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TOPIC: The Park: Apocalypse (Story)



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RE: The Park: Apocalypse (Story)

The air smelled sweetly of apples and fresh-cut grass and pollen and – hay? Yes, of course hay. Hay happened on farms. Just like apples did. I rolled the fruit between my hands, lowering my face in protection against the bright sun, and stepped gratefully into the shade of the barn. Sunlight still pried in through the cracks in the walls – how old was this ancient thing, anyway? – but inside it was bearable. I allowed myself a momentary internal whine about my pale skin and how I always burned instead of tanning, no matter how much sunscreen I put on. I wasn’t cut out for country life, not even a little. But coming out here was worth it.


“Hey, Farmboy,” I called into the shady barn. The thin streams of light did little to illuminate it – they seemed to seek out the cobwebs and the dust falling from the rafters more than anything. “Got something for you.”


“Oh yeah?” came a voice from the loft.




Being on the farm always seemed to bring out the lazier, more ‘Southern’ aspect of my speech. I’d been trained since birth not to sound like a hick (to use my father’s word), but out here it just didn’t seem to matter. It was how he talked, after all – and I guess subconsciously when I used my perfect diction around him it embarrassed me. It made me feel like I was trying to sound uppity, even though I would never do such a thing.


“What’sat?” he drawled. I squinted up, trying to make out his form, knowing perfectly well that if he didn’t want to be seen, I wouldn’t see him.


“Brought you an apple from the house. Your mom says you been working hard and deserve the break.”


He laughed, a light, carefree sound, and from nowhere swung down from the loft onto a waiting stack of bailed hay. “See,” he said with a grin, “Mom doesn’t know about how I’ve been done for ages.”


I laugh with him. He climbs off to join me on the dirt floor, and we sit together and share the apple. The hay prickles my shoulders and the back of my neck until he puts his arm around me to shield my delicate skin. I lean against him, closing my eyes and soaking in the feeling of belonging on this farm, here and now, with him. I’ve always felt this way around him, ever since we met when we were just little kids, but the farm just seems like the right place. He fits here; therefore, I fit here. It’s hard work, or so my father’s always quick to remind me, but it’s simpler, easier than his world of facts and figures and theorems and serums. Maybe I’m crazy, but I prefer it this way. Having to know things isn’t in my blood – I didn’t get that from my father. Without any siblings, he expects me to be the one to take up his mantle and research his … whatever the hell he researches. Well, he’s got another think coming, as my farmboy would say.


But something’s strange this time. Something’s different.


“What’s wrong?” I ask after a little while, picking my head up to look at him.


He shakes his head. “Hm-mm. Doesn’t matter.”


“Well sure it does,” I object. “If it didn’t you’d be talking your head off like normal. What is it?”


He kind of scowl\grins. That’s the look he gets when he’d rather not tell me because I’ll only worry. Heck, that’s the look he got when him and his mom first moved out here, away from the city. He didn’t want to tell me right away, because he was afraid – not that he’d say it in so many words – that I’d want to break it off with him living so far away. Don’t guess he ever thought about what would happen if he never told me at all – that I’d just magically know he didn’t live in the apartment building down the street anymore. What could it be now?


“C’mon, what?” I prod.


He turns his head away from me uncomfortably. A strip of sun falls into his hair, lighting up the dirty yellow ends and giving him an uneven halo.


“I dunno,” he says softly. “You haven’t been out in a while.”


I push my own dark, dark brown hair back out of my eyes. “I know,” I say. “It’s Dad. He wouldn’t let me have the car.”


“Why not?”


“Stuff happened,” I evade. “It won’t again.”


He turns back sharply, concern all over his face. “What happened?”


“It’s no big deal.”


“Sure. Okay.” He stands abruptly and walks to the other side of the barn to look out the cracked door. I watch him unsurely, almost cold despite the late summer warmth, leaning away from the hay now since I don’t have his arm to protect me. Hands shoved deep into the pockets of his overalls, he quietly asks, “How come you don’t talk to me anymore?”


“I do,” I defend.


“You don’t.” He looks over his shoulder, the bright sun now catching his entire head of hair. “You really don’t. I mean, when was the last time you were out here anyway? Three weeks?”


“I told you, Dad –”


“Yeah, all right. But even … even before. Remember how it was? Mom had you and your dad over for supper, and you stayed with them all night. And then – then before that, like the last two or three times before that, we didn’t talk about back in the city, remember?”




“So … So what’s going on back there? You used to always tell me about our friends. What’s going on with them lately?”


“Oh. Um. Well, Rick and Holly, uh … well, you remember that café we always went to? On the corner?” I swallow. “Last time we were there, Rick –”


“Stop,” he sighs. “Okay? You hate it when I lie to you, so just stop it, all right?”




“You’re not seeing them anymore, are you?” he persists.




“So, who?”


“There’s … there’s this …”


He looks away. I hope it’s my imagination that he sniffs. I am not going to be able to handle it if he starts crying – my farmboy does not cry. I can’t be the one to make him. He runs a hand through his hair.


“There’s another guy, right?” he says finally.


No, wait –


I nod, then remember he’s not looking at me. Apparently my silence is answer enough. He sighs deeply. “’kay,” he mumbles. “This guy have anything to do with the stuff that got you grounded?”


“Yeah,” I answer in a tiny voice. Damn it – he’s looking away so I won’t see he’s crying already. Damn it, damn it, damn it. “It’s – it’s not like that, he’s just … I … I lov –”


“What’shisname?” he interrupts. The little sentence comes out in one jumble of sounds, blurred by both his accent and his clenched teeth. My God, what’s he want to do – go and kill the guy?


“Jonathan,” I answer reluctantly. “His name’s Jonathan.”


No – no, hang on, this isn’t ri –


“What’s he got that I don’t?”


“Dean, please,” I beg. “Don’t. It wasn’t like that.”


“What was it like then, Jamie, huh?”


“I – I don’t …”


“You don’t want to tell me.” He tilts his face up to the setting sun. Discreetly, he rubs at his cheeks. “Guess that says all I need to know, right?”


“No!” I insist. “I told you, it’s not –”


“It’s not or it wasn’t?” He turns back, finally, to look at me full-on. “I mean shouldn’t you get your story straight here?”


“I’m sorry, Dean,” I whisper. There is nothing else I can say; I’m so afraid this is beyond repair. “It was a one-time thing. A … a fling.”


His eyes widen. “Whoa, hang on now. Just what’s that supposed to mean? Exactly what’d you do with this Jonathan guy?”


“It doesn’t matter,” I say quickly.


“Oh Holy Jesus Christ,” he moans, turning partway to bang his head on the barn door. “You did not. You did not.”


I pull my knees up to my chest and put my head down on them. I did. I did. I did and I can still feel his hands –


No, it’s wrong, stop it right now –


I look back up. Something’s not right with this situation. Dean – Dean’s overalls are gone, blue jeans and a demin jacket I’ve never seen in their place. Studying me evenly out of the corner of his eye, he holds a shotgun loosely in one hand. Since when does he hunt? And that’s not all – my tank top and shorts have been replaced by long cargo pants, a t-shirt, and a heavy black coat. I look down at my hands and find them covered in blood, one holding a serrated knife as long as my arm. When I lift my eyes back up to Dean in horror, his expression is of disgust and betrayal.


“It’s that f*cking thing,” he says bitterly. “It makes you look just like him – doesn’t it?”


“D-Dean –?”


And a tantalizing breath against my ear: “Shall we dance?”


* * * * *




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* * * * *


The next day had all the makings of a long one. When I woke from a dead, hard sleep, I realized first that I was freezing cold and second that it was because Jonathan wasn’t with me. In fact none of the ‘menfolk’ were around, even Tai (if he counted), nor Rae either; Tera was standing in the kitchen making breakfast alone. I sat up immediately, disoriented, and she turned at my movement. Just from her look, I could tell something had happened already, but she turned away again before I could speak. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know anyway.


Jonathan’s coat lay on the dresser. I pulled it on at first, but the silk inner lining was even colder than my skin. I quickly discarded it, letting it fall onto the bed, and joined Tera. When she still wouldn’t face me, I didn’t bother to try and force her, just silently took a place at the fireplace and started minding a pair of pans. Everything seemed to be moving more slowly than usual, from the low-burning fire to my own movements. If only I could warm up, I thought, this morning wouldn’t seem quite so miserable. I wonder if it’s autumn now, or even winter – or if I’m just imagining this sudden coldness.


Tiring of the quiet game and needing something to occupy my mind other than the chill, I finally asked, “Tera? Did something happen?”


Filling a pot to boil water, she glanced over at me uncomfortably but didn’t say anything. Maybe she wanted to pretend she hadn’t heard. As if it was likely.




“Dean and Jonny kind of got into it again,” she mumbled.


I sat up straighter. “Is – did Rae make Dean …?”


“No, no.” She shook her head hastily. “It wasn’t quite like that. Dean did it … the right way. He took him to Rae.” I relaxed. “The thing was that Dean said he found Jonny in here slipping food into a bag like he was going to snatch it and go. But he was the only one who saw it – I mean we were all asleep – and,” she hesitated, “I don’t know, I’ve never seen Jonny carry a bag. He always seemed to have what he needed in that coat. And he wasn’t even wearing it when Dean dragged him over to Rae’s hut.”


I thought of the pouch on the right side of the coat that had seemed tailor-made for foodstuff. No; he wouldn’t need a bag. Unless he was planning to leave it for me, why wouldn’t he be wearing and using the coat? And if he’d made the decision to go, I was painfully sure he wouldn’t be looking after me even in his absence. “Did you point that out?” I asked.


Again, she looked a little uncomfortable. “Well. No. Since Jonny never tried to defend himself. He didn’t admit to it either, but I figured why should I stand up for him when he wouldn’t stand up for himself, you know?”


