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Quinn

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A riot was starting, and Quinn swore it wasn't their fault.

Somebody's shoulder crashed through the crowd, and it ended up knocking both Chris and Quinn forward with a grunt. Chris fell to his knees. Someone's fist closed around Quinn's collar and yanked. It cut off Quinn's air, made them swing around and yelp. Quinn fell again, felt gravel against their cheek, digging into skin. Somewhere in the chaos, Chris found his feet. His hands were clamped over his mouth. Quinn collected them-self, too, noticing the dropped cam-recorder and grabbing it back.

Chris took it. “Thanks!”

“Yeah!” Dirt got into Quinn's mouth. It was gritty. Made them gag. They felt their glasses and were amazed that the pair were still there and unbroken. Everybody was so loud. Quinn swallowed. “I think we should go home now.”


 

Four days before, the two sixteen-year-olds were at Chris' house.

“No,” Quinn said, “here...” They pointed with a pencil. “You gotta do what's in the brackets first. See? Oh, wait... at least, I think so?”

Dammit,” Chris said. “We should know this. It’s tenth grade stuff. Plus, you’re Asian. You’re meant to be smart.”

Quinn grimaced and used the pencil to push their spectacles up their nose. The glasses were thick and black and square.

Resigning himself, Chris scowled over the graph paper. He and Quinn had been slaving over algebra homework for forty-five minutes now. Mrs. Bakers wouldn't let them both get away with outstanding work again this week. What kid is supposed to do two Math classes a week anyway?! was the question that seemed like it would plague both eleventh graders until death. Quinn could tell that Chris was tense and annoyed. He usually was anyway, but, this time it was different...

His dad was on the phone.

“Hard part comes now,” Chris' mother, Eliza, said into the receiver, walking back and forth from the porch to the kitchen, folding towels and underwear as she went. “You gonna be okay for the weekend?” Travis said something back that made Eliza roll her eyes. “Can you still take Christopher?”

Quinn pressed their forehead to the table top and groaned when b over 2a made their brain want to vomit inside itself. Chris looked up from the notes, turned to his mom, gritted his teeth, and moaned, “I don't wanna go!” at her.

Chris,” she complained. “It's Dad's weekend – he has a say.”

“I get a say in this and I don't wanna go!” he growled back. Quinn watched them both over the textbook, glancing between mother and son while nibbling on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich Eliza made—today Quinn's mom, Hye, dropped Quinn to Chris' because she needed to go into work early and help out (Hye and Eliza worked together as nurses), whereas usually Quinn took the bus and saved a seat for Chris. They’d share earphones or cram homework or rate the girls that got on. Today, due to the ride from Hye, everything was ahead of schedule, which was lucky since neither had even started their homework.

“Well,” Eliza said to her boy, “maybe I don't want you here, Mr. Unpleasant...” Quinn knew that would've stung, and judging by the crease in Chris' brow, it did. “Maybe,” Eliza went on, “I have plans.”

The two kept arguing. Quinn tried to focus on the jumble of letters and numbers and brackets. Quinn kind of hated letters and numbers and brackets. In fact, Quinn kind of hated anything to do with any one of them. The subject Quinn was most talented in was art; the whole cover of their textbook was littered with tiny doodles, ranging from dragons, crazy landscapes, colourful plants, weird swirls and cracks and shapes. There were also a few genitalia sketched here and there, which always made Chris grimace or smirk, depending on his mood. Right now though, Chris glared at the tiny doodled phallus (it had wings instead of a scrotum because Quinn liked to be symbolic).

“I'm not gonna go to some hospital for the weekend.”

“Chris...” Eliza’s ex-husband, Travis, talked over her through the phone, and she sighed, walked over, hips swaying Elizaly, as she handed the phone over. “Talk to your father.”

Quinn wondered if it was a good idea to leave right about now; just go wait at the stop for Chris to be done here. But Quinn chose against it when Eliza tossed an apple. Quinn caught it. It was green. The dark, deep kind of green. Quinn rubbed it on their pant leg, then bit into it. Chris was biting his mouth.

“I don't wanna come,” he said, and his father said something back, and Chris' leg shook under the table violently. Quinn kicked him. Chris stopped. “Fine,” he said—Quinn wasn't sure who to until, “Dad. Force me.” Chris could sometimes be a little melodramatic. “Let's bond – what do you have planned for the weekend?”

“I'm gonna go,” Quinn mouthed; the apple wasn't enough to stay after all, even if it was a type of green that made Quinn's mind spin. They slid their baseball cap on backwards and made for the front door. “Chris. I'll meet you at the stop, okay?”

Chris frowned, but nodded and kept talking to his father: “Yeah well that really doesn't help.”

Quinn waved goodbye to Chris' mom and left the apartment. Even from the end of the hallway, running their fingers along the wall, Quinn could hear Chris yelling. “Nick's not my friend and he's not my brother.” Nick was Chris' dad's girlfriend—Madison's, son... or something. “He wouldn't have to be there for me – not like that.” Like that, meant, found high on drugs lying on the side of the road after getting hit by a car, furthermore, after being missing for days. Chris’ family, especially on his Dad’s side of it, was a little messy right now. Quinn's own family, the Chŏns, which consisted of just their mom and pet gecko, Newt (short for Isaac Newton not the species), was barely tolerable, especially later with how much Hye had to work. Just last week, Quinn walked into the room and asked for a new sketchbook and Hye threw a box of herbal tea at them.


 School sucked all week. Quinn was ready for the weekend on Friday, and as the last bell rang, went and waited at the bus bay like usual. Chris strolled along soon after, stuffing things into his backpack. He was studying at Quinn's that evening for the biology test on Monday, which both teens knew meant playing video games and listening to music all weekend, unless, of course, Travis had finally convinced Chris to spend the weekend uptown.

Chris leaned against the wall opposite, frowning. Quinn knew not to take the frown personal. To take Chris' frowns personally would be like telling yourself it wasn't normal for the sky to be blue. Quinn shuffled aside to make room. Chris pushed away from the wall and took a seat with them, shoulder-to-shoulder. He was still frowning.

“Going?” Quinn asked, cleaned their glasses’ lens. “To your pop's?”

Chris grunted no. Quinn pushed the glasses up their nose. They were bored. Quinn brushed a stray lock of hair behind their ear. Quinn had hair a few inches shorter than Chris', and a million shades blacker. They both wore their hair swept back, messy, curled around their ear lobes, or sometimes Quinn had it in a side parting.

“Hey,” Quinn whispered, “look...”

“If it's another dick pic, I don't wanna know –like– at all.”

No!” they hissed. “That was Snapchat, so you know I didn’t know it was coming.” Quinn grimaced. “Idiot clicked My story instead of Myra. The whole school must’ve seen it.”

Chris laughed dryly. “Poor kid.”

“Look at this.”

Hesitantly, Chris did, cupping his hand over the phone to block the sun. It was a news feed, playing from a helicopter’s point of view. The camera focused on a figure in the middle of some road accident. He ambled and shambled and bled from his mouth and stomach, and it took over ten police officers to gun him down. Chris grimaced.

“Gnarly, huh?” Quinn said. “There have been stuff like this caught all over the place last few days.”

“Just a hoax.”

Quinn scoffed. “I saw a dude eat a pigeon yesterday, right by the park across from my house. Mom says it’s some designer drug going around.”

“And who the hell says gnarly?” Chris asked.

The bus squeaked into park inside the bay. The two knew to wait for the other students to get on before they themselves boarded. Finally, they paid fairs and nodding thanks to the driver.

Chris was ranting.

“You’re so gullible, Quinn. You gotta grow up. Believing dumb rumours is why Jackson Vons still gives us Chinese burns in the lunch hall. You saying ‘gnarly’ is why we still get—”

A group of seniors decided it was funny to jut a knee under Chris’ foot. He almost tripped, but caught himself. Quinn was able to avoid the foot but one guy, Jeff Singer, still snatched the back of their collar and yanked. Quinn felt Jeff’s chest dug into their back. He pushed a hand through their hair and twisted hard. Quinn flinched and growled and tried to get away, but Jeff shoved a kneecap into the small of their back and sent them reeling to their hands and knees. The driver yelled. Quinn got up quickly and took a seat next to Chris a few rows back, both shaking their heads angrily.

Jeff snickered and called them faggot. Quinn put a middle finger up when he wasn't looking and Chris yanked the hand down. He gave them a look. Quinn rubbed their head.

This is why we still get messed with,” Chris complained.

“What?” Quinn asked defensively. “’Cause of the word gnarly or because I’m a ‘faggot’?” They used air quotes.

“Both,” Chris answered, and smiled so his friend knew he was joking. Quinn shoved his arm and didn't smile because even though it was a joke it wasn't a very funny one. Chris waited a few minutes for Quinn's bubble of anger to deflate. When it did, he handed them an earphone.

“Thanks.”

“They’re assholes,” Chris told them as Moby began to play.

“They’re mustard yellow,” Quinn told the window. “The worst colour.”

“And what are we?” Chris asked.

Quinn regarded this, thinking they were pale blue and red and a little bit of green, and Chris was brown and pink and purple, sometimes even magenta. Hell, sometimes Quinn thought Chris had a whole rainbow inside of him.

Chris’ phone lit up.

Calling...
Travis.

Chris rejected it and put in an earphone.

‘I'm gonna ask you to look away
I love my hands, but it hurts to pray
Life I have isn't what I've seen
The sky is not blue and the field's not green

Wait for me...’


Ten or so blocks from Quinn's place, traffic was bad. Chris suggested just getting off and walking but Quinn couldn't be bothered. They didn’t mind the bus, now that Jeff and his sardine squad were gone. At some point, Chris’ music was drowned out by a siren squeezing through the traffic. Chris spun around to watch it and Quinn caught his earphone when it fell, plugging it in their own ear. The Doppler effect was making their brain wobble red and blue and white, so they turned up the music to ignore it. Quinn was good at ignoring things. Chris was stood up now. The ear phone popped out of Quinn's ear all together. Quinn didn't try to grab it back.

“Cops shot some homeless dude!” Somebody burst onto the bus, and Quinn couldn't ignore it this time. “Shot him like twenty times!” People were getting up now, scrambling off the bus. Of course, Chris and Quinn saw no other option, that looked anywhere near as exciting, than to follow everybody.

The crowd wound through the LA downtown streets, filing towards the sirens. Quinn covered their ears. Eyes went up at the sound of a helicopter overhead. There was an ambulance, and a paramedic was tending to an officer's wound. Quinn only saw the bloody gouge on his arm before Chris urged them to keep moving. They both got another three blocks. Ahead of them were a collection of emergency vehicles: 'to protect and to serve'.

“You!” somebody yelled out. “This is wrong!”

Quinn froze when they saw the worn pair of sneakers and the limp body they belonged to. A sheet covered the body. There was blood.

“Holy–”

“Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!”

“Sir, this is none of your business,” an officer yelled. He looked Korean, like Quinn.

“This is our business,” another guy yelled. Somebody yelled from behind, too. “This is all our business!”

“Hey,” Quinn said. Chris has his cam-recorder raised high in the air overlooking the scene. “What're you doing?!”

“Hush,” Chris said, “come on,” and pushed through the crowd. Quinn wanted to argue, but swallowed and followed in the narrow wake.

“That man was unarmed,” somebody yelled. “LAPD's out o' control!”

Quinn saw a middle finger, and the cop's unamused glare right in front of it. “Whoa,” the teen said, and a swell of nervous energy prickled at their chest. They couldn't help but feel a little impressed. Quinn saw Chris move forward again and followed him.

“We're gonna need to clear this area now,” the cop ordered.

“We ain't clearin' nothin'!”

The cam-recorder was right in front of Chris' face now. Quinn saw the screen as it peered over a heavy shoulder, and both teens glanced anxiously between the argument.

“This is a crime scene.”

“Yeah, we're all behind the tape!”

“I'll tell you people again...”

“Do it, 'cause we people ain't movin'!”

“That's right!”

“Hey!” The cop pointed at the kids. Quinn shriveled up inside. “Put the camera down! Now!”

Quinn started to mutter for Chris to listen to the cop, but turned to another guy when he spoke up. He was tall and intimidating. His voice was low and burly. “Nah, nah, homey. Keep that camera up.” Then he started talking about freedom of speech, even though both Quinn and Chris had already lost every morsel of their own speech. Quinn was tugging on Chris' sleeve. Chris ignored them. More people started shouting. The cop was calling for backup into his walkie talkie. Everything was getting too messy so Quinn grabbed Chris' sleeve and yanked.

“What're you doing, Quinn?!”

“We should go.”

“Fight for what you believe in!”

“What're you talking about, Chris?” Quinn's eyes got big when they were scared. “This isn't a game. A guy's dead over there.”

Exactly!” Chris pulled away, kept chanting: “HELL NO! WE WON'T GO!”

Quinn grimaced, looked around, and even they could see that something was wrong here. The cop was being so nonchalant about it. It was probably him that did it. And that other guy was right, the homeless dude was unarmed... so, Quinn started chanting, too. Mob mentality might have been the word that would describe the switch that had just been flipped in Quinn's brain. That and just being an impressionable teenager. Chris grinned in approval.

“HELL NO! WE WON'T GO!
HELL NO! WE WON'T GO!
HELL NO! WE WON'T GO!”

It took Quinn a moment to realise that Chris had stopped. “Mom?” He was crouched next to Quinn, ducked under the noise, shouting into his phone. “Mom!”

Quinn broke away to him.

“Dad,” Chris yelled over the shouting. “Why do you have Mom's phone?” Quinn's heart was racing. “There's a protest. I'm at a protest! There was – The cops. They shot some homeless guy, Dad! This poor guy. He wasn't doing anything.”

Well, we don't know that for sure.
HELL NO. WE WON'T GO.

“The people,” Chris shouted, “we're taking action! What? Y-yeah, Quinn's here, too. This is important, Dad! We're part of it! Look, I gotta go.”

He hung up. Quinn felt like laughing, asking, “Dramatic, much?” but suddenly something crashed into the back of them. “Holy crap!” Quinn wasn't sure who had pulled them up, or who had fallen against them, just that things were really getting out of hand. They grabbed Chris’ cam-recorder and handed it back.

“Thanks!”

“Yeah. I think we should go home now.”

“What?” Chris barked. “Are you kidding me?!”

“This is crazy!”

“I know!” Chris yelled. “It's freaking awesome!”

It was Quinn's phone that rang next. They barely heard it in time to answer.

“Quinn!” their mother barked. “What is going on?”

“Erm. Hey, Mom.”

“Why did Eliza just call me to say you were at a protest?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. About that.”

“Where are you?”

“In town.”

“What is wrong with you, Quinn? Haven't you heard about the–”

“Mom, I'm fine. Chris' fine, too.”

“I'm watching the news... There's – I'm coming to get you.”

“No, Mom, we're fine. We'll be home soon.”

“It's not safe, honey. There's – shit.”

Quinn grimaced. Their mom never swore. “I'm okay. Really. You don't have to freak out about it.”

Hye started to say something but an arm came up and crashed into Quinn's hand, and the phone flung into the crowd.

“My cell!”

“Oh...” Chris winced. Quinn spotted it. It was shattered and smashed against the asphalt. They pushed forward and grabbed it. “HELL NO! WE WON'T GO!”

Quinn wasn't sure how many minutes had passed, just that soon their hands were clamped over their ears, at a few occasions reaching out and grabbing hold of the hem of Chris' polo as not to lose hi. More people were there. The chanting had turned to shouting. People were shoving and throwing things like bricks and food and bottles.

Quinn froze when they saw a tall, tanned figure coming forward.

“Uh-oh.”

Chris frowned.

Quinn pointed. “Your dad.”

Chris was pulled around before he could properly register their words. He saw his father, Travis Manawa, Eliza just behind. When Quinn saw their own mother there, right behind them; short and stout and furious, they leapt forward and wrapped their arms around her.

“Mom!”

Hye Chŏn was yelling and gasping all at once. Eliza put a hand on her son's arm, yelling and gasping, too.

“How'd you find us?”

“Travis drove by when I was leaving,” Hye said, and her eyes were watering. “Eliza knew where you were.”

“What're you kids doing here?!” Eliza ordered.

“They shot him,” Chris answered.

“I know,” Travis tried. Quinn didn't like how afraid he sounded. The few times they’d met Travis, he’d never sounded afraid. Uptight, annoyed and stern, sure. But afraid? Never. Eliza crouched next to the tape and barricade and saw the dead homeless guy as a gust blew the street back, revealing the blown-out hole through his eyeball. Quinn shivered. Hye cursed again. Travis and Chris were still arguing.

Men in big yellow contamination suits started climbing out of another vehicle, and the adults shunned Quinn and Chris away from the riot.

“Christopher, now!” Eliza ordered, and grabbed his sleeve.

“C'mon,” Travis urged. The five of them turned down the street to the left, stopping when they all saw the police in riot gear marching towards them. Chris didn't stop arguing, not until the first gunshots went off.

Then all of them were running.

The small group travelled two blocks, down some steps. Quinn's backpack slapped hard against their spine. They lost their cap and it flew off behind them. Travis lead them all out onto a street. Everybody could still hear the gunshots in the distance. But much closer was the screaming and the yelling. People were knocking down barricades, kicking over trash cans, rocking whole cars side to side. Others were falling and panicking and screaming.

“Mom!” Quinn said. They did they let Hye pull them close. They grabbed around her blouse and held on like they did when they were a kid.

“Home's only four blocks away!” Hye said to Travis and Eliza.

“It's crazy out here!” Eliza yelled back, scared.

“This way!” Travis said.

They saw a man outside a barber shop, rolling down the grid shutters to close the place up. He was old –in his mid to late sixties– olive skin, balding, short and a little stocky, wearing a pale shirt and jeans.

“Excuse me, sir,” Travis pleaded. “Can we come in, please?”

“We're closed.”

“Please, it's not safe out here. It's dangerous.”

“Go to the police!” The man's Spanish accent was strong and annoyed.

“No, no,” Travis insisted. “I think they're the danger. I mean, they're not letting anyone leave.” They saw an old woman inside, sitting at a barber chair watching them. “We just need somewhere to ride it out. Please?”

“Please?” Hye said, too.

The old woman inside muttered something in Spanish, and the man tried to refuse.

“Please?!” Eliza begged.

He nodded. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Cars were screeching and beeping, the screaming and yelling got worse, lights were flickering on and off, and the barber shop had no backdoor. People were crashing against the shutters. When another car crashed somewhere in the distance, the lights inside the barber flickered again. Ofelia, a young, pretty, twenty-something-year-old wearing a summer dress and a pale pink cardigan, switched them off. Ofelia was Daniel and Griselda Salazar's daughter. Quinn snorted when they caught Chris checking her out while she swept up the floor—Quinn didn’t get caught when they, them-self, checked her out, too.

Griselda was praying. Chris was told to sit down when he'd been looking out the shutters for too long. Quinn asked, “You got your phone?”

“Batteries dead,” Chris grunted. His frown was almost comforting right now. “Did you wanna see if there's any news or something?”

“No,” Quinn said. “Just, kinda wanted to listen to your music.”

Chris rolled his eyes and elbowed Quinn gently. Travis was watching outside through the shutters now. Quinn watched the dim line of artificial light jut across his Maori features. Chris looked like his dad when he was daydreaming or bored or annoyed, with his long nose and strong brown jaw. But his smile, because it did happen sometimes, was all Eliza; wide lips and oval eyes and dark, defined, Latino eyebrows.

“What do you know?” Eliza took Travis aside, voice low and serious. “What've you seen?”

“I've seen what people do,” Travis murmured. “What they don't do. It doesn't make sense. They don't die, Eliza, they... come back.”

Chris looked up to his father. Quinn frowned at the carpet and hugged them-self, ignoring Hye when she whispered their name.

“We gotta get far away,” Travis went on. “All of us.”

Travis called Madison. He told her where they were and asked how Nick was doing. He told her everything was okay, that she and her children should go to the desert, to go east and ride it out.

Quinn was still sore from Jeff pulling their hair earlier even though that was hours ago. It was dark. Something was on fire. After a while, Chris got up and looked out of the gap in the shutters again, his nose nudging the glass occasionally and leaving a teenage-boy smudge.

Chris startled backwards and tripped over Quinn's feet. They grabbed his hoodie and pulled him from falling all together. “Dude, what?” they gasped.

“Chris!” Travis warned.

“Dad.”

“What did you see out there?” Chris' eyes were wide.

Quinn couldn't resist temptation, so knelt on their chair and took a look—only Chris yanked them back. “Hey, dude—”

“Don't look at it!” Chris muttered.

“It? What it?”

“Some guy – he was — He was messed up. Dad.”

“Come away from the window,” Travis said. Quinn saw the figure's outline between the shutters, slow and lazy, “both of you.”

“Quinn,” Hye said. They backed away and sat next to her, felt the crease in their brow, wished they still had their cap to hide under. An idea came into their head suddenly and they snatched into Chris’ backpack. He was too spooked to argue with them so Quinn just took Chris’ grey and black cap out and put it on their head. It felt better.

After a while the crashing and yelling got louder outside and people were breaking into the shop next door. Nothing was dying down like Travis kept saying it would. He and Daniel were having a disagreement about how long to stay, what to do if people got in, but Chris called over them...

“Dad. Dad!”

“What?”

The boy's hand was pressed against the wall. “The wall's getting hot.”

Quinn looked. Before their eyes, the wallpaper bubbled and swelled and began to turn black. The Salazar's started collecting their things. Travis, Chris, Eliza, Hye and Quinn gathered by the door. The wallpaper was dripping now.

“Mom!” Quinn said.

“We get outa here,” Travis said over them. “We stay close. Get to the truck.”

“Where did you park it?” Hye asked.

“About ten blocks from here.”

“Home's closer,” she said.

“Listen, I gotta get back to my family, Hye. You should come too, it's not safe in this neighbourhood.”

Hye was nodding. Quinn watched the wrinkles in the outer corners of her eyes line up. “Okay. Okay. But I need to get my medication. I’m diabetic. Please?”

“Alright, alright,” Travis said. “Come on.”

“Do not get away from me,” Eliza ordered her son.

“You, too,” Hye told Quinn. There was smoke billowing into the room. The Salazar's prepared themselves. Griselda was clutching the cross on her necklace.

Three...
Two...
One...

Daniel opened the door, but as soon as he did a group of rioters barreled their way inside. Ofelia screamed. Daniel grabbed her. “Go, go, go!” And the eight of them burst out onto the street together. Despite being nightfall, everything was lit up by fire and street lights. Quinn saw a police man pinned under a rioter... mugging? No. Biting... tearing into the officer's throat. Blood spurted and Quinn grabbed at their mom. Hye screamed.

“Dad?!” Chris called, watching the murder, too. Murder. Quinn had never seen a murder. None of them had. Travis didn't answer his son. None of them knew what to say. So they just grabbed at sleeves and muttered their panic and started running in the way they needed to go.

Quinn and Hye stuck close behind Travis, Eliza and Chris, and the Salazar's kept close behind them. It was chaos. Somebody was getting dragged across the street. Somebody else was cheering, and another person was screaming with a piece of glass stuck in their eye. One guy was curled up in a ball in the middle of the street and Quinn had to jump over him, apologising over their shoulder, only the man didn't seem to notice. Police officers beat their clubs against their guard armour, shouting at the top of their lungs.

Hye charged to the street and Quinn saw their apartment. Hye's hands were shaking so Quinn snatched the keys off her and unlocked the front door. Hye went to the kitchen to collect her medication and Quinn rushed across the house to their bedroom for something. Then, with their backpack already stocked with a gameboy, a sharpie, and a spray can, Quinn ran downstairs and handed it to their mother to help stock whatever else they needed into it, which turned out to just be a bible, ID, and some money.

“Come on!” Travis roared from outside.

Then they were leaving, and there was nothing they could do when a group of rioters crashed past them inside. Near their house was a building being renovated and Travis led them through the ally beside it, dodging and climbing through the scaffolding to the other side. There was a fire truck spraying water. Quinn heard the roar against the side of the scaffolding, and the screaming of the people getting blasted on top. But they heard the creak, and they turned, and their whole stomach yanked on their trachea when they saw the structure fall right behind them. Hye threw them back but Griselda’s foot was crushed. Everybody turned back for her.

“Mamma!” Ofelia screamed. “Help! HELP!”

Travis and Daniel lifted the scaffolding, and the rest of them did all they could to help carry Griselda or clear the way to the truck a few blocks away. Travis' truck was an open back, so he and Chris took the front while the rest of them piled into the back.

“It's okay,” Eliza told Griselda, who was crying and writhing. “Stay with me.”

“You're gonna be alright,” Hye said, working to pull Ofelia's shoe off. “Talk to her, Ofelia. Liza, talk to her. Keep her with you.”

The truck reversed and swung around, hitting a parked motorbike. Quinn gasped and felt a small squirm against their chest and shushed it, bracing for the lurch of the engine and fell against it anyway. Quinn had enough time to catch their glasses (and Chris’ cap) before the truck jerked forward and they were all speeding out of town.


Griselda's foot was crushed. Hye and Eliza said she needed the hospital, but when they got there it was crammed. Beam lights swung across the building and men shouted through the megaphones and when they saw the police shoot down an old woman in the parking lot, none of them felt the need to stay.

“What's plan B, Eliza?!” Travis called over his shoulder. They were driving past the outskirts of town. Quinn was watching over the side of the truck, their cap backwards, hair whipping over their cheeks, as the bright lights of downtown LA twinkled inside their dark eyes.

“Another hospital,” Eliza answered, her face tight with concern, dark, straight hair like Chris' swatting in the gust.

“No,” Daniel said. “They will all be like that.” His wife whimpered against his chest.

“Is there somewhere I can drop you?” Travis asked, his face all twisted up. “I – I wanna help, but—”

“Like I helped you?” Daniel said, voice flat and face calm.

“I just saved you from — Ah, doesn't matter. Is there somewhere I can take you?”

“You will take us with you.”

“To my house?”

As they continues to bicker, Quinn could see the worry in Hye's eyes, wondering if Travis wanted her and Quinn there, too. Eliza saw the exchange between teenager and mother, and put her hand on Hye's knee silently. Hye nodded a fraction. Ofelia frowned at them, but looked more like she would cry.

“Yes,” Daniel was arguing. “I'll call my cousin. He'll come and get us. Then we will be even.”

“Stop keeping score,” Travis said.

“I was not the one to start.”

Their attention shifted back to the city. One grid switched off, suddenly. Quinn wasn't sure they'd seen it right, if maybe one tiny part of their eye had just decided to stop working. But then another grid shut down, and another and another, and the eight of them watched their city slowly blink out of power. The land went black. Even the thin glow of orange against the horizon from other cities miles and miles away went out after long enough. Hye took Quinn's hand. It shook. When Quinn realised it, they let go and held on to the side of the truck instead.

“Dad?”

Chris kept saying that word today, like he thought he would get an answer to it, and only now did it seem to dawn on him that Travis was all out of answers.


They'd gotten to Travis'. Quinn had never been to Chris' dad's. Chris said it was in a prissy, white-kid neighbourhood made for stale, happiless people who’d settle for a life of disappointment and dissatisfying sex. Of course, he himself had never had sex. Neither had Quinn. Regardless, Chris insisted this place was ‘The perfect empty hole in the ground for sad English teachers and desperate guidance counsellors.’ Travis was the English teacher. Madison was the guidance counsellor. Quinn figured it was a little harsh, given how alright the neighbourhood seemed right now—no graffiti; even though some of the graffiti back home was done by Quinn, and there weren't any beer bottles in the drains or piss-stains on any walls. There were square lawns with flowers. One lawn had a bouncy castle, and also something else laid in the grass that Quinn couldn't quite see properly in the dark. Maybe a big blanket? But, it looked kind of wet.

“Stay in the car.”

Travis climbed out of the truck and made for the house. Eliza and Chris waited about seven seconds before they got out and went after him. The rest stayed in the parked vehicle like they'd been told, watching, listening. Hye held on to Quinn's ankle. Lights flickered back on suddenly across the suburb and Quinn saw the rest of its pollution-glow across the sky. A small part of them missed the starts, but an even bigger part was glad for some normalcy again. Hye, too, sighed with relief.

“You know anything about stars?” Ofelia said after a second. Quinn realised they'd been watching the moon, searching for the stars, and looked at her, then down at their lap.

“Oh, no, not really,” Quinn mumbled. “They're just... not as bright now.”

Ofelia smiled, and looked like she would say something, but then there was a scream from inside the house. It was Eliza.

“HELP!”

“DAD!”

“TRAVIS!”

Daniel climbed out of the truck, muttered something in Spanish to his family as he sped for the open front door.

“DAD!” Chris was screaming. “DAD!”

“PETER, STOP!”

“M-Mom?” Quinn muttered. Hye was climbing out of the truck. “Mom, stop!”

“I – I have to help.”

“But—” A gunshot split the air apart. They all froze. Quinn, very still, whispered, “Mom...”

But Hye ran. Instinct pulled Quinn from the truck too, even when Ofelia called after them. When they got inside, they saw the others collected in the living room. Quinn saw the dog, dead and bloody and torn open at the stomach, and then they saw different people they recognised from photos online; blond hair and pale skin and almond shaped eyes and slim forms, who were Madison and Nick. Then Quinn saw the double barrel rifle in Daniel's hands, and the person it was aimed at.

Their hand clamped over their mouth.

The bullet before had hit this stranger, Peter, square in the jaw, but he wasn't cowering in pain or howling in agony. He was staring, shuffling forward like nothing was wrong. But it was wrong. It was so wrong.

Daniel pulled the trigger and Madison screamed and covered her eyes as the bullet tore through the guy’s skull. Hye went rigid, grabbing for Quinn who had doubled over, clamping their ears with their palms, the image of the man's head blown in two permanently etched into their vision. The noise of dead weight dropping to the floor sent a heavy clatter through them all. Quinn refused to open their eyes. They felt their mother's hand on their back and focussed on that. When they heard retching, they looked in time to watch Chris burst out of the back door and throw up against the hedge.

“Mom.”

“I'm here, baby.”

“Mom.”

“Quinn, shh.”

“...He shot him.”

Shh.”

Travis turned to the old man. “What did you do?”

Quinn was mumbling into Hye's front, skin crawling, when a scream pierced across the backyard, breaking right into the house. Madison, Eliza and Travis crashed through the backdoor and the others followed suit.

“Alicia!” Chris shouted.

“Get off me!”

Quinn stumbled over the step, barely not falling as they saw their best friend fighting to shove a girl back inside the fence. From the way she was screaming and fighting, Quinn would’ve thought Chris was hurting her, if they didn’t know him, but the scenario was almost impossible given the fact that Chris was the kind of guy who, very discreetly, would rescue spiders from his bedroom or pull you out of step to save a snail on the sidewalk; he may’ve been moody but he was never cruel.

“Give me your hand!” Chris shouted at her. Quinn saw the figure behind the fence, growling and shrieking and grabbing. Alicia kicked at it and screamed. Chris pulled at her arm. “Alicia!”

The figure behind the fence let go, and Alicia fell, collapsing on top of Chris in a heap, and just before Madison and the others got to them, Alicia's elbow came back with a scream and even Quinn flinched at the noise her elbow made as it travelled through the centre of Chris' face.

“Chris!” Eliza gasped, helping him stand. Alicia had already pulled herself up. She was pacing and panting, her long, brunette hair tangled round her pale face. Her big eyes were even wider, and her hands held tight into her jersey jacket.

Chris was clutching his nose and blood spilled between his fingers. “I WAS TRYING TO SAVE YOU, ALICIA!”

“You okay?” Madison asked her daughter. Hye went back to Quinn, who was on tip-toes, staring through the fence.

“Sweetie...” She took their hand.

“Who is that?” Quinn asked, their voice throaty and thick. A craggy, wet hand pushed through the gap in the fence. Quinn stepped back when they saw the eyes of the old Japanese woman. Bugged. That was her eyes. Like she was one of those high homeless guys they saw on their way to school some mornings. Only not that at all. Her eyes were grey and red and green, like they were rotten, and her skin was purple and grey. “Mom, what's wrong with her?”

“Calm down,” Travis was telling Chris.

“Dad!” Chris shoved him back. “YOU calm down!”

“Chris!” Eliza shouted, but the boy stormed past, shooting Quinn a glare that said: I told you they’re fucking maniacs. He disappeared inside. The old lady was still against the fence.

“What's wrong with Su-Su?” Alicia croaked.

“Susan?” Madison said, stepping closer. “Oh my God, Susan.”

“She's sick,” Eliza said.

“....Like th–those p-patients at th-the h... hospital.” When Hye was a kid, she had a speech impairment. She grew out of it by high school, therapy and all that, but it still came back if she was terrified enough. Quinn hadn't heard her stutter since the worst day of their life five years ago. Quinn could remember the panic on Hye’s face when she heard their father return home. She told Quinn, “G-go... upstairs in th-the c-c-closet, baby.” And then the fight began. It wasn’t like their fights previously. They fought about Quinn and they fought about their father’s drinking habit and Hye’s medication bills, yes, but this time, something went wrong. Quinn heard the first hit, then the second and the twentieth. Quinn remembered the sound of it, skin-on-skin, but the worse kind. They had to listen to it. And then, when it was over, they remembered how poisonous the silence was. They thought of the cold closet floor under their knees and the way their hand shook around the telephone, mistyping 9-1-1 twice before they got it right. The police officer said, “Help is coming,” and shushed when Quinn couldn’t stop crying. “He’ll hurt her again.” They thought of their father's heavy, searching footsteps, yelling out, “Quinten!” even when the sirens arrived outside. “Quinten, show yourself!”

Quinn shut their eyes – back then and now.

“Is she bitten?” Travis asked.

“I can't tell,” Madison whispered.

“She's not sick,” Nick piped up. “She's dead.”

They all stared at him.

Alicia started mumbling. “No, that's – that's not Matt.” Quinn remembered the photo they'd seen Chris tagged in once. Alicia and Matt, her boyfriend, were at a family thing for Independence Day. Alicia was giggling at something Matt was whispering to her, and Chris was grimacing, rubbing at the painted red, white and blue flag on his cheek, grumpy and unamused. “He – He's not like that. He – he's not like that.” She started crying and screaming. “Mom! Matt's not like that! That's not him! That's not Matt!”

“Why would you say that?” Travis asked Nick, exhausted. Nick just shrugged.

“'Cause it's the truth.”


Chris and Travis joined everyone inside the living room. Quinn was sat on the inglenook in front of the unlit fire. They looked up from Griselda's crushed foot –their mom and Eliza tending to it– to see the bloody tissue in Chris’ hand. They glanced at Nick and caught him staring, but when they narrowed their eyes at him, he just blinked and looked away in a daze.

“Broken?” Quinn asked Chris, who sat down across from them on the couch.

“No,” he grumbled. Alicia pretended not to notice when he glared at her.

“How's she doing?” Travis asked.

Hye mumbled something to Eliza, stutter still messing with her. Eliza nodded, then stood and spoke to Travis. “You got anything we could give her for the pain?”

“Nothing stronger than aspirin,” he said, rubbing his face. “Um. Phone's in the kitchen, if you need to make that call.”

“I did,” Daniel said. “My cousin is coming to pick us up in the morning.” Travis said he'd set up somewhere for Griselda in one of the bedrooms and Ofelia thanked him.

“Aren't we leaving?” Madison asked.

Travis hesitated, stepped over to her. “Yeah. Yeah, we will. In the morning.”

“No,” Madison said. Alicia hadn't taken her fingers away from her mouth since everybody got inside. Quinn half expected her to bite so far through her fingernails that they’d see blood. “No, we have to go. We're packed – we're ready. We were just waiting for you.”

“Can't we talk about this in the kitchen?”

“No,” Madison hissed, unwinding her arm from around her daughter. “This thing's getting worse not better. It's not safe.” Eliza tried to defend him, but Madison cut her off. “It's not your place to—”

“I don't wanna stay,” Alicia said. “I wanna go.”

“Look,” Travis held his hands up.

“I wanna go! I don't wanna stay here!”

“Hold on,” he said. “It is dark. You don't even know if the freeway's passable.”

“You expect us to wait here?” Madison asked. Quinn wondered if she spoke like that all the time, like she was whispering, like she was always afraid of who was listening.

“We're blind out there, it's dangerous.”

“And this isn't?”

“Inside,” Travis answered. “Door locked. Ride it out for the night. Okay?” Madison deflated. “Take care of each other. Trust me, Maddy. We'll leave in the morning.”

There was a pause. Quinn started cleaning the lens of their glasses. Madison's whisper was what brought their blurry eyes back up to her.

“If we're stayin' here you have to take care of Peter.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, upon waking, Quinn spent a second anticipating having to get a start on studying for that biology test, except then they remembered were they were. Quinn almost felt relieved, but then they remembered they’d seen a man die last night and it made it a little hard to be relieved about anything.

The Salazar's had taken Alicia's room last night. Alicia shared with her brother. Quinn, Hye and Eliza slept in Chris' room.

At the window, Quinn watched Travis roll the trash bin out to the edge of the driveway. They saw the blood stain on the rolled-up rug before he tucked it under the lid. One of the neighbours was taking out their own trash. The exchange of nods between the two men was uncomfortable and forced.

“What do you see?” Hye whispered.

Quinn jumped and looked at the floor on end of Chris' bed. Their mother yawned and peered up at them, one eye open and her small toes sticking out at the end of the blanket.

“Nothing, Mom. Go back to sleep.”

Hye sat up. Quinn rolled their eyes and pushed away from the wall, tossed a water bottle so it would land on the blanket at Hye's feet.

“Drink.”

“When did you get so bossy?” Hye asked, unwinding the lid.

When you started stuttering Beaten Housewife again. Quinn held their tongue, shrugged. “Sorry.”

Hye drank, but then her eyes fell to Quinn's chest... “What is that?”

Quinn looked down when they felt something warm and wet start to spread. They saw the wriggle in their breast pocket and the dark stain growing under it. A little of it was red. “Oh, f – udge!”

Hye's eyes, which were dark brown and epicanthal and identical to Quinn’s, widened. “You brought Newt?!”

Quinn scrambled to undo the button and a small gecko zapped up to their collarbones, holding on for dear life. A trail of pee and blood followed her. Quinn grabbed her. “Quick, Mom, hand me something!”

Hye struggled, but found a jar on the bedside. It had enough space for a gecko, sort of, well, if geckos were supposed to be kept in jars that is –which they were not.

“Quinn Chŏn!”

“Oh, gosh. She dropped her tail.”

“Wha...” Eliza was awake now. “What's going on?”

“Mom,” Quinn insisted, and felt like crying. “Gimmie!” She did, and Quinn placed the tail-less gecko into the glass jar, left the lid on but not totally sealed and placed it on the dresser. “Stupid gecko peed on me.”

“Gecko?” Eliza murmured, rubbing her headache. Her mascara was smudged.

“Why the hell did you bring her?!” Hye ordered.

“I couldn't leave her at home! There was a riot! Those people would've kidnapped her!”

“You brought her here?!” Chris was awake now, too, laughing.

“Shut up,” Quinn hissed, grimacing at the wet patch on their chest. “God, I left her in the sink to pee for ages last night and she still– ugh!” They bit back a curse. “Darn you, Isaac Newton!”

“What is wrong with you, Quinn?!”

“I'm sorry! But she would've died!”

“She already dropped her tail!”

“What's going on?!” Travis burst in.

“Oh God,” Quinn moaned, cheeks shining and tears welling. Chris was sitting back, smirking.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, no.” Quinn could see Nick and Madison poking their heads into the room too. “I'm fine. It's Newt.”

“What happened?” Madison asked.

“Quinn brought Newt – that's what,” Hye grumbled. “Gosh, Travis, I'm so sorry.”

“You brought a newt?” Nick asked. He sounded curious, like he might laugh, but like he was exhausted at the same time.

“She's not a newt,” Quinn said. “She's a gecko. She's just called Newt.”

“Travis,” Hye said. “I'm so sorry. I'll make h—” Quinn cut her off.

Mom, I'm not leaving her!”

“This isn't up for discussion.”

They kept bickering, Travis and Madison chiming in to try to settle the argument. Eliza stayed out of it. Chris was laughing. He took the jar and stared at the curious little yellow and purple spotty creature inside. She wasn't bleeding too much, and Quinn had read about what to do if your gecko dropped a tail, but it still made them feel terrible.

“Hey, Newt,” Chris mumbled.

“Put her down!”

“I was just looking.”

“She's terrified,” Eliza hissed.

Quinn pulled the little amputated tail out of their pocket and stared at it. It thrashed like it was alive. Hye gagged and left the room.

“I used to have hamsters,” Nick said after a while. He'd said it rather softly, but somehow everybody heard him over the arguing and the noise of Hye gagging outside. His finger was raised and his eyebrows were up under his matted fringe. For some reason, Nick reminded Quinn of Willy Wonka from that movie with Jonny Depp. But like a drug-addict, grubby, younger version. Willy Wonka before he found his chocolate factory. He looked at his mother. “Little Boo and Pooba? Remember, Mom?” He made little cupped shapes with his hands (apparently this meant ‘obvious hamster shape’ to Nick). “When they died we put the cage up in the attic. Pretty sure it's still there now. Right, Mom?”

Madison's mouth was open and Nick wandered off to find it even though she hadn’t said anything. Travis and Madison left after him. Hye returned to tend to Newt's wound and told Quinn to wash the pee off of them. Eliza said something about breakfast and packing and left to go downstairs, too.

Quinn showered and threw their clothes in the wash basket next to the sink. They caught their reflection in the mirror and smirked at the birthmark on their shoulder that had always looked like a cat's face in the middle of climax, but didn’t spend a lot of time looking at much else; which was a difference from usual. Some days, Quinn would look at their reflection and feel okay about what they saw. They'd run their palms over their chest and groin, thinking, Yeah, I'm supposed to be this way. But then, other days, they'd do the same and think, No. No, this isn't me. Then, some days, rare days, Quinn could just not look, and think, I'm pretty sure I just exist... as Quinn.

For the first time in a while, this seemed to be one of those days.

They left the bathroom, picking at the acne on their back and itching the eczema on their inner elbows and knees.

“Quinn,” Madison said. Quinn had just made it into Chris' room, ducking behind the door. They let Madison inside when she gestured. Quinn's hair was wet and they pulled their towel around their shoulders a little more. Chris was somewhere in the house. Madison passed Quinn a set of folded clothes, brushing a lock of blond behind her ear. She sniffed. “You can borrow some of Alicia's clothes, if you want.”

“Um, thanks?” they said.

Madison’s eyes travelled down to the gap between Quinn’s towel and blinked. “Oh. Oh! God, I'm sorry.” She groaned. Quinn didn't know what to do. Madison sounded like she might cry. “I thought you were a girl.”

Quinn sort of just shrugged and smiled politely.

“W – wait...” Madison squinted at their chest. Quinn tightened their grip on the towel. Madison looked up, frazzled. She'd been having a rough time lately, Quinn knew, so they felt guilty giving her a hard time. “Are... Aren't you?”

“I'm n...”

“Maddy,” Chris said, and stepped around her into the room. “They're fine. Thanks.”

Madison looked like she didn't know if that meant for her to take the clothes back or leave them there, and then she looked like she didn't know if he meant 'they' the clothes or 'they' the person, so, in the end, she threw her hands up and left the room, telling them both to hurry up and get ready.

Chris flopped into his bed, still in his pyjamas, ignoring the scowl Quinn was giving him.

“I was only gonna say non-binary.”

“Yeah,” Chris moaned, “then she would have asked more questions, and before you know it, I'd have to lie here and listen to you rant on and on about gender for the thousandth time in my life.”

“Jesus.” Quinn grimaced. “You don't have to be a bitch about it.”

Chris scoffed.

“It's not like I want to talk about it.” Quinn could feel their cheeks flushing. They looked through Alicia's hand-me-downs. They understood Madison confusion over their chest; Quinn had developed a bad eating habit a few years ago, right around the time their father died, and so the little extra bulk remaining on their body still looked pretty curvy—Quinn didn’t mind it. “And for the record, the times I have talked about it, you're usually stood up... or getting your head flushed in a toilet.”

“It's usually your head too, Quinn.”

“Touché.”

“It's amazing you managed to keep talking with a mouthful of toilet water at all.”

Quinn grinned, even though the experience had been far less amusing. It had only happened once, but Quinn was tired of getting called by uneducated assholes. If they were going to get bullied for something, the damn bullies could at least get their material right.

Chris groaned into his pillow, apparently not ready to wake up yet. Quinn checked he wasn’t looking and began to dry them-self, anxiously peering at a very small-looking Newt on the dresser next to them.

“What do you need?” Chris asked.

“A new gecko tail and both genitals,” Quinn mumbled, putting their glasses on, “or neither genitals.” Chris grumbled something Quinn couldn't be bothered to translate into regular English, so they answered properly: “Can I have some jeans, and underwear? Maybe a hoodie, too?”

Chris pointed at his wardrobe. “I don't care.”

Quinn smiled. “Perfect.”


 

Quinn’s talent was catching insects. Ever since they were a kid, they found them fascinating. They'd snatch up worms and beetles and butterflies, make ants’ nests in jars and build snail farms. Once they acquired Newt, the skill finally became useful.

They'd caught a cricket against the window downstairs and dropped it into the hamster ball Nick had provided. Newt, who had stopped bleeding and was recuperating from her limb-loss, apparently had enough energy to keep crawling through the wires in the cage Nick'd given them, and so the only thing that would hold her was the ball. Quinn liked stroking her little nails when they poked out of the thin plastic slits, but other than the fact that it was a hamster ball, it was the best they had.

They watched Newt eye up her prey, then lurch forward, grabbing it in her mouth with a soft crunch. Newt made this face when she was eating. She looked goofy and like she was the happiest creature alive, her eyes wide and black and shiny. Crunch, crunch, crunch!

“I'm really sorry about your tail,” Quinn whispered. “It'll grow back... and, sure, it might look a little weird, but, it was better than the alternative, right?”

Newt ate. Crunch, crunch –swallow– lick, lick. She turned her tiny head up to look at them.

“I'll get you more,” Quinn smiled. “Promise.”

The gecko was part of a class project in ninth grade. The school was going to throw her away once they were done at the end of the semester, so Quinn and Chris devised a plan. Quinn liked making plans. But it was Chris who always had the balls to execute them, and by default, Quinn was always his side-kick. After the last day of school ended, they hid in the auditorium and waited for all the students and teachers to go and it was just the cleaners doing their job. Seeing it clear, the teenagers snuck over to the science department, used the keys Chris'd stolen from the janitor, then snuck inside and grabbed Newt (who was called Miss. Spot at the time), replacing her with a dead rat Quinn had spotted outside by chance. They ran for it, the tiny creature zipped up in Chris' coat pocket.

Newt was kind of used to pocket travel.

Anyway, Eliza was both furious and proud of them both when they brought the school project home that evening. She grounded Chris and Hye, too, confined Quinn to the house for a whole weekend. Still, unlike Eliza, when Quinn brought out the ‘she'll die without us’ card to their mother, Hye couldn't say no.

Nick crossed the landing, glancing down at Quinn who was crouched with the gecko ball in their hands.

“Nice shoes.”

Quinn's eyes snapped up, surprised that Nick meant it. “Um. Thanks.”

They'd were wearing Alicia's old sneakers—they were black and white striped with pink flowers. Nick went downstairs, looking distracted; fidgeting and clenching his jaw and fists. Quinn was pretty sure he still hadn't showered.

Downstairs, Madison immediately pushed a plate of toast into Quinn’s hands. They saw the blood stain on the living room wall, but looked away quickly, crossing into the kitchen with Newt under their arm. They placed the plate and ball on the table and sat opposite Daniel, who looked especially young for an old man that morning. Chris was sitting to Quinn’s left.

“Quinn,” Madison grimaced, “not on the table, please.”

“Sorry.” They put the ball of gecko on the floor and held it still with their feet, watching while Daniel gave Chris a lesson about the rifle he'd used to kill Peter last night. Quinn shivered and looked away, thinking, Guns are dumb anyway.

