Actions

Work Header

Aftermath

Work Text:


One

"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone"

April 25, 2015 (2 NT)
Outskirts of Topeka, Kansas

From the diary of Allison Iraheta

Once upon a time, I was famous. I don't know what this has to do with anything, or what fame will be like in this world. But I think it's important for you to know. Because I was famous, I had to pretend to be someone else. It is after all, part of the circumstances of your birth, so I suppose me being famous somewhat leads to you being born, if you think about it enough.

Right now I'm in an abandoned bookstore, which despite the thick layer of dust, has survived the last two years with no intrusions. If I could I'd pile every book in the wagon Hannah rides in and bring them along. As it is we've marked it on the map. Just in case. We may have lost a lot of things, but knowledge is something we cannot lose.

Shit that sounded stupid. Sorry, kid, guess your mom has gotten profound on you.

Robert and Deidre are at the door. I think, just maybe, they might make it work. I also think they'll see us to Arkansas and turn back to help the revolution. I don't know for sure. Kris and Hannah are curled up not far from me. Hannah holds onto a book that I am almost certain is coming with us.

I still expect to wake up tomorrow in my bed in LA and tell myself this was the weirdest and longest dream ever. Before, I used to dream of very normal things. Well, for someone like me. A Grammy. Critical recognition. Jive Records begging to take me back.

Now the dream is almost always the same.

Outside the window the Northern Lights are just appearing, a faint blush in the California sky. I remember how the scientists couldn't explain why they were everywhere. But no one was scared or anything. Then the power outages started, and spread, on and off, as if testing different areas. I'm sure with time; there may have been a pattern. By then, things had already begun to fall apart. The plane crash in Bitburg. That's when it all began.

In the dream, I am bouncing Hannah, her giggles filling my house. Cale rolls his eyes at me when I give him a look, but he doesn't flinch. I laugh, and remember that's why I like him: he tolerates all of me. Kris and Adam are by the TV, discussing something that I know I'm going to have no choice in. I may be an adult now, but I'm still their baby sister.

Then all of our phones ring.

This isn't unusual. But somewhere inside me, deep within the dream, there is a desperate voice telling me it is nothing, that these are normal phone calls, that my life will go on the way I think it should.

Katy is not on the phone with Kris. Flights have not been permanently been cancelled. LAX is not a mob scene. We don't have to figure out a new way to go somewhere safe.

Brad isn't calling Adam to say he's stuck at the TV studio. People aren't already flocking to the newsroom to see if the President meant it when he said he was enforcing martial law.

Cale isn't on the phone with Ryland, talking about how they are going to revise the crazy plan he and Kris and Adam have developed over the last day. With flights cancelled, something was going to have to change.

My mother isn't leaving a voice mail on my phone. I didn't answer because I thought I was going to be able to call back. She isn't in New York City with my sister. I don't like to think about that. Not considering the stories that have come from the few survivors of big cities.

I look around the room, and Cale shrugs at me. It's the best apology I'm going to get. I can't blame him, his loyalty to Kris outweighs any sort of relationship we have (and I'm still not sure what that is, exactly,) and that is one of the things I find very attractive about him. But a little knowledge would have been nice.

Kris wants to go get Katy, but Adam gently reminds him that someone has to take care of Hannah. Cale volunteers to go with Adam, looking surprised as he does. Suddenly I'm sitting with Hannah in my lap and saying nothing, because there is no way Adam and Cale won't gang up on me and make me stay with Kris. I know where to pick my fights and this one isn't worth it.

Sometimes, I wish I'd said something, and we'd all gone together. I often wonder how it would have been.

Adam is out the door with hugs and a smile. Cale takes longer, making sure he remembers how to get to the farm in Arkansas. Then he and Kris hug forever and a day.

The dream sometimes gets as far as Kris's house in Santa Barbara. Sometimes it ends right after the phones all ring. Mostly, it's right after Cale kisses me goodbye and tells me he'll see me later.

I haven't seen him since.

I wonder what he'll think of you.

*

Reports from various media sources

February 25, 2013

The unusual display of the Aurora Borealis is baffling scientists. It seems to be spreading beyond Germany and towards the rest of Europe. There have even been claims of sightings in the lower United States, as yet unconfirmed. Scientists are working to figure this out, but in the meantime, say that while unusual, this display is perfectly safe for everyone to see.

February 28, 2013

Increased cases of random power outages have raised the concern of leaders around the world. While no one is confirming it, the coincidence of the rare and elongated appearance of the Aurora Borealis cannot be ignored. We will continue to investigate as reports come in, so please remain calm and patient.

March 1, 2013

While no one can yet tell us the exact details on the plane crash this morning in Bitburg, we do know this: no contact has been made with Bitburg officials since last night. Also, preliminary investigations say that the electrical systems of the plane are in working order, but simply quit. What this means is yet to be determined.

March 2, 2013

Address of the President of the United States of America 7 PM EST

My fellow Americans.

We have been witnessing an unprecedented spectacle for the last few days. I have been in awe of nature's wonder. I, like you, have also been worried, wondering what it all means.

I am going to be honest with you, and the truth is frightening. We don't know. The best scientists in the world are working all hours of the night, trying to find answers as to what exactly is going on. But those answers take time.

Until then, we have to take steps to protect ourselves from undue harm. In light of what happened this morning in Germany, I and other world leaders have chosen to suspend all air travel until we can figure out the problem. I know that means a lot of people are separated from their families. I've spoken to the airlines and they are doing their best to find alternate transportation for all of you.

Please do not panic. As far as we know, this is a temporary phenomenon that will pass. But until we can determine what is happening, when it will end, and how to fix it, my priority is keeping citizens safe. As a cautionary measure, I have enacted martial law.

I plead with everyone to use caution, act safely and responsibly, and use common sense in this time of unease. We will get through this. We will prevail.

Thank you, good night, and God bless.

There is no evidence to any degree whether the President survived the events after.

March 3, 2013

Excerpt from early morning religious program.

"And when the power goes out, has anyone else noticed what is happening. Have you tried your back-up generators? Have you tried your guns?"

The man behind the pulpit nods.

"That's right, this isn't some sort of electrical interference. This is the will of our Lord God. He has chosen to punish us for our sins. He has chosen to put us at our basest level. We must pray for forgiveness, must pray that we survive the chaos to come, and when we make it through, we will know that we are His children again."

*
March 4, 2013
Hollywood, CA

It takes two days to get from Santa Barbara to Cassidy's place in Hollywood. Cale doesn't want to relive a few of those moments, especially when they had to abandon the car. He has no idea what the rest of the world is like, but if LA is any indication, it's going to be a long, tough road.

But everyone is waiting there, so there is one positive.

"Did Kris send you or did you volunteer?" Katy says to him.

Cale grins. "I volunteered so he wouldn't come himself. You know how he is."

Katy smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes. There is a bruise on her cheek, and her wrist is wrapped in a makeshift brace. Cale doesn’t ask, but he has a feeling the trip from LAX to Hollywood was more than eventful.

"So do we try to drive out of here?" Cassidy says, looking around the room.

Cale doesn't know most of these people. He knows their names, but he isn't sure that they will take his word for anything.

"Actually, staying away from cars may be a good idea," he says finally. "I mean, Adam and I had to abandon his because it stopped working. At least temporarily. Who's to say that it won't happen again?"

All eyes in the room are on him.

"Why would you say that?"

Cale looks at Tommy. "Well, when we were talking yesterday, Ryland and Drew and Kris and I, one thing kind of struck us. You know the plane crash right? Well it didn't happen until after the power outage. Plus we heard, and it's hard to say if it is true, that the plane had no working electronics at all. So we think that maybe the plane flew over the area without power and—"

"Wait," Tommy says, "are you saying that you think the power outage caused the plane crash?"

Cale nods. "The day before the plane went down, all the TV reporters in the area were complaining of terrible reception. And all the videos from there were spotty. It's possible that something about these Northern Lights is even less normal than we thought. That's what all the reports are saying. At least, before I left Kris's house."

"They are still saying it. But is it going to last though? Can't we just wait it out?"

Cale turns to Cassidy. "We could. But food isn't something we have a lot of on hand. And if it does last, it's going to take awhile to walk to Arkansas."

"Why Arkansas?"

"The farm," Katy interrupts. "Kris bought land there years ago. We built a house there, but then we decided to come here again, so Daniel raises horses and does some farming. Kris and I sort of split time. His mom and dad actually moved there last year, and they bought a few more acres and are thinking of starting some sort of apple tree farm thing. Is that about right Cale?"

"Yeah," Cale says. "Plus a lot of the land around there is for sale, so if the Allens act fast enough… I’m not saying I have all the answers, but maybe we should think about sitting out the worst of the riots here, and then try to move out before the power leaves completely. If I'm wrong, we're still in LA. If I'm right, Kris is going to wait at his house for at least a week after the power goes out permanently. So we should be fine."

Cale looks around the room, relieved to see that everyone nods in agreement. He isn't even sure of what is going to happen himself, but he hopes the theory is wrong. That this is just temporary.

*
March 6, 2013
Santa Barbara, CA

Ryland and Drew are out on another scouting trip, scouring Kris's neighborhood for anything they deem useful. Sharon, Ryland's wife, sorts through things Ryland and Drew hauled from their 'collections', an assortment of sharp objects that make Kris reassess exactly how well he knows the Steen brothers.

Andrew is the only one acting as if everything is normal. He sits on the couch, strumming the chords to "Is It Over", trying to change something, although Kris isn't sure what.

He and Allison are attempting to watch TV, although the picture has been going in and out. It's all pretty bad, but Kris is trying to figure out exactly when the power is going to go out by how it has spread elsewhere.

It's hard because communication is sketchy at best. Cell phones are almost useless at this point. Kris had been able to talk to Katy briefly yesterday, but that was all. The internet is either not working at all or sites are crashing with desperate floods of people trying to say their goodbyes.

Never mind how he had cried at the tweets he had received before shutting off his phone.

"So swords, huh?" Allison asked.

"Yeah, we figure if the electricity keeps going, and whatever it is can take down a plane, then we should be prepared," Kris says. "Plus Ryland and Drew dabble in that thing, um,"

"The Society for Creative Anachronism," Andrew supplies. "Plus they love all that camping down to earth stuff. So we have ourselves three experts. Three and half if you count Kris's missionary days as experience."

"Hey look, the news!" Allison says. "But why are they reporting from Ohio?"

Ryland and Drew return just in time to find out that all contact with the East Coast has been lost.

"How long?" Allison whispers. "How long until—"

"Two. Three. Maybe four days. I just hope the others decide to leave LA before the power goes out. Because as bad as it sounds now, it's only going to get worse," Ryland says, putting a hand on Kris's shoulder before going outside to help his wife.

*
March 7, 2013
Allen farm, Arkansas

Kim Allen has always been fairly practical. She's raised her boys to be the same way. So when Kris called her and told her the plan, she rolls into action without thought.

Her first visit, as much as she doesn't want to ask for the help, is to the church. She likes the people who go there, and she has to admit there is a certain sense of belonging. However, Pastor Franklin Grater is not her favorite person.

She also knows that without the church, a lot of people may die. So she picks up the phone, hoping it will work. The dial tone is there, a reminder of everything that may be lost in the next few days.

"Franklin, this is Kim Allen. Yes, I'm doing just fine. Actually I have a proposal for you."

Kim steels herself. Even the devil was an angel for a time

*
March 8, 2013
Outskirts of LA

Katy reaches the building just behind Adam. She breathes slowly, even though her lungs are burning.

"I thought you were in better shape than that Allen," Adam teases her.

"I don't work out with a personal trainer."

"True. It's even hard for Brad to keep up with me most days."

"I can go all night long," Brad says, grinning, and shifting Bowie in his arms.

"And so the lewd jokes begin," Danielle sighs.

"I always was corrupting the youth," Adam says, looking at his son.

"I'm pretty sure Bowie understands none of this yet," Danielle says.

"True."

Katy leans against the wall for a moment. Outside… Outside she can hear screams and gunshots. The megaphones from the military and the police had stopped sometime yesterday. She could turn around and see LA burning, watch as people streamed aimlessly from one part of the city to another. She keeps waiting for a director to yell cut, for everyone to smile again and talk about lunch, or gossip, or coo over the baby.

But it isn't a movie.

She is going to go home.

She is going to see her husband and child.

She is going to survive.

Katy thinks, after everything she and Kris have been through, this isn't too much to ask.

*
March 9, 2013
Santa Barbara

Allison wakes before the sun comes up, so she can still see the faint blush of the Northern Lights. She reaches for her phone automatically, and remembers. It's all gone now. She sits up in her bed, rubbing her arms. From what little TV they could get, the theory was still act of God or act of alien. Either way didn't matter to her, because there was no power. No technology for that matter. The Steens—Ryland, Sharon and Drew—had been doing any number of experiments since the power went out, but any modern science seemed to be gone.

Allison remembers watching them clean the gun, the dry clicks resonating in the still air. Kris had spent the day packing some important items, memorizing things he could not take. They had promised the others a week.

After all, the walk didn't get any shorter.

Allison wants to go back to sleep, but she knows she won't. She worries about what's coming, how they'll survive. She thinks of the clicking of the gun.

At least with a bow and arrow, people will have to aim.

It doesn't make her feel any better. Instead, she stares at the sky for awhile, waiting to see what the first day of the rest of the world is going to be like.

*
March 16, 2013
Santa Barbara

"You promised her that you would leave as well, Kris," Ryland says.

"I know. I—"

Kris sighs and shuts his eyes. "I hoped they'd make it in time."

"They'll get here. And we'll catch up eventually. But there just isn't the food supply here for all of us to stay. Anyway, Cale owes me money," Drew says. "He has to be alive."

Kris laughs. "I'm not sure he can repay you."

Drew shrugs, and everything is in motion. Ryland and Sharon are double checking the packs. Kris tucks a family photo in a plastic bag and adds it to his. Andrew is bringing a guitar, but Kris knows he has those in Arkansas. Hannah will be enough for him to carry without adding anything else.

"We're doing this, aren't we?" Andrew asks.

"Yeah. I guess we are," Kris says.

"Who knew when we first started playing together, that it would be Ryland and Drew that saved our butts?"

"I always thought it would be Lizzie."

"Where was she, anyway?"

"Vacation. Bahamas I think."

"Ah."

It is already a sort of thing now, not to talk about people who you knew you would never see again. Like Torres, at a gig with his other band somewhere in Mexico. Allison's mom, in New York. And so on.

They've decided to walk. They had thought of taking biking trails all the way, but with unpredictable weather and lack of medical facilities, walking seems the safest bet. Kris looks at Ryland and Drew again and shakes his head. He remembers the talks on the road, their former college adventures as members of the SCA. Kris hopes they remembered enough to save everyone's lives.

Kris looks back at his house as they walk down the road. Drew stood in the doorway. He'd promised to wait until August. If Adam and the others didn't show by then…

Kris lets out a breath. He doesn't want to think like that. It's too early for despair. So he concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other, and praying that somewhere, not too far away, his wife and friends are okay.

*
March 17, 2013
Northeast of LA

Adam shifts Bowie in his arms. Luckily, he's still in the sleep all day stage of his life, so not much has bothered him in trying to get to Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, their small group has had to divert eastward. The 101 would have been better, but the 101 was a choked mass of cars and people just sitting. Sitting and waiting for something to change, someone to come save them. Cale had tried to convince some of them to come along, but mostly, they just looked forward, hands gripping the wheels of the car.

Adam shuts his eyes and opens them again. He isn't too sure that wouldn't have been him, if he didn't have somewhere to go. Cale and Tommy are consulting the road map again, trying to figure out the best way to Kris's house. Katy tries again to convince everyone to just start heading to Arkansas. Adam agrees, because when Kris makes a promise, he keeps it. Cale is on the fence, and everyone else votes to check, just in case. Adam doesn't like it, but he respects that the group should get a vote.

Cassidy and Brad are having some sort of conversation by an abandoned car, although Adam is sure he doesn't want to know. Brad smiles at him, and waves merrily. Adam motions down to their child. Brad rolls his eyes.

Adam grins to himself.

"You doing okay?" Danielle asks.

"Yeah. I've got my beautiful husband, an adorable baby. Two of my old friends, more of my new, and I'm about to become a farmer in Arkansas. I'm great."

Danielle laughs. "This is why I love you. You just roll with it all. You think Arkansas is ready for you?"

"Well, it is Kris's farm, so I think we'll be okay. Actually, I've been there once. His mom and dad live there full-time now. It's actually nice. If they can hold onto it and make it work, I think it wouldn't be such a bad place to live."

"Good."

"How about you?" Adam asks. "Are you okay?"

Danielle gives him a half smile. "I will be. I know I'll never see him again. But I have my friends. And given the two men I've met from Arkansas, they grow them pretty nice there."

Adam put his free arm around her shoulder. "That they do."

"Are you talking about other men?" Brad says, walking over.

"Hey, just because I married you—"

"Shhhh." Cale says, looking down the road. "Company coming. Looks military."

Adam looks in the distance, and watches as a group of three men approaches. He catches movement out of the corner of his eye, and he knows that the three in front of him are just there to talk.

"Who's the leader of this group?" the tall one asks.

"None of us are. But I can speak for them," Adam says.

"Good. We're gathering refugees in a camp just outside of Fresno, trying to reorganize and relocate those who wish to leave the state."

"Well, we already know where we are going."

"Everyone has to check in."

Adam watches as more soldiers slowly emerge from all around the group. They all have weapons ranging from baseball bats to one wicked looking axe.

