Ashe wasn’t the best of patients. Part of it was the fact that she both liked being fussed over and hated pity, a nightmarish combination for anyone trying to figure out how to acknowledge her injuries without pissing her off by coddling her. There was really no right way to do it, which was just as well, because Ashe was determined to be a grump no matter what when she was in pain, and she was in more pain now than she had been in a long while.
Why hadn’t she seen that skeleton sneaking up on her? Sure, her focus had been on keeping the hoard at bay, and she was used to fighting with multiple people and an Omnic at her back, but still. Sloppy. She blamed the damned ashy atmosphere, she blamed the unfamiliar territory, she blamed not knowing how to fight skeletons, she blamed whatever had whisked her away to this shit alternate universe, and in some tiny corner of her brain she didn’t want to acknowledge, she blamed herself. Should have been better.
She’d broken her wrist, fucked up her ankle, bruised her ribs, and a skeleton had taken what was surely a bacteria-laden bite out of her arm before someone had gotten her out of there. None of her injuries were going to kill her, but she was officially useless on the field and had nothing to do but sulk. The guy in the bed next to her was one of the natives, or at least as native as you got here in Weird Vallo, and he looked as happy about it as she was. Ashe wasn’t normally a believer in talking to people in public if she didn’t have to, but they were clearly stuck together and she couldn’t sleep, and he wasn’t asleep, so. Why not.
“You guys get skeleton zombie things ‘round here often?”
Jiang Cheng might have preferred to lose the leg entirely, rather than be stuck in a makeshift bed in a corner of triage next to a strange woman with white hair and sharp eyes. But then, he was possibly a bit dramatic like that.
He’d gotten cocky, he supposed. Not that he’d admit as much. The gaping wound in his leg and the assortment of bruises and scrapes were punishment told the story plenty though. For once since this dread nightmare had begun, he was glad to be alone. He lifted the folded towel on his leg and inspected the dressing of his wound. Ashe’s question only belatedly hit its mark.
“I have only been here a week,” he snarled. The pain dulled the edges of his words, somehow. Like he only had so much spiritual energy left and he couldn’t waste it on being completely acerbic. “Why? Does this other Vallo?” He’d heard that term a lot today, whatever it meant.
“Sometimes,” Ashe answered, unfazed at being snapped at. Her world was largely made of snapping, one way or another. “‘Bout once a month, we get something. Anyone that tells you that our Vallo is perfect and amazing and without danger - they’re sellin’ you somethin’. But it’s better than this.”
Ashe hadn’t quite forgiven Vallo for tossing the Overlook at her. Nor had she forgiven Vallo for being the second alternate universe that had sucked her in. It felt like half her life lately was reinventing herself, and although she didn’t like to admit it, she felt goddamn tired.
“We get monsters, every now and then. Usually from people’s home places,” she observed. “Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s harder to wrangle than a bull with notions. But it ain’t constant.”
Her way of talking might have intrigued the Lan clan; it was melodic. Sharp in some places and worn down in others. He was weak enough to listen without picking apart the words themselves. Well, all but one phrase anyway.
“A bull with notions,” he parroted, one dark eyebrow raised. His leg twinged painfully and he scooted back up against the wall behind him to close his eyes. “Well. I don’t mind monsters. Easier to deal with than people in most cases. Simple.” His eyes creaked back open, one at time. “The people here are unpredictable. Unruly.”
“You ever deal with one? You’d know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.”
Ashe could sense that she had his interest, even through the haze of painkillers. So sue her, she was a born storyteller. She considered the cast of characters currently in this shit version of Vallo, and why sure, for a control freak, she’d guess they were pretty darn unruly. “People show themselves when they think their lives or livelihoods are in danger,” she said with a shrug that hurt. It was wisdom hard-learned and delivered casually. “Least we got a bed and some pills and I’d bet there’s alcohol stashed away for the real sorry cases. Better’n nothin’.”
That was the thing about having a gang - you never had to worry about being forgotten. Accountability was stitched right in. Ashe missed Deadlock almost as much as she missed the concept of Deadlock, almost as much as she missed her little family back in the other Vallo. “This ain’t my second alternate universe,” she suddenly offered. “I went from home, to this place called Atlantis, then ‘bout a year later, Vallo, then six months later, here.” She turned to look at Jiang Chen in the eye, no matter how disinterested he was feigning to be. “I’m so goddamn tired of it.”
Even though it had been nearly two weeks of this strangeness, Jiang Cheng was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around one alternate reality, let alone three. The fact that he could even communicate with this woman, who he was fairly sure didn’t speak the same language as him, was mind bending enough. He didn’t want to think about being sent off to a whole different world again.
“I...imagine I myself would be unruly in that case,” he scowled. He twisted in his seat, trying to find a position that didn’t make everything hurt more. Perhaps he would take the medicine they had offered, after all. “Do you think you’re cursed? I’ve been wondering for myself these last few days.”
Ashe didn’t really put much stock in cursing - maybe she should, considering her luck. With a shrug, she burrowed a little deeper into the crappy blanket they’d given her. “Somethin’ ‘bout it feels mighty personal,” she admitted, because it was the kind of thing she’d admit to a stranger and not to a friend. “Havin’ to figure out who’s decent and who’s got a tumbleweed up their tail… it’s a lot of reinventin’.”