“These barrels have a cylinder, or a choke,” Daniel said. “For wider spread of the ammo.” He thanked Madison when she poured him coffee. She didn't seem to have a problem with the lesson. Ofelia was tending to Griselda upstairs. Quinn figured the Salazar's would stay here while the rest of them left for the dessert. “This is the break.” Daniel snapped the rifle open, showed Chris something inside. “You load here.” Quinn kind of lent over a little to see, too, but pretended to be biting into their jelly toast. Daniel took out two shells one at a time and told Chris what make they were. Snapped the rifle back together with a crunch, then said, “Use it to stop something.”

Alright, that was pretty cool.

Daniel glanced at Quinn when he caught the curve in their lips. Quinn dropped the expression, cleared their throat, and bit a large bite out of their slice of toast. Daniel smiled the littlest bit in approval, then turned back to Chris. Quinn's eyes only widened when the –FUCKING LOADED– weapon was handed over to the boy. Chris grinned the same way he did in the riot before all the shit went down. Quinn wasn't really sure if they wanted to see what shit could go down from this. But Travis walked in before they could be any more of a dork about it.

“Feeling better?” Daniel asked him; Travis hadn't exactly enjoyed burying Peter's corps that morning.

“What the hell're you doing?”

“He's just showing me the gun, Dad.”

“Finish packing the car,” Travis ordered.

“It's not a big deal.”

“Chris.” The boy's head lifted form the rifle barrel. He was so irritated he didn't even frown. “Go...

He did, and again, by side-kick default, Quinn went with him, collecting the Isaac Newton Ball in the process.


It only took another ten minutes for the cars to be loaded and for everybody to almost be ready to go. Chris, Eliza and Travis were taking the truck, while Madison, Nick, Alicia, Hye and Quinn were taking Madison's car. Madison had given Quinn a plastic bowl to rest the hamster ball in so that, for one, it would stop the thing from rolling around, and two, it would stop... animal excrements from leaking all over the place. Quinn wasn't sure if they needed to apologise more or thank her more, so kind of did both.

Hye was in the house taking her insulin shot. Travis was checking they got everything. Madison got into the car, tossing her bag down by where Hye's feet would go, and rested her arm on the open window. She sighed. Quinn realised she must’ve been saying goodbye to home. Quinn realised that they never really got a chance to do that them-self.

In less depressing news, but far more uncomfortable, Nick was pissing Quinn off. He was staring at them. They could see him frowning. Once, already, Alicia, who was sitting on Quinn's other side, had told him to knock it off. He hadn't answered, just kept staring. Quinn was about a second close to barking at him what his problem was before he turned to his mother and spoke...

“I need a couple more.”

Madison startled, took a breath, and shook her head.

“Mom.”

She acted like she hadn't heard him, adjusting the mirror.

“Please?” Nick asked.

She got the small white tablets out of her bag and handed them to him. Nick looked embarrassed, but Quinn did their best to ignore what was happening. They knew about Nick's addiction, and they'd heard him throwing up early in the morning from withdrawal.

“Is that all we have?” Nick suddenly leant forward to look, pushing Quinn to the side. Their kneese pressed against Alicia’s knees and she grimaced. Newt ran circuits in the ball. Alicia saw this happen, yelped, and got out of the car all together, hissing through her teeth as she slammed the door and marched back to the house.

“Alicia!” Madison said.

“I have to pee!”

Madison sighed. Quinn apologised under their breath.

“It's okay. She's just having a rough time—”

Mom...” Nick hadn't moved up yet. “Where is the rest?”

“I gave it to Griselda,” Madison answered. Nick sat back. Quinn could stop leaning against their seat-belt. The quiet was achy and tiring. Nick's voice almost made them startle.

Why?”

“She needs it,” Madison answered.

“Mom,” Nick said, “she's a stranger.”

“She's in pain.”

“So am I.” Quinn heard the catch in his voice, saw the grind in his jaw and the well in his eyes.

“I know,” Madison said, turning to him. “I'm gonna help.”

“I don't need you, Mom,” he said. “I need my medicine.”


“Alicia!” Travis shouted. Madison beeped the horn. “C'mon, we're going!”

She closed the front door. That morning she was wearing short shorts and a red tank top, a flannel tied around her waist, and her hair was smoother since it had lost that I was just attacked by a crazy old lady look. A set of earphones dangled from her ear.

“I heard you.”

“Let's go.”

“I had to pee.”

Quinn was starting to think their own family was pretty normal compared to these people. Alicia took a seat next to Quinn again, yanking her seat-belt and buckling herself in. Quinn tensed when they saw her glaring at the reptile in their lap, and then almost flinched when her eyes shot up to their face too, and stayed there.

What is it with this family and staring?!

Of course, Quinn knew the answer: It's you. You're the weird one, remember?

Helicopters buzzed overhead, travelling across the city outskirts. Quinn wanted to stick their head out the window and watch them, like Nick was doing, but settled for listening instead since they were in the middle of him and Alicia. Travis and his truck led the way, Madison following just behind. Quinn knew why the blanket looking thing looked so wet now. In the light, they could see that it was a deflated bouncy castle, and that it was covered in blood.

They drove through the neighbourhood. Ahead, in the truck, Quinn saw Eliza rest her head on Chris' shoulder and smirked because they knew Chris knew they could see him. Still, Quinn looked away to spare Chris’ pride. They looked at their lap, bit their fingernails, and played with the hem of the borrowed sweater.

“Patrick?”

Their head popped up at Madison's yell. They looked, saw the old guy with a suitcase heading towards his home.

“Patrick, wait!” He didn't hear her. “No, no, no, no.” Madison turned left instead of right, the opposite way Travis had just turned. Nobody said anything. They all knew what she was doing. Regardless, it didn't stop Quinn's heart from threatening to detonate right there in their chest. Madison parked in front of Patrick's car and jumped out quickly—Hye had to finish pulling up the handbrake.

Alicia followed her mom when she ran for the house, and when Quinn saw Chris, Travis and Eliza running, too, they pushed Newt's ball onto Nick's lap and muttered for him to hold her, then clambered out. They ran with them through the back gates, saw the Japanese garden plants and ornaments, but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw when they all rounded the corner.

Patrick and his wife were about to embrace, only Susan's teeth were bared, and Patrick was oblivious.

A gunshot went off, and Quinn leapt out of their skin. They all saw the explosion of blood and brain matter. They all watched Patrick and Susan collapse to the ground. Patrick screamed. Before they could think, people in camouflage, yelling through megaphones, stormed into the back yard.


It seemed that ignoring it was a useful trait as of late. It was the evening. Any dead (or infected) bodies were getting moved away by the military people—those camo guys with guns who blew a hole in Susan's head. Quinn had gotten into another fight with their mom. Something stupid about shoes. All the questions the military were throwing around, all the things they were being told to do, Hye’s patience was running thin and Quinn didn’t need to have her frustration taken out on them, so, in the spirit of ignoring it, Quinn left the house to catch more crickets.

This was somehow becoming like self-help to them. Newt was currently back in Madison's house camping out in a fruit bowl that Quinn was allowed to put dirt in, and an A&W root-beer bottle lid full of water. The dark blue glass sides were steep enough that she couldn't climb out of it, and if she tried she would simply slide down again into the dirt. It was definitely better than a hamster wheel, at least, although Quinn decided to keep it anyway—it was funny watching Newt try to move it.

They'd caught two crickets so far, and they were crouched in long grass around the side of somebody's house, which only occurred to them as odd when they noticed a little girl watching them from her bedroom window. As Quinn passed, she waved her toy doll at them. They waved back.

They were going to walk away but ducked back down when they heard something coming. Their heart raced. But it was just Nick. He crept around the side of the house and Quinn narrowed their eyes, watching him try a window, then try the next. Both were locked. He had a screw driver. He was going to use it. But then he noticed the little girl in the window. Quinn moved. Nick jumped out of his skin and put his fists up, then relaxed.

“Holy—Jesus, Q!”

Quinn looked him up and down. Nick clutched his heart, panting.

“You shouldn’t be creeping around like that.”

“Says you,” Quinn replied.

At this, the young man crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall behind him, smirking. “You gonna tell?”

Quinn shrugged.

“Come on,” Nick said, “please?”

Again, shrug. “I don’t care.”

“Cool.” Quinn was going to walk away but Nick called them back. “Hey, uh, so I noticed... Chris’ calling you—”

“Yeah,” they said. “Uh, I’m...”

“Yeah... You’re... what, exactly?”

Quinn narrowed their eyes at him. Nick squinted back. As much as Chris liked to joke, this conversation was rare and awkwardly succinct whenever it was forced into practice. Quinn never knew how to go about it. Even after the last few years of being sure. The strangest thing about knowing who you were was that it never felt like so much of a big deal in your own head as it did in someone else’s.

“Uh, don’t worry. Later, Nick,” they rushed, walking away with the wriggling crickets in their hand.

Chapter Text

Quinn and Chris were up on the roof again. Chris, like usual lately, was recording.

“Stop,” Quinn grunted, spraying on the tiles. “Chris, stop.” They grabbed at the cam-recorder, but Chris pulled it back, panning across their work. “Don't record me! I'll get in trouble.”

“Maybe you deserve it.”

“That's not the attitude you had when I started this thing,” Quinn said, and by this thing, they meant, graffiti painting the whole left side of Madison's rooftop (the part of it you couldn't see from the ground, luckily). “You said, ‘Go ahead, Quinn,’,” Quinn quoted, and this, of course, he was not recording. “’I won't stop you, Quinn. The old witch deserves it, Quinn.’. That's what you said.

“I'm pretty sure I didn't say your name that many times,” Chris retorted... “Quinn.

Quinn laughed, spraying the shading under their painted boy's left eye. Quinn'd been painting the face on the rooftop for days now, working on it as much as they could. Travis, on a morning jog, passed them on the sidewalk below, oblivious to the two sixteen year olds. Chris pointed his cam-recorder at him, then scoped around to a house on the outside of the neighbourhood. It was singed and had holes in the roof and walls.

“Another one burned last night,” he told the camera, putting on an edgy voice. Quinn wondered who Chris thought his audience might be one day. “Better than TV. People outside the fence – they took the last of them four days ago. People just like us. Run like cattle. Piled into trucks one suitcase a piece. Headed east—”

“That's what they say,” Quinn interjected, using their thumb to smudge in a mistake on the face's lip. It looked like a scar now.

Chris regarded them, corrected himself: “Alright, at least that's the rumour... Bakersfield. Vegas. Who knows? It's safe inside the fence.”

The military had put one up all the way around the neighbourhood. Sometimes Quinn would sit in front of the wire mesh and press their nose through it, feeling like a caged animal, but like one of those endangered ones that would probably die on the outside anyway. Didn't stop them from wanting to be on the opposite side though—more out of rebellion than anything at this point though. There wasn’t an awful lot to do here.

“Outside, everything's dead,” Chris went on movie-like. “Everyone's gone.”

Quinn had started spraying the frays in the paint-boy's beanie hat. They pushed up their glasses and pursed their face in concentration. They had to get the face exactly right; the wavy hair and big eyes and thin lips and long face and nose. If they didn't get it, they felt wrong, all hollow and achy and mismatched. If they didn't get it right they'd feel like they felt when they looked in the mirror sometimes.

“It's, uh – day nine,” Chris said, camera pointed at himself now. “Nine days since the lights went out. And that fence went up. And our little green friends moved in. Trav says we're the lucky ones.” He shook his head. “He'd throw those dudes a parade if they'd let him.”

Quinn decided they'd finished, stood up and looked at their work, then quickly left a tag under it in red reading TIN—substitute short for their name. Then they collapsed next to their best friend. Gently, they took the camera and pointed it at Chris. It was up-side down, so he corrected it for them.

“And look,” Chris told the camera, “we are grateful. To our saviours. To the ones who protect us.” He took the camera when Quinn's arms got tired and pointed it down at an army convoy coming in with the rations. Quinn could hear the crowd gathering. To those who know when it's feeding time at the zoo...” Chris panned out to the deserted beyond. “Turns out there's nothing you'll ever take that nature won't take back. It all belongs to her again. The dogs. The dead. And the...”

Quinn was thinking about that dog last week. It's blood and guts between Peter's teeth. They winced. It took them a second to realise Chris was staring at something.

“Hello?”

Quinn smiled and niggling Chris' elbow with their fist. “Hello to you, too, Mr. Not So Unpleasant After All.

“N-no,” Chris said, sitting forward, camera pointed ahead. For a second he grimaced at whatever the hell just happened between his elbow and Quinn's knuckle, but chose to ignore it. “Quinn, look.”

“What?”

“That building.”

What building?” Quinn moaned, squinting, looking through the camera screen at where Chris was zooming, then looked for it in real life. “That white one?”

“Yeah.”

“What about it?”

“It's blinking.”

Quinn's brow cocked and they looked at him. “It's... blinking?”

“Yeah, man. Swear!”

Quinn tutted, looked again, waited, then didn’t. “You're spending too much time in the sun.”

“No, no, look, I got it on record.” He showed them. “There. See—”

“Holy crud!”

“Gimmie your gameboy.”

“What – how'd you know I have it?”

“I see you watching porn on it every night.”

“Screw you!” Quinn hissed. “It's anime. Ass. Here.” Chris opened the console and positioned the screen to the sun. “Is it strong enough?”

“It's only gotta be a little.” He jerked his hand, then did it again for longer.

“Wait, you're using Morse code?”

“I'm not sure,” he admitted. “I only know S.O.S.”

“But we're not the ones who need help,” Quinn said, because they'd decided whoever was making the light did.

“It's the only word I know, okay?!”

“Alright, alright!” They put their hands up, sighed. “When did you learn Morse code anyway?”

“When you were busy drawing vagina boats in your text book.”

Quinn grimaced, pinched the hair on Chris' shin (he was wearing khaki shorts).

Ow!” He jerked back. Quinn glared at him, looked back to the building that still hadn't made another peep – or, blink. “Just 'cause you're jealous you don't have leg hair.”

“I'm Korean,” Quinn replied. “Being jealous about not growing leg hair is as pointless as being sad that gravity exists or something.”

Chris scoffed. “Only you could be racist to your own race, Quinn.”

“See?”

“What?”

Quinn smirked and looked at him through their eyelashes. “You do say my name a lot.”

Chris rolled his eyes, tried Morse code again, but nothing came back. Quinn wondered if it might have just been a camera bug, like how their TV at home had a pink line down the left side.

Suddenly, they heard grunting, and Quinn watched Travis climb up on top of his truck to see them.

“What d'you think you're doing? Get down here.”

Quinn was already moving, anxious about the fact that if Travis moved his head a little more to the left he'd see the massive art gallery up on the other side of the roof they'd made. Chris wasn't as easy to convince.

“Dad, you gotta see this.”

Quinn pulled on his sleeve.

“Now,” Travis insisted. “I want you both to help Madison, okay?”

“Okay,” Quinn said, pulling and pulling.

“Okay just look at this,” Chris said over them.

“I don't have time for thi—”

“Just five seconds!” Chris urged. “Look?” Travis did. But luckily for Quinn, Chris took the cam-recorder down to his father. “There, you see that?” Chris asked, pointing. Quinn leant over enthusiastically.

“See what?” Travis murmured. “What am I looking at?”

“It's like a light or a glint,” Chris said. “But they said there's nothing alive out there.”

Travis grimaced and snapped the camera shut. “Okay. Come inside.”

“Dad, we think there's someone out there.”

“There's no-one out there,” Travis told them. “It's just the sun's caught some... reflection. You gotta stop.” He walked away.

Chris bit back his argument, exchanging a glance with Quinn who just nodded like: let it go, man. Chris dipped his head like: Okay...

“Chris! Quinn! Come on!”


Quinn was eating lunch in the kitchen, taking a break from trying to paint over the blood stain in the living room while Chris remained at it. Madison had gone out to talk to Nick in the pool. Hye walked into the house, washing her hands at the sink.

“What've you been doing all day?” Hye asked. “Haven't seen you since yesterday.”

“Sorry,” they avoided answering. “You’re never around anymore.” The bit into their peanut butter sandwich—out of jelly.

Hye sighed. “You know I have to help Eliza taking care of people. And don’t think you avoided that question...”

Quinn shrugged, took another bite. PB stuck to the roof of their mouth. Again, Hye sighed.

“If you've been graffiti-ing again, I'm—”

“Mom,” Quinn said. “How would I do that?”

“I saw the cans in your backpack.”

Quinn's eyes snapped up to her. “You went through my stuff?!”

“Of course I did. You think I wouldn't check after you brought a gecko with you?”

At an impasse, Quinn crossed their arms and frowned at the small creature who was currently napping in the fruit bowl after her mealworm-breakfast earlier. They'd cut a McDonald’s coke cup in half and left it on its side to act as a cave. Newt seemed to like it enough.

Hye looked her teenager up and down. “Honey, are you eating?”

Quinn peered at the crust in front of them. “I just ate.”

“You look thin.”

“No I don’t.”

“Thinner.

Quinn shrugged. Hye was more obsessed with Quinn’s weight than Quinn ever would be.

“And could you please put something else on?” She tugged at the sleeve of Quinn’s cardigan. It was baggy and red and black striped.

“I like it,” Quinn said.

“You know what I mean,” Hye answered, like this was the fair response when your kid tells you something like that. Sure, she tried to be sweet about it, like usual, but it still made Quinn mad.

Hye gave them a look.

Quinn scrunched up their nose in fake understanding, pretended to be sweet, too. “You're totally right. Doesn't go with jeans does it? What was I thinking?”

The sweetness had gone, and Hye frowned. “Take it off, Quinn.”

“You see me an hour a day, why do you have to spend it doing this. It sucks for both of us, so let it be. Let me be!”

Hye was about to retort. Quinn saw it bubbling up and out of her. But she was cut off when Madison came back inside. Quinn stuffed the rest of their PB sandwich in their mouth and left to keep painting the wall. Hye left to work. After a while, Chris got out his cam-recorder. He caught Quinn's weary glance, but turned to Madison and showed her the recording.

“Why show me that?” she asked. Quinn helped her put up the pictures again.

“You see it?” Chris asked.

“I mean why not show your dad?” she asked.

“I tried, he just, said it wasn't anything...”

“Well, maybe he's right. Could just be a piece of metal or... window, or, you know...”

“But there's a pattern. Okay?” Chris said, but didn’t bring up his Morse code reading skills. Quinn agreed with this decision. “Someone's out there. Human someone – someone who needs our help.”

“We don't know that.”

“What else would it be?”

“If someone needs help they go to the soldiers.”

“What if they can't? What if they won't?”

Quinn hadn't considered the last option. It made them so distracted they accidentally touched wet paint and got it on the sideboard. Chris stared at Madison, who sighed.

“Watch it again,” Quinn whispered.

Madison did...

Blink.
Blink.
Blink.

“Do you see it?” Chris asked her.


It was early the next morning when Quinn found Madison up on the roof with a flashlight. There was nothing they could do to defend them-self when the woman looked over and saw them with their spray can ready to start a new painting in their left hand. Quite literally, caught red handed. Madison didn't get mad, but Quinn still stood opposite her and waited for her to explode.

Madison kept pointing her light at the little white house on the hill, flashing it again and again.

“I'm sorry,” Quinn said. Madison stopped flashing.

“Sorry you did it?” she asked, and flashed her torch once, twice, “or sorry you got caught?”

Quinn's eyes shifted left to right.

“Erm. Sorry I did it,” they said, shrugging, “but, I guess kinda sorry I got caught, too.”

Madison made a noise like a laugh, only her expression didn't relax. “Come sit, Quinn.”

They did, slowly and carefully like they were making sure she wouldn't strike like a snake. They put the can down on the chimney grid, very deliberately not looking at their paintings.

“You know, it's actually kinda beautiful,” Madison said, sounding tired like usual. “You're good.” It took Quinn a second to realise what she was talking about. Their mouth made a small o shape. “The way you got him to look real. Is it someone you know?”

Quinn shook their head. “Just some kid I thought up.”

“He looks sad.”

“I think he is.”

Madison looked at them.

Madison looked at them and said, “Are you?”

She said, “Is that why you don’t want to be a boy?”

Quinn's face felt heavy as they shook their head. “That’s just an added bonus, ma’am.”

Madison found this funny, a little. “I council a kid like you. Clarissa. She used to come to me—”

“Oh. No... um...” Quinn felt awkward. It was great that Madison understood that stuff, really, but it wasn’t very useful if she was under the wrong impression. “Erm. I’m not... uh. I’m not a trans girl. I’m just, not really anything.”

Madison looked a little confused, but nodded all the same. She didn’t say anything for a while, which made Quinn nervous.

“I promise I won't graffiti your roof again,” they said. “Just, please don't tell my mom. She’s already mad at me. She’ll have a stroke if she knew about this.”

Madison looked at the unresponsive building, nodding the littlest bit, out of lack of caring rather than in Quinn or Hye’s best interest. Either way, Quinn was grateful.

“So, you believe us? About the glimmer?”

Madison didn’t answer. “Quinn,” she said instead. “It's such an unusual name.”

“It’s Quintin,” Quinn said, confiding, not confessing. They watched the boy with the beanie and the scar on his lip and said, “I always liked my name.”

Madison took a steep breath. Everything coming out of her mouth was clearly not what she was thinking, but Quinn guessed she probably did a lot of that in school; talked to students about their shit while her own shit ran secret invisible tracks inside her head.

“They, them, their,” she said.

“Uh, yeah, please,” Quinn said back.

“C'mon,” Madison said. “You should go inside, put away your can before your mother sees it.”

“Aren't you coming?”

“No,” she said quietly, switched on her flashlight again. “I'm gonna stay out here for a while.”


Griselda wasn't doing well. Her foot was swelling and turning purple. You could hardly breathe in her direction without her feeling it like claws all the way to her foot. By the evening, the military carried out their plan to take her to a hospital to get help. Only, something else happened, too. They wouldn't let Daniel go, which was the first warning. The next was when they made Nick go. Alicia told him to run, and even though he tried, the army knocked him out and dragged him right from the house. Eliza went with them, climbed right into the convoy. Chris was devastated. But then, when Hye went with them, too, Quinn was so horrified by it that they didn't react at all. Madison screamed into Travis' front. Chris kicked the cabinet and locked himself in the bathroom. Alicia curled up on the couch and cried into the cushion. Ofelia and Daniel sat in the dining room and whispered Spanish to one another. But Quinn? Quinn simply flattened their palms against the windows and watched their mother leave them behind for the first time in their life, and even long after, it was Travis that guided them up to Chris' bedroom and told them to sleep.

Madison blamed Eliza, who'd been talking to some doctor lady that'd been loitering around lately. Quinn knew that Madison blamed Hye for it, too, but they'd run out of caring. No. No, Quinn cared so much that it ate away at them. But they ignored it. Like always. Because Quinn was alone, and it was the hardest thing they'd ever had to do.

During the night, Chris and Quinn were crying too hard to stay in the same room, so Quinn went downstairs and curled up on the couch alone. Quinn had only managed to sleep for an hour or so, but awoke to the gunshots. They left the house and climbed up onto the roof, only they weren't alone. They saw his outline against the rising purple and orange sun.

“Travis?”

He must have been on an early run. The stars were still out. He looked over, startled. The gunshots didn't stop in the little white house in the distance.

“You told them,” Quinn said. “You told the military about the lights, didn’t you?”

“Go inside, Quinn,” he murmured, too distracted to reprimand them for the graffiti he was currently standing on, because for the second time in their life, they heard the fear in his voice. “Try to sleep.”


There was a slam at around seven in the morning and Quinn opened their eyes in time to watch Chris storm into his bedroom. Everyone was awake, but few had left the house yet. Alicia was still in her room. Ofelia and Daniel had left a little earlier, around somewhere. Travis and Madison were downstairs. Chris had been too, until now. Quinn had been feeding Newt in private, and dropped the last grasshopper into the fruit bowl. Newt ignored it. Her tail was growing back now, all lumpy and weird looking—Quinn hadn’t stopped apologising to her.

God,” Chris growled, pacing his bedroom. His eyes were wet and his eyebrows were so far arched Quinn could hardly tell them from his hairline. Chris threw a text book across the room and it hit his bean bag anti-climatically. “If it was Madison out there he'd be clawing through throats to get her back.”

“Chr—”

“I hate him,” he growled. “God, I fucking hate him.” It was rare for Chris to swear.

“Chris.”

What?!”

Quinn bit their lip. “You're scaring Newt.”

Chris slumped across his bed. Quinn stood up, picked up Newt and walked over. They placed her on his chest. Chris brought his hand up and petted the soft spotty skin of Newt’s back, and shuffled over to let Quinn lie next to him. They did, sighing.

It took a while for either of them to say anything.

“She just left,” Chris said, breath shaking at the back of his throat. “Our moms’ left us, Quinn.” Quinn didn't turn from the ceiling, instead, closed their eyes as not to cry.

“Yeah.”

Then Chris started crying. Quinn rolled over to face him, and reached out to run their finger over Newt's nose. The little reptile lifted her chin and closed her eyes. If she were a cat, she'd have purred. Chris kept crying, the hurting, silent, I can't stop kind, and after a moment Quinn took his hand and linked their fingers together.

“God,” Chris said, soft. He looked at Quinn and laughed. “You're so queer, Quinn.”

When they were both nine years old, Quinn and Chris were walking home from school, just off the bus, after their first day of fifth grade. Chris noticed Quinn rubbing their arm. Quinn noticed him noticing this, and scrunched their nose. Chris scrunched his nose back. It meant... well, to be honest, it didn't really mean anything. At that age Quinn and Chris sort of just did that, paid attention to each other through scrunched noses or folded tongues or widened eyes or wiggling eyebrows.

Chris stepped up and walked along the wall, Quinn down on the sidewalk peering up at him. They poked Chris' ankle and asked, “Do you think I'm a weirdo?”

“Yep,” Chris said. “Why?”

“Jenny Jacobs pinched me today,” they answered, hence the sore arm. “And when I asked why she said I was a weirdo and pushed me down. And they all laughed at me.”

Chris seemed to think it over again, but shrugged. Quinn mimicked the shrug and tried not to feel that feeling right before you cry. They walked for a little while before Chris spoke up again.

“I heard Maxx say you were queer.”

Quinn frowned, and looked up to him. “What does that mean?”

Chris shrugged. “I dunno. It sounds like those bath soaps my mom uses.”

“I like those,” Quinn mumbled.

“Me, too.”

There was quiet between them, filled with the busy street beside them and the smell of gas and take out.

“I think it sounds nice,” Chris said. “Queer Quinn.”

Quinn didn't mean to smile. Chris hopped down from the wall and circled around his friend, skipping excitedly in that nine-year-old way, and when Quinn laughed and span in a circle to keep watching him, Chris put his two fingers against Quinn's forehead, like some messy baptism, and said, very sweetly, “You're so queer, Quinn.”

Quinn grinned. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Quinn whispered again, now, like they always had. Even after all these years the word had remained a compliment from him. Quinn closed their eyes, tucked their nose into the comforter sheets, and felt their hair flop over their face. Chris let go of their hand to pet Newt, and Quinn knew they'd done well when they realised the boy wasn't crying anymore.


Hours later, Chris was laid on his back along a gold-coloured, expensive-looking car in a driveway that looked deserted and messy. Quinn was hunched beside him, knees tucked under their chest, scribbling away on the paint job with their sharpie. It was supposed to be a wave they were drawing, flowing between their elbow and Chris' head, but it turned into a herd of horses instead after a series of smudges that'd made the froth of the water look more like manes and tails. Quinn kept getting mad about it, but in the end figured out how to rectify the mistake.

“Have you no respect for private property?”

Quinn almost startled, but saw that it was Alicia and didn't even lift their sharpie. Chris turned his head, eyebrows up, and asked, “Is that your bike?”

“I'll ask the questions,” she remarked, circling in front of the car. Quinn looked at the bright pink two-wheeler. It had a bell, which Alicia wasn't shy of using. “I'm kinda the law in these parts.” She’d put on a Southern accent. Quinn smirked.

“Yeah,” Chris said. “Heard they got people on that.”

“They're federal,” she countered, circling again. “This here's my jurisdiction. Everything from the fire hydrant t'the mail box.” Her hair was half-up, wearing her fashion jersey, some short-shorts, a flannel around her waist, and a T-shirt with a logo Quinn couldn't quite see properly. For some reason, being around her seemed to make Quinn feel under-dressed, like they should've made more of an effort not to look so dorky. It was probably because Alicia Clark was pretty and tall and one of those you can't sit with us! girls. Well, that's what Quinn thought. But admittedly Quinn didn't know her very well, despite living together for nine days; they hardly even spoken.

Neither Chris or Quinn was saying anything, even when she rang her bell twice. She stopped in front of them, slouching lazy-cooly in the seat. Her face softened. They both knew why.

“You two okay?”

Quinn squinted. Chris looked away.

Alicia took a breath.

“Who's fastest, between you?” she asked. The two sixteen-year-olds glanced between each other. They knew their answer: Chris. Quinn had always hated running and was far better at climbing. Still, neither voiced any of this. “Well,” Alicia said, “one of you needs to hop on the back o' this thing and the other's gonna need to know how to keep up.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Chris said.

She turned her head, scrunching her nose. “I'm not. C'mon, I wanna show you both something.”

Chapter Text

Alicia was kind enough to walk to the something she wanted to show them both, since Quinn kept getting nervous and would jump off the back of the bike and Chris didn't seem very up for running. They'd assumed she wanted to show them something back at her house, maybe play a prank on the green guys who'd been using her room as an I.C.U unit for the past week or something, but it was one of the biggest homes in the neighbourhood she took them both to. It had fancy lamps and a kitchen island and a plasma screen TV and a piano, and Alicia broke in through the kitchen window. The walls were full of those expensive paintings that made no sense. Quinn found the around-house stereo, and put some bad background music on.

“Whose place is this?!” Chris called across the neglected home, messing with a remote-control helicopter he’d found in one of the bedrooms.

“I dunno,” Alicia answered from another bedroom. “Rich people? Last to move in, first to get out.” Quinn swatted the helicopter away when Chris accidentally drove it right at them.

“What if they come back?” Chris yelled.

“They're not coming back,” Alicia said.

“Can you believe all this stuff?!” Chris cried.

“Those little bastards are having the childhood we deserve,” Alicia said.

The helicopter zoomed over Quinn's head and out the door. Chris followed it. Quinn had found an MP3 player and they were scrolling through the songs. Well, they weren't really songs. It was all just these long, narrated, audio-book things for a series called Welcome to Night Vale, though to Quinn's surprise, they didn't hate it. Quinn rested their head against the wall, and listened through their headphones...

“A friendly deserted community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

It reminded them of here, this neighbourhood: Friendly but deserted. Hot days and beautiful nights. Mysterious lights (which they knew by now were gunshots) while everybody pretended not to notice.

Chris had to chase the toy helicopter down the staircase. Quinn got up and laughed at him, then stopped laughing when they saw Alicia looking at them from the other bedroom through a mirror. She had red lipstick on, her hair wound up in a low, loose, stylish bun, and was wearing diamond earrings and a black dress that hadn’t been done-up at the back. Quinn blinked.

Alicia gestured them in, so Quinn took a seat on the bed, pushing a feather scarf out of the way, and then, on second thought, pulling it up in their hands and running it across their nose. It was soft and smelt of what Quinn could only guess was expensive perfume.

Alicia was looking over her shoulder at something—Chris, Quinn guessed, by the way she turned back to her reflection and smirked. Quinn heard Chris go back downstairs and imagined his red cheeks and blown pupils. They had to hold back a laugh. Still, Alicia noticed and looked at them, smiling.

“Do you ever wear make-up, Quinn?” Quinn shook their head and put down the feather scarf, feeling awkward and embarrassed. Alicia knelt in front of them and pulled her shoulder straps back up, asking, “Well, do you want to?”

Their eyes locked for a moment, and Alicia grinned when Quinn nodded the smallest bit. The shoulder of Alicia's dress had fallen again and Quinn reminded them-self not to look at her collarbones. Quinn kind of had a thing about collarbones. They didn't know why.

“Here,” Alicia said, and grabbed a make-up box and various other tools from atop the wardrobe. “Can I?”

Quinn didn't nod, merely tilted their head forward a little. Alicia went to work. She applied contour and blush and eye-liner and red lipstick and smoky eye-shadow and mascara, and something else that made Quinn’s face cold. It took a while, and Quinn pressed their lips and looked up and hollowed their cheeks when they were told to, and finally, when Alicia was satisfied, she sat back and grinned.

“Here, put this on.”

Quinn held up the dress that was handed to them. In truth, Quinn had hardly ever heard Alicia say anything without complaining or screaming at the top of her lungs, so they had to admit, it was nice when she was just being a regular girl for once. They kind of liked being around her.

“I won't look,” Alicia said, but didn't turn away.

“Thanks,” Quinn got awkward, “for the dress.” They went to the bathroom. When they came out, wearing the (slightly too long and possibly a little tight) pale blue ball gown and some heels that Alicia had passed through, they made their way downstairs. Chris had changed into a suit which was far too big. Alicia had changed into another dress. It was nude coloured, and had silk straps down the back that almost looked like jewels. Her skin was pale and moley but somehow still looked like every one of them were supposed to be there, because Alicia was beautiful. Quinn sort of thought of her like she was some painting in a museum, like the artist who'd drawn her had placed every stroke of skin and hair and fabric with the utmost care and precision. Nice to look at, but you'd get yelled at for trying to touch.

The two step-siblings were looking at the family photos on the fireplace.

“Where did they go?” Alicia murmured. She had a Champaign bottle in her hand, and from how loosely she was holding it, Quinn knew most of what was inside was now gone. “Do you wonder what happened to them?”

“No,” Chris answered.

Alicia glanced at him. Quinn saw how scared she looked, but it was gone when she noticed Quinn leaning against the archway watching them. She turned around and smiled. “Look at you.”

Chris turned around, too, and his mouth fell open.

“Holy shit, Quinn! You look great.”

Quinn giggled, swaying their hips and taking the liberty to bow. In the process, they accidentally knocked a wine glass off the counter next to them and it shattered to the floor.

“Oh!” They startled. “Oops...”

“Real people,” Alicia said, “they built a whole life here.” She pulled the cover away from the dusty black piano and took a seat. “And you go and shatter it with a wine glass.”

“Sorry.”

“Don't be,” Chris said, and suddenly dropped one of the family photos against the inglenook. Another shatter, only this time Quinn grinned at the sound and spun around so that their dress flowed out around them in a blue wave. They threw their hand out, on purpose, sending a pottery lamp flying across the room. It crashed against the corner of the coffee table. Alicia drank the last of the Champaign, then threw the bottle against the fireplace. Shards of dark green exploded across the white carpet and Quinn stared at it greedily, gasping in awe. Chris picked up a coal pick, used it to bash holes through a canopy. Alicia started pressing keys but got bored and moved onto bigger targets, standing up and shoving a candle and its holder off of the coffee table.

The three of them went at it; tearing cushions, beating expensive ornaments, throwing furniture, smashing plates, breaking chandeliers, yanking down paintings and ripping apart plants. It was bad. No. It was brilliant. It was taking one back for everything they'd already lost.

Quinn wasn't sure how long later it was before they'd all decided to stop trashing the house. Chris was laid across the couch playing the anime game on Quinn's Gameboy, covered in feathers from cushions with bits of torn paper-confetti in his hair. Quinn was wearing the blazer Chris'd been wearing before over their dress now because it felt a little more comfortable, and had also switched the heels for their sneakers again.

They went upstairs to find the MP3 player in the same moment Alicia came out of the bathroom, meeting on the landing. Alicia held out a bottle of perfume and sprayed it in Quinn’s face. It smelt of chemicals and wasted money and Quinn sneezed like a kitten. Alicia laughed.

“Thanks, Alicia. Jeeze.

She watched them, smiling drowsily.

“What's up?” they asked. Alicia shrugged pensively and then suddenly stepped forward. Quinn jerked back. “W-what're you doing?”

Alicia said something that Quinn wasn't calm enough to decipher. They were backed up against the wall now, trapped, and Alicia was getting closer.

“Erm...” They fidgeted. “I think you're really nice, Alicia, but—”

She kissed them.

Quinn went on tiptoes. They tried to say something but ended up sort of just accidentally and awkwardly kissing her back, and then Alicia tried to touch them, and Quinn's hands came up fast and pushed her away.

“Okay, okay. Wait. Crap.”

Alicia looked confused, so she glanced down—whether she saw or expected anything to be there or not wasn't what Quinn was embarrassed by. It was the fact that Alicia was so annoyed at them that turned their cheeks redder than a ripe tomato.

Alicia shook her head, then held it in her palms. “I think I'm still a little drunk,” she said, and stepped away, her brow creased.

“Is that supposed to be an apology?” Quinn snapped, grimacing and turning away to leave.

“Quinn, wait.”

They glared at her, but when they saw how sorry she looked they sighed and sat down on the landing, tucking their knees up to their chest. The dress made a poofing noise.

Carefully, Alicia sat beside them. “You’re not like most guys.”

“That’s because I’m not a guy.”

“I... I know. Sorry.”

“I'm just me,” they said. “Can't it just stop there? Can't that be enough?” Alicia was staring. Quinn softened their voice. “Look, I can't help it. She feels wrong, and, he does as well. I don't know why and I don't know what makes me feel so... not... so much, but it sucks. So, I'm... I'm just me. Okay?”

“Okay,” Alicia said.

The quiet was uncomfortable and fuzzy.

“So, what does that make me?”

“Pretty sure it just makes you stupid and drunk.” Quinn grimaced into their kneecaps, feeling dirty and embarrassed and the type of dysphoric that made them want to scratch right out of them-self, unzip their body and step out of it like a suit.

Alicia dipped her head, and her hand came up to rub her lipstick off. Quinn watched her.

“Are you okay, Alicia?”

“No,” she grumbled. Quinn saw the welling in the seventeen-year-old's eyes. She rubbed her mouth with her whole palm. Red smudged over her cheek. “My boyfriend's dead and my brother was kidnapped last night.”

Quinn wasn't really sure what they were supposed to do. Alicia wasn't like Chris. They couldn't just take her hand and let her call them queer.

“My dad died,” they said instead.

“Mine, too,” Alicia answered.

“I know,” Quinn whispered. “That's why I said it.”

“What happened to him?”

Quinn shrugged. “Aneurysm. I was fourteen. He was watching AMC and then he was dead.”

“Aren't you mad?” Alicia asked.

“About what? That he's dead? Or that my best friend's step-sister just tried to molest me?” Quinn knew it was an over exaggeration but was too irritated to take it back. “Because out of the two, I'm actually kinda more pissed about the second one right now.”

“I'm sorry,” she said.

Quinn scoffed.

Alicia sighed. “But, aren't you at least a little upset that your mom's gone? That they just took her and Griselda and Nick and—”

“They didn't take my mom. Or Chris',” Quinn said, and forced their chin not to shake. “They both went. Willingly.”

Alicia's brow arched. “I'm sorry.”

“Yeah,” Quinn said, whispering it, “me, too.”


They were out past curfew. Alicia slept off her intoxication while Chris and Quinn played snakes and ladders down in the lounge. A part of Quinn had been inwardly begging them-self to tell Chris about the kiss with Alicia on the landing, but another part knew that it would just be cruel.

Finally, the girl emerged through the doorway, glaring through her headache and doing her best to tie up her hair. She had her regular clothes on now; so did Chris and Quinn. The two sixteen-year-olds asked her if she was okay and when she groaned, Quinn brought her a bottle of water while Chris put away the board game—which was pretty pointless seeing as the whole house was a mess now.

They left, and made their way back to the Clark's household. Though, on their way, they heard engines. People in the neighbourhood weren't allowed to drive. But they saw the headlights and realised immediately that it was an army convoy.

“Frick!” Quinn yanked Chris' sleeve and the three of them hid behind a hedge on somebody's driveway. While the several military vehicles drove past them, Chris was bold –or stupid– enough to step out of cover. “Chris!” Quinn hissed.

“What are you doing?” Alicia seconded, grabbing his arm.

“They're not patrolling,” he said, standing in the road now. One green guy even looked back at him, but turned again and ignored him.

“They're leaving?” Quinn asked. The three of them spent a few seconds watching the vehicles drive out of sight. Alicia broke the quiet.

“Something's wrong.”


Something was wrong. When they arrived back, everybody was packing. Madison was filling boxes with food and Travis came into the kitchen with another box full of weird things like tire pumps and tools.

“Mom,” Alicia said.

“Go get your stuff,” Madison told her.

“What's happening?” Quinn asked.

“We gotta go,” Travis said.

“But...”

“Now, Chris.”

“What happened?” he insisted.

“Guards are pulling out.”

“Yeah, we saw them on the street. They were leaving,” the boy replied.

“They're leaving. We're leaving,” Madison instructed.

“I thought this was getting better,” Alicia said. “I thought we were... winning.”

“They're retreating,” Travis explained. He was out of breath for some reason. “It's not safe for us to stay. Each for our own now.”

“We're going back to our original plan; we're driving east,” Madison said, and walked past them to the back door. “C'mon.”

“We got enough food and water to last us,” Travis told them, taking a full box, too.

My mom, Quinn thought, and only realised their hand was tightening against the hem of Chris' hoodie when he glanced at them with the same anxiety on his face, too.

“What about Mom?” Chris asked, dipping to the weight of the box that Travis had pushed into his arms. Quinn's grip tightened. Chris gave them another glance. “Dad, what about Hye?”

“We're gonna get her,” he said, and then took Quinn's shoulder. “All of them...” Quinn nodded. “Good, take that.” Quinn took the crate filled with cans and jars and followed Chris and Travis to the door.

“How, Dad?” Chris asked.

“What?”

“How?” Quinn said for him. “How do we find them?”

Travis stopped on the porch, stared; a second for each teenager. But he turned and walked away without an answer for either of them.

Chapter Text

Alicia, Chris, Ofelia, and Quinn were told to stay in the house and pack their things. Travis was adamant about driving his truck alone, and when Chris asked why, again, he was given no answer. Then, before they were all scheduled to leave, Travis took the truck and drove it a few blocks down the street with Daniel and Madison. Quinn had been on the roof when they all left, and they saw the house they'd driven to. They called Chris out to look, too.

“What do yo think they're doing over there?” they asked.

“I don't know,” Chris whispered. There was a strange air of quiet in the neighbourhood tonight. It wasn't the same quiet as normal; people sleeping or making the most of their evenings. It was something else. Something... looming. It made the hairs on Quinn's body stand on end and put an odd heavy tug in their gut.

“Screw this,” Quinn spat, and climbed down from the roof, using the fence as not to break their legs.

“What the hell are you doing?” Chris growled down.

“I don't have to follow their orders,” they said. “They're your parents, not mine.”

“Quinn, what are you doing?” Ofelia called out the kitchen window. The teenager was already walking down the street. Quinn had never been to this house, and had no idea what Travis, Daniel or Madison had to do with it. They found it quietly, went in through the open door, and crept the hallway. They heard voices from the kitchen, but when they went in they found nobody there. The place was dusty and messy and neglected. Old papers and mouldy food packages were strewn along the counters. Quinn saw the basement door was open and stepped over to it. They froze when they heard grunting, and then a rip. A man coughed. Quinn didn't recognise his voice when he spoke.

“You know where the compound is but you don't know where to go once you're there.” His voice was croaky. “Which building. What floor. W-what hall – you don't know where your family is... Inside.

When Quinn peeked past the door-frame, they couldn't see anything other than the floor at the bottom of the staircase. Still, they could smell the sweat; stale and sick and festering. They crept down, holding their nose, keeping their back to the wall so that nothing would creek under their shoes. Then Quinn was at the bottom and they looked around the wall.

They recognised him now.

Andy.

He was the guard that Ofelia had been getting friendly with lately. But now? Now he was bound to a chair with a bloody bandage around his arm and sweat circles on his collar and chest. His face was wet and gaunt, and the fear on it made Quinn shudder.

“The place is like a goddamed maze,” he pleaded. Quinn was frozen, hiding behind the wall again. “I can draw you a map. Alright? You won't get in without me.”

“We're bringing him,” Travis said.

Quinn was leaving, afraid of the kind of people they'd been left with, wishing they'd never come down here, wishing they had their mom, wishing they could disappear. They were in the kitchen when Daniel was coming up the staircase. He heard them try to run and chased after them. Quinn panicked, and staggered over the hallway lamp, and then Daniel was there, snatching the back of their hoodie.

“What are you doing here, child!?”

“Don't hurt me!”

Daniel pulled them up off the floor.

“Don't,” Quinn begged again, scrunching their eyes. “Please!”

“Stop,” Daniel said. He'd let go of them. “Go back to the house.”

“Why is Andy down there? Why is he all tied up?”

Madison was there then. She shushed Quinn and took them back to the house. She did her best; explaining as best she could when Chris and Alison started asking questions too. She said that the military were leaving because within the next few hours the whole area would be destroyed. Or, maybe she didn't use that word. Maybe she said something else instead. But either way it meant that everybody here would be dead by morning. What was worse was that it was going to be the military who did it. Madison said that Andy had information they needed to find the others in some hospital base. Alicia called her crazy. Chris just stared like he wasn't sure of anything anymore. Quinn was shaking and murmuring things that didn't quite make sense. Then, when Ofelia told them that she'd known since yesterday that Andy was down there, it shocked everyone enough that they all fell into quiet, like some awful net of acceptance that they were all a part of now, and they knew they needed to be, for without it, they wouldn't find their family.

They were all waiting out by or inside the car. It was colder. Alicia, Chris and Quinn had been made to change into warmer clothes; shorts for jeans, hoodies and hats. Alicia had let Quinn wear one of her cardigans, and Chris let them keep hold of his grey and black cap. Quinn, like always, was sitting in the middle between Chris and Alicia. Newt was in their lap. But in a proper pet carrier box this time that a neighbour had given them a few days ago, and granted, it was for a budgie, but it was a good size and sturdy, so Quinn didn't complain.

A man and his dog walked by and out the window they heard Madison and Ofelia's talk while they put the last few duffles and boxes in their cars.

“My neighbours don't know,” Madison said.

Ofelia scoffed and turned away. “They did nothing when they came for us.”

Soon everything was packed and inside their vehicles and all were driving out of the neighbourhood. Only this time they did it without interruption. When they got to the exit gate, Daniel got out and unlocked it. It beeped loudly. Nobody came to reprimand them like Quinn was afraid of. The guards really did leave. Every one of them. So they drove.


They arrived at the hospital, or rather, army base, only a few minutes later. There was a plan. Daniel knew about an apparent football stadium full of infected, which in itself was horrifying. Still, all it took was a set of pliers and a short walk to the entrance of the stadium for all hell to break loose. Everybody else was waiting in the underground parking lot, flinching from the gunfire upstairs and worrying for their friends, until they saw Daniel jogging back down to them.

“I led them to the north gate,” he told everybody. He would have been smiling had he not've been Daniel. “So the soldiers are distracted. We can go now.”

Travis had a handgun. Madison and Daniel, too. Ofelia; a rifle. Quinn thought about the paint can and sharpie in their backpack and wondered if they could use them as weapons. No. Probably not. They stopped thinking about how helpless they were and paid attention to the elephant in the room instead. That elephant, being, the fact that Travis had not driven here with Andy. The fact that he'd left him back at the neighbourhood.

“What did you do?!” Daniel ordered, because unlike everybody else he was only just finding out. Travis looked scolded, but held his ground.

“He told me where to find them.”

“He told you...”

“Yeah,” Travis said. “I believed him, okay? Like you believed him.”

“It was the right thing to do,” Madison seconded.

“You see what doing the right thing gets you,” Daniel warned.

Travis took Chris aside. Quinn was gripping onto their own shoulders, holding them-self together.

“If things go sideways, if you see anything... drive,” Travis instructed his son. “Take the SUV and drive to the camp ground. If we're more than thirty minutes, drive.

“Don't leave me here,” Chris told him. “I can help. I want to.”

“We'll find you,” Travis said. “Promise.”

“I don't drive yet.”

“Quinn?” Travis asked.

“Uhh. I've had a few lessons.”

“Alicia can drive,” Madison said. “If it comes to that.”

“You're gonna be okay,” Travis told them all.

“Take care of each other,” Madison said, and hugged her daughter, whispering, “You take care of them both,” into her ear, and then three teenagers watched the adults leave through the door leading to the staircase.

Alicia crossed her arms. She looked tired and cold. Chris looked around, and when he met both Alicia and Quinn's glances, he exchanged a short nod with them.