I would have had to allow her that, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I could easily visualize Jonathan rolling his eyes and, in a way, humoring Dean’s accusation. I sighed. “So what was Rae’s decision?”


“Looked like she was still about-half asleep. I think at first she said to just let it go – maybe she didn’t think Jonny looked guilty – but Dean insisted.” She shrugged. “She went back inside for a minute or two, and when she came out she’d decided to send Jonny up on top of that two-level building with the fire escape, and make him go without food for a while.”


I scoffed. It was a perfectly reasonable punishment, lenient even, if Dean was telling the truth. I just happened to doubt that he was. You’re biased for Jonathan, take that into account, I told myself sternly, and no other voices even deemed that worthy of debating. Tera gave me a wary look.


There was no communal breakfast that morning. Although Tera and I ate together, she told me that Dean and Sam had eaten earlier (separately, of course), and there had been no sign of Rae and Tai since the ‘trial.’ Afterwards, she wasted no time leaving the Rec Room, and I washed our dishes slowly. I wondered if this was a sign that we were drifting apart, becoming no more than seven people forced to live together. Wistfully, I thought of Keith, Amy and Corey’s cohesive little unit, and how in a way, they’d influenced us to operate together well. Or maybe that had been the Doc’s doing – whether every one of us wanted to admit it or not, we all respected him, and we were all willing to do what he told us. Well – I’d ruined that, hadn’t I? If Doc M wasn’t dead now, he was insane, infected, a monster … God alone knew.


Not your fault, a voice chided. He was already infected and he asked for your blood. Blackmailed you for it really. Haven’t we had this conversation already?


Yes, yes, I told it miserably. We have. I still feel guilty.


It scoffed at me. Wonderful. My own mind was sick of dealing with me. I shoved my hands into my pockets – and suddenly rediscovered the letter I’d written for Rae so long ago. Shooting furtive glances towards the door, I unfolded it. The paper was in terrible shape and the ink had run in a multitude of places (I thought of the streams and rivers I’d waded through with it in my pocket), but knowing roughly what it said, I was able to make sense of it. So many things, it seemed, simply weren’t important anymore. I’d been so concerned about Taijitsu then, trying to make her accept it – and now, she had. I’d been afraid and ashamed of admitting what I was or wasn’t – and now she knew that as well, as well as I did at least. What she didn’t know was why I no longer trusted Dean, why I’d struck up my alliance with Jonathan, or really how little about myself I was sure of, and while the letter did go into that, there was just too much … else.


I tossed it into the fireplace and watched it curl up and blacken. I wished I had enough – what? Confidence? – to say what I wanted to say to her face, but I still didn’t. Much as I wanted to be able to look back and tell myself how I’d grown since writing that, I just hadn’t. I was the same confused, helpless person who’d been plagued by nightmares and dug cuts into her own arms.


Just as it was becoming completely unrecognizable, the door creaked open behind me. I looked over my shoulder, half-expecting it to be Rae and Tai coming in for breakfast, but instead, it was Dean. He pushed the door closed behind him, looking up at me from a slightly bowed head. I had a brief flashback – after the incident at the military base, when I’d run away. He’d come for me. That was when I’d learned about his lie.


“Hey,” he said. I nodded. He hunched his shoulders a little and thrust his hands down into his jacket pockets, then withdrew one to scrub it through his hair. His awkwardness was so blatantly obvious it couldn’t be an act, and I found myself smiling because of it. For all his airs and for all he could do, he still seemed like such a kid sometimes. And those were the times that I was able to admit to myself that I …


“I, uh, I wanted to apologize,” he finally said. “For how I acted last night. I was out of line.”


“Apologize to Jonathan, not me,” I told him dryly.


“I did,” he stated righteously. Then he kind of scowled. “I mean, I tried.”


“You did?”


He shrugged. “Wouldn’t look at me. But I tried.” He stepped up closer, jamming his hand back into its pocket. I leaned back against the tall side of the fireplace.


“So how’d your talk go yesterday?” I asked.


He squirmed. “I didn’t … I never got around to it.”


“Mm-hm.” What was I expecting.


“But – look, can we talk? About something other than him?”


“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “Every time we talk, we argue, and I don’t want to argue.”


He grinned. “Great. Because I don’t want to argue either.”


Again, I found myself smiling back, but it was a tentative gesture. I wanted to believe that things could suddenly go back to being normal between us again, but obviously with Jonathan in the picture that was impossible. … And that’s why Dean accused him of stealing food, said an especially cynical voice. To get him out of the picture.


“Anyway,” Dean was saying, “I already apologized to Rae for being disrespectful, and like I said I tried to apologize to him, so I figured while I was making the rounds …” He shrugged again. “I couldn’t find Tera, and Sam’s ignoring me. You’re the only one left. And before you try,” he interjected, “I don’t want to talk about Sam either, all right? There’s nothing else to say.”


I laughed. “All right. What is a good subject then?”


He was suddenly somber. “There’s something kinda specific, actually. Sit with me?” He motioned towards the table. I hesitated but joined him; we sat across from each other, both with our arms crossed on the tabletop.


“Jamie,” he said solemnly, “I need to know how much longer you’re going to do this.”


“Do what?” I asked.


This …” He waved around the Rec Room. “This thing. Staying in.”


“What do you mean?” Any sense of comfort I’d had was gone.


He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Look, I just don’t know how much longer I can do it, okay? I mean – what do you want from me? I can’t …”


“Dean, what are you talking about?”


He scoffed. “Don’t act like you don’t –” Then he stopped himself. “You … don’t … You really don’t get it? You’re really okay here?”


“I’m fine,” I said incredulously. “What on earth are you –?”


“Maybe you’ve finally fooled yourself into thinking this is normal,” he snapped, “but it’s not, and sooner or later it’s going to break.” I pulled away at his vehemence. “Why not just cut it off here? It was a good run right? You got them to accept you, you barely slipped up at all – now can we just go?”


“If you don’t start making sense –”


We don’t belong here,” he snarled. “Okay? Got it? We don’t have the choice – no matter how much better you think you are, you’re just like me.”


He’d managed to hit a nerve. “I’m not just like you,” I fired back. “I’m not the one jumping anyone who bothers me.”


“You will,” he warned. “Come on, how long do you really think you can last?”


“I’m lasting just fine,” I hissed, still not entirely sure what he was trying to say.


He scoffed again and stood up abruptly, stalking over to his bed. “I’m really sick of this,” he said sullenly facing away from me. “Why can’t you just … just deal with the fact that we’re different from the rest of them? They’re human – they’re good at settling, reproducing, repopulating. It’s what they were made for. Not us.” When he turned back, his eyes were almost fully red. “We’re hunters.”


The door banged open again. We both jumped, his red draining away instantly, and saw Tai dragging a somewhat sleepy-eyed Rae in behind him, cheerfully demanding “Brek-fist! Brek-fist!” She gave us a slightly apologetic look, appeasing Tai and telling him to lower his voice, and we were both careful to smile back reassuringly. Though she raised an eyebrow at our identical, no doubt slightly strained expressions, Tai wasn’t about to let her attention stray from him. Keeping an eye on the two of them, Dean came back over to the table. He leaned close to finish what he had to say.


“All I’m saying is I don’t know how much longer I can do it, Jamie,” he murmured. “I need out. I need to go. I … need … to hunt. But I can’t just leave you behind here.”


“Dean, I can’t leave,” I insisted quietly. “Maybe we’re not … human, but … we don’t have to just be killers. We can control ourselves.”


“Sometimes,” he returned. “Not always. The first time I came here what were you doing?”


“I – I was …” I faltered and looked down. “… Mark.”


“Exactly.” He grabbed my wrist, jolting me into looking up at him. Our faces were mere inches apart. “And at the Army fort?” he persisted.


“You’ve made your point, all right?” I pulled my arm away. “But I’m – I’m getting better. And you can too,” I pleaded. “I don’t want you to go. Please don’t. Just try.”


“I’ve been trying,” he said, his voice just a step away from a growl. “I’m just not as good at playing human as you are, okay? Especially not when you – when you’re the only reason for me to try, and you’re never …” He trailed off and just shook his head. “Jamie, please. Just come with me when I go.” He cut his eyes towards Rae and Tai again, as if making sure they weren’t watching, then pressed his forehead against mine for a second and walked out.


As the door closed behind him, Tai bounded up, followed shortly by Rae, who held a couple plates of food. Afraid she might ask what Dean and I had been talking about, and too flustered and confused just then to want to consider it myself, I stood. Though I started making some excuse, she reached out and caught my hand when I went to turn away and looked at me intently.




“Your eyes,” she said, somewhere between fascinated and horrified. “They’re not quite red but –”


A distressed call tore us away suddenly. Eyes widening, we ran outside and looked around fervently for its source. My eyes finally lit on Jonathan atop the tall building. He knelt at the very edge, leaning out as far as he could, his fingers gripping the narrow ledge the only thing keep him from falling. I suppose I should’ve been worried for his safety, but for some reason all I could think was how he looked like a strange sort of gargoyle perched there. As we watched, he let go with one hand to motion furiously towards the wall opposite the river – the one that was still had a weak segment – and it finally dawned on me what he was saying.


“Zombies! Horde! Hurry up!”


Dean flashed into the Rec Room. I just stood there dumbly for a moment longer, sensing the others moving around me to gather their weapons but somehow unable to move. The situation had changed too fast; I hadn’t yet gotten a grasp on what Dean had been trying to tell me, and now this? I couldn’t –


Sam jostled me on his way out of the Rec Room, giving me an odd look, but it was Dean’s brusque voice that forced me to move, if only to turn my head. “How many?” he was demanding.


He’d caught Jonathan by the shoulder (his grip doubtless harder than it had to be), and when the smaller man didn’t answer right away he gave him a little shake.




“At least ninety, maybe more, and over fifty hellhounds,” Jonathan snapped, trying to wrench Dean’s hand off and getting absolutely nowhere until Dean let him go willingly and stormed off. Jonathan glared after him a second, then noticed me watching and snapped at me too. “Sitting this one out, sweetheart?”