"Ah. Well, have you been to Santa Barbara yet? We have friends there."

"There is a team out that way, yes."

"Then we'd be more than happy to come," Adam says.

He looks at Cale, who nods slowly in understanding. No one else has seen the other soldiers yet. But the threat is plain. Hopefully Kris is at this camp too, and they can figure out a plan from there.

*
March 19, 2013
Near Lancaster, CA

Kris has never seen a Wal-Mart this empty. It's been scavenged pretty thoroughly, but they pack a couple carts full of supplies. Ryland figures the carts can wheel around most anything, and the cans of food would be valuable as trading items.

Kris can't help but wander the aisles a little. He picks up a few things for Hannah, and then stares at electronics for awhile. He idly looks at the back of his last album. He can sing every song from memory. Except for that, the music doesn't exist anymore. That seems worse than anything else.

He looks at jewelry, and an idea occurs to him.

"Kris, let's get going," Sharon says.

"Yeah. Coming," he responds. "Hey Alli."

Allison turns and looks at him. "What?"

"Um. Don't take this the wrong way, okay? But here."

Kris hands her a couple of boxes. Allison opens them and looks inside.

"I don't understand."

"I don't know everyone out there in this world, but I do know the world just got a lot smaller. That means people probably got smaller minded. And maybe if we run into unfriendly people, they might want to know if we have any single women for them to marry them off. And—"

Allison looks at the rings in her hand. "Oh."

"I just figured in case we did run into a problem, that Hannah likes you well enough, and you both have brown eyes, that—"

"I didn't think of that," Ryland says.

"Me either," Sharon adds.

"Honestly, I didn't think of it till I passed the jewelry counter and they had a wedding set like mine. I figured it wouldn't hurt to have them around."

Allison nods. "As a fully self-supporting woman who has a brown belt, I should say fuck off. But at the same time, I agree. So thanks."

Kris nods. He looks back at the shopping center and shivers. He knows it's all going to be like this, abandoned buildings and quiet towns. Roads full of abandoned cars. People mad with power. People desperate to get the power back. People on the side of the road, staring into space, because they cannot process the enormity of what has changed. And so on. Kris wants to stop and mourn, to figure out where he fits in this new world. But he has to get his daughter to safety. Alli to safety. Everything else can wait.

*
March 22, 2013
Makeshift hospital, Fresno, California

Katy looks around and shivers. There are a lot of people here. It might take a long time to get through them all. There's a constant buzz of noise, and she's reminded of the airport, of how she barely made it out before things became too chaotic. She wonders if the airline employee who let her out the back door because he was a fan made it out of LA before the power went out.

"So what now?" she murmurs.

"We try and find your husband," Adam says, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Then we get the hell out of here."

Katy nods and looks to Cale. "Probably should get you to plan it."

"Me?"

"I know all the college stories," Katy says. "If anyone can plan their way out of anything it's you."

"But I don't have Kris."

Katy frowns.

"No. But I'm pretty sure that Tommy could help."

"I didn't do it," Tommy says as he walks over from the perimeter. "What did I do?"

"You are going to plan a way out of here with Cale."

Tommy looks at Cale. "Alli says you're good people, so I suppose you'll do."

"Thanks," Cale says.

Katy watches them walk away. "Do you think Kris is here?"

Adam looks away for a moment. "I don't know. Part of me hopes so, part of me doesn't."

Katy leans into him for a moment. "Yeah, me too."

Adam squeezes her shoulder. "Anyway, Kris is too small for the scouts to see anyway. I'm sure the grass on the side of the road is already taller than he is."

Katy can't help but giggle. "Stop it."

"Can't help it. Anyway, I'm glad you’re here. Someone has to change Bowie's diapers."

"Adam Mitchell Lambert!"

"Fine. Let's start walking through this mess and see if we can find your husband. Mine too, as he seems to have wandered off."

Katy nods and for a moment, if she ignores the smell of unwashed people, and the guards on the perimeter, it's almost as if she's gone camping again. She's gone camping and is taking a walk to stretch her legs.

She knows it's an illusion, but for a moment, it's nice to pretend.

*
March 24, 2013
Just outside Adelanto, CA

Allison stares at the cloud of smoke. It's far enough away to be doubtful, but she's almost sure that it's LA burning.

"They got out in plenty of time," she says to herself.

"Maybe they started ahead of us because of the fires. They couldn't get to Kris's house on time and went on down the road," Andrew says.

"Yeah."

Allison continues to stare. It's almost too much to watch, and she worries the fire will spread too fast and too far. She worries about a lot of things. She still carries her phone in the hopes she can listen to her mom's voice mail just one more time.

She worries that New York is just like LA, that her mom and her sister are caught in the riots and the burning. She hopes they have already died. Which only makes it worse, because no one should have to hope that, but she does.

"Hey," Kris says, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You know where my dad is right now?"

Allison shakes her head. "Isn't he with your mom?"

"Nope. He was doing some charity work when this all went down. He was in Rwanda the last I heard. So I either hope he made it to Europe like he said he was going to try, the plane crashed in a fiery ball, or he found a quiet little pocket of nowhere. Because otherwise, I don't want to think about it. I know you're worried about your family, but it's okay to think what you are thinking. I have a feeling we all are."

"My parents were in D. C.," Andrew says, "doing the tourist thing. I'd rather them dead than wandering the streets lost and hungry."

Allison sighs "I don't want to think of my mom and my sister. But I see that and I keep imagining them hurt. And then it's an easy step to my friends. You think Adam and Cale and everyone are okay?"

"I don't know. I do know they’ve got a good shot at it, about as good as any of us. I'm not saying we shouldn't hope, because I mean after all, I just told you I hoped my father was dead. But at the same time, I know that they have a plan to follow."

Kris shrugs.

Allison nods. "Yeah. I get it."

She has to hope about something, but the road is too uncertain, and the world is too unknown. So she might as well pin her hopes on people she knows and loves.

*
March 29, 2013
Fresno

"Look, we've checked in, our friends aren't here, we're ready to go. I don't understand the problem," Katy says, her arms crossed.

"The problem is that you and your snippy friends don't realize what kind of threats you pose to the world. There is quarantine for a reason," Captain Robins replies. "I have my orders."

"From who?" Danielle presses. "The world is gone, there are no more orders. Just because you are better supplied, and better armed, doesn't mean you're right."

"No. But it does mean I'm in power. And I say there is quarantine."

"None of us is sick!"

Katy smiles at the roar of agreement from the small band behind her.

Then, a sneeze. For all she knows it was dust, or slight allergies. But the one sneeze is enough for the captain to cross his arms, and for the people behind Katy to dissipate. Later she hears more, and there's a ball of fear in her stomach, a nagging worry that she might never leave California after all.

When she begins to sneeze the next day, it's panic. And so on.

*
April 16, 2013
Barstow, CA

Andrew DeRoberts has been on a lot of journeys. He's come from the middle of Ohio, of all places, to touring the world with the best people he has ever known. Now he sits on Interstate 40, watching as Ryland and Sharon worked through some sword technique with Kris and Allison.

"Bet you never thought you'd be stuck with me," he says to Hannah, who watches her father intently.

She gives him a lopsided grin. Andrew laughs and looks down the road. He doesn't know where the road leads, beyond Arkansas, and a chance at life. He knows that it's going to take time, and that the likelihood of all of them surviving is so small, it breaks his heart.

Because this is his family now.

Andrew has been on a lot of journeys, none more uncertain than this. Hannah giggles as her father falls down. She looks at Andrew, who smiles back.

"All right DeRoberts, your turn to get your ass kicked!" Kris says as he walks towards them.

"Language!" Andrew says, shaking his head. "Katy will kill you if she hears Hannah saying ass."

"What ass, Daddy?" Hannah asks.

Andrew looks at Kris and they both laugh, with Hannah watching on.

"You explain," Andrew says, walking over to Ryland and Sharon.

He looks back for a moment, delighting in Kris's desperate attempt to explain the word ass to his daughter.

*
April 22, 2013
Fresno

Adam feels fine. He's never been healthier in his life. This would be the perfect time to escape.

Except everyone else is sick.

Well, in various stages of it at least. Brad and Bowie just have the sniffles. Tommy is in the fever stage. Danielle is attempting to cough up a lung. Cale is somewhere in between stages. Katy and Cassidy though, are bedridden, pale and listless and in the tent that someone has nicknamed 'the Morgue'. Mostly because people go there to die.

Adam watches a group of nurses—some refugees, some soldiers—scramble to help as much as they could. But it is chaos so far.

He can't believe how quickly things have spread, how bad they seem. He wants to help but doesn't know how.

That's when one of the nurses, Grace, approaches him. "You want to help?"

He nods. "Please."

"We can't keep accurate records. And I know it sounds like a waste of time, but I think it would be nice if we could keep a list of the dead. For those of us with families we think might be alive, it might be nice."

Adam thinks of Kris and Allison, somewhere on the road to Arkansas. "I think it's a great idea. Where do I start?"

Grace smiles, "First, you learn everyone's name. How are you with memorization?"

*
April 30, 2013
California-Nevada border, near Topock

Kris looks across the invisible line in the road. Once he steps over it, he has truly left California. He isn't sure how it makes it more real, after everything he's already seen. Not that much, except for a few travelers in the distance, just as wary as them.

Then there are the Eaters. Kris remembers huddling in a dark empty house and listening to people—they were people, still—screaming as they passed through, looking for food. There have been warnings, 'Avoid the Eaters' spray painted on road signs, but no one had understood what it meant. Kris had managed to keep his lunch down when he realized what kind of food, that it was people they were eating and now every remain of a fire they find is approached with caution and the hope the bones left behind are animals. He still doesn't understand, when there are grocery stores full of canned goods to be raided, but he supposes that everyone took the loss of power differently. He tries not to think about it too much, especially when eating meat, or else he will sick up. He's heard of cannibalism, knows what it is conceptually, but seeing it firsthand…

They have settled for the night, Sharon keeping an eye out for now. It isn't cold enough for a campfire, but it's good practice for them to start one every night.

"You know," Kris says slowly, "Cale and I used to have this thing. In college. We called it a campfire confessional. We all had to admit to something no one else knew about us. It was supposed to be a bonding thing. But it was also fun sometimes."

"I remember these," Ryland says. "You two used to look at each other and laugh about it all the time. Remember when Torres admitted how he kept his hair so nice?"

Andrew laughs. "Oh my God we teased him for days. That was the best part of that tour."

"I'm game," says Allison. "Who goes first?"

"You, since you spoke up first," Kris says, leaning back against his pack.

Allison grins. "Oh cool. Hmmmm. Oh I have a good one!"

Kris looks at her, and steels himself. Allison spent a lot of time with Adam, so they both have a habit of being very forthright.

"I slept with Cale."

Kris blinks. Shakes his head. "What?"

Allison's grin widens. "I slept with Cale. Well sleep—"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa I do not need to know details, thank you," Andrew says.

"Was that a good one?" Allison asks.

"Don't pretend to be innocent," Kris says. "That was just about right. Um. I mean I know you two were on the flirty \possible dating stage. I mean I only know because, well, I have eyes. But I didn't think it was serious. This is new."

Allison laughs. "Well, um. It sort of just kept happening? In a weird romantic comedy sort of way? Shit. This wasn't supposed to be serious."

Kris looks at her. "You like him, don't you?"

She nods, tears in her eyes. "Yeah. He's super snarky, and mellow, so he kind of calms me down, you know? Ah fuck. We were going to tell everyone we were dating soon. We just wanted to figure it out first. I mean, it isn't supposed to be anything. I just liked flirting with him backstage last year and then all of a sudden…"

Kris walks over and puts an arm around her shoulder. "Hey, he's with Adam. If the two of them can't figure out how to survive in this crazy world, what chance do any of us have?"

She nods. "Can it be someone else's turn?"

"I could go. But it's more serious stuff."

"Go for it Kris. Let's all be depressed together," Allison says.

He doesn't know why he has to say it, but he also knows that his life and his daughter's depend on the people around the campfire, so he knows he needs to be sure of them.

"Ryland and Andrew know part of this, but not all."

Andrew and Ryland look at each other. Then Ryland's eyes narrow.

"Kris—we never asked—"

"And I appreciate that. I do. But I want to get it out there." He looks at Allison, then at his sleeping daughter. "I spent the entire second year of my marriage in couples counseling."

Allison stiffens. "Kris? But you and Katy are, like perfect."

Kris shakes his head. "Well, we're definitely stronger. We worked on a lot of things."

"But why? Is that what you've never talked about?"

Kris nods, and the quiet night seems even emptier.

"It was my fault," he says. "I fell in love with someone else. Not out of love with Katy. Just in love with someone else."

He keeps talking, if only to not look at his friends' faces. "I mean, Katy was the one who even figured it out. But I knew it was all on my side, so we decided to work on things. And now we have Hannah, and even though sometimes I wonder, I think things turned out okay."

"The other person—"

"I'm not saying who it is."

"I know," Andrew says. "But did you ever tell them?"

Kris laughs. "Oh no. I may have done a lot of brave things in my life, but I don't think that could ever have happened."

Andrew nods, and begins to tell some story about college and drunkenly kissing his best friend, which gets them laughing again.

Allison squeezes Kris's hand. "I know."

Kris smiles. "I figured you would."

"You're practically my brother. I know all your secrets."

"Not all of them. But close to it."

They sit like that into the night, Kris feeling solid again, hopeful instead of wary of the days to come.

*
May 10, 2013
Fresno

Cale pushes Adam back down. "Stop trying to get up man, you're way too sick."

"Baby's crying."

"Bowie's fine. Katy and Brad have everything under control. Just lie down and get better."

Cale rubs his arms. He hopes he isn't relapsing. That's the worst part of all of this. Not the sickness itself, although the list of the dead is too long for Cale to even contemplate. Adam doesn't even know that Cassidy died three days ago, and that Danielle is so frail that the nurses have declared her dead at least twice already.

He doesn't understand how it spread so quickly, or what it is. The nurses are struggling to treat symptoms before asking too many questions about the disease. But that most of the soldiers are healthy strikes Cale as odd. But he can't say anything; for fear that they'll take him out in the night and kill him, then say he died of a relapse. So he is silent.

Cale has some hope: Kris isn't here, so at least they escaped. Cale thinks about them, wonders if they are okay.

Mostly though, he tries to keep living. So he can see them again.

*
May 18/9, 2013
Flagstaff, AZ

Kris leans into the bars and sighs. He has paced the length of the cell more times than he would like to count.

Allison, Sharon and Hannah are just across a small walkway, Hannah crying for him.

"Please. Just let us go."

The tall man in the police uniform turns and looks at Kris. His name is Ernst, no other name.

"Do you think being polite would make it go away? One of you took the light. You must admit it and submit to your well-deserved punishment."

Kris shakes his head. "None of us did this! We aren't even from here! I can show you my driver's license, if you want!"

Ernst shakes his head. "Someone took the light. Until it comes back, we must all pay for the sins that took it away. My people have already sacrificed some of their own. Now others must do the same. Would you like me to choose? Would that make it easier?"

"No," Kris says. "I'm the—"

"Wait," Andrew says, pushing Kris out of the way. "It was me. I should be the one you punish."

"Andrew. No."

Andrew looks at Kris and leans to whisper in his ear. "Look, as far as I can tell, everyone around here is pretty healthy. I saw the stocks when they escorted us in. At best, the one with the wicked looking whip will to beat me and leave me in the open for a day. At worst—I don't know. But you have too many promises to keep to sacrifice yourself. I'm just along for the ride. So shut up and sit down okay?"

"Andrew—"

"No. I won't allow it. If you leave the room now, what will Hannah think then?"

"That was low. Low and dirty and not fair at all."

"That's the only way I play," Andrew grins. "Come on Ernst, I want to face the music already."

"Good. Come, we shall proceed immediately."

Later, Kris tries to pretend he doesn't hear the screams. It tells him Andrew is alive. But nothing else. He can't bear to think of what these people have done. He looks at Allison, who holds her hands over Hannah's ears and crying herself.

"What do you think—?”

Ernst walks into the room then. "The light is not back. But you have paid your passage. You leave Flagstaff in the morning."

"Where's Andrew?" Kris asks.

"He is being treated by our local doctor. He will be fine."

"He doesn't sound fine."

Ernst comes to the bars, eyes burning. "Do you wish to pay extra passage?"

Kris shuts his mouth, and clenches his fists. He wishes a lot of things right then, but it doesn't change the situation. So he lets his hands relax and he steps back.

"That is what I thought."

Kris does not sleep, despite the quiet. When he sees Andrew that morning, as they are pushed out of town, he almost turns around. Andrew can't speak, he's trying to concentrate on not fainting, his arm cradled in a sling. Kris's eyes keep going back to Andrew's hand, where Andrew's hand used to be, trying to get the thought in his head that Andrew would never play again, and he cannot do it.

Kris begins to wonder if they should have ever left California, but it's too late to turn around. The cost has been high enough already.

*
May 22, 2013
Fresno

Katy wanders from tent to tent, delivering supplies as best she can. Most of the military is still alive. They've had the most up to date immunizations, so it makes sense. But the thing—and Katy has neither bothered nor cared to find out the name—going around the tent city has already mutated once and gone through the campers again. She often wonders when it will get to the point of making the soldiers sick too. She waits impatiently for that day. And then asks forgiveness for thinking it, because she cannot wish it on anyone.

She hasn't been sick since the first round, but Katy also knows she came very close to dying that time. Perhaps it means something. She doesn't know for sure.