Enough about her. Ashe picked at her nails, having a feeling he’d balk at eye-to-eye conversation. “This place worse than home? Or just different?”
Half the sentences out of her mouth were a puzzle, but he strangely didn’t mind. Maybe he was just too tired to snap at her for it. Or maybe he was just too distracted. She’d mentioned hidden liquor and now he was determined to find some. He scooted to the edge of his seat to riffle through a nearby cabinet.
“Easier to assume they’ll all be a thorn in your side eventually, even if they don’t mean any harm.” He’d been at the wrong end of betrayal a few times now. He sounded resigned to it, but he was anything but. “Home does not have the strange technology of this place but I suppose the forest here isn’t too different from the Burial Mounds.”
There were no bottles in the first cabinet so he shuffled onto the next.
“Burial Mounds.” Her accent made it sound like “Burrl Mounds”, but the question was obvious even so. “What business have you got runnin’ ‘round some graveyard?”
Jiang Cheng’s cynicism regarding the inevitability of betrayal had been noted, but Ashe wasn’t the person to tell him that he was wrong. Hell, the world was full of menaces and fuck ups, to say nothing of the malicious types. Nosy, she sat up. “What’re you rummaging for, anyhow? You’re gonna get slapped by a nurse.”
Something terrible was going to burst out of Jiang Cheng’s leg. At least that’s what the pain implied. But now that he had a goal, he was stubbornly sticking to it. It was just going to take some time and a great deal of wincing and gritting his teeth.
Also pain apparently loosened his tongue.
“My brother lived there for a time.” He inched along until he could open a third cabinet. The door came off the hinge because everything in this place was falling apart. But inside was a bottle that looked promising. He pulled it out and frowned at the dusty label. “I think...I am looking for this. Is s-ch-naps a liquor?” Opening the bottle, he took a sniff and made a face.
“Your brother needs a better real estate agent.” Living somewhere called the ‘Burial Mounds’ that reminded Jiang Cheng of this? Hell no. Ashe let him rummage, not offering to help one bit because why would she, until he produced a small bottle of something.
“Schnapps!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose in disappointed victory. “Yeah, that’ll get you wasted. It’s usually flavored like somethin’.” She had gross memories of peach flavored schnapps as a teenager, but she was willing to set that aside for a good buzz. Ashe didn’t believe in mixing pills with alcohol, but the likely expired aspirin they’d given her hadn’t done shit. “It’s gonna taste real sweet,” she added after a moment, knowing that the alcohol he’d come across probably wasn’t. “So you might wanna go easy on i--”
She shut up when Jiang Cheng took a swig, because honestly, what was the point of talking when it wasn’t needed?
“Share it,” she demanded, then remembered she was supposed to be pretty. “...please? Just a sip, you can have the rest.”
“My brother needs a great many things better.” The face Jiang Cheng made at the smell only worsened when he took a swig. Fruit really shouldn’t burn. The liquors he was used to were clear and bitter. A kick in the teeth but a respectful one. This had trouble written all over it.
He took a second longer swig and glanced at her as he winced his way through the aftertaste. Without a glass to fill, her request was unseemly. But what about this place wasn’t? Jiang Cheng eventually limped his way back over to her and held out the bottle.
“Your tone didn’t sound like you’d want any of this. But desperate times, I suppose. Did you refuse any medicine?”
“They gave me some pain killers,” she said, and took what might have been a ladylike drink, if the lady in question was a giant, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and handed him back his bottle. “But a single drink’s not gonna kill me. Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, that’s awful. Thanks.”
There was still at least four-fifths of a bottle left - enough for Jiang Cheng to get entertaining - and she left him to it. Ashe fluffed her pillow and leaned back against it, observing her fellow injured person.
“Think we’re gonna get home?” She asked once, glumly. It’s be her last time bugging him, she figured. He’s been admirably patient for a dude who looked half-ready to kill someone before he’s gotten hurt.
Painkillers was a new phrase. He thought it might be what they’d rambled at him but he’d been very distracted by the pain in question. He stealthily swiped his sleeve over the opening of the bottle. Who knew where her mouth had been.
“No,” he answered flatly. Another drink and he was sitting back down, this time against a wall. Even the cots felt strange here. He just wanted something solid to support him while he drowned his worries in this strange peach liquor. “I don’t even know for sure that this isn’t the afterlife and the beginning of eternal punishment.” He took a longer drink this time, so long he very nearly burped when it was done. Then he sank down further into an uncharacteristic slouch and hid behind the curtain of his hair. “Stop asking questions you know I can’t answer any better than you and just rest.”
She silently mimicked his bitching, mouthing the words ‘stop asking questions you know I can’t answer’. He certainly was hitting that schnapps hard. If Ashe had empathy, she might’ve asked him what was so clearly bothering him that wasn’t his injuries, but she was sore, cranky, and entirely inclined to let him have a bad time if he was so determined to.
“I’m not holding all that hair back when you toss your cookies,” she warned and turned over to face the wall, wishing she were anywhere - Atlantis, home, the real Vallo - but here.