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In a Hand-basket

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In a Hand-basket

In a Hand-basket

Part One

Huddled into a soaked, freezing ball, Veronica Mars wondered where her life would have been if the world hadn't ended a year ago. One thing she did know was she never would have been on the run for her life, bare feet torn and bleeding, dressed in rags, praying desperately the demon on her trail would just pass by.

Life, however, had taught her prayers were useless.

Footsteps sounded near enough she could hear them above the racket of her pounding heart and she squeezed her eyes shut tight. She clenched her knees closer to her body, forcing herself into an even smaller space. Just walk by, just walk by, just walk by...

The footsteps paused. The creak of a door pushing slowly open let the sound of rain batter her ears.

"Here, piggy-piggy."

So much for her thoughts of escape. She didn't bother trying to run again. The demon would catch her before she made it ten steps. The only question mark was what punishment she had waiting for her back at the camp. She'd seen a man flogged to death for simply being overheard talking about trying to escape. She'd actually run. She could only hope the demon would go ahead and kill her. What tiny bit of her pride remained after a year in the camps wouldn't survive a return.

She'd thought all trace of her spine had disappeared long ago, but when the transport van had hydroplaned and slammed into a tree, she'd crawled over the shattered glass chunks of the windows and run without thought and without looking back. There might have been other survivors out of the seven of them, but her only thought had been to run. Knowing the incredible speed of the demon guards, she'd scrambled over dirt trails, through woods, around fences, blindly searching for a place to hide. The rain would work in her favor, minimizing her trail. Apparently it hadn't minimized it enough.

The barn was in surprisingly good shape. Its bracing rafters were still solid and the smell of molding hay nearly knocked her off her feet. But it was far away from the crash site and would give her shelter from the freezing rain. Unfortunately, her shelter had turned into a trap.

"If you come out now, I'll only hurt you a little bit."

Blood trickled over her clenched hand and down into the holes torn in the rough canvas of her jumpsuit. She bit down into her lip to keep a panicked shriek from escaping. The taste of hot copper filled her mouth.

The footsteps started moving again. "If you make me search I'll bleed you slowly and painfully."

She barely heard it over the pounding of the pulse in her ears. Run, the hindmost part of her brain shrieked, run! But her muscles were locked tight. She tracked his progress through the barn unconsciously, his taunts only so much noise in the whiteness filling her head. She couldn't go back to the camps.

Heavy boots filled her vision and she raised dead eyes to meet black-filled ones. He smiled, a predatory baring of teeth. "Hello, little piggy. You didn't actually think you could hide from me, did you?"

A flash of movement behind the demon tried to pull her gaze but she couldn't look away from the pure black death staring down at her. She couldn't talk, couldn't think, couldn't even breathe.

"She might not be able to, but I can."

The new voice was deep, harsh and uncompromising. And one of the most beautiful things Veronica had heard in her life.

The demon spun, his face a mask of stunned shock she'd never thought to see on one of them. "Who the hell are you?"

"Someone you bastards should have paid a little less attention to."

She didn't have time to blink before the man shoved a viciously serrated knife into the demon's chest. She saw a flash of white light bounce off the man's face, highlighting his flat expression, and she shivered in her ball of pain and fear. He wrenched the knife back with a sneer, watching as the lifeless body slumped to the ground, one arm trailing over Veronica's feet. Merciless eyes met hers, their hazel shadowed with death, pain and hopelessness. "If you want to live, dump the damn jumpsuit and keep running."

He didn't give Veronica time to respond, just turned and walked away. Long seconds passed as her heart relearned how to beat. The weight of the demon's arm across her feet was suddenly nauseating and she scrambled upright, the slivers of wood digging into her palms mere pinpricks of sensation. She looked toward the door, toward her savior's retreating back, and ran after him. "Wait." She coughed roughly, the tension singeing through her veins closing her throat painfully. "Wait, please." He didn't stop, just kept walking with a ground-eating stride. Her battered feet protested every step through the muddy field, but she didn't pause. If she wanted answers she couldn't let him leave. "Who are you? You're not one of them."

That did bring him around, his eyes blazing fiercely for a split second. "No, I'm not one of them. But I'm not one of you either."