“C'mon,” Alicia said. “We should wait in the car.”


It had been twenty minutes.

“This is crazy,” Chris said. Quinn agreed. For one, Chris was sitting in the driver's seat, which would be useless if they had to drive in a hurry. But then again, nobody wanted to leave anybody here at all, so he was sitting in the driver's seat as an act of pure hope that the lack of logic would be enough of an excuse for the universe to give them a break, which they all knew was useless, but it still helped.

But then Chris was getting out of the car.

Quinn picked their forehead up from the middle compartment and watched him pace outside the door. They were all worried. Quinn coped with it the way they always did; ignored it, only this time it was more a case of I won't do anything until I see my mom again, ever, at all, like nope, no moving or thinking or feeling, nope nope nope. Chris coped by pacing, and occasionally hitting or kicking inanimate objects hard enough to make a noise but not hard enough to break. Alicia, Quinn was slowly realising, coped by comforting other people. Even earlier today, the break in, and the kiss; it was an act of comfort from her—albeit, the latter was drunken comfort, but comfort all the same.

So, because she was Alicia, she told him, “They'll come back,” and even got out of the car. “If they can't get in, they'll come back, Chris.”

Quinn decided not to follow her. Instead they put the small budgie box of gecko called Newt in the side pocket of their backpack, and as not to squash her, they led along the back seats on their chest and thought about how much more stubborn they could be about not moving until they saw their mom. Alicia had left the door open a crack, so Quinn could hear them talking.

“Leave the others?” Chris asked. Quinn couldn't see him but knew his brow was arched like a shipping bridge.

“Would you rather they all died?” Alicia said. Quinn closed their eyes, deciding: I guess I can be more stubborn. I'll just refuse to see anything now, too.

“I don't want anyone to die,” the boy retorted. “I don't want that.”

“Like your dad...”

“Yeah, well he tries.”

Then there was a gunshot, several actually, and growling. It quietened the two bickering teenagers and Quinn froze to the seats, their knuckles turning white against the leather.

“Can't save everyone,” the girl said.

“Why the hell would you say that?” Chris asked.

“Because you can't,” she said, whispering it. She picked up her voice. “Sorry, it's just...”

“Shut up.”

“What?” Alicia said. Even Quinn's eyes widened, thinking Chris was being rude, which despite the events of late was really not a usual occurrence in him. Chris was the kind of boy who, if he was treated unfairly, would only shrug it off and turn up his music, not the kind of boy who kicked inanimate objects and told girls to shut up. That was a new development, it seemed. Quinn even sat up to see the damage Chris’d caused, but only saw him and Alicia staring at something behind the SUV in the distance. Quinn turned and saw shadows moving in the parking lot entrance.

“Get in the car,” Chris hissed.

Quinn's heart was in their throat. They winced at every scuff and click that the SUV or their shoes made in their efforts to get in as quietly as they could. They all flattened themselves against the seats. Quinn in the back, Chris in the driver, and Alicia in the passenger. But their faces all met in the middle, hovering over the glove box. Their breath shook so violently that tufts of hair would puff away from each of their cheeks, and their brows were arched, eyes wide and afraid.

“If they're dead, they'll jus' keep walkin', right? They'll walk away.” Alicia panted. Quinn looked at her but had no answer.

“I don't know,” Chris whispered.

The footsteps came closer. Quinn was so afraid that they ducked their head further, and only realised Chris and Alicia had done the same when they heard the rub of hair against leather.

The footsteps were right outside.

Something tried the door.

Then came the smash.

Alicia screamed. Chris grunted and was being pulled away. Quinn tried to grab after him, but was dragged out, too.

“No!” Alicia gasped. “Get off! Get off me!”

The teenagers were lined up in front of the SUV and three figures circled them. The men were well, and dressed in army uniform, which was something. Only, Quinn had grown too used to army guys, it seemed, because what they were told next was just as scary and dangerous as if the infected had shown up instead...

“Son,” one soldier said, “just give us the keys.”

“No,” Chris muttered. His hands were up in front of his chest, palms curled into each other. It was his defense pose, however unlike a threat it may have looked. Quinn could hardly blame him. Their own defense pose wasn't much better. Their shoulders were hunched and their knees turned inward, and already the adrenaline rush was making them cry.

The soldiers exchanged a glance. The oldest guy chuckled.

“Come on, man,” the soldier who spoke first said. He was middle aged and had tanned skin and a wide nose and tired eyes. “We'll take you with us.”

“We're not going anywhere,” Chris said.

“Suit yourself,” the older soldier said, and stepped forward. “What about you, girls?” he said. Alicia was so startled that she froze. Quinn, shocked also but possible for different reasons, grimaced and swatted the guy’s hand away from where it had been aiming. The guy double took at them, and Chris ordered him to leave them both alone in the same moment he charged forward and shoved him back.

Immediately, Chris was thrown against the hood of the vehicle, and immediately, Quinn threw a punch at one of the other soldiers. But they weren’t strong enough, and was shoved back, hitting their head on the ground hard—they heard the crack in their backpack and knew what it was instantly. The older guy had turned to Chris already. Quinn had to blink away a head rush; they saw stars.

“Stop it!” Alicia shouted over everything. “Stop it! I have the keys!”

The soldiers turned to her. Quinn watched her pull the keys out of her pocket and hand them over, and the middle-aged soldier gave her an apologetic and grateful nod. He was about to step away, but the older soldier reached out to Alicia again. In the same moment his fingers laced into her hair, asking, “Are you sure you don't want to come with us?” ... Chris snapped. Alicia was pushed back by Quinn. Then Chris' fist flew forward and hit one of the soldiers square in the nose. The butt of a rifle came up and connected to the side of his face, and Chris Manawa was knocked out cold.

“Chris!” Quinn cried. Alicia was still, hands over her mouth. She watched Quinn pull the boy against their knees.

“I'm sorry,” the middle-aged soldier said. “I... I didn't mean to hit him so hard.”

Quinn felt a hand on their shoulder and suddenly leapt up to throw a punch. The old man dodged it and started pulling, but when Quinn brought their knee up against his groin he wasn't so lucky at dodging that one. He grunted and fell back. Quinn was crying.

“Don't,” Alicia hissed when the other two soldiers went to grab at the teenager. “Leave us alone, please?”

The soldier who'd hit Chris grabbed the older soldier and pulled him away, growling, “Harrison, get in the goddamn car!” and then told them both he was sorry again. Quinn and Alicia watched the three men climb into their car and drive out of the parking lot.

Alicia crumpled then, collapsing to her knees like some sand castle hit by a wave. She was making odd noises, like moaning and sobbing and heaving at the same time. It took her a few moments to stop. Quinn was shaking.

“Are you okay?” they asked. Alicia nodded through her adrenaline rush and pointed to Chris. “He's okay,” Quinn said, panting. “Just knocked out. Bleeding. On his cheek.”

Alicia hugged them then, suddenly, muttering, “Are you okay?” into their shoulder. Quinn nodded. Alicia said, “Good nut-shot, earlier.”

Quinn laughed, a little afraid they might inhale Alicia's hair, so they pulled away. Their eyes widened. “Oh no. Newt... Newt!”

They scrambled to unzip the side pocket of their backpack. Even Alicia was wincing. Quinn opened the box, stared, and sobbed. Newt was okay. A little startled and soiled, and the box was squashed in one corner, but overall in the best condition given the circumstances.

Quinn put the box back in their backpack.

“Is there anywhere we can go? We can't stay here.”

“We can get in Travis' truck.”

“No,” Quinn said. “He took the keys, and we can't sit in the back.”

“Why not?”

“It's too open. What if one of the infected people come?”

Alicia flinched. Quinn looked at her.

“I'm sorry about Su-Su.”

She looked up to them, and when she nodded, tears welled in her eyes. She blinked them away and cleared her throat, looking around the parking lot.

“There,” she said, pointing. “Supply closet.”


Chris woke up a few minutes after they'd laid him down on the concrete next to the shelving cabinet. When he came to, Quinn was doing their best to clean up the blood from his cheek with the hem of their cardigan, staining the blue and grey bright crimson. Something was telling Quinn to start getting used to it –the blood– but they pushed that thought away.

“Quinn,” Chris whispered. They dabbed the last few crusty red marks away from his chin and tried not to make a big deal over how relieved they felt. The boy grinned, but stopped when it hurt too much. “Jesus,” he said. “You look like butt.”

Quinn almost sobbed, but bent down and kissed his hair-line instead. “Take a look at yourself,” they retorted. Chris smiled up at them, looking tired and small and in pain. Quinn had the urge to tip forward and kiss him again—kiss all the creases in his brow away, but instead helped Alicia pull Chris to sit up.

“How're you feeling?” Alicia asked him.

“Like I've been hit by a car.”

“You have been hit, remember?” Quinn said.

“Yeah, but not by a car,” Chris said. He pressed two fingers to his jaw, smirk-grimacing. “Ouch...” He asked if they were both okay. Alicia and Quinn said they were—Quinn also kept attempting to rub more of the blood away, and they may or may not have kissed him several more times. Chris tolerated it. He even smiled at them for it. “Quinn, I'm okay,” he said when his forehead got damp, almost laughing. “Really, I'm – ouch!”

“Sit still,” they said, pulling his cheek to face them. “I'm almost done.”

Chris did as he was told. “You're fussy when you're worried.”

“Dude,” Alicia said, “you got knocked out.”

“Yeah, I know, I felt it,” he said. Quinn narrowed their eyes at him when he refused another round of forehead kissing, but Chris was forgiven when he whispered that they were queer, and Quinn laughed and punched him in the arm.

“Did they take the car?” was the next question.

“Yeah.”

Chris cursed... quite a few times. It seemed like the moment he would actually come out with a proper sentence it would turn into blasphemy again and again. In perfect honesty, Quinn and Alicia were rather impressed.

Finally, there were familiar voices.

“Chris.”
“Alicia!”

“Oh my God,” Alicia breathed, “it's them.”

“Lower your voice, the dead will hear you.”
“Chris!”
“Alicia! Quinn!”
“Alicia!”

The teenagers were rushing to the exit.

“We're here!” Alicia yelled. “Mom!”

“Dad!” Chris said. Travis dropped his rifle on the hood of the truck and ran for him. “Dad!”

“Christopher,” his mother gasped, and wrapped her arms around him, too.

“The soldiers. They took the SUV,” Chris muttered. “I'm sorry.”

Quinn staggered around him and searched desperately. “Mom?”

Daniel was there. Nick. Ofelia, too. They couldn't see Griselda, but—

Mom!”

Hye was trying to say her child's name but her stammer was so bad she couldn't even manage the first letter. It didn't matter though. Finally, Quinn felt like they could move, think, like breaking out of a body-sized cage. Quinn lost track of the next few moments. The chronological order of it all jumbled into what must have only been seconds but felt like decades. But they knew that they were holding Hye, and they knew that Hye was holding them too. They could smell her scent in their nose and feel her pale blue hospital robes around their shoulders. She was sweating and crying and had tiny blood splatters over her front like she'd been sprayed with a paint can.

“Mom,” Quinn whimpered. “Where did you go? Where did you go? You were gone.”

Hye sobbed and tried to apologise, but she couldn't hold the words together. Quinn wrapped their arms around her shoulders and nodded into her shoulder anyway. They knew she had gone because she had to. They knew she was sorry.

“Careful, Mom.”

“W-W... Why?”

“Newt's in my backpack. Don't squash her.”

Hye laughed and hugged Quinn tighter, though only around their shoulders to take the gecko into account. All Quinn wanted to do anymore was hug their mom and never let go, but of course, the time came when they had to, aided when Daniel told them that they, “must go now,” and they were going to... but a man staggered from another door, bleeding and raising a gun.

Andy.

“Salazar!” His voice was raspy, like before, and sweat ran down his face. Everyone fell quiet. Ofelia pushed herself up from the wall she'd been leaning against. Travis stepped around Quinn and Hye.

“Andy?” Ofelia whispered. “Andy. Hey.”

“Ofelia,” Daniel warned.

“Andrew,” she ignored him. “Put the gun down. You don't have to do this, okay? What are you doing? Just, put the gun down. Andrew don't do this, please? Please, please?”

Andy was shaking.

Ofelia tried one more time... “Andy,” but the gun was fired and she hit the cement. Quinn heard Daniel’s scream, felt Hye staggered forward, and saw Eliza and Daniel rush to Ofelia, too. Travis lunged at Andy, knocking him to the floor. His gun slid across the parking lot. Travis threw punch after punch even when Andy wasn't moving anymore, even when Quinn covered their face... and it wasn't until minutes later when someone pulled their hands away from their eyes that Quinn brought them-self back into the underground parking lot again. It was Chris. He was saying something. Quinn.

“Mom,” Quinn muttered. “My mom.”

“She's looking after Ofelia.”

Their hands were shaking. Chris held on to them, clasping them between his own like a tremble sandwich. When it didn't help, he weaved their fingers together, and when that didn't work either, all else he could do was hug them, so he did. Finally, Quinn could pull away and stand beside him. They saw Andy lying still on the floor, blood and shallow splutters in the places a healthy man should be. Everybody was focusing on Ofelia, who was being cared for, and whoever wasn’t involved in that began gathering themselves together.

Nick had brought a friend, Quinn noticed; a middle-aged man in a handsome suit with cufflinks. He had dark skin, brown eyes, stubble, and neat, buzz-cut hair. His voice was low and serious, and he introduced himself as Strand.

He showed them how to hot-wire another car in the parking lot and the ten of them left quickly. Quinn didn't say anything, but could’ve sworn that as they drove out of the parking lot, they caught a glimpse of Andy sitting up and turning to them.


Nick, Madison, Alicia and Strand were all in the car ahead. Quinn was in the truck, sitting beside Chris. Travis was driving. In the back was Hye, Eliza and Daniel, all tending to Ofelia. The bleeding was already under control. Griselda had died at the hospital the day before, Hye and Eliza said. Her foot became too infected and Eliza had to put her down. Quinn wanted to ask their mother everything about it, but knew that she wouldn't have the calm to summon the words for it for a while.

It was morning now, and while they drove out of the city, they would drive past walking corpse after walking corpse. But no living. It unsettled Quinn enough that they wanted to wind up their window, but held back because they wanted to be able to hear the others if they needed anything.

They all knew that if they went through down-town to get out they'd come across too many infected, and instead of turning onto the freeway, they took a left before that and followed the river down. A helicopter must have fallen. It was left, neglected on the side of the cement bank, singed black after a fire that had burned out a long time ago. As they all drove past, they saw the corpse inside it, snapping its jaw and raising its pealing, burned arms to them.

Quinn looked away.

Chris watched them do this, and pursed his lips.

Sometimes, if Chris tried to comfort Quinn, or anybody, his eyes would become so big they’d almost droop at the outer corners. It was sweet, really. Like a puppy. The cut on his cheek had been bleeding again but Chris wasn't bothered enough to clean it. Quinn knew that in truth he just thought he looked tough.

Chris still hadn't looked away. Quinn told him his war wound looked cool; this made Chris turn away. He grinned at the dashboard.

Occasionally, in the car ahead, Nick would stick his arm out the window. At one point he turned back and waved. Quinn leant out the window and waved back, and even found the motivation to smile. Hye swatted them on the shoulder and pointed for them to sit properly though, so the smile didn't last very long. But it didn't matter. Things were okay again, and Quinn was glad.

Chapter Text

Alicia, Chris, Ofelia, and Quinn were told to stay in the house and pack their things. Travis was adamant about driving his truck alone, and when Chris asked why, again, he was given no answer. Then, before they were all scheduled to leave, Travis took the truck and drove it a few blocks down the street with Daniel and Madison. Quinn had been on the roof when they all left, and they saw the house they'd driven to. They called Chris out to look, too.

“What do yo think they're doing over there?” they asked.

“I don't know,” Chris whispered. There was a strange air of quiet in the neighbourhood tonight. It wasn't the same quiet as normal; people sleeping or making the most of their evenings. It was something else. Something... looming. It made the hairs on Quinn's body stand on end and put an odd heavy tug in their gut.

“Screw this,” Quinn spat, and climbed down from the roof, using the fence as not to break their legs.

“What the hell are you doing?” Chris growled down.

“I don't have to follow their orders,” they said. “They're your parents, not mine.”

“Quinn, what are you doing?” Ofelia called out the kitchen window. The teenager was already walking down the street. Quinn had never been to this house, and had no idea what Travis, Daniel or Madison had to do with it. They found it quietly, went in through the open door, and crept the hallway. They heard voices from the kitchen, but when they went in they found nobody there. The place was dusty and messy and neglected. Old papers and mouldy food packages were strewn along the counters. Quinn saw the basement door was open and stepped over to it. They froze when they heard grunting, and then a rip. A man coughed. Quinn didn't recognise his voice when he spoke.

“You know where the compound is but you don't know where to go once you're there.” His voice was croaky. “Which building. What floor. W-what hall – you don't know where your family is... Inside.

When Quinn peeked past the door-frame, they couldn't see anything other than the floor at the bottom of the staircase. Still, they could smell the sweat; stale and sick and festering. They crept down, holding their nose, keeping their back to the wall so that nothing would creek under their shoes. Then Quinn was at the bottom and they looked around the wall.

They recognised him now.

Andy.

He was the guard that Ofelia had been getting friendly with lately. But now? Now he was bound to a chair with a bloody bandage around his arm and sweat circles on his collar and chest. His face was wet and gaunt, and the fear on it made Quinn shudder.

“The place is like a goddamed maze,” he pleaded. Quinn was frozen, hiding behind the wall again. “I can draw you a map. Alright? You won't get in without me.”

“We're bringing him,” Travis said.

Quinn was leaving, afraid of the kind of people they'd been left with, wishing they'd never come down here, wishing they had their mom, wishing they could disappear. They were in the kitchen when Daniel was coming up the staircase. He heard them try to run and chased after them. Quinn panicked, and staggered over the hallway lamp, and then Daniel was there, snatching the back of their hoodie.

“What are you doing here, child!?”

“Don't hurt me!”

Daniel pulled them up off the floor.

“Don't,” Quinn begged again, scrunching their eyes. “Please!”

“Stop,” Daniel said. He'd let go of them. “Go back to the house.”

“Why is Andy down there? Why is he all tied up?”

Madison was there then. She shushed Quinn and took them back to the house. She did her best; explaining as best she could when Chris and Alison started asking questions too. She said that the military were leaving because within the next few hours the whole area would be destroyed. Or, maybe she didn't use that word. Maybe she said something else instead. But either way it meant that everybody here would be dead by morning. What was worse was that it was going to be the military who did it. Madison said that Andy had information they needed to find the others in some hospital base. Alicia called her crazy. Chris just stared like he wasn't sure of anything anymore. Quinn was shaking and murmuring things that didn't quite make sense. Then, when Ofelia told them that she'd known since yesterday that Andy was down there, it shocked everyone enough that they all fell into quiet, like some awful net of acceptance that they were all a part of now, and they knew they needed to be, for without it, they wouldn't find their family.

They were all waiting out by or inside the car. It was colder. Alicia, Chris and Quinn had been made to change into warmer clothes; shorts for jeans, hoodies and hats. Alicia had let Quinn wear one of her cardigans, and Chris let them keep hold of his grey and black cap. Quinn, like always, was sitting in the middle between Chris and Alicia. Newt was in their lap. But in a proper pet carrier box this time that a neighbour had given them a few days ago, and granted, it was for a budgie, but it was a good size and sturdy, so Quinn didn't complain.

A man and his dog walked by and out the window they heard Madison and Ofelia's talk while they put the last few duffles and boxes in their cars.

“My neighbours don't know,” Madison said.

Ofelia scoffed and turned away. “They did nothing when they came for us.”

Soon everything was packed and inside their vehicles and all were driving out of the neighbourhood. Only this time they did it without interruption. When they got to the exit gate, Daniel got out and unlocked it. It beeped loudly. Nobody came to reprimand them like Quinn was afraid of. The guards really did leave. Every one of them. So they drove.


They arrived at the hospital, or rather, army base, only a few minutes later. There was a plan. Daniel knew about an apparent football stadium full of infected, which in itself was horrifying. Still, all it took was a set of pliers and a short walk to the entrance of the stadium for all hell to break loose. Everybody else was waiting in the underground parking lot, flinching from the gunfire upstairs and worrying for their friends, until they saw Daniel jogging back down to them.

“I led them to the north gate,” he told everybody. He would have been smiling had he not've been Daniel. “So the soldiers are distracted. We can go now.”

Travis had a handgun. Madison and Daniel, too. Ofelia; a rifle. Quinn thought about the paint can and sharpie in their backpack and wondered if they could use them as weapons. No. Probably not. They stopped thinking about how helpless they were and paid attention to the elephant in the room instead. That elephant, being, the fact that Travis had not driven here with Andy. The fact that he'd left him back at the neighbourhood.

“What did you do?!” Daniel ordered, because unlike everybody else he was only just finding out. Travis looked scolded, but held his ground.

“He told me where to find them.”

“He told you...”

“Yeah,” Travis said. “I believed him, okay? Like you believed him.”

“It was the right thing to do,” Madison seconded.

“You see what doing the right thing gets you,” Daniel warned.

Travis took Chris aside. Quinn was gripping onto their own shoulders, holding them-self together.

“If things go sideways, if you see anything... drive,” Travis instructed his son. “Take the SUV and drive to the camp ground. If we're more than thirty minutes, drive.

“Don't leave me here,” Chris told him. “I can help. I want to.”

“We'll find you,” Travis said. “Promise.”

“I don't drive yet.”

“Quinn?” Travis asked.

“Uhh. I've had a few lessons.”

“Alicia can drive,” Madison said. “If it comes to that.”

“You're gonna be okay,” Travis told them all.

“Take care of each other,” Madison said, and hugged her daughter, whispering, “You take care of them both,” into her ear, and then three teenagers watched the adults leave through the door leading to the staircase.

Alicia crossed her arms. She looked tired and cold. Chris looked around, and when he met both Alicia and Quinn's glances, he exchanged a short nod with them.

“C'mon,” Alicia said. “We should wait in the car.”


It had been twenty minutes.

“This is crazy,” Chris said. Quinn agreed. For one, Chris was sitting in the driver's seat, which would be useless if they had to drive in a hurry. But then again, nobody wanted to leave anybody here at all, so he was sitting in the driver's seat as an act of pure hope that the lack of logic would be enough of an excuse for the universe to give them a break, which they all knew was useless, but it still helped.

But then Chris was getting out of the car.

Quinn picked their forehead up from the middle compartment and watched him pace outside the door. They were all worried. Quinn coped with it the way they always did; ignored it, only this time it was more a case of I won't do anything until I see my mom again, ever, at all, like nope, no moving or thinking or feeling, nope nope nope. Chris coped by pacing, and occasionally hitting or kicking inanimate objects hard enough to make a noise but not hard enough to break. Alicia, Quinn was slowly realising, coped by comforting other people. Even earlier today, the break in, and the kiss; it was an act of comfort from her—albeit, the latter was drunken comfort, but comfort all the same.

So, because she was Alicia, she told him, “They'll come back,” and even got out of the car. “If they can't get in, they'll come back, Chris.”

Quinn decided not to follow her. Instead they put the small budgie box of gecko called Newt in the side pocket of their backpack, and as not to squash her, they led along the back seats on their chest and thought about how much more stubborn they could be about not moving until they saw their mom. Alicia had left the door open a crack, so Quinn could hear them talking.

“Leave the others?” Chris asked. Quinn couldn't see him but knew his brow was arched like a shipping bridge.

“Would you rather they all died?” Alicia said. Quinn closed their eyes, deciding: I guess I can be more stubborn. I'll just refuse to see anything now, too.

“I don't want anyone to die,” the boy retorted. “I don't want that.”

“Like your dad...”

“Yeah, well he tries.”

Then there was a gunshot, several actually, and growling. It quietened the two bickering teenagers and Quinn froze to the seats, their knuckles turning white against the leather.

“Can't save everyone,” the girl said.

“Why the hell would you say that?” Chris asked.

“Because you can't,” she said, whispering it. She picked up her voice. “Sorry, it's just...”

“Shut up.”

“What?” Alicia said. Even Quinn's eyes widened, thinking Chris was being rude, which despite the events of late was really not a usual occurrence in him. Chris was the kind of boy who, if he was treated unfairly, would only shrug it off and turn up his music, not the kind of boy who kicked inanimate objects and told girls to shut up. That was a new development, it seemed. Quinn even sat up to see the damage Chris’d caused, but only saw him and Alicia staring at something behind the SUV in the distance. Quinn turned and saw shadows moving in the parking lot entrance.

“Get in the car,” Chris hissed.

Quinn's heart was in their throat. They winced at every scuff and click that the SUV or their shoes made in their efforts to get in as quietly as they could. They all flattened themselves against the seats. Quinn in the back, Chris in the driver, and Alicia in the passenger. But their faces all met in the middle, hovering over the glove box. Their breath shook so violently that tufts of hair would puff away from each of their cheeks, and their brows were arched, eyes wide and afraid.

“If they're dead, they'll jus' keep walkin', right? They'll walk away.” Alicia panted. Quinn looked at her but had no answer.

“I don't know,” Chris whispered.

The footsteps came closer. Quinn was so afraid that they ducked their head further, and only realised Chris and Alicia had done the same when they heard the rub of hair against leather.

The footsteps were right outside.

Something tried the door.

Then came the smash.

Alicia screamed. Chris grunted and was being pulled away. Quinn tried to grab after him, but was dragged out, too.

“No!” Alicia gasped. “Get off! Get off me!”

The teenagers were lined up in front of the SUV and three figures circled them. The men were well, and dressed in army uniform, which was something. Only, Quinn had grown too used to army guys, it seemed, because what they were told next was just as scary and dangerous as if the infected had shown up instead...

“Son,” one soldier said, “just give us the keys.”

“No,” Chris muttered. His hands were up in front of his chest, palms curled into each other. It was his defense pose, however unlike a threat it may have looked. Quinn could hardly blame him. Their own defense pose wasn't much better. Their shoulders were hunched and their knees turned inward, and already the adrenaline rush was making them cry.

The soldiers exchanged a glance. The oldest guy chuckled.

“Come on, man,” the soldier who spoke first said. He was middle aged and had tanned skin and a wide nose and tired eyes. “We'll take you with us.”

“We're not going anywhere,” Chris said.

“Suit yourself,” the older soldier said, and stepped forward. “What about you, girls?” he said. Alicia was so startled that she froze. Quinn, shocked also but possible for different reasons, grimaced and swatted the guy’s hand away from where it had been aiming. The guy double took at them, and Chris ordered him to leave them both alone in the same moment he charged forward and shoved him back.

Immediately, Chris was thrown against the hood of the vehicle, and immediately, Quinn threw a punch at one of the other soldiers. But they weren’t strong enough, and was shoved back, hitting their head on the ground hard—they heard the crack in their backpack and knew what it was instantly. The older guy had turned to Chris already. Quinn had to blink away a head rush; they saw stars.

“Stop it!” Alicia shouted over everything. “Stop it! I have the keys!”

The soldiers turned to her. Quinn watched her pull the keys out of her pocket and hand them over, and the middle-aged soldier gave her an apologetic and grateful nod. He was about to step away, but the older soldier reached out to Alicia again. In the same moment his fingers laced into her hair, asking, “Are you sure you don't want to come with us?” ... Chris snapped. Alicia was pushed back by Quinn. Then Chris' fist flew forward and hit one of the soldiers square in the nose. The butt of a rifle came up and connected to the side of his face, and Chris Manawa was knocked out cold.

“Chris!” Quinn cried. Alicia was still, hands over her mouth. She watched Quinn pull the boy against their knees.

“I'm sorry,” the middle-aged soldier said. “I... I didn't mean to hit him so hard.”

Quinn felt a hand on their shoulder and suddenly leapt up to throw a punch. The old man dodged it and started pulling, but when Quinn brought their knee up against his groin he wasn't so lucky at dodging that one. He grunted and fell back. Quinn was crying.

“Don't,” Alicia hissed when the other two soldiers went to grab at the teenager. “Leave us alone, please?”

The soldier who'd hit Chris grabbed the older soldier and pulled him away, growling, “Harrison, get in the goddamn car!” and then told them both he was sorry again. Quinn and Alicia watched the three men climb into their car and drive out of the parking lot.

Alicia crumpled then, collapsing to her knees like some sand castle hit by a wave. She was making odd noises, like moaning and sobbing and heaving at the same time. It took her a few moments to stop. Quinn was shaking.

“Are you okay?” they asked. Alicia nodded through her adrenaline rush and pointed to Chris. “He's okay,” Quinn said, panting. “Just knocked out. Bleeding. On his cheek.”

Alicia hugged them then, suddenly, muttering, “Are you okay?” into their shoulder. Quinn nodded. Alicia said, “Good nut-shot, earlier.”

Quinn laughed, a little afraid they might inhale Alicia's hair, so they pulled away. Their eyes widened. “Oh no. Newt... Newt!”

They scrambled to unzip the side pocket of their backpack. Even Alicia was wincing. Quinn opened the box, stared, and sobbed. Newt was okay. A little startled and soiled, and the box was squashed in one corner, but overall in the best condition given the circumstances.

Quinn put the box back in their backpack.

“Is there anywhere we can go? We can't stay here.”

“We can get in Travis' truck.”

“No,” Quinn said. “He took the keys, and we can't sit in the back.”

“Why not?”

“It's too open. What if one of the infected people come?”

Alicia flinched. Quinn looked at her.

“I'm sorry about Su-Su.”

She looked up to them, and when she nodded, tears welled in her eyes. She blinked them away and cleared her throat, looking around the parking lot.

“There,” she said, pointing. “Supply closet.”


Chris woke up a few minutes after they'd laid him down on the concrete next to the shelving cabinet. When he came to, Quinn was doing their best to clean up the blood from his cheek with the hem of their cardigan, staining the blue and grey bright crimson. Something was telling Quinn to start getting used to it –the blood– but they pushed that thought away.

“Quinn,” Chris whispered. They dabbed the last few crusty red marks away from his chin and tried not to make a big deal over how relieved they felt. The boy grinned, but stopped when it hurt too much. “Jesus,” he said. “You look like butt.”

Quinn almost sobbed, but bent down and kissed his hair-line instead. “Take a look at yourself,” they retorted. Chris smiled up at them, looking tired and small and in pain. Quinn had the urge to tip forward and kiss him again—kiss all the creases in his brow away, but instead helped Alicia pull Chris to sit up.

“How're you feeling?” Alicia asked him.

“Like I've been hit by a car.”

“You have been hit, remember?” Quinn said.

“Yeah, but not by a car,” Chris said. He pressed two fingers to his jaw, smirk-grimacing. “Ouch...” He asked if they were both okay. Alicia and Quinn said they were—Quinn also kept attempting to rub more of the blood away, and they may or may not have kissed him several more times. Chris tolerated it. He even smiled at them for it. “Quinn, I'm okay,” he said when his forehead got damp, almost laughing. “Really, I'm – ouch!”

“Sit still,” they said, pulling his cheek to face them. “I'm almost done.”

Chris did as he was told. “You're fussy when you're worried.”

“Dude,” Alicia said, “you got knocked out.”

“Yeah, I know, I felt it,” he said. Quinn narrowed their eyes at him when he refused another round of forehead kissing, but Chris was forgiven when he whispered that they were queer, and Quinn laughed and punched him in the arm.

“Did they take the car?” was the next question.

“Yeah.”

Chris cursed... quite a few times. It seemed like the moment he would actually come out with a proper sentence it would turn into blasphemy again and again. In perfect honesty, Quinn and Alicia were rather impressed.

Finally, there were familiar voices.

“Chris.”
“Alicia!”

“Oh my God,” Alicia breathed, “it's them.”

“Lower your voice, the dead will hear you.”
“Chris!”
“Alicia! Quinn!”
“Alicia!”

The teenagers were rushing to the exit.

“We're here!” Alicia yelled. “Mom!”

“Dad!” Chris said. Travis dropped his rifle on the hood of the truck and ran for him. “Dad!”

“Christopher,” his mother gasped, and wrapped her arms around him, too.

“The soldiers. They took the SUV,” Chris muttered. “I'm sorry.”

Quinn staggered around him and searched desperately. “Mom?”

Daniel was there. Nick. Ofelia, too. They couldn't see Griselda, but—

Mom!”

Hye was trying to say her child's name but her stammer was so bad she couldn't even manage the first letter. It didn't matter though. Finally, Quinn felt like they could move, think, like breaking out of a body-sized cage. Quinn lost track of the next few moments. The chronological order of it all jumbled into what must have only been seconds but felt like decades. But they knew that they were holding Hye, and they knew that Hye was holding them too. They could smell her scent in their nose and feel her pale blue hospital robes around their shoulders. She was sweating and crying and had tiny blood splatters over her front like she'd been sprayed with a paint can.

“Mom,” Quinn whimpered. “Where did you go? Where did you go? You were gone.”

Hye sobbed and tried to apologise, but she couldn't hold the words together. Quinn wrapped their arms around her shoulders and nodded into her shoulder anyway. They knew she had gone because she had to. They knew she was sorry.

“Careful, Mom.”

“W-W... Why?”

“Newt's in my backpack. Don't squash her.”

Hye laughed and hugged Quinn tighter, though only around their shoulders to take the gecko into account. All Quinn wanted to do anymore was hug their mom and never let go, but of course, the time came when they had to, aided when Daniel told them that they, “must go now,” and they were going to... but a man staggered from another door, bleeding and raising a gun.

Andy.

“Salazar!” His voice was raspy, like before, and sweat ran down his face. Everyone fell quiet. Ofelia pushed herself up from the wall she'd been leaning against. Travis stepped around Quinn and Hye.

“Andy?” Ofelia whispered. “Andy. Hey.”

“Ofelia,” Daniel warned.

“Andrew,” she ignored him. “Put the gun down. You don't have to do this, okay? What are you doing? Just, put the gun down. Andrew don't do this, please? Please, please?”

Andy was shaking.

Ofelia tried one more time... “Andy,” but the gun was fired and she hit the cement. Quinn heard Daniel’s scream, felt Hye staggered forward, and saw Eliza and Daniel rush to Ofelia, too. Travis lunged at Andy, knocking him to the floor. His gun slid across the parking lot. Travis threw punch after punch even when Andy wasn't moving anymore, even when Quinn covered their face... and it wasn't until minutes later when someone pulled their hands away from their eyes that Quinn brought them-self back into the underground parking lot again. It was Chris. He was saying something. Quinn.

“Mom,” Quinn muttered. “My mom.”

“She's looking after Ofelia.”

Their hands were shaking. Chris held on to them, clasping them between his own like a tremble sandwich. When it didn't help, he weaved their fingers together, and when that didn't work either, all else he could do was hug them, so he did. Finally, Quinn could pull away and stand beside him. They saw Andy lying still on the floor, blood and shallow splutters in the places a healthy man should be. Everybody was focusing on Ofelia, who was being cared for, and whoever wasn’t involved in that began gathering themselves together.

Nick had brought a friend, Quinn noticed; a middle-aged man in a handsome suit with cufflinks. He had dark skin, brown eyes, stubble, and neat, buzz-cut hair. His voice was low and serious, and he introduced himself as Strand.

He showed them how to hot-wire another car in the parking lot and the ten of them left quickly. Quinn didn't say anything, but could’ve sworn that as they drove out of the parking lot, they caught a glimpse of Andy sitting up and turning to them.


Nick, Madison, Alicia and Strand were all in the car ahead. Quinn was in the truck, sitting beside Chris. Travis was driving. In the back was Hye, Eliza and Daniel, all tending to Ofelia. The bleeding was already under control. Griselda had died at the hospital the day before, Hye and Eliza said. Her foot became too infected and Eliza had to put her down. Quinn wanted to ask their mother everything about it, but knew that she wouldn't have the calm to summon the words for it for a while.

It was morning now, and while they drove out of the city, they would drive past walking corpse after walking corpse. But no living. It unsettled Quinn enough that they wanted to wind up their window, but held back because they wanted to be able to hear the others if they needed anything.

They all knew that if they went through down-town to get out they'd come across too many infected, and instead of turning onto the freeway, they took a left before that and followed the river down. A helicopter must have fallen. It was left, neglected on the side of the cement bank, singed black after a fire that had burned out a long time ago. As they all drove past, they saw the corpse inside it, snapping its jaw and raising its pealing, burned arms to them.

Quinn looked away.

Chris watched them do this, and pursed his lips.

Sometimes, if Chris tried to comfort Quinn, or anybody, his eyes would become so big they’d almost droop at the outer corners. It was sweet, really. Like a puppy. The cut on his cheek had been bleeding again but Chris wasn't bothered enough to clean it. Quinn knew that in truth he just thought he looked tough.

Chris still hadn't looked away. Quinn told him his war wound looked cool; this made Chris turn away. He grinned at the dashboard.

Occasionally, in the car ahead, Nick would stick his arm out the window. At one point he turned back and waved. Quinn leant out the window and waved back, and even found the motivation to smile. Hye swatted them on the shoulder and pointed for them to sit properly though, so the smile didn't last very long. But it didn't matter. Things were okay again, and Quinn was glad.

Chapter Text

They arrived at Strand's beach house. It had smart cement walls, a long driveway, a flat roof, and neat, green, rectangularly-cut trees. They parked their cars by a metal side-gate and the suited gentleman got out first to open it.

“Come,” he commanded, pressing buttons on a wall key-pad.

“Grid's dead,” Nick said, leaning against the roof of the car.

“The generators keep going when the power dies,” Strand replied, and pushed open the gate. Quinn was impressed, and one glance at Nick said he felt the same way. His eyebrows jumped up when he made eye contact with Quinn and he stretched his lips down to amuse them. It worked, because Quinn blushed and pulled their backpack over their shoulder.

They followed Strand into the patio.

“Let’s hope this place is gecko friendly,” Chris muttered. Quinn shoved him. Chris staggered off the path onto the pebbles, which Travis told him off for. Hye, Eliza and Daniel helped Ofelia inside; she was walking, but she needed support.

Strand was already ahead, and he met them in the houses' foyer.

“Anyone hungry?” he asked, motioning into what they guessed was a living space but looked more like a restaurant—not any restaurant Quinn had ever dined at, mind you. “Help yourself.”

“Shit.”

Quinn wasn't sure how Hye had heard them but she still clipped them around the shoulder. Quinn grunted.

There were expensive wicker chairs with patterned cushions, and shelves that folded into the walls. Pottery sat on the mantelpieces and a telescope was in the corner in front of the windows. Most of the whole outer wall of the house seemed to be a big window, and the view outside was of the Pacific Ocean. Quinn knew this area. Or, the lower parts of it at least. Once before, late at night, them and Chris had gone down to one of the beach coves nearby.

It was only a few months after Quinn's father had died and Quinn needed the time in their own head that only graffiti painting offered them. Chris kept his distance, keeping lookout while Quinn dream-painted on the cove overlooking the shore. They were there for hours, knelt in the sand and rock, drawing nothing and everything until their fingertips were rainbows. They got so carried away with it that even the palm trees were tagged, and in the end, Chris saw torches and the two had to make a run for it before they were both arrested.

Quinn stopped thinking about the miserable thrill of that night before anybody caught them smile-frowning, and grabbed a banana for them-self and an apple for Hye, who they found in the bathroom down the hallway. When they knocked, Hye asked who it was.

“Me,” Quinn said. Hye opened the door. Her stutter was still there, but it wasn't so bad now that she was alone and calmer. “Mom?”

“Hey, baby. Gimmie a h-h-hand... w-with this?” Hye was leant over the sink, exhausted. Quinn knew she hadn't taken her insulin today and worried if the hospital she'd been working for had supplied her with enough. Quinn pulled her shirt up over her back when Hye asked, and then they saw her side.

“Oh my God, Mom, what happened?”

“It's just a.... b-b-b-bruise, I-I promise.”

On the whole left side of Hye's body, a dark purple and blue contusion stretched from her thigh up to her shoulder. As Hye took a closer look at herself, Quinn covered their mouth, the apple against their lips. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. It happened yesterday. W... We were rushing a p-patient into surgery and a door came back on me too h... har...” Hye's mouth stretched in her struggle, but Quinn knew to be patient. They took a seat on the edge of the bathtub. “Too hard,” Hye managed, “knocked me to the floor. But I'm fine.”

Quinn nodded. “You've got more insulin, right?” It was only right before asking it that Quinn realised they were afraid of the answer.

“Yeah. I only just took it.” Quinn saw the backpack Hye'd brought in with her and felt the nerves ease a little.

“Can I do anything?” they asked.

Hye pulled her shirt back down, satisfied she wasn’t bleeding, and shook her head. “You're perfect.”

Quinn spent a moment staring at their mother's face, wondering if she really meant it, and when Hye nodded like she could hear Quinn's thoughts, Quinn stepped forward and wrapped their arms around her. Hye apologised then, for leaving Quinn behind, for scaring them. Quinn scrunched their eyes and hugged her tighter, and when both Chŏn's could stop crying, they made their way back to the others.

Quinn couldn't find Strand to ask if it was okay to keep a gecko on his property, so they used the ambiguity as their excuse to do it anyway. Newt seemed to be getting used to rough travel. When Quinn opened the box, expecting the two ounces of reptile to scurry out like lightning, the gecko waited patiently for them to pick her up and hold her. She made a few attempts to hide in their sleeve, but when Quinn walked into the sun Issac Newton seemed to suddenly remember how good the heat felt and tipped her head up to the sky to bask.

Chris and Alicia were out on the patio too, leaning against the wall and looking out over the ocean. They had popsicles.

“Where's mine?” Quinn asked.

“I dunno,” Chris said. Quinn rolled their eyes and hopped up onto the wall between them, their back to the view and sun.

“Oh, come on,” Alicia complained. “Chris, don't be mean. Give Quinn h–” She stopped, corrected herself. “–their popsicle.”

Quinn smiled, then pouted at Chris jest-pleadingly, and with a pair of rolled eyes, the boy held out a purple popsicle that he'd been hiding, or ‘keeping cool’ as he said, in the shade under his arm. He had a red one and Alicia a blue. Quinn put Newt on their shoulder. The flavoured ice was sweet and cold and refreshing, and the three teenagers went on to talk about the high probability that school would be cancelled the rest of the week.

“What're you gonna do about Newt?” Alicia asked at one point.

“Keep her with me,” Quinn said, but knew it sounded naive. Alicia and Chris didn't say anything. Quinn sighed. “I know I should set her free.”

“She'd be okay,” Chris told them. “It's a good habitat here; grass and sand and rocks and sun.”

“Yeah but there aren't any wild geckos in America,” Quinn said, and took a few minutes to bite and chew into their popsicle. “They're indigenous to places like Pakistan and India. Places with deserts... and other geckos.”

“It's either that or getting crushed in your backpack,” Alicia said.

Quinn winced, then nodded. “Yeah. Guess.”

“Look,” Alicia said. “Way I see it, you have one of three options. Number one, keep her, and she might live longer but she'll be miserable, and in the end, we all know she'll either be left behind or hurt. Number two, let her go, and she might last a few weeks or days – hours, but she'll be in the sun and she'll be free. Or number three... kill her yourself before something else does.”

Jesus, Quinn thought. Alicia really doesn't beat around the bush.

“Whichever way,” the girl went on, “this is, nowadays, geckos aren't going to last here anymore.”

Maybe we aren't either, Quinn thought, but didn't say it. Instead they said, “Is my tongue purple yet?” and stuck it out for them both to see.

“Yes.” Chris grimaced.

“What about mine?” Alicia asked, and showed hers. Chris laughed. Quinn grinned at them both. “Is it blue yet?” Alicia stuck it out again and Quinn murmured something about what it looked like Alicia had been doing to Smurfette that made Chris laugh even harder, and then...

...a gunshot...

...it echoed over the cliff, through the whole house. They all turned to where it had come from. Their smiles were gone. When somebody somewhere realised three people were missing everybody was suddenly running towards the ocean. Quinn heard Hye calling out to them from the house but their heart was pounding too fast to stop.

It was the same cove—the one Chris and Quinn had gone to that night to paint. Quinn could see their own faded tags scattered all over the place. They saw Travis, in the distance down on the shore, crying into Madison's arms, and then they saw her...

“Eliza.”

She was dead.

MOM!”

A delicate, bloody hole was situated right through her forehead. Chris sank to his knees and wailed over her body. He pounded the earth by her side and screamed for the life he'd never see again. Her eyes were still open. Quinn wanted to tap her shoulder and tell her to snap out of it, to come back, to give Chris his packed lunch so that they could both share it on the way to school together.

But she was dead.

Quinn knew what that meant but had never seen it so real. Even with their own father. When he died, Quinn merely knew of it. Never saw it. Him. Didn't even go to his funeral. Quinn didn't have to look at the gone in his expression like now.

Quinn didn't remember the walk back up to the house but knew that they cried into their mother's front for hours afterward. They knew that Chris hadn't left their mother and that Daniel stayed with him. They knew that Travis had done it, shot his ex-wife. Eliza had been infected. It was the only thing he could do for her.

Quinn finally stopped crying and sat up from Hye, staring off into space, not thinking about anything. Hye trusted them enough to see to Ofelia's bandage. Quinn went to the bathroom to clean up. They broke down crying again. They tried to stay silent, crying so hard and for so long that eventually, Quinn passed out from horror and exhaustion.


 

Hours later, Quinn woke up with their head ducked between their knees and their back numb and pressed to the side of the expensive black bathtub. There was an ominous boom but Quinn couldn't quite bring attention to it, as something shook their shoulder. Again, Quinn avoided paying attention.

“You in there, kid?”

Quinn shuffled, and looked up.

Nick was crouched in front of them.

Your hair is still matted, Quinn wanted to tell him, but, “I'm only two years younger than you,” was what Quinn actually said to him.

Nick frowned. “When's your birthday?”

“Few weeks.”

Nick nodded. Another weird boom. Quinn thought it was their head but Nick stood up and went to the door to peek out. “C'mon, kid,” he said, using that soft Willy Wonka voice again. “We gotta get going.”

When they got out into the living space the sun was setting in the west across the horizon, and Strand, Daniel, Travis and Madison were rushing about collecting things. Ofelia was resting on the couch. Chris must've still been down with Eliza's corpse and Hye was probably with him. Quinn went out onto the patio, wrapping their baggy, blue and grey, blood-stained cardigan around their middle. Alicia was out there. Nick, too. The siblings stopped talking to look around at Quinn.

“Sorry about your newt,” Nick said.

Quinn leaned against a tall wooden pillar. “She's not a n...” They stopped and realised they hadn't seen the gecko in hours. “Oh...”

Alicia pursed her lips. “Newt can live out here now.”

“Yeah,” Quinn said. Eliza dying was still playing a large part more of importance on their mind right now anyway.

“Newty better enjoy it while it lasts,” Nick said, oddly sober. “'Cause it won't last for long.”

“What?” Quinn asked.

Alicia thumped him in the arm. “Shut up.”

“It's true,” Nick said.

“What why?” Quinn asked, anxious now.

Just then, Quinn became aware of the low humming coming from the distance. They saw nothing over the sea—they weren't wearing their glasses but still. The humming wasn't quite humming though. More like buzzing. Like wasps. Big wasps.

Nick tilted his head past the house, then stepped away from the wall. “Come,” he said, walking. “See.” They did, following him around the house, and what they all saw was fire. Not much of it, yet, but they had all seen enough horror movies to know what was going on.

The helicopters were carrying big dark things under them. Quinn watched. The big thing was released over the city behind the house, miles away, and then it caught fire in the air. As it hit the earth with another boom!, a whole block burst into fire and rubble and smoke. Quinn flinched. It wasn't even dark yet but the flames still made the blades of grass under their feet glow.

Quinn's eyes watered from the adrenaline rush. It wasn't until the events of late that Quinn realised they couldn't help their eyes from watering. It wasn't even because they were sad, not in that moment. They were just afraid and angry. Watery eyes were Quinn's automatic response to those emotions, like reflex, as useless as it was misleading.

“It's to kill the dead ones,” Nick said to comfort them.

“You said we were going,” Quinn said, frowning. “Where?”