Grace, one of the nurses, smiles at her when she brings some purified water.

"Thank you. For everything ."

"I have to do something," Katy says. "I mean, Adam has the list, Cale and Tommy are off befriending the soldiers, Brad keeps Bowie occupied, and the others are still recovering. If I sit around all day, I'm going to start thinking about where my husband and daughter are, if they are alive, and whether or not I'll ever see them again. So here I am."

Grace nods. "Well, you want to learn basic medical care? There's only the five of us and any extra hand is welcome."

"I've done the basic first aid course. And I have a one year old, so bodily fluids are not an issue. So yes. Please."

Grace smiles and beckons Katy over.

*
May 27, 2013
Sanders, AZ

Ryland has done a lot of things that people wouldn't expect of him. Going from a ska band to a pop star. Getting married. Learning how to sword fight.

Burying his friends is something he has never considered.

They can't leave a marker, for fear the Eaters might dig it up, searching for another source of food. Ryland has seen it at least three or four times, small groups of the cannibals digging in graveyards, looking for whatever they can find. They cover it up with other debris instead. Kris puts the guitar case on top.

"I don't think I could ever play it," he says.

"I don't even know what denomination he was. If he was any," Ryland says.

"I don't think it matters. Any words are better than none."

They all look at the pile of useless junk, and Sharon speaks first.

"I didn't know you as well as I would have liked," she says. "But I know that you were loved. That you had an unending passion for what you did. And you made others happy."

She looks at Ryland and squeezes his hand before walking away.

Allison looks around for a minute. "I remember the first time we met. I thought you were hot, and it was so unfair that there were so many hot guys in Kris’s band. And I kind of got to know you through Cale, and I think you were pretty cool. He thought you were amazing, and sometimes we would talk about the music, and it would always be 'Andrew says…’ Thank you, for being such a good friend."

Ryland looks at Kris, who shakes his head.

"I don't know what to say," Ryland says. "Except that your wit and wisdom will be missed. That I can't think of anyone who would have been more excited about what is to come. Because you embraced change, whether it was in music or in life. And I'll miss that."

Kris nods and looks at the guitar. "I'm a big believer. I'm active in my church. So faith is not something I usually struggle with. But knowing that someone like you is gone hurts me more than I would like to admit. Shakes my faith. You, my friend, were the better man, and I hope someday I can repay you. I hope somewhere in heaven, you are having the most awesome jam session ever."

Kris picks up the guitar. Before all of this, it was probably worth a nice used car. Kris lifts it over his head and smashes it into the ground, ignoring the discordant final chord it makes before splitting apart. He puts the scattered remains on the junk pile and turns back to Allison.

Ryland looks at Kris for a moment, and then one last time at the shopping cart, trash can and remains of a guitar covering Andrew's grave, then turns to move on.

*
June 1, 2013
Fresno

Katy still keeps looking at the tent flap. Adam and Cale are sitting outside, singing together, watching for soldiers to come by. There is a plan in place now, one that is all risk.

"I get to pick a straw too. Don't you even dare ask me to stay back. I can help with first aid just as much as the nurses," Katy says, looking at the room.

"Fine. I'll make it easy. I'll stay back with Bowie. He'll make less noise if it's me or Adam anyway. Plus I hate getting my hands dirty," Brad says, pretending to flip back his hair.

"Whatever," Katy laughs. "You take every chance to be dirty you can get."

"Mrs. Allen!"

They are all laughing now, the scattered few that have agreed to try and leave. They outnumber the soldiers, so hopefully…

Katy looks at the tent flap. Tomorrow she gets to start making her way home.

*
June 3, 2013
Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque looks abandoned. There are plenty of signs that it once had people. And a residual smell that says Eaters have been through. Other than that, no one.

Kris cannot shake the feeling of being watched though. He shifts Hannah in her carrier and looks around. He's better at seeing things, but there is nothing to be seen.

"We're going to go peek in the city. Blow the whistle if anything comes up.," Ryland says as he and Sharon head into the city proper.

Kris nods and grabs the baseball bat he has been carrying. He isn't proficient enough yet with one of Ryland's friends' swords to even consider carrying it. But the bat feels familiar. Safe.

It's pretty warm out, and Hannah fusses for her mother again. Kris sings a lullaby under his breath to soothe her, keeping his eyes on their surroundings. He sees people. More than two.

"Alli."

She looks at him, then down the road.

"You think friendly?" She says hopefully.

Kris watches them for a moment, sees weapons in hands, and says, "No. I think it might be a wise idea to use that ring."

Allison nods, reaching in her pockets. "You think Ryland's seen them?"

"I hope so. But for now maybe we should be traveling alone."

"Definitely."

"Good morning," one of them calls out.

They are in uniform. Sort of. They all have what looks like modified leather shirts on, with chain mail vests. They are all carrying different weapons, but they carry them in a way that tells Kris they know how to use them.

"Morning," Kris says. "How are you?"

"Good. Where you headed?"

Kris shrugs. "Wherever the road takes me. I wouldn't recommend Flagstaff. They killed my wife's brother."

"Noted. We're from the Federated State of Colorado. General Craig Johnson has things well under control in Denver. Perhaps you would like to come there."

Kris looks at the man, who looks meaningfully at the sword in his hand. Kris isn't stupid enough not to get the look.

"Well, Alli, you've always said you'd like to learn to ski," he says.

Alli smiles back. "Yes. That would be nice to learn."

"I'm Kris," Kris says. "Kristopher Cook."

He doesn't know why he lies, except that he knows he is unrecognizable with his attempt at a beard and shaggy hair. Allison's hair has long lost its color, so anyone who would have known them before would have been hard pressed to figure it out.

"Dennis. Captain Dennis Hendricks. Where are you from originally?"

"Santa Barbara. One of my neighbors. Um. Robert Glass. He said he was headed Colorado way. Maybe you know him?"

"Name doesn't ring a bell, but we have a large citizenship. Your wife is Alli, I presume?"

"Yes," Kris says, grabbing her hand. "And this is Hannah. Looks just like my mom, God rest her soul."

"Pleased to meet all of you. Have you seen anyone else around? I swear I heard noises in the city."

Kris shakes his head, and out of the corner of his eye he sees Ryland in the shadows. Kris swallows. "No. No one else. I wish I had a guide, but no."

"Well then, why don't you walk with us, and we can start talking about how you can contribute to the General's plan."

Kris and Alli follow them, away from the city. Kris looks back, and shakes his head. It's the only message he can give before he is sucked into another conversation.

*
June 8, 2013
Fresno

Brad watches as things fall into place. He knows that sometimes, his persona can be what people see, so people think of him as flighty, and inconsequential. But deep down, he's a showman, so watching everything unfold is as fascinating as it is scary.

Of course, there is a hitch. No show is complete without at least one. The soldiers agree that it's time to leave, but no one can know what has happened here. Brad isn't surprised, as Cale has been long running the theory that whatever disease floated around camp, was given to them. The soldiers are probably minor functionaries, low level grunts on a power trip, and they are caught in the middle.

When the fighting begins in earnest, Brad and a few others take the scattered children to keep them out of the way. When the soldiers see this, some begin to follow. Brad turns. He knows he's made a promise, but he's not going to let anyone near his baby. He screams at them. He's pretty proud of how frightening it is.

"One of you. Five of us. ?"

"Two of us."

Brad turns to Katy. "Thought you were nursing or whatever."

"You think I haven't changed enough diapers to at least be an honorary aunt? Plus I'm not needed right now. Seems to me you need the help."

"We ain't gonna hurt the kids."

Brad turns to the soldiers. "Please."

He looks at Katy. "What's that song of your husband's? Live Like We're Dying?"

Katy grins. "I'm not sure he ever meant it for us, but what the hell."

Brad nods and they charge. It's mostly luck and surprise (and the arrival of other refugees) that gets him through. He has a long gash on his arm, but it's not too deep.

"Well, Mrs. Allen, I don't think we did too badly."

Brad looked around.

"Katy?"

He finds her sitting on the ground, face pale, hands covered in blood. The fighting has moved on, and Brad can't form the words to call for help. He kneels beside her.

"Katy?"

"I'm fine. ," Katy says.

Brad shakes his head. "You're bleeding pretty badly there, Mrs. Allen."

"I am, aren't I?"

"I'll go get a nurse."

"Don't."

Brad stops from standing. "I—"

Katy bends over. Brad hears a few choice whispers.

"Language, Mrs. Allen."

She smiles. "Love—"

She bends over again, and doesn't get back up. Brad puts his fingers to his throat, but the amount of blood now soaked through her clothes tells him all he needs to know.

"Fuck this," he says. "Fuck all this."

He looks around, and sees no one. "I'll be back. Make sure you get taken care of."

He doesn't turn back as he searches for the others. When he finds the children, he sits with Bowie and rocks back and forth until Adam finds him.

*
June 17, 2013
Boulder, Federated State of Colorado

 

Allison doesn't like this. She knows there is no choice, but it doesn't make it better. She knows a lot of things, just by watching.

She knows that getting out of Denver will be hard.

She knows that as chauvinistic and horrible as she thought Kris's ring idea had been at the time, it is the best thing he has thought of since his last album.

She knows that she will become a better actress than she has ever imagined.

But there is just as much she doesn't know. How they will escape. Whether or not they'll make it to Arkansas. If she will ever see the others.

Allison looks around, sees that Kris thinks the same as her. But they've already survived so much. This is just one more roadblock. And then they can go home.

Allison breathes in and steels herself. After Flagstaff, she knows she has seen the worst in people.

She hopes.

*
June 30, 2013
Fresno

Adam looks at the small group. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us?"

The leader looks at him and shakes his head. "No. I have family in Denver. Plus, it's better that the list goes as far as it can. I mean, we all lost so many people. This may give some closure."

Adam nods and watches them go. He looks at the camp, decorated with more graves than he's ever seen before. Some of them are too fresh. Too unnecessary.

"What do I say when we get to Arkansas, Cale? How do I tell him?"

Cale looks at Adam. "The truth."

"The truth," Adam laughs. "Hi Kris, I got your wife out of LA, then got her killed in an unnecessary fight."

"We all volunteered. If we waited much longer…"

"I promised to get her back."

"So did I," Cale says. "So did I."

Adam nods, and looks at his copy of the list he had started. He knows all the names by heart; he's recopied it too many times.

But Katy's name stands out.

He tucks the list in his pocket, and looks away from the camp.

"Let's go," he says.

*
Two

"Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come."

From the diary of Allison Iraheta

When I think back on it, I wonder what would have happened if we had said no. If we had told the men in Albuquerque that we had a destination. Would they have let us go? I don't know.

At that stage I was still waking up and reaching for my alarm clock. Wondering just how much technology had been lost. There's a lot of thinking when you walk.

I wish I could remember everything, but honestly the days blend together. I remember Andrew's death, and the day we detoured to Colorado, but that's because those were big days. Every other day seemed to have such a driving purpose: walk this far, figure out how to get out of Colorado.

I suppose I would say I was treading water for most of that time. I did what I could. I think maybe that's what we all would say: I did what I could. I did what I had to.

*
August 11, 2013
Santa Barbara, CA

By the time they get on the road, Adam wants to run. He understands why they waited a month. When they reach Arizona, it will be cooler. Mostly. And without power, traveling at night is too risky. Drew has told them everything he has discovered in scouting the area. The Eaters come any time of day, and traveling at night, they could kidnap someone for their cook fires with ease. At least in the day, there is a chance to run and hide. Adam doesn't like to think of the prospect of being eaten, so he agrees to the plan.

But Adam is tired of sitting and waiting. He has tucked a photo next the list. He found it on Kris's mantle, a picture from their Idol days, just the three of them, right after they made it to the top twelve. Adam stares at it for a long time before taking it. A part of his mind says that if he can carry the photo all the way to Arkansas, Kris and Allison have made it too. They are all alive and well.

Adam watches as Drew takes the lead, Grace right behind him. He watches Kris's house disappear behind them and puts his feet in front of the other.

Brad smiles at him, and Adam smiles back. They'd already been through hell. What was seventeen hundred miles compared to weeks of everyone dying around them?

Adam shifts Bowie in his carrier and hoped Drew is right about finding weapons. The last thing Adam wants is another uneven fight.

Then Adam realizes he has to learn how to use the weapon, and his only guide is someone who dabbled in playing around with swords in his free time. Adam looks at Drew again. Cale trusts him, and Adam supposes he trusts Cale, in as much Cale is Kris's best friend. So it has to be enough.

Adam touches the pocket where the photo is and takes a deep breath. One problem at a time.

*
August 18, 2013
Boulder

Kris is on body collection. Every day, a group goes out to the city, and searches for dead bodies. It's a ingenious idea, to help stop diseases and clear useful living space.

It's actually Kris's first day. He's had to work up to this, from scrubbing pots, to clearing gardens, and now body collection. Although moving up may not be the exact word for it. But he's considered responsible enough to be in a small group. In his head he has a plan where he eventually gains enough trust to be a soldier, but he's not too sure. The general disdain for outsiders is almost too great to overcome.

But he's going to try. Because he doesn't know how long he can ignore everything else.

The smell isn't bad. Not . Then again, the whole world smells different now, and he's gotten used to vague smell of decomposition. It's stronger here, but he can almost ignore it now, like a buzzing in his ears. Kris has been in the deepest darkest parts of the world, and seen much worse things than a dead body. So he isn't too squeamish about that.

It's the people he is with that bother him. Some of the army of the Federated State of Colorado are okay guys. The three with him, not so much.

Kris tries to stay quiet, but something inside won't let him. He may have to pretend to want to be here, but he cannot change his basic nature.

"Hey," he says to the two men currently carrying a body.

"What the fuck do you want?"

"You think we could treat these people just a little better?"

They laugh. "What the fuck for?"

Kris's heart is beating. "Look. I don't give a fuck one way or the other. They're dead. I'm alive. So that makes me automatically a step ahead. But we have recruitment issues as is. If word gets out that we're bad asses, that's one thing. But if word gets out that we are bad asses that treat our people right, even when they're dead, then you just watch the people come in."

"You're fucking crazy."

Kris shrugs. He sees the lieutenant in charge give him a thoughtful look. It's a start. When the captain overseeing the whole operation makes a statement a week later, Kris knows for sure he is on the right track.

*
August 20, 2013
Barstow, California

Grace knows these people. She's spent time with them in the tent city just outside of Fresno. Plus she recognizes them. She hasn't said so. She thinks, now, it doesn't matter anyway.

She tends to stick to herself. She doesn't mind being the only girl. She's used to it. But she knows surviving is more than just eating and walking. She knows in order to not go crazy, she should be more involved.

They've stopped for lunch. Cale and Tommy are on lookout, while Drew consults the map. Grace sits next to him.

"How did you not go crazy, waiting?"

Drew looks up. "I'm a drummer by trade. We're naturally isolated from a group."

"That's helpful."

"There are people. They don't always want to talk, and , they're stupid if they stay here, thinking the weather is what is important. But there are people here."

"One of the other nurses, she went with the Colorado group. I almost went too, thinking at least then, I would know someone."

Drew looks at her. "Then why didn't you go?"

Grace laughs. "I hate snow. Plus, they told me that there was somewhere to go. The Colorado group only had vain hope. I'm also comforted that you look like you could do something with that sword."

"Thanks. Adam's pretty good, for a beginner. Although he did have to learn the basics for that stupid music video he did."

"I remember he was shirtless."
Drew laughs. "Thanks. Now I'll have that image burned into my rain for awhile."

Grace shrugs. "No problem."

Drew looks back at the map. Grace looks around. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Maybe she could do okay here.

*
August 25, 2013
Boulder

Allison can't help but fiddle with the ring on her finger. She isn't used to it yet. The room is full of chattering women, sewing happily. Allison watches from a corner, wondering what she is supposed to do.

"Allison right?"

She looks up. It's Catherine Johnson, the General's wife.

"Yes, ma'am," Allison says.

"Please. Cathy. You're a bit younger than your husband. Right?"

Allison nods.

"He does love you though. I do like seeing young people in love. Do you know why you are here?"

Allison shakes her head. "No. The most sewing I've ever done was in home ec, and high school was awhile ago."

"Ah, yes, the quilting bee. See, the thing is Allison; my husband is a very smart man. He never was a general before. But he saw what was coming and took an opportunity. I saw that and so I decided to go with him."

"Okay," Allison says carefully.

She isn't sure what Cathy is trying to say. Only that there is more going on here than a quilting bee.

"Can you keep a secret Allison?"

"Yes," she whispers without hesitation.

"See, I know you didn't come here exactly voluntarily, and that you and your husband have somewhere else you'd like to be. So I invited you here. Not everyone gets invited, and if I hear you tell anyone of what goes on, even a hint of it, you are dead to me. Do you understand?"

Allison looks around the room, and realizes that she has missed something in her initial observations. It may be a patriarchal society, but here was a large group of women, meeting on their own, with no supervision.

"I understand."

"Good," Cathy says. "Come with me, and we'll start talking about stitching."

"I only knit a little."

"That's okay. We can teach you everything you need to know."

Allison hopes the subtext she hears underneath is right. Because if it is, then there are more ways to get home than she thought.

*
August 28, 2013
Allen Farm, Arkansas

Ryland looks at the ambassador from Colorado. "We're doing okay down here, actually."

"Doesn't look like much."

Ryland suppresses the urge to hit the man. "Well, yes, but we'll get there. We took awhile to get going, but just you wait."