“I –”


Tera interrupted, “We really don’t need this right now.” She held a pair of rifles out. I took one uncertainly, and Jonathan accepted his almost grudgingly. Rae dashed past us and into the Rec Room, Tai in her arms (when had he left the building?); I turned to watch them, but Tera’s snapped fingers brought my eyes back to her. She and Jonathan had started walking away.


“Trinity, are you coming or what?”


A rifle cracked. I jumped and looked up to see Dean on top of that building, scope attached to his gun. He fired again. Rae brushed past again, a gun in her arms instead of a child. The contrast – not to mention the rare sight of Rae holding a gun – gave me a pause, which apparently lasted longer than a few seconds. Jonathan appeared in front of me. He’d dropped his rifle to take my hand – no, no his rifle was slung over his shoulder, the same one Dean had grabbed, and that was mine on the ground. I simply couldn’t … think …


“Trinity, are you all right?” he squinted at me with a mixture of concern and frustration. My head was spinning but I nodded.


“I just – just –”


He retrieved my gun and pushed it towards me. I tried to take it, but it slipped out of my grasp. Rifles chorusing at the wall; moans and crashes as undead pushed through our barricade by sheer force of numbers. Rae and Sam and Tera were holding their own, aided by Dean up on high, but if they managed to break in – Jonathan used a hand to block my view and direct my eyes back to him. “Trin –”


Before he could finish, I stuttered, “Y-You’ve got to help them!”


“Yes, so do we both.” He picked the gun back up again, irritated, and physically wrapped my fingers around the stock and barrel. “Come on. What’s wrong with you?”


He started trying to pull me in the direction of the skirmish, and I found myself digging my heels in. What was wrong with me? I was terrified – petrified. I’d never been so scared in my life, not even at the river with an injured ankle. Some little voice laughed and hissed, This is how it feels to be mortal.


Jonathan swore and barked my name again, jerking on my wrist. Dean’s rifle cracked; there was an explosion of dirt no two feet away. Jonathan leapt away, covering his head with an arm, and I look up to see Dean had turned his gun inside the Park’s walls. I could only stare at him. He shouted something at Jonathan – if past experiences were any example, it was something to the effect of ‘keep your hands off her’ – and Jonathan’s only (rather nonchalant) reaction was to flip him off and turn his attention back to me. With obvious effort, he kept his voice level.


“Princess, whatever it is that’s wrong, I’m afraid it has to wait until later.” He started easing the gun away from me, no easy task since my hands had clenched up now. “If you can’t fight with us, I want you to wait in the Rec Room. All right?”


“But … I-I’m …” Aren’t I the protector, the killer, the hunter? Isn’t that what I was ‘made for’? How can I sit aside, hide away with a child, while the others fight?


“Trinity, please.”


He sounded remarkably calm for someone who’d just been shot at by his own supposed ally. That rifle was still firing regularly, turned on the enemy now, along with three others. Dean’s had a sharper sound.


“Sweetheart … come on,” Jonathan coaxed, a forced smile on his face, his efforts to pry the gun out of my hands just as fruitless as when he’d tried to make Dean let go of him. He had to be aware of the similarity.


“I can’t just – I-I’ll fight,” I insisted. He started to object, but apparently decided there was no point. Though he cast his eyes upward in frustration, he leaned in to give me a quick kiss before running to join the others. The gesture gave me a little courage, even if I did wonder if he did it only to spite Dean, and I was able to force my legs and feet into motion to go after him.


Too late.


A large section of the barricade tumbled over, opening the way for dozens of lunging, grasping zombies to lurch into our home. Tera and the others all took hearty steps back, and even Jonathan, who hadn’t quite reached their line yet, back-peddled slightly. Again I froze, but this time I was able to make myself move a few more feet to draw even with them. It wasn’t so much bravery or determination as it was a feeling that if I didn’t act, I would be worthless to the group – and, worthless, I would be abandoned. Hunter. Killer Protector. “Are you coming or what?” Do something. “What’s wrong with you?” This is how it feels to be mortal …


Dean’s bullets cracked the air over my head; Tera and Sam, who stood at my sides, deafened me with their own shots. I could hear nothing but my heart panicking in my chest. My arms shook as I raised the rifle and lower my eye to the sights. How could I hit anything like that? Headshot were all that counted – and at this rate I’d be lucky to hit the broad side of a barn. Don’t worry – just fire – go through the motions and maybe you can pretend –


But they were spilling out into the complex now. Hellhounds bounded agilely between former humans’ lumbering legs, leaping ahead of them and distracting us to allow more and more of their bipedal counterparts inside. Could that possibly be strategy in action? No. No. I wouldn’t think that, just fire, just pull the trigger. The rifle’s recoil shocked me – had it be so strong before? – and it took me what felt like hours to cajole my arms back into the appropriate position. Jonathan and Rae had stepped forward slightly to cover Tera and Sam while they reloaded, and a moment later they alternated spots. I saw Rae fumbling with her fresh clip, glancing worriedly towards the Rec Room where Tai was hiding. When she slapped the clip in, she looked my way and seemed to be about to give me a reassuring smile – how ironic is that, the mouse reassuring the supposed lion? – but then she caught sight of a hellhound getting too close to Sam for comfort and turned away.


The zombies were beginning to spread around now, almost as if they were trying to surround us. Had it not been for Dean’s sharp eye up top, they might have already. The hellhounds were working their way closer and closer as we tired – or rather as the others tired, as I had scarcely moved past that first shot. Move, I commanded myself, and raised the rifle again. It was a little steadier, and I was better able to manage the recoil, but the bullet met a shoulder instead of a forehead.


The others had re-positioned themselves somewhat, spacing out and forming a rough semi-circle that attempted to flank the onrush of zombies, and somehow I had ended up in the center. Jonathan and Rae were at my sides now, a good three yards away. I took a deep breath – some internal voice instructed, pull the trigger as you exhale – and fired. Minimal recoil. Fired again. A headshot, lucky hit but a headshot. I felt my eyes light up. I was fine, I hadn’t lost it, I still knew what I was doing – all I had to do was look at their heads, calm down, and the bullets would go where I –


Oh God no.” I dropped the rifle entirely, and it sounded off as it hit the ground. Someone (human) cried out – Christ, did that hit Rae or Tera? – but my eyes were fixed on the zombie I’d been about to shoot. Other undead were flooding in and being swiftly gunned down, but this one was shrouded by its comrades just enough to escape its fate. Jill.


Despite the grayed skin, the missing chunks of flesh, the sightless eyes – it was undoubtedly the Park’s old second-in-command and later leader. I half-expected Wesker to be right behind her, as he always had been. Perhaps he was in the horde somewhere, shambling along with the other undead as just another nameless, faceless thing to dispatch; perhaps he’d already been downed and I’d not realized. Perhaps I’d been the one to do it. God – how could I live with myself if I’d –


Do you even know how many zombies you’ve killed? Don’t you realize they were people once too? Or do they just not count because you didn’t know them?


While I stood there, the undead pushed further into the Park, and in particular, closer to me. Jill herself was only a few feet away – closer even than my allies, whose formation had broken apart. We weren’t quite individually surrounded, but it was a near thing, and I seemed closest to death. Dean’s bullets fought in vain to keep a tiny circle clear around me – I didn’t even know where my gun was anymore. When Jill fell at last my eyes followed her, and stayed on her when a cold hand grabbed my sleeve, yanking me back. Though bullets rained all around my head I felt no panic that they might hit me, and made no move to take advantage of their attempted cover.


I felt no breath on my shoulder before the teeth sank in, colliding with bone, felt no body heat as another hand gripped my wrist and tore at the veins to open them. Jill stared up at me; I stared back down, oblivious to any pain I might’ve been experiencing. One eye winced closed when blood – mine? – spurted onto my cheek, but it was a sheerly instinctive movement.


I wondered if there was any way I could die.


I wondered if I was about to die.


And I wondered if I was being infected, despite what Dean had told me, and when the flicker of life disappeared from me and the zombies lost interest, I might stand again and join the horde. I might be the one to fall upon Rae or Jonathan and turn them. Would he be afraid? Was the image in my mind an accurate portrayal of his wide-eyed fear – and would he notice, would it matter that it was me? Or would he fight until the very last breath, never have time to be afraid, dispensing me alongside the other zombies without a care? Would he smile that little smile, the one I’d seen before …


Rough, broken zombie fingernails scraped at my face. I closed my other eye and twisted my head away, feeling, a second later, blood fill my ear. My heartbeat seemed to double in volume, and only then did I realize it was no longer racing. It was … slowing. Dying? I opened my eyes again to see the ground, covered in dirt turned to mud. Zombie shins and feet, some naked and some still clothed in torn pants and ragged shoes, boots. Black boots – thick-soled and well-maintained, little spikes at the toes that I’d never before noticed but that didn’t seem at all out of place. Things got brighter. Cold hands and jaws released me. Out of the ear that was still functioning, I could hear sickening squelching sounds, but when my head lolled to the other side and drained the blood out of that ear, I thought things in general were quieter than they had been. I sighed – pull the trigger as you exhale – almost in bliss, and felt the last of the cold presences fall away.


The shock of tumbling to my knees had me in action again. My left hand jittered up to my neck, trying to stop the flow of blood. Was that a main artery? Surely it wasn’t, I wasn’t bleeding nearly enough for …


My body started to fall forwards but I caught myself on my other hand. My vision beyond a couple yards was blurry when I tried to look up, but there weren’t so many moving shapes now. Small ones, low to the ground – hellhounds – were still dashing here and there, but they were rapidly being downed. Human shapes were more focused than the shambling zombies – two of them moved among the straggling undead. One moved a little less surely than the other, limping slowly from place to place.