Nick took them and Alicia back around the away from the growing flames, right to the edge of the cliff. They could all see Chris and Hye's figures down on the shore. They'd moved Eliza's body there, for some reason. Quinn could just make out the blurry white sheet covering her with two Chris-arms wrapped around it. Quinn's heart sank for him. Madison was taking a duffel bag down, and she took the path and told her children to help. Nick and Alicia said they would in a second.

“You haven't answered me,” Quinn said, squinting at the ocean. Already, it looked black and shiny and ready to swallow them.

Nick pointed at it.

“We're going in the water to safety?” Quinn asked, impatient now. “Sucks I can't swim at all.”

“You won't have to,” he said.

Quinn was even more angry now. Angry and sad and tired and afraid. They had to wipe their eyes.

“Put on your glasses,” Alicia suggested.

Quinn did, pulling the pair from their breast pocket, and there, out on the salt-water, Quinn saw the boat. It was big and expensive and it had to be the craziest idea Strand had come up with yet.

“What the hell is that?”

“What, that?” Nick grinned.

Yes.

Nick crossed his arms over his chest and took a deep dramatic breath.

“That, my friend, is Abigail.”

Chapter Text

Eliza's funeral was going to start soon. For a while, Quinn was sleeping, and at some point, they could’ve sworn they heard opera playing, faintly, somewhere. Quinn figured it was just the radio. They'd also heard David Bowie, too, and fell asleep with the lyrics in their ears.

Pushing thru the market square
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over
We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
Then I knew he was not lying...

They woke up to Alicia laughing.

Quinn crawled out of bed—well, no, they'd gone to sleep on the bed but had somehow woken up on the floor, curled up under the frame with their nose pressed to a cardboard box labelled 'Fragile: This way up' with a little arrow.

“Where you gonna go?” Alicia asked from the spare room down the hallway. She was still chuckling.

“I don't know,” a stranger answered her, crackling inside static. “We thought maybe –like– Hawaii. That's far. And it's Hawaii, right? Coconuts in paradise.”

“Paradise?”

“No one's gonna turn there. In paradise?”

She chuckled again.

“But it's too far, too far for this boat.”

“Well, do you guys have water?”

“Yeah, we have some. We've got little pans out, hoping it rains, catch something. 'Cause if not, we'll be drinking our own pee soon.”

Mm, tasty.”

“Yeah, how about you? You have water?”

Quinn stepped around the door-frame and Alicia startled. “Uh...” She stuttered awkwardly, eyes on Quinn but verbal focus still on the radio. “Yeah, we have a desalinization system.”

Quinn sat next to her and smirked. “He sounds nice.” Alicia shushed them. “Ally, he can't hear us. Your finger’s off the button.”

Alicia rolled her eyes and shuffled aside to let Quinn sit forward on their stomach. Their shoulders brushed hers. Quinn took the radio and listened. They dipped their head, their fringe flopping to one side—Alicia had to blow it out of her mouth. Quinn smirked, then rested their whole head on her shoulder instead.

“Now, that is pretty swank, man,” the stranger was saying during all this. “You must be rich.”

“Who is he?” Quinn asked.

“He's...” Alicia stuttered and chose to ignore Quinn and answer the guy's question instead. “No, no.” She was distracted. “Erm. We're just passengers. We don't have money.”

“But you said you were on a yacht, right?”

Yeah. It's a big boat,” she said, slowing her voice to target her focus on glaring at Quinn for cocking a dark eyebrow. Their eyes, also brown—the kind like black coffee— twinkled.

Alicia snorted; also blushed... a little.

“So,” the voice said, “do you think you guys could make Hawaii?”

The conversation went on like that for a little while. Quinn was pretty sure Alicia and Jack, as Alicia called him, were flirting. But then again, Quinn was pretty sure that them and Alicia were flirting, too, because Alicia was looking Quinn in the eye and making strange eyebrow movements and mouth shapes, speaking and gesturing to them and him both intermittently. There had to be a third wheel somewhere though. Quinn figured that it could have been either one of them, really. Maybe even Alicia, although that was unlikely since the guy on the radio didn't even know Quinn was there. Then, disregarding all of that, Quinn figured that maybe flirting was just the only way to cope with what was happening lately.

Jack was somewhere on the ocean in a small boat that was running out of supplies and gas. He tried to keep up the momentum of the conversation, even when Quinn got brave enough to announce their presence, and Jack said, “Hey there, Quinn,” and Quinn said, “Hello, Jack,” and Jack said, “Huh, look at me. I've made two friends today.” But after long enough his strong voice grew soft and his smoothness became rough and his sureness turned hollow and uncertain.

“It's just my brother and me now and his wife,” he said. “Just the three of us. Everyone's gone. Everyone else is dead, turned, taken. I even saw it happen to my girlfriend.”

“I'm sorry,” Alicia said.


Later the same day, everybody gathered around Eliza's body. She was wrapped in the white sheet and Travis had already tied the heavy equipment to her feet so that she would sink. She was laid on a table that was propped to the edge of the deck banister. The only person not there was Strand. Nobody was bothered by this.

“Um,” Travis began, “you all knew Eliza long enough to see what kind of person she was, how devoted she was to her family. She loved to help people. She would help anyone and she did. She was selfless, you know? She just would give from her heart.”

Travis' breath shook. Quinn scrunched their eyes into their mother's collar. Hye held them; her own tears were unrelenting, but she was silent, like usual.

“And she could be fierce,” Travis went on. “Oh, my God. She was so strong and it was painful sometimes.” His laugh came tight and forced, and then it was gone. “And the best thing that we ever did, together, was our son, who she loved more than anything or anyone.”

At his father's blessing, Chris stepped over, took the edge of the table, and threw Eliza into the Pacific. She smashed into the water. Chris let out a sob and slammed the table back down so hard everybody startled. He stormed off, back into the hull. In the silent wake he left behind, Travis apologised and went after him. Hye took Quinn's arm to stop them from following.

Everybody could hear Chris' screaming:

“She's gone!”

“I could have said something different!”

“I could have fixed it!”

“I COULD HAVE FIXED IT!”

They heard skin on skin like someone hit someone.

“YOU SHOT HER!”

Travis returned with a bloody lip and a scowl on his expression. He re-sat the scuffed collar of his shirt and Madison tended to him. Most of the others were helping set the table, but Quinn had to go and bend over the toilet for a little while until they felt like they wouldn't throw up anymore. They chewed and swallowed more pills when Hye told them to. Quinn hadn't asked what the pills were but trusted their mother enough to take them anyway. Hye kissed their forehead and stroked their hair and told them she loved them more than anything in the universe, and Quinn smiled, breathed, then got up and cleaned their mouth out.

They went back upstairs.

“Travis,” Alicia said, rushing past Quinn and Hye on the stairs. “Travis, someone needs help. They're sinking.”

“Who?”

Alicia took him aside and sat at the couch. Everybody heard anyway: “Look, it's just him, his brother, and his sister-in-law. Just three. We can manage that.”

“What's this?” Madison asked.

“Jack,” Alicia said. “His name's Jack.”

Quinn felt their mouth go dry when they noticed Strand perched like a UFO on the staircase from the bridge.

“Who the hell is Jack?” he ordered. He stepped down into the room. “You gonna make me ask twice?”

“He's on a fishing boat near here and he's sinking.”

Crap, Quinn thought. But we were only talking to him a little while ago.

“You talked to him?” Strand growled.

“Yes, I talked to him.”

“Did you tell him anything about us?”

“I – no, I didn't tell him anything important.”

“What didn't you say, Alicia? What didn't you tell him about us?” Alicia didn't answer him. Hye stuttered defensively, but Travis beat her to it.

“Calm down,” he said.

“This isn't a game!” Strand barked. “It's mob rule on land. You think it's any better out here?”

“Back off!”

“What are you gonna do, Travis? You feel strong?”

Travis stood, and even though Strand stepped back he was not cowering down. He addressed all of them, his mouth jerked open irritably, eyes narrowed and venomous.

“Please, let me explain the rules of the boat,” he warned, voice low and stern, sunken, like Eliza's corpse through the water. “Rule number one, it's my boat. Rule number two, it is my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three: it's my goddamn boat.” And then he began whispering. “If it weren't for me, you would all be burned. You're welcome.”

Then he was gone, prowling away to the bridge like a lion dragging a carcass. Madison warned him not to, but Nick went up to talk to him anyway, and when Madison heard them both talking about Nick's addiction she went downstairs to talk to Chris—Quinn was pretty sure Chris wouldn’t hit her, despite believing that before today Chris would never have hit his own father, too.

Madison returned a little while later and whispered things to Travis. Meanwhile, everyone went about setting the table and serving Daniel’s eel. When everything was done, things seemed to have settled; some normalcy brought back while they all sat around the food and gazed hungrily at it all. It was corrupt normalcy though –corrupt by thoughts of the dead and the gone and the fear that it all hadn't yet ended– but it was normalcy all the same.

Nick poked at the eel until Ofelia told him to stop it. Hye let Quinn drink some wine. Alicia picked at the salad. Quinn wasn't sure they would be able to eat much, due to the sea sickness, but was certainly eager to try.

Then there was a splash.

Cutlery clattered to plates and people rose from the table. Quinn was thinking of Chris, how they’d seen him walk by while they were eating, his hood up and his head dipped even though he'd been invited to eat. They thought of what he might’ve been doing out there, all alone, on the deck, inside his thoughts of the dead and the gone and the fear that it all hadn't ended yet... and then they thought of what he might do, and it turned their chest inside out.

Quinn was already clambering across the room. The others followed out onto the deck and down to the stern, and they saw the froth from the splash and made out the dark boyish figure sinking into the blueness...

“CHRIS!” Quinn screamed.

“Chris!” Nick, too.

Quinn didn't think about it when they rushed at the edge, but a hand yanked them back by the collar and Nick barked, “You can't swim!” and before they could do anything, Quinn was watching, stunned, while he dove into the sea.

“Chris,” Travis murmured, staggering down to them, too. He gripped Quinn's shoulder. They watched his face turn the strangest mix of hard and fragile all at once. It scared Quinn senseless.

Hye, too, reached out to Quinn, breathless and terrified. They all watched Nick swim out to the boy, until they couldn't see either of them well behind a large foggy mist.

“Nick,” Madison moaned in horror from the deck.

“What the hell, man?” they heard from across the water. It was Nick. The fog shifted and they all saw two heads, one blond and the other black, floating in the water a few feet apart. They were talking.

“Jesus, Chris,” Quinn griped.

“Is he okay?” Madison asked.

Travis cupped his mouth. “Chris!”

“Hey, come on in,” Nick said to them all. His toes poked up and he floated on his back. His jacket made big cream-coloured balloons under his arms. Quinn couldn't tell if he was acting nonchalant or not, but was too relieved to care. “Water's fine.”

They all relaxed, only none of them did—none of them could. Not really. The atmosphere felt forced. The water sloshed against the deck and Quinn watched the last few bubbles rise up from the two places where Nick and Chris had jumped. The pockets of air wobbled and whispered 'not safe not safe not safe' only they didn't, Quinn supposed. It's all in your head...

Quinn felt sick.

Nick swam over and gripped the deck with wet hands. He said, “Come on in, kiddo.”

Quinn thought about the mermaids in that movie they'd lost the name of. The mermaids would whisper sweet nothings through the air, lure you into the water, then drown you.

Nick held out his hand.

Quinn stepped back.

“Come on,” Nick said, and started chanting mermaidly, or, mermanly: “QuinnyQuinnyQuinny.”

Quinn looked at Hye and she looked confused and apprehensive, but she nodded anyway. So, carefully, once Quinn had shed their sneakers and socks and rolled up their jeans, they sat on the edge and felt the water around their shins and calves and toes. Quinn liked the feeling, but knew that if any more of them-self were under, they'd be flailing around like a drunk sloth.

“Not so bad, huh?” Nick said, and grinned. Quinn grinned back, then Nick ducked under the water and stayed there for a moment, and Quinn leant forward to find him, then leapt out of their skin when he threw himself up and sent a wave of cold right over them.

“Aghh!”

Nick laughed and spluttered.

“You douche-hole!”

Laughed harder.

Quinn got up and shook their arms off, made a decent attempt to scrunch out the water from their cardigan, but didn't do very well. They rolled their eyes when Nick floated alongside them from inside the water, and then rolled their eyes again when he disappeared underneath it and swam away.

Quinn went up onto the main deck.

“Jack?” It was Alicia. She was sitting on the deck bench with the radio.

“It's okay, Alicia,” he said, sounding very serious, like how he sounded before after all the flirting and smoothness had worn off. He was now grave and rough and eerie. “I got you.”

“Jack,” she repeated, confused.

“What's going on?” Quinn asked. Alicia looked up at them but was spoken over.

“I'll see you soon.”

Quinn's eyes widened. Alicia's shot up to the horizon, but it was blocked by that mist cloud. That feeling before. The bad feeling. It was getting worse. Quinn brought their hands up around their chest and hunched their shoulders.

“What's going on, Ally?”

“I – I don't know.”

“MOM!” Nick was heard. They both span around to the others. Travis was still down on the stern, watching over Nick and Chris. Ofelia and Madison were across from Quinn and Alicia watching, too. Madison's arm came up to point.

“Travis...”

Quinn heard the growling.

Hye moaned.

“Mom?” Quinn said, and they all looked to where the stammering woman was pointing.

“Oh, my God!” Madison gasped, because in the ocean, now, were corpses. They floated and gargled and reached up and out to them all... hungry. “Get out of the water!” she cried. “Get out!”

“Chris!” Travis shouted. “Get out of there!”

“Get out!”

Quinn's heart was vibrating.

Chris wheeled around and saw the corpse wading his way, and he dove under the water and swam towards the boat. He was far away by now though, and Quinn could already tell he had exhausted himself getting out that far in the first place. Travis was already starting on untying the motorboat.

“Oh my God,” Madison said again, and they all saw the up-turned sail boat emerge from the mist. The mist wasn't mist though, they all suddenly realised. It was smoke. Debris and bodies floated by. The corpses they saw had died on it, the boat, and not long ago, too, either burned or drowned, only to come back to life and growl...

“Nick!” Alicia yelled. He was a little further out than Chris.

“I hear someone,” he called back, and then he was gone again.

“NICK!” she shouted. “Where is he?”

“I can't see either of them,” Quinn said. Down with Travis, the little motorboat spluttered.

“It's flooded,” he hissed.

“Guys!” Quinn shouted, pointing. “Guys, there – there's... CHRIS, WATCH OUT!” Another corpse was floating from his other side, right into his path but he didn't know it until it grabbed his hood. Chris grunted, spluttered. “No, no, no, no.”

“Go!” Madison gasped, and Travis rowed, as fast as he could, taking the little boat out to his son. He barely made it in time, but grabbed Chris' shoulders and lifted the boy into the boat away from the infected, knocking it away so that it spun helplessly.

Quinn was hyperventilating, and only realised they were gripping onto their mother's hand when the woman said, “He's okay. He's okay. Travis got him.”

“NICK!” Madison roared.

“NICK, WHERE ARE YOU!?” Travis, too.

Alicia looked through the binoculars she'd found inside. When she handed them to Quinn, they saw the tiny bullet holes in the side of the boat's exposed hull, hundreds of bullets.

“What the hell?”

“Oh, my God,” Madison said, and Quinn wondered if they would ever hear a different sentence from the woman ever again. The infected were still growling, and the smoke was moving past them quickly, picking up the wind. Everybody's hearts were still vibrating. Quinn could almost hear them all, like a small ocean choir. They handed the binoculars back to Alicia.

“. . ... . ..Where is he?” Hye managed. Quinn shrugged and made a noise.

“Nick!” Travis shouted, then dove in.

“Dad!”

Again, Madison said: “Oh, my God.”

In the ocean, they all heard Nick fighting the infected. There was splashing and growling, and then for a long time everything was quiet. Too quiet. Quinn hugged them-self, saw Chris do the same. Madison gripped the railing. Hye covered her mouth. Alicia watched through binoculars. Ofelia wrapped her blanket around her, and Daniel squinted from the balcony. Like usual, nobody knew where Strand was, and like usual, nobody was really thinking about him.

“Nick! NICK!”

“He's right there,” Alicia gasped, and everybody saw him and Travis. Nick grinned at them and held up high a plastic satchel of some kind.

Strand was there then, marching out onto the stern. “We should be leaving now. Someone's joining us,” he said. Quinn disliked how alarmed he looked, and when they thought about what he'd just told everybody, their own heart stopped.

“TRAVIS!” Madison shouted, cupping her mouth. Her hair whipped around her face.

“It could be no one,” Strand said. His voice was fast, sharp, low. He went up to Alicia on top of the staircase and got real close to her, scolding her but not touching her. He pointed back to the wreck. “It could be the ones who did that.”

Alicia's cheeks lit up, but when he was gone she scowled through the binoculars again. Travis and Nick were in the boat with Chris and they were all coming back. Which was good, only it didn't take away from the fact that the someone coming to join them was going to be here soon.

“Do you think who's coming is who killed them all?” someone asked—Quinn realised it was them-self. “Do you think they're going to kill us, too?”

Nobody wanted to know the answer.

“High,” Daniel said, and the rope was thrown from the little boat into his hands. He pulled it in.

“We have to go,” Madison rushed down to them. “We have to go now.”

“What?” Travis groaned.

“Strand, we're clear!” she shouted back.

“Hey, what's happening?” Travis said. “What's going on?”

Madison's expression was hard as she pointed out to the destroyed boat. “Whoever did that. They're coming back.”

Chapter Text

Madison had been yelling at Nick for the worst part of thirty minutes now. “Do you hear me? Are you out of your mind, Nick?” And somehow he’s been saying, “Sorry,” for even longer than that.

“I swear if you do that again, I will leave you in the goddamn ocean, I shit you not!”

“I thought I heard something.”

“What? What could you hear?”

“I don't know. Something bumping the hull.”

“Yeah, well, you almost got yourself killed. You almost got Travis killed.”

“We're still trying to help people, aren't we?”

Yes. People that we can see.”

“Maddy,” Travis interjected. “Nick found a logbook to that boat.”

Quinn knew the one he was talking about. Earlier they'd seen Nick looking at it. They'd said, “What's that?” and Nick said back, “I found it out there. It's a Yacht Log.” And Quinn said, “Oh, cool. Can I read it?” And Nick did this odd thing with his eyebrows and said, “I don't know. It's kinda boring. Not really for kids.”

Nick annoyed Quinn. But in a strange way. In a way that Quinn couldn't really tell they appreciated or loathed. It was the way he called them kid even though they were almost the same age, and how he used to call Newt Newty. And sure, it was all very irritating, but Quinn was aware of how distracting it was, too. How relieving it was to find this trivial crap annoying instead of worrying about if they or the people they cared about were going to die soon. So, they had to admit, it was a relief to have him here.

“We got a problem,” Travis said, cracking the relief down the middle.

All the grown-ups disappeared upstairs. Even Nick was left out of this one. But they all huddled around the lowest staircase; Quinn, Chris, Alicia and Nick, doing their best to hear the worried voices from two stories above in the bridge.

“San Diego's dead,” said one voice.

“How bad?” another.

“It's gone.”

“What?”

“Wait, wait, wait.”

“What do you mean gone?”

“It's burned. The military burned it down. According to this, the Leigh Anne just came from the south right there.”

“Wait a minute, I thought you said San Diego was safe.”

“I wouldn't take this as gospel.”

“Did they even try to dock?”

“Did they go ashore?”

“How do they know?”

“The logs are clear. The last entry was yesterday. What is there to doubt?”

“If we're going to San Diego, we need to know what's there.”

“Right now, I'm trying to focus on what's about to be here. And what kind of weapon would you suppose would be big enough to sink that boat? Fifty caliber machine gun. Military grade. The kind of weapon that could only be mounted on a larger vessel.”

Then Strand kept talking about how the Abigail was still getting followed, stalked, and about how they don't talk to strangers and how much faster than them all the, said, strangers were, and so it was decided that the Abigail was going to hide.

Quinn left for the spare room Chris had taken to. He was curled up in bed picking at the sheets, and as miserable as he was, at least he wasn’t alone while Quinn went about using a pen to doodle under the desk. It felt good to draw again. They laid back on cushions and reached up to do it. Still, their stomach was turning and they knew it was time for another pill. They were expecting it. So, before Hye walked in to find what they were doing, they were fast enough to sit up and act casual.

Hye held out a pill.

“Chew then swallow,” she said to them, smooth, for once. She became suspicious when she noticed the pen in Quinn’s hand, then crouched and saw. She just smirked—perhaps she didn't particularly like Strand either.

Quinn grinned.

Hye jerked the pill in front of their nose.

“Why are you so chill today?” Quinn asked while they chewed. Hye explained everything; about the wildlife refuge the Abigail was headed for now, how there was meant to be a ranger station there, probably abandoned, and about how it would have a radio and supplies, according to Travis. Somewhere to get information about this whole crazy mess their world had become.

“Where is it?” Chris asked eventually.

“Catrina Island,” she answered.


The sun was setting.

Hye was inside the bathroom taking her insulin.

Quinn had been playing I spy with Chris, but when none of them could spy more than boat and sea and tense ass people everywhere, the two gave up. Plus, Chris wasn't in any kind of mood for games, so Quinn took the hint and left him alone on the stern to his thoughts, and instead went and doodled under the desk down in the hull again. They hadn't really thought about the consequences of this until they were finally satisfied with their handy work and laid back to look.

Oh no, they thought, I hope Stand doesn’t decide to check under desks very often.

Quinn placed the chair under the desk strategically, then stepped away. Chris still came in and had a look a few minutes later anyway. He frowned up at it, his back laid on the floor. Quinn joined him.

The drawing was another one of those Quinn drawings where none of it really made sense. It made sense to Quinn though, the rolling hills and the nice farm house and the big creepy barn and the boarded fences all the way around and the array of tents and trucks in the driveway. In Quinn's head, a whole load of strangers were camped there, on the farm, living with the family who already owned the place, and they were all hiding away from the dead that hadn't found them there yet. Quinn liked telling storied with their drawings.

Once last grade, in a school cubicle, they drew a face on the back of the door. Just a simple circle, dot eyes, tilted line for a mouth and a small bump nose. Quinn hadn't actually come out of the closet yet, and, in a moment of lazy impulse, had decided to use the bathroom they weren't supposed to use because it was a hallway closer and nobody was around to catch them if they were fast. It would have worked had somebody not walked in while they were doing their business. The kid went into the cubicle next door, and Quinn, panicked and miserable and embarrassed, sat on the toilet and drew on the wall and waited to be alone, and when they were, Quinn waited twenty seconds and ran for it. But that's not the important part of the story. The important part was a few days later. Quinn returned to the same cubicle, attracted there on the same weekday after the same third period class, because they were still lazy and impulsive and not as fast as they thought they were, and again, they were hiding away from a few kids who had walked in mid-business. They took the extra time to look at their drawing. But by now, the face had been drawn around by other students. One had given the face a top hat. Another had given it freckles and eyelashes. Another had given it a big bushy mono-brow.

“It's cool,” Chris said quietly.

Quinn was too awkward to thank him, so instead said, “We'll get there soon, huh?” Chris sighed and looked out of the high up circular window. The sky was turning dark blue and most of the orange was gone.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “Get away from what's out there, catch our breath, or, that's what Dad thinks, unless he's just saying it to comfort me – comfort himself.”

Quinn watched him and waited for a long time until Chris looked back to them. They smiled and whispered, “Whatever happens, we'll stick together. Like always. Cool?”

Chris just looked at them, and then, suddenly, he stepped over and hugged them. Quinn staggered a little bit before they hugged him back. It was rare that Quinn and Chris hugged, despite the events of late with all the forehead kissing and the hand holding. Hugging was serious and only ever happened on the occasion it was of utmost importance.

This time, it felt important. Quinn shut their eyes and buried their nose into his neck and tightened their fists into his shoulder blades and hood. Chris' hug was just as intense. His ribcage was set firm and solid inside of Quinn's arms and when he finally let his breath out, Quinn felt him deflate like a balloon.

Soon they knew it was time to pull away before the tears came. Crying into each other was still unexplored territory for both of them; Chris had cried in front of Quinn, much like Quinn had cried in front of Chris, but neither had ever cried into each other before. That was crossing a line.

“Come on,” Quinn said, punching his shoulder. “It's getting dark.”


Madison saw a light. It came on in the big lonely house on this side of Catrina Island. When the Abigail docked, right at the end of the bay, everybody was meant to go and investigate except Strand: “I'll stay,” he said, “make sure our radar friend moves past us. When he's gone, we're gone.” And because leaving Strand alone on the Abigail gave them all anxiety, Daniel, always the sceptic, said, “Ofelia and I will keep you company.”

The rest went to check the cul-de-sac out. Only it wasn't really a cul-de-sac. There was only one home. Just, the area around it had several different parts. The home was big and comfortable-looking. Another part looked like a big shack, like the sort you'd have camp in, with a big cafeteria place to eat meals or host meetings. Another part was the outside wash-room, Quinn was pretty sure. Another was a garage. It was too dark to see much else.

Flash lights shone in front as everybody followed the long narrow staircase up onto the main driveway from the dock. It turned around a big lighthouse that none of them had been able to see until they were close to land since its light was dead.

“Someone's home,” Travis said.

“They're not throwing their doors open,” Madison replied.

“No, they're scared. We'd be scared, too.”

Chris' elbow bumped Quinn's chest and they exchanged a nervous glance. Chris looked tired. Quinn probably did, too. Both of their hair was greasy and untidy, and bags sat under their eyes. Quinn's throat was still sore after all the puking, and their body felt worn and exhausted.

“You see anything?” Madison whispered. Her flash light shone up to the window she'd seen a light in before, but there was nothing inside. It was dead.

“Hello?!”

Quinn startled.

“Travis,” Madison warned.

“Hello!?”

“What are you doing?”

“We know you're in there! We know you're scared! We are, too!”

Somewhere nearby, wood clattered and Quinn's heart shrivelled up to their throat. Hye gripped their arm and muttered something.

“We just need information,” Travis pleaded. “We're not a threat! We're not sick. We're just – we need help!”

The side door to the house creaked open, and they all anticipated the flood of infected to pour outside. But it was a little boy. He stood before them all. His hair was bowl-cut and blond, his skin pale and freckly under torch light, and his eyes were big and curious and quiet. In his hand, he held a sling shot. Puzzled was not the word everybody felt. Astounded, might be it. Or whatthefuck?! It didn't matter anyway because nobody said a thing. Not until—

“Harry! Harry! Get back here.”

A grown man stood in the doorway behind the boy. He was tall and had grey hair and a groomed beard, and wore pyjamas under the hoodie he'd thrown on. He wore glasses, too; thin and silver, and his face was pursed and tight and pensive.

“Sorry,” he said, “he's excited to see people. It's been a while.”

Another woman stepped out of the house with her hands atop another little girl's shoulders. She looked similar to the little boy (siblings, it was obvious) only her hair was longer and darker. The woman was tall, and her hair was blond and starting to grey. She looked remarkably nervous for somebody who had a whole island.

“We just saw your light come on,” Madison said. “We were on the water.”

“That was an accident,” the man said, exchanging a glance with his wife.

“Travis,” was the first introduction. “Travis Manawa.”

“George Geary,” he replied after a few tense moments, shaking hands. “What can I do for you, Travis Manawa?”

“We had to drop anchor. It's no safer on sea than on land.”

“What makes you think here is safe?”

“We just need to get our bearings and we will be going. You have nothing to fear from us.”


The Geary family were welcoming, once everybody else had introduced themselves. Their home inside was warm and cosy and the furniture was mostly the embroided kind you get in old-timey houses back when people used cheques instead of bank cards. Then again, Quinn was fairly sure neither bank cards or cheques were a thing at all anymore. George liked books, the kind like survival 101's and maps and encyclopedias, and his wife, Melissa, liked to cook and talk about plants—or, at least, Quinn was pretty sure she did, though it was a little hard to tell because she was so tense all the time. She spent the first half hour talking to Madison and Hye about old work. The Geary children, Harry and Willa, were, quite bluntly, brilliant. Quinn had never really spent much time thinking about how sweet kids were, but right now, holding Willa's hand and dancing in a circle mumbling the Ring-a-Ring o' Roses song, Quinn felt happier than they had in a long time. Hye kept peeking in at them, half-heartedly listening to Melissa but mostly just trying not to grin too much.

“Ring-a-ring o' roses,
a pocket full of posies.
Ashes, ashes.
We all fall down.”

Quinn collapsed with Willa, and they both giggled ridiculously.

George and Travis' voices muffled through the door in the study. The men were talking about time and Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle, Vancouver. San Diego, the border, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. They were talking about how all of those places, half the country, pretty much, were already burned, dead...

Quinn ignored the voices, instead got up and pulled Willa up with them, and they both sang.

“Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes.
We all fall down.”

Again, Willa and Quinn collapsed to the floor dramatically. Quinn laughed up at the ceiling, only, a second later there were footsteps descending the staircase and Quinn saw a boy crossing the room. When he noticed them, and everyone else, he looked furious. He had a rifle on his shoulder. Quinn staggered to their feet and felt their cheeks burn, straightening their cardigan.

“Uh, sorry.”

He glared. Quinn stuttered. Alicia, who was sitting on the couch, watched—she also had a half drank glass of wine in her hand. Chris was quiet in the corner of the room on the chair and didn't even look up from the rug. Nick smiled, and he was about to get up from his slumped position on the other couch to introduce himself but the boy ignored him and marched into the kitchen.

“Mom?”

“This is my eldest, Seth,” Melissa said to Madison and Hye. “Seth, this is Madison and Hye.”

“Hi,” Madison said. Hye kept quiet, just waved and smiled.

He ignored them both anyway. “You good, Mom?”

“Yeah. We're just having a chat. So nice to have a visitor.”

“How are you?” Quinn thought Seth said—he was talking too quietly to be sure.

“Good,” Melissa said just as softly.

“Where's Dad?”

“He's in the study, with Madison's husband.”

Seth pulled up his rifle a little and said, “Alright. I'll be back in a little while.” He took a flash light from on top of the fridge and left out the back door with a glare and a slam.

Madison smiled politely. “Do you have any more of that wine?”

At Hye's blessing, Quinn got a glass, too—it was meant to be their mother’s but diabetes reminded her that she should just stick to herbal tea.

Quinn sat on the window ledge between Alicia and Chris and they all sipped on their drinks. Chris had already finished his, and when Quinn mumbled that they hated white wine, it was bitter and dry and gross, Chris didn't hesitate to reach back and take the glass from them to drink it himself. Quinn wasn't sure if this was a good idea but kept their mouth shut anyway, exchanging a weary look with Alicia.

Her eyes looked especially soft this evening, watching the kids. Children must've had the same effect on her as they did to Quinn, only, instead of getting up and dancing with them, Alicia was more content watching.

“Aim and shoot,” Harry tutored.

“Alright,” Nick said, frowning in concentration at the PS3. Already, after asking permission first, Quinn was charging their Gameboy, and they'd been given an extra few batteries for their MP3 Player, too.

“You're doing it wrong,” the little boy explained. “You have to go like this to jump and then that to roll—”

“Alright, okay, okay, okay,” Nick groaned in focus. Kids also had a strange effect on him, too, it seemed. He turned to mush around them; let them play with his hair and sit on his shoulders. It made Quinn chuckle.

Pocket full of posies.” Willa was singing again, dancing with her dolls this time. “Ashes, ashes, and we all fall down.”

When she fell to the floor her toys clattered.

“What are posies?” she asked.

Quinn didn't actually know. They both looked to Alicia, because out of everybody here Alicia was definitely the person with answers. She noticed she was being addressed, blinking a few times before remembering the question.

“Posies are flowers,” she answered.

“Why do you put them in your pockets?”

“Um, well.” Alicia sat forward. Quinn didn't miss the catch in her voice. “A long time ago, across the ocean in Europe, there was a virus that made a lot of people really sick. And they didn't have the medicine we do now, so they gave them flowers to make them healthy.”

“Did it work?”

Alicia's eyes drifted away to another dimension.

Very softly, she said, “No.”

Chris got up and stepped across the living room. Quinn watched him, wondering where he was going, but they knew not to ask.

“Nick, you want to come see our room?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, let's do it,” he said, and saw Chris leaving too. “Hey, man, you want to come check out Harry's room?”

“I'm good.”

“Look, you don't have to talk or anything, but it is better to be with people.”

“It's okay.”

“Okay,” Nick shrugged. “Hey, kiddo, wanna come with?” Quinn nodded, got up, and Nick turned to Harry quickly and clapped his hands. “Come on, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go!”

Harry and Willa's bedroom was in the attic, where Madison saw the lights. The room was big and wooden; like the step ladder and the walls and the beds and the tables and drawers. Homemade. Half the room was Willa's and the other half Harry's, clear by the distinct difference in styles one half to the other. Willa's things were all purple and pale blue and flowery and sweet, and Harry's side was red and green with toy cars and soldiers and guns. Quinn realised they were stood right in the middle, and found it funny.

“Whoa, cool!” Nick gasped in feigned awe—in truth, it could quite actually have been genuine, for all Quinn knew. “This is your room?!”

“Yeah,” Harry said.

Wow!”

Quinn snorted, but still found it cool too.

“And who are these guys?” Nick rushed to the step ladder and knelt eagerly in front of the toy soldiers.

“These are campers,” Harry introduced the plastic men, “Neighbours. The Colbys. And Uncle Kyle.” They all had red dots on their foreheads.

“What happened to them? What's this?” Nick asked.

“It's what has to happen now when people get sick,” Harry said without missing a heartbeat. Quinn shuddered. They thought of Eliza, and stepped back to pick up a toy pony because it was the first thing their hand found. Nick watched them take a seat on the floor next to the ladder, then looked back to Harry and smiled.

“Yeah,” he said. “Hey, that won't happen to you.”

“I know, because I have...” Harry's arms came up to flex as much as he could. “Power pills!”

Yeah!” Nick growled, flexing small-ly too. He faltered. “I don't know what that is!”

“It's like a vitamin,” Harry explained. “If I take it, my family stays together.”

Quinn had let go of the toy pony, and Nick took a second to pat them on the shoulder. He looked at the floor across from them. There were a few drawings the kids had made. Drawings of the beach, mostly, only, there were strange grey blobs bobbing in the water and crawling up onto the shore. Nick's hand slid away from Quinn's shoulder and they forced them-self to look away.

“So which one is your favourite?” Nick asked the little boy.

“The general!” Harry said excitedly. “He has a gun, too. You just have to put it on him.”

Nick and Quinn watched Harry demonstrate.

“Right,” Nick croaked.


When Quinn went downstairs, leaving Nick and Harry upstairs, they ran into Travis and George as they were both leaving the study. Travis looked a little overwhelmed, and he went to Madison and listened to her, Hye and Melissa talk together. Quinn couldn't see Chris in the living room and made to leave and find him—he was probably down on the Abigail. But George grabbed Quinn's shoulder and smiled.

“You're Quinn, right?”

“Oh, um, yeah. Hi.”

George shook their shoulder. Quinn's knee jutted outward to keep their balance. They wanted to push him off but knew it would be rude, so they smiled back, or, they made their mouth move into the closest of a smile they could muster, at least.

“Was just talking to Travis. Told me you and your mother are from Korea?”

“Oh,” Quinn said. “No. No, we're from LA. Well, Mom and I moved there from Kentucky when I was three, I mean. She was born in Korea but moved to America before her first birthday.”

Dol.

He'd said it like it was a key to the city.

“Huh?” Quinn squinted.

Dol,” George repeated. “That's what you call a Korean child's first birthday.”

“It is?”

George's eyebrows knitted together.

“Sorry.” Quinn shrugged. “I – I don't know a lot about it. My grandparents sort of left everything behind when they came here, I guess.”

“Oh, well, that's very sad,” he said, and looked like he really meant it.

“George,” Melissa whispered from the kitchen. “Don't you think you're being rather forward?”

“Yes,” he said, realising it. Everyone in the kitchen had heard the conversation. Hye looked like she couldn't decide if she found it more funny or embarrassing or guilty. “Excuse me. I'm an amateur anthropologist. It gets the better of me at the best of times...” George went on talking, and mis-gendered Quinn a few times, and although Quinn didn't say anything about it they still felt their cheeks heat up. It wasn't quite embarrassment, and neither was it a feeling like they'd been caught out or anything like that. It was just tiring, like they'd just ran a whole marathon, swam a whole ocean, to get here, to get called this, again, for the millionth time.

Time on the Abigail had made passing a fairly difficult feat for Quinn. They had tried, for a little bit, looking and presenting in the ways that made them feel less up-side down, but after a while, with the lack of privacy and that one time they'd wondered across the landing in their underwear and a tank top and gotten caught by Madison, they knew that their biology wasn't exactly the most incognito thing in the universe. The thing was, it wasn't bad, because still nobody drew attention to them for it. Everybody was still calling them ‘Quinn’ and because of this, for some reason, Quinn thought that after this whole mess with the world ending, getting called the wrong thing maybe wouldn't feel quite so achy and out of place anymore, like, maybe with all the fear and the hell they'd seen and gone through, all the distractions, it might just not matter to them anymore.

But Quinn was still Quinn. In their skull and their skin and their hair and their toes. A jumble of all and neither.

Quinn knew they weren't needed for anything, so they left the house to find Chris, ignoring that hair pulled out with no warning feeling. Nick joined them. The two walked across the driveway and down the stairs to the dock without a word. Quinn knew Nick was thinking about what Harry had said, about the sick and infected and what he'd already seen happen to them all.

It wasn't until the Abigail was in sight on the edge of the docking bay that Quinn said, “What do you think we're getting out of this?”

“Out of what?” Nick asked them, balancing on a wobbly rock with one foot, the other swayed out, like he was alternative-style surfing.

“Out of, I don't know, the end of the world,” Quinn elaborated. “I mean, I'm just curious. Why it all happened.”

Nick shrugged. “Maybe the world is trying to put everything right again.”

“By bringing back the dead?” Quinn didn’t like that feeling in their gut like the world was trying to get rid of them.

Again, Nick shrugged, but then he looked up and saw the wan on Quinn's face. He set both feet on the rock and looked them up and down.

“Maybe it's not about getting something out of it all,” he told them, thinking hard. “Maybe there isn't an answer to anything. Maybe we just have to... I don't know, find ourselves. Come into our own.”

“Come into our own?” Quinn smirked.

Nick rolled his eyes. “Yeah, maybe I should start wearing dresses, too, huh?”

Quinn laughed—it choked inside their throat. “How did you know about that?”

“I have a little sister,” he answered. “We talk to each other.”

“Okay, okay.”

They put their toe on Nick’s rock and made it sway so he had to jut his arms out.

“I think we've been coming into our own,” Quinn said then. “I mean, like, how your mom's been kicking ass lately. Like my mom has, too, at the hospital, helping all those people. Like, Travis. He looks scared a lot now, which I didn't even think was possible before, but even though he is scared he's still keeping us safe, too, you know? And, I don't know, we could do something really cool if we wanted.”

“Cool?”

“Yeah,” Quinn said. They'd never let them-self think about this so much. They couldn't tell if it was frightening them more or exciting them. “Maybe you can be a leader?”

“A leader,” Nick repeated. He grimaced, talking to Quinn like he had been talking to Harry. Again, Quinn wasn't sure if it was more to entertain them or just because the guy really meant the enthusiasm. “Leader like Martin Luther King and Sherlock Holmes and... Darth Vadar?”

Quinn laughed.

“Huh, I like the sound of that.” Nick trailed then. “But, maybe I'll get over the whole addict thing first, huh.”

“Hm,” Quinn agreed, a little soft. “I don't think it's something you'll want on your resume.”

The ocean spluttered under the dock and Quinn looked at the Abigail, making out the small shape of Alicia shuffling across the deck wrapped in a sleeping bag. Quinn was pretty sure that Alicia didn't tell her brother the other thing that happened the day Quinn wore the dress, but they sure as hell knew they weren't going to ask. When the girl disappeared inside, Quinn looked back to Nick...

“You can be a leader,” they said. “Like Harry's General: maybe you just gotta put on your gun.”

Nick groaned, but he was smiling. He led the way to the Abigail and collapsed to his back along the deck seats. Quinn was aware of the churn in their gut that just standing on the dock gave them, and so when they walked across the deck they thought really hard about how big the Abigail was and how she was hardly even moving at all. They found the pills their mom had been giving them and took one, and said hi to Alicia while they passed her on their way downstairs.

Chris was in the spare bedroom. He was laid on his back staring up at the ceiling. At first, Quinn thought he might've been asleep, but when he looked down at them, he said, “Hey.”

“Hey, man.”

Chris looked back to the ceiling.

“You wanna come out onto the deck with me?” Quinn asked. “We could go on the front, nobody's there right now.”

“I'm good.”

Quinn dipped their head and nodded. “'Kay. Night.”

“Night, Quinn.”

They went upstairs alone and laid down on their back along the decking floor beside Nick, who was still on the couch. Quinn put a cushion they'd found inside under their head, their cap to the side, and sighed. It wasn't too cold tonight, and there was no breeze, so they only wanted one blanket around their legs and stomach. The Milky Way was on full show. Quinn could see the whole galaxy, stars and planets littering every corner of it. Out here in the middle of nowhere, even with a few of the Abigail's spot lights overhead, the stars were showing so brightly Quinn wanted to squint.

Alicia came out. Her head was tipped up to the sky, too.

“Hey, you want to know what the most underrated perk of the apocalypse is?” Nick asked her.

“Yeah,” Alicia answered, stepping over in her sleeping bag cocoon. She looked rather dazed and disinterested. When she stopped in front of her brother, Quinn hadn't notice they'd reached out to her until they had almost poked her sock, but stopped them-self in time, pretending it hadn't happened.

“No planes,” Nick explained. “No noise pollution. No smog. Just stars.”

“Yep, well, we definitely stopped the climate crisis,” Alicia said. “Awesome.” She didn't mean it. Only, she kind of did too. “Why are you both up?”

“Why are you up?” Nick asked back.

Alicia sighed. “I drank too much wine. My mind's racing. Come on, what's your excuse?”

Quinn shrugged. In truth, all they wanted to do was sleep. Forget today and every other day for just a few hours. But they were up because they were anxious and they knew everybody else was, too. It seemed to be how it worked when you were around a lot of people you'd grown to care about. Even Strand, a little. They were all like some strange family, almost, sort of, kind of, though it was all probably in Quinn's head. Quinn, sometimes, could be kind of a hopeless romantic.

“It's these kids, man,” Nick complained. “They've seen more than their share, you know? Like, what they're living in now and what they're gonna live in, like, it's – I don't know. Things are never just gonna be normal for them, you know? It's not fair.”

“I mean, at least they're prepared.”

“Yeah, they're prepared like it's the end times.”

“Isn't it?”

“No, Alicia, it's not the Rapture,” he croaked.

She looked back to the sky and Quinn watched her pensiveness, how she bit her bottom lip and let her eyebrows arch in thought. Quinn looked at the sky, too, and for the millionth time tried not to think about Eliza.

“Something is off here,” Nick said.

“Everything's off,” Alicia said. “Everywhere.”

Chapter Text

Quinn had fallen asleep last night on the deck and woke up early, a sleeping bag around them, to the sound of Nick throwing up overboard. He accidentally kicked Quinn in the head in his struggle. Quinn yelped and sat back and waited for him to finish. Withdrawal was still being an ass to him, they guessed.

Finally, he leant back into the Abigail. He didn't say anything. He just looked very disturbed, then went inside for a glass of water, and when he came back out he smiled away the nausea, and the two sat together; Nick on the stern and Quinn out on the dock; the dock felt a little more grounding to Quinn's stomach.

Nick tossed a pair of sunglasses over to them. Quinn caught them, grinned. They were Strand’s. They put them over their original glasses so their face felt heavy.

Just then, Travis came out. Quinn squinted up at him, silhouetted against the sky and the overhang balcony.

“Hey, you seen Chris?” he asked.

“No,” Nick answered, pulling his head up from between his knees.

“No,” Quinn said, too.

“Can't have got far, though, right?” Nick said. Travis looked to the Geary house but Nick said. “He didn't go that way. He's on the boat. Or on land.”

“I looked over the boat,” Travis said. Quinn knew why he was so uptight. If the recent loss of Eliza wasn't answer enough, everybody knew that Chris was going to be in a bad space for a long time over it, so, despite nobody saying so aloud, they all wanted to keep an eye on him.

“Then he's onshore,” Nick reassured. “You want me to help you find him?”

“Me, too,” Quinn offered.

Travis stared at the shore and murmured, “No. I'll go.”

“Okay,” Nick said. Travis marched off of the Abigail to start his search. Quinn wanted to follow but knew it was best not to. “Hey, Travis,” Nick called after him. “I can help if you want, though. I know at-risk youths... I am at-risk youths.”

As Travis walked away, Hye stepped outside. She squinted and held her arm up over her eyes. She looked tired and sweaty.

“Mom?”

Hye perked up at their voice, smiled. Her voice was difficult to come by this morning, so when she took too long to get the words out, she gave up and used her hands (charades style) to motion out if either of them had eaten breakfast.

“Not yet,” Quinn replied. “Figured we'd wait until lunch or supper. Rationing and all.”

Hye nodded uncomfortably.

“You okay, Ms. Chŏn?” She nodded to Nick. Quinn got up and stepped onto the boat.

“Mom, you taken your meds?”

Again, Hye nodded. Quinn felt uneasy—blamed it on the Abigail because a large wave had made it sway a little.

“You taken your meds?”

Hye smiled and nodded.

“You should eat a candy bar or something,” Quinn said. “I'll go up to the house now and ask Melissa if she has anything sugary.”

Hye smiled and took a few seconds to speak. “... .. . . ....No urgency.”

“Okay.”


Quinn had found herbal bilberry tea for their mother, and they made it for her and watched her drink and smile and stutter about how tasty the eel was the day before last, and after a while Quinn decided to go find Chris, since Travis wasn't back yet either. It hadn't been long, really. Maybe twenty minutes. Maybe fifteen. It was hard to tell.

They found Seth.

He was coming up from shore and told Quinn –when they asked– that Chris was down finishing chores. Quinn didn't know Chris had chores. Before Seth left, Quinn asked, “So, this whole island. It's safe?”

“Our part of it, sure,” he said. He looked oddly cheerful this morning. His hair was puffy and reddish brown, and his skin was tanned and his jaw was square and his eyes were narrow. Quinn thought he looked like a jock, to be honest, the kind who stuck notes to their back reading ‘freako’ or ‘pull my hair’, but then again, Seth probably had no idea what a jock was since he'd been home-schooled all his life.

Quinn frowned, put their cap on backwards, and adjusted their glasses (both pairs, since they were still wearing Strand's shades). “Your part?”

“On the other side. The marina for the tourists,” Seth explained. “Wouldn't wanna go over there anytime soon.”

“There's infected?”

He nodded. Quinn didn't like this news. It made invisible hands wrap around their spine like a frightened child.

“They got caught on land when the ferries went down,” Seth told them. “Figure there's a couple of hundred. The ones who wash up on the beach we can manage. But if they knew we were here we'd be served up with salt and pepper.”

Quinn shivered.

Seth smirked.

“Why would you stay here?” Quinn asked.

“This is home,” he answered. “This is it. We all die. It's surrender or survive. You accept it or deny it. It's not right or wrong, good or bad. It just is; that's what my dad says.”

Quinn stared at him.

“Right.”

Quinn thought he was crazy.

Quinn thought they all were.

“It is,” Seth insisted. “It all is. It's right.”

Seth walked away. Quinn spent a second listening to the wind and closing their eyes and waiting for the breeze to put everything back where it was supposed to be.


Quinn had spent a little while drawing with Willa and Harry in the living room. They'd gone up to the house with Nick to wait for Chris and Travis to come back from what they were doing. While Nick wondered off to the bathroom, Quinn taught the children to make their own tags, (though, on paper and with crayons rather than on walls with spray cans) and then said that maybe soon they all could go outside and paint some on the mess hall. Quinn only figured this was them being a bad influence when Willa and Harry were already hyper on the idea of it. But they looked happy –not worrying about the sick or the scary monsters– so Quinn figured it was a good thing.

“Quinn?” Willa asked at one point.

“Yeah.”

“Are you missing your parts?”

Quinn laughed and shook their head. “No. No, I have parts.”