"So you were here when it happened?"

"No," Ryland says. "I've only been here for a little while. My wife and I came from the East."

Ryland lies only because he isn't sure where Kris stands with these people. If he's even alive.

"Heard Most of the East Coast was Eaters."

"That's true. I came from Florida. We eat alligator, not people."

The diplomat looks at him a little longer, ignoring the joke. "Huh. So you like this Allen woman?"

"Yeah. She may look like your mother, but take it from me, don't mess with her. If you want a small piece of advice."

"Thanks?"

Ryland nods and looks away. He wants to ask about Kris and Allison, but knows he can't. Instead he focuses on thinking about the windmill, and trying to remember all the stuff he has forgotten from his college days. Wishing that his and Drew's sometime hobby had been more of an obsession.

*
August 30, 2013
Boulder

Kris watches as the soldiers pass, not one of them bothering to even look as they rode down the street.

"Kris, come on."

Kris has moved onto food delivery. He helps distribute and store food for the army. It's not much different than moving bodies: he still goes home with aching arms. He's finally found Robert, his old neighbor. Not that it means much; Robert lost his sister in the early days, so any family connection he might have used is gone.

Luckily, Robert catches on to the fake name, and goes along with the half truths Kris has presented. In quiet moments, they talk of how they can possibly leave, but it is hard. There seems to be someone who is always watching.

They have concluded that soldiers have the most freedom.

Yet soldiers are also the things they least want to be.

But it has to be done. Kris keeps thinking of Katy, and Cale, and home, and it gets under his skin. He has to do what he can to get home. He has to get Allison out of here.

"You. Cook."

Kris turns to the soldier.

"Yes, Captain?" Kris recognizes the soldier from around. He seems like an okay guy.

"You train?"

"I worked with a trainer for awhile, yeah. I was a big runner."

"Maybe next time there are sign ups, you should think about it. You keep your mouth shut and do what needs to be done. I like that."

"Yes sir. I'd like that a lot."

"In the mean time, you should think about attending the school. Might learn a lot of things that would help you."

Kris nods. There's a mini-university already up and running. It's for soldiers and scientists only. An invitation to the school is like being told you are wanted for one or the other. Kris hasn't shown any sign of new discoveries or unknown knowledge, so he's certain where he's wanted.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

Kris looks at Robert as the soldier walks away. It's a start.

*
September 5, 2013
Flagstaff, Arizona

"People were here," Drew says. "But I don't think so now."

"Think it's okay?" Grace asks.

"Looks okay. We should go downtown, check things out, but maybe we could set up camp in a house for once."

"Sounds fine by me. I could use a bed," Brad says, wiggling his eyebrows at Adam.

Adam sighs. Flagstaff does look abandoned. He just doesn't like the look of it. From the painted red hands on the doorways, to the eerie quiet. In other towns he has heard some sort of life. Here, everything seems dead. He looks at a nearby, doorway; four red hands faded slightly, and wonders what it means. In some ways, he doesn't want to know.

There's a police station near downtown. Drew sets his pack down. The rest of them follow. There's a set of old style stocks just outside the door of the station. There are dark brown stains on the wood. Adam turns away, trying not to think of what could have happened.

"I'm going to check out this police station, see if there are any records," Drew says. "Someone else can scout for a house."

"I'll go," Cale says.

Brad nudges Adam. "Go on. Find us a big bed. I'll watch your child."

"He's your child too. Just because you decided I had to contribute DNA does not mean that you haven't contributed anything."

"Spoilsport."

"Someone has to be responsible."

"Love you."

"Love you too," Adam says. "Sure you, Grace and Tommy can hold down the fort?"

"Please. Now go find me a real bed."

Adam grins and heads down the street.

"You two are terrible," Cale says.

"You think that's bad, you should have lived with us."

"I do live with you."

Adam laughs. "Good point. At least Brad wears more clothing now."

"I don't want to know. Of course, now I'm picturing it in my head."

"You're welcome," Adam says. "Let's try and find a house without a red hand. They creep me out."

Cale nods in agreement and they walk down the street.

*

Drew looks at the cells, noting the variety of lost items strewn across the floor. Ponytails, jewelry, a baby blanket, all covered in dust. He's wracking his brain to figure out what happened here. With the Eater camps, it's easy. There's a distinct smell from the abandoned ones, a distinct sound from the ones they've had to avoid. Drew remembers reasoning with the others why they couldn't intervene, and he's sure the nightmares of not saving the people behind the screams will haunt him for the rest of his life. But he also knows that six people and a baby against any number of cannibals is bad math.

Drew walks over to the desk. There are the records from before, fingerprints and the like. Then he finds a ledger, neatly organized, each entry handwritten from March on. There are names, one for each day until June or so. Drew skims them, and all of a sudden the red hands on the doors begin to make sense.

"I wonder," Drew says to himself.

He flips through the book, hoping he doesn't recognize any of the names. He closes his eyes when he sees Andrew's.

"They were here," he whispers.

He opens his eyes to look at the book again, when he hears the dogs, and then the whistle.

"Oh shit."

*

Adam hefts the bat in his hand. "I can't believe your carrying this."

Cale turns from the kitchen of the house they are exploring.

"Look, I used to play baseball. I feel comfortable carrying it."

"I guess. Then again, you have the arms."

"Are you flirting with me?"

Adam laughs. "Oh no. You would know."

"Thanks," Cale says.

"Is that the whistle?"

Cale nods and they are both out of the door, running down the street. Adam hears the dogs, the screaming of his child. Later, he wouldn't remember anything but his own screams, yelling as he swung the bat in his hand. He looks around; waiting for the next attack, when he realizes it's over.

He looks at Brad. "Where's Bowie?"

Brad grins, "Hid him in the car. Grace is the last line of defense."

"You okay?"

"Never better."

Then he falls to the ground.

*

Grace is only one person. She only has two hands. It's hard to deal with in her profession, especially since March. She looks at Tommy for a minute.

"All right, one of you volunteer to help him dress that leg. I think it should be fine with a good wash."

"I'm perfectly capable."
Grace looks at him. "I don't have time to argue, Mr. Ratliff. Just do it."

Tommy nods once and limps over to the fire, where Cale has been boiling water. Grace swallows and kneels near Brad.

"You going to keep quiet?" She asks Adam.

He nods once.

"Good. I may need your hands," she says to Drew. "Can you handle that?"

"I hope so."

"Good. Now distract me while I work."

"How?"

"Tell what the fuck happened here."

Grace doesn't look up as Drew begins to talk. She knows it's a losing battle, knows she doesn't have the skill to save Brad's life. But she has to try. She has to do something.

"Based on the ledger I found," Drew says. "Whoever was in charge decided that God was punishing them. That's why the lights left. So in turn, the people in charge decided that the people should be punished, until the lights came back. I suppose it started small, from what I'm reading. But the red hands, say to me that it escalated. I found an axe by the stocks. I suppose they fed the hands to the dogs. When they ran out of hands, or when everyone left, I don't know. But the dogs turned feral, and had a taste for humans."

Drew pauses.

"Andrew's name is in the ledger."

This means nothing to Grace, but she can hear Cale's soft swearing. She supposes he was one of their friends. She'll ask later, when she's not involved.

"Grace."

"I thought you were going to be quiet," she says.

"Grace."

She looks up at Adam. "What?"

"He's gone."

Grace looks down. "Damn it."

She sits on the floor, head between her knees. She's only one person. She tries to tell herself that, to take away the guilt.

It doesn't work.

*
September 7, 2013
Boulder

 

Allison winces as the needle sticks her thumb again. She knows in order for the quilting bee to remain a cover, she actually has to quilt, but damn if it doesn't hurt.

"Should have been a knitting circle. I already could do that a little bit," she mumbled.

Mona, the girl next to her, laughs. "Don't we all wish we had thought of it. But Cathy and her friends quilted, so that's what we got stuck with."

"Can I ask something?"

Allison doesn't pause in sewing, if she stops, she'll lose the rhythm.

"Sure."

"How did everything get organized so quickly? I mean, LA was a madhouse."

Mona pauses, speaks. "Well, you didn't hear this from me, but I think the government may have known more than they let on. The week after the lights first appeared in the sky, all the bases here started 'training exercises'. General Johnson, well he was just a Captain, but he knew all this stuff about swords and low tech stuff, and when the power finally went, we all decided to put him in charge."

"But—"

"We had no idea he was a complete bastard till it was too late, Alli. But Cathy knew, and she took steps. We're all taking steps."

Allison nods. "How long do you think we have?"

"At least a year, if not two. Probably three."

"I can't be here three years," Allison whispers.

"I wish I could help, but getting out of here is impossible. Even Cathy knows that."

Allison nods, and thinks of Kris's fragile plans. Perhaps between them they can find a way to go home, and soon.

*
September 10, 2013
Lupton, Arizona-New Mexico border

Tommy looks at the sign welcoming him to New Mexico. The exclamation point is too happy for his taste, but he can't help but welcome the change.

Sure, the towns are going to be just as empty. His stomach will always be hungry. His feet are still going to hurt. New Mexico, however, is not Arizona.

It's been too quiet for the last five days. Adam's only spoken to Bowie. No one has gotten through. Tommy doesn't think he has the right words. No one does.

Tommy hates this, wants it to be done. Wants everything to be normal again. But he also knows that whining never got him any gigs, so it won't help him survive the end of the world.

He watches as Grace and Drew pass the sign, discussing what supplies they're going to need, seeing if they can find any without going into a big city.

Cale is next. He looks determined and defeated all at once. He's been trying the hardest to keep morale up, but it hasn't worked.

Adam stands under the sign, looking up and shifting Bowie in his arms. Cale turns and looks at Tommy. Tommy nods once and stops beside Adam. Tommy has to try something.

"Look. I'm terrible at this shit, you know that. I'm sorry. I am. I know somewhere deep inside you wish it was me instead of him, and honestly, I don't blame you. I know what he meant to you. You two went through a lot together. But the powers that be decided to save my dumb ass and now you're stuck with me. Maybe when we get where we're going we can get drunk and I'll let you kiss me again."

Tommy swears he sees Adam's mouth twitch.

"Anyway, we can't let them get too far ahead of us. You know it's going to be bad enough that they beat us there. Let's not make it a complete defeat."

Adam does smile this time, a small little curve that quickly disappears. Tommy walks away, but he hears Adam's steps behind him.

"Thanks, Tommy."

The words are almost lost in the wind, but they are a beginning.

*
September 11, 2013,
Boulder

The streets are lined with people. Kris knows that the Federated State of Colorado is heavily populated, but seeing them all in one place puts it in perspective.

Another group of soldiers march by, and the unnatural quiet begins to bother him. He has already sung the national anthem (purposefully off key, as much as it pained him), spent moments of silence for the dead and dying, and now the parade.

For a holiday he is sure, in a generation's time, will mean nothing.

He sees the General for the first time. Kris is aware that Craig Johnson is young, but it surprises Kris how young. He can't have but a few years on Kris, but there is something in his eyes.

Kris watches the carriage even into the distance. He's seen the look on a lot of soldier's eyes, that supreme confidence that nothing is better than them. Kris isn't sure he can fake that look. But he knows he has to try. Because he has seen the way people look at the soldiers, the way they are treated, and knows that it may be the only way to get out.


*
September 14, 2013
Albuquerque, New Mexico

"The last time we said somewhere was deserted—" Cale whispers to Drew.

"I know. But we're traveling straight through. No stopping."

Cale nods and looks around again.

The only sign anyone has been in Albuquerque is painted logos for the Federated State of Colorado, promising peace, food and a home.

"Do you think they have what they are promising?" Grace asks, coming up behind them.

"Probably," Drew answers, "but with a leader going by General, you're looking at a military run society. Which, in the short term, will do well for itself. But I wonder if they will balance enough to last."

"You know, Drew, when you start talking politics, it turns me on," Cale says.

Cale grins as Grace laughs. He sees Adam's stare, but even he smiles a bit. "Come on. We're going to Arkansas. Where I'm sure Mama Allen has already figured out a dump cake recipe and housing arrangements even for extra people. I'm sure she'll even adopt you Tommy, despite your lack of everything that resembles good taste."

"You wish you had taste like mine," Tommy says.

Cale looks at Adam. "Naw. Too tall dark and handsome for me."

"That's fine. You're too tall to fit my type anyway," Adam says.

The whole group stares in stunned silence for a moment.

"Oh. So I'm too much man for you?"

Adam laughs. "Yes Cale. You're too much man for me."

Cale claps a hand onto Adam's shoulder. "Well, at least you know your limits."

Adam smiles at him, but stays quiet.

Cale doesn't say any more. He doesn't want to push any further, for fear what little progress that had been made would be lost. Instead he picks up his pack, readjusts his sword belt, and begins to walk again.

*
September 17, 2013
Boulder

Allison likes the quilting bee, even though she isn't sure it's anything more than that. It helps pass the time here.

They are learning a little self-defense. Cathy says it's for their own good, just in case they move to one of the outposts.

Allison isn't so sure about that.

"Tomorrow the army is going slightly north. The people there are resisting joining us. Normally I would say this is the time that we would make our move. Except Craig watches me especially closely. I would highly advise all of you to be careful this next week or so."

Allison has spent too much time dealing with music executives and reporters to not tell when someone is lying. Cathy isn't saying something. But with Kris's quest to become trusted enough to leave going slowly, this is her only hope of possibly going somewhere she might be able to call home.

So she pretends that she hasn't seen the wariness in Cathy's eyes, and continues to sew.

*
September 19, 2013
Tucumcari, New Mexico

 

The map says they are somewhere in New Mexico. Adam doesn't even try to pronounce it; he's always mangling city names. Drew has taken first patrol. It's been fairly quiet; a few run-ins with Eaters and a couple of fellow travelers going the other way, but no one with any solid information.

Adam shivers and looks across the fire at Tommy. Tommy smiles at him. It's been a little better, but Adam has found fewer reasons to talk to anyone than before.

"So, we used to do this thing, Kris and I, on retreats and such," Cale says as he sits next to Adam, "where we would sit around the fire and tell something about ourselves that was so secret, so deep. Sort of a bonding thing."

"This isn't a retreat," Adam says.

"No. It's not. However, we're stuck with each other for awhile. It might be nice to actually know the people I'm risking my life for. That I'm bringing home."

Adam says nothing.

"Can I go first?" Grace says.

Cale nods.

"When we were in the hospital, when everyone was sick, there were times. I probably walked away from several patients. Several times."

Everyone is quiet now.

"It's not that I didn't care. I did. But I had to sleep sometime. I had to keep my sanity. What good was I if I made bad decisions because I was tired? But I wonder if I could have saved more, if I—"

"You did what you could. No one can ask any more than that," Tommy says, and puts his arm around Grace's shoulders.

"I didn't want kids."

Everyone turns to Adam.

"Not at first. I wasn't sure I was emotionally stable enough to raise a child. It took Brad a lot to convince me that it was even remotely a good idea. Then a lot more to convince me it should be my baby."

"Even I didn't know that," Tommy whispers.

"No one was supposed to," Adam replies. "But then Bowie came, and I realized Brad had been right all that time. I just wonder—"

Adam shuts his mouth. He's trying not to have any regrets, because it only makes the grief worse. He's trying to work through it.

"Well, for a change of mood," Cale says, "um. I've been seeing someone. Sort of. I didn't think it was going to be anything. And then it was. I like her. Love her,"

"Unless she's around this campfire, you do realize the chances of her being alive—"

Cale looks at Adam. "It's Allison."

Adam blinks.

"What? Now wait a second. Last I heard from Kris, she was completely flirting with you all tour, but this is new."

Cale shrugs. "Don't ask me, one day I'm just hanging out with her, the next..."

Adam looks at him, "I don't think you should finish that."

"For such an open-minded guy, you’re an awful prude," Cale says. "Look, I can't explain it. I swear I turned around one day and she has me wrapped around her little finger. I'm still trying to figure it out."

"You hurt her, I'll kill you, you know that?"

Cale grins at Adam. "I know. First we have to get to her, right?"

Adam nods and smiles back, and listens as Tommy starts in about one of his tattoos.

*
September 21, 2013
Allen Farm, Arkansas

Kim Allen has tolerated many things in her life. But since the lights went out for good, her patience had worn thin. She couldn't wait for people to change; she had to drag them with her.

She is proud of how much people have accomplished, keeping her little part of the world relatively sane and stable. Daniel, to her surprise, has become quite the leader. But she misses the rest of her family.

Which brings her to the current problem. Kim believes in God. But she does not believe that God, even in his infinite wisdom, would punish people for the reasons the head pastor preaches now.

She understands he is young, and is easily swayed. But she also knows who her son is bringing with him from California, people she loves dearly, and are supposedly one of the reasons God is punishing them all.

So she pulls Frederick aside after church.

"Mrs. Allen."

"Dear Frederick, you know I do love you yes?"

"Mrs. Allen, I know what you are going to say and—"

Kim feels the dam burst, pushing him into the wall.

"Listen. Who kept you from being hungry, all this time?"

"You. But—"

"And how did I do that exactly?"

"Your son's horses. His horse farm."

"You do realize he is making every effort to come this way. With several of his friends from California. Who are the very people you are trying to pin all of this on. Understand this, you can believe what you want, but if God intended to punish them as sinners, wouldn't you think he'd come up with a better way than turning out the lights? I love these people dearly, and if you keep preaching hate and death, they won't be able to stay. And I wouldn't like that very much."

"I preach what I believe."

"Then I suppose I'll just find a new church."