She had the feeling he meant more than just a camp slave, but she didn't follow up on it. The old her would have, the one who was fearless in the face of motorcycle gang leaders and crowbar wielding teenagers alike. She was pretty sure that girl had died a long time ago. "Let me come with you."

Another one of those cold steel looks burned through her, the hazel dull and dead once again. "No." He turned on his heel and left her staring at him without another glance.

Something sparked inside her, the sight of him walking away from her--abandoning her--bringing something long forgotten to life. "Wait a damn minute. Don't just walk away from me!" Her voice echoed in the clearing, the trees holding the sound tight around them. She froze, heart pounding frantically against her ribs, waiting for him to end her life for her audacity. She'd had her mouth beaten out of her long ago. At least she'd thought it had been. Now, staring across the distance at the man who exuded violence like Logan had once leaked sex appeal, she wasn't so sure.

"Excuse me, sweetheart? I can do any damn thing I well please. I'm not the one in a jumpsuit." Despite the harsh words, she caught the slightest hint of interest in the dead tone. She held his gaze, more out of fear than will, and nearly stumbled when he looked away. "Follow me."

He didn't wait to see if she was going to obey, just turned for the third time and took off. She tripped in her hurry to keep up. It had to have been an hour later before he stopped next to a battered and rusted out hulk of a vehicle. It was a truck of some kind and the color might have been yellow at some point in its life, but time and the apocalypse had not been kind. Thankfully, the rain had stopped during their hike but a chill wind had taken its place and shivered its way through the holes in her jumpsuit. Looking around the area he'd stashed the truck, she caught a glimpse of road and what remained of a white transport van almost a hundred yards away. Her stomach sank at the sight. She was right back where she'd started that morning. Gaze flying to the man currently digging through a bag sitting in the driver's seat of the truck, the investigator long hidden away leaped to the front of her brain. He'd known the van was here. He'd known exactly where she'd been hiding. Her rescue at the barn couldn't have been an accident. He might have even engineered the entire crash. Just who the hell was this guy?

"Drink this."

This was a silver flask he held out in one hand. Veronica backed away without thought. No one offered anything without a price tag, not since the demons came. "What is it?"

He smiled and it wasn't in amusement. "Nothing that will hurt you." He took a long swig then held it out again, one eyebrow cocked in challenge.

Taking the flask gingerly, she bobbled it when she realized it was warm to the touch, not cold as she'd expected. Maybe he hadn't pulled it from the truck after all. She brought it to her lips and knocked back a large swallow. Water. It was just water. She nearly choked in surprise at the clean, fresh taste of it. Looking down at the flask, she took in the stylized cross etched into the silver almost absently. When was the last time she'd tasted anything so good? "Can I finish it?"

His eyes narrowed a little as he nodded once. He reached back into the bag and pulled out a leather bound book. Flipping it open seemingly at random, he exchanged the book for the flask. "Read."

"What?" She was starting to sound like one of her dad's old records. The guy had saved her life, but she was beginning to think he wasn't all there. She'd humor him though if he could get her away from the crash site and the camps. Raising the book, she picked a line at random and read, the unused synapses in her brain actually sighing in sheer bliss at the activity. "'He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.'" She looked up, confusion and joy warring for dominance in her chest. It had been a long time since she'd heard a word from or even seen the book she held. "The Bible. Where did you get it?"

He didn't answer, his face loosening the slightest bit. "Here."

She handed it back, arm outstretched to its fullest, not wanting to take the step necessary to move closer to him. A second later she was clutching her forearm and stumbling back, a cry of pain locked in her throat. She felt a sense of betrayal filling her and fought it back. He was just some stranger who happened to choose her transport van to ambush. That he would slice her arm open and stand there staring at her with that blank expression shouldn't mean anything to her. But it did. "What the hell was that for? In case you haven't noticed I'm half your size and in no shape to attack you."

A long stretch of silence fell between them as blood oozed from beneath her hand. He never blinked, his eyes hard and cold as he stared down at her. Just as she'd decided to leave, to take her chances on her own, the ice cleared leaving behind only an empty expression. "Here," he said again, this time holding out a rag. When she didn't take it, he nodded, one corner of his mouth quirking up. He laid it over the side of the truck bed then turned back to the duffel bag leaving her to stare at his back.