“Then how come Nick says to call you them?”

“Well, um, my parts are one thing, but, up here—” They pointed to the space between their eyebrows, then got a little distracted trying to remember what that part of their body was called... Glabella, right? “Um, yeah, up here, I'm just Quinn. Not a boy or a girl. Not all the time, at least.”

Both children looked confused.

Quinn tried a different strategy: “Sometimes I feel like a girl. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I feel like a boy. Sometimes I don't. Does that make sense?”

Willa and Harry nodded.

“What do you feel like today?” Harry asked curiously.

Quinn shrugged. “I haven't thought about it yet.”

“I feel like a boy,” Harry said.

Quinn smiled.

Willa had a very serious look on her face, and when Quinn asked if she was okay, the little girl said, “I... think I feel like a girl.”

Quinn laughed.


A little while later, Quinn found Chris. Him and Travis were walking back up from shore. Travis looked horrified, and Quinn saw the spray of blood on Chris' shirt but didn't say a word about it until they were both inside the Abigail's spare room together.

“What were you doing?” Quinn demanded.

“Maintenance,” Chris said. He sat on the bed and changed his shirt.

“You were killing them?”

“It's his chores,” Chris said... and grinned. “Seth told me to help so I did.” He actually thought this was cool? “The infected come from the mainland. Ships gone down between here and the coast. The current drops them off here. George says it's a tidal anomaly. You have to do it quietly because gunfire brings more.”

“How many are there?” Quinn asked, and worked hard at not grimacing. They couldn't tell if they could smell the rot or if it was all just in their head.

“Seth said new ones every day,” Chris replied. “I used the pickaxe. Seth says you gotta get them at their temple, socket, or the base of their skulls if their backs are to you.” He made a few hand demonstrations against Quinn's face and throat and they smacked him away. “Dude, what?”

They glared at him. What the hell is your problem? they wanted to ask, but it came out like, “How does he know how to... to kill?”

“His dad. Taught him. They've been preparing for this kind of thing forever. Self-reliant.”

“More like bat-crud-crazy.”

“It's deliberate living.”

“It's sick.”

“It's being of use.”

Quinn stared then, and felt their cheeks turn hot. Neither said anything for a few seconds but Chris' frown didn't go away. Quinn knew it was personal this time.

“If you've got something to say to me, say it to my face,” they said.

He hissed through his teeth and waved them away. Quinn told him to knock it off when his hand flapped too close to their nose, but he didn't, so Quinn grabbed it –his hand– but Chris yanked it back and pushed Quinn away. Quinn was so angry that they shoved him.

Chris staggered into the door. He looked so furious that Quinn was afraid he would hit them. But he didn't. He just stepped aside and shook his head.

“Go back to your bucket, Quinn.”


Quinn hated to admit it, but they were sulking.

Chris was doing more chores with Seth. Nick was playing with the kids. Travis and Madison were helping George and Melissa with the fences or the garden. Daniel and Ofelia were looking after each other, and Strand was doing God knows what God knows were. Hye was sleeping downstairs, because in the whole time since leaving Lost Angeles, Quinn realised they hadn't seen her sleep once. Even their mom had been more 'of use' than they had.

It was embarrassing.

Quinn went for a walk.

It was windy and cold even though the sun was bright. Quinn lost them-self winding through footpaths and tiptoeing across water stones. They eventually came out on the camp ground and crossed it to the mess hall, then circled all the way around it until the first heart swirl sketch was found on the bulletin board outside the souvenir shop next door. It was drawn with the hanging pen across the paper sign-up sheet for bird watching, scheduled three weeks ago. The ink was still wet when they ran their thumb over it; it left a little stripy mark. The second heart swirl was on a bench nearer the outskirts of the camp, carved in with a small sharp rock left on the seat. Quinn knew who had drawn them all, so they followed the next two heart swirls, one carved on the side of a payphone and the other scratched into a run-down old car with flower beds in the hood and seats, all the way to the girl with the same heart swirl symbol self-tattooed on her inner forearm.

Alicia was in the picnic area.

She was sitting on a picnic bench, her feet on the long chairs you can't pull out. It was near the edge of the cliff and the tide crashed below against the hard wind. The sun was above her. She looked down at her arm and stroked her tattoo gently, following its spiral into its centre. Her ear-buds were in, music loud, and when she saw Quinn in the corner of her eye she shuffled quickly to pull down her sleeve.

“Hey.”

“Hey, you.”

Alicia smiled. She hadn't been crying but Quinn saw how sad she was.

“How's the weather up there?” they asked, one knee on the bench seat as they pointed to Alicia’s head. She chuckled miserably.

“Pretty clear, actually, once you look past all the cloud.”

“Can I join? I have a blanket.” They did have one. It was wrapped around their shoulders because the cardigan, the jeans, the shirt, and the cap still weren't enough to keep the cold away. Alicia nodded. Quinn climbed up onto the bench and sat beside her. They shared the blanket and she shared the music, and once the ear-bud was in, Quinn looked out over the ocean and the abandoned marina on the other side of the island and rested their head on Alicia's shoulder.

'I wanted that heat so bad
I could taste the fire on your breath
And I wanted in your storm so bad
I could taste the lightning on your breath

I watched you hold the son in your arms
While he bled to death

Every love is your best love
And every love is your last love
And every kiss is a good-bye
Every kiss is a good-bye

I watched you hold the son in your arms
While he bled to death

He grew so pale next to you
The world is so pale next to you
Your hair is coxcomb red
your eyes are viper black...'

So, curled up inside their blanket, surrounded by their music, huddled on their corner of the world together, Quinn accepted that the wind wasn't going to put anything back together anymore, and that maybe that was okay, that maybe that was enough, that maybe the fact that just the wind being here, real, like how everybody else was, would make it okay in a new way, that maybe it would make it enough.

“Come on,” Alicia said. She spoke into the top of Quinn's head and they felt her breath warm through their hair. “We should go back to the boat.”

The wind sent the ocean crashing against the bottom of the cliff.

“Okay.”

Quinn wasn't sure why, but Alicia kissed their forehead. It was strange. Quinn looked up at her. They looked and they looked and they looked. Until they kissed. And they felt their breaths and their lips and their other kisses that followed, and they were all strange and warm and neat and smooth, and when they pulled away from each other, they both kept very close, with their eyes still closed and their foreheads pressed softly.

“Why?” one asked, and the other just smiled...

“Why anything at all?”

Chapter Text

Quinn didn't want to go back on the Abigail when they saw Chris sitting out on the stern. Alicia noticed them hesitate. She asked what was wrong and Quinn told her about the argument, and she rolled her eyes and grabbed their sleeve and pulled them to walk ahead.

Aboard the yacht, Chris ignored Quinn. Or, no, maybe he looked up, and maybe Quinn turned their back on him and looked out over the ocean, but whatever. It was Hye who spoke first. She brought out Quinn's nausea pills and said, “Chew then swallow,” and Quinn did, and then Hye collapsed to the floor.

“Mom!”

“Hye?”

“Hye?!”

Travis was inside the living area talking with Madison, but he rushed out and picked Hye up and carried her inside while the rest of them fussed and asked what was wrong with her. Quinn already knew. They found their mother's backpack downstairs and rooted through for another shot of insulin. The case snapped open. But it was empty. Quinn snapped open another case. Empty too.

All of them were
empty.

“She's run out. She ran out a long time ago. She's been hiding this,” Quinn cried when Madison found them on the floor throwing empty insulin syringes across the room. Some of them cracked or shattered. Madison grabbed Quinn and held them still and yelled at them to stop. “She's not been taking her insulin. She'snotbeentakingherinsulin!”

“Quinn!”

Quinn shoved her away, and when Madison gasped, they put their hands to their mouth and said, “I'm sorry. I – I...”

“Calm down.”

“She can't – she can't die, too!”

“Quinn,” Madison snapped.

Quinn bit back their tears.

“She won’t,” Madison said, shaking Quinn's shoulders. “Quinn, listen to me. Go up to the house. Find George, or Melissa. Maybe they'll have something. Medicine or sugary food.”

Quinn was already running, catching a glimpse of their mother laid across the couch murmuring in half-consciousness. Strand would probably yell at them for running, but Strand could bite their ass right now for all Quinn cared. Up at the Geary household, Quinn crashed through the front door and staggered right into Nick on his way out.

“Whoa, whoa, kiddo, what's wrong?”

“My mom. She's sick. She needs insulin or sugar or, I don't know.”

“I don't think we should be here,” Nick said. He looked tense and uncomfortable and paler than usual.

“What?” Quinn grimaced. “No, I have to. I have to find George.”

“No, don't. Trust me, please.”

Nick looked worse than serious. But this was Quinn's mom, and Nick knew this, too, so he winced, then rushed into the kitchen. Willa and Harry gazed curiously from the top of the staircase and Quinn tried to collect them-self. They were about to ask them where their parents were, but Nick came back with a few candy bars and a box.

“Tea, right?” he said, rushing, “tea and candy'll help her, right? Right?”

“I hope so.”

The two ran back to the boat. Quinn collected the tea bags and candy bars that Nick dropped, and when they were on the Abigail, Quinn dropped beside Hye and held her hand and asked her to lift her head. Hye moaned, and then threw up onto the floor. Quinn helped her eat the tea and candy bars until Hye passed out again from exhaustion, and Quinn was so afraid that all they could think to do was apologise and clean up the puke with a sponge and some water. Madison took it afterwards and threw it overboard, then told Quinn to sit with Hye and hold her hand, so they did. Madison sat across from them. Travis stood off to the side. Chris was downstairs. Alicia, too. Daniel and Ofelia were somewhere else on the yacht.

After a moment Madison and Travis started talking about something important, and Quinn caught words like, “Saving,” and “not taking,” and “they need this” and “we don't have a choice.” Until Nick shuffled in through the slide doors. The wind howled as he shut them. He still looked nervous and tense and pale. He paced the room and pinched his chin and winced at the window overlooking the house. Quinn had forgotten to ask what had scared him before, but quickly found out.

“I think this asshole's planning on Jonestowning his whole family,” he said.

Quinn remembered the lesson in their Humanities class back in seventh grade. How over nine-hundred children and people in one town suspiciously died all at once in a 'mass suicide' that was later revealed to be much more sinister. A strange and terrible chill ran right down Quinn's spine and shot out of their toes. Even their mother shivered in her sleep. Quinn held her hand tighter.

“What?” Madison asked.

“I found pills in his office. I think it's poison.”

“Well, how do you know?” Travis questioned.

“I know my pharmaceuticals,” Nick explained. “And I know pillheads. Those people are not that. And those pills are not recreational.”

Power pills, Quinn remembered.


 

It was true. All along, this was what George was planning. Melissa knew, you see. But only she did. Not Seth. Not the kids. She was sick, Melissa, with MS. She wasn't going to die soon but she knew it was a wait that her children didn't need to see. Madison had been talking about the kids, before—Saving, not taking. Melissa wanted Madison to take Harry and Willa away on the Abigail with them all, only, without her or the rest of her family. She knew Seth would never go. George, too. Let alone allow Willa and Harry to leave... so it had to be done in secret.

Harry and Willa had taken to Quinn and Nick the most, so, once everybody else was in on the plan, it was only Quinn, Nick, Travis and Madison who would go to the house and bring the children to the Abigail.

By now, the weather had settled and the sun had made the island warm and bright, but the mood had plummeted like a cold winter night. Nick rocked his legs in his seat. Madison and Travis exchanged unbearable glances. Quinn couldn't stop thinking of Hye. They had already asked Melissa if she might have had anything for her, but all she could offer was a few more candy bars. Quinn couldn't ask any more. They were already taking her children.

Feet shuffled down the staircase.

“They'll be right down,” Melissa said. She took a steep breath and was so close to crying that her face tightened to hold it all in. She handed a small suitcase and a small backpack to Travis. The backpack was dark blue and the suitcase was pale with flower print.

“Do they understand?” Madison asked.

“Um, told them they were going on a boat ride, they'd be back in a couple of days,” Melissa said. Her voice got high and throaty and it caught this little bit that broke Quinn's chest open. “I think they're excited about it.”

“We'll take care of them, I promise you. We'll keep them safe.”

Madison held her hand and looked into her eyes. Melissa looked back, desperate and heart-broken in a way no mother should have to look.

“This – this is Harry's,” she said, handing over the sling shot. “He gets scared at night. He pretends not to, but he ends up crawling into his sister's bed.”

“It's okay.”

“We've been trying to discourage him from that, but I think it's okay, you know? If he does that, it's okay.” She was rambling now, stalling. They all let her. “And Willa, her hair is –she has this hair– she'll cry if you comb it, so, just wait till you shampoo and put conditioner in it and then it'll be a lot easier.”

“What's going on?”

Every heart in the room barreled to their throats.

“Hey, George,” Travis muttered, putting down the suitcase and backpack. Quinn's breath froze.

“What is this? Melissa?” his voice got loud slowly.

“George.”

“Why?!”

She stepped over to him, holding the teddy bear in her hand against his chest. He was sinking, staring at her like he couldn't see her anymore.

“Why?”

“Listen to me.” He did, and she was whispering. “I love you. I love our family. But we have to give them a chance. I can't look at them every day and see nothing for them, I just can't.”

Harry emerged around the staircase. Quinn stood up. The little boy had a very strange look on his little face. He looked confused and scared, but he was trying not to be, like he did in the dark with his sling shot, hiding with Willa when he got frightened. Only Willa wasn't there.

“Momma?” he said. He waved her over.

“What, sweetie?” She knelt in front of him. His eyes were blank and confused. “What's wrong? What? Tell me.”

Nick's face was scrunched uncomfortably. Madison touched Travis' hand. In the pit of their stomach, Quinn felt something growing and pulling them away inside of it, like some black hole.

“Tell Mommy,” Melissa said. “It's okay. Tell me what's wrong.”

It was only five words. Five small words from one little boy hiding one big terrible thing...

“Something is wrong with Willa.”

“Oh no.”

“Stay here.”

“Don't move, Harry.”

“Stay right there.”

“Willa.”

“Willa.”

“Willa!”

“Willa!”

Melissa was screaming.

“Baby!”

“What happened, buddy?” Nick asked the boy.

“She took her pill.”

They all rushed upstairs, no, clambered.

“No, Willa!”

“Melissa,” George begged.

“NO!” Melissa screamed. “GET OUT OF HERE!”

Quinn saw the woman holding her daughter in her arms, sitting in the middle of the attic. Willa was dead. George stood over them. Melissa cried into her baby's chest, muttering her name. “Willa, Willa, Willa...

“Melissa,” Madison begged. “Melissa. No, you can't hold her.”

Quinn staggered across the room and saw the pills on the table. They'd been hidden inside a globe. Quinn picked some up, bright blue and red against their shaking palm. “Oh, God.”

“It's not safe to hold her.”

“She knows!” George barked.

Only it happened too fast...

“Please.”

seconds

“NO!”

...Willa bit into her mother's throat and tore away a part of her jugular. Melissa screamed, only she didn't. She couldn't. Blood spurted outward so fast that the wood floor turned crimson and wet. Willa's tiny form bent over her mother and dug in.

“Maddy,” Travis shouted, marching for her with Quinn's collar in his fist, yanking them away. Quinn fell with a grunt and their heels drug before they remembered how to use their body again.

“Get Harry away from this!” George roared. “Take him out.”

Quinn stumbled down the staircase after Madison.

“Come with us,” Travis begged the man.

“No.”

“You can't save them.”

“I'm not going to!” he shouted over the growls and the drowned screams and the crunching. “Go. Go!”

They did. They all did. Nick slung the little boy over his shoulder and Madison carried the blue backpack. Quinn held onto the sling shot. Travis kept behind, hurrying them along.

“What happened?” Daniel called from the stern a minute later.

“They turned!” Travis replied, clambering on board with everyone else. They were all out of breath. “We're taking the boy with us!”

“I want my dad. I want my momma.”

“I know, I know, but this is what they want,” Madison consoled him. “They want us to take care of you.”

“What happened to Willa?” the little boy whimpered. “Did—”

“She got sick, alright?” Nick said.

The sad on his face tore the hole in Quinn's stomach even more. “It's okay,” they whispered, trying. “You're okay. You're gonna be okay.”

“Come on, let's go inside,” Nick said. His hands set themselves on Harry and Quinn's shoulders and led them both inside with Madison. Alicia and Ofelia were inside, looking uncomfortable and worried. Chris came in and sat beside Quinn and watched the terror etch its way through their face over and over with every crunch and growl that replayed through their memory. They were staring at Hye, who was awake now, barely. She looked at Quinn from the couch and tried to say something but her words were gone and she winced before she could make a sound. Quinn took her hand.

“It's okay,” they said. “You're okay. You're gonna be okay.” It was strange; how much they could say that and still not know if they believed it.

“Madison, what have you done now?” Strand ordered as he marched down from the bridge.

“We're taking him with us. We have room.”

“Put him back where you found him,” he spat back, like Harry was some mongrel.

“We have room!”

“We do not,” Strand spat. “Children are the definition of deadweight.”

“You're not doing this again,” she growled. “You don't decide who lives and who dies.”

“That's exactly what I do.”

“There's no debate! We're doing this. Now move the goddamn boat!”

They all startled at a gunshot from the deck.

“STOP!” It was Seth. “GET BACK! GET BACK!” He came up and stepped into the room. His gun aimed at Travis' chest, his eye level to the scope. He saw his brother curled up to Nick and said, “Harry? Harry, come here. I'm taking you home.”

“No, no,” Travis tried. “There's no home anymore.”

“Shut up.”

“You don't know what's back there.”

“SHUT UP!”

“Listen to me.”

“I know what's there. It's our home. This is still our home.”

“Seth, your dad doesn't want this anymore. He told us to take care of him.”

“My father told me what he wants. He taught me!”

“He changed his mind!”

Seth faltered, but shook it off. “No, I don't believe you.”

“Come with us, Seth,” Madison begged. “Please.”

Daniel's arm raised behind the door, his gun to Seth's head.

“Daniel, don't.”

“I can get at least one of you guys,” Seth said. “Maybe more. Is that what you want? Hmm? Just let us go home! Just let us go! Harry, come here. Come on.”

The little boy ran for him, clinging behind his leg.

“You caused this,” Seth told Madison, and then he and Harry were climbing down and off the Abigail. In the distance, Melissa's corpse ambled down the dock towards them.

“Oh, my God,” Ofelia said. “Papa, mira.”

“Momma?” came Harry's little voice from behind Seth's coat sleeve.

“Can't you do something?” Ofelia asked.

“Kid has a rifle,” Daniel said, and walked away.

“Momma?” again, Harry said, and Seth turned the little boy around to face the Abigail as it began to sail away.

“I want you to wave goodbye to the nice people, okay? All right, just keep waving.”

Harry obeyed, and Quinn waved back with everybody else, but they had to turn away. The knot in their gut tightened so they hid inside with Hye, stood in the middle of the room, clenching their fists, their head down at their sneakers.

“Chris,” Alicia sobbed, “don't look.”

He didn't listen to her, and in the end, she was who stepped away. A moment later, her hand slipped between Quinn's fingers and they held onto her, and she cried into their shoulder. Outside, Seth aimed at his mother, and Harry's little hand waved and waved and waved, until...

BANG!

...The little boy's cries were all they could hear, for a long time, until they were far enough away that the ocean drowned it all away again.

Chapter Text

Quinn had been looking at Alicia's hair. It was soft and long and draped over her shoulder and cheek. They had been looking at her face. Her skin was smooth and relaxed. Even the small pimples and blemishes softened her, somehow. They looked at her eyelids. Her eyelashes were jittering as her eyes moved around. Her eyebrows furrowed and then settled, and her nose didn't really do anything at all, but Quinn still listened to the breathing that came and left through it. They looked at her lips and watched them twitch, and then looked at her hands curled up against her collarbones.

But they hadn't touched her.

They couldn't.

In the spare bedroom inside the hull, Chris was already asleep in the big bed and Nick, too, was asleep in the top bunk above Alicia across the room. Quinn was actually in the same bed as Chris for a while, before, but after the others had fallen asleep, Alicia whispered that she couldn't sleep across to them, so Quinn climbed out of bed and shuffled under the sheets with her.

Alicia’d said they could touch her:—"if you want to." She didn't mean anything like the touching Quinn saw boys and girls doing behind the bike sheds after school. She simply meant that Quinn could move closer, hold her hand or her side or hug her and press their nose into the crook of her neck to sleep, but Quinn shook their head. They laid rigidly beside her and looked away when she turned her head, fiddling with their hands, shallowing their breath, worrying about where their feet and legs and shoulders were and if Alicia had enough room.

"Why?" Alicia asked. "Why are you afraid to?"

Quinn felt their eyes water, but they kept their distance; felt the small empty space of it between their shoulders and fingertips and legs.

"Because you'll have to touch me, too."

Alicia's eyebrows arched. Even in the dark, Quinn could see the crease between her eyebrows.

"That's okay," she said.

"It's not," Quinn replied. "You can't. You can't touch the parts that aren't..."

"Aren't what?"

"They just aren't."

Alicia was quiet, lost. She shuffled away this tiny bit that she probably didn't notice as much as Quinn did.

They hated this. They hated how much they hated them-self. They spent so much of their time trying not to think about it, and in the grand scheme of things, did a good job of it. But now, after the horrors of late had settled, and Quinn had time to get lost in their thoughts again, just the possibility of Alicia's hands touching the parts of skin and body that Quinn couldn't stand about them-self, with only fabric, and no conversation or space or spontaneity to distract them... it made them feel sorry for her. It made them feel sick. Tainted. Just a hug. A kiss. It came at a cruel cost; sweet for a time until the sourness took over fast and brutal enough to make Quinn believe that they were wrong. It made Quinn's whole soul squirm.

Alicia flattened the part of pillow between them with her hand so that she could see them better.

"Then give me the parts of you that are."

Quinn shut their eyes, and some large montage of self-encouragement (and argument) inside of their head took place. It made their eyes wet and their breath fast and shallow. Their skin crawled, but they wanted to. They wanted to shift their face across the pillow and meet Alicia in the middle, press their foreheads, just to feel it, and under the sheets Quinn's fingertips would’ve grazed across Alicia's palms. And that would have been all. Them and her. Touched at the forehead and hands, breathing and human and quiet... but Quinn climbed out of bed and went next door to look after their mother.


A lot had happened during the night. While the kids slept, all the grown-ups had discovered that the engines stopped; overheating, because something was blocking the water intake—which was pretty important for keeping the engines cool.

The thing blocking it, however, was the infected. Only one of them. An anomaly stray, Strand said; that it had managed to get stuck under the Abigail and wedge a whole arm into the pump. To find this out, Travis had grabbed a snorkel kit and a water proof flash light and swam down to check out the problem. Scared him half to death when he found out. He’d been mending it all night, and it's going to take all day, too.

"Mom," Quinn whispered. Hye groaned. She was sweating and tired. One minute she wanted her blankets and the next they were down by her feet. "Mom, eat these, they'll help."

Quinn fed her two candy bars and helped her sip a cup of sugary bilberry tea. It was difficult for her, because her mouth was dry and her arms were aching.

After Quinn's father died, by law, he wasn't required to help pay for Hye's insulin anymore, since, even though he had left when Quinn was eleven, he and Hye were still married, and because of that he still had to help pay for her meds, so, when Quinn was fourteen and suddenly fatherless, they had to pick up shifts at the local grocery store to help pay instead.

Over their life, they had learned tricks to help their diabetic mother, and had prepared them-self for if anything like this ever happened and they couldn't find insulin for a few days. They knew that they needed to keep an eye on her temperature and to look out for stomach pain and nausea and drowsiness, and to give her pain killers like Acetaminophen and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs instead of over the counter pain killers.

They only had over the counter pain killers.

Plus, the dead coming back to life was never part of that preparation.

Crap.

Still, Quinn knew to keep the sugar levels as high as possible and to give her water as much as possible and to let her go to the bathroom as much as she needed to. In truth, with the circumstances, that was all they had. And in even worse truth, Hye was already drowsy, which was scary, and she was already aching in her stomach, which was even scarier, but she wasn't out of consciousness or delirious or throwing up, yet. Hyperglycaemia was still in its early stages and would be kept bearable for a time if only they could keep up with getting her enough sugars.

For a time.

Quinn checked how many tea bags were left: thirteen. And then counted candy bars; five.

They tried not to sob, but when they did anyway, Hye's hand touched Quinn's cheek and they looked up to her. Tears fell and Quinn wiped their face and apologised. Hye smiled and shook her head, rubbing under their eye with her thumb.

"You're doing so well," she whispered. Quinn dipped their head.

"Why are you so calm?"

Hye made to shrug but only managed a chin-shift.

"Rest, Mom," Quinn told her, kissing her hand. They put the tea on the bedside table and told Hye to keep sipping through the straw. "I'll be back soon."

Once they were up on deck, Quinn dodged out of the way to let Alicia rush past.

"Mom?" she yelled. "Mom. Mom!"

"Alicia?"

Strand was walking past with the fishing rods. "I know you're not running on my deck," he warned.

"Jesus, seriously?"

"What's wrong?" Madison asked, stepping outside. "What is it?"

Alicia waved the binoculars in front of Madison's face and pointed. "Look over there."

She did.

Quinn kept back. They hadn't talked to Alicia since last night, and what with how they'd just left her without a word, they knew it was going to be awkward for a while. Regardless, from this far away without the binoculars, and the added fact that their glasses were dangling from their polo collar, all Quinn could see under the shade of their cap was a rocky cliff edge in the distance.

Nick and Chris were talking quietly about fishing, sitting on the deck couch. Chris and Quinn hadn't really talked about their argument, but when Chris smirked at Quinn earlier for spilling their dirty wash water over their own leg, it was clear that they’d both moved on.

"Do you see it?" Alicia asked her mom.

"Is that—"

"Suitcases," Alicia answered. "A lot of luggage."

"Holy shit," Quinn said under their breath, and picked up their voice when Madison glanced around at them. “Sorry.” They cleared their throat. "Where'd that wash up from?"

"Plane crash, it looks like, maybe."

"Gnarly," Quinn whispered. Chris rolled his eyes at them so hard Quinn felt it.

Nick took the binoculars and looked, too. Chris was up now, and he stood beside Quinn and they all squinted at the land to the right side of the boat.

After the bucket-wash this morning, Quinn's hair (and jeans leg) were still damp, but they didn't feel so gross anymore which was good. The wind picked up and they had to pull some of their hair behind their ears. Chris had taken to tying his hair back in a small bun—Quinn had already been swatted at for trying to poke it. Alicia had tied her hair up too, but Quinn hadn't tried to poke it. They'd all found some new clothes also, at Strand's very stubborn blessing. Hoodies and polo shirts, mostly. The kind of clothes you'd find rich privileged men into poker and bar socialising to wear. Quinn still had Alicia's sneakers and cardigan though, and Chris’ cap; which they turned backwards.

"We need supplies."

"Alicia, no," Madison groaned.

"I've been watching," she said. "There's no one there. No infected. All that stuff is just lying there."

"There's infected in the water."

"We're not gonna swim."

Quinn's heart was beating a little too fast. "There could be medicine," they mumbled, then repeated it again so that Madison heard. "Medicine. Insulin, maybe."

"It's a yard sale," Nick said. "I'll go."

"Me, too," Quinn volunteered.

"I'm with you both," Chris, too.

Still, Madison didn't bite at the idea. "Wait," she said.

"If they're going, I'm going," Alicia said.

"No, listen to me, all of you," Madison almost yelled. "Look, if anything were to happen to you—"

"Anything did happen," Alicia said, calm, stern. "Hye is sick and if we don't find her something she is going to die. We need this. We're all in it. We've seen and done—"

"I know," Madison whispered.

"So stop putting us at the kids' table."

"I'll watch her," Chris reassured.

"You're gonna get slapped," Alicia retorted. Chris frowned.

"Mom, we need more clothes. We need more meds," Nick said. "We need more everything."

"Valid," Strand chimed.

"So we go while Travis fixes the engine," Nick went on. "We get what we can. We come straight back." Nick went inside just as Travis came out.

"What's going on?"

"Dad, we're going to shore."

"Like hell you are," he grumbled, fiddling with a pipe that had strange nodules.

"We're not asking for permission," Alicia said.

"Excuse me?"

It went on like this for a second until Daniel volunteered to chaperone them all. "We're wasting time," he said. "Anything goes wrong, we'll come back quickly."


Quinn was in the hull with Hye in the short minutes before leaving.

"Mom, we're going to land for a couple hours," they explained quietly. "Chris, Nick, Alicia, Daniel and me. That's okay with you, right?" They pretended that Hye nodded because as obvious as it was that she was already entering the worse stages of hyperglycaemia, Quinn didn't want to admit it. In her half-conscious state, she managed to motion to the water, so Quinn gave it to her and held the straw for her to sip for a few minutes. She fell asleep again. Quinn kissed her forehead. "I'll be careful. Promise." They bit back their I love you. It felt too much like a goodbye. "Back soon."

On the stern, Travis was going over the plan, again: "Get in. Get out." It was a rather simple plan, really. "Look for insulin, sealed pills, clothes, canned food. And size thirteen sneakers if you see them."

They were all loading the motorboat. Quinn felt queasy just looking at it, but they had taken their motion sickness pills so they knew they'd be okay.

"It's on the list," Ofelia said, handing it to Quinn. "Hey, if you see anything that's not completely awful..." Quinn made a puzzled face, so Nick snatched it from them.

"I got you," he said.

"Alicia," Ofelia turned from him. "I can't do geriatric chic." Alicia smirked and Quinn shook their head, hopping carefully onto the boat.

"What's wrong with geriatric chic?" Nick grumbled.

"Relax," Alicia told Ofelia, ignoring her brother. "I got you."

Ofelia laughed. When she looked at Quinn, she reached out to them. Quinn took her hand, and Ofelia said something in Spanish, and then said, "I will look after your mother."

Quinn suddenly thought they would cry but instead squeezed her hand and said, "Thank you."

Ofelia let go and stepped back, and Quinn pretended not to notice the sharp glare Daniel gave her. Keeping distance between his crew-mates and his family was very important to Daniel, and so the moment Ofelia showed affection to anybody, he went on silent defense. He thought nobody had noticed but in truth they were all just waiting for him to come around.

"Get warm clothes, too, okay?" Madison was saying to everybody. "Jackets, sweaters. It's cold out here on the water."

Daniel said something about Mexico, and Madison stepped up from the stern to talk privately with him while the rest of them finished supplying for their endeavour. When Daniel returned, they all sailed fast towards land. When they were on land again, Quinn couldn't believe how good it still felt. It didn't sway or rock or creek and it was wonderful. The land just sat still and did what it was supposed to do.

They helped pull the raft up from shore in the little rocky cove they'd come to. The land was sandy and grassy and jagged. They couldn't see anything in the distance yet. Just sky. When they all climbed up the bank, one empty bag for each of them to fill, they saw suitcases and luggage scattered all over the place. They could hear the flies before they saw what was attracting them, and they could smell it too. It smelled of rot and burned barbeque and gas. This place wasn't only a yard sale, like Nick had said.

It was a graveyard.

"My God," Chris groaned.

They could see two dead bodies huddled under a part of plane hull. No, huddled was the wrong word. Crushed, was better. Burned. Dead enough that they hadn't come back from it, at least. Madison was right, it was a plane crash. Quinn had seen one go down a few weeks ago, now that they thought about it. Nick was there, too, at the time. It was doubtful that this was the same one, but still, the continued realisation that it wasn't just the land and the sea that weren't safe anymore knocked Quinn a little off kilter. Their only comforting dreams as of late had been of the sky; them growing wings and flying. Sometimes they would wake up exhausted, but now the sky was letting them down.

They anticipated the nightmares apprehensively.

"Okay, let's be quick," Daniel instructed. "Everyone where I can see you. Fill your bags, come back."

They did.

Spreading out in three groups.

Chris and Quinn.

Alicia and Nick.

Daniel and his gun—nobody knew he had it but Quinn. When they saw it poking out of his pants earlier, Daniel put his finger up to his mouth and said, "Shh."

Quinn looked everywhere they could for insulin, putting it as their number one priority. The others, too. But after searching every corner of this part of the wreckage with no result, the others decided to start checking the area for other things. Quinn kept looking, and was angry that they were all picking through clothes but kept their mouth shut. In truth, Quinn knew there would be no insulin here. And if there was then none of it would have survived the pressure from falling all that distance.

But they couldn't stop.

It wasn't an option.

Quinn still hadn't spoken to Alicia about last night but they knew she wanted to because she would look up to them occasionally. Quinn avoided her, and Chris noticed. He asked what was going on but Quinn avoided that too, so when Chris began loitering on the further reaches of Daniel's vision, he checked that the old man wasn't looking, and then checked that Quinn was looking, and they nodded, and Chris nodded back, and then the two of them were disappearing across the wreckage together.


Quinn didn't know where they were going. They just knew that if there was anything that could hold anything inside, they looked. But found nothing.

"Hey, look, I found a PS3."

"The case."

"What about it?"

"Anything inside?"

"No, Quinn." Chris fiddled with buttons. "Dammit, I think the battery's dead."

Quinn snatched it from him and threw it to the sand.

"Hey!"

"Quit kidding around and help me look, man!"

"I am."

"You're not!"

Chris watched them, frowning.

"It's okay for you, isn't it?!" Quinn yelled. "Sure, you lost your mom but you still have your dad. If my mom... If... I'll be alone. I'l..."

Chris' silence quietened them, and for a moment all he did was frown, waiting, and only when Quinn relaxed their shoulders did he relax his, too. It wasn't like him to be so quiet, and that was how Quinn knew that they had crossed a line.

"I'm sorry," they said.

"It's cool," he said back.

They knew he was lying.

"Chris."

He looked back to them and Quinn's mouth sealed shut. Chris smiled so softly you'd almost miss it, but at least he meant the smile, and then, after a second, he said, "Let's keep looking, Quinn."

So they did. Finally, past a big boulder into another opening of land, the two came to a big part of the plane, split from the rest like a big archway, a whole section for the passengers sitting in the shallow crevice it had landed in on the sand. Both ends were burned and torn off, but even from the outside Quinn could tell that a small part inside had to be the place in planes that all the flight attendants would have hung out. But that place in the plane, as far as they knew, was also a place where the medical equipment could be kept, too.

Quinn wanted to rush inside but had learned better of it by now. The two hopped to look through the small oval windows, but they were too dusty to see through. Their shadows must have stirred what was inside though, because they could hear the snarling. At first, they both startled. But then Chris picked up a metal seat arm. Quinn couldn't bring them-self to weaponise, too. Chris frowned at them to. They shook their head and gave him the bird with both hands. Chris' frown hardened. Resigning them-self, Quinn picked up a dislodged pole from the door-push and held it tight.

Inside, cables and inner plane parts hung from the ceiling, and seat rows jutted out at broken angles. There were less bodies than Quinn had expected. Three at most. The rest must have been thrown out, or gotten out themselves.

Two of the three bodies left were still growling.

"Look at you," Chris murmured at the one closest on the left. It had one of those yellow oxygen masks on its mouth and it snapped for the body in the seat ahead of it. Chris scoffed. Quinn swallowed. They were aware of how afraid this made them, but they were also aware of that other part of them that found this exciting. It was like being back in that riot. Mob mentality.

In some weird, really, really fucked up way, they kind of liked it.

The infected swung around at them. Its arms were broken but it still reached out. It screeched.

Quinn decided they didn't like it anymore.

The same couldn't be said for Chris.

"Bet you can't bite me through that mask now, can you?" he told it. And poked it. Right. On. Its. Mask. Quinn shuddered. The boy looked back to them and laughed over the growling and Quinn felt a strange smirk stagger across their own face too, somehow.

Still, they weren't sure if they fully liked it anymore.

Chris killed it.

Quinn gasped and threw them-self away into the lap of the dead man in front, panting frantically while they watched Chris bash the infected's skull in until it went quiet. The third corpse still snarled from two rows back, and Chris was going to deal with it too, but he had to take a break and catch his breath again.

"Chris," Quinn said. Their voice was shaking and hollow and small, all of a sudden. "Chris, I think we should go now."

Chris was going to reply to that, maybe even agree; maybe not. Quinn felt a second of wishing the same thing that happened last time they said that would happen once more; that Travis and Eliza and Hye would come rushing through the crowd and save them, but Travis was on a boat and Eliza was in the sea and Hye was slowly dying.

Chris didn't get to reply.

When he looked at Quinn again, his horror-thrilled expression dropped, and the thrill was gone.

"QUINN, WATCH OUT!"

Quinn felt the rattle inside the chest they were laid on before they could do anything about it, and they screamed, and the body under their back moved and grunted. At Chris' yank, Quinn was up, half strangled and panicked and bracing for the teeth and the grabbing hands, but none came, and when they could collect their thoughts they held their heart and took a closer look.

The body was alive.

"Help me, please."

Quinn didn't know if it was them who had grabbed Chris' hand or him that had grabbed their hand. Either way, neither teenager let go when they did become aware of it. They both stood and they both shook and they both stared and they both held onto each other's hand.

"God, help me."

Quinn moved past him.

"Hey, hey, what're you doing?" Chris murmured across the hull.

They ignored him, watched the other infected, and luckily it was still buckled in and wasn't smart enough to undo itself, so they slipped past and went out into the back to search every corner of the flight attendant bay.

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing anywhere.

Quinn was furious.

When they started shouting and throwing things, Chris grabbed them and yelled at them to get their head straight. "There's a man dying here, Quinn!" and Quinn shook him off and marched out to the hurt man and grabbed the metal wheely-table that had fallen over his legs.

"Grab the other side," they grunted. "Now."

The man cried, face all twisted around. He was in his fifties, greying hair, pale skin, stocky, wearing blood-splattered clothes. When he looked into Quinn's eyes, they saw how blue his were. Like the ocean.

They wanted to throw up.

"Chris!" they barked. "Get the fucking table."

Chris snapped out of his stupor, grabbing the other side of the table and pulling. "Come on, hurry," he panted when it was away, quickly unbuckling the seatbelt. "I got you." Only he didn't. The heavy man started tipping forward out of the seat and even with both teenagers struggling to catch him, he hit the floor with a loud howl and cry. Quinn and Chris collapsed with him, rolling away and onto their backs and elbows. Something cracked, several times, grinding together like when you twist an empty plastic bottle.

"Oh-no."

Quinn stared at his spine.

Really really.

Chris saw it, too. "Oh."

Snapped lumbar vertebra protruded from two separate parts of the large gouge on the stranger's back. Quinn saw Chris' inner panic, and how quickly he bottled it. He sat up and pushed himself back and hugged his knees and pressed his lips together tightly, like he was thinking what to do, only he wasn't because he knew there was nothing he could do in the world.

"H – help me."

Quinn had to turn away from the broken being in front of them, but even they knew that ignoring this was worse.

"Please."

There was a snarl while Chris leant across the man. "Quinn, the water," he hissed, "pass it, the bottle, please?" But when Quinn didn't move, Chris snatched it from by their leg anyway. "Here..." His hands shook so hard that he spilled most of the water down the man's face. "Come on. Take this. Drink."

But he shook his head.

He said, "No...,"

"...no...,"

"...enough...,"

"...enough."

Quinn buried their face in their hands and knees.

Ignore, ignore, ignore...
Can't.
Not this time.

"Please, please."

So, finally, Chris did.

Quinn saw him pick up the metal seat arm, but didn't see anything else until it was over. They heard it though. Every cry. Every crunch. Every crack. Every scream. Until all that was left was breathing; fast and heavy and stifled, and only from Chris.

Through their fingers, Quinn saw warm, red wet running towards their sneakers and shuddered away from it before it could touch them, stumbling across the body's feet. They landed beside him—Chris. He couldn't bear to touch them. He couldn't even bear to touch himself. His hands hovered over his own knees and face, like if he did touch anything, it, too, would die.

The bloody metal was gripped and dripping in his palm.

He didn't let go of it.

"Quinn," was what he said first, and it cracked inside his mouth like glass, and then when he said it again, "Quinn..." it shattered. Shattered him. "Quinn." And then Quinn was holding him and he was screaming into their chest. The kind of scream that no noise comes out of though.

Only once before had Quinn already wondered what to call the part of you that leaves when you see someone die. But this, what Chris had just done. What do you call that part of your soul? The part that is sent off in shards because, for the first time in your life, you've just taken somebody else's...

Chapter Text

Alicia was coming towards the plane. Chris had to stop crying and Quinn had to let go of him and they both had to get up and step outside and act like nothing had happened.

"Where the hell were you?" she yelled. Over her clothes, Alicia was wearing a long flowey robe. It was dark blue with little pink flowers on it; something Ofelia would wear.

"We were looking for insulin," Chris said. Alicia looked at his face and saw the far awayness of it. Quinn's face, too, must have looked far away. She looked afraid.

"Are you hurt?"

"No," Chris said. His eyes were wide and traumatised.

"Quinn?"

They stuttered.

"It wasn't – it wasn't me," Chris murmured.

"You killed one?"

Chris' chin shook. Quinn's eyes watered, locked onto their best friend. They wanted to reach out and take his hand again, hold onto it and hide him away from everything that he'd just done and seen, but—

A gunshot echoed across the sand from the setting sun, and they ran. They all did. Back towards the boat. They heard the snarling. The gunshots. More and more as the seconds went on. One infected body shambled over a dune and then clattered to the sand when a bullet travelled through its eyeball.

"Daniel!"

He was down below, backing up towards the way the boat was, gun in hand. He had another person beside him that they had never seen before. She was short, with long, dark, tattered, wavy hair and tanned olive skin. Small eyes. Epicanthal, too, like Quinn's. She wore a backpack and a scowl.

"Where's Nick?" Alicia yelled over the noise.

"Let's get back to the boat," Daniel answered.

"Where's Nick?!"

"Grab something, now!"

She searched for a weapon. Quinn, too. Chris had his metal seat arm and the woman had something thin and yellow and sharp. Too quickly, Daniel ran out of ammo. One body grabbed him, and when he wasn't strong enough to bash in its skull, the woman lunged forward and drove her weapon through its face. Daniel rolled away into Alicia, who was wrestling to pull a long metal pipe out of the ground.

Quinn had found a jagged part of something hard and metal and grubby. When one infected targeted them, they braced them-self, waited for their moment... but lost their nerve and dodged under its arms. Quinn was brave enough to throw their foot out at its kneecap, at least. The ambler hit the floor, and that little part of nerve Quinn had lost before came back roaring and their small jagged shiv fastened in their palm, then drove forward, down, into the infected's temple twice.

It was their first kill, and it was terrifying.

The next was worse, but it was over much faster.

Alicia let out a growl and her metal rod came loose at the right moment for it to rocket right across another infected's jaw. It hit the ground and she bashed it again, killing it. And another. All of them. Bashing and driving and grunting and backing away to the edge of the cliff. Alicia was struggling with one. It gnashed and snapped and she held it back with no more arms to spare to kill it, and everybody else was too preoccupied trying not to die too that there was nothing they could do for her.

But Nick was there then, or, it looked like him. Even with their glasses still intact and on their head, Quinn wasn't quite sure. He was covered in blood. Every inch of him waist up. Even in his hair. The dark, sick, infected kind of blood. He swung his jack-hammer and saved his sister's life, and then he swung it again and he saved his own.

"Go, go!"

They all did, lugging their bags along with them.

"Nick!" Alicia screamed. He was in the herd. Face to face with one that had stopped to get a closer look at him. It snarled. And he hissed back. Like he was one of them. Blended in like camouflage. "NICK!"

"Alicia!" Quinn shouted. "Come on!"

"NICK!"

They grabbed her wrist and yanked her along. "We gotta go!"

They both met everybody at the boat on the shore. Nick was behind, running, with the dead on his tail half as fast. Quinn helped Chris and Daniel and the stranger pull the boat out while Alicia ran to her brother and wrapped her arms around him.

"Nick, are you bit?"

"I'm good, I'm good."

They were in the water, clambering into the boat and sailing away, and it wasn't more than a few seconds of catching their breath again before, in the first time since meeting her, the stranger spoke...

"We need to make a stop."


Her name was Alex.

His name was Jake.

...Jake was the 'stop'.

They were both passengers inside the plane crash. The tiny yellow emergency raft Jake was inside of was floating in the cove across, anchored down with a few rocks tied on a string. He was burned, badly. His whole face was exposed flesh. When Quinn heard his voice, they couldn't believe he was still alive. He sounded very sad and very relieved and very much in pain and Quinn felt their own heart break with every syllable.

"Alex," he moaned. She held him and whispered something. "I'm g-g-glad you're okay. Heard guns. Thought you'd n-never come back."

"I'll always come back."


They were all back on the Abigail again.

"Are you hurt?" Madison was asking, helping them all on-board. "What happened?"

"I don't know, exactly," Alicia answered.

"What happened?" Travis was asking, too.

"I'm sorry," Chris answered. "I didn't—"

"We got separated," Daniel was saying. "I almost lost the kids."

"You brought them back."

Quinn wanted to find their mother but stopped when Strand stood in the way at the top of the stairs. "No," is all he said as he saw Alicia pull Alex aboard.

"They're dehydrated," Alicia tried.

"I don't care! There's no room. Not here. Not where we're going."

"We don't know where we're going."

A pause. Apparently, Madison disagreed.

"Mom?"

"Yes, we do," she said. "We're going to Mexico."

This was news.

"Strand has a place there. There's food, medicine, power, water. It's close. Baja. He's invited us to stay 'till things clear."

"Things will never clear," Nick said.

"Then we make it our home."

"We don't know that it's safer down there than anywhere—" Ofelia began to argue but was talked over.

"We're gonna find out," Strand said.

"How do we know that it's what he says it is?" Alicia accused.

"It is what I say it is."

"Okay, why didn't this come up before?" Ofelia. "Why are we just hearing about this now?"

"Because it's necessary now," Travis spoke up. "We can't stay on the water forever. Madison's right. We made a decision. We have our destination."

Alicia's breath caught, and she pointed behind her to the tiny raft with the dying boy inside. "And what about them?"

Jake was wheezing, and Alex dipped her head.

"They're a liability," Strand said.

"Hold on," Madison.

"The boy's sick. He'll turn."

"He'll turn if we don't help him!" Alicia barked.

"Madison, please," Strand begged, because for once in his life he looked like he really didn't want this argument.

"Fine, fine, fine," Alicia noticed, too. "They won't come to Mexico. They just need some medicine and a place to stay for the night. Look at him! He's dying!"

Madison made a noise, lost.

Everyone else was, too.

"Are you people really debating this?" Alex asked, out of breath but not because she was over exhorted anymore.

"We can tow them," Travis said. "We can tow them. To San Diego. In their raft." Strand made to argue but Travis shouted at him. "THEY DON'T COME ON THE BOAT! OKAY? WE'RE SAFE! THEY GET A CHANCE!"

Quinn didn't want to be here. They wanted their mother. When Strand moved aside, Quinn marched past and felt how empty their hands were. They filled them with their mother's fingertips, pressing every digit to their lips. Hye asked what was wrong and Quinn told her, "Nothing, Mom. Rest." Nick brought them supper when Quinn didn't go up to join everybody a while later. Hye ate her fish and drank the tea and tried not to complain about how sugary it tasted — Quinn didn’t admit they’d poured a few too many spoonfuls in.

It was later in the evening that Quinn heard it...

"STRAND!"

They rushed outside into the setting sun. Travis was out there. Daniel, Nick and Madison, too. Madison was leant over the railing, heaving, and when Quinn ran to see what had happened they saw that the rope towing Alex and Jake had been cut, and their little raft was disappearing, stranded in the horizon.


A day and two nights later, they were near land. In the dark, on that second night, lights from other docking bays were visible in the distance. From where they were, they couldn't tell if there was anybody there though.

Quinn and Chris had been sitting out on the bow, hardly talking at all, really. The hadn't really said a word to each other since what happened inside the plane hull, but they hadn't left each other's side either. A new sort of law had developed between them:

We do not speak of it.

Quinn was hungry and tired.

They were unofficially on watch, sort of, them and Chris. But not really, too, since Ofelia was there and she was who was really on watch. When Quinn complained about their stomach again, Chris went to look for food but Quinn fell asleep before he returned.