Kim turns away, not watching Frederick's gaping mouth. She knows her power here. Her son has taught her a few things about using celebrity for good causes. Now all she has to do is find someone else to back.

She's waited almost two hundred days for her son. Her patience may be thin, but it is there.

*
September 22-6, 2013
Amarillo, Texas

When they first approach Amarillo, everyone is wary. After all, the last few big cities have had their own troubles. But this time, it looks almost civilized. Cars have been cleared off the roads in the outskirts. People are living in houses as opposed to huddling in them.

They hold a brief meeting, and all agree that they will approach with caution, but it seems to be safe.

A patrol meets them at a hastily built wall. It's being fortified, but it's enough to keep most everyone but Eaters away.

Once inside the city, there are doctors to check them out, warm baths to clean them, and beds to let them rest.

Tommy keeps waiting for the bad to come. To wake up with a knife in his chest, or at his throat. Bowie in a cage. Something like that. But these people are genuinely happy to see them.

On the second day, they ask for news.

Aaron Hampton is the leader here, a rancher who happened to find himself in charge.

"Well, what I know is very little. I have a list here, came from one of the couriers out of Colorado," his face twists at that, "of dead. From—"

"California," Adam says.

"Yes, and they've added since then. If you want to look. How—"

Tommy watches as Adam turns to the last few pages. There is nothing there.

"It's a long story. Why is Colorado so bad?"

Aaron sighs. "At first they seemed okay. Big military guy out that way. But then they started eating up chunks of the surrounding country, sending patrols to "recruit" for their General Johnson. I get the feeling those guys are going to be trouble."

"And East of here?" Cale asks.

"Well, the coast, no one's heard anything from. I've heard rumors that parts of the Midwest are doing okay. But nothing solid. Western Arkansas is doing just fine. We trade with them as much as we can, but the Eaters are starting to encroach on our trade route. Hard to convince people to leave, when there's a large group of predators that look just like them waiting to attack and eat them."

Tommy looks at the others, seeing the excitement in their faces.

"Aaron, can you tell us who's in charge over there?"

"Why, Kim Allen runs things down there just fine. Her son was by here just a few weeks ago again. Nice young man. Why, you all look like I've given you the best news of your life."

Tommy laughs. "Aaron, you just did."

The third day, they get supplies. Aaron asked if any of them wanted to stay. Tommy could tell they all thought of it. But it was only a little bit longer to Arkansas, and now that they knew it was safe to go there, it wasn't even a question.

Was he still hungry? Did his feet still hurt? Was he still wary, ever aware that this new world was full of death? Absolutely. But just hearing that they weren't in search of a vain hope, that there was somewhere to go, somehow made it disappear to the corner of his mind.

As Amarillo left his sight, Tommy began to think that just maybe things could be okay in this new world. That it wasn't that different than the old, .

*
September 26, 2013
Boulder

Kris watches as the patrol strolls through the main gates. He's known they've been coming, so he's had time to prepare himself for whatever they may say or do. They have their usual swagger, the pride of conquerors, the swell of bullies who have gotten exactly what they want.

Kris runs to them, after all, his job is to help them how he can. He has worked his way up the ladder as fast as a man possibly can here, by working hard, saying little, and perhaps cheating just a bit. It is never encouraged, but highly regarded. It's the initiative that is admired.

"Sir," Kris says to the captain, Prentice, the name on his uniform says, "would you like some water?"

"Yes, indeed," Captain Prentice says. "Cook, right? Kristopher Cook?"

"Yes sir."

"I've heard many things of you."

Kris shrugs, "Perhaps some of them are true."

The soldier laughs. "Perhaps. Here, read this. You said you came from the West, yes?"

Kris nods, and takes the well creased papers. "Yes. What is it?"

"One of our new recruits," Prentice nods towards a shivering and pale man in a small group of others, "says the government had some sort of internment camp. A hospital. This is their list of dead. With addendums it seems, to give people peace. Perhaps you may know some of them."

Kris unfolds the paper carefully. He scans the list, his heart catching at seeing first Cassidy's, then Danielle's name. He turns the page carefully, trying to keep his face composed. He pauses on the third page.

He forces his hand to turn, swallows the grief that threatens to ruin everything.

"It's too bad," Kris manages to say, his voice steady.

"Why is that?"

"That so many had to die. If more had made it this way, we could have used them."

Prentice looks at him for a long time. "Vince."

"I'm sorry?"

"My name is Vince. You truly do think as if you were here when the lights went out."

"I take that as a high compliment."

"Perhaps we should have dinner, your family and mine?"

Kris nods. "Is there anything else I can get you?"

Vince shakes his head. "No. I have to report to the General. I will call on you."

"It would be my pleasure."

Kris makes a slight bow and walks away. He makes it two blocks before having to bend over and empty his stomach into the bushes. His wife's name burns bright behind his eyes, but he stands up, looks around, and continues down the street.

*
October 1, 2013
US 40, Western Oklahoma

There is a red flag, buried in the ground.

"They figured out the sign," Drew says, looking to the horizon. The screams are faint, the smell thankfully nonexistent.

"Of course they did," Cale says. "They are after all, still human. At least somewhere inside there is a human. We should make it more complicated."

"Don't eat here, the food is terrible?" Grace suggests.

"Perfect," Drew says. "We'll put it on that road sign there. In green so they don't think of the color."

Drew consults the road map again. They'll have to detour around Oklahoma City. He hopes not too far. The knowledge that they have somewhere to go has helped, but they are all wearing down now.

"Let's go," he says, walking down the next exit ramp.

*
October 5, 2013
Boulder

"Mrs. Johnson, Allison speaks of you very fondly," Kris says as he walks into the foyer. "She sends her regret, but Hannah has been terribly ill."

"Nothing too serious?"

"No. Just a very bad cold."

"Well, when you return home give her my well wishes. Come in, Craig is waiting for you."

Kris walks down the hall, his heart beating in his chest. He's done well so far, but this could be his life. Allison's. Hannah's. He lets out a breath before entering the dining room.

"General Johnson, sir."

"Mr. Cook. Welcome. Have a seat."

Dinner goes by quickly, Mrs. Johnson asking after Allison and the baby, about how Kris and Alli had met before. The General is mostly silent, watching. The General is testing Kris, waiting for his story to contradict Allison's. But Kris has told himself the story so many times, he almost believes it himself.

After dinner, Mrs. Johnson makes excuses and leaves. Kris knows this is when it begins.

"So, Mr. Cook. You've been angling to become a soldier for a long time. You've been doing very well in school. Despite the initial misgivings you gave at your entrance exam."

Kris smiles. "Yes, sir. I never used to be much of a school person."

Kris has to admit, that he's been genuinely interested in learning. If there's anything he's been good at, it's adapting and creating a strategy for adapting. As far as he can tell, that's all being a soldier is. Just that the strategies mean lives instead of votes.

"Why do you think that's changed?"

"I saw that the soldiers here had the greatest freedom."

"They also have the greatest responsibility. They must do what others cannot. You do realize that.'

"I'm aware."

"So you would follow orders I gave, even if they seemed to contradict whatever lies in your heart?"

"Sir, I've learned a lot of things since the lights went down. But since I've come here, I know three certain facts. One: this may be the most stable area of the country. Arkansas and Texas seem to have things going all right, but the Eaters in Oklahoma threaten what little peace they have." Kris swallows any heartache over not being home yet. "Two: Your decisions, however strange and alarming, are usually right. Three: If I want to live to see my grandchildren, this is the place to do it, and you are the commander to make it happen. I may not like everything you do, but damn if it doesn't work."

Kris holds his breath. There was enough honesty in that statement, because General Johnson was very good at what he did. Kris has no intention of seeing his grandchildren here, although he has to admit, at least here they would be relatively safe from a horrible death.

"Honesty," the general says. "I don't get that a lot. But I hear many good things about you. As long as you still want it, the next open enrollment starts mid-October."

"Thank you, sir. If I may be excused, I'd like to check on Hannah."

"Absolutely. And Kris?"

"Yes sir?"

"I may appreciate honesty, but be careful. Not everyone is as magnanimous as I."

Kris nods and leaves. His heart still beats in his chest. He's one step closer to home. He doesn't even know if he can make it through the training. But he's going to try.

*
October 7, 2013
US40, near Pierce, Oklahoma

Grace rubs her eyes. She wants to tell Drew to stop, that they all need rest.

But even as far north as they had swung, they can still hear the noises. The screams. The chanting.

They can see the black cloud of smoke in the sky.

Thankfully, they cannot smell it. Today. Tomorrow, the wind may blow a different direction.
So the lack of sleep is understandable: none of them want to be anywhere near it for longer than they have to. But they are too tired. Stupid tired.

Yet when Drew puts the map (which has been folded too many times) away, and begins to move east, Grace says nothing.

She looks back, to what seems to be the largest Eater encampment they have encountered.

One more day.

Maybe two.

She's sure they can manage that.

*
October 10, 2013
Boulder

Allison and Kris whisper in the night. It's the only time they know that no one listens. They hope. Even then they keep their talks brief. They still share a room with Hannah, but they have at least moved from being squeezed in a room with four others.

"Kris, I don't know," Allison says.

"I can't think of any other way. I won't get another opportunity. Soldiers can get their families out of the city."

"What if they ask you to do something you can't?"

"I don't know, Alli. I honestly don't. I have to try."

Allison nods. "Be careful. Don't stand out too much. Keep yourself alive."

Kris nods, squeezing her hand. "It'll be okay."

He hopes he isn't lying.

*
October 14, 2013
Boulder

Kris stands in the pavilion. Robert is there too, a lone familiar face. They've already weeded out people who haven't been invited and sent them on their way. With a healthy reminder that being a soldier for the Federated State of Colorado was not a right, but a privilege.

Kris looks at the soldiers surrounding him and the thirty others here. He recognizes a few, sees Vince in a far corner, giving no sign of any favor.

"After you take the oath, there is no going back. Desertion is not accepted. Failure is not tolerated. And most of all, if you cannot be the best, the strongest, and the brightest, you may as well walk away now."

The sergeant went on, talking about the glories of the Republic, the mightiness of their righteousness.

"You think this will work?" Robert whispers to Kris.

"I have no idea," Kris admits. "I don't."

Kris holds up his hand and takes the oath. Makes a promise he intends to break as soon as he can.

"Welcome soldiers. Welcome to the greatest endeavor you will ever make."

If he can.

*

The patrol reaches them midday. Cale knows where they are now, recognizes landmarks, and sees the changes.

"Ricky?"

One of the men lowers his bow. "Cale Mills. My God. Your friend Ryland said you were coming, but we weren't sure."

Cale grins and looks at the rest of the group. If Ryland is here, everything is fine.

"Everyone, this is Ricky, general troublemaker and apparent bowman. Ricky, I'm sure you know Adam, and possibly Tommy, and maybe even Drew. This here is Bowie, and the young lady in the back, is Grace, a dear friend we have made along the way."

"Nice to meet you all. I'm sure you'll want to go to the farm."

"Absolutely. Has the list made its way here?"

Ricky nods. "We were all real torn up about Katy."

"How is Kris doing?"

Ricky looks at Cale, says nothing. Then he looks at the rest of the party, at their hopeful faces.

"Ricky?"

Ricky looks at the ground for a minute. "Kris isn't here Cale."

"What?"

Ricky swallows. "Ryland says they were waylaid in Albuquerque. There were men from Colorado. No one has heard anything since."

"Allison?"

It's barely a whisper.

Ricky shakes his head. "I'm sorry."

Cale sits on the ground before he falls over. He feels the hand on his shoulder, but doesn't look up to see who it is. He's tired and hungry, and everything that's kept him going, kept him alive this long, isn't here. He's wants to feel something, but cannot think of what to feel first.

"Welcome home," he whispers, putting his face in his hands.

*
Three

"Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun"

From the diary of Allison Iraheta

In lots of ways, I think we could have stayed in Colorado. The people weren't that bad. It was safe, it was warm, and there was food. There was no guarantee once we left that we would even make it to Arkansas. With the Eaters controlling a big chunk of Oklahoma, and Missouri mostly unexplored…

At the same time, neither of us could lie much longer. Circumstances forced us to move quickly. I think about what would have happened had we left earlier.

I think of what would have happened had I told Kris of my suspicions before we left.

All I know is that things… things got bad. I still don't know everything that went on, because as much as we shared, Kris still didn't open up to me. Perhaps I can convince him a few years from now, when the memories have softened. I don't know.

If we had stayed, it would have probably killed him, in the end.

*
November 2013
Allen Farm, Arkansas

"So tell me, since we actually have the time, exactly how did you pull this off?"

Kim looks at Adam, then at the table, filled with more food than he has seen in a long time. Daniel is at the other end, talking with some pretty girl visiting from Texas. Adam has a feeling that the pretty girl is more than a flirtation, but doesn’t say anything.

"Where do you want me to start?"

Adam laughs. Kim's glad to see it, because he has become too serious. She understands the world has changed and moved on, but there were a few things she thinks should be the same.

"I know that you got the church to help organize things at first. And then started your own?"

Kim smiles. "Well, let me give the bare bones. When I went to the church, it was because I knew they could reach the largest amount of people the fastest. But after awhile, Frederick started preaching hate. Started blaming people for the lights."

"Sounds like what happened in Flagstaff," Adam says, remembering the journal, filled with names.

"Well, except I didn't let it get that far. By the time Frederick started, I had somehow become the boss. So he couldn't counteract me."

"Okay." Adam looks down at his food for a minute. "So tell me about the houses."

Kim rolls her eyes. "Well, some of the college students who survived had very specific ideas about a no tech society. It did become a problem when we had so many people flowing in, so they organized people into families. Gave them colors."

"Plaid though?"

"Blame Kris, when he gets here," Kim says. "Everyone remembers him and his plaids, so they ran with that. I have to admit; those kids probably saved this town just as much as anything else. When they showed up on my doorstep, I could have cried. When I told them I hadn't heard my word had gotten that far, they laughed and told me it was my son's fault. They remembered the news that he had built a farm, and came here hoping maybe someone would have started something."

Adam nods. "So tell me, what kind of jobs can I expect to work here?"

"Actually, I have one. We have a little school set up, and we do need a vocal teacher. It's not full time, but I suppose you could do patrols in the meantime."

Kim watches as surprise flickers in Adam's eyes.

"Me? A teacher? Aren't there, like, more useful things I could be doing?"

"Well, maybe. But we're at the stage where we need to decide if we're going to focus on surviving or living. I have enough soldiers and engineers and builders and so forth. I want artists. Designers. Crafters. I'm reading this book on trading and economics for crying out loud. Anyway, you are qualified."

"Kim, I used to be blasted because I corrupted children. Now you want me to teach them?"

Kim grins. "Well, at least I know who to blame when the children turn up strange?"

Adam looks at her for a long time, and then they are both laughing. It's almost enough for Kim not to notice the people missing from the table.

*
February 2014
Boulder

Every week, for about three hours, one of the members of the quilting bee babysits Hannah. It isn't the simple nice gesture either Kris or Allison would like to pretend it is. The Federated State of Colorado has few aims: to be in control, to gain more control, and to keep control of those within its borders. When Kris ask the first time the babysitter comes over what they are supposed to do for three hours, Allison breaks into hysterical laughter. The babysitter, Erica, gives Allison a sympathetic look before leaving.

They instead spend the time talking about plans. How they can escape, what's too risky. Whether Hannah can keep quiet if she is told.

"Do you think you'll have to fight for them?" Allison asks.

"Possibly."

"Kris—"

Kris shakes his head. "I believe in a lot of things, Alli. I'll do what I have to do now. I can ask forgiveness later. Anyway, I'm so new I squeak. They might take me along, but they'll stick me in the middle and hope I don't die at best."

Allison sighs. "You better not die. It's bad enough with you here."

"Thanks? I think?"

Allison gives him a rare smile and leans against him. "Kris, I like some of the people here."

Kris puts his arm across Allison's shoulders. "Me too, Alli, me too."

*
March 2014 (Year 1, New Time)
Arkansas

Adam looks at the pile of wood in the distance. It looks like the beginnings of any other fire, but this one is important. It's been a year since the lights went out. Ryland and Drew (and damn if Adam can actually remember the ridiculous titles Kim Allen has given them) are nearby, discussing something with a group of young men and women. Then they all walk away as Kim Allen steps onto the small platform in front of Adam.

"Welcome everyone. We've had a pretty tough year, but somehow, we made it through. I know every single person here has lost someone, and that a lot of us are still hoping that people find their way home. But I'm looking forward to the year to come, because we've made so much progress, and with a little hard work and creativity, we can do a lot more. Now I've asked for Max to say a few words."

Adam watches the new pastor walk to the front. He doesn't know much, except that the old church had disbanded after Kim had had an argument with the lead pastor there and left. He has actually attended a service or two, just to see. He's still not big on the religion thing, but he likes Max, and not just because he allowed Adam into a church of all places. Max is the healing kind of pastor, which is exactly what people need.

"Hello, everybody. Now Mrs. Allen here, she's going to give a signal to Mr. Steen over there. Our good friends, the Steen brothers were nice enough to search out and find some gunpowder. I've been told the point of this is to see if we're still in the same situation we were a year ago. If everything we used to know is still gone. Before Mrs. Allen gives the signal for the archer to try and set it on fire, though, I want to say this: whether the fire explodes or not, it doesn't matter. God has all the reason in the world to test us, and even if this lasts to our dying days, than that is His choice. It is His world, and He may do with it as He will. What we have to do is live the best we can in the world He has given us."