Until my hearing fully returned, I didn’t realize it was muted. I heard shouting coming from somewhere to the side, shouts of anger instead of the pain I would have expected. Female. Tera? Yes. It took all my concentration, but I was able to make out the words – don’t you have eyes? Do I look undead? Can’t you shoot straight?


Then warmth, a stark contrast to the chilly zombie flesh, gripped my wrist, and I felt hot breath on my shoulder. Haltingly I turned my head, still covering the wound in my neck, to see in crystal clarity Jonathan resting his forehead there. He raised his eyes to meet mine exhaustedly, and when he tried to ask are you okay? no sound came out. Luckily I understood, but it seemed like a foolish question to ask someone who was using one hand to hold in their life’s blood. He apparently took my silence as an affirmative, though, and looked back down before closing his eyes. He released my wrist to plant his hand on the ground to support himself, next to his rifle – or maybe it was mine? – and a pair of knives where they’d fallen when he joined me in the dirt. His other hand, the left, was cradled against his chest, and though it was covered in dark blood, I couldn’t tell how badly injured it really was.


I tried to tune in the sounds of what was going on around me, but between his ragged breathing and my now-quickening heartbeat all I could make out was Tera’s shouting. Blurrily, I saw Rae limping as rapidly as she could back towards the Rec Room, and realized that her injury must have happened when my rifle misfired. The irony … Because I couldn’t shoot an undead woman, I had shot a living woman with a child. I gritted my teeth and let my hand slip away from my neck – it felt like it had healed now anyway, if it had ever been as bad as I’d thought – and rolled back on my heels. Jonathan moved with me, albeit with a slight, indistinct complaint. His eyes fluttered open and he gave me a brief, annoyed look before they closed again.


My heartbeat having faded into the background, I was able to concentrate more fully on Tera. She was holding her left forearm as if it were injured, and I did see red seeping between the fingers clutching at her apparent wound, but she wasn’t slowed down by it in the slightest. Her shouts were directed at Sam, who seemed to be nothing short of begging for her forgiveness. The poor guy could barely get a word in edgewise. Then both stopped, however, when they heard Tai.




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Seemingly against Rae’s will, he had stepped outside the Rec Room to witness the carnage that now covered a good fourth of the Park. It wasn’t just the corpses themselves; there was also the blood spattered on buildings and mixing with dirt, the battered state of we remaining humans, and most ghastly the occasional twitching body on the battlefield. Carrion birds were already circling overhead, every now and then diving a little closer as if to check and see if anything else had died. Seeing all this, Tai – he who had once stood amid it all with no apparent qualms – had frozen and gasped. Behind him, Rae too froze for a moment before going to him and pulling him into her arms to comfort him. Despite what Tai had been and done, it felt like in that moment he must have lost some innocence, some part of what made him seem so pure and special. He was tainted now, as we all were, as though he hadn’t been since birth.


I didn’t want to watch. I let my eyes fall to the ground again, let myself lean on Jonathan just as he was leaning on me. I had to wonder what a sight we made there in the midst of all the corpses; if we looked halfway to dead ourselves.


Dean’s voice filtered through with sudden sharpness. He was saying that this horde must have come from the town he’d been intending to raid for supplies, and now that it was surely empty, it would be the best time to follow through on that raid. I thought at first that I was hearing wrong, but he was serious – and before Rae or anyone else with common sense could object to the ridiculousness of the idea, he’d effectively taken control of the situation. Sam was drafted instantly, and Tera sent scurrying to bandage her arm so she’d be fit for the hike. Dean himself came over to Jonathan and I, and though my bloodied state apparently disqualified me, he didn’t hesitate to nudge Jonathan and demand that he get up. When at first Jonathan didn’t respond, I assumed that he was just ignoring his antagonist, but after a particularly forceful nudge, he fell limply on his back in the mud.


For a moment I saw a bullet hole in his chest, not high enough to be in his heart, but not, I feared, low enough to not have pierced a lung.


Then his right hand curled into a fist and he was shoving himself back up, snarling a barely-intelligible “You traitorous f*ck” – and again in the next instant he was sagging against me and looking merely sullen.


Dean swore viciously and as good as disappeared. I heard him calling to Sam and Tera before long the three climbed over the remains of our wall and were gone for real. Looking over to Rae, where she still crouched and held little Tai, I realized we were alone now, she and I, with a child and an injured man to take care of. Dean had abandoned me – us – and more than that, he’d taken other valuable people with him. She looked at me over Tai’s shoulder, the same realization plain on her face, but neither of us seemed willing to move right away.


Swallowing, I turned back to Jonathan. He’d closed his eyes again, but they snapped open when I gingerly touched the skin around his wound. He hissed in pain and went to slap my hand away with his uninjured one, but stopped short and instead hesitantly meshed his bloody, sticky fingers with mine.


“How’d this happen?” I asked, finally finding my voice after so long.


“Dean,” he said hoarsely, his own voice dripping with the unspoken of course. “I’m sure it was accidental.”


“How long …?”


“Only since I approached you. I suppose I simply got in his way.”


I started to defend Dean – surely he just wasn’t capable of shooting Jonathan on purpose, whatever else he did; certainly not in the middle of a fight – but then I remembered his potshot before the battle. Maybe he was. Maybe he was capable of a lot more than I wanted to admit, and that hit me like sledgehammer to the chest, emptying my lungs and filling my eyes. But I wasn’t even sure that was the point right now – Dean shouldn’t’ve had to be defending me in the first place, and Jonathan shouldn’t’ve had to save me. I had been … useless. I had frozen up, monopolized two more people, put the entire group at risk. What about Tai? If, thanks to my ineffectualness, we’d all been taken out, what would have happened to him? He would have lost a lot more than innocence.


“It doesn’t hurt,” Jonathan lied, sounding uneasy at my silence. “Don’t worry.”


“Like hell it doesn’t,” I muttered, just to say something.


Rae had pulled back from Tai slightly and urged him to go back in the Rec Room and wait for her. He nodded and ran back in with no objections; I betted he wouldn’t disobey her again soon, if ever. Once he was in the clear, she stood and started hobbling her way towards us. I cringed again – she’s limping because of me. When she reached us, she and I pulled Jonathan to his feet and he leaned on me all the way to the Rec room, mumbling something about reawakening an old ankle injury but being fine soon. I disregarded that just as I had his claims that the bullet wound ‘didn’t hurt.’


Inside, Tai was sitting at the table with his knees pulled to his chest, rocking himself back and forth. When we came in, he gasped again and squeaked my name. I tried to smile reassurance, but with Jonathan bleeding on me I couldn’t quite manage it. Rae obviously wanted nothing more than to sit with him and try to minimize his mental scarring, and I wouldn’t have blamed her for it in the slightest, but she wasn’t taking her leadership role lightly, and after all Dean had already slipped through her fingers. She sent the boy over to wait on Sam’s bed and softly advised him that he probably shouldn’t watch what was coming. Once he’d gone, she turned back to Jonathan and curtly (but quietly) informed him that his ‘heroics’ had achieved him nothing, and that if any of those injuries or that blood had come from zombies, she’d shoot him herself.


He swallowed and shook his head no.


While I wondered, not for the first time, when the aliens had swapped out my Rae for some look-alike, she sat him down and began inventorying his wounds. Strangely, he was largely uninjured; it was my assumption that most of the blood on him was actually mine. It was just that those injuries he had were fairly major. The smaller two fingers of the hand he’d been protecting were broken, and the thin skin between his middle and ring fingers was torn at least a quarter of an inch. He was “relatively certain” that this had happened when a zombie had pulled at his hand and he’d instinctively pulled back when he “should have simply knifed the thing.” As Rae briskly cleaned and wrapped it up in our best approximation of a cast, he finally confessed that it hurt.


Then there was a gash in his shoulder which bled persistently but he stubbornly maintained wasn’t that painful. Ignoring that just as I had and did, Rae peeled back the bloodied material around the cut and started cleaning it. Judging from her dark mutterings as she did so, it had something to do with his ‘heroics,’ and I timidly asked what had happened.


Rae told me that when the zombies had cut everyone away from each other, Jonathan had been the first to ditch his rifle and pull out a pair of knives, followed shortly by Tera. Rae herself and Sam, with nothing but a Swiss army knife between the two of them, had kept their guns. At close range the blades were much more effective, and since Jonathan was more proficient with them, he had taken out a fair number of the horde. At that point, Rae said with a dark look, he’d resorted to showing off – for whose benefit, she was sure she didn’t know. When he tried to object to this term, she gave the bandage she was tightening around his arm a particularly rough yank, and he took the hint and shut up. Although he had, she grudgingly admitted, gotten Sam out of a bad spot, his tactics by then had seemed to be more theatrical than practical. And eventually (she said ‘inevitably’), he’d wound up cutting himself.


I was almost amused. Or, I could have almost been amused, if not for Tai sitting in the corner watching us with a morbid fascination, and Rae still limping slightly, and the fact that when I looked down at myself, I had to remind myself that my shirt had once been white, and the ragged bullet hole that Jonathan was still insisting wasn’t as bad as it looked.


When Rae took a breath and started analyzing it, and grimly told us that the bullet must still be lodged in his gut somewhere, he admitted that it, maybe, hurt a little bit as well. Finally realizing that his bravado was entirely for my benefit, I turned to walk away – telling myself that was the only reason, not at all because I didn’t know if I could stand to see him in pain – but he caught my hand and pulled me back.




“I –”




I swallowed. Rae was watching me steadily over his shoulder. If she could make herself keep from leaping at Tai and telling him everything was going to be all right, if she could force herself to this gory task instead of curling up with her son, surely I could stand a little more blood for Jonathan’s sake. Slowly, I sat back down next to him. He squeezed my hand in thanks and glanced back at Rae.


