
"Is your hand still stiff?" The nurse asks quietly.
Mark nods and the nurse takes Mark's hand, "Can you flex your fingers, starting from your index finger?"
Mark's fingers slowly curl onto themselves, like a fern curling in it's leaves.
"Can you clench your fist?"
The tendon in Mark's wrist flexes and his fist shakes.
"Ok, ok," the nurse soothes, gently prying Mark's fingers open.
"God I just wanna go back to my cabin."
Jack smiles and clasps Mark's hand over the hospital bed's guardrail. "Me too, I like your little cabin."
"But I can't. Even when I do get released I still have to come in for P.T."
"Ah, right. Need a place to stay?"
Mark looks over and smiles.
“Do you have all of your stuff?” Jack asks as he bustles about his apartment, making sure everything is clean.
“‘Course. I don’t have too much stuff.” Mark says.
“Oh yeah, just your four hundred notebooks and drawing supplies.”
“Well, minus that.”
Jack laughs and Mark smiles on the other end of the line.
“I’ll see you soon. And remember the shelves.”
“What a cute place!” Mark smiles at the coziness of the living room.
“Oh it’s nothing!” Jack helps Mark place his art supplies on the couch.
Mark just smiles, watching Jack move cushions to make room for his stuff.
“No. You need to rest.”
Mark huffs and Jack walks up to him, “C’mon, you know what the doctor said.”
“I know what the doctor said, but it’s hard to listen when you’re the one making room for me in your life.” Mark places his hands on Jack’s hips.
Jack pecks Mark on the lips, “Hey, don’t worry about me. I’m doing this because you were there for me when I came knocking.”
Mark pecks Jack back, “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure.” Jack nods and separates himself from Mark. “What’d you want for dinner?”
Mark smiles as he makes Jack his favorite coffee. The morning sun just filtering into the kitchen. He shuffles over to Jack’s laptop and turns it on, making sure it saved his research.
Mark turns around and sees Jack walking into the kitchen. “Morning. Your coffee is by the sink.”
Mark moves to the back porch and opens the door, enjoying the warm sun. “Did you find the trail you wanna hike in Joshua Tree?”
“Yeah.” Jack moves to stand by Mark. “Evelien already booked the camping site too,” he sips his coffee.
Mark hums and closes his eyes, leaning forward slightly against the guard rail. “Make sure you send me pictures.”
“I will, don’t worry.”
i know this is SUPER short but honestly, i kinda struggled to find a good way to end this. regardless this piece is my child, it's the longest thing i've written! thanks for sticking with this monstrosity of creativity.
Chapter 13: Letting Go (Alternate Ending)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jack groans, having to practically peel his face from his pillow case. His phone is buzzing madly on the floor. Jack sits up and quickly rubs the sleep from his eyes, reaching down for his phone. The call is from an unknown number and the hiker debates not answering it.
“ Is this Jack McLoughlin? ” A firm, yet soft voice asks.
“This is he. Is something wrong?”
“ This is Police Chief Nestor. Mark Fischbach left a note to call you. ”
“Mark? What happened to him?” Jack is definitely more awake now.
“ He suffered a severe stab and bullet wound.”
Jack freezes, the news crashing down. He looks to the folder of art, his last little piece of Mark.
“ Mr. McLoughlin. Are you with me?”
“I-I-Yeah. Yeah I am.”
“ I need you to come to West Hollywood Urgent Care.”
“Ok.” Jack is numb as he stands to get ready, pulling his blanket off of himself.
When Jack arrives at the hospital, he’s approached by a police officer.
“I’m Chief Nestor. We spoke over the phone, yes?” The chief sticks his hand out.
“Yeah.” Jach weakly shakes his hand. His mind is faraway, trying to drift into the stars. The smell of sanitizer overwhelming as Mr. Nestor lets go of Jack’s hand.
The two walk through the all white halls. The hum of equipment and the beep of monitors doesn’t ease Jack’s nerves. The hiker constantly fiddles with his bracelets, twisting and tugging.
They stop in front of a starkly wooden door compared to the all white walls and floor.
Jack looks to the chief and he nods, silently urging Jack to walk in.