Adam watches as everyone steps back a little even though the pile is far away. Kim gives the signal, and the archer fires. But the gunpowder doesn't explode. The fire fizzles brightly for a moment before returning to normal. Adam looks to the crowd. There is a mix of disappointment and determination. About what he expected, in this crowd.

"Well, then, I guess I'm stuck without my hair dryer for a little bit longer," Kim says.

The crowd laughs, and disperses. Adam sits out the dances for now, content to sit and watch.

"Hard to believe it's been so long," Cale says as he sits down.

"It feels longer, some days."

Adam is still wearing his ring. He highly doubts he'll ever not. Cale nods and looks into the crowd.

"How long do I wait? How long do we hope that they're still alive?"

Adam shakes his head. "I don't know. I thought the teaching thing would be enough to distract me, but I have just enough free time to worry."

"You should do defense training. I mean beyond the basic course. You could do patrols when school is out, and there's nothing more distracting than beating people up."

Adam laughs "I suppose. What about you?"

"Well besides that I've been helping out with bow making. But I don't know. I've tried my hand at making guitars, too."

"Give it just a little longer. After all, we just passed winter. Maybe they got stuck in the snow."

Cale sighs. "I hope so."

"You do love her, don't you?"

Cale looks at Adam, "I guess I do. I think I'm going to go keep Drew out of trouble, since Sharon has Ryland in hand."

He gives Adam a tight smile and walks away. Adam watches for awhile, wondering which was worse, knowing that someone was dead, or waiting to find out. Then Kim came up to him a pulled him up to dance.

"Because I'm not having you sit here alone and mope."

"Do you wonder, Kim?"

She looks up at Adam. "About Neil? All the time. But even if he was alive, he's halfway across the world. I fear the next time I see him will be when we are both gone from this world. As for Kris… No matter what, I'll always hope. He's a much smarter boy than he gives himself credit for, and he'll do anything for Hannah and Allison. So I have faith."

"So do I," Adam says.

*
April, 1 NT
Boulder

Kris breathes carefully. He doesn't know when he'll be able to sleep again. Every time he closes his eyes he sees the dead and dying, hears their pleas for mercy as the army that he now fights for cuts them down. But the main part of the battle is done.

"All right new blood! Now comes a test of a true soldier: go in, clean up. Any who resist, kill them. Any who put down their weapons can be recruited. Doctors are to be spared. Unless they fight. Are we clear?"

"Yes sir!"

Please, God, don't make this worse than it already is. Give me the strength to do what I have to do to get home.

Kris puts his head down and follows, ignoring the fires and the bodies being piled at the gates. Once he's inside, it's easy to look at the empty streets and houses. It's a relief to find an empty house and mark it, move on and repeat the process.

Until the corner. Robert is there first, Kris just behind him.

"Kris."

There's a woman huddled in the corner, a short sword in hand.

"Don't even try, you bastards," she snarls.

Kris looks around. "Cover me," he says as he kneels before her.

"Look, I don't know your name, and I don't know what happened here, except that the General decided he wanted your property. I'm just a soldier. But I do know you have three choices: you can fight, but then I'd have to kill you. I haven't killed anyone yet, and I'd rather not. Two, you can argue with me till the other guys get here, and then they'll kill you, but I'm pretty sure they'd rape you first, because unfortunately I fight for some not so nice people. Or you can come with us, and you might have a chance at some sort of decent life. You might end up married before you'd like, but the General, at least, has relaxed some of those laws even. Your choice."

Kris stands. Robert grins at him.

"I don't ever remember you being so blunt."

"I have a very good friend who likes to tell the truth even when he shouldn't. It works pretty well most of the time."

The woman looks around for a moment, and then throws the sword on the ground.

"My name is Deidre. I've never been married. But I don't fancy dying, and rape has never been on my bucket list. Do you have to tie me up, or can I walk on my own?"

"I'm Kris. My silent friend here is Robert. I think if maybe you look a little more scared, we can avoid the tying up."

Deidre. "So I have to ask, before we're in front of everyone else-why do you fight for them if you don't like them?"

Kris looks at Robert, who laughs.

"That is a long story. Maybe one day, I can tell you."

She nods and walks in front of them, shuffling her step and keeping her head down.

"Well, well didn't you bring in a pretty one?"

"Lay off, Anderson," Robert says. "She came willingly, just like everyone else."

"Yeah? And who's going to back you?"

"Me," Kris says, standing next to Robert and hefting his mace.

"They're right, Anderson," one of the sergeants says, "Lay off."

Kris lets out a breath when Anderson turns away.

"You're crazy, Robert."

"We're both crazy."

Kris nods at Deidre. "You have any trouble; don't hesitate to let us know. We may be low on the totem pole, but we're soldiers, which makes us pretty important still."

She mouths a silent thank you. Kris makes himself look at the nameless village, and tries to tell himself his one act redeems being a witness to the rest.

It doesn't.

*
August 1 NT
Arkansas

It starts with Aimee. She's one of Adam's students. She usually stays quiet, sings along, and shuffles off to her home.

One day, Adam sees her wandering the streets.

"Hey, Aimee."

She's about six or seven. Adam can't be sure.

"Do you know how to use that sword?"

Adam blinks and remembers he's just come from the training grounds. It helps distract him, occupy what time he doesn't spend with Bowie or teaching.

"Yes, I do. I'm still learning, though. Shouldn't you be playing, or maybe helping out your parents?"

As soon as her bottom lip trembles, Adam is on his knees. "What's the matter?"

"I live over there, and I don't like the people there."

She points to a large house at the corner. It's the home set up for people with no families, an orphanage of sorts.

"Oh. I see. Why not?"

"Well at first, Pastor John was running it, but then he left after the church went away, and now the big kids are kind of running it, and it's not any fun."

Adam looks at her. "Did you tell Mrs. Allen about this?"

Aimee shakes her head. "I didn't want to bother her."

"Come with me."

Adam sort of lives with Kim at the farm. He hasn't been here long enough to put his name on a housing request, and he isn't sure he wants to live on his own. Plus Kim insists, because 'I might as well have a baby here, and put use to some of this stuff.'

Not that Bowie is a baby anymore, but that's not even the point.

"Hey Adam," Cale says as Adam walks up to the porch with Aimee. "And who is this?"

"Aimee. She has a complaint for Kim. And a possible job for you."

"?"

Cale has jumped from job to job since March, never settling in to one career. He could do any number of things, but none of them seem to stick.

Adam explains the situation. It ends up with Aimee, Patrick, Jacob, Ethan and Richard all at the Allen farm, and the three older kids who had been running things adopted into other families.

Cale takes the idea and runs with it, developing a system of people to look after kids whose parents go on patrol, or if they should need an army (and with the reports filtering in from Colorado, and the Eaters in Oklahoma, it's looking like a yes.) So often the Allen farm has more children than adults. It's sort of strange for Adam.

"I wish Brad could have seen this. The irony of it all."

Cale looks at Adam. "Aw, everyone here knew you were a softie anyway. Kris told on you all the time."

"Great. Now my sex god bad boy image is completely shattered."

Cale snorts.

Adam looks at him and grins. He's surprised at how well he's settled here. There have been a few rough spots, but being adopted into the Allen clan plus his general pacifist nature has smoothed them over. A small part of him still holds out hope for Kris and Allison and in lots of ways, he still feels as if he is waiting.

Waiting for them. Waiting for someone to realize he doesn't belong here. Waiting for the world to turn upside down all over again.

*
September, 1 NT
Boulder

Allison pretends not to notice Cynthia's face. There isn't a mark there at all, but her eyes are haunted. Whatever change that has been coming, it has arrived. And it is not good.

They are alone. The General is visiting the borders. Kris is off to another battle. Hannah is sleeping.

"There's a small problem Allison," Cynthia begins.

She knows. She knows everything. She knows we aren't married. That we've been lying.

"See, I know you and Kris love each other. I do. I can see it in your eyes."

Allison breathes for a moment. She doesn't know what's going on, but she has to remain composed.

"And Hannah is such a pretty girl."

"Thank you."

"So why don't you want another baby?"

Allison blinks. "I—I don't—"

Cynthia leans forward and whispers, "He's always watching. I learned that the hard way. So this better be good."

Allison swallows. She forces herself not to look around, and then looks at her hands.

"It's not about wanting."

"It's okay, you can tell me."

Think. And quickly.

"Honestly, we're lucky to have Hannah. Don't tell anyone else, but Kris… well. We were seeing someone before. But now, well. You know."

Cynthia nods. "I see. Maybe we can help. I'm sure we have something lying around from before. But that may take time."

Allison realizes what Cynthia wants to know. "Time we have. We're young. Thank you for your concern."

When Allison leaves, she's doesn't look around. She hopes Kris is home soon, because whatever escape plan they have, it has to be soon.

*

"It's a tradition Allen, so pick one before one is picked for you."

Kris looks at the book of designs. "Can I draw one?"

Captain Filmore looks at him. "Sure. Why not?"

Kris doesn't want a tattoo. But there has been another battle, and somehow he's saved the lives of his whole company without thinking about it. So they are celebrating.

"Fancy. I like it."

Kris looks at it. It seems simple to him, a small triangle, with the symbol for infinity inside. He supposes people will think it represents his family, and being together forever. To him, the first part is somewhat correct. As for the second, it's a reminder that forever is something he doesn't have.

He makes it home the next day, wondering how Allison has fared without him. When she meets him at the door, a frown on her face, he knows things have changed drastically.

"Alli?"

She licks her lips. "We have a small problem."

She holds up a bottle. "Now smile and hug me," she says under her breath, "and tell me we're getting out of here soon."

Kris leans down and hugs her. "Alli?"

"They want to know why we haven't tried for more children."

Kris puts his head on her shoulder. "Fuck."

"Well, that's sort of the point," Alli says.

Kris laughs. He isn't sure if it's because he's exhausted, or if he's realizing just how complicated things are, but either way, he almost wishes he was back fighting. Almost

*
December, 1 NT
Arkansas

Cale finds Adam sitting on the front porch, wrapped up in a blanket.

"So apparently dating sucks," Adam says.

Cale looks at him. "Well, since a lot of the women here a) have already dated me, b) are married now or c) think that because I live with you I must be secretly in love with you, yes, it does."

Adam laughs. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I'll live."

"Yeah." Adam says.

"I don't think they're coming."

"Me neither."

They both look out into the night for awhile. Cale doesn't sit. It's too cloudy for stars, so he settles on counting the watch beacons.

"I'll make you a deal," he says.

"Okay."

"I promise to keep trying to have some sort of social/romantic love life, and you can live vicariously through me."

"You mean, we both start living?"

Cale nods. He knows a part of him will always hope, but if he doesn't move on, he's going to grow old and bitter. And he knows Kris and Allison wouldn't want that, alive or dead.

"Deal."

Adam holds out his hand, Cale shakes it firmly.

"So, are you secretly in love with me? Because that would be terribly awkward."

Cale laughs. "In your dreams, Lambert."

Cale finally sits and watches the night pass by, talking with Adam.

*
Boulder

"Sledding?"

"I have my permission slip if you want to see it," Kris says to the gate guard.

"No, Sergeant Cook, you have fun. Make sure to be back by dark."

Kris nods and pushes his horse forward, the others following. They get to the hill where they are supposed to spend the day.

"I'll see you at the bottom," he says to Allison and Hannah.

"Okay. Be careful."

He looks at them one more time. He doesn't know what to say exactly, because—

"Kristopher. Don't start. I told you before and I'll tell you again."

Kris laughs. "I know. We'll talk later."

He watches them sled down the hill. He looks at Robert, and Deidre (who for the purposes of this trip is now Robert's fiancée.) He pushes her down the hill.

"You ready for this?" Kris asks.

"Nope."

"Me neither."

They get on their horses (as if to go down the hill and retrieve their families) and double back on the trail. They find the people sent to mind them not even watching at all.

"Sloppy," Kris whispers.

"Lucky he trusts you enough to send bad ones."

Kris nods and gives the signal. He and Robert surprise them.

"Kris?"

"Hello Vince. Long time no see. Still a captain? I hate to see a man not change rank."

Vince blinks before falling forward. Robert looks down at the body.

"Suppose they'll demote you, but I never said which way I'd like to see you move," Kris says.

They tie the unconscious men to the horses, and then lightly tie the horses to some nearby trees. Eventually the horses will break free and make their way home. By then Kris will be gone. He hopes.

"That worked way too well," Robert says.

"We have to make it through winter first. And then if we hit Oklahoma at all, Eater territory."

"Fun."

"Better than staying there."

"How long before a revolution do you think?"

"I don't know."

Kris trudges through the snow, not looking back. For the first time he can see home. He wonders if when he gets there, whether he can forgive himself for what it's taken to get there.

*
January, 2015 (1 NT)
Burlington, Colorado

When the five of them are ushered into a snow covered building in Burlington, Kris is unsurprised. He recognizes a few faces even.

"I'm surprised to see you here, Cook," Dylan says. "I never pegged you as anything but a full convert."

"Then I suppose my acting skills have gotten better with time," Kris says.

"Who says I trust you?"

Kris sighs. He's worried about this ever since Allison has told them the location of the supposed revolution. That his eagerness to fit in with the status quo would damage any chance of shelter later on. Everything that has happened flashes through his head, so quickly it almost doesn't register. But Kris could recite the blood on his hands, the people he's betrayed, as he does every night when he lies down.

"You don't have to. But I can tell you a lot of things you need to know."

Dylan thinks for a moment. "I suppose since you are sort of stuck here, I'll have to trust you. Although you do realize I won't let you out of my sight."

"I understand."

"Why the middle of winter though?"

Kris shrugs. "The opportunity presented itself. I thought you were dead."

"I am. At least to everyone in Colorado. I got out before Cindy was compromised."

Kris looks at Allison. "I guess you were right about her, Alli."

"Told you."

"I suppose you won't be staying on for the rebellion then?"

Kris looks at Dylan for a long time. "No. I wish you well, but I just want to go home."

"And where would that be?"

Kris says nothing.

"I understand. You were aware of their latest plans?"

"As much as a sergeant could be. But we can give numbers—"

"Excuse me, but is there somewhere I could sit?" Allison asks.

Kris turns. She's been quieter than usual, worry lining her face. He hasn't asked, because he's already asked so much of her. He figures he can be patient.

"Are you okay Alli?"

"No," she says, her voice wavering. She sits carefully in the chair someone has brought over.

Kris walks over and puts his hand on her shoulder.

"Alli?"

She looks up at him, her face pure misery, and whispers four words in his ear.

"I think I'm pregnant."

*
Four

"For nothing now can ever come to any good."

From the diary of Allison Iraheta

The circumstances of your birth being what they are, I still wouldn't change it. Don't get me wrong, I wish I would have talked things through with your father a bit better. But he's coming around I think.

It's funny how easy the trip was from Colorado to Arkansas. Almost eerily easy.

I'm not saying there weren't any problems, but it seemed like we were traveling across the abandoned part of America.

When we got to Arkansas, it was almost like being in Colorado again: things were organized, people were living. But it never felt like we were scared or in fear of something changing at the last minute.

Of course you came, and then a whole new set of problems came.

*
April 7, 2 NT
Tahlequah, Oklahoma

"Why is it I always end up in little towns with names I cannot pronounce?" Adam asks.

"Curse of Middle America, we make things look easy, then complicate it by pronouncing it funny."

Adam looks at Ricky and grins. "Well, I'm Jewish. Lapsed, but no one has us on pronunciations."

"True."

"Are you two fine men insulting my home?"

Adam and Ricky shake their heads at the same time.

"No Miss Laura," Ricky says. "But Adam was."

"Now, now, you know I think the world of you Adam. I voted for you, you know. But insulting my home is not necessary."

The sly grin on her face is all that keeps Adam from saying anything. In the midst of at least three large groups of Eaters, Laura Jeffries has managed to get a small group of farmers together and keep them safe from being eaten. Adam is here because the people of Arkansas (and how people have argued over renaming it) have promised to provide some protection.

It's strange to be away from his son. The last time Adam remembers being away from Bowie is before he was born. That last concert in Las Vegas.

"The other one never did make his way home, did he?"

Adam shakes his head. "Last we knew he was headed to Colorado."

Laura sniffs. "I'd rather get captured by Eaters."

"Now, now, we did meet their ambassador. He was a very nice person. A little stiff, but nice."

Laura looks at Adam reproachfully. "The world is full of nice people. But those people in Colorado mean to take over everyone, the way I see it. That Johnson fellow may preach a lot of things, but he reminds me too much of my childhood."

Adam nods. "Why do you think the army has grown twice in size?"

"Will you fight, when the time comes?"

"I don't know. I'm all my son has, so I can't say yes. But if I were needed, I'd do what I have to."

"Good answer. Ricky, you tell Kim that she gives me a couple runners, I'd be glad to warn her of anything that comes my way."

Ricky looks at Adam. "I'm bringing you on all my diplomatic missions, superstar."

"I'm not sure General Johnson of the Federated State of Colorado would appreciate me much."

"He probably voted for Danny," Laura says. "Or worse, never voted and complained all the time."

Adam shakes his head. While he has liked this little trip to Oklahoma, he misses his home in Arkansas. That surprises him less than he thinks it should, but after seeing the rest of the new world, having somewhere to call home is even more important than it was before. Adam still harbors a little hope that he'll see Alli and Kris again. For now, though, he's content.