“It – it doesn’t matter, right? People can live perfectly fine with bullets in them. I heard about a war veteran who didn’t even realize he’d been shot until years later when he got an x-ray. Hell,” he rambled, his voice shaky, “there was this duck that survived with an arrow through its head –”


“You,” I reminded him, “are not a duck.”


“More’s the pity, really,” he muttered, but stopped there.


Rae waited a moment as if to be sure we were done. “I don’t want to leave it in there. It’ll only get infected later,” she warned.


“And then it would just be even harder to get it out,” I supplied.


“Right. At least now we can see where it went in,” she agreed with a nod to me, then looked back to Jonathan. “But in the end it’s your decision.”


“But it doesn’t even –” he started to whine.


“If you say one more time that it doesn’t hurt, I swear to God I’m going to punch you,” I snapped, hiding my own shakiness with anger. Again, Jonathan subsided easily. I wondered if it was because he knew Rae was right or if he was really losing strength.


Rae looked over at Tai. For second I did too, wondering what was so interesting, before realizing she was trying to give me and Jonathan a little privacy. When I turned to him, he still hadn’t realized it; I directed his eyes to mine with a hand. He was doing his damnedest to appear his usual aloof self, but the steel slug cozying up to his lungs or intestines or whatever apparently made it hard. He tried to smirk – I just shook my head and put my forehead against his.


“So?” I asked in a murmur.


His expression broke. “But it’ll hurt.”


“I’m guessing dying from an infection hurts a whole lot worse. And what if that brings on … infection infection?”


“But I’m immune.”


“Gas Z and the … other way … They’re different,” I said, not sure how I knew it but positive it was true. “It was designed that way. They knew some people would be immune to the gas, so they made it so it mutates when it infects someone.”


“They did?”




“Oh.” He paused, eyes open but cast down and seeming sightless. His bandaged, broken hand lay uselessly on the seat next to him, and his other hand flexed and jittered uncontrollably in his lap, the only real indication of his mood. He mumbled, “This blows,” which was probably the biggest understatement since the guy who heard about Gas Z and said, “Well shucks, and I just bought Super Bowl tickets.”


Post-apocalyptic humor. I fleetingly considered sharing that thought with Jonathan, but I wasn’t sure he’d find it all that amusing just then. I wasn’t sure I did in the first place.


When I glanced past him, I saw Rae giving me an urgent look. I blinked quickly in acknowledgement – I wasn’t really sure why this was such a hard decision for him, but then I supposed I’d never have to make it. I couldn’t judge him for it.


“Jonathan …” I urged.


“I am not a fan of pain,” he mumbled, “and I can’t imagine a world in which this won’t hurt like hell. But I suppose it would be preferable to dying. All right,” he said loudly enough for Rae to hear. “Take it out.”


She nodded briskly – being slightly brusque seemed to be her way of getting through this ordeal, I was realizing – and went to the kitchen to sanitize her hands, ordering me to clean the outside of the wound before she started trying to extract the bullet. For a moment I was horrified – I can’t do that, are you insane, I’m not having his blood on my hands – but seeing her stoicism fortified me. I was the strong one, right? (Despite what recent evidence suggested, I insisted that yes, this was true.) I could do this. I swallowed again, took a breath, and rolled up my sleeves. Then I took another steadying moment. I chewed on my lip. My hand had halted halfway to the already-bloodstained towel Rae had used before – touching it seemed perfectly impossible. When Rae dragged a couple more chairs over to our little impromptu OR, sitting candles in them for better lighting, Jonathan himself picked the rag up and slapped it into my hand. I flinched and barely managed not to drop it.


“If we were alone, I would just be dead, wouldn’t I?” he asked, trying to joke I thought, but I can’t say I appreciated it. Post-apocalyptic humor was definitely out.


I squeezed my eyes shut for one second, then forced my hand to move. At first I tried to clean away the blood through the hole the bullet had ripped in his shirt, but that proved pointless; the material was so soaked that every time it shifted, there was more blood slicking the skin I’d just wiped. With his wrapped-up left hand, Jonathan couldn’t quite manage to pull the gray turtleneck sweater off himself, and I found myself drafted into helping while Rae scrounged around for taller candles.


He tried again with, “I can think of much more pleasant situations for you to be doing this,” and I did my best to ignore him. After that my scope of awareness narrowed significantly: Rae’s voice trying to soothe, the constant but fluctuating pressure of Jonathan’s hand on mine, the simultaneously dull\bright light of the many candles.


“I’m going in.”


“Just do it.”


And: “You’re m-making it worse.”


“I’m sorry. I’m not exactly trained. Tera should be doing this, or the Doc …”


“I … I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful –”




And: “Try to relax.”


“I – can’t.”


“You have to.”


“I –”


“I said you have to.”


A series of haggard breaths, then silence from Jonathan. Rae’s own breathing shallow, controlled – she had to be thinking, How did I end up performing surgery on this crazy son of a b*tch? but it never showed in her slow, methodical movements. I wasn’t even sure I was breathing. Someone monitoring our respective vital signs would probably think I was the one ‘under the knife’ so to speak.


“I have it.”


“It’s about goddamn time.”


“Calm down. Stay relaxed or you’ll make me lose it again.”




“Just –”


And then a gunshot outside. All three of us jumped, and at least one gasped – maybe all. Rae took a calming breath, her free hand unclenching from its fist, and said it was probably Dean and the others announcing their triumphant arrival. I nodded, not really knowing what I was nodding for, and tried to not watch her go back to work. Looking down at Jonathan’s hand clutching mine, I noticed I was trembling more than he was – some moral support I made. With his head leaned back and his eyes closed, he looked almost comfortable (though his lips moved in an indecipherable mumble), until Rae’s fingers disappeared into his skin and his jaw clenched. My hand tightened on his reactively. I realized I could understand his murmur.


“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women …”


“I’ve got it.”


“… Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and …”


“Almost there, Jonathan.”


“… and … n-now and at the hour of our d-death, amen. Hail Mary, full of grace …”


“It’s okay. It’s okay.”


Perhaps it was only because I didn’t want to pay attention to what Jonathan was saying, but I was aware suddenly that Tai had moved, coming closer. His eyes, however, weren’t on us but on the door, and if possible they’d widened further. I twisted around to follow his gaze, thinking Dean or someone had come in without any of us noticing, but saw nothing. Jonathan’s hand going limp – “now and at the hour of our death, amen …” – made me snap back sharply, forgetting the boy’s distress. Rae held the bullet up victoriously in a now-shaking hand; the blood-slimed thing had the audacity to gleam as if it were brand new. Jonathan’s eyes rolled back in his head and closed as he lost consciousness, and I looked quickly to her, panicky.


“Rae? He’s going to be all right?”


I sounded to myself like a little girl asking her mother if her kitten’s going to survive jumping from the tree it had stranded itself in: somewhere between ridiculous and pitiful. Rae offered me a weak, awkward smile, but before she could say anything another gunshot tore through the air outside. Jonathan jerked back into consciousness with a cry. The bullet fell to the floor – a muted ping. Both Rae’s hands were fists now.


“I guess they want us to come celebrate with them,” she said with carefully masked anger. I wondered whose benefit she could possibly be trying to hide it for. She stood and started to wipe her hands on her pants, then stopped and instead cleaned them with the damp towel. Then she held it and the roll of gauze out to me. “Trinity, if you can …? I’ll go speak with them.”


Do you really think I can do th – “All right.” Compared to my hands, my voice was downright stable. I was a little proud of that, but apparently it didn’t count for much.


“It’s not hard,” Rae said soothingly, giving me a quick pat on the shoulder. Damn right it’s not, not next to what you just did. “Just be gentle. By this point you can’t hurt him that much.”


I nodded, hoping she was right. She gave Tai a glance but apparently decided it would be best for him to stay inside, and brushed past me to the door. I told myself that when I heard it click behind her, I would count to five, then move, and though the count made it to seven, I did. As I swabbed away the blood – there’s so much blood oh my god that can’t be okay I would be screwed if I bled that much and I’m – shut up shut up shut up – Jonathan’s eyes flickered open.


“For the record,” he breathed, in a tone close to but not exactly like his usual lofty way – and nothing like the low, almost frenzied voice he’d been praying in, “you can hurt me as much as you want to, sweetheart.”


Another time I might’ve hit him and turned my back, but I took it as a sign he wasn’t quite on Death’s doorstep. Maybe only his front porch, sitting in a rocking chair and whistling cheerily. That mental image helped me to laugh weakly. “You’re a sick person, Jonathan.”


“I know.” He laid his head back. “I relish my sickness.”


I wound the gauze as tightly as I felt comfortable doing it (with Jonathan’s constant, tired-but-patient coaching of “It has to be tighter than that, sweetheart … Tighter still … You don’t want my guts to fall out do you? Come on now,” the last of which I very nearly hit him for anyway. “I really don’t want to hear that,” I grumbled. Mock-horrified, he responded, “What, you don’t, do you?” It seemed he was definitely feeling better now; at least well enough to maintain his façade.) Afterwards, he complained of being cold, and I retrieved his coat from the bed where I’d dropped it back before … everything. The bullet-torn gray sweater lay in a huddle on the floor right beside him, but it rested in its own tiny pool of blood. I didn’t even want to look at it. Instead of putting the coat on, he dug into one of the lower pockets I’d never investigated and pulled out a rolled-up black t-shirt made of a thick material. I helped him pull it on, and proceeded to start cleaning up.


The candles had burned a little more than halfway down. Though I wasn’t certain, I thought that they were supposed to be two-hour candles – that meant that it had been at least an hour. God, that long? It did seem like an eternity, during … during it all, but now? Now it seems like it was only about twenty minutes. I blew the majority of them out, telling myself to conserve wax. And to ask Tera later if I was right about the time.