Still, a few moments later, a pop and fizz woke them up anyway. He must’ve found coke cans for them. Quinn was too tired to roll over and find their can right away, despite their stomach's protest. Quinn often stalled from waking up these days. They were always so worried. Worried for Hye. Worried for their group. Worried about the world.

They listened to Chris get up and, from what it sounded like, hoist himself onto the railing beside Ofelia. Quinn's back was still to them both; they stared through the gap in the side of the boat out over the black ocean.

"Why don't you sleep, too?" Ofelia asked Chris.

"There's too much noise in my head."

"Yeah," she agreed.

"You ever been? Mexico," he asked.

"No, my parents crossed through Tijuana when they first left El Salvador."

"You been back?"

"We didn't really leave the neighbourhood once we got settled. They put everything into that shop. And I put everything into watching over them. I gave up a lot, and they didn't need as much watching over as I thought."

"What'd you do, you know, for yourself?"

"What do you mean?"

There was a pause, and when Chris elaborated he sounded like he was trying to flirt. "Like... relationships."

Quinn didn't mean to cringe. Luckily, they were still turned away.

"I had some," Ofelia said. Quinn could hear the incredulous grin.

"Yeah, I was seeing this girl back in Pomona," he said, even though she hadn't asked.

"Yeah?"

"Maria Santos."

"Long time?"

"No. No. A few months. Then my mom moved us back to LA. New school. Parochial."

It was true. Maria Santos and Chris Manawa had dated for a few months. He'd just decided to skip a few details is all. First detail: it was in sixth grade. Second: Maria actually broke up with him because he had sweaty hands and kept calling her 'munchkin' (the movie gave her nightmares). When he moved back to Los Angeles, Chris' luck with girls didn't really get any better either. He crushed on a new girl left, right and centre for the first few years that Quinn knew him. They both did.

Girls were confusing.

Chris and Quinn's usual interactions with them (from a distance, most of the time) went as followed:

"Stop staring."
"I-I'm not staring."
"You are."
"Are not."
"What? You are."
"Not!"
...and then after a few more seconds (or minutes) of staring, one of the two of them would finally grab the other's sleeve and yank them down the hallway to class.

Boys were confusing, too. But this subject usually took a few stolen prosecco bottles from Eliza's cupboards for Quinn or Chris to give it any type of attention at all.

"I went to Catholic; K through twelve," Ofelia said then. "Definitely had some fun my parents didn't know about. Made some bad decisions."

There was a minute with no talking after that, and then the minute was over.

"Hey," Ofelia said. "You're gonna be able to make some. There are still girls on this planet."

"That's what I'm banking on?" he said. Ofelia chuckled. Chris scoffed. "Other girls left on this planet?"

"Yeah. Somewhere out there."

Quinn's stomach was too demanding to ignore anymore, so they twisted them-self around and popped their can, which Chris had left on the deck beside them, open, taking a generous sip that made their eyes water.

Something splashed in the water and it startled them.

"What the hell?" Chris said.

"Shit."

They were all up and suddenly rushing across the deck. Three strangers were rowing a small raft to the Abigail. Two men, one woman. The woman was crying. The stifled guttural kind. She had a baby bump and blood on her thighs.

Quinn put their cap backwards and shivered.

"We need help!" one guy shrieked.

"Should I shoot them?" Chris muttered, handgun up.

"Help! Please, help us! She's bleeding."

Ofelia rushed down, and after a second of nervous glances, Quinn and Chris followed her to the stern.

"Please, help us."

The woman was whimpering. She had long brown hair and olive skin and wore a coat and a knee length skirt.

"Should I shoot?" Chris asked again.

"Dude!" Quinn griped.

"Oh, God," Ofelia moaned.

"DAD!"

"Something's wrong," the shorter guy said. He wore a blue check jacket and a yellow sweater under it, with straggly, short, brown hair, "something's wrong with the baby."

The lady was screaming now.

"DAD!"

Ofelia was muttering—she was a rambler when she was afraid. Like a fear tick. Quinn was fidgeting. When the woman begged, "Please help," again, "please," Quinn and Ofelia couldn't hesitate anymore, so they both helped her onto the boat and up onto the deck.

"DAD!"

"Just breathe," Ofelia was saying. "Breathe."

"MADISON!" Quinn shouted. "TRAVIS!"

They were here, finally—Madison, Travis and Daniel. They rushed out and Madison helped the pregnant woman downstairs.

"Dad, they just got on the boat," Chris defended. "It wasn't my fault. I didn't let them in. They just boarded."

"Look, she's in bad shape, man," the second guy said. He was a little younger than the other guy, early twenties, maybe, but he was a little taller, and he wore a brown jacket. His hair was a little longer than the other guy's, flopping over his forehead and temples. Quinn was aware of the odd prickle in their ears when they heard his voice.

"Just wait here," Travis told him. The pregnant lady’s cries could still be heard even a whole floor between them all. "Where's your boat?" was the first question.

"We lost our engines," the younger guy said. "We've been drifting for days." More questions followed but Quinn didn't pay attention. They were still staring at him, their ears twitching.

"Did you see anyone else on the water?"

"Did you come from a larger group?"

"Everything's been a blur," he answered. "Frankly, uh, we've had a very hard time. Please, we're – we're good people."

"What happened before your engine cut out?"

"We were holding out on some other boat. We were scared, but we were surviving. Our hull got dinged when we were leaving the marina in Long Beach. We – we panicked. We thought we patched it up good, but we rushed it. Then we started taking on water and the engine flooded."

Oh.

Quinn knew now. It was—

"Jack?" Alicia said, emerging from the hull. Everybody stared at her...

"What did you do?" Daniel murmured.

Quinn was getting that bad feeling again. The one that made them want to leave and ignore this. They were going to, too. They were going to go downstairs and tend to their mother, but then it happened. Nobody had time to process it until it was already over. When the first punch was thrown, it found Travis' jaw and sent him to the deck with a yelp. The second attack found Daniel weapon-less, and the third was so violent that it had Chris crumpled in a heap clutching the back of his head. Quinn rushed for him. Alicia startled. Her eyes caught theirs for a millisecond before the butt of a gun connected to Quinn’s ear.

Quinn hit the carpet, clutching their face. Their cheek began to bleed.

"Jack?" Alicia said, very calm. "Don't, please." But he did. He bound everybody up and set them in the main living space.

"He's doing his job," the older guy said. "Kip, tie her."

"Why are you doing this?" Travis asked.

"You can circumnavigate the world from this ship. She's a prize."

"You're making a mistake."

"No," he said, "I think your son made the mistake."

Chris and Quinn were sitting directly beside each other on the couch, shoulder-to-shoulder. Quinn felt Chris shift his head.

"'Should I shoot them?'," the guy teased. Then got serious. "Piece of advice: if you have to ask the question, somebody should already be dead."

Although Chris didn't reply, Quinn still felt the rage swirl through their best friend's body and outward. It made them shiver; Quinn hadn't decided if their fear was for him or of him. When they whispered, "Chris," Quinn saw his eyes train on the floor but knew he was asking for them desperately. It's not on me, he was begging them, Quinn, it's not my fault, too, is it?

Quinn would have taken his hand if they weren't already tied with a zip-wire behind them, so instead they wished him to look at them so they could think some kind of small comfort into his head, but he didn't look. Not once.

"Daniel's next," the guys instructed when Jack was finishing with Ofelia. "Your girl can help you."

"I'm not doing shit," Alicia said, calm still, on the outside. Daniel's stolen rifle came up at her stomach and Quinn's whole body expanded like a blow-fish.

"We can bind them, we can shoot them. No skin off my nose."

Alicia did as she was told.

"Kip, check the rest of the boat. Look for the captain and Nick."

"How do they know our names?"

"I don't know, Daniel," Alicia said, tying his hands obediently. "I didn't – I didn't tell them about that." She looked up to Jack and he watched her. It was hard to tell what he felt, but Quinn wanted to call it sympathy, but then also, Quinn wanted to call him another number of things, too.

There was splashing outside.

The men and Alicia went out to look.

"Jack," the guy ordered. "Get him."

"Jack, don't."

It had to be Strand; making his escape. Maybe even Nick, too.

"Jack," Alicia said. The others couldn't see them all. "Jack." When the first gunshot went off, Quinn's shoulders bunched up to their jaw. Chris was rigid, like stone.

"Did you get him?" Jack asked his companion.

"If I didn't, the hypothermia will."

Chapter Text

It was morning now.

"Please," Quinn asked. It had to be the millionth time so far. "Please, I need to check on her."

"Kid, you think I'm that stupid?"

"She'll die!"

"If you don't shut up, you too."

Quinn was furious. It was day four without insulin. Two words stuck out on those days. Coma. Death. Hye needed more tea. She needed to go to the bathroom. She needed water and someone to give her more blankets or to take them away if she was too hot. She needed Quinn.

"Please," they begged again, tearing up. Quinn hated how much they cried when they were angry.

"Reed," Jack said. "Come on, just let the kid go see her."

It was strange. Jack kept doing that. Avoiding pronouns or shortening them to be inconspicuous. He'd been doing it since he got on the boat, making 'their' sound like it could have been 'her' or 'they' like 'he', using Quinn’s name or calling them ‘the kid’. Back before, when Quinn had introduced them-self over the talkie, Jack had casually asked: "So, is this another girl I'm talking to or a guy?" because he couldn't quite tell from their voice due to how soft Quinn spoke. Quinn’d tried to avoid the question, or just pick their assigned to avoid having to talk about it—erasure was still sometimes the easiest way to avoid a bad reaction. But Alicia took the speaker and said, "Quinn's actually non-binary. Genderqueer. So, they go by they and them, or their, depending on the sentence." The pause over the talkie had been a little awkward and strange, until Jack made a small hmm noise and said, "Cool, I think I can do the Math – or, English." And Alicia said, "You're a smart enough guy," and then the two went on flirting and joking and Quinn couldn't really stop smiling.

Quinn doesn’t know if Jack’s doing it out or respect or as not to get ridiculed. Something told them the former, which made hating Jack an increasingly problematic task.

Regardless, Reed ignored what he'd said.

"That a gunshot wound?" he asked Ofelia instead. She winced when he pulled down her vest collar to look. Daniel gritted his teeth. Reed let go and looked at Alicia. "Who has the key to the boat?"

"I don't know."

"You gonna start lying now?" He stepped forward.

"You leave her alone," Chris warned.

Ofelia answered before things escalated: "Hey, that guy you shot, genius, was the one with the key. You shot our captain."

"That true?" he asked Chris. Chris held his tongue. Reed hit him. Hit him so hard Chris jostled into Quinn.

"The fuck, man?!" they yelled.

"Hey!" Travis was shouting. "Keep your Goddamn hands—"

"Get back!" Reed held his gun up. Chris was grimacing. His hair hung over his face damply, like black vines. Quinn stared at him and saw the bruise beginning to form.

"Don't – don't – don't hurt him," Travis pleaded.

"I'm going to give you to the count of five to tell me where the key to the boat is." His gun was at Chris' temple. "One..."

"He doesn't have it!"

"Who does?"

Nobody answered.

"Two..."

"Please, just stop, okay?" Travis begged. "Come on, man."

Quinn was shaking. They thought of Eliza and couldn't cope with the thought of Chris ending up the same way. They dreaded the shot, the blood and brain, the smattering.

The hammer cocked.

"Three..."

"Strand," Travis explained. "Like she said, Strand, our captain, he has the keys!"

Quinn hit the floor when Chris was grabbed and shoved to his back along the couch.

"HEY!"

"Dad!"

"Four..."

"You – you don't need the keys, okay?" Travis begged. "I – I can start the boat without the keys. I can wire the boat. Just let – let my son go."

The gun tilted away and Reed smacked Chris' cheek praisingly. Chris sat up again and grimaced as he pushed himself beside Quinn, and when they heard footsteps, their heart skipped over itself. They thought it might have been Hye, gained enough strength to come up – to come save them, because Hye was suddenly and irrevocably Quinn's hero... but it was the pregnant lady, her arm under Madison's, and a gun to her head.

Quinn's heart sank.

"Everything under control?"

"Mom," Alicia murmured.

"Maddy?" Travis, too.

"I'm okay, Travis." She groaned when she was pushed onto the couch. Quinn saw the sore lump on her forehead. "Where's Nick?"

"He wasn't there when I woke up," Alicia said.

"I heard gunshots."

"Strand abandoned the ship. They shot at him," Daniel said.

"Was he hit?"

"We don't know."

"Was he alone?"

"Strand yanked out the wheelhouse radio," Jack said. "No one else is here."

"Well, Travis here just bet his son's life that he can start the boat without a key," Reed told him. "So, watch them. Find the spare radio. Reach out to Connor. Oh, and take your princess with you."

"No, no, no," Madison begged, "she stays, she stays!"

"Mom, don't."

Quinn stared at her. They all did.

"It's okay. It's okay," she said. "I'm okay. I brought this on us. I can make it better. I trust him."

Quinn thought it was crazy.

"All right, come on, let's go."

They went outside and Jack touched her hands. Alicia told him not to touch her.

“I can loosen these," he said. She looked back to her mother and friends, and they all watched her just as closely. "I didn't come here to hurt anyone," Jack told her. Or something similar. It was hard to hear him. He undid her restraints.

"You baited me," she retorted. "You lied to me."

"I had no choice."

"Why, someone put a gun to your head?"

Then the two started talking about functions and someone called Connor. How he'd civilize things when he got here. Or something. Again, it was hard to hear. Jack spoke to Alicia very softly and gently, and Alicia spoke back very softly and gently, too. Quinn knew that they felt jealous, but an even bigger part of them felt too afraid to take notice. Plus, the Abigail was getting hijacked by pirates. And even bigger plus, there were guns aimed at all their heads. And somehow, the biggest plus of all was that people were missing and splitting up and bruised and weak and there didn't seem like there was any way to fix it.

Quinn was too afraid to feel petty.

Alicia was gone and Travis was up on the bridge.

"Did you see Nick when you were on watch?" Madison whispered.

"No," Chris answered. Quinn shook their head too.

"He might have come up when we were on the bow," Ofelia whispered.

"And the only one who would know, is in the sea," Daniel added.

"There's only three of them," Madison said. "Can you get loose?"

"Keep her distracted," he said. Quinn saw him twisting away at his restraints behind his back.

At gunpoint, Travis was led by Reed down into the main living space to join them again. "Looking for your girl?" Reed goaded Chris.

"Let's just fix the engine, huh?" Travis tried.

"She's my sister," Chris retorted.

"You're doing your sister? Ooh, that's pretty twisted, man."

Quinn knew why he was doing this to Chris. Jack knew that the more he tormented him, the more motivated Travis would be to get the Abigail swimming again. It was working.

"I should have the boat running in about an hour," Travis explained, pushed down into the engine room.

"You don't have an hour," Reed told him. "Thirty minutes, tops."

Next to Quinn, their best friend was shaking.

"Chris," Ofelia whispered, "ignore him."

"Good luck with that," the pregnant lady said. She was leaning against the island counter with a glass of Strand's special scotch in her hand. Her name was Vida.

"When are you due?" Madison asked her.

"Don't know. Lost track."

"Well, if you were counting before all this, you're still counting."

Vida hesitated, then admitted, "Four weeks."

"Oh, any day now."

Madison kept her distracted, talking for a little while about first and second pregnancies and which was the hardest. How the pain at any moment is less than what was coming. How you know the moment that tiny thing comes into the world, you're weaker because you would die for it.

"Right now, I just want her the hell out of me," Vida said.

"It's a girl?" Madison asked, voice curious and dry at the same time. "Picked any names?"

"What is this, my shower?" Vida said, and walked away.


A little while later, Quinn tapped Chris' foot with their shoe and he looked at them, then looked away. Quinn couldn't tell what he was thinking. It was scary, to feel so outside of Chris’ head. Quinn knew Chris better than anybody. Being shut out was like forgetting their keys.

Downstairs, they could hear Travis and Reed moving around furniture and talking in passive aggressive tones. Madison had blood on her shoulder.

"Are you close?"

"A little more time," Daniel answered under his breath.

The barrel of Vida's gun scraped across the table when she looked over her shoulder at them. She hadn't heard, but she stepped over to the counter in the middle of the room between her and everyone and placed the glass of scotch on the wood.

"One drink won't hurt her," Madison said, "once in a while."

"I just like the smell."

"Good for you. Wish I could say the same."

Vida raised it to her nose.

"When's the last time you felt her move?"

"I'm on the go a lot," Vida answered, "I barely notice."

"I lost one between Nick and Alicia," Madison said. "One week her heart was beating, bap, bap, bap, bap. Too fast to count. Next check-up, it just stopped."

Quinn realised Madison was trying to scare her.

"I'm healthy." Vida kept up her poker-face. "My kid's healthy."

"Taking prenatal vitamins?"

"As if I'm gonna find—"

"When exactly was the last time you felt her move?"

"Shut up."

"If she died, she may have turned."

"She'd feel that, though, wouldn't she?" Ofelia joined in. "If that thing was moving inside of her, she would have probably felt that."

The gun came up and Vida marched at Ofelia. "I said shut the hell up!"

"Hey, hey, hey, hey," Daniel said.

She crossed the room and dug her gun under Madison's jaw. "I'll shoot you, and I'll toss you overboard. Don't tempt me."

Reed and Travis (at gunpoint) came up from the engine room. "Problem?"

"She's just trying to get a rise out of me."

"Trying to? Sit down," he ordered.

Madison didn't break eye-contact. "What will you do if she's stillborn, Vida?"

"Bitch."

"What if she's born dead?"

Vida hit her. Madison was knocked against Chris.

"Hey!" Reed shouted. He grabbed her arm hard. "Connor might need her." Vida stormed away downstairs, and with his gun still up at Travis, Reed turned to Chris and laughed. "They still gone? Damn! My man's got some stamina."

"Enough with the boy," Daniel warned.

"You want me to start this engine or what?" Travis agreed, and was pushed upstairs, though, as he left, and while Vida and Reed weren't looking, Quinn was sure they caught him slip something behind the cushion of Ofelia's seat.


Alicia and Jack returned from the hull a few minutes before they all heard an engine coming from outside.

"Good timing, Travis," they all heard from upstairs. Travis was trying to override the Abigail from upstairs. "Connor wants to meet you."

Then, a few moments later, the Abigail, too, started up, and hearts were pounding while three new faces boarded. The first man, a big man, had greying brown hair, a pale, round, bearded face that looked strong and confident. The second man was tall and had a thin bearded face and a balding head. The woman was thin and small and had a sharp face and long red hair.

The big man spoke first. "This is a gorgeous vessel."

"Finally," Vida said.

"What happened?" he asked Madison.

"She hit her head," Vida answered.

"You couldn't clean her up?" he asked, and looked like he might have even meant it. "Jesus, guys, come on."

"This is the one who started the boat," Reed told, presenting Travis with a hand clenched into his collar like he was some prized fish.

"Travis," the big man said, "you and Alicia come with us."

"And my family?"

"We only need the two of you."

"Wait, what are you talking about?" Madison asked, and stood up, but was guided to sit down again. The struggle was panicky and desperate and submissive when a gun was put to Travis’ throat.

"You'll get them a boat, right?" Alicia asked Jack. She tried not to look afraid, but it bled through.

"Yeah, they'll get them to shore," Jack answered, and she trusted him. He was looking at the big guy. Quinn guessed he must have been Conner.

"Fair enough," he replied.

"Travis."

"It's okay, Maddy. I'll bring her back."

"Dad, Dad, please."

A black sack was put over Travis’ head. Alicia's, too.

"Dad!"

"Stay with Maddy, Chris!"

They were forced off the boat.

"Dad!"

When Travis and Alicia were taken into the smaller boat and driven away, they were all left on the Abigail with just the tall guy and the red-haired woman and Reed. Quinn was about to muster up the courage to ask to see their mother again, but was cut off.

"Connor hasn't quite adapted to this world," Reed told them all. He was drinking Strand's scotch. "He's got leadership skills, holds us all together. Big heart, strong mind." He took a large gulp. "Weak stomach."

"Put us on the launch," Madison said. Reed scoffed. "We'll go to shore. You can take the Abigail."

"The thing is, the launch goes with this yacht, doesn't it?" Reed said.

"We'll swim to shore."

"My mom," Quinn murmured. Madison looked at them and stuttered. She turned back to Reed.

"Just let us—"

"What if you want your boat back?" he asked. "I don't like that ending."

"Shh," the tall guy hissed.

"Excuse me?"

"Incoming."

They went to the deck and aimed.

"Did Connor come back?" Reed asked.

"Zodiac," the red-head asked. "Looks like two—" Her head exploded across the wall.

Quinn watched her hit the floor. The second man had a moment to watch this happen, too, and then his brain was splattered across the deck.

Everybody flinched.

Quinn remembered Reed marching across the room, but everything else that followed was a blur. Daniel snatched his gun. Ofelia grabbed him and pinned him to the wall. Quinn grabbed the thing from behind the cushion, handed it to Madison, then, with one hard grunt, she stabbed Reed through his lower back.

"Chris, don't!" she yelled when he had grabbed him. But the boy shoved him to the next wall and twisted the tool into his stomach.

"Chris!" Quinn screamed.

The boy let go of him and let Reed slump to the floor. He was groaning. Quinn picked up a gun that fell from Reed's pocket a second ago, but let Chris take it, and once Ofelia had her restraints removed, they all scrambled out onto deck.

It was Nick.

"Mom."

"Nick, where were you?"

Another guy climbed up and everyone with a gun aimed at him.

"Hey, drop it!"

"Where's Victor?" He had a Mexican accent.

"Drop it!"

He had olive skin and long dark brown hair that swung over his forehead and ears. His beard was patchy and probably needed a trim or shave, and his eyes were squinting and anxious.

"Whoa!" Nick shouted, an arm over his mother's shoulder. "Hey. He's okay! He's okay. He's a friend. He helped. Strand sent me to get Luis, okay? He's gonna help us get into Mexico."

"I was getting Strand into Mexico."

"He left when they boarded, when they tried to take the Abigail."

"Victor escaped?"

"They shot at his raft. He went down," she said, then pushed Nick aside. "I have to go after Travis. I have to find Alicia."

"We do not cross the border without him," Luis said.

"We don't need Strand," Daniel said. Luis looked like the sort of man who had similar morals to Strand: Every man for himself, and so using it to their advantage was a good idea.

But they were wrong.

"Well, he didn't need you either, but here you are," Luis said, apparently more loyal than they thought. "Without Strand, we don't get into Mexico," he said.

Nick held his mother, and Daniel held his daughter, and when Chris touched Quinn's hand they turned to him and said, "My mom." And that’s exactly where they went.


Hye was bad.

Really bad.

When they found her unconscious on the floor with a bruise on her face and bilberry tea stained across the carpet, they thought the worst. Quinn needed to check that she was breathing but Chris wouldn't let them get too close, so Quinn shoved him aside, told him to go fuck himself, then kneeled by her side and pushed her over onto her front. Chris aimed, but realised Hye was alive when she threw up over Quinn's hands. She'd soiled herself. Quinn was crying.

"Help me," they said, "please."

Chris did, leaving the gun aside while he went and grabbed towels and more water. He yelled up for help, but nobody heard. Together, Quinn and Chris cleaned Hye up. Everybody else was busy upstairs trying to sort Reed out. Quinn tried to talk to Hye and make her comfortable. Her temperature was through the roof, and she was hurting too much to even respond to them without sobbing.

"I'm gonna get Madison," Chris said, and rushed out of the room.

Quinn broke then, a little. They curled up in a ball next to the bed and balled their fists into their hair, rocking back and forth on their knees and toes. When they sat up, they pressed a thumb to their front jeans pocket and felt the two small bumps inside.

They stilled.

Zoned out in horror.

Quinn wasn't sure why they'd stolen them that day, the power pills. They were just there on Willa’s desk and then they were in Quinn's hand and they still hadn't let go of them by the time they were clambering onto the Abigail.

Daniel and Chris were rushing into the room and Quinn snapped out of it.

"Where's Madison?"

"She had to go get Strand with Luis and Nick," Chris answered, taking a seat by Quinn’s side. Quinn tucked their arm against the curve of his chest. Chris used to do this when they were kids a lot; let Quinn sit into his bends, like an elbow or a spine or his shins. It settled them. After Quinn's father died, Chris was their big spoon for three weeks in a row.

Daniel was cooing Hye's name and cupping her forehead and assessing her condition. By his creased eyebrows, it wasn't good. But Quinn knew this, so they asked if there was anything else they could do.

"You've done all you can," he said. Quinn was shaking their head, so tense that not even the curve of Chris' chest was enough to settle them. "Quinn. You have done well. Keep doing what you are doing and we will get her help as soon as possible."

He took their shoulders, and Quinn thought he might hug them but he just looked very seriously into Quinn's face...

"You have done all you can, Quinn."

No, they thought, the pills in their pocket heavy. I haven't...

Chapter Text

Strand was back on the Abigail. Reed was right, about the hypothermia, but it hadn’t killed him. Quinn was starting to think nothing could. Strand was a superhero, or maybe a supervillain, then again that wasn’t right either. He was sort of a problematic antagonist, even though a small part of Quinn was relieved he was okay.

Down in the hull, Chris and Daniel had taken Reed into a spare room. Quinn was still with their mother next door. Hye was awake, sweating—Quinn had to use a rag to stroke her forehead.

They could hear Reed groaning and hissing in the next room, arguing with Daniel. Reed said he’d get fixed up at home, and Daniel just said, “Who says you're going home?”

Quinn didn’t like the way that made Reed laugh. He started talking to Chris. “You worried about what's gonna happen to your dad?”

“You don't need to talk to the boy.”

“I'm fine,” Chris said flatly.

“Guess it all depends on if you like your dad,” Reed went on. “Do you like your dad? He a good guy?”

“Wait outside, Chris,” Daniel insisted.

“I said I'm fine.”

“'Cause my dad, he was an asshole,” Reed laughed. His laugh was tight and in pain. He talked about what happens when you clip a man's Achilles. “Whew. The whole thing just sucks right back up into the knee. Makes a sound like a firecracker when it lets go. That's what happened to my old man last time he laid his hands on me.”

Quinn shivered. They thought of their own dad—last time he laid his hands on Quinn, they woke up with two cracked ribs, a broken wrist, and their name on a child protection list.

“You must be proud,” Daniel said.

“Me? No,” Reed said. “My brother did that one. Elder looking out for the younger. See, that's what you need to understand. When I don't come back with this boat as planned, Connor will come looking for me. And when he sees what you've done.” He laughed again. “He might be a little bent. He has a dozen men, five boats, three – GRHH!”

Quinn didn’t know what Daniel did, but they knew it hurt like hell.

Ohh, sorry.”

Reed laughed tightly and wheezily. “Oh, you will be. That's the thing, señor. My brother, he's the nice one. But when he cuts me loose. I'm gonna tear that daughter of yours apart.”

“In my time,” Daniel said calmly, dangerously, “I've known men who inspire fear. Do you know what they have in common? They never say how frightening they are.”

Quinn winced. They took Hye’s hand. She was unconscious again. Not comatose though, which they knew because she would flinch if Quinn snapped their fingers in front of her face.

“Chris,” Daniel said. They entered the hallway and shut the door behind them.

“You just gonna let him talk to you like that?” Chris asked. They were standing outside Hye and Quinn’s room. Quinn could see Chris’ shoulders.

“He's scared,” Daniel said. “That's what they do. That's what we all do.”

“He doesn't seem scared,” Chris said.

“He is. And I got what information we needed. You saw that.”

“You're just gonna leave him there?”

“Where is he gonna go?”

“I can stay,” Chris said.

Daniel thought about this, then nodded. “Stand outside the door and watch him, but do not engage.”

“I understand.”

“No wandering off.”

“Okay.”

Daniel turned away and spoke to Ofelia as she came down the stairs. She wanted to clean the sores on his wrists left from escaping his restraints before, but Daniel said he’d take care of it. While this happened, Chris glanced at Quinn and Quinn heard his voice in their head: everything will be okay. And it didn’t matter if it was a statement or just a goal to aim for. It didn’t. For that short glance, brown eyes were glued to brown eyes. Quinn’s brown was bold and deep, like mahogany, whereas Chris’ brown was dark, dark-dark, like coal. There was fire inside them. Always has been. Quinn could look into Chris’ eyes and never not find something alive inside them.

“Chris?”

“Yeah...”

“Nothing,” they whispered. Chris watched them, and then he turned away and stood outside Reed's door.

Ofelia and her father were talking.

“He should be upstairs.”

“He wants to be useful, stay busy,” Daniel said to her, “so... so his mind doesn't go places it shouldn't.”

Ofelia exhaled slowly. “What about Quinn?” She must have been worried they were listening because she chose to keep talking in Spanish. Quinn had taken Spanish – failed it, sure, but they knew what the words “Hye está muriendo,” meant. Quinn left for the bathroom and glared her down as they passed.

“She’s not going to die,” they said.

“No,” Daniel said. “She won’t. Once we get Travis and Alicia back, we will find your mother help in Mexico.”

“Mexico,” Quinn repeated, and didn’t mean to mimic Daniel’s accent. He didn’t seem to notice, or he didn’t seem to mind. Quinn said it again in their own voice. And again. And they felt better.


Connor, who kept getting mentioned, was the leader. Reed’s brother. Daniel said it provided leverage. On the monitor, he and Madison were looking for a cluster of five boats, apparently, near the coast. Luis wasn’t happy, at all. He said that it would cause them all to miss their window to cross into Mexico. But Madison was the driver, since Strand was still recovering, and she wasn’t going anywhere without her family.

Quinn could only hope she would do the same for their family, too.

Half a day. That was what she needed. Half a day to get her family before they continued south. Strand agreed, so Luis agreed. Quinn didn’t know exactly how it was Madison and Daniel planned to do this, but they had made a guess that since Nick, them and Chris weren’t allowed to join in helping, it wasn’t anything good or safe.

Half a day, they kept thinking. What can happen in half a day?

They started making a list.

A drive to another state.
A concert.
Graffiti painting half the side of a building.
A hike.
A tsunami.
An earthquake.
A volcanic eruption.

Quinn didn't like that list, so they made a new one. What has happened in half a day?

I've been hit and tied up.
I scared a pregnant lady.
I saw four people die.
I haven't eaten.

Didn't much like this list either.

It didn’t take long to find the boats. The five little ones were there, docked right beside a ship so large and new it hadn’t even been pitched in the water yet. It was on one of those building docks. Quinn got to thinking that it was like a mastermind’s lair or something; big and scary and complicated.

Reed was coughing. Quinn only took notice when he said, “How you doing out there, sunshine?” to Chris, who was still taking watch outside the door. Quinn kept quiet, sitting beside Hye while she slept. They thought Chris, too, would keep his mouth shut, but he didn’t.

“Better than you,” he replied. “It hurt?”

“Nah,” Reed lied, “it's just a scratch.” He started coughing again. Quinn was going to get up but when Reed spoke again, nonchalantly and coolly, they set themselves down again. “You know you're screwed, right? Brother's got big plans for your pretty sister friend.”

The door opened with a snap. Quinn thought Chris might’ve gone inside, but didn’t hear any footsteps, just, “Do I need to gag you?”

“You know, you don't look like your sister,” Reed ignored him. “You don't look like your Chinese friend either—”

“They’re Korean.”

“—or your old man's lady.”

There was a pause.

I'm beginning to think you and I have a lot in common.” His voice was weak and cocky. “We're outsiders. Tell me, where is your real mom?”

Chris was quiet.

Yeah, sucks. Let me tell you something. Orphan-to-orphan. Be prepared. 'Cause when the time comes, these people you call your family, they will put you down like you're a stray. Blood's all that matters now. That one's for free, cherry.”

Quinn was stood up. They were going to go out and shut the door, but Nick got there first.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked Chris. His voice was small and soft and Nick. Quinn trusted him, so kept back for a second, standing in the bedroom doorway with their mother sleeping on the bed behind them. “You alright?”

“I'm fine,” Chris answered. Nick glanced at Quinn, who was peeking through the door. Nick looked at Chris again.

“You both wanna come upstairs?” He stepped forward when he saw how spaced out Chris looked. “What is it? What? What is it?”

“I froze...” Chris winced. “I let them on the boat. This is my fault.”

“Look, man—”

“No, no, I pull the trigger, none of this would happen,” Chris spoke over him. “I pull the trigger, my dad and Alicia are on the boat, we're off to Mexico already.”

“What, you gonna shoot a pregnant woman?” Nick joked, but nobody laughed. “Come on, man. I wouldn't shoot a pregnant woman. This isn't on you.”

“What if I freeze again? I want to make up for it.”

“Okay, but just don't let all this get inside your head, all right?” Nick said. “Yeah?”

“Okay.”

Nick watched him and stepped away carefully. “Okay.”

Quinn stepped out then. Chris was still watching Nick wander up the stairs, so he didn’t anticipate the hand that reached out and touched his fingertips. He startled.

“Quinn.”

They shut their eyes. Chris said Quinn’s name like he could see Quinn inside it, like he could hold the word in his chest and know exactly what it was made of—what they were made of. Quinn never felt more like them-self when Chris said their name. They loved that. They always loved that.

Even now.

Quinn didn’t know what to say. Somehow, they didn’t have as good a grasp on Chris’ name as he did theirs, so they simply squeezed his fingers and put their chin on his shoulder. Chris leaned into them. Quinn kept their eyes shut and pressed their mouth to the crook of his neck. They were hugging but they weren’t really hugging, and when Chris pushed his cheek against Quinn’s temple, Quinn wondered what else they were doing without really doing it, and wondering that made them feel strange and afraid and confused. But maybe that was okay. Maybe that was all Chris needed. Maybe that would make things okay again.

Only, it didn’t.

“I need to make up for it,” Chris whispered into the shell of Quinn’s ear. Quinn looked at him...

“What?”

It happened too quickly. Quinn barely had enough time to say anything. They wanted to say, “Wait.” They wanted to say, “No.” They wanted to scream it. But Chris had already done it. He pulled away. He took the gun out of the back of his jeans.

All Quinn could do was watch.

The bedroom door came across, and then...

BLAM.


“He was gonna turn.”

That was the first lie.

“He was sick.”

That was the second.

“I had to.”

Quinn had lost count by the tenth or eleventh. The lies tumbled out of Chris as easy as it was for him to read out from the bible—he did that sometimes when he was a kid, before bed, to show off mostly. Quinn used to like it anyway.

Luis and Daniel were fighting...

“We don’t go south yet!”
“Your plan won’t work anymore!”
“We still have the trade!”
“The kid just blew a hole through your trade!”

...but ultimately, the Abigail stayed put just outside of the docking compound.

Nick, Quinn and Ofelia were cleaning up.

“Chris can't see this,” Nick said, wiping down the bloody counter behind Reed’s corpse. He was still slumped across his chair, his head craned back, but somebody had had the courtesy to untie his hands from behind his back at least. The bullet tore all the way through his chin and jaw. Nick looked up. “Quinn, you can’t see this.”

Quinn ignored him, scooping up what they guessed was part of a mandible.

Ugh.” Nick dropped a red sponge into a bucket.

They kept cleaning.

“Think I'm actually starting to get used to this,” Ofelia said.

“Please don't,” Nick replied.

“It's what we do now,” she explained, “spill blood, clean it up... spill it again.” She looked at Quinn then. They didn’t look back. “Quinn,” she said. “Quinn?”

They stopped cleaning. They shut their eyes. The corner of their left glasses lens was cracked a little—when they watched Chris blow Reed’s face apart, they doubled over and collapsed in horror, crushing the pair under their knee on accident.

“Chris said he was gonna turn,” Ofelia whispered. “He wasn't, was he?”

Quinn’s chin shook. They put their cap backwards.

“Quinn?”

People kept saying that today. But not like Chris. Quinn wanted to tell the truth, but knew they weren’t going to even when they opened their mouth to say something, but before they did, a snarl cut them off.

“Oh, God!” Ofelia cried.

Reed’s corpse got up and shambled after them all.

“Careful,” Ofelia hissed, and pulled Quinn and Nick back.

Nick groaned. “Oh.

“Jesus,” Quinn said. “Jesus!

Nick pulled out his gun, took aim, but Daniel was there and stopped him. “No, no, no, no,” he yelled. “Wait, wait, wait.” With a shove, the rod through Reed’s stomach went through the wall too. He was pinned. “Not yet,” Daniel said. “Not yet.”


The trade was happening now. Madison took the motor raft, and Reed, with his hands tied behind his back and a thick sack covering his face. Connor wouldn’t know any better. Quinn had been taking care of Hye again. She woke up, drank tea and ate a chocolate bar, and then she passed out again.

Every footstep made Quinn startle.

Every noise, they would flinch.

They didn’t see Reed’s jaw explode but saw the look on Chris’ face when it did.

Jesus.

They shook their head and stood up, but were so jumpy they knocked over a glass of water. It smashed. Hye startled. She felt the pain in her body and started sobbing. Quinn tried all they could to coo her to sleep again but she was writhing, and then she vomited.

“Quinn?” It was Chris. Quinn’s stomach dropped.

“Wait,” they said.

“Do you need help?”

“No.”

“But—”

“Just go.” They scrambled to pick up towels to clean her, asking her to sit up, but she wasn’t moving anymore. “I got it.”

“Here,” Chris tried, “go get more towels and water, I’ll stay with—”

No!” Quinn yelled at him. “Don’t touch her!” They were crossing a line again. They didn’t care. “Get out. Get the fuck out!”

He did, storming out of the room with wet eyes. He shoved shoulders with Nick as the older was turning around the corner, and he grunted and said, “Whoa, man!” but Chris was long gone. Nick found Quinn sobbing in their room, bent over Hye. “Kid, what happened?”

“My mom,” they rushed out. “I gotta clean her up. I gotta wake her up.”

“Here,” he said, and they let him hold her up while they wiped the vomit away from her chest and mattress as best they could. “She’s still breathing—Hye. Hye, you in there?”

Quinn started muttering about water and throwing away the dirty towels.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Nick said. “I’ll look after her. You go.” They did. When Quinn came back with more water, they stood outside.

Nick and Hye were whispering.

“Don’t worry, Hye. We’re looking after them, promise.”

“No, no, I don’t mean just for now.”

Nick sighed. He sounded overwhelmed. “Hye...”

“Please,” she said. She was talking very slowly, getting through both her stutter and her hyperglycaemia. “I’ve already talked to your mother, and T-Travis, but I need to hear it from you, too.”

Quinn didn’t know that Hye had done this. They wondered when, and how long ago, if it was maybe when Quinn wasn’t keeping watch over her or if it was before she even ran out of insulin at all. How long was it that she knew this would happen?

Hye started crying.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Nick cooed, “listen to me. Quinn—they’re like family now. You are, too. Don’t worry.” Quinn thought it was remarkable how confident Nick could sound when his stomach was knotted tighter than the hair on his own head. “We’ll get you help, Hye. We’ll get you your medicine. And—And if we don’t, we—”

Quinn didn’t want him to keep talking, so they stepped into the room and Nick fell silent. He looked at them, his hand up on Hye’s forehead and his thumb rubbing small circles over her hairline. Quinn didn’t stick around. They left the glass of water on the bedside table with a straw, and then they went up on deck.

In the last second, Quinn heard Nick say, “I’ll take care of them, Hye. I promise.”


Soon, up on the bow, Strand and Nick were watching the trade take place through a pair of binoculars each. Quinn was waiting impatiently beside them, squinting hard and doing their best to make out the small human figures shifting on the docking bay.

“I can only see Travis,” Nick said. He and Strand looked at each other. Nick let Quinn use the binoculars, but when they saw Madison and Reed climb out of the boat they knew to step back and let Nick look. He narrated everything.

“She let him go.”

“Who Reed?”

“Yep. Travis is let loose, too.”

“Is he okay?”

“I think so—”

“Would you two be quiet,” Strand snapped.

“Why you can’t hear anything from them anyw—”

Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Nick yelled. “Reed’s outa the bag, they took it off, he got his guy!”

“What? What’s going on?!”

“Holy shit,” Strand said.

“What’ happening?”

“Reed bit Connor, and, oh shit, he’s attacking his other guy, too.”

The pause was too long.

“What’s happening?!” Quinn begged.

“They’re fighting. Travis and Mom against the last guy. Come on, come on, come on.”

“Nick,” Strand said, and pointed, “over there, on the front of the ship.”

“Alicia!” Nick gasped. Quinn squinted, and barely made out two narrow shapes right at the front of the boat, a million miles above the water.

“What’s happening, Nick?”

“They’re on the raft,” he answered, voice shallow, swallowing. “Travis and Mom.”

The next few moments were strange. Quinn focused everything they had on catching every detail they could. While Travis and Madison drove their raft closer to the giant un-pitched ship, the two shapes, that were Jack and Alicia, stood very close to one another, talking, and then, all of a sudden, the smaller shape of the two stepped back, and slid down the front of the ship, leaving its peak and soaring clean over the edge of the dock into the ocean.

Alicia’s fall was breath-taking, and the splash was tremendous.


They were coming back. Alicia, Madison and Travis, and once they were on-board, the Abigail sailed south, and everything that had happened in the last six hours felt like a bad dream. Travis explained about Alex, how she told Connor's group how to find the Abigail. Alicia explained how she was made to look for other ships, but how she hid from them and escaped out onto the stern, leaving Jack behind—even though she didn’t say that part in words.

Alicia caught Quinn as they left the bathroom.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She sounded breathless, like just the one word took a lot out of her.

“I know,” Quinn said back, and meant it.

“I am,” she repeated. She hugged them. Quinn shut their eyes and sighed into her shoulder. “I didn't want to hurt anybody. I didn't mean to hurt you. Or Jack.”

Quinn held onto her. “It’s okay. It is.”

They both sat together on the deck and talked. They talked about the sea and the sky and Mexico, and they talked about Jack and Reed and Chris, but it wasn't until they started talking about Matt that Quinn started to finally realise that he was somebody Alicia wanted to talk about desperately. Quinn was also starting to realise what they were to Alicia, and what Alicia was to them. Not somebody to dress up or to trash houses with or to kiss or to touch, just... somebody to be around, somebody to talk to, somebody to be there for, who cared for her and who she cared for to, and maybe it could be more than that, one day, but not right now. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

“I think about him all the time,” she said. “And, I know he's gone and I know I'm supposed to move on, but, it just... hurts.”

“I think it's supposed to,” Quinn told her. “If it didn't hurt then it didn't mean anything. It hurts because he was real. Because, you cared about him. Hurting is just a symptom of that, I think.”

“It sucks,” Alicia said, and she was crying and smiling at the same time.

“Ally,” Quinn said. They looked at her in her eyes. “I know you get lonely. I get that. I do. But, I think you should learn to be okay on your own. Does that make sense? You spend so much time trying to look after other people. Trying to fix them. Like with Nick and his drugs, and Jack, and me, and everybody else. But, you gotta — You gotta fix your own head before you try to start fixing anybody else’s, and — and I-I do too. Okay?”

Alicia's mouth closed, and she bit down hard on her bottom lip, dropping her eyes and furrowing her eyebrows. When she looked up at them again, her face was relaxed, and she nodded.

“Okay, Quinn.”

Chapter Text

Out on deck, Chris and his father spoke privately.

“Nobody will look at me,” Chris said.

Travis sighed. “Tell me what happened.”

“I didn't do anything wrong. Why are they so mad at me?”

“They're saying that guy you shot wasn't sick.”

Chris felt like he’d been punched. “Quinn said that?”

“No. Not them.” Travis took a deep breath and rubbed his face. “I’m just...”

“Who said he wasn't sick?” Chris insisted—he already knew. “Madison?”

“She's worried about you.”

“She said she believed me, Dad.”

Chris was getting upset. He hated how hard it was to hide that lately. He knew it was scaring his dad. He wanted to get up and walk away, but his dad pulled him into a hug and Chris let that happen.

They had sailed south—just off the coast now. There was a plan. Luis was going to take the Zodiac over to the boat up ahead of the Abigail where his contact, Miguel, would accept payment for two, and when he returned they would all be on their way to Beautiful Baja, as Strand kept calling it.

Only, the plan wasn’t working out the way they hoped.

Chris didn’t like how that kept happening lately.

A small boat was coming towards the Abigail. It had two occupants, and the driver was Miguel. Everyone had to hide below deck in the engine room, bar Strand and Luis. While everybody did their best to clean up any evidence that there were more than two people here, Madison, Nick, Quinn and Travis helped get Hye downstairs, which happened without incident because she was still unconscious. She was breathing though, and responsive, not that Chris was allowed anywhere near her. Quinn hadn’t said anything, but they stood between him and her at all times. Chris felt like a monster.

Daniel had Luis’ gun.

The four men above deck spoke only in Spanish.

“One of them is saying they like the boat,” Daniel translated to his huddled and nervous audience. “He's impressed by Strand's wealth and wants to know how much it cost. And Strand says he'd prefer not to discuss money.”

“Careful, Victor,” Madison remarked under her breath.

Shadows moved under the door.

“Let's talk about gold, then, shall we?” someone said.

More Spanish talk.

“Two bars, one per head,” Daniel translated. “Luis is making the payment.”

“Just take it and go.”

“Take it and go.”

Chris wished he’d paid more attention in Spanish class.

“Now he's saying it's a big vessel for two people,” Daniel said.

Crap...

“He wants to make sure there are no infected on board.”

The conversation continued.

“What's going on, Luis?” came Strand’s distant voice. “They have the gold.”

Luis said something in Spanish. A gun cocked.

“Wait.”

There was shouting, and gunshots, and heavy rushed footsteps. Someone was groaning, and someone else was shouting, and shooting, and running, and then there was nothing for a while. When the engine powered up everybody flinched at the lights, panting and out of breath.

“What the hell happened?!” Madison yelled as she stormed out of the room. Most followed her.

“Someone said ‘asshole’ in Spanish,” Strand answered.

“Luis?”

Outside, through a bullhorn, a man was speaking in Spanish, and when somebody shot into the Abigail a window smashed and everybody ducked down to the ground. Strand rushed upstairs.

“Everyone stay inside.”

More gunshots while Daniel snuck outside, knifing the dead men through their heads. He got to Luis, who had been shot in the stomach. Chris shuddered. He saw Quinn hold their mouth in horror. Daniel poised himself to put Luis down, but—

Por favor, no!” Luis begged. “Esperame, esperame!”

Daniel ignored him.

“Wait, wait,” Ofelia said.

“Get back inside!” Daniel snapped.

“It's okay. Shh. Shh,” she told Luis. “Let me help you. Let me help you.”

Luis was groaning.

Hye was crying from downstairs and Quinn rushed into the generator room for her. Chris had to stop himself from going with. He waited a few minutes until the Abigail was docked. Quinn still didn’t return. As everybody was getting ready, Chris found his dad.

“Check on Quinn,” he said.

“They okay?”

Chris shrugged and walked away. When his father went down to the generator room, Chris stood behind the door and listened.

“What is it?” Quinn asked.

Chris’ dad didn’t tell them that Luis was dead, or that the people shooting had left them alone. He just said, “We’re docked.”

“Okay,” Quinn said. “Is the car close?”

Chris’ dad said no. “We couldn’t find one. We’re going on foot.” Quinn was about to say something but Travis spoke over them. “Come on, we’ve made a stretcher out of one of the beds.”

Chris could hear Quinn crying. He knew that Quinn had heard what Reed had said earlier, “Blood’s all that matters now.” But maybe Reed was wrong. Maybe he just had to be. Maybe Quinn’s family stretched farther than blood now. And maybe Chris’ did, too. And Daniel’s. Even Strand. Chris wanted to believe that they were all family now, but this huge empty part inside of him wouldn’t let him. He thought of what Madison was saying. He thought of what he’d done. He thought of everything he’d done. So he told himself not to get too close, that it would only end up bad.

He hated it.

But he listened anyway.


The stretcher was sturdy and perfect. It left splinters and blisters all over Quinn’s and the other’s hands but nobody complained while most of the group took turns to carry Hye along in it.

They walked for miles through Mexico, sticking to dirt tracks and empty roads, uphill, mostly. Hye kept asking to walk, in the moments she was awake, but there wasn’t a chance.