*
April 25 2 NT
I70, Just outside Topeka, Kansas

It's strange how much is left intact. There are some signs people were here: abandoned bits strewn across the road, old fires, cars moved from the road.

But for now the road is empty. Deidre has taken the lead, with Robert lagging behind. Hannah is too big for a carrier this time, so Kris pulls her along in a small red wagon. He keeps looking back at Allison, who walks along steadily, no sign of strain on her face.

"Will you stop that?" she says.

"What?"

"Checking up on me. I'm fine. If I wasn't fine, I'd let you know."

"I just—"

"I know you worry Kris. And don't give me the guilt look either. This is a discussion I said I did not want to have again, and I will not. We both made a decision. Not just you. So stop feeling sorry for yourself."

"I'm not feeling sorry for myself. And yes, I know you made a decision too. You tell me that every day! Still doesn't make me feel less guilty about not getting us out sooner, okay? I'm working on that."

Allison sighs. She begins to say something, when the clap of thunder makes them all jump.

"There's a strip mall up ahead."

Allison shivers as the sky darkens at an alarming rate. She still instinctively waits for the sirens, or something to warn her that bad weather is coming.

"This is only a test," she whispers.

They find an untouched bookstore, slightly musty, but otherwise unoccupied. Kris settles Hannah into the children's area. Robert takes first watch. Deidre watches from nearby. Allison isn't a betting person, but she has a feeling about when exactly Robert will find himself with a ring on his finger and babies of his own.

"Hannah? Your Dad and I are going to talk over there, ok?"

Hannah nods and picks up a train. "Okay Alli-mom."

Allison walks over to a chair and sits gingerly. She isn't too big yet, and the walking every day has actually helped more than she could have imagined.

"All right, Allen, you and I are going to talk."

Kris sits in front of her. Ever since they left Colorado, the time there has weighed on him. He looks tired: even more so than after the tour and his eyes are twice as old as they should be.

"I'm listening, Alli."

"I love you Kris. I do. But you act like what happened was something you could have changed. Maybe it was meant to be. Maybe God has a reason for this. Maybe he doesn't. But it's already past, and all we can do is live with the consequences."

Kris doesn't say anything. "Allison, I—"

"Kristopher Allen. Listen to me. It was just sex. If you want I'll even tell people that I had to get you drunk. But I need you to lay off the guilt thing, because it's making me feel self conscious."

Kris looks up. Allison doesn't know what to do for him. She has an inkling of an idea of what's wrong, but he just won't talk.

"It feels like I cheated," he whispers.

Allison walks over and puts her hand on his shoulder. "Kris."

Kris shakes his head, pressing his palms to his eyes. "I'm trying to keep my shit together, here, okay? I don't know what to tell you, because I'm scared every single thing I'm worrying about will come out, and you'll be depressed too."

"Do you want me to be blunt, as usual, or would you prefer I soften the blow?"

"Don't ever change for me."

"Good. Katy died. I know you haven't thought of it yet, but I know you know it. Katy died, and you haven't had sex in over a year. So let's just chalk it up as a brief one-night stand with someone who vaguely looks like me, okay? Because as cute as you are, I'm not interested either. Although—"

"Don't start," Kris says a small smile on his face. "I'll try, okay?"
"Good."

"Thanks."

Allison grins. "Anyway, when we get home, we'll have a lot of things to adjust to as it is."

"You're right, as usual. I just don't know—"

"How about we get there first, explain things later."

"Okay."

Kris walks back over to Hannah. Allison lays a hand on her belly. "Kid, I'm going to have a hell of a time making you understand, aren't I?"

She wanders the store for a bit, picking up a blank journal and some pens. Kris and Hannah are now curled up in the children's section. She sits close by, listening to the rain as it falls on the roof.

She begins to write. Once upon a time, I was famous.

*
May 7, 2 NT
Arkansas

Cale hands Adam a glass before sitting down.

"Isn't that a little cliché? The two bachelors in the room getting drunk at the reception?"

Cale looks at Adam. "Hey, I just handed you one glass. Not my fault you've turned into a lightweight."

Adam shakes his head. "Now me being a bachelor, that's pretty well understood. Not a lot of pickings, unless you count the fact you still pine for me."

"Well, you know unrequited love and all that."

Cale watches as Drew and Grace circle the dance floor. It's been pretty obvious between them since before they even got to Arkansas, so it shouldn't have surprised Cale. But it had, because he might have been married by now, and the new couple may have never met, if the lights had stayed on.

"I just don't understand you still being single. There are lots of women around here."

Cale sighs. "You still love Brad?"

"Well, yes. I always—oh."

"Exactly. It's hard to date someone when you are constantly comparing her to someone else."

"I'm sorry."

"Maybe I should pine for you. Would make things less complicated."

Adam laughs. "Want to dance?"

"Not particularly."

"Not making the dating anyone thing easy are you?"

"I guess not," Cale says. "Maybe I'll go have some fun. Or at least pretend to until I don't know the difference."

"Don't have too much fun."

Cale stands. "You know, maybe you could come along. I know you might not get laid—"

"Thanks."

"But maybe it'll be fun for you too."

Cale puts his glass down on the table. "Beats sitting in the corner by yourself."

Cale smiles as Adam catches up, then cuts in front of Cale to pull Mrs. Allen on the dance floor. Maybe it wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.

*
May 10, 2 NT
Fayetteville, Arkansas

"You know, I've played here a thousand times," Kris says.

"Almost home," Robert responds. "How are you doing?"

"Going crazy. I want to run every day to get there. I want to turn around right now."

Kris looks around Fayetteville. It's strange to see a place he knows so well look so unfamiliar. He's been waiting to get home for two years, but the closer he gets, the more he wonders if he'll be able to stay. He's spent so long pretending to be one person; it's as if he's forgotten himself.

"So what's first, when you do get there?" Robert asks.

"Hug my mom and my brother. After that, see if any of my friends made it there. Then hope they understand why it took so long. After that? I don't know. I don't."

"I think I might get married."

Kris raises his eyebrows and laughs. "Allison, I owe you a favor."

"Told you," she yelled from a nearby house.

"Taking bets?"

"Not much else to do when you can't sleep," Kris admits. "We'll probably hit a border patrol in the next week or so."

"I can't believe we made it."

I can't either," Kris says. "Hopefully things are still as reported."

"Pessimist."

"Realist. Come on, I'll show you some of the sights."

Robert follows Kris into the heart of town.

*
May 15, 2 NT
Arkansas

Grace is supposed to be on her honeymoon, although border patrol and health check-ups weren't exactly what she dreamed of on her honeymoon.

She shakes her head as she puts up her feet for the day. She sees the runner from the distance, but knows whatever it is; she can relax just a bit longer.

"Are you Mrs. Steen?"

"Grace," she corrects. "But yes."
"I have an important message, for Mr. Steen, to go directly to Mrs. Allen."

Grace sits up.

"Well, Drew won't be back until tonight. Why don't you give it to me?"

The runner nods and hands Grace a piece of paper. Grace looks down.

"You know, why don't we go find my husband?"

The runner grins at her.

*
May 17, 2 NT
Allen Farm, Arkansas

It's all Kris can do not to crane his neck. So much has changed here. After seeing so many towns on the road that were no different than two years ago, it's a shock to his system. He's technically been inside the borders for four days (and the wall being built is quite impressive) but this is home. There are still open fields near the farm, horses still grazing. But there are buildings everywhere, houses and shops. There is a constant buzz of people, sounds that Kris can't quite place. He hears music in the distance and smiles. He tries to take in everything that's been built up around his home and can't do it.

He just sees the throngs of people, all of them are armed. But they look healthy. And happy.

It's Ryland who sees him first.

"Holy shit."

"Nice to see you too, asshole," Kris says, laughing as Ryland pulls him in for a hug.

"Took you long enough."

"I'm surprised I got out so fast."

Ryland nods. "I've heard. Allison Iraheta, what kind of trouble have you been getting into?"

Allison laughs. "Who says I've been getting into trouble? It's a long story, and I think I'd only like to tell it once thank you."

"Okay."

Kris wants to ask the question burning in the back of his throat. But he's almost sure Ryland would have said if Cale hadn't made it here. So he watches the people's faces instead. Those that know him are genuinely surprised. Those that don't (and around here, it isn't many) are wondering why there is such a fuss.

Kris walks up the steps to his own home, and walks in the door.

"Hey Mama," he says, and falls into her arms.

*

Adam knows something is going on. There has to be a reason Kim has been distracted all day. He knows it has to do with the runner that arrived yesterday. She came from the northern border, so that meant Colorado, but what news she brought, Adam did not know. He does know that Kim asked him and Cale to come meet with her today. So he waits patiently.

When Kris walks into the room and falls into his mother's arms, Adam doesn't believe it. After all, he's been waiting for this to happen for two years. But there he is. Allison leans in the doorway. When she sees Adam her face lights up

"Adam!" She walks past Kim and Kris to hug him tightly.

"Look at you!" Adam says. He wants to ask a million questions, but the tiredness in her eyes stops him. Plus, in a way, he thinks it might be Cale's right to ask.

"Aren't you at least going to say hello?" Allison asks.

Cale swallows and stands up. "Hey, Alli. I—"

Allison laughs. "I can explain. It's strange and well, strange…"

She looks at Kris who shakes his head at her. "I don't think strange covers it Alli. Not at all."

Adam looks between them, sees the flash of guilt across Kris's face, and knows. By the look on Cale's face, so does he.

"Go on," Allison looks at Cale, "You're going to make a fuss about it, you might as well ask."

Cale sighs. "May I ask after the father of your child?"

"You may," Allison says.

"Oh stop being silly Alli. You tell me to stop sulking and now you're delaying saying anything?" Kris says. "I'm the father."

Adam watches as the room erupts. There is a scuffle, and then Kris is on the floor; hand on his jaw, looking up at Cale.

"I'll give you that one. I probably deserve it."

"Probably?" Cale says, lifting Kris up and slamming him into the wall.

Kris fights back, pushing Cale away and holding up his fists. Cale moves forward, but then Allison screams.

"Stop it. Stop!"

She steps between them and looks at Cale. "He saved my life. Don't do this. Please."

Cale looks at her, then at Kris over her shoulder. "Fine."

He stalks out the room. Ryland steps as if to follow him.

"I'll go get him. It might be better if I explain," Allison says. "Sorry to ruin the welcome home."

Kris shakes his head, still rubbing his jaw. "It wasn't you. I kind of figured this would happen. At least we made it, right?"

She nods and walks out.

Kris sits in a chair. "So I suppose you want the whole story? Or can I ask questions first?"

Adam looks at Kim, who looks like she is still trying to figure out what just happened.

"Maybe you ask first?"

Kris looks at his hands. In that moment, he looks old and tired, and scared.

"I know about the hospital. I saw the list while we were in Colorado."

"Ah."

Adam pulls a chair near Kris's, and motions for Kim to sit down.

"She didn't die of the flu, or whatever was going around. There was a fight."

Kris nods. "I see."

Adam lets out a breath. "Brad said… Brad said she saved his life."

"Where is he, anyway?"

Adam looks down. "We lost him in Flagstaff."

"Oh."

"Turns out the dogs went feral. Not sure what happened to the people."

"I'm sorry."

Adam is silent for a moment. "Beyond that, we met some nice folks in Amarillo, and arrived here in October. Besides the Eaters cooking up people, and my poor aching feet and empty stomach, it was a walk in the park."

Kris laughs and looks at his mom. "I heard you and Daniel had things running well here."

"Yes," Kim says. "With the help of a lot of others too. I left the church and formed my own. Among other things."

"Left the church?"

"You know how Fred was. I got tired of it. He helped a lot in the beginning, but then he started preaching things that were just not right. So I left and found myself another pastor."

Kris laughs. "Only you, Mama."

"So," Adam says, "How exactly did Allison get pregnant?"

"Well," Kris says, shifting the ring on his finger, "When the soldiers first approached us, I—"

Adam listens as Kris talks, wondering if he could have done the same.

*

Cale stops at the porch. This is his home. He knows if he goes upstairs right now, Aimee and the other children he now takes care of will be welcoming Hannah into the fold.

"You idiot."

He turns and looks at Allison. "Please don't."

"I will, and you are going to listen."

Cale wants to laugh, because even though she's angry at him, she's here.

"I'm listening."

Allison looks at him for a long time. "Can I ask one question?"

"Go on."

"Why aren't you married? Or are you seeing someone and no one has told me?"

"That's two questions."

"Cale."

Cale sits on the swing. "Sit down."

Allison sits.

"At first, we weren't sure if you were coming at all. Then, when we decided to move on with our lives…It was hard, because, well, they weren't you, and I was never sure you weren't ever coming, despite all the facts that said you weren't."

"Well now how am I supposed to be completely angry with you?"

"I could go punch Kris again if you want."

"Don't you dare."

Cale nods and looks at his hands. "Are you—are you two—"

"God no. Trust me; the one time was harrowing enough."

"I don't understand."

"Which is why maybe you should have listened first and punched later," Allison says. "When we got to Colorado, we said we were married, because women there weren't exactly treated very well. Long story short, we had people convinced, except when they gave us 'alone' time, we didn't exactly spend it the way they thought we would."

"Oh."

"So I made up a story about Kris having troubles, and instead of sympathizing, they gave me some drugs to give to him. So we got a little drunk and somehow managed to have sex. Not that I don't think Kris is hot, but his complex about me was very hard to overcome."

"I don't need to hear this."

Allison laughs. "Fine. But do you understand now?"

Cale nods. "I owe him an apology."

"Probably, but that left hook may be the best thing that's happened to him. He's been guilt tripping since I found out I was pregnant. Maybe now he'll get over it."

"So besides having to live with Kris, how was it?"

"Like walking the scariest tightrope you can think of. He risked a lot to get us out. A lot. He still hasn't told me hardly anything. But he's taken whatever happened to heart. More than he shows."

"He always did," Cale says. "Maybe once he forgives me, he'll talk to me."

"Maybe. Did you survive being around Adam's friends okay?"

"Besides the attack dogs, being hungry all the time, the Eaters, and the military hospital I thought I was going to die in? Wasn't too bad at all."

"So what do you do here?"

"Well, when I'm not on patrol, I sort of take care of the orphans. And the children of people who are out on patrol."

"You run an extended day care?"

"Pretty much. Aimee, Patrick, Jacob, Richard and Ethan are here year round. They're orphans. And Bowie. And now I suppose Hannah."

"Guess that means I don't have to ask if you like kids."

Cale looks at Allison for a long time. "Alli—"

"I'm not saying we should pick up where we left off. But I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't try."

Cale says nothing, taking her hand in his and rocking the swing. His hand hurts like hell, but he won't admit it.

*
May 22, 2 NT
Steen household, Arkansas

Drew keeps looking at Kris. It's sort of like having something come back from childhood: it looks the same, has all the same ideas and triggers. Except the world has changed.

Not that Kris hasn't changed. They all have. Drew looks around, notices the guitars against the wall, still untouched, by the dust on the cases.

"So you and Ryland are coming up with mischief still," Kris says.

Drew laughs. "Yeah. Except now it's usually defensive stuff. Although I'm pretty proud of the watermill we built last month."

"The engineering students from the university helped that," Ryland says. "They help get a lot of our ideas from paper to reality actually."

"That's good, I—"

Cale is in the doorway. Drew looks at Kris for a minute. He knows what happened the other day was two years of built up tension and misunderstanding.

"Hi," Cale says. "Um. I wanted to apologize for the other day. I should have listened first."

"I'm sure Allison gave you an earful," Kris says.

"She did. But I brought a peace offering."

Cale holds up four bottles of Coke.

"Are those even any good?"

Cale shrugs. "They came out of storage, and the ones we tasted in March seemed okay."

"How did you manage to requisite those?" Ryland asks. "There aren't that many and—"

"I called in a lot of favors."

"Come in. Sit."

Cale sits down and hands out the bottles. "We should get a band together."

"Well Ryland and I could do joint percussion, and maybe we could get Allison to play rhythm guitar," Drew volunteers. "And maybe we could con Tommy into playing bass?"

Kris looks at the Coke in his hand. "I haven't played since we buried Andrew. But maybe we should."

There's more there, but none of them push it.

Kris opens his bottle first. "To Torres, who's probably King of Mexico and living the high life."

"And Lizzie, who is probably being worshipped like a blonde goddess," Ryland adds.

"And Andrew, who has all the babes in heaven he wants," Cale lifts his bottle in the air.

They solemnly touch bottles and drink.

"This tastes like shit, Cale," Kris sputters. "How in the hell did we drink so much?"

"No fucking clue," Cale grins, and takes another drink.

They all laugh, but continue to drink. Drew looks around the room, and realizes just how lucky they all are, even if for just a moment.

*
May 24, 2 NT

Kris doesn't fit.

This is a strange feeling, because he's always been the laid back one. So he's made himself fit, no matter the situation. He's always been so comfortable with himself, that everywhere is his home.

It hasn't been that long since he left the road. That's what Kris tells himself, because he can't contemplate not fitting here. But it's hard for him to imagine ever doing so. He has his reasons.

"Hey," Adam says. "Instead of sitting on the porch, why don't you come to the training center with me? Hannah's in preschool so don't even try to use her."

Kris shakes his head. "Sad that you know me so well."

Adam looks at him for a second. "Well?"

"All right."

They walk down the street. It's weird, because it's Adam saying hello to everyone instead of Kris. Kris merely smiles and walks. He knows he's the one who has distanced himself. It started a long time ago, but every time he thinks he's ready to step forward, the old reasons for staying away pop up.