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Rae had limited herself to the one towel, which had seemed inconsequential at the time, but I was grateful for it now. I doubted any of us would ever want to use the thing again, and we couldn’t spare two or three. Nevertheless, I refrained from throwing it in the fire. Maybe Tera would want to wash it thoroughly and keep it around for tending to other wounds. The pot Rae had boiled the now-bloody water in, I poured out into the sink, knowing that it eventually emptied out into the river. Fish blood, human blood – by that point who really cared if it mixed. Then I scrubbed out the pot and sink both. While I was standing still there, Tai drifted over and latched onto my leg, seeking solace and apparently deeming me second best in lieu of his mother. If I hadn’t felt compelled to scrub until my fingers were about to bleed themselves, I would’ve actively comforted him; I suspected from the look on his little face that just then we were equals in a state of relative numbness.


Finally satisfied that my job was finished, I bent down to heft the boy up to sit on the counter. He weighed so little – I couldn’t help but think that if he’d bled out all Jonathan just had, there’d be nothing left of him, though as pale as his skin was it was a wonder he had any blood at all. Well, maybe he didn’t. He was still ‘different,’ still Taijitsu underneath it all, or such was my belief. Whether or not Rae chose to accept that, I didn’t know – didn’t care. In any form he was a child to me, just a wide-eyed, scared kid. I smoothed back a few invisible stands from his forehead, the gesture completely automatic as he had no hair. The little chemo patient, I thought, giving him a smile as weak as my hands felt.


“It’s okay, Tai,” I assured him. “We’re all okay.”


His anxious look told me he didn’t believe a word of it. I wasn’t sure I did, but that wasn’t exactly the message I wanted to convey.


“I promise,” I insisted. “I’m fine, see? You’re fine. Your mom’s fine. Sam and the others will be in soon.” I glanced over my shoulder at Jonathan. Where he sat, his back was to me, but he was moving: the uninjured hand combed through his hair in a way that suggested either restlessness or nervousness. I was hoping for the former. Finally I felt comfortable murmuring, “And Jonathan’ll be okay.”


But Tai wouldn’t be reassured. I didn’t blame him for that, but what did concern me slightly was that his eyes seemed unwilling to leave the door. Rae had been outside for some time. Surely Dean’s little company hadn’t opposed her orders to keep it down. Not Tera and Sam at least – and Dean …


I was tired. I didn’t know if I could deal with him right now, especially knowing he was responsible for the last questionable hour of suffering, which hadn’t at all been entirely Jonathan’s. I might back off when I shouldn’t or I might explode – hell at this point I might just fall apart on him, and none of those were good options. No, it would be better to just keep away from him until I was in top condition. How sad that I scarcely even consider looking at Dean unless I’m in fighting form, I reflected, but that was just how it was. I blamed it on him. Doubtless he blamed it on me. Right then I just didn’t feel up to arguing it out with him again. I would have to trust that between the three of them, Rae and Tera and Sam could deal with him if he got out of control. If nothing else, I thought Sam could be counted on to shoot him if necessary – not fatally of course, just to slow him down and give him a little shock.


With Tai trailing behind, I returned to Jonathan, who’d pulled the coat around his shoulders if not actually put it on. His eyes were half-closed but opened fully when we approached. He glanced at Tai almost resignedly, then looked up at me hopefully, and his smile was identical to a self-satisfied tomcat’s when I curled up tight against him and pulled the coat around myself as well. I rested my head on his uninjured shoulder, sitting on my shins to allow Tai to nestle in on my other side, and put an arm around each of them. Though he didn’t seem thrilled about having to share me with a child, Jonathan accepted it and laid his head down on mine contentedly.


“This is new,” he commented. I assumed he was referring to the fact that I was actually curling up with him instead of the other way around.


“Special occasion,” I murmured, squeezing him gently. “Don’t get used to it.”


“Fair enough.”


I told myself to rest my eyes for moment, but when they finally closed, I couldn’t hear Tai and Jonathan’s easy, steady breathing. The only thing that echoed around in the darkness was Hail Mary, full of grace … pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen …


And even tired as I was, I found that Tai’s apparent paranoia had rubbed off on me. I couldn’t stop watching the door, waiting for Rae to come back in or to hear shouting and fighting outside. The longer the silence stretched, the more uncomfortable I got. The thought that something bad had happened or was happening to Rae grew and grew, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Tired or not I had to do something. Nudging Jonathan to make sure he was awake, I regretfully slid out of my cozy position and stepped towards the door. Tai clung to my hand until I physically pulled his off, and then he immediately assumed my place next to Jonathan; in lieu of absolutely anyone else, apparently, even the creepy stranger would do. He winced as the little boy wrapped one arm directly over the bullet wound, and seemed considerably less than thrilled with the arrangement in general, but was gentle about repositioning him and even (grudgingly) offered him the shelter of the coat. We exchanged equally pathetic attempts at smiles before I slipped out the door.


Outside it was dark – obviously it had gotten later than I’d expected. The moon was unusually bright, however, maybe full, and gave out enough light to see the carnage still strewn about the Park. It silhouetted the tall carrion birds perched here and there, feasting. I was insanely relived that Tai was inside: one of those things could probably fly away with him whole. The moon also let me see the two figures standing at the Park’s gate. The smaller had her arms crossed; the larger held a gun at his side. Dean, I thought, every ounce of weariness coming back – and then I realized the grumbling voice the slight breeze carried to me wasn’t Dean’s. Not Sam’s either. Not even close. Oh come on, no, not now.




Burly and low-voiced as ever, muscular arms hunched against the wind, he stood there before a Rae I hoped was vindictive. Hoped, but didn’t quite expect – she had changed a lot in the past few days, with taking control of the Park, repeatedly putting Dean in line (not an easy task, I knew), even down to the minutes previous when she’d ventured way out of her comfort zone to operate on Jonathan. But David … he surely would remind her of a past when she’d have completely deserved the nickname Doormat. I just hoped – I would have prayed if I’d thought it would work – that he didn’t drag her –


Then came the ones I’d been expecting, crashing up loudly enough to be heard ten seconds before their actual arrival. Most of the birds took flight, screeching their displeasure, but some were impudent enough to merely shuffle into corners and continue with their all-you-can-eat. Rae and David both turned, jumpy, and I, still reluctant to face Dean or anyone else, retreated into the shadow cast by the Rec Room just like one of the birds. Unsurprisingly Dean’s voice was the first to be heard, barking at the other two to hurry up, that they were nearly there. Then I could make out Tera gasping something about Dean “not being human,” which he didn’t take very kindly to, true or not; Sam took the opportunity to get a shot in at Dean for being touchy. I sighed. Sounded like they’d had a fun trip.


Rae broke away from David to go meet them. While Dean scowled, Sam and Tera told her that the town – which was much further away than he’d made it out to be – had already been raided despite its zombie populace. Again, I sighed. Time wasted. But Dean was quick to argue that just because there was no food at the town didn’t make it a waste. There was plenty of lumber we could use to beef up the Park’s defenses and keep today’s incident from happening again. I wanted very much to tell him that my ‘today’s incident’ had consisted mainly of helping to undo his damages (or at least trying to), but I restrained myself. About that time he noticed David standing beyond Rae and openly gaped at him.


“What the hell, you’re still alive?”


Rae seemed to murmur to the other two that this was the much-fabled David. They looked almost in awe of him. Not finding this the reaction I thought they should have, I sidled over to Rae myself, and while David grumbled back something along the lines of “don’t sound so disappointed,” I confronted her.


“You’re letting him in here?” I demanded in a whisper. “After everything he’s done to you?”


“Would you have me turn another living human being away?”


I could claim that David wasn’t much of a human being and should therefore be turned out, but then again, neither was I, neither was Dean, and sometimes I wondered if Jonathan was. So if the Park only let in respectable people, true enough, it would have to evict half its current tenants. I didn’t like it in the slightest, but I crossed my arms and held my tongue. Soon Sam and Tera had gone off to the Rec Room saying something about scraping together an evening meal – which sounded like an excellent idea to me – and Dean filled Rae in on the details of the supplies at the other town. All the while he studiously ignored David – finally something we could agree on. Until, unfortunately, he caught mine and David’s intercepting glares, and he was distracted from his conversation with Rae to give me a smirk. On Jonathan the expression had become almost endearing; on a face meant for grinning, it was just … wrong.


“What’s your problem?” he asked spitefully. “Isn’t he enough like your other buddy to keep you happy?”


My fists clenched. I refused to indulge him in an answer.


“And now I’m not even worth talking to – go figure.” He scoffed. “Whatever. Have fun with your convicts then.”


Dean,” I growled. Rae was saying something, telling us to cool off most likely, but as exhausted as my body was, a surge of adrenaline was spiking through my veins. I scarcely noticed his use of ‘convicts’ – how does he know that only flickered through my mind long enough to get the hissed response who the f*ck really cares. I wanted to fight.


“… if they’re still all in one piece, that is,” he drawled, ignoring Rae’s reprimand.


I wanted to kill.


“Because, you might have that problem, y’know. After you’re done with them.”


Again I heard Rae telling him off, but in truth, all he was doing was standing there, running his mouth. A tiny glint of red in his eyes. No punches were being thrown, yet. I – I could feel the purple-blue-yellow-red vision invading the corners of my eyes, the hunter creeping up my back like a cat’s hair standing on end. Fight him. It’s what he wants can’t you tell – fight him. Kill him. Destroy him.


What? No. No!


His eyebrow c0cked arrogantly, he regarded me with that slight red glow, and I realized he was baiting me. It wasn’t so much the fight itself that he wanted as the hunter who would be fighting – maybe that was all he’d ever wanted of me. I forced my fists open and took a deep breath. Normal colors pushed back the infrared mix at the corners of my eyes. Rae’s voice came back into my range of hearing, and she was saying just what I thought she would be. I gave her a taut smile.


“It’s all right, Rae.”


I turned to walk away. What a strange reversal, that I was saying that to her now with my old assurance and cold confidence. Dean was instantly at my back, ominously whispering, “If I don’t tear him apart first, Jamie, you will the first time he touches you.”