The sun was relentless and their clothes were drenched in sweat, bags full over their shoulders. Even the insects and lizards and birds knew better than to be out in the blaze. There were some vultures, however. Quinn wracked their head for the proper name of a group of vultures—a committee. That’s it. They were lined up along a telephone wire, sitting and watching them all pass. It was unsettling.

Quinn, who had just been allowed a break from carrying the stretcher, looked over their shoulder and caught Chris looking at the committee in the same way. Chris looked away, to Quinn. He either smiled or grimaced—it was hard to tell in the sun and heat. But either way, Quinn found them-self slowing their pace enough to talk alongside him.

“Fuckers,” they said.

“Fuckers,” he said.

They did this sometimes. Swore to each other in secret. Sometimes Quinn felt so filled up with all the curses in the world which they weren’t allowed to say that they thought they would burst with them all.

They both looked at each other and smiled. And Quinn figured this was good. Quinn figured that the Abigail was bad, that it did something to both of them, and now that they weren’t anywhere near it anymore, they could start over.

“Strand,” Ofelia said from the back, excusing herself from fussing over her father, “how much farther?”

“We're close now,” he said, marching, determined as he lead them around a large pale building with Spanish writing on it. Quinn couldn’t translate, no matter how hard they glared at the text. It suddenly dawned on them that they would have to get used to it. Furthermore, they would have to learn to understand it.

When the flies started buzzing, Quinn knew there were dead nearby. They all did. Everyone went on edge. They came to a small, town centre. There was an unimpressive, broken, Ferris wheel to the left and some sort of church up ahead, little empty shopping booths dotted all around. The ground was dusty, and in one area outside of a large building just to the right, a large pile of dead bodies was laid to rot.

A scrawny black dog snacked on an intestine.

Strand stormed inside the church and shouted at the top of his lungs. “THOMAS! THOMAS!”

Madison yelled after him but he ignored her.

“THOMAS!”

The dog from before had wondered off. Quinn probably would have wondered off after it because it looked friendly and they were secretly in love with dogs, but for one, they were carrying the back end of their mother’s stretcher again, and two...

“Oh, no.”

...the dog started howling.

“Hey!” Chris yelled, and then a whole cluster of bodies shambled around the side of the building. Weapons like knives and hockey sticks and cricket bats and screwdrivers were left around on the floor from a previous fight. There was even an axe, which Nick took. Everybody else picked up what they could. Quickly, Travis and Quinn found a truck nearby and put Hye inside the open-back on her stretcher. She moaned. Quinn begged her to stay quiet and kissed her face and covered her over with a white tarp (which looked far too much like a body bag) that was left inside.

“Quinn!” Travis yelled, and slammed the open back door shut.

Quinn picked up a metal baseball bat. They went in with everybody else. The first body Quinn took down was wearing a dirt green T-shirt that said ‘GEEK’ across the front, and with a deep breath, they swung the baseball bat through its face. Jaw and aluminium made a CLINK and then half of its face hung at an odd angle, tongue and all. With one more swing, the geek’s skull caved in like a watermelon.

Quinn didn’t have time to feel bad about it.

The fight was slow, in all honesty, since the dead weren’t very fast, but it was still terrifying. One wrong move was all it would take or it all to be over. They killed the dead carefully and steadily, keeping their eyes open and their mouth shut and their stomach in one piece. There wasn’t one particularly worst part of it all. It was all just bad, like the part where Nick had to kill a little girl, and when Daniel held a little boy at arms-length until Ofelia took it down for him, and the part when one geek got too close to the truck and Quinn had to bludgeon it to stillness between a rock and their baseball bat.

“Chris!” Alicia screamed. Quinn only saw snippets because they were fending off a particularly nasty geek with fungi growing out of its eyes and weeds under its fingernails. Madison was in trouble though, they knew that. But Alicia saved her.

They fought and fought and fought, until the dead were finally dead.

“We have to go, now!” Strand yelled. Everybody clambered into the truck, except Nick, who was curled up on the floor rocking back and forth on his heels.

“NICK!” Madison screamed. “Nick!”

Finally, he stood up and climbed in.


“Mom?”

Hye wasn’t waking up.

“Mom?” Quinn tried everything. They snapped their fingers, even slapped her, but Hye had no reaction. “Come on.”

The engine was too loud to tell if she was breathing. Finally, Strand pulled over. Quinn held their mother, even though they were told not to, and it wasn’t until they gasped out that she was still breathing that they all finally relaxed a little and let them focus on waking her up, which they did, and fed her the very last bar and let her drink from a bottle of water that they’d let a bag of bilberry tea soak inside of.

Hye wasn’t getting better, but they had to keep going, so, after a few minutes, when they saw a dead body wondering their way, Strand kept driving.

Nobody talked almost the whole way. Nobody looked anybody directly in the eye. Even Hye, in the moments she was coherent. The atmosphere was stagnant. Quinn decided to try ignoring it again, and instead focussed on the dust trails the truck left behind them and the deep green in the trees.

Green was still their favourite colour. They still had that.

A large expanse of wild hills moved out of the way to expose a large house surrounded by farmland. The pastures were full and growing and kept, and smoke was coming out of a chimney.

“Oh, my God,” Madison said.

It was Baja.

Strand had already advertised it, how it had food stores and gardens and water filtration from a well, and the best part... reinforced concrete walls.

“Shut up,” passed Alicia’s mouth in awe.

When they got to the front gate, which was tall and solid and painted black, they stopped. Strand spoke into a voice receiver in Spanish. The gates opened and they drove inside. Quinn had to guess what was growing in the fields since nothing had sprouted yet except small trees that were shaped like ‘T’s. With a lack of farming knowledge and an abundance of imagination, Quinn found them-self imagining corn and grapes and pineapples growing, and then magic beans, to plant and climb away to a better place. They even went as far as imagining Insulin syringes growing from the branches too, but knew that was a stretch.

There was something soft under Quinn’s fingertips, and when they looked they realised it was Chris’ fingers. They avoided looking at him. What they looked at was the house. It was huge. White walls, reddish-orange flat roves, and one oval blue roof made of marble, it looked, or something similar or equally as expensive. It had a wind compass on top in the shape of a dog.

They parked in the driveway.

Madison and Daniel carried Hye.

The porch was cocooned in pretty, delicate trees and potted aloe Vera, and something smelled softly of herbs like oregano and thyme and cilantro. The ground was smooth and the stones were patterned and symmetrical.

When they came out into the sun, a woman met them along their path. She was short and had wavy brown hair and warm eyes, in her sixties, probably, and she wore a modest teal-coloured blouse and a long colourful skirt. Two more women were behind her, younger in their twenties or thirties, wearing white dressed and neat, pinned-up, dark hair, like nurses. Other people were in the distance, minding their own business.

Quinn suddenly realised how much they’d missed new faces. Well, new faces that weren’t trying to kidnap or kill anybody, at least. They looked for kids, but only spotted one. He was younger, eleven or twelve maybe, with a pudgy belly and a wide, somewhat day-dreamy-looking face. He was playing soccer on his own.

“Bienvenidos,” one nurse-looking lady said.

Bienvenidos, Quinn thought quickly, that’s... that’s another way to say ‘hello’, right?

“Welcome,” the other nurse translated.

Dammit, almost, Quinn relented.

“Welcome,” the other said. “My name is Sofia. Nice to meet you all.” Strand and the first woman spoke privately a few yards away, but everyone was too distracted to think of them much.

“Hi, I'm Madison.”

“Travis, uh, this is Alicia, Nick, Quinn, Chris, Hye, Daniel and Ofelia.”

Hola.” The lady smiled at everybody. Her eyes lingered on Hye’s stretcher and she exchanged a concerned look with her friend.

“She’s not infected,” Travis explained. “She’s diabetic. Ran out of insulin a few days ago.”

“Five,” Quinn corrected.

“Five,” Travis said. “Please, do you have any?”

Sophia thought, then said, “I’m not sure, but I will check right away.” She turned to the young boy who’d taken a seat at the picnic bench behind with his soccer ball. “Juan, ven.” She spoke more Spanish to him, and then he ran over with a friendly grin on his face.

Hola,” he said.

Hola,” Madison said back, and waved.

“Now if you'll follow me, we can get Hye help and I can give the rest of you a tour of the house. But first I have to ask you for your weapons.”

Everybody handed them over. Quinn didn’t admit it, but they’d grown pretty fond of their aluminium bat.

“Thank you,” Sophia said.

The other nurse guided Quinn and Nick, who were carrying Hye’s stretcher now, through the house into a spare bedroom. Quinn caught a glimpse of Strand and that older woman, who hadn’t introduced herself yet, stepping into another spare room down the hallway.

Quinn took Hye’s legs while the other nurse and Nick carefully hoisted her upper body onto the bed. She was out cold again. The nurse left quickly, and both her and Sophia came back again after a short while.

“Did you find any?” Quinn asked, even though the womens’ hands were empty.

“No, child,” Sophia said, “we’re sorry. We do not have anything for her.”

Chapter Text

Celia, the first woman they'd all met, was Luis' mom. She had another son here, Thomas, who was older. But nobody had met him yet because he was dying. He got bit, Celia explained pretty calmly, day before outside of the church, which didn't really explain why there were so many bodies there in the first place but nobody asked because Luis was dead and Tom was going to be too soon and it didn’t seem like a good time to ask too many questions. This, at least, explained why Celia was so hospitable towards Hye. Anybody else would have left her outside the gate.

Quinn couldn’t say thank you enough.

Them and Alicia were curled up on the couch together. The TV show was an old, recorded, black and white, American sit-com, dubbed in Spanish, that reminded Quinn of the stuff they used to watch as a kid while their dad fell asleep on his armchair behind them.

Quinn, very vividly, was remembering one time in particular when they were seven. Hye was sitting at the table in the kitchen and Quinn's father had only just fallen asleep. He and Quinn were watching the baseball game. Quinn wasn’t very interested but sat down and watched anyway. The game had ended a long time ago and now it was playing the sit-com. While the over-acting protagonists quarrelled and shot witty outdated punch-lines at each other, Quinn, bored out of their mind, looked at their father. He was snoring, and his mouth was wide open. He was wearing his baseball cap, the same one Quinn had only lost a few weeks ago in the riot, and in his left hand he still had his cigarette pinched between two fingers.

Bravely, Quinn stood up and put their little finger across his top lip and smirked at the way their father looked with a moustache. Hye had her back to them. When the man stirred, Quinn leapt back and startled, but he didn't wake up, so they stepped forward and did it again. They got bored after a second though, and stopped. The cigarette in his hand was still burning, and the ash was about to drop off so Quinn put out their palm just in time to catch it, and with it, they drew a moustache above his top lip instead.

The beating they got for that made Quinn cry them-self to sleep that night, but now, hundreds of bruises later and two years since the miserable man bit the dust, the memory made Quinn roll their eyes—they figured it was probably a shame how disassociated someone could become to child abuse, especially when they were the victim.

“Where are you?” Alicia asked them, lifting her head from their shoulder.

“Here?”

“You’re spaced out.”

“I need to pee,” Quinn said.

Alicia frowned and sat up, wrapping the blanket they were both sharing around herself while Quinn left to go to the bathroom. Madison was just leaving, and showed them where a change of clothes was and said that they should shower and get clean again. Quinn didn't hesitate.

It wasn't until they'd gotten out of the shower, clean again, finally finally, that they realised how much their appearance had changed since the last time they really saw them-self in a mirror. Quinn knew the deal with passing nower days, how it never really worked anymore—too busy trying not to die to wear clothes that fit and sat in the right way to make them feel and look the way they wanted. It hadn’t been so bad on the Abigail. Everyone still treated them well and used their pronouns, or corrected themselves if they didn’t, and it became a lot more apparent that Quinn felt better from this than they ever had just from passing, which kind of meant everything to them. Quinn guessed it only felt bad now because they could really see them-self, all of the features of them-self that they hadn't been able to fill out or conceal. They hated how heart-breaking it was, all of a sudden, like a balloon bursting in their face just because they looked.

There were some developments that weren’t so negative, however, like the little bit of weight they’d lost, and that their acne seemed to be better, and their hair looked a little longer. They avoided looking at much else. But then they looked anyway, Quinn leaned over the sink and squeezed them-self, like squeezing out all the dysphoria. They distracted them-self thinking about their mother, only that was a bad idea too because holding back the tears over her suddenly felt like holding back an earthquake. Their mom was dying. My mom is dying. With all the time they’d spent ignoring this fact, now, they were allowed to feel it.

They didn’t know how long they cried for, but finally, they wiped their eyes and pushed everything to the back of their head, bringing the rest of the world to the front again.

They pulled on their clothes, which was just a green and white striped T-shirt and a pair of dark blue shorts, with their bare feet felt cold against the floor. They gave their previous clothes to Celia to put them in the wash, then checked on Hye, whom they had only left this once in the three hours since they'd gotten to the huge house. Ofelia was looking after her, and told Quinn that the chocolate and bilberry tea (and the strange, sugary, herbal concoction that Celia had made for her) was helping as much as it could.

“But she's not getting any better,” Ofelia sighed, and stood up to talk with Quinn privately. Quinn avoided it and backed out of the room, mumbling something about the TV and a thank you. Ofelia shrank back and let them go. It wasn't time to talk about it yet. Quinn wasn't ready.

When Quinn headed towards the living room, their stomach dropped lower than their heart already had when they heard hushed and threatening tones coming from inside. Chris growled something...

“I don’t wanna hurt anyone.”

Quinn peeked. Alicia’s back was against the doorframe and Chris’ hands were clenched around her biceps, jaw gritted, standing so tall over her that the two were nose-to-nose. Alicia looked furious. Chris looked devastated, but out of all, they both just looked scared.

“Guys?”

Quinn’s voice cracked through the air like lightning. Both Chris and Alicia startled. Alicia's shoulders dropped in relief. Chris shuddered. When Quinn asked him again, louder, he backed off, and opened the fists.

“Chris?” they said.

He didn't say a word. He marched out of the room so quickly that Quinn had to dodge out of his way before their shoulders would’ve crashed. Quinn looked back at Alicia, lost, but she didn't say anything, just sat on the couch.

“Just go,” she said.

“Ally?”

Go... please.”

Quinn backed out of the room and ran after him.


 

Outside, there was a memorial for the dead. A cabinet, left open, with photos of who had passed inside and candles and a few small belongings. It was under a tree with an owl sculpted into its side. Quinn's eyes lingered on it while they passed, and it detracted them for long enough that they didn't see where Chris had disappeared to.

“Chris?” they called out. “Chris!”

They were facing the opposite way their feet were moving, about to turn around the edge of a small garden with tall, pale-green stalks, taller than them-self, but the moment they looked at where they were going, they walked right into him.

Chris!

He looked tall and scary, like the dark stranger in books you shouldn't read at night. But Quinn knew Chris. He wouldn't hurt them. He never had. Even when they were in middle school and the jerks on the team told him to. “If you punch Quinn you get to come to the arcade with us! Go on! Do it! Punch Quinn! Punch Quinn! Punch Quinn!” But he didn’t. He didn’t. Not once.

Still, Quinn swallowed. Their breath shook and made an escape into the warm Mexican breeze without them. Quinn remembered that they were as tall as Chris, almost, and made them-self stand up straight.

“Please don't be mad at me,” Chris was saying, begging. His composure crumbled and Quinn saw the small boy hidden inside it. “Please don't hate me.”

“I don't,” Quinn muttered. They reached forward but Chris jerked away. “I'm not. I swear. Swear.” Chris’ face was hard and difficult to read. “Just... Just come inside,” Quinn whispered. “We – we can talk. Madison, Travis. They'll...”

“No!” Chris snapped. “You can't tell them.”

“Tell them?” Quinn watched him. Their face felt tight and uncomfortable. “Tell them what?”

He was gulping, shaking his head.

“What did you do, Chris?”

“You know,” he said. “You know, Quinn!”

Quinn didn't know what to do. They pushed their glasses up their nose. They put their cap backwards. And then they stepped closer to him, ducking down a little to get him to look at them.

“Chris,” they said, “talk to me.”

“Why do you hate me?”

“I don't. Chris, I could never—”

“You don't look at me.”

“I'm looking at you,” they said, widening their eyes and touching his chin to prove it. “See? Right now. I'm looking right at you.”

“You don't see me.”

Quinn felt their eyes water; they knew he was right.

“I'm sorry,” they said. “I want to. Please, I wanna...” Their mouth was dry. Their whole body was. Dry like they were full of sand. “I promise I want to. I'm on your side. I am.”

“How do I know that?” he sobbed. “You saw what I did to Reed. You saw what I did to that man, in the plane.” Quinn winced and had to wipe their eyes. Chris stepped away from them. “How do I know you won't hate me?!”

Quinn had to turn away from him for a second, cupping their face in their hands. You need to fix your own head before you start fixing anybody else's, they knew. Of course they did. They'd said the same thing to Alicia less than a whole day ago. But this was Chris, their best friend, the one person who wasn't blood and who still meant absolutely everything to them. He had for years now. God, it was so complicated; endlessly and completely and dangerously complicated, like a riddle betted on the players’ sanity, so Quinn did the simplest thing they knew. They turned around and they kissed him.

Oh, Quinn thought, this...
This isn't as scary as I thought it would be.

Chris was frowning. Of all his frowns prior to now, this one was by far the hardest. Chris hadn’t always been a frowner. As hard as that may be to believe. Quinn could remember the days when they were kids and Chris’ grin could light up a whole room. They could remember thinking that his heart was so big he had enough room in there for both of them to fit, and Quinn would—they would sit right inside of him, all warm and snug with that swelling-chest feeling like right when you get done laughing really really hard. But then Travis and Eliza divorced and Chris’ heart got cold and small and Quinn watched that happen and couldn’t do anything. They just watched as Chris’ smile was replaced with his frown. Even right now, Quinn could feel Chris’ frown squeezing deep into their own eyebrows.

Okay, Quinn second-thought them-self, maybe...
Maybe this is as scary as I thought it would be.

They pulled away. Chris put his hand up over his mouth, eyebrows knitted so tight it looked painful. Quinn swallowed.

“I’m sorry.”

“Quinn...”

“I don’t—”

“Quinn.”

“I don’t know why I did that.”

Chris looked like he would cry. He touched their foreheads; frown-to-frown. And then he hugged them. Chris hugged Quinn so hard that they fell out of their own body.

They fell.
And fell.
And fell.

And eventually landed back inside them-self again. Both of them did. Chris pulled away. Quinn looked at their shoes.

“I should—”

“Yeah, I’ve gotta... yeah.”

Quinn stepped back to let him leave. Chris hesitated, but turned and walked away after a moment. Quinn watched him go, stepping back into the garden like stepping back in time, tripping over stalks and roots and landing hard on their ass between the cover of a row of grape trees, and they stayed there, alone, hugging their knees and sitting in the dirt as the Mexican sun disappeared back under the horizon.


By nightfall, Quinn still hadn’t moved, hoping that everything that happened a few seconds before the last time they did would float away with the breeze. Quinn frowned into their knees, pretending Chris had let them borrow his frown — to give back on another day. They felt guilty about kissing him, despite how simple it was, like the way they’d convinced Justine Lang to kiss them in fifth grade just to see what the fuss was about, and Angela Walker in eighth at a party when they were both drunk, and Joanna Hartman a few weeks later for a dare, and Alicia, less than a week ago. And now Chris, their best friend, who was hurting, just like they were.

Quinn was starting to realise that even a simple kiss could be endlessly complicated.

Finally, Quinn got up and went back to the house. On their way, they passed that memorial shrine and saw Nick and Ofelia preying under the candle-light, but was quiet enough that neither of them noticed Quinn walk by.

It was almost eight at night.

Drained, Quinn wandered upstairs to their mother. Travis and Madison were arguing in their room, but Quinn only heard snippets:

“Are you hearing yourself?”
“Let's help him like we helped Nick.”
“That's not the same.”

Quinn knew they were talking about Chris, but they didn't want to think about him right now. Only they did. They wanted to stop time so they could think about ChrisChrisChris for as long as it took to stop thinking about him at all. But it was odd. Quinn wasn’t thinking of Chris like they usually thought about people they kissed, or wanted. They were worried about him. And, yes, they wanted him. But it was a desperate, confusing kind of want that made their chest hurt. Not want for love but want for... Quinn didn’t know. None of it made sense. They just wanted—needed him to be okay. But they also wanted more than any of that to shrink beside their mother and muffle Madison and Travis’ argument with a pillow around their head, so that's what they did—just, not for very long.

“Hey, kid?”

“Mm.”

“Kid.”

“Nugh.”

“Kid...”

Quinn could barely open their mouth. “I'm nuhra kid.”

“Come on, you're gonna miss dinner,” Nick said, tugging the pillow away from Quinn's head. They'd fallen asleep, they realised, and groaned. “Ofelia's been in here most of the day, didn't want to wake you. But I figured I didn't need to be as soft on you.”

Quinn grumbled something that made Nick laugh. His top lip was pushed out under his bottom lip, and Quinn couldn't tell if he was doing it on purpose or if this was just the face he made when he laughed.

“Come on,” he said again, “Celia makes the best pozole.”

“I'm unbelievably hungry,” Quinn admitted. “I think I'd eat a tree.”

“Don't worry, there's enough pozole to go around.”

Quinn laughed but no breath came out. Nick watched them.

“Celia,” he said, “earlier, she told me, I have a heavy smile.” He pointed to either side of Quinn's mouth one at a —slow— time, and pouted. “You, too, kiddo.”

“I'm just tired,” they said.

“Me too,” Nick whispered, and his eyes were big and sad and blood-shot. The corners were wet.

“Everybody's dying,” Quinn thought, and didn’t realise they’d said it aloud until their breath shook. “Even we are.”

Then, all of a sudden, Nick tucked them under his arm and rubbed their shoulder. His hug was firm, and it definitely smelled better than Quinn thought it would. He must've showered.

“Know what else Celia told me?” he asked. Quinn sniffed and wiped their eyes. “She told me, the dead have always been here, it’s just that now we can see them. That's the only difference.”

Quinn almost laughed. “Pretty big difference.”

Nick almost laughed, too. “Yeah. That’s what my mom said.”

Quinn checked their own mother, and felt guilty that they hadn't already. Their mind was so frazzled that it had let Hye slip to the back of it. This was what happened when Quinn ignored things for long enough—important things were forgotten. It was frightening.

Hye was sleeping, and her water was full and the pot of tea was still steaming.

“Ofelia and I have been looking after her for you,” Nick explained.

“I'm sorry.”

“No, no, it's okay. We get it. It's been rough.” Nick took their shoulder and pulled them in for a scruffy hug. “You're not on your own in this,” he told them. “You're family.”


Nick was right, Celia's pozole was amazing. Quinn almost cried while they ate. People sat around the out-door sitting area and talked and got along like old friends. It was as close to normal as Quinn had felt so far, but then again it was furthest away from normal they had ever felt before in their life. Even so, they were grateful.

Yo soy Quinn,” was what they had to keep saying to introduce them-self, and then a few indecipherably overwhelming Spanish sentences later, “Scusi, I, uh, don't speak... no Espagnol?” People laughed, and switched to English for all of them.

Chris didn’t come to dinner. When Quinn asked, Travis said he wasn’t feeling very well and wanted to rest in his room. Quinn wanted more than almost anything to go and find him, scoop him up out of his Broken and put him back together again. But they were also pretty sure that they wouldn’t help. They wondered if they could have a heart big enough, like Chris’ once was—for them both to fit.

Quinn stayed and ate their food.


Later, while Quinn was getting ready for bed, they could hear Daniel and Celia talking in Spanish and wondered down the staircase. They wanted to thank Celia personally for helping them so much, and they didn't have socks on, so their feet made soft pat-pat noises against the hard stone slabs. The word ‘dead’ kept coming up in Celia and Daniel's conversation, Quinn realised, but couldn't understand much else.

When Celia was gone, Quinn stepped around the archway. “What’s going on, Daniel?”

He looked at them and his forehead creased. It made him look old. And he said, very clearly, “Go to bed, Quinn.”


They didn’t go to bed.

Back inside Quinn’s room, Hye looked like skin and bone. In just a few days, she’d lost more weight than Quinn knew possible. She woke when Quinn entered the room and told them to sort out their hair before their father beat them for it. Quinn knew they shouldn’t be mad at her, but they were. Furious. They climbed out of the window and tracked across the roof to Chris’ bedroom to knock on his window, only they didn’t do that because Chris was already awake and sitting out on the roof.

“Is that your dad?” Quinn asked, pointing into the window at Chris’ bed.

“Yeah.”

Quinn didn’t have to guess very much to realise that Travis was there to keep an eye on him. They were shoulder-to-shoulder, the roof tiles cool under them but still a little warm from the hot day. Quinn pictured them both sitting inside their heart, that way like Chris used to.

“Hey, Quinn?”

They looked at him. Chris’ eyes were out in the distance, rolling across the Mexican hills. He was smiling.

“You remember that night — right after your pa died? That night we went to the cove, and you painted?”

Quinn nodded.

“That was the same cove where my mom died, did you know that?”

Again, Quinn nodded, and Chris laughed at them, and then he began to cry. Quinn wanted to say something that would make him feel better, anything, but the words were lost.

“The last thing she told me was, ‘I love you, Christopher.’. I thought – I don’t know what I thought. I didn’t know she was saying goodbye.”

Chris shook his head and grinned down at his lap. Quinn figured that his grin was like his frown, right now; not telling the same story going on inside his head. They didn’t mind, but, admittedly, it made smiling back at him a little difficult.

Chris noticed.

“Why’d you do that, earlier?” he asked. “Why’d you kiss me?”

Quinn, taken off guard, shrugged. “I don’t know. You did it, too.”

Chris rolled his eyes, but it was true; he had kissed them back, like he knew they were going to do it before they did. Quinn felt their face heat up. Still, they laughed. Laughing felt good, especially when Chris laughed a little too. He shrugged the same way they had—Quinn guessed this meant he was indifferent to the kiss the same strange way Quinn was, and Quinn took this as a good sign.

“We’re still cool though, right?” Quinn asked. They looked at each other. Chris looked sad, but he nodded, at least.

“Always,” he said.

“Always.” Their voice came out soft, and when a sting shot behind their eyes they grimaced and looked up at the night sky. They took a long deep breath that Chris mimicked. He even exhaled the same time Quinn did. It was like they were made of the same air. And then he put his arm back and let Quinn mould into his chest and he moulded back, like candle wax, until the two weren’t just Chris and Quinn anymore but ChrisandQuinn.

“I miss Newt.”

It was meant to lift both of their spirits, and it did for a few seconds after Quinn said it, but then there was a lump in their throat and the tears welled faster than they could stop them.

“And my mom is dying.”

Chris just dipped his head.

“And you’re so far away.”

This made Chris start crying, too. He put his forehead to the back of Quinn’s neck, but didn’t talk.

“I can’t fix anything,” Quinn went on, shaking their head. “I can’t even ignore it anymore.”

Quinn had to stop talking and just cry for a minute. When they could stop, they turned and looked at Chris.

“I have to do something,” Quinn said.

“...Me, too,” Chris whispered.

“Something bad, Chris.”

He frowned at them. Quinn shook their head, creating another law between them not to ask until it was over. Chris seemed to understand to some extent because he was nodding, and Quinn hugged him, tight, and whispered, “We’ll stick together.” And Chris whispered back, “Always.” And then they both turned away from each other and climbed back inside their separate windows.

Quinn didn’t know it then, but that was the last time they ever saw their best friend.


Inside the bedroom, Hye was still awake. She was oddly quiet and still as Quinn climbed in through the window, just looking up at them. Maybe she knew. Maybe she didn’t. Thing is, Quinn had kept them, the power pills. They were hidden in the small breast pocket of Quinn’s vest. They took them out and held them in their palm.

“Everything’s going to be okay, baby,” Hye told them, and did not stutter at all.

“I love you, Mom.” Hye just smiled as Quinn knelt beside her and held out their hand—it was shaking. “Here,” Quinn said. “They’ll help you sleep.”

They put one pill in her mouth.

“Chew then swallow.”

Hye did. She chewed and swallowed the other pill when Quinn told her to, too. Hye hadn't asked what the pills were but trusted her child enough to take them anyway. Quinn kissed her forehead and stroked her hair and told her they loved her more than anything in the universe, and Hye smiled, breathed... and then, after a while, Quinn had to admit to them-self that Hye wasn't smiling anymore, and she wasn't breathing.

Quinn didn’t remember a lot after that, not until there was a gunshot from somewhere in the distance. It startled Quinn. Their face was wet, their chest wracking and empty and in pain, but the gunshot didn’t stay in their mind for long. Quinn knew they didn’t have long. When they heard the first groan crumble out of Hye’s mouth, Quinn apologised, then apologised again as they picked up a silver letter opener, hands shaking, and pushed the sharp end through their mother’s temple.

Chapter Text

Someone came to find Quinn—they didn’t remember who because the few hours since Hye’s death felt very blurry. No questions were asked about it. Quinn guessed it all looked pretty self-explanatory: Hye died, and Quinn put her down. Quinn left it there. They wanted to leave everything there, but things were happening in Baja. Bad things.

Alicia, who was most likely who had found Quinn, since, now, she was sitting out on the porch under the moonlight with Quinn, and Juan—because he’d shown up from somewhere. Juan was frightened from the gunshot, and Quinn’s mother had just died. Alicia was comforting them both.

Travis rushed from the house.

“Have you seen Chris? I can't find him,” he said, still wearing his pyjamas; no shoes. “Help me look for him. I'm gonna check outside. Can you just—”

“No,” Alicia retorted. “Travis, he had a knife.” This was news to Quinn. “The shot went off, he was in our room standing over me with a knife.” Had this been what he was talking about? The thing he needed to do, too?

“Stop,” Travis said. “He would never hurt you.”

“Do you think I'm lying?”

Travis stared at her, then walked away. Alicia sat back with Quinn and Juan, avoiding Quinn’s staring eyes. Neither of them spoke. Quinn was okay with this.


By morning, neither Chris or Travis were back. Things around Baja was becoming worse. Strand was digging a grave for Thomas. Quinn didn’t understand why the guy was so important to him until it was explained that they were lovers. They also found out that he’d promised Thomas he would poison himself so they could both go together, and that now Celia was furious that Strand hadn’t kept up his end of the promise.

Quinn didn’t much want to think about poison today.

They were digging Hye’s grave at the end of the back garden under some trees. Celia hadn’t really said no, just waved her hands and started muttering in Spanish, so Alicia said it was fine. Somewhere around the front of the house, the pigs were squealing before their slaughter, and anywhere else, the locals were lurking, watching, glaring and shaking their heads. Breakfast hadn’t been served that morning but Quinn didn’t feel very hungry anyway. They kept on digging Hye’s grave. Alicia and Nick were sitting up on the porch. At some point, Alicia got up and offered to dig too, but Quinn shook their head.

Madison came out. She was pacing and watching the horizon. Quinn could just hear her talking between shovelling.

“Pack whatever supplies we can carry — food, water, anything you can get your hands on without drawing attention to yourself,” she instructed. “And we need the truck to get back to the boat. Did you see where he put the keys?”

“I'm not going back to the boat,” Alicia said; Quinn’s thoughts exactly—except they hadn’t really said anything since last night.

“Alicia, we don't have a choice,” Madison said. “That sun sets, they'll force us off the land.”

“Mom—” Nick tried, but Madison insisted.

“These people are not our friends,” she hissed. “Get it through your heads. All of you.” She looked across to Quinn, too, making sure they were listening. “This place is dangerous. That woman is dangerous.”

“She's just upset,” Nick said. “I can talk to her.”

“You stay away from Celia,” she said. “Do you hear me? Travis is coming over that hill. When he does, that's when we move.”

“What if he doesn't?”

Madison stopped and looked at them all.

“He is coming back.”

And with that, she left.


Later in the day, Quinn collapsed from exhaustion in their mother’s grave and Alicia rushed in and pulled them out.

“God. God, you haven’t stopped all afternoon.” Quinn tried to pull away and grab the shovel but Alicia snatched their hands. “Your blisters have blisters,” she said. “Come in. Rest. Just for a little bit.”

Quinn didn’t agree to rest, but agreed to come inside for some band-aids. Alicia fixed them up. The cream she used stung like a bitch but after a moment it was cooling on their smouldering skin. They felt better, all wrapped up. Their muscles were sore and their eyes hadn’t really dried out yet, but other than that Quinn felt oddly detached from them-self. And then Alicia hugged them, and Quinn burst into tears.

They finally stopped when they heard growling from outside. Madison was there, too, leading the way to the door. Outside, all of them, along with Celia and several locals, watched Nick, again, covered in blood and guts, as he dragged Lois’ shrieking, gagged corpse, inside the house to his mother. Celia was grinning, and got her men to take him inside the chapel.

Later, as Quinn continued digging, they hear Madison and Nick’s argument up on the porch...

“I don't understand this fascination that you have with them. With the dead.”

“They're not dead.”

“Fine, infected.”

“Not infected.”

“The word doesn't matter.”

“Doesn't matter to you.”

“What do you want me to call them?”

“Their names.”

“What is going on with you?” Madison yelled. “The day you were swarmed at the beach, you come back all covered in God knows what.”

“You don't change,” he said.

“And then you go ashore at the border. You're alone for hours there.”

“Are you listening to yourself?”

“Then you do this. You risk your life just to bring that thing back.”

“You're talking like I'm using again.”

“Is it Celia? Did she put you up to it?”

“I can't talk to you when you're like this.”

“Like what? I'm trying to understand.”

“She wanted her son back. You can understand that! Right? So that's what I did, Mom. I just brought him back. And now we get to stay. You know, I'd do the same for you.”

“What?” she asked.

“I can bring Travis back.”

“No.”

“Mom, listen, nothing can touch me.”

“You don't know that.”

“I do. When I was on the beach, I came face-to-face with one of them and I didn't feel fear, I didn't feel hate. I just knew I wasn't going to die. Not there, not that way. I move among them, Mom. Invisible.”

He grinned; Quinn could see when they stopped digging and craned their neck.

“I. Will not. Die.”

Madison walked away.


Later in the evening, Celia held Thomas’ funeral. She’d decided to throw Strand out, which she would get her people to do later at sun down—Alicia told Quinn all of this when she found them at their mother’s grave, now finished, with Hye under the ground and Quinn sitting on the mound, both palms laid flat.

Alicia sat there after she’d stopped talking, watching them.

“Do you want us all to come out and sit with you?”

Quinn didn’t respond.

“Do you need anything?”

Again, no reply.

“Okay,” Alicia whispered. “I’ll be inside—come find me if you need anything. Anything at all.”

Quinn let her go. They sat on Hye’s grave for a while. Quinn probably guessed it wasn’t the usual thing to do at funerals, however private, to sit on the grave. But Quinn had never been to a funeral before, and right now all they wanted was to sit as close to their mother as they could and not think about anything except whatever their mind wandered to. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t peaceful. It wasn’t even very quiet. It just... went on for a bit, until finally, Quinn got up, wiped their face, and went inside just before it got dark.

Ofelia was pacing Alicia and Madison’s room. She said Celia took Daniel, after he attacked one of the locals this morning. Quinn didn’t know what was wrong with Baja. People were going crazy here. Even they were...

Ofelia and Madison went on trying to figure things out and calm each other down. Alicia was still watching Quinn. Finally, she got up from her chair, took Quinn’s hand, and told them to come with her.

It was dark out. Horses were bristling in the pasture, a thin layer of fog had covered the underbrush, behind the clouds, the moon was glowing... and Strand was being exiled.

Quinn and Alicia walked side-by-side along the dirt track a hundred yards or so behind him and the locals escorting him. They stopped at the tall, black gate. Strand turned around, said something, and then the gate was being closed. Alicia put her hand up. Strand waved back. Quinn just sort of felt very ill in their chest. And then Victor Strand was gone.

Alicia took Quinn’s hand and they turned back. But Quinn stopped.

“I’m—” Their voice was scratchy after so long without use. “I’m gonna go for a walk.”

Alicia looked at them. “Okay.”

Quinn turned and walked into the grape vines.

“Come back soon.”

In response to her, Quinn just raised and arm over their shoulder and waved. Some small part of them thought that if they stood at the edge of the compound and waited, they’d see Chris and Travis returning—as this subject had been pushed out of Quinn’s head for most of the day. But now, it was burning in them. They wanted their best friend back. We stick together. Always.

All they had to do was wait for him.

Still, some big, heavy tumour was growing in Quinn’s stomach, so they kept walking. They walked far enough into the pasture that they couldn’t see the main track behind them anymore, far enough not to see the lights in the house, either, but they weren’t far enough not to hear the explosion, or, when they turned around, to see that the whole chapel was now on fire.

Quinn ran. Their chest filled with cold air and expelled flames. Their muscles burned. Their sneakers caught on vine stalks and in animal burrows. They could hear people yelling. Madison? Maybe? But in their way was a fence and a group of Celia’s guys, all angry and ready to shoot and accuse anybody they weren’t familiar with, so Quinn tried to go the other way, but were blocked off by a horde of dead attracted to the light and noise. They panicked. They ran back the way they came, cornered between the wall and surrounded by geeks, so they hid behind a thick enough grape vine a few hundred yard off the track to catch their breath.

Finally, they heard a truck. They couldn’t see who was inside until it was paralleled to them, and it was Strand and Alicia and Madison, but it was too late. By the time Quinn rushed up after them, the truck was passed the gate and a geek was there, grabbing Quinn by the hair. They reeled back, screamed, and then they were on the ground, wrestling. They had no weapon. Hardly any strength. And now they were going to die.

As Quinn stretched and stretched their arm for something to save them, something —the gnashing head in their hand— cracked. And suddenly the weight was off Quinn’s chest and the growling was gone. Quinn opened their eyes, saw Nick, and then he grabbed something and smeared it over Quinn’s face.

“Eugh!”

Geek guts. Nick lathered it through Quinn’s hair and yelled at them to be quiet when they tried to stop him, and then he grabbed their wrist, his grip soggy and cold, and pulled them up to stand.

“Stay close, kiddo.”

Chapter Text

Nick and Quinn took refuge in a small house on the hill for the night with Juan and Sophia, who had also managed to survive the fire. Juan and Sophia had left, however, early in the morning as Quinn slept, and Quinn simply woke up looking up at an up-side down cross, with the two rotting dead bodies beside them, and Nick standing over their mattress on the floor. Their shin throbbed.

“Did — Did you kick me?”

Nick shrugged.

“Get up, kiddo,” he said, “time to go?”

Quinn sat up, rubbing their face—and leg. They could feel the guts from last night dry and cracking against their skin and clothes. Alicia’s cardigan was ruined, as was most of Chris’s cap; they still kept wearing them though.

“Where are we going?”

“North,” Nick answered, “to the city.” He clapped his hands, which, in one of them, was a milk bottle of water. “Come on, wanna show you something.”

Quinn followed him outside.

“See that?” Nick said, squinting out to the horizon. “What does that mountain look like to you?” Quinn glared, adjusting their glasses and turning their cap backwards.

“Someone’s back. Like, if they were lying forward on their stomach.”

Nick grinned. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it does.”

“That where we’re headed?”

Nick nodded. “Highway north is just after it. Got enough water to get us there, hopefully.”

Quinn nodded, too, and grabbed their backpack, which by some miracle they’d found still on their back this morning. It didn’t have much in it. Just their MP3 player, some apples (which were Quinn’s attempt at taking all the supplies they could without being suspicious yesterday under Madison’s command), and finally, an empty spray can.

Something actually useful, though (bar the apples), was their aluminium baseball bat, which Juan had handed them last night; said he played baseball with it sometimes. Quinn had no idea.

“You won’t need it,” Nick told them.

“Didn’t you have a gun?” they shot back.

“Not anymore.”

Nick scrutinized them. Quinn ignored this. As much as they respected Nick, they didn’t much like the idea of spending so much time on the road without at least one of them carrying a weapon.

Nick gave a disapproving grunt, resigning himself, then cracked his back and put his things in his backpack. They had to cover themselves with guts again; used the corpses in the house. “Think of it as sun screen,” Nick said when Quinn almost threw up.

Once they were both ready, Nick lead the way towards the mountain. It felt strange to Quinn, leaving without a stretcher, without Hye. But Quinn didn’t cry anymore. Not in front of Nick. And not under the blazing Mexican sun.

They just put in one headphone from their MP3, and walked.

‘How low are you willing to go
Before you reach all your selfish goals
Punch line after punch line
Leaving us sore, leaving us sore

Absorbed in your ill hustling
Feeding a monster, just feeding a monster
Invasion after invasion
This means war, this means war

Someday you'll be up to your knees
In the shit you see
All the gullible that you mislead
Won't be up for it

Where to, will you relocate
Now that it's war, now that it's war...’

Nick and Quinn walked all day, across the rocky passage and over the mountain that looked like the ridge of someone’s back. When they found the highway that lead north to the city, they kept walking.


“So what’s there?” Quinn asked finally. The sun had begun blistering places the guts didn’t cover; around Quinn’s eyes and mouth. The guts were making it hard to sweat, too, and the heat was almost unbearable.

“People,” Nick said. Contrary to his time on water, his time on land —on road— Nick kept most conversations succinct. Quinn would usually have liked it, but the noise in their head was becoming nasty to them lately.

“What kind of people?”

“I don’t know,” Nick said. “The kind of people who... embrace the dead. That’s what Sophia said.”

“Your kinda people?”

Nick ignored them. The two were approaching some neglected cars in the remains of a head-on collision. Nick looked inside. Saw the gun, silencer attached, on the seat but moved on anyway.

“Hey, shouldn’t we—” Quinn picked up the firearm but Nick snatched it off of them. “Hey!”

“Leave it. We don’t need weapons.” He let it drop to the seat through the window, tried to smile, then turned and walked away. “Come on, kiddo.”

Quinn glared after him.

“I’m not a kid.”

He just shook his head.

“Why’d you come back for me?” Quinn asked. Nick didn’t even turn around.

“I didn’t,” he said, further away now. Quinn had to shout.

“Then why’d you save me?! Huh?”

Nick rushed back, arms waving, telling them, “Shh! La Manas. La Manas! The road’s full of them now. We have to be quiet, okay?”

Quinn scowled at him. “Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me why you’re sticking around.”

“What—I’m just going to the city.”

“Then leave me here. I don’t want to go to some city.”

“I can’t leave you.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No, I can’t.”

Yes. You can. You’re alone now. You gave up your family for that. Why are you letting some ‘kiddo’ slow you down?”

“Because I made a promise!” Nick yelled. “I... I... Jesus, Quinn.”

Quinn felt tears in their eyes but was quick enough to wipe their face, and both of them kept walking.


They found an empty house to stay the night in. It was draughty and falling apart mostly, with nothing inside but some old sheets and broken chairs. Nick made a fire and Quinn served up the apples. They drank down to just over half their water, and it wasn’t so bad, in the grand scheme of things. Not while they curled up to sleep, not while Quinn dreamed of blackness and footsteps... not until they woke up.

Quinn’s baseball pat hit the wall over Nick’s skull and made a dent. The woman holding it screamed in Spanish, her face lit up red in the dying firelight. When she hit Quinn across their hip, sending them skidding across the floor half unconscious, Nick tried to show they weren’t a threat but the woman hit him in the shoulder, hard. Then hit him again in the leg. She didn’t let him speak. She just screamed and swung and then—

“PUT IT DOWN!”

Quinn had a gun up and aimed at the little girl’s head—the same gun from the car earlier in the day, hidden in their backpack this whole time. The woman froze. Immediately, she dropped the bat. Nick retrieved it. He had his hands up.

“ON YOUR KNEES!”

She did. Her little girl was sobbing in Quinn’s arm lock, jerking around in Quinn’s efforts not to stumble from their dead hip.

“Quinn... don’t.”

“Get our stuff,” they muttered, edging to the door.

“Quinn—”

“NOW, NICK!”

Nick did. As Quinn got to the door, they pushed the little girl forward to her mother and she caught her, heaving her breath and tears. Quinn kept their gun up, trained on them; the mother and child cowered in the corner of the room. Nick tried again to get Quinn to stop, but the teenager yelled at him to run, and they both turned and booked-it from the house.

The woman yelled after them from the door as they ran but didn’t follow. When Nick and Quinn were clear, taking cover in a small clearing a few minutes away, out of breath and poisoned with adrenaline, the elder snatched the gun out of Quinn’s hand and yanked them to look at him.

“Ack!”

“What the hell was that, Quinn?!”

“What the hell was — What the hell are you talking about?!” they yelled, limping badly. “I saved your ass back there! She was gonna pummel us both into the dirt!”

“You threatened to shoot a kid!” Nick reprimanded. “You pulled that trigger you would’ve killed her!” Quinn grimaced and snatched their bat and the gun back, exposing the magazine from the grip.

“It’s empty, asshole!”

Nick took the gun back, and without breaking eye contact with Quinn or blinking, he pulled back the hammer, aimed at the ground, and pulled the trigger. Quinn flinched and yelped as a silent bullet was fired and a part of earth at their feet exploded into a large dust cloud.

“Shit!” they said. “Holy shit!”

“In the barrel,” Nick retorted, throwing the gun far into the distance. He looked at them, like he was disgusted, and then he grabbed their arm and pulled. “Come on, keep walking.”


The next morning, Quinn’s hip still hurt. They had a limp. Nick’s head must’ve still been hurting, given how often he rubbed it. He had to carry his backpack on his left shoulder as not to ache his other one.

They got to another bunch of neglected cars along the north road; more this time. Most were parked to the side, and in the distance, geeks were shambling towards them both. One geek was trapped in the car closest. Nick stepped over to it and let it snatch at his fingertips. It snarled. Quinn glared at it.

“Can I have some more?” they asked. Nick nodded, handing his bag over. As he opened the car door to have a look inside (dodging the geek), Quinn looked in Nick’s bag and took out the bottle of water and drank one gulp. Nick found more water inside, just a little, but he drank that anyway. He took out a radio from the car, too, and told Quinn to drink just a little more as he fiddled with dials for any potential channels. Nothing but static.

Then there was an engine.

Nick and Quinn ducked behind the car and watched an open-back jeep park in the middle of the road. Three men got out. One tall and muscly. One big and bald. And the last had brushed back, dark hair, a T-shirt, and some sunglasses. They were all armed to the teeth. Big guy took out one of the geeks wandering in the road. They searched cars, and in one, found someone alive.

“Agua, por favour...”

They stabbed him through the face.

“La Manas...” Quinn shuddered. “That’s them, isn’t it?”

And then the radio picked up something. It ticked and squealed and blew Quinn and Nick’s cover, and La Manas was approaching. Nick’s face was pale when he looked at Quinn. He put up three fingers and pointed at the third.

Three.

Two...

They both ran for it, flying across the highway into the brush. A wind-screen shattered as bullets sped after them, cracking open cement and bursting dirt around their feet. Quinn was still holding the water, and the whole bottle exploded out of their hand as it was hit, and water gushed across their face and cardigan.

“Andale!” someone shouted.

Quinn ran and ran and ran. Nick didn’t let go of their wrist once, not even when Quinn’s hip made them trip. Thistles and burs tangled and shredded into their face and hair and arms. They both went down a hill, through a forest, out into a clearing, and then they stopped when exhaustion got the better of them. But they were clear, at least, so they simply made sure each other was okay, then kept walking.

Chapter Text

Quinn didn’t remember a lot of the previous night, not after Nick had the idea to churn up a cactus and eat it. Quinn remembered it tasted disgusting, and didn’t quench their thirst at all, and that the needles stuck them in places needles should never stick anybody, but once the vomiting began, everything became strange and terrible. Hye was there. She called them “WILD THING!” like in that bedtime story Quinn used to be afraid of.  And Quinn yelled back, “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” and then they went where the wild things are. The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.

“And now,” cried Quinn, “let the wild rumpus start!”

Only, after a while, Quinn didn’t want to be there anymore.

Oh, please don’t go! the wild things cried. We'll eat you up—we love you so!

And Quinn said, “No!”

The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Quinn waved good-bye and stumbled away in and out of time, for hours, through weeks and months and years, until they washed up cold and burning and hungry and nauseous at the foot of an old, run-down truck, under the blazing sun, in the middle of the desert.

Nick was passed out beside them, dried puke around his mouth and something suspiciously brown in his hair. Quinn’s legs felt queasy when they tried to stand. Their backpack was gone. Nick’s too. All lost.