"If I asked you what was wrong, would you tell me?"

"I'm just settling in," Kris says.

He's lying, but since Colorado, Kris knows that he's become too good at it.

"All right. Welcome to the home base of our ragtag little army."

Kris looks at the building. "Impressive."

"Hey, Adam," Henry, the main instructor, says. "Kris. Nice to finally meet you! Do you have a weapon of choice?"

Kris blinks. "Mace."

"Hand-to-hand kind of guy. I can see why, with your build. They have you as an archer too?"

Kris nods. "Everyone learns that though."

"Are you here to train, or just to watch?"

"Watch for now. Maybe train later."

"Sounds fair. You can watch Adam beat on Peter."

"That's not true," Adam says. "Peter's a fair hand."

"That's why he gets to fight you."

Adam laughs. "They gave me this big ass sword, and expected me to fall over it, Kris. It weighs less than the stupid bars I had for my second tour. Remember those?"

"Yeah. Those were heavy," Kris says. "No wonder you took to the sword."

"Exactly. Finally someone understands."

Kris smiles at him. "Well, someone has to."

Adam laughs and heads to a wide space where a younger man waits. "Peter, this is Kris, Kris this is Peter. He was a medieval history major at the university."

Kris and Peter shake hands. Kris steps back as Peter hands Adam a long length of wood. Kris imagines it's weighted so it acts just like the sword.

It's like a dance, of sorts, so Kris can see why Adam has taken to it. He is fluid, fast, and deadly. Kris almost gets up and leaves. He doesn't want to watch anymore, because it makes him think of every reason why he doesn't belong anymore. He knows he should talk about it. He isn't ready yet.

He isn't sure he ever will be.

*
June 1, NT
Hospital

Andrew Bradley Allen-Iraheta is smaller than his name would imply. Grace sees Allison's nose and Kris's scrunchy face. And by the looks everyone gives him, he will have everyone at the Allen farm wrapped around his little finger in no time.

"How are you doing?" Grace asks Allison.
"I'm okay."

"You look worried. And not new mom worried."

Allison smiles. "You ever get the feeling that you want to help someone, but don't know how?"

Grace nods. "I'm a nurse; I live constantly with that feeling now."

"What do you do?"

"I let it play out. I do what I have to do, and hope that everything turns out okay."

"I don't like that answer."

Grace laughs. "Unfortunately, sometimes we have to let people act stupid."

Allison sighs. "Well, I suppose then, I should prepare."

"Do I want to know?"

Allison shakes her head. "No. No you don't."

*
July 5, 2NT
Allen farm, Arkansas

Tommy doesn't know what to expect when the messenger pulls him over. He does recognize the look of slight terror, so he pats the girl on the back.

"It's okay. I'll take it to Mrs. Allen. She's a friend of a friend."

He's done pretty okay here. He's been working with the bow makers. He figures all his work with guitars; it's just another type of string. He still hangs out with Adam and Danielle, and Cale asked maybe if he'd like to do the band thing again. It's nice to have other friends too.

When Mrs. Allen (Tommy still can't call her Kim. He may know her, but his own mother had ingrained it too much in him) reads the letter, he knows why the messenger was so nervous.

"Do me a favor, Tommy. Can you go to the school and make sure Adam hurries down here? I know his class is done for today."

Tommy nods and starts running down the street.

*

Allison looks at the note again. I promise to write more later, when I've figured a few more things out. It took a lot for me to decide even this much, but I also knew I couldn't stay any longer. I'm not leaving forever; after all, I have a responsibility to my children. I just need to figure out how I fit in here. Allison-you probably will figure out. Remember everything we talked about in Colorado? It didn't go away. So for now I'm going to be out here. Until I can sort things out. I'm so sorry.

Everyone looks at her.

"I can't. I know I should say, but maybe he does need some time away from everything."

She looks around the room.

"So what do we do about it? Do one of us go talk to him then?"

Allison turns to Cale. "I don't know."

"I'll go," Adam says.

"Why you?" Cale asks.

"Because I spoke first."

"Oh."

"Actually," Allison says, "I think maybe Adam is the right person to go. I mean, who better? You will probably be the most honest, and I'm pretty sure you could beat him in a fight."

"Thanks, I think?" Adam says.

Allison grins at him. "Well, you know me."

"Guess I better start packing."

Allison looks around the room and wonders if anyone has guessed. And if Kris would come back at all.

*
July 12, NT
Tahlequah, Oklahoma

"He's out riding," Laura says. "Not too long ago. What a nice boy."

"A nice boy who ran away," Adam says. "Which direction? I might get more out of him if I surprise him."

"North. Towards the lake. Said he was going to camp out for a few days."

"Do me a favor, Laura, hold onto this for me?"

Adam hands her the guitar he took out of Kris's room.

"Will do. You planning on bringing him back?"

"Yes."

"He's going to need serious convincing."

"I know."

"Go get him."

Adam nods. He has never pegged Kris as one for running. So this better be good.

*
July 14, 2 (NT)
Oohlogeh Lake, Oklahoma

According to the map, the nearby body of water is Oohlogeh Lake.

Adam finds Kris resting his horse near the shore.

"What the fuck do you think you are doing?"

Kris turns and looks at him. "Resting my horse."

"No fucking duh. I meant by leaving."

"I had my reasons."

"Why don't you list them?"

"Maybe I don't want to."

Adam pulls off his sword belt and throws it to the ground.

"I told your mother I was bringing you back if I had to tie you up."

"I'll just leave again."

"And I'll just follow again. Whatever it was Kris, you could have said something."

No," Kris says, "I couldn't."

"Fuck. You and your damn honorable 'woe is me' suffering. Guess what? You aren't the only person who has done things that make them hate themselves. So come home and just move on okay?"

"Maybe it isn't about that! Maybe I don't feel like it's my home anymore, okay? Maybe here, at least, I'm doing some sort of good!"

Kris is yelling back. At least it's a different emotion that the silent suffering he's projected otherwise.

"Well maybe you're a dumbass."

"Fuck you."

Kris goes to get on his horse. Adam blocks him.

"I don't want to fight you Adam."

"Well you're going to have to."

"Fine."

Kris moves to push Adam out of his way. Adam grabs his arms and maneuvers him towards the trees. Kris counters by kneeing Adam in the stomach. Adam swallows the pain and catches Kris from behind, knocking him to the ground. They scramble for purchase. Adam is genuinely surprised at how strong Kris has gotten. But then Kris slips a little and Adam pins him.

"Come home."

Kris's breathing is short and fast. "No."

"Please."

"I can't," Kris whispers and closes his eyes. "I'm sorry."

Adam bows his head without letting go. Kris is still for a moment.

"I'm also sorry for cheating."

Adam pops his head back up, and then Kris is kissing him. It's more than a surprise, so Adam lets go. Kris flips Adam over and holds a knife to his throat.

"Just let me go."

Adam nods once. "I'm going to stay as long as it takes."

Kris begins to back away. "Adam, I—"

A scream pierces through the trees. Then another. It's not too nearby, but it's unmistakable.

"Eaters," Adam says.

Kris turns to his horse and pauses.

Come on. I know you aren't a coward.

"Well are we going to see if we can help or not?"

Adam grins. "Let's go."

*

Kris, Adam and five others limp onto Laura's property late that night.

"You look terrible," Laura says. "Eaters I suppose."

"Small group of about twenty," Adam says.

"Two of you took on twenty Eaters? And came out with five live people? That they hadn't even snacked on yet?"

"I have anger management issues," Kris says.

Adam doesn't know why, but he sits on the ground and begins to laugh. Kris joins him.

"That's it, go clean up and go to bed. You promise not to run away until a doctor has looked at you?"

Kris nods.

"Then go on."

Adam looks at Kris. "One night. If I can't convince you to stay, then you are free to go."

"Deal."

"We're also going to talk about kissing people in a fight. Not kosher."

"You're just jealous I thought of it first."

"Maybe."

Kris laughs and heads over to one of the people giving aid. Adam watches for a moment before heading that way himself.

*
July 15 2 (NT)
Tahlequah, Oklahoma

"And then these two come sweeping down, covered in blood and sweeping in like maniacs. It's probably the most exciting and scary thing I've ever seen."

Kris watches as Charlotte recalls the battle. The slaughter. Everyone is gathered at Laura's, a small celebration for surviving another day.

Adam looks at him. "All right, besides your children, and your mother and brother, obviously. I thought I'd bring something to show you why you should come home. Laura, remember what I gave you yesterday?"

Laura nods and heads out of the room. She comes back with a guitar case.

"Adam."

"Just listen. Music got you through those years when you thought college was hell. Maybe it will help again. You can't know if you don't try."

Kris takes the case and opens it up.

"Oh."

It's the Hummingbird. It's one guitar he hasn't been able to give away, to anyone who asked. He picks it up and holds it. It still fits the way he remembers. He strums it a bit.

"Cale's kept it in tune. I asked."

Kris nods. The room is quiet. He strums a few chords, wincing when one doesn't play true. But now that he has it in his hands, he can't stop. Before he knows it, he's singing "Let It Be", the song tearing out of him. When he stops, he barely registers the applause.

"Maybe something a little more upbeat?" Adam asks.

Kris looks at him. "Okay."

*

"There he goes; my baby walks so slow—"

Adam laughs "Fine, fine. Stop. Point made."

Kris smiles. "Okay. I admit I should have played before now."

"Still not convinced?"

"Let's take a walk."

"Okay."

There's a bonfire outside. People are dancing, so their conversation is private.

"Did Cale ever tell you about the stupid retreat confessionals we used to do?"

"Yeah."

Kris nods and looks at the fire. "Katy and I were in counseling for awhile."

"I didn't know that."

Kris looks at him. Adam realizes this is a longer story and shuts up.

"Anyway. I fell in love with someone else. Not out of love with Katy, but in love with someone else. Just my luck. Anyway, we worked it out. But then this happened. And I came home."

"I'm not sure I—"

"See the thing is, by the time I reached Arkansas, you all had made your home there. I could never ask anyone to leave."

Adam thinks he knows where this is going. But he can't be sure.

"The longer I stayed, the worse it got. Feelings I had buried and put away came roaring back. And I knew it had to be me that left."

"Kris—"

Kris looks at him. "It was you. I guess you didn't know, by the look on your face. So no matter what you say, I don't think I can go home again."

"Kris, I—"

"I'm in love with you. Have been for a very long time."

Adam bites his lip. "Kris, I don't feel the same way."

"I know. That's why I have to leave. I need time to sort myself out, okay?"

Adam watches him walk away, and tries to figure out how to convince him.

*
July 16, NT
Jeffries' Farm, Oklahoma

"I thought you said one night," Kris says as he watches Adam approach.

"I lied," Adam says. "I also didn't sleep."

"Why?"

Kris doesn't want to talk. He wants to keep avoiding the issue, until it goes away. But maybe if he talks about it, he can get past it. He wants to go home, but he doesn't want to ruin everything.

"Lots of reasons," Adam says. "I have two more arguments and a question for you, and then I'm done."

"Okay."

Adam sits on the porch. "Allison says that when you were in Colorado, you did this school thing. About being a soldier. That you were actually pretty good at it."

"So?"

"Well, I figure that our nearest problem is the Eaters in Oklahoma, but after that, it's Colorado."

"You think I'm the most qualified person to lead an army?"

Adam shrugs. "I don't know. But you said you couldn't figure out where you belonged, and even if all you did was pass on what you knew, you'd be doing all of us a favor."

Kris sighs. "You ever notice something about the Eaters?"

"No, what?"

"They're all young. At least the early groups were. Teenagers so tied into their technology that when it went away they snapped. Began to eat other people. Maybe were even led to eat other people. Do you know how many teenagers Colorado lost?"

"No."

"None. I don't like the guy, but I can't help but admire what Johnson did. He saved a lot of lives."

"What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

Kris looks at Adam. "Nothing. Except that everything used to be so easy, and now there's this big gray area, where I killed people for him, and now I'm going to fight him? There are a lot of people there that I like. And that's hard for me to deal with. I killed people, I recruited people for something I didn't believe in. I led them to believe that coming with me was the greatest thing ever, when in fact, I was probably doing them a disservice."

"You think letting them die would have been worse?"

"I don't know. But so many things happened that weren't what I should have done, and I can't get my brain wrapped around it. I had sex with Allison for God's sake."

"She said she liquored you up."

"She's also very kind to me. I think I'm okay with it for awhile, and then it folds into everything else, and I just…"

"Oh."

"Yeah. I guess I'm just a great big mass of guilt and neurosis right now."

"Neurosis?" Adam says. "Using big boy words now? You have changed. I think maybe, you should just give yourself a break. I don't know. But I've always found that the nice Christian boys have the biggest hang-ups about sex."

"Adam."

"Sorry. I don't know what to tell you right now. I don't. But I have something I want to show you. I found this."

Kris watches as Adam pulls something out of his pocket. It's a photograph, weathered and folded.

"Where did you get this?"

It's a picture from tour, the ten of them smiling from what seems forever ago.

"Your house."

"I—"

"It was stupid, . I thought maybe if I could get the picture to Arkansas, everything would be okay. But it's not. People died. More people are going to die. That's the new world, and I have to live in it."

"That's your second argument? Life sucks?"

Adam laughs. "Maybe."

Kris shakes his head. "All right, so what did you want to ask?"

Adam sighs. "I couldn't sleep, because my mind kept asking all these questions. When? How did I miss it? How did you hide it? Isn't he straight?"

Kris can't help but laugh. "Well, if it's any comfort, that's what I thought, too. But I suppose I'm a bit more fluid on the Kinsey scale than I thought. You, uh, obviously didn't look through my entire house."

"Oh ?"

"."

"I always did like Katy."

Kris shakes his head and continues. "When and how? I can't say. I suppose, over time, my mind opened up to possibilities I hadn't considered. By the time I figured it out, tour was over and I was already working on saving my marriage."

"I just—"

"I almost didn't call you."

"What?"

Kris looks down again. "When we made the first plan to fly out of LA. I almost didn't call you."

"Oh."

Kris looks at Adam and shrugs.

"I'm glad I did. But I think about it a lot. I need time, okay?"

Kris gets up to leave. He'd never bargained on ever actually telling Adam. He'd thought after all this time that the feelings would have died. But the more time he spent in Arkansas, the more he realized how hard it was to fall out of love with someone. And while he thinks he might be able to go home, he just doesn't know yet.

He's stopped by a hand on his wrist. He turns to face Adam.

"I could though."

Kris blinks.

"What?"

"I could love you. I mean, you haven't even asked me out on a date or anything."

"Adam—"

"No. You expect me to hear all of this and just walk away? Not a chance in hell. You can't leave without giving me a chance okay? I mean, you were one of the best parts of my life, and I'm not going to give that up without at least a date."

"And what happens if it doesn't work?"

"What happens if it does?"

Kris says nothing.

"I'll be inside. Maybe we can sing "Crazy" for old time's sake. Or something. I am wondering now if that kiss earlier was any indication of things to come. Color me interested. I might walk down the road tomorrow, trip and split my head open, okay? There are no guarantees in anything anymore, Kris. That's my second argument."

Adam walks inside without looking. Kris stands for a long time. He's tired of running. He's tired of doing things for other people's sake.

And damn if he isn't interested as well.

He looks to the farm, to his horse. Then he looks back at the door. Then he makes his move.

*

Epilogue

"Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts."
William Shakespeare

November, 2 (NT)
Allen Farm, Arkansas

Dinner has long been eaten, and all the guests have left. Allison has just lain Andrew down for a nap. Cale waits at the door.

"What now?"

"You should come see this."

He takes her hand and leads her down the hall. It isn't the same as before. It's a little calmer. But just as good.

Ryland and Drew are figuring out how to implement Kris's plans for a big campaign against the Eaters. He's been working with the army, using what he remembers from Colorado to help his home army. It's more complicated and dangerous than Allison would like to think about right now.

Cale leads her to the rec room, where most of the kids have gathered. Kim is there too, laughing and dancing with Hannah and Bowie. Kris plays the guitar, singing some nonsense song about coconuts and elephants.

Adam is next to him singing along. Allison watches awhile before looking out the window.

"I hate to break this up, but it's bedtime kiddos."

The kids protest, but Kim gathers them up. They all give Kris and Adam a hug (and sometimes a kiss) before leaving the room. Allison watches them go up the stairs. Kim follows to make sure they make it in. Allison goes back to say something but stops in the doorway.

Kris and Adam have their heads bent together. Adam is writing something down. His other hand is laced through Kris's.

"Alli I—" Cale says.

"Shhh," she interrupts.

Adam says something, and Kris laughs. He looks happier than he has in a long time. Allison bites her lip and backs away.

She looks up at Cale. "You think everything's going to be okay now?"

"Maybe. I don't know."

*

From the diary of Allison Iraheta

I can't tell you what's in your future. All I know is that right now, I have you, and your three Dads, and that's all I need. In a few weeks, Kris is overseeing the final stages of the campaign against the Eaters. It's been a bloodbath from what I've heard. I'm not sure I want to know. After that, I suppose that we'll come against Colorado at some point. I haven't heard of any revolution, so either it happened and didn't work, or they are too scared to try.

I can't tell you what's in your future. I can't tell you what the world will look like. But I do know that we have light. It's not the same as before, and it never will be. But it's there, at the beginning of the day, in the night sky still. I look at it and marvel at how everything has changed.

We have hope.

We have love.

I suppose that isn't too bad.

(if you are interested and wish to read the scene that started this whole fic you can read it HERE )