Every muscle in my legs tensed up. Dean chuckled softly into the crook of my neck, and a thousand responses came to my mind, most of them violent. But one stood out. I turned my head slowly to look at him, and with what I vainly thought was quite admirable coolness, I said, “He already has.”


When I walked again, Dean stayed behind. Imagining the look on his face, I allowed myself a wicked grin, then cleared my expression and pushed into the Rec Room. Rae came in right behind me, giving me a slightly worried look. I just shook my head. I was quite certain I’d won this round.


Rather than scratch up some supper, Tera had gotten distracted with looking over Jonathan’s wounds, making sure Rae and I hadn’t botched anything apparently. He looked like he was in pain, and gave me an appealing look, but quite honestly I was grateful. Now if I’d done anything wrong, it would be re-done correctly, and I wouldn’t have to think ‘what if I didn’t wrap that gauze tight enough’ every five minutes. I gave him an apologetic shrug. Meanwhile, Sam was with Tai, trying to bring a smile to the little boy’s face. Tai, though, kept his eyes on the door until Dean skulked in, and behind him, David. When the latter entered, Tai cringed and half-hid behind Sam. I frowned and darted a glance at Rae, but if she noticed this it wasn’t apparent: she was in the kitchen area now, moving slowly but seeming intent upon fixing supper.


After what she’d done for Jonathan (and my sanity by extension) I wasn’t about to let that happen. I rushed to join her, and though I couldn’t persuade her to settle down entirely, I managed to do most of the work. It helped when Tera joined us a few moments later, having moved Jonathan to his bed. She made a feeble joke about the women working in the kitchen, and where I might have at least smirked ordinarily, the truth was the only one of the guys I had any interest in being around was Jonathan, and he wasn’t up to the task. Dean was Dean, David was David, and unfortunately for Sam, right then he would have reminded me too strongly of his brother.


David made himself at home at the table. I wondered if he’d be amused to know he was sitting in the same chair another man had been bleeding to death in earlier in the evening. He probably got off on that sort of thing, I thought with a vicious scowl. Dean copied him, though he sat about as far away as possible and rested his arms and chin on the table. He kept shooting me those betrayed looks, which had once made him seem so piteous and now only angered me. Sam, to his credit, stayed with Tai, who was slowly, slowly easing out of his hiding spot. The only looks Sam was shooting anyone were confused – and like Dean’s grin and Jonathan’s smirk, I’m afraid the look seemed to come to him quite naturally. It was odd that, next to Tai, he was the most innocent-seeming of us. Considering who he was supposedly related to. Maybe once upon a time I would have considered that just another thing the two had in common; now it was in the column for things that worked to disprove his fraternal claims.


Eventually we put together a meal of canned meat, canned potatoes, and assorted canned vegetables without it turning out too badly – largely thanks to Tera, who I was beginning to suspect was actually the messiah of some culinary god – and carried the dishes to the table. When Tera announced that as the women had cooked, the men would wash the dishes, they assumed a look of collective astonishment. Finally something they could agree on – but no one made a complaint. I noticed Rae was no longer limping, and tried to look on that as a good thing instead of wondering if she’d simply been able to hide it. I must’ve just nicked her, I told myself firmly. Then to lift my spirits, I selected a plate, picked up a pair of forks, and carried it over to the bed from which Jonathan had sullenly observed the goings-on. When Dean gave me an especially venomous look for it, I just smiled and sat down.


Jonathan made some comment about wanting all his meals in bed from now on, but ate little in reality. Even when I threatened to withhold kissing rights and keep his goddamn coat for the rest of eternity, he laughed but wasn’t encouraged to eat. Maybe he wasn’t convinced I’d follow through, which was fair, as I had no intentions of such. Eventually I gave up and finished it off myself, watching the others not talk to each other and not look at each other. Once the meal was over, I watched Dean and Sam stand on opposite sides of David to wash, and Rae sit quietly and hold Tai while she supervised. Tera had excused herself and gone to bed, and it occurred to me that she was probably the smart one, getting out of there before trouble started. It certainly looked to be brewing. Soon, Rae took Tai to bed, mouthing ‘good night’ to me. I gave a tiny, slightly forlorn wave in return.


Once the door closed behind her, Jonathan murmured (sounding half-asleep), without any apparent reason, “You’re the only female in the room now.”




Eyes closed, he barely moved his lips to say, “So keep your guard up.”


I scoffed. “I can kick any of their *sses.”


“I don’t doubt it, sweetheart,” he said with a smirk that proved he wasn’t as drowsy as he was pretending. “Still.”


“Still what? You’re getting territorial now?”


“No; I am however concerned one of them might think I am and quite sincerely attempt to bash my face in.” He cracked one eye open and nodded toward David, who seemed to be conferring with Dean over where he was supposed to sleep. “Besides which, that one makes me feel like I’m one of the females in the room.”


I snickered.


“There we go. About time.” He yawned silently and leaned his head against my shoulder. I wasn’t sure why he was so insistent that it made such a good pillow. “For future reference, I am now asleep.”


“Right. Just like you were before,” I remarked, but when he didn’t reply I didn’t bother to goad him. The other men had finally sorted themselves out: with Dean and Sam in their usual beds, the only place left oven for David was what had previously been my bed. Actually quite handy, I thought with a smirk, that Jonathan and I are content to share, isn’t it Dean? As if intercepting my thoughts, he shot one final glare over at me before blowing out the last candle.


In the dark, David crept over to the other bed. I kept my gaze on him, and he kept his on me, as if we were a pair of tigers or some other jungle cat circling each other warily. Fighting over territory, perhaps. It didn’t escape my attention that he propped his rifle against the side of the bed, and I doubted highly that it escaped his that my pistol and knife never left my belt. In a strange way this all felt natural and everyday, in a hail hail the gang’s all here kind of way, but I couldn’t help but wish this particular member of ‘the gang’ had stayed gone. Maybe I could trade him out for Corey, I thought, or Keith. Or even just return him, plain and simple – perhaps Rae still had his receipt –


Then he surprised me by either forfeiting or disregarding our little staring contest. He turned his back to me.


Aaaaaaand that’s a wrap. That’s all I have done, all I have planned, just plain all of it. Awaitin’ your response I guess.




Status: Offline
Posts: 1752

Jamie. Jamie.


… Dean? … What …


Jamie, don’t talk. I need to tell you something.


But … What is this?


It’s – it doesn’t matter. I can explain it later. (How did this happen to you?) I –




… What do you mean, ‘what’?


How did what happen to me?


I didn’t – ah. You’re not as far gone as you think you are, Sunshine. But look, forget about that for now. I have to talk to you.


If this is going to turn out like last time you ‘had to talk to me’ –


Will you just shut up and listen? Please? Just for a little while?


Okay, okay, fine.


All right. So. This is, um, not easy, okay? But I know these people here – Rae and him the others – I know they … mean something to you. I don’t get it, but okay. You want to stay here, you want to help them.


I want to protect them.


Yeah, well. Good luck with that in a few more weeks.


What’s that supposed to mean?


Didn’t you agree to be quiet?


… Fine.


Anyway, I understand you want to stay here and everything, and I know I promised I wouldn’t, you know, I wouldn’t leave you again. But the thing is, the … I can’t. The longer I stay, the more of them I’m going to end up hurting. And when I hurt them, I hurt you, and … I can’t deal with that. I can’t do that.


… You’re leaving me.


Jamie, it’s the only way –


You told me you would never run away again.


– but I don’t want to keep –


You promised.


– and more and more it look like I just can’t –


You said you’d be here for me. Always.


Jamie, I – I’m sorry. But you don’t need me. I need you. Please – follow me. You’ll know how if you just let yourself. Come with me, be with me, hunt with me. Follow me. Follow me. Follow …


“Trinity. Trinity?”


I fought my way out of sleep, finding it almost painful to actually open my eyes. Maybe it was the cold – which I was instantly and comfortably aware of – but it felt more like I’d simply been sleeping unusually deeply.


“Come on. Time to get up.”


Though there was no urgency in the voice, I moved instantly (once I processed what it was saying) to swing my legs out of bed and put on my boots. The routine was interrupted when I realized I hadn’t taken them off the night before; a second after that the aches caused by sleeping in tight boots caught up to me. I winced, I shivered, and finally woke up fully. Jonathan, the one to wake me, crawled over the bed to sit beside me. He looked rather amused by my little mental hold-up, but I, ever seeing the silver lining’s cloud, couldn’t help but notice he held his broken hand awkwardly by his side, and judging by the darkness under his eyes he had slept fitfully.


Yet he was the one to ask, “Are you all right?”


“Of course. I’m fine.”


“I had a difficult time waking you.”


“It’s okay. I was just … sleeping hard,” I dismissed. “How’re you feeling?”


“Strangely, I feel as if I’ve been shot,” he said wryly. “Whatever did you expect? You were talking in your sleep, by the way.”


“What was I saying?”


“You kept saying ‘I can’t, I can’t’,” he told me thoughtfully, then added, “I hope you weren’t talking to me.”


(… followme,followme,followme …)


I laughed uneasily and shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. Doesn’t matter anyway. It was just a dream.”


* * * * *


Although the Rec Room was empty when I woke up, Rae came in soon after, looking somewhat harried. Seeing me on my feet, she was quick to give me a run-down of the morning’s activities: Dean had gone scouting for another town to raid, Sam and Tera had spent their time searching through the ruined building for useable wood, and before coming to wake me, Jonathan had been working with the generator again. She offered nothing about herself or David (or Tai for that matter), and I didn’t pry. Most of the others had apparently already had breakfast, so again there was no communal meal; only an uncomfortably quiet shared plate of toast. There was no more bacon. Afterwards, Rae barely gave me a last look before leaving. I did my best to repress the feeling that everything she and I had been through had gone down the drain with David’s arrival. She’s just busy, I told myself. She’s the Park’s leader, remember? She has a lot to do.