The hiker pushes the door open and is assaulted by the smell of rotting flowers, despite the room lacking flowers. He takes note of how many people are in the room and Jack is surprised that he sees familiar faces. He meekly steps inside and everyone turns their head, making Jack even more nervous.
A short Asian woman walks up to him and takes Jack’s hands into hers. “You’re Jack?”
Jack, surprised still manages to nod.
“I’m Mark’s mother.” The woman replies, her accent becoming more prominent. “Mark told me about you.”
“He did?” Jack can’t help himself as he glances to Mark’s form in the hospital bed.
Mark’s mother nods, she pulls Jack to Mark’s side. “Marky,” she whispers, nudging him slightly.
Mark opens his eyes and smiles. “Jack is here.”
Mark hums, trying to reach for Jack. The hiker feels tears begin as he grasps Mark’s startlingly cold hand.
“He can understand us,” Amy speaks up. “But he can’t respond.”
Jack is silently nods, gripping Mark’s hand tightly.
“What did you get yourself into. I told you to be careful.” Jack tries to smile but his tears betray him.
Mark frowns and tries to lift his arm.
Mark’s mother sets a chair down for Jack and the hiker smiles, sitting.
Mark manages to lift his arm high enough to wipe Jack’s tears away.
“Look at you. Still taking care of me even when you’re the one in the hospital.” Jack gives a watery chuckle, making Mark smile slightly.
Jack turns to Mark’s mother, feeling awkward. “Umm-Why can’t Mark reply?”
Amy and another man meet eyes and the man walks forward and tries to smile.
“It’s because of blood loss.”
“He’s getting worse.” Mark’s mother sobs, pressing her face into her hands.
Jack simply rubs her back as he feels tears slowly trailing down his face.
“What are we to do?”
Amy sighs, “Let him go.”
“What?!” Mark’s mother whips her head up to stare at Amy with wide eyes.
Amy looks away, “I mean-he’s suffering. He can’t talk, he can’t move his left arm, he can hardly eat!” Amy looks mad as she stares back at Mark’s mother, her face slowly becoming pink with frustration.
Mark’s mother shakes her head and sighs, “I just-I just can’t. Not after his father.”
“It’s your turn Jack.”
The doctor nudges Jack, giving him a smile.
“Ok, thank you.”
Jack steps inside of Mark’s hospital room and smiles at Mark.
“I love the art you drew for me.” Jack says as he sits by Mark’s side.
“It’s well done and it made me cry when I first looked through it.”
Jack takes Mark’s hand. “I love all of your art.”
Mark smiles and squeezes Jack’s hand.
They sit in silence. Jack feels slightly uneasy at the lack of noise in the room, the monitor turned off. Mark closes his eyes and sighs, intertwining his and Jack’s fingers.
“You know.” Jack begins, watching Mark slowly open his eyes. “My real name isn’t Jack.”
Mark hums and Jack smiles despite the situation and what’s soon to come.
“My real name is Seán. It’s Irish for gracious gift from God.”
Mark smiles, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. There wasn’t a good time for it.” Jack chuckles awkwardly.
There’s a knock at the door and Jack jumps, surprised. The doctor walks in with Mark’s mother in tow.
Jack nods, bowing his head and steps aside. The doctor fiddles with Mark’s IV line and backs away, moving to the other side of the bed.
Mark’s mother walks up to Mark’s side and presses her forehead to his, muttering to him in Korean. Mark smiles and his mother cries, her tears dripping onto the ranger’s face.
She mutters a little longer and wipes her tears from Mark’s face, backing away.
Jack walks up to Mark, their hands still interlaced. “I love you, you know that?”
Mark smiles, tears in his eyes. “I wish I could say that more.”
“I love you. You, my savior.”
Jack looks up to the doctor and he nods, hand poised at the switch.
“I love you my artist.”
The doctor presses the switch and the machine fully shuts off. Mark looks up at Jack and smiles with his tears finally falling. The tears slide from the corners of his eyes and pool in the sheets by Mark’s ears.
“I love you.”
so i know this is sudden and all but it came to me last night and i HAD to get it out! it actually made me tear up a little too. there might be another chapter after this one but i'm not sure. the last chapter was hella lack-luster and short, so i might've subconsciously written this as compensation? idk
anyways thanks for really sticking with this thing, it means a lot!