She snatched the rag from the truck and pressed it to the cut he'd put in her arm. Even dirty it had to be cleaner than her grimy hand. She kept a careful distance, her arm one painful throb of sensation as she applied as much pressure as she could stand. She hadn't had much opportunity to use any of the first aid she'd learned so long ago, but pressure on a wound wasn't something she was likely to forget. The man ignored her glare and continued to rummage through his bag of tricks. The bleeding had stopped oozing by the time he held up a pair of ratty jeans and a button down flannel shirt that should have seen its last leg a few years ago.

"Put these on. I need to burn that jumpsuit."

Again with the orders. She gritted her teeth, however, and took the clothes. Despite their raggedy appearance they smelled clean and actually looked to match. They were going to be gigantic on her without question. The man had a full foot on her in height and he had a broadness to his chest and shoulders that even the many layers of clothes he wore couldn't hide. He obviously hadn't spent any time in the camps lately. No one carried around that much natural muscle anymore.

"Go on the other side of the truck. I'll wait here." If her imagination hadn't always been far too overactive, she would have sworn his voice softened just the slightest bit. There was no trace of it in his eyes or face so she shrugged the thought aside and took his advice.

She listened to him repacking the duffel as she stripped off the hated and filthy jumpsuit, leaving it in a puddle of canvas at her feet. The jeans slid over her legs with the feel of silk and she nearly cried at the sensation. Who'd have thought that the simple feel of well worn jeans would be Veronica Mars' breaking point? She blinked back the burn in her eyes as she rolled the cuffs up above tripping level. The shirt was threadbare in places, but just as soft as the denim and heavenly against the sensitive skin of her breasts. The scratchy jumpsuit had been torture enough all on its own. The demons could have left off any of the other fun and games they'd devised for her and her fellow camp-mates.

He stuffed the duffel back behind his seat as she rounded the truck once again, holding the jeans up at her waist with one hand and the jumpsuit with the other. Silently, he handed her a bungee cord and she quickly threaded it through the belt loops. It wasn't a perfect fit, but it would keep them from falling. He took the jumpsuit, also without a word, and carried it about ten feet away from the truck. He sprinkled something white and powdery over it then sprayed a clear liquid over the entire mess. The sharp smell of accelerant stung her nose and she stepped back unconsciously. He was seriously going to burn the damn thing. But what was with the powder? She didn't have time to get the question out of her mouth before the jumpsuit was nothing more than dancing flames. Not like he'd answer it anyway. Her savior apparently wasn't big on small talk.

When it had burned to his satisfaction, he strode back to the open door of the truck and climbed inside. Veronica all but sprinted on bruised and cut feet to get to the passenger side before he took off without her. The unexpected gift of clothes gave her no security about her status. The door opened with a rusty squeal, but at least it opened. She hopped up and slammed it behind her, throwing the lock automatically. She smiled slightly at the gesture. Some things really never changed.

The truck roared to life and she knew its ramshackle appearance belied its upkeep. The man, or someone he knew, had a fine hand at keeping a car running in top shape. He threw the truck in gear and would have taken off without a word or glance in her direction. "I'm Veronica. Veronica Mars."

A long, dead pause filled the cab, only the sound of the engine between them. Finally, the man blinked, his hazel eyes leaving hers to focus on the dirt trail leading back to the paved road. "Dean."

Dean, she repeated silently as he hit the gas and passed the wreck of her transport van without a glance. She didn't look either. She didn't want to see any of her fellow prisoners lying motionless on the ground. She'd seen enough of that in the last month alone. Her gaze stayed fixed on Dean's profile, finally allowing herself to absorb what he looked like. The suddenness of his rescue followed by his strange demands at the truck had kept her from really seeing him. Like an unexpected slap, she realized he was gorgeous. Not just pretty or handsome. The man was a freaking knockout. Even the jagged scar running from his right temple over the perfect slash of his cheekbone and down his neck where it disappeared into the collar of his jacket couldn't hide the fact.

She must have been more messed up than she'd thought to have missed it. An uncomfortable curl of warmth filled her gut and she shoved it back down. All he'd done was save her life and give her the clothes on her back. It didn't mean anything. It really didn't. Too bad she'd stopped lying to herself when she'd watched Logan get sliced up trying to protect her. She could have used a few lies just then.