During the meal I’d become painfully aware of the stiff, slightly tacky feel of my shirt, not the mention its new color. I wanted more than anything to be rid of it, but I was afraid that wouldn’t be happening any time soon. Fresh clothes weren’t really a luxury we had now, and while Jonathan and I took our time washing the morning’s dishes, I said as much to him. He paused for a moment. Then, to my delight, he told me he thought he’d seen a small cache of clothing in the room the generator resided in – and so, once we were done, I followed him there with low expectations but high hopes.


Maybe I’d been able to block out the previous night’s horror somewhat, but stepping outside brought every detail back. The corpses had been shifted out of the pathways – piled into a couple reeking mounds of insect attractant – but sprays of blood still marked the sides of buildings in places. And worse, the aggressive carrion birds (I wasn’t at all sure they’d even existed in the old world) were still hanging around, not only to eat, but also, it seemed, to pick fights with anyone who got too close. David, for instance, who was at work on the breach in the wall with planks Sam and Tera were providing him with, kept kicking one away from his bucket of nails. No matter how vicious he was – and he was quite vicious, of course – it always sidled back for more. It didn’t seem to want to attack him; if it hadn’t been for the thing’s hooked beak and beady eyes, I would have almost thought it was curious.


I froze a few steps out the Rec Room door, and Jonathan automatically reached to take my hand and draw me on – the problem being that his hand was far too wrapped in gauze to do so. He caught himself and instead linked his arm around mine, but the simple alteration made me frown.


“Come on,” he murmured encouragingly. I tried to steel myself and go on with life as best I could, but as soon as we started toward the back of the compound, we crossed paths one of the scavengers. When it saw us coming, it launched itself directly at us. I cried out in surprise and threw my hands up to protect my face – and Jonathan, in a flash, pulled a crowbar from somewhere under his coat and beat the thing away. There was an audible crunch, but it tottered back off the path to lurk in the remains of the garden, glaring at us but not seeming much more than annoyed and a little injured in the pride department.


“What brought that on?” I asked faintly. To my surprise, Jonathan actually had an answer.


“I have this theory,” he said as he slipped the crowbar back into his coat, “that you look dead to them, so they think you’re open game. They treated Dean the same way,” he added by way of justification.


“I think it was after both of us.”


“Well, I’m bleeding still,” he pointed out.


“Right,” I muttered. Just then we reached our destination.


Most of the room was dominated by the ancient, hulking generator, or rather its pieces, which were strewn about the floor in a way that looked nothing if not haphazard. The only lighting was a short-burned candle sitting right by the generator’s skeleton. I started to ask Jonathan if he really knew what he was doing, or just pretending to in order to cement his place as a valuable member of the community, but he left me at the door and picked his way back into some darker recess of the room. After just enough time for me to shuffle from one foot to the other and start getting bored, he emerged into the little halo of light again, carrying a plastic milk crate crammed with clothes. I couldn’t help but notice he braced it against his hip rather than carry it in front of him, and I immediately asked if his shoulder was bothering him.


His only answer was a scoff and roll his eyes, then push the crate into my arms. “Find a new shirt, sweetheart. And kick that dreadful bird for me when you go by.” He opened the door for me, kissed my forehead, and turned back to fiddle with the generator. I watched him for a moment before reluctantly going on.


Having borrowed Tera’s hut to use as a ‘fitting room,’ I soon found a button-down, short-sleeved shirt that fit nearly perfectly. More importantly, I found a thick, fuzzy sweater (in an unfortunate shade of muddy brown) that was just too-big enough to cover my hands as well. It may have been ugly, but it was certainly warm. Once I was done, I set off to find Rae, intending to ask her where I should put the crate so everyone would know to come to it for extra clothing. Tai, sitting outside the building Sam was rummaging through, was able to tell me she’d gone back into the Rec Room – his English, I noted, was improving exponentially, and I couldn’t help but think it was from nothing more than listening in to our conversations.


When I did find Rae and explained the situation to her, she absent-mindedly told me to just sit the crate over by the table. She seemed to have nothing else to say, but I lingered, and when I asked if she was all right, though she smiled it wasn’t at all an “everything’s fine” sort of smile. I tried again, and this time she turned away and said nothing. Reminded of our encounter in Doc M’s kitchen, when she wouldn’t even speak to me until I as good as verbally attacked her, I opened my mouth a third time with sharper words on my tongue.


But before I spoke, she looked back and answered with her own question. “Do you really think letting David inside was a bad idea?”


I stopped my initial reaction of ‘hell yes’ and hesitated. “Logically, turning him away would’ve been crazy. He’s strong, and he’s useful. He’s proven as much, plenty of times. But still, we also know …” I trailed off. She knew more about the man than I did, good and bad; what was I saying? “And Tai doesn’t like him,” I tried. “And Dean and Jonathan don’t care for him either, I know that.”


She nodded, almost dismissively. “But what do you think?”


“I don’t like him,” I said simply. “I don’t honestly know if we can make it without him, but I personally don’t ever want to have to trust him to have my back. And I wouldn’t want him watching yours or Jonathan’s or anyone’s for that matter.”


She nodded again. I couldn’t tell if what I’d said had been what she wanted to hear, but there was little doubt it was what she’d expected. Giving me that same distant smile from before, she asked me to go see if Dean was back yet, and I took that as my cue to get out, whether Dean had returned or not. And he hadn’t – leaving me with nothing to do. I had no inclination to join David in his work, and when I tried to help Sam and Tera, both hurriedly told me they had it covered. It felt rather like they wanted to avoid me just as much as I wanted to avoid David, and, probably irrationally, I wondered what he’d been telling them about me.


And with a jolt I realized that Tai’s secret was no longer strictly safe. If – and it was just speculation – David had no qualms about lying to Sam and Tera about me, certainly he’d have no moralistic issues telling them the boy’s past. The man hadn’t a moral fiber in his body, or so it seemed to me. I found myself gravitating towards where Tai sat, as if I could protect him from David’s words, spoken or as yet unspoken, by just being near him, but of course that was silly. And besides, every time Sam went by, he had a smile or at least a kind look for the kid. If David was out to damage Tai’s future, he hadn’t done it yet, and I couldn’t help by hovering. Despite the urge to do something, there was nothing to be done, so I hunched my shoulders against the cold breeze and headed to the back of the Park, to Jonathan.


He knelt with his back to the door, one hand deep in the generator’s guts and the other, largely useless one resting on a knee. He was intermittently humming and singing to himself and didn’t seem to notice when I came in, so I closed the door behind me quietly and sat down. I seemed to be big on memories this morning; I was reminded now of that night I’d left the clinic, but much earlier, just after I’d come back from the Park. He’d been singing to himself when I came in then, as well, and like then, the tune sounded familiar. I couldn’t think how it was possible for me to know a song, and not know my own name.


“Was it something I said

Or something I did

Did my words not come out right?

Though I tried not to hurt you

Though I tried …”


Jonathan trailed back into humming as he dropped the wrench he’d been holding and reached into his jacket. Pulling out a cigarette, he lit it off the candle and went back to work. I was surprised he didn’t notice me then, but he seemed strangely content working on the old behemoth. Almost … at home, even if the machine refused to bend to his will and be fixed. Maybe he just enjoyed tinkering with it.


“And now I hear you found somebody new

And that I never meant that much to you

To hear that tears me up inside and

To see you cuts me – like a knife

I guess –”


Suddenly the generator made a sound like a car backfiring, and a bolt of electricity arced from one piece of metal to another. Jonathan shot away from the thing at the same time I lunged forward to yank him back, and we collided. He knocked the breath out of me for a moment, but when the spots cleared from my visions, he hadn’t moved away. Even as light as he was, having the majority of his weight laying against my chest and stomach wasn’t exactly comfortable – then when I started to complain and push him off, I realized my arms were locked around him. He couldn’t’ve moved if he’d wanted to, and he didn’t seem to want to especially; tilting his head back to look up at me, he gave a lopsided grin, behind which I recognized the anxiety he was trying to mask.


“Are you all right?” I swallowed.


He held his hand up for visual inspection and flexed the fingers. “I’m good.”


I sighed in relief and relaxed at least partially. Once my arms loosened, Jonathan sat up and approached the generator gingerly, but when he tried to start it up, it still wouldn’t. He scowled and kicked it.


“What caused that?” I asked, still a little stunned. He could have died just then. Just like that.


“Damned if I know.”


“Jonathan – if this thing’s going to electrocute you – it’s not that important –”


His head jerked towards me. “I’ll make this f*cking machine work if it’s the last thing I do,” he barked. I recoiled slightly, my arms crossing over my chest automatically, and at once his expression softened. “I’m sorry.” He came back over and sat with me, making me meet his eyes. “Trinity. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’ve just been closed up in here with this thing too long.”


“I know,” I admitted a little grudgingly. He uncrossed my arms and pulled me to my feet as he himself stood, then hugged me tightly.


“I said sorry.”


“I know,” I mumbled into his shoulder, and pushed him away so I could see his face. “And I said I know. I understand.”


“But I’m not forgiven.”


“You don’t have to be – look, it’s not a big deal, okay?” I said impatiently. “It’s just – you did it again. I was worried about you and you’re … being you. Acting strange.”


He gave a long-suffering sigh. “Sweetheart, as far as I know there’s little strange about being a little edgy moments after coming close to death.”


“Don’t say that.”


“It could’ve happened.”


“I know and I don’t want to think about it! All right?” I snapped. Then I sighed and dropped my head against his chest. “Now I’m doing it. I guess I’m edgy too. Sorry.”


“Let’s just agree we’re both sorry and move on,” he compromised.




“Very well then. Let’s get away from this infernal machine before it sprouts legs and attacks again.”



Wow terrible cut-off point but like I said, the inspiration kinda ended there. Whatever happens next happens; I just didn’t want this moldering on my desktop any longer.

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