The third time it happens, it’s a slender thirteen-year-old who looks like she took blunt scissors to her hair. She stumbles to a stop in front of them (a safe distance, I’m not leaping, I’m not hunting). Her eyes are wide. Awe. Recognition. Hope.
It makes Michael’s stomach roll. They should have expected to be recognized. Austin had been decimated. An international airport and a college, they were fucked from day one. Every day there were fewer people, more walking bags of blood and virus. But, hey, the four of them were walking proof that survivors could come from where-the-fuck-ever. Just apparently not Westwood High.
The girl’s shoulder is bleeding sluggishly. There’s been a chunk ripped out of her, and she doesn’t seem to notice. Gavin gags. Turns away. It’s Meg who crouches down to eye-level (oh god, she hasn’t even had her growth spurt, oh god).
“What’s your name, honey?”
The girl looks up. Her pupils are dilated. It could just be the hot Texas sun.
“Emily. Emily…” She trails off, and they share a look. Lindsay’s hand lands on the butt of her stolen gun.
(This is what the virus does. It takes. Takes, and takes, your third grade teacher and your middle name and your friends and your family and your self and your body until all you are is one repeating, overwriting command. FEED.)
“Emily,” she repeats, a skipping record, a brain sticking on repeat, but her eyes are still so wide and they’re screaming help me, with all the desperation of a child who’s seeing heroes right in front of her and believes in her bones that there’s something they can do.
“Why don’t you close your eyes, Emily.”
She looks like she wants to cry. Wants to cry, but can’t, and there’s no doubt now her eyes are going black. Meg keeps up a soothing stream of platitudes as Lindsay steadies her aim. Maybe the girl’s—the zombie’s—not too far gone to understand it.
Part of him wants to wait. For fuck’s sake, she’s just a kid, maybe they’re wrong, maybe she’ll be lucky, and maybe they’ll wake up tomorrow and the world will be all sunshine and rainbows and this’ll all have been some fucked up nightmare.
But he watches their flank, waiting for any zombies drawn towards them by the sharp retort of bullet into brain, one hand on Gavin’s shoulder.
(The girl started to leap. He doesn’t know whether it was towards them or away, and that’ll keep him up at night for a long time. Once there’s time for nightmares again. Right now, all any of them can do is doze, snapping awake at the slightest hint of noise.)
Gavin fights down a retch beside him, silent after weeks of practice. His gun doesn’t waver. But the road in front of them stays quiet, still, and after a few moments Michael turns to the girls behind them, eyes frantic as he searches for the bits of blood or brain that mean that the shot hand been too close.
There is red on the corner of Meg’s cheek.
There is red on the corner of Meg’s cheek, and Michael’s heart is in his throat as he sees Lindsay turn to perform the same check and spot it, and Gavin is peacefully oblivious, and as they watch Meg lifts an unthinking hand to wipe it away--
Their shouts overlap, desperately loud and ringing of the walls of the underpass above them. Gavin turns towards them with a muffled squawk, but Meg, thank fucking God drops her hand with a jolt.
“What!?” She demands, irritation and nervousness warring in her voice. It’s Gavin who answers, unusually subdued.
“You’ve got—” He gestures to his own face, unable to form the words. “Meg, that, that is yours, yeah?”
There’s hope in his voice but so little in his eyes. Michael can feel Lindsay starting to shake beside him. He grabs her hand with a confidence he doesn’t feel.
Meg blanches, shakes her head and his heart falls. No, no Jesus fuck no, this can’t be happening.
Michael reaches for Gavin with his other hand, pulls him and Lindsay insistently back a few steps. Away from their girlfriend. Away from the infected.
There was still a chance, there was, but no way in hell could he lose all three of them.