They would have thought about this for a lot longer, had it not been that moment when Quinn realised them and Nick were not alone. Two dogs were prowling. Roaring their terrible roars and gnashing their terrible teeth. The moment Quinn tried to smack Nick awake, the dog lunged forward at Nick’s foot. Quinn searched desperately, and by some divine holy intervention, found their aluminium baseball bat sitting under the truck behind them. They grabbed it and swung it and metal connected to dog-shoulder and there was a howl and a growl and a bark. Quinn swung again, hit a leg, and the dog backed off, but Quinn wasn’t fast enough to stop the second dog from ripping deep into Nick’s calf. He had a rock, bashing it in the side, but it finally let go when Quinn sent aluminium through its spine.

Nick grabbed them then, shoving them up onto the roof of the truck. The first dog bit and leapt after their heels and the second dog limped a bit but was well enough to bark from the ground. Nick and Quinn knelt on the roof, exhausted and terrified and trying to think what to do.

They heard the moaning in the distance, infected attracted to all the noise. The dogs ran for them immediately. They bit into arms and tore through throats but quickly the geeks overpowered them. Nick was smiling. Quinn just tried to catch their breath.

They waited on the roof for a while. If they waited long enough, the geeks would wonder off. They knew the guts from yesterday had sweated off by now, so they weren’t safe to simply climb down and keep walking yet. Only, as Nick sat up to look at his wounds, he knocked some rocks off the roof and they clattered down across the truck bonnet.

“Oh no...”

Heads turned and Quinn’s chest fell out of their asshole. Nick put his head down and preyed. And then a horn blared. And there was gunfire in the distance. And the geeks turned and ambled away.

Nick sat up. Quinn helped him climb down. He still staggered to the ground in a heap. He crawled on hands and knees to the dog carcasses. Quinn’d retrieved their bat and followed him. The meat was torn into, but still edible (hopefully), so the two dug in on the parts that weren’t too bit up.

One stray geek who couldn’t walk, and was crawling, had noticed them and come back. Quinn tapped Nick’s shoulder to get him to look at it. Nick rushed for it, still on his hands and knees, and pulled its belt from its jeans, then returned to Quinn and made them tie the belt tight above his wound. Quinn was about to take care of the geek but Nick stopped them.

“No, we don’t need to kill it,” he said. “Just hold it down while I get the mess.” Quinn glared, gritted their teeth, but did as they were told and knelt on the geek’s shoulder-blades while Nick did his thing.

“Don’t you mean sun screen?” they asked bitterly, and Nick laughed, rubbing thigh gunk over his face and arms and shirt. He smeared Quinn, too. When they were both done, Quinn let the geek go and jumped back out of its reach, then picked up their bat and helped Nick to walk.

“No,” he whispered. “You can’t be too close. Not while we’re in the herd.”

Quinn stopped, the crawling geek snarling a few feet away.

In the herd?”


 

Hours later, they were still with the herd, walking like they were part of it. Quinn figured their newly-junky hip was good for keeping up the act, but after long enough the pain was just miserable. It also didn’t help when Nick started muttering under his breath—Quinn was sure last nights’ psychedelic experience hadn’t yet worn off of him; he’d managed to stomach a lot more than Quinn could. Quickly, Quinn kicked a rock at Nick’s foot and he snapped out of it.

After another few hours, they heard honking and a car engine, like before. They recognised the truck immediately. La Manas. Sunglasses and Big Guy stepped out, while Tall-and-Muscly took aim from inside the jeep. They opened fire across the herd. Quinn flinched. Nick took their wrist. He just took it and held them in his hand, just like that, while all around them bodies dropped like sacks of bricks.

Sunglasses noticed them both after a few moments after he’d emptied his magazine. He stared at Nick and Quinn and recognised where he’d last seen them, and as he reloaded, his fingers slipped and stumbled and his shells scattered across the cement. He wasn’t fast enough to set it all up again. One geek tore into him, then another, and another ten buried into Big Guy.

Quinn and Nick watched.

La Madas screamed. Except one, Tall-and-Muscly. He got away in his jeep. But the others. Nick and Quinn crowded around and waited while the herd feasted, until they were done, and they kept walking.


 

Soon, Nick grew weak. His leg was swollen.  He needed rest. There was nothing Quinn could do while Nick slacked behind the herd and eventually collapsed, except stay with him, which they did. They sat with him all night, right there, as he slept and they cried and he slept some more. And then it began to rain. To really rain. Right from the sky as if God was crying. Nick woke up to the drench on his face and began drinking it from the air. Quinn, too. They drank and they laid down and they soaked in all the wet, and it charged them up like they were attached to a plug.

Come morning, Nick’s leg wasn’t doing any better but he was in higher spirits. The got to walking again, and before long, found a small, deserted town, passed an apartment building with howling dogs on the banisters, and a little further on, a store, with a big arrow saying something Spanish on it except for the big, orange: DRUGS.

They both looked inside, but found nothing. Quinn knew it was rude to ask Nick what exactly he was looking for, or at least they knew that no matter how they asked it, it would come out offensive, so they kept their mouth shut.

Finally, in a dead barber shop, similar to how Quinn remembered Daniel’s, Nick snatched some duck-tape and pliers and used them to wrap up his leg.

Quinn heard footsteps. They spun around and saw a woman standing in the doorway. She was tall, her skin light brown (and blood smeared), her hair dark and tied back, and a machine gun in her arms.

The woman stepped inside the store, weary. Quinn lowered their bat and let her approach because she hadn’t threatened them yet, which they appreciated. Nick had his arms up. The woman looked at them both, then Nick. She said something in Spanish. Then one of the two men who’d followed her inside said something else.

Infectado?

“No, no, no, no, no,” Nick said. “No, no infectado. It’s a dog. A dog! Um...”

“Perro,” Quinn said—they liked dogs so could remember that, at least. And, come to think of it, after this morning they weren’t sure they liked dogs at all anymore. Regardless, they had the right word.

“Perro!” Nick said. The woman kneeled down and examined his wound. “Um, por favor?” Nick asked. “Agua?”

She motioned to her men and they handed over a silver flask. Quinn drank first, just a little, then handed to Nick. He took a few gulps and then the woman took the flask back from him.

She said something to them both in Spanish—Quinn didn’t get it, but understood what she meant as she left and said, “Vamos.”

Chapter Text

The Colonia.

Luciana Galvez, or Luci, was part of the Colonia; a supply runner, along with the rest of her guys. She brought Nick and Quinn to the Colonia, got Nick fixed up by an old, warted guy called Dr. Nuñez, who was the leader of the place, and some kind of saint or something as far as Quinn had been told. Quinn, them-self, was told to wait outside the infirmary for Nick to be done, which they did, taking in their new surroundings with hungry, relieved eyes.

There was a small trading marque a few yards away, with rugs and clothes and other things hung up for display, and something smoking from a stove that smelt wonderful.

It wasn’t long before a group of kids approached. Quinn went rigid and awkward. One boy said something in Spanish. Quinn tried their best to say they didn’t speak it. The boy kicked the soccer ball under his arm to them anyway, and that seemed to be all he needed to do, so Quinn got up, kicked it back, and joined in on their soccer match.

Nick came out a little while after that.

Quinn kicked him the ball. Nick grinned, and used his bandaged-up leg to kick it back, and joined in as well. Both he and Quinn sort of kept out of the brunt of the match though, what with Nick’s leg and Quinn’s hip.

“Hey,” Nick said at one point to Quinn, “where are their parents?”

“One girl said hers were dead,” Quinn explained. “Said some others’ were too. Thing that’s the only thing I don’t like about this place so far.”

“Yeah,” Nick said, “what’s that?”

Quinn looked at him, squinting. “There’re too many orphans.”

Nick sighed, and did this thing with his lips, pulling the top lip up, like some animals do when they sniff each other.

“Hey, I’m sorry about your mom,” he said, voice soft, “didn’t say it before, but I am.”

Quinn dragged their heel through the dirt to spell out a H. Then looked up and said, “You think I killed her, don’t you, for putting her down before she turned?”

Nick winced a little.

“Well, you’re right,” Quinn said, flat. “I did kill her.” They left it there. They didn’t care how Nick interpreted it. They’d said it, finally, out loud, with their own mouth. That was it.

And then Nick put his arm around Quinn’s shoulder and kissed the top of their head; which they thought was strange since because, firstly, he’d never done that before, and secondly, Quinn still had vomit and guts in their hair. Still, they appreciated it.

“Come on,” Nick said, “bet you can’t score the next goal!”


Unfortunately, the Colonia wasn’t all soccer games and saint pharmacist leaders. By their second day at the Colonia, Quinn and Nick found that there was no water. What little of it they had was rationed, and would be brought in by daily supply runs. But there was insulin. Whole entire shelves of it in coolers. When Quinn saw them, they wanted to throw up everything they’d eaten since conception. They bit their tongue and screamed in their head and when Dr. Nuñez asked them if they were okay, Quinn said, “Yes, señior,” and left the infirmary quickly. And then, soon after that, Quinn learned another strange Colonial custom (because everywhere seemed to have something...): People gave themselves up for slaughter if they were infected.

Quinn followed a crowd of Colonizadores down to the front gate, which was a tall, mesh fence, with a school bus as the entry and exit route. A guy, Alonzo, who a lot of people were crying over, hugged Luci, handed over his knife, then stepped up into the bus and exited into the large cluster of geeks wandering around outside the fences. They were inside a small, secondary-like, gated area, which served as some kind of further protection which was called the wall.

Alonzo stood before the herd, the wall, and spread his arms, and screamed, and they tore into his body. Nick had seen this, too, Quinn found out, when they met him on their way back up to the trailer—which was where Quinn slept the night before with the other orphans. Nick was trying to comfort a little girl, who was the guy who’d just become lunch’s daughter. Nick didn’t look happy. Quinn had nothing to say to him, they weren’t happy either, so they walked away.


Later that day, a little before the evening, Quinn was searching the Colonia for Nick but didn’t find him until they saw him and Luci coming in through the gate-bus with two shopping carts full of bottled water.

Quinn ran up and shoved him to the ground.

“Hey, kiddo! Hey, hey, ow!

“You were gone!” Quinn yelled, kicking him and hitting him. “I can’t understand anything they’re saying unless you’re here! I didn’t know where you were! Where were you? You left!”

“I was getting supplies!” He grabbed their fist and leg. “I was working.” Quinn looked down at him, out of breath, eyes wet and feeling stupid from the attention they’d attracted. They collected them-self, sniffing and standing straight. Luci was looking between them.

“I thought you said nobody would miss you,” she said to Nick, her eyes narrow and her Spanish accent all wrapped up and smooth around her tongue.

“I didn’t think anybody would,” Nick said, like he really meant it. Quinn felt how red their face was, and walked away before anything else was said.


A meeting was held in the evening. Dr. Nuñez gave a speech that Quinn didn’t understand bar a few words like death and parents and friends and something they guessed meant resurrection. And then, in the end, everybody was chanting the same thing...

“What are they saying?” Quinn insisted, tugging Nick’s sleeve.

“Uh, I think...” He was chanting under his breath. “From death we come, and to death we give ourselves.”

Quinn shuddered. They looked around at the chanting Colonizadores, even Nick. And then, Dr. Nuñez silenced the crowd.

He said, “Pero nunca, nos iremos!”

Quinn looked at Nick. He whispered his translation without looking away from the speech: “But never, will we leave.”


Quinn and Josefina, Alonzo’s daughter, were among the newest orphans in the trailer. Josefina hadn’t stopped crying all night. One of the kids had to go get an adult. Quinn kept to themselves in the small space they had made them-self, with a sleeping bag, their cap, and their baseball bat.

The next day, news was spreading pretty fast that Nick had messed up a trade yesterday. Quinn confronted him about it, and he simply took them by the shoulders, looked them in the eye, and said, “I’m gonna fix it. I promise.”

This seemed to be enough. Quinn watched Nick wander towards the pharmacy, avoiding looking too long at Josefine, who was still crying. Quinn turned when they heard running towards them.

“¿Podemos usar tu bate de béisbol?” several children were all yelling.

“Erm... what?” Quinn squinted.

“El bate!” one boy tried.

“De béisbol,” a girl too. Béisbol? Baseball?

“De aluminio!”

“Oh! My aluminium baseball bat?”

“Si! Ally! Si.”

Quinn blushed. Calling it that sounded like Alicia’s nickname. Even so, they liked it. “You want Ally?” they asked. “You want my baseball bad?”

“Si! Si!”

“I’ll go get it.” Quinn made hand gestures for the kids to stay there on the pitch, and was back within a few minutes with Ally gripped in hand.

The kids played baseball, which was a little difficult with only one bat, and a soccer ball. But it was fun, nevertheless. After a while they got bored of the bat and began playing other games, and then when the boys and girl started getting competitive, they split up into teams and began playing soccer. Quinn, too old to be fair to play against, as well as being reluctant to play for either team, stood off as referee, marking scores on the ground with the thin end of Ally bat and calling out kids if they fouled.

Soon, Luci arrived, and played for the girl’s team, and began winning, which a boy called Miguel wasn’t very happy about. As the girls cheered, Miguel yelled, “No es justo. No tenemos un adulto.” which Quinn almost totally understood from the context. So did Nick, who was standing grinning off to the side.

“Hey. You need an adult?” he asked. “Yeah? Can I play? Alright, alright, alright!”

Quinn cheered them on and bust out laughing when Nick made a complete fool of himself stealing the ball all to himself and tracking around the very edge of the pitch to score. The kids shouted in Spanish and he yelled, “Goal!” and the boys piled on him in triumph. “Whoo!”

“You’re an illegal substitution!” Luciana yelled.

“Take it up with the referee,” Nick said, and winked at Quinn, who was in bits laughing. Nick cheered. “Goal!”

They went on playing. However, Luci stopped after a man, Francesco, ran up to Dr. Nuñez a little way off the court, muttering things. Nick noticed too.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her.

“They found him.”

“Who?”

“Pablo,” she said, walking away to speak with the two men. Quinn didn’t know who Pablo was, and neither did Nick, by the look on his face.


Nick and Luci were on another supply run to the supermarket, attempting to fix the mess made with the gang who ran the place. Quinn was told by Dr. Nuñez who Pablo was; he was Luci’s brother, who went missing a while back. By the way Luci had said ‘found him’, Quinn could guess he wasn’t alive anymore. Quinn was also told that Nick had spent all day helping Dr. Nuñez with trading; staying on the gang’s good side after the mess he had made. The doctor looked pleased about all of this, but didn’t tell Quinn why.

“Hey,” Quinn said while they walked together, “is it... true? What the kids say about you? That you’re immune? I mean, I figured it was just kids’ stuff, but the locals say so, too.”

The man simply smiled. “Yes, it is true.”

Quinn didn’t want to ask to see it, the bite, but Alejandro seemed to sense this and showed them anyway. It was deep into his shoulder, totally healed over, all lumpy and purple and scarred. Quinn was in awe. Dr. Nuñez grinned. And then they were suddenly standing outside a small, run-down trailer—not much nicer than the orphan trailer but a whole lot emptier. Just two beds, rather than a floor of sheets and sleeping bags and toys.

“Erm...”

“This is your new home, Quinn. Yours and Nick’s.”

Quinn laughed, then stopped when they realised he meant it.

“What?”

Dr. Nuñez just smiled. Quinn frowned.

“Why?” they insisted. “I get that Nick helps out but all I do is sit around and play soccer.”

“Call me Alejandro,” he said. "And we will be changing that, tomorrow.” Quinn blinked. Alejandro’s warm, wrinkly face relaxed and he sighed. “Meet me in the infirmary in the morning. Tie your hair back and wear clean clothes. No baseball cap.”

“Uh. Y—Yes, señor — uh, Alejandro. Thank you.”

He simply nodded and left the trailer. Quinn put Ally to the side and sat on the smaller bed over in the corner of the room by the desk. The trailer was quiet, and the air was almost cool. And then they began to cry.

They were missing; missing their mom, and Chris, and Alicia, and Travis, Madison, Ofelia, Daniel, and even Strand. As rare as the feeling was, Quinn missed being inside of their own head, really being aware of the feelings they were feeling, instead of feeling numb for days until they cried them-self to unconsciousness. They almost did that, now, but voices were approaching the house and they stood up.

“You were surviving.” It was Dr. Nuñez’s voice.

And Nick’s: “Surviving feels like eating shit.”

Quinn silently agreed, collecting them-self; pacing the room and slapping their eyes to delete the puffiness. They sat on their bed again.

“You’ll get used to it,” Dr. Nuñez said, right outside now.

“What is this?” Nick asked.

“It’s yours. And Quinn’s. Moving you out of the infirmary, and Quinn from el remolque huérfano. I need your bed and it has already been made clear to me that Quinn is under your care.”

Nick hesitated, but entered the trailer after Alejandro. As he walked into the main living space, he eyed Quinn and they pulled their mouth into a smile. Nick circled the room.

“We don’t need all this,” he said.

“You deserve it. You have given the colonia a gift. You bought us time.”

Nick tilted his head. “I just cut some pills.”

“It was more than that,” Alejandro said simply, and with a nod to each of them, stepped out of the trailer.


 

That night, Quinn didn’t sleep well. Nick had been reading out from a Spanish to English dictionary—tutoring them (and himself), and as much as it was helping, Quinn’s junky hip was giving them restless leg and after a while they decided: “I gotta get out of here, man. Go for a walk, or jump off a building or something.”

“I’d prefer the former over the latter,” Nick said. “I’ll keep a candle on, if you stay out a while, so’s you see your way in.”

“Thanks.” Quinn grabbed their cap and left. As they strolled around the colonia, they recited all the words Nick had been teaching them and repeated the ones they knew were right in their head. They didn’t know how long it would be before they could put proper sentences together, but knew it would be a while yet.

When Quinn finally decided to go back to the trailer, they walked in on Nick sitting at the foot of his bed, and Luci sleeping above him. Nick looked startled. He put his finger to his lips and shushed.

“Don’t wake her.”

Quinn tiptoed in. They took the Spanish to English dictionary when Nick passed it over, and while they dressed into some sweat pants, caught the way Nick was looking at the sleeping woman in his bed. Quinn grinned, gathered some things, then backed out from the trailer.

“See you, Nick.”

“What? Where are you—”

“Kinda miss the other orphans,” Quinn whispered. “One more night to say goodbye, eh? Later, Nick.”

Nick grinned gratefully, and with that, Quinn turned and left.

Chapter Text

In the next several days, the Spanish to English dictionary, which Quinn had busied them-self to in all the spare hours they had away from their job helping out in the infirmary, hadn’t gone to waste. Quinn could now follow most simple conversations pretty easy; with a lot of help from hand gestures.

Alejandro held another town meeting, which Quinn was starting to think was an event similar to going to church. Alejandro asked those who had ‘lost faith’ to remain standing with him, for they’re all more when they stand together, or... something. He looked pale. When Nick asked Luci if he was okay, she said, “He is burdened.”

While most of the other locals left, Quinn waited in the chapel for Nick and Luci to be done speaking to Dr. Nuñez about their scout run today. Quinn guessed that by the looks on their faces and the tones of their voices, it wasn’t going well.

“Did you not just hear what I just said? I need everyone here.”

“Marco's not gonna wait on us.”

“I'm not beholden to that man, that criminal.”

“We need his water.”

“Why must you go now, Luciana? Hmm?”

“Because he expected us today. He expected Francisco and Reynaldo hours ago.”

“Do you wish to follow Francisco?”

No. How could you think that of me? This is my home. You're my people. I wish to serve.”

“Speak to the scouts as I asked. This is how you serve.”

Nick spoke up then.

“If we don't deliver the Oxy, they'll come looking for it.”

“You covered your path, no?”

“Yes.”

“Then they will not find us. Nobody leaves the colonia.”

“Until when?”

“Until I say differently.”

Nick and Luci were silent as they summoned Quinn and left. Luci went off to talk to other locals.

“I’m gonna talk to him,” Nick said.

“You gonna be okay?” Quinn asked.

“Yeah, ‘course. Look, if I convince him to let us go, you have a good day while I’m gone, okay?”

“I’m not a kid,” Quinn complained. “Quit talking to me like one.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Nick said. He was doing that thing when he laughed; pushing his top lip out under his bottom lip. This time Quinn knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose. It was just the face he made when he laughed. “Hey, especially not a kid now, huh?” he went on.

Quinn frowned-smiled-squinted. “What?”

Nick tilted his head. “Go back to the trailer. I left something for you.”

Quinn went quickly while Nick left to talk to Alejandro. Inside the trailer, Quinn found something wrapped in brown package paper. It was somewhere around Quinn’s birthday, they knew, but they hadn’t told anybody. Nick must have remembered from all those weeks ago at Strand’s.

Their chest swelled while they unwrapped their present. It was a book. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. And then Quinn’s chest all but totally exploded when they found the message written inside the first page:

‘Q, happy 17th. I hope I got the timing right.
Nick.’

They sat and read for hours. They fell in love when George Willard wanted to run away from everything but also wanted to run towards something too, just like Quinn did. They loved how ‘he thought about himself and to the young that always brings sadness’ because it was dumb and true and the book was magical, and Quinn was grateful for it.

At some point, Luci sat outside and spoke to the locals; she’d unofficially sort of moved in a little. Quinn didn’t mind; Luci was nice, offered them water and sometimes played soccer with them and the other kids, who all called her Lu-Lu, and Quinn sometimes had to stop them-self from calling her that too. Outside, Luci and the others all spoke in Spanish, so Quinn didn’t pick up on the faster sentences, but understood some.

“All okay?” Nick asked from a distance as the locals began to leave.

“They needed reassurance,” Luciana said.

“Yeah? What'd you tell them?”

“We're Alejandro's inner circle. We need to demonstrate strength to the Colonia. Instead of giving into fear, they should bring those fears to me.”

“What would they do without you?” Quinn heard the grin in Nick’s face.

“What would I do without them? They're like my brothers.” They both were on the porch now. “What is it?” Luci asked.

“Oh, nothing.”

“No, it's not nothing — Mientes.” You lie.

“No, mientes.”

“Miento.” I lie.

“No, miento!” Nick laughed. “No. Um, I was actually just gonna see if you wanted to join me for a drink.”

“Quinn is inside.”

“Quinn can go for a walk,” Nick said, and raised his voice so that they were definitely hearing him. “Riiight?

“Right...” Quinn got up, not offended enough to argue—they had infirmary duties anyway. Still, they shot Nick a glare as they left. Luci, holding a bottle of water (the drink), was blushing, but smirked all the same as she and Nick stepped inside the trailer.


 

Quinn did a night-shift in the infirmary. They must have fallen asleep at some point sitting in an uncomfortable chair down below the pharmacy because they woke up with a start from a noise upstairs. They grabbed a pair of suture scissors from a drawer and crept up the spiral staircase, mostly expecting the sick patient up there too have reanimated, but as they yanked back the curtain, that wasn’t what they saw.

“Nick?”

He spun around, shutting a cabinet as he did. Reynaldo, with him, froze. They all relaxed when they recognised each other.

“Jesus, dude, I thought you were a geek.”

“Sorry,” Nick said.

“Vamonos,” Reynaldo hurried. “We have everything now.”

Quinn frowned. “You’re stealing?”

“No,” Nick said. “We’re not, I swear. It’s the oxy. We’re delivering it to Marco. You can’t tell anybody.”

“But, Dr. Nuñez. He—”

“Please, Quinn. I need you to do this. Please.”

“We need the supplies,” Reynaldo added.

Quinn stared at them, swallowed... and nodded. “Okay.”


In the morning, Quinn was on the last ten minutes of their night-shift when Luci came in asking where Nick was. Quinn didn’t tell her anything, just said he was probably around somewhere. Luci left to look, and after a few minutes Alejandro came along. He thanked Quinn and dismissed them, and just as they made it to the door, he called them back. Quinn’s stomach fell. They went upstairs, slowly, knowing what was next.

Alejandro’s back was turned when they entered the room.

“Señor?”

“Where is it?” he said, and turned, his face pale and sickly. “The oxy was here last night, and it is gone now. So where is—”

“Alejandro,” Nick said, entering the pharmacy with Luci. “I took it. Just me. I delivered it to Marco.” Alejandro stared at him, then sprung from his place and snapped the curtain shut behind them all. He spoke in harsh whispers.

“I told you not to go there, Nick!”

“I had to, okay? I was worried if they were coming for us, it was going to be soon. It is.

Alejandro sat and buried his face in his hands for a second.

“We are outnumbered, outgunned,” Luci said. “They know how to get in and out. All we have going on for us is gone.”

“How can you say that?”

“We need a plan, Alejandro,” she said.

He watched her, and then he dipped his head to listen.

“Okay,” Nick said. “I'll get Reynaldo and the other scouts. We'll gather supplies while you tell the others. But, look, we need to leave now. Today, okay? We pack what we can, we get everyone together and we start walking—”

“NICK, WATCH OUT!”

By the time Quinn got the words out, the local was grabbing him, dead now the same way Quinn feared last night. Luci yanked Quinn back. Alejandro was there, grabbing the geek and pulling it away, but it bit into his forearm and blood spurted across the room. Alejandro groaned. Nick rammed the geek, and threw it and himself clean over the balcony.

“Nick!”

It was chaos. People were screaming and yelling. The geek landed on a bed, which another patient was resting in. “No! No, no!” Nobody could save him while his whole nose was torn from his face. Quinn followed Luci down, Alejandro behind them. There was a woman, next on shift, who tried to pull the infected away but was also bitten, and lost her finger, and then Nick had it. He pinned the writhing geek to the bed and gouged his thumbs through its eyes into its brain. The death was slow, and horrible, but it was over finally, and as the blood poured across the granite floor, Quinn stumbled out of the infirmary and threw up into the dust.


At the wall, Quinn and Nick were silent among the chanting civilians, while Dr. Nuñez shut the bus door behind the bit man and woman and they all watched as they gave themselves up to the fallen.

“What is it?” Luci asked, noticing Nick and Quinn’s silence. Quinn just didn’t feel well, but Nick? He looked grim.

“Just worried about time,” he said. “We don't have a lot.”

“It is faith what matters most,” Luci comforted. “It is this what will protect us.”


Nick began packing their bags when they got back to the trailer. Quinn had learned not to ask questions by now. Luci had not.

“What is it?”

“I'm leaving. We're leaving,” he said, motioning to all of them. “Faith is not going to protect us when the shooting starts.”

“We're not leaving. Alejandro needs us.”

“Not a reason to stay.”

“Our people need us. Alejandro's gonna find an answer.”

“No. He won't find any answers, okay?” Someone knocked on the door. “He can't.” Speaking of, Alejandro stepped inside, looking pale again, worse. “Clean it good?” Nick asked. “Antiseptic?

“What is it you think you saw, Nick?” Alejandro asked.

“I saw you afraid,” he accused. “Yesterday, you were afraid of people leaving. Today, you're afraid of that bite.”

“I was shaken. There's a difference.”

“You're lying—you're petrified,” Nick growled, and was right.

“What are you talking about?” Luci asked, noticing too.

“Tell her,” Nick suggested.

“You want to do this?” Alejandro asked, eyes wide.

“No, I don't! But they are coming to kill us. Look, the only way I am going to get her to leave is if you tell her what you really are!”

“Cállate!” Luci yelled.

“Tell her!”

Enough. Enough!”

Nick sighed and walked away, sitting at the foot of his bed, where Quinn’d been kneeling this whole time. Luci turned to Alejandro.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

And then he told her...

“I am not immune.”

Slowly, she stepped forward and touched his forehead.

“You're warm. Tienes fiebre,” she said. Quinn understood the tines, you have, and even though they’d not learned the word fiebre yet, they could guess.

“He's infected.”

“But I saw it,” she said, tears welling now. “I saw him bit. I saw it!”

“You saw what you wanted to see. I was bitten by the boy. The addict I tried to save. People told a story they wanted to believe. I didn't disabuse them of it.”

I told the story, not people. Me. My brother. You let us believe you. Why?”

“When they started to rally around me, I knew that we could build this place to protect ourselves.”

“You mean they could build it to protect you,” Nick said.

“I have fear,” Alejandro admitted. “I didn't want to die. And I knew I would out there. But more people survived because of this place. More people survived than died because of my lie.”

“No one survives what's coming, okay?” Nick said. “Look, I'm sure as shit not committing suicide for a fraud—I’m not letting Quinn. Luci, please. Just come away with us.”

“Luci,” Alejandro whispered.

“Please,” Nick begged.

“Luci.” Alejandro, again. He spoke in Spanish. Quinn understood parts. ‘False pretences’. ‘The love for you is real’. ‘Daughter’. And then he looked at Nick and Quinn. “And you... you are both my—”

Luci cut him off in Spanish. “He perdido tantos.”

“Lo sé,” he said.

She was angry.

“Luci, por favor.”

“No,” she said, and finally, Alejandro left. Luci began crying. Nick held her.

“We have to go,” he whispered.

“I'm not leaving.”

“We have to.” He kissed her forehead, then began gathering things. Quinn helped. “We have to go now, okay?”

“No.”

Nick sighed.

“This place, this is what matters,” Luci said. “This is my home, like I've never known one.”

“But you don't have to die for it.”

“I'm not planning on dying. The faith we have, it has protected us.”

“It's a lie!”

“It doesn't mean it hasn't worked!” she cried. “We have fared better here than out in the world. Better than we fared even before this all started. For most of us this is the first time we have a place, a family.”

She kissed the back of his shirt and Nick looked at Quinn and sighed.

“I'm not leaving,” Luci said.


To keep the townspeople’s faith, Alejandro kept his infection a secret. In the meantime, Quinn and Nick had packed their bags, one for each of them, and now, covered in geek guts, they were back to walking. Quinn heard the last thing Luci told Nick: "We're going to meet our fate," she said. "Do what you do, Nick. Run."

Again, the quiet on the road was messing with Quinn.

“How long do you think we’ll be out here, before we find something? Somewhere?”

Nick shrugged and kept walking, and then he stopped. He took out his binoculars and stared out north across the landscape. Quinn pushed their glasses up their nose. They put their cap backwards. Nick passed them the binoculars, pointed. And there it was: A helicopter, landing in an evac camp far in the distance.

They went back. Quinn was told to wait outside Alejandro’s trailer while Nick went in to talk to him. They waited almost an hour, but Nick exited finally with nothing more than a sure nod to them.


The next morning, the Colonizadores were long gone from the Colonia before Marco or any of his Hermanos arrived. Dr. Nuñez allowed them to go, and stayed behind himself to die a beautiful death, like Nick had told him. Nick and Luciana lead them all, heading north to the border. After so long, Quinn couldn’t quite imagine being back on American land. They figured it was probably because none of that stuff really mattered anymore. And they were almost there, crossing through the boarder booths and weaving in and out of cars. And then they were in America.

Nick stopped to survey the surroundings with his binoculars.

“What?” Quinn asked, using Ally as a sort of bad cane to support their junky hip. It clinked softly every time it touched the ground.

“What is it?” Luci asked too.

“Just, trying to get my bearings. It's some kind of refugee camp. A couple hours' walk, maybe.”

Colonizadores began to spread out to get a better look. Quinn grinned at the sight of little Josefina climbing up onto a car bonnet, cupping her hands over her face and smiling, before a bullet split her skull open. Quinn staggered back, blood splattering their face, speechless. People began screaming. Luci. Nick. Colonizadores. Window screens shattered and hails of shots were fired and Quinn just stared as Josefina’s body tumbled down from the roof in a tiny pink and crimson heap.

“Quinn!”

Nick’s voice got their attention, kneeling right in front of them behind cover of a border booth. Quinn stared up at him, mouth open, lost. Luci was there, shot in the shoulder. She collapsed into Quinn’s arms. Nick held them both around the head to shield from the bullets and then a man in green uniform rounded the corner, armed and aiming at them.

“Boys! We got a bleeder!”

Nick was yanked away, so was Luci, and then Quinn. They fought and screamed and then they were shoved to the ground yards away from each other. Nick was kicked in the face. Quinn tried to crawl to him, but the butt of a gun came down on the back of their skull, their face hit the cement, and Quinn was knocked out cold.

Chapter Text

Quinn’s hands were bound in front of them, zip-line cutting into their wrists. They struggled, gasping for words they couldn’t get past their tongue. Nick’s voice settled them.

“Tranquilo, Quinn,” he said from ahead, held by two more men. “Tranquilo...” Luci was behind them, being carried by just one man. She was bleeding bad. Some other guys were walking behind, carrying all their things.

Quinn looked around, out of breath, covered in guts and sweat, their own blood dribbling down their face from an abrasion they could feel stinging their eyebrow. Surrounding the outside of the compound were dead bodies, laid out across the dirt like litter. The gates were pulled open by more uniformed men, and inside was an army depo.

They were all put in a truck and driven across the compound to a small warehouse building. Inside it was bare of people, and only lined with shiny steel shelves and tables, like some sort of vacated lab. They were taken straight through, and heard the screaming before they were even guided underground by a fight of narrow stairs. There was a gunshot and Luci yelped. Quinn froze, until they were shoved forward. Someone down there was laughing.

“Time of death...”

“Zero-eight-hundred hours.”

Quinn saw the dead woman in the shower room and the soldier who wrote something across her forehead in permanent marker, and then they were shoved into a small room. One after another, the three of them were measured in height, weight, and temperature. A number was written on the back of their right hands. Luci was ‘39’, Quinn ‘40’, and Nick, ‘41’. Then, quickly, they were taken into a larger room filled with other people, all in the same state as them, and sat down against a wall. A soldier yanked another woman from the ground. Her face was gaunt. She said, “No, por favor, no!” but they forced her out anyway. The door slammed shut behind her.

It was quiet. The room was dim, with just the small light from a vent above. The walls were closing and the air was thick and musky. Some people were praying. Others were sleeping—or pretending to, at least. Some were totally quiet, staring into nothing. And some were sobbing quietly. Quinn noticed one thing: almost nobody was white, except one bruised up guy in the corner, and Nick, though, all covered in guts and blood, he didn’t look white or brown or anything. He looked dead. They all did.

For hours, all night, Quinn, Nick and Luci sat in the confinement room, guarded by different men on shift. They watched person after person be forced out of the room. They listened to them beg for their life until they were shot and documented until reanimation... then shot again, until Quinn stopped watching all together. They put their head between their knees, kept their mouth shut, and waited for sleep.


 

Hours into the day, nothing had changed. Nick had hardly said a word, unless it was to comfort Luci or to make sure Quinn was still there. And then, at four-fifteen in the afternoon —they knew this because another prisoner was being documented— another man was brought in...

When Quinn realised it was Travis, they swore to God he was in their imagination. They kept their eyes on him at all times while he was lead through the room by a soldier called Blake and sat on the opposite side, a shelving cabinet between them. Quinn watched him for minutes, while Travis put his head back against the wall and caught his breath, and then he looked at them, right at them, like he could hear Quinn calling out in their head. For a second, Travis looked horrified, like he didn’t just recognise them but was afraid of them. He swallowed hard, then swallowed again and craned his head around another man’s face to see Nick and Luci, too. Luci had her head on Nick’s shoulder, frowning through her pain.

The three talked telepathically for almost an hour, none able to move due to the evil eyes watching them. Only thing was, Nick didn’t seem like he wanted to talk much, even inside his own head, and Quinn didn’t know how to read Travis’ mind; not like Chris’. Chris. God. Quinn felt sick. There were too many questions. Then, finally, when the guard on watch left to change shifts, Travis quickly shuffled across the room to sit with them. He kept his voice low, and drew no more attention than that bruised up white guy.

“Your mother and sister are here.”

Nick put his head in his hand and grimaced. Quinn didn’t know what this meant. They, them-self, were beyond relieved. Chris was probably here, too.

“They took them somewhere else,” Travis went on.

“Chris?” Nick whispered at the same time as Quinn, who also added, “where... where is... where...” but they stopped because Travis shut his eyes, and then he opened them and stared ahead. Quinn saw the thing in his face—the terrible terrible thing. Quinn felt it, or some part of it, at least. It hit them like a truck.

They were all quiet. Quinn didn’t know how to control the tears that suddenly ran down their face, nor could they stop the harsh breaths at the back of their throat, but they did well to hold their mouth shut, their chin tight, and their chest still. This was harder, however, when Travis gripped their hand tightly.

Chris was dead...

Chris was dead.
Chris was dead.
Chris was dead.

After a while, Travis looked at Luci when she groaned softly.

“They do this to her?” he asked, wiping his face; Quinn wiped theirs too but it did nothing.

“At the crossing,” Nick answered. “We were ambushed. Did you see anyone at the border?”

“Just the dead.”

“Saw this place, thought it was a refugee camp,” Nick said.

“You couldn't have known. We didn't. Thought the patrol was military until they were on top of us.”

A door opened and a guy came in to leave something on a desk, then left again.

“You came looking for us?” Nick asked.

“Had to,” Travis told him. “I'm taking you to your mother and I'm getting us out of here.” Travis looked at Quinn then, and through the wet in their eyes, Quinn saw that same terrible something from before. Travis swallowed, then told them. “All of us.”


 

Soon, a whistle Quinn had grown accustom to strolled down the stairs and into the lab. The whistler’s name was Troy. And Troy was bad news. He wasn’t very old, maybe only twenty, with a handsome, pale face and stylish, mouse-blond hair. He had a crooked grin—always grinning—and took sick pride over his accuracy in documentation. He was talking to his guys outside.

“All right, what do we got?”

“Hey, boss. He went down at sixteen-fifteen.”

“Knucklehead here took two shots to do it,” another guy, Willy, said. Willy was also bad news. Worse, almost.

“He's got blubber on him, man,” Blake said.

“How do you shoot a guy at point-blank range and take two to put him down?” Willy goaded.

“Ah, he's a big man. I get it,” Troy said. “Okay.”

“Anyways, we were thinking he'd take a few hours with the obesity,” Willy said.

Travis was grimacing.

The men outside began talking in hushed tones.

“Troy.”

“Oh, I know, Blake. I got eyes.” The growling began then. “Welcome back. Hi. Yeah, there you go,” Troy said to the corpse. “All right, that's resurrection at seventeen-seventeen hours. Mark it down.” They were all chuckling.

“You just cost me a bunch of money,” Willy complained to the dead prisoner.

It snarled.

“Whoa!” someone laughed. “Okay, let's go. Get him up.”

A door opened. Troy came in. Quinn kept their head down. Troy walked towards them, paying no attention to the grunting and snarling and laughing outside. He stopped in front of them...

“You're Travis.”

Travis looked up at him slowly, then stood up at Troy’s permission.

“Are you Mexican?”

“No.”

“Persian?”

“No. Māori.”

“Oh.” Troye grinned that grin. “Polynesian. That's some warrior stock. Did you have contact back home before comms failed?”

“No,” Travis said.

“Oh, shame. New Zealand's isolated. I just thought, uh... maybe your people... maybe they dodged all this. Maybe they turn different or not at all. Eh, could've learned something. We may still. What about you, baseball kid...”

“Uh, Korean,” Quinn croaked.

“You grew up here though—can tell by your accent.”

Quinn nodded. Troy looked at them for a second, his mouth twisted up into a grin. He nodded, then made to walk away.

“Where's my mom and my sister?” Nick said.

“Being processed,” Troy replied.

“Don't hurt them,” Nick almost said over him.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, ease your mind. I'm not a savage.”

“That's... that's good to hear,” Travis said quietly. “This woman needs attention.”

“Yeah, she'll be taken care of.”

“No, she's dying.”

Troy looked at him. “Everyone here dies. It's the only mercy I can offer for the sick and the maimed. Now, you can take a seat.”

When he didn’t, another armed guy aimed at him, so Travis sat down.


 

Quinn somehow fell asleep to the sound of someone coughing, but was woken up soon after when the bruised man in the corner spoke up to talk to Travis.

“Hey, your women are in danger, bro.”

“At least they're not in here.”

“Well, if they're killing here, what do you think they're doing there, hmm? It ain't good, I promise you.” This thought alone made Quinn go cold inside. “I'm Steven.”

“You're drawing attention, Steven,” Travis said.

“I can get us out. I just need someone strong enough to back me. You're the first fit person they left.”

Nick was listening too. “How?” he asked.

“Stay close to me,” Steven whispered. “You get me out of this room, I'll get us out of this compound.” Men came in. Quinn knew time was up when boots stopped directly in front of them.

“Next up.”

They were pulled to their feet. Nick, Luci and Travis too, along with two other people, and Steven. Quinn was so afraid they didn’t fight at all.

“Keep moving.”

“No,” a man was saying from inside the lab, getting dragged into the showers. “No, please, no! No! Please, no! No! Nonono! Please, no!” He was knelt between the faucets, bound hands held up above his head. “I have a family!” he screamed. “Please! Please, they'll never know. They’ll never know!”

Nick tucked Luci’s head into his arms. Quinn felt Travis’ hand grip hard to their knee. He muttered something that sounded like Chris’ name and ‘don’t look’ and the guy was screaming from the showers and then...

BANG.

...his body thudded to the ground. Luci’s scream was muffled into Nick’s coat. Travis was apologising. Quinn didn’t know why. Quinn didn’t care. They were frozen to the tiled floor, about to die.


 

A very long time later, the killed prisoner reanimated while the guard on watch was asleep. The corpse struggled against its restraints, shrieking through the tape over its mouth.

“That's not gonna be me, man,” Stephen was saying over the snarls, chanting it. “I will not let that be me. I won't die like that. I won't. No way. I won't die like that, I won't. I'm not dying that way.”

“How are you gonna help us out of here in your condition?” Travis asked, more to get him to change tune over expecting a valid answer.

“'Cause I got a strong will to live. And I'm less of a burden than she is.” He looked over to Luci, who had her eyes closed now.

“But we give a shit about her,” Travis said. “She's family, and you're not. How do you know how to get out of here?”

“Knew some Pendleton jarheads,” Stephen answered under his breath. He talked about sublevel access and sewer tunnels running under the compound to outside.

“So, if we get past the fence, what then?” Travis asked.

“The tunnels take us south towards the border,” Stephen said, “narco tunnels take us into Mexico, simple. I held up there.”

“Why'd you leave?”

“Someone shot me,” Stephen snapped. “I went looking for help and I got grabbed. Look, you got zero options here, man. Okay? Zero time. Your clock gets punched soon.”

The dead prisoner went quiet for a minute, then suddenly sprung into fury when Quinn’s foot slid down in an attempt to sit on their hip differently. They startled.

“We have to move,” Stephen said.

“Okay,” Travis said. “I'll get us out of this room, you make sure those three get across the border no matter what.”

Willy returned with Blake. Willy smacked the sleeping guard over the face to wake him. He looked pretty young, his floppy hair messed up as he stood to attention.

“He'd been down eleven hours, eight minutes,” he said.

“Who cares?” Willy asked. “We don't know when he resurrected.”

“I nodded off.”

“Get out of here.” Willy yanked him away by the scruff of his neck, then stepped over to the corpse and sighed. He took a sip from his morning coffee while he smiled down at everybody. “We have to be out of here in what, twenty-four hours?”

“Yeah,” Blake said.

“Let's do two. Two to start the day.”

“Troy said that we can't do two—”

Troy doesn't care how they get dead. Come on, we'll make it a race, spice this shit up a bit.” He opened a door and let another two green guys in. “Come here. Those two.”

Quinn’s chest seized up. A man grabbed them, along with a lanky guy they didn’t know who looked Chinese and began screaming while they both were taken to the showers. “No. No. No, please, no! Please, no, no!”

“No, wait, stop!” Nick was saying, and so was Travis, and Quinn did nothing except stay absolutely silent. Their face didn’t work. Or their arms. Just their legs while they were pushed to kneel down, staring up at the gun aimed at their chest.

“Nope,” Willy said suddenly. “Not that one. Troy wants to experiment on the kid under special circumstances.”

Blake hesitated, gripping Quinn’s shoulder tightly.

“He’s not Chinese, like skinny here,” Willy said, motioning to the other prisoner, who was shot right then and there.

“Thought she was a girl,” Blake said, blinking at Quinn.

“I’m... I’m Korean,” Quinn grunted, voice cracking and warm blood on their face.

“Yeah, Blakey. Different blood,” Willy said, indifferent and waving a hand. “Thing is, we haven’t had any of their kind before, so the kid here’s the new lab rat. Troy wants to know if you have any tricks up your sleeve.”

Quinn was dumped back beside Luci and Nick, and another prisoner, an old woman, was chosen instead. Quinn just watched in horror as the old woman screamed for her life. “No! Por favor! Detener! Detener! No!” And then she was shot through the stomach.

Chapter Text

“Okay, Blakey, subject A's got twenty pounds on slim, here. B's ten years his junior. Skinny turns first, you lose thirty-K.”

“There's anomalies, pal.”

“Those anomalies are exceptions that prove the rule.”

Quinn was still in shock. Coming so close to dying seemed to have this effect on them. They only looked up from their hands when Travis spoke.

“Hey, what's up with the dead outside?” he asked the guards.

“Lowercase dead or capital "D" dead?” Willy asked back.

“The, um, the corpses, in the front yard.”

“Force field,” Blake answered.

“Troy discovered it.”

“What? Really?” Travis asked.

“Yeah. See, the infected have senses: sight, smell, taste, we think.” Willy was busy writing things down. Travis took a glance to the clock on the wall. “They won't eat anything that's dead, so smell dead, taste dead, they avoid you. Depot smells like death, ergo, they stay away.”

“So, how many died for that little titbit?”

“It's for our betterment,” Blake said.

“You're sick.”

“Quiet in the cheap seats,” Willy said.

“What you're doing is criminal, but it doesn't matter.”

“It matters,” Blake yelled. “Someone dies, it matters how long it takes to resurrect.”

“Before you put a bullet in their dome?”

“How long you can sit with your loved ones—”

“You put steel in their brains?”

“—before they come back!”

“That's what you did, right?” Travis ploughed on. “Come on, what you're doing is pointless. You, you—” He pointed to Willy. “—you're pointless.”

“Better to know than not,” Blake said.

“Oh, yeah? Do the rest know?”

“What rest?”

“The ones who don't come down here. Do they know what you're doing?”

“They know, but it's on a volunteer basis.”

“So, why? Why don't they volunteer?”

“'Cause they're afraid,” Willy said, standing before them all now, “of what they don't know. Come on, it's the goddamn dark ages out there. We're just trying to shine a little light.”

“They just don't get off on it,” Travis spat.

“Shut up!” Blake yelled.

“Hey, why are you doing this, huh?”

“Science.”

“Murder for science, huh?”

“Yes,” Willy said, not skipping a beat. “Not a new concept.”

Travis was so disgusted he laughed.

“Come on, be honest,” Willy said. “Since this whole thing began, you haven't killed? You haven't murdered anybody?”

“No one who didn't deserve it,” Travis said.

“Huh,” Willy grinned. “You know what, Blake?” He checked his wrist, like checking the time only he had no watch and his eyes were fixed on Travis’ face. “Yeah, this is taking too long. Let's do another one.”

Blake stepped over to Nick.

“No, take me!” Travis groaned, twisting himself over to protect him. “Leave the boy.”

“There's a line for a reason!” Willy said over him.

“Leave the boy!” Travis pleaded. “Come on, just take me. I volunteer, okay? I volunteer!” Nick struggled. Luci, too. Stephen had stood up. And Quinn was gripping tight into the hem of Nick’s shirt. “You won't have to listen to my bullshit anymore,” Travis went on. “I won't be in your ear.”

“Travis.”

“Shut up, Nick. Look, you haven't killed one of my kind, have you? My people, we're different, too, like Quinn’s? We don't turn.”

“Everyone turns,” Willy said.

“Prove it. Kill me.”

“Can’t. If Troy wants the Korean he’ll want you, too.”

“Come on, you said it yourself, Troy doesn’t care.”

Willy looked at him.

“You wanna die?”

“Please,” Travis said; like he meant it.

“Wow. This is a first. Okay.” Willy walked around the island to the shower, pulling Travis with him. “What kind of Mexican you say you were?”

“Māori.”

“Whoa-ho-ho-ho! Māori!”

Stephen was escaping his restraints—trying to. Nick followed suit. Didn’t look good. Quinn tried with all their strength too but got nowhere except a few writs welts. Then began to sit up instead, bracing themselves into crouching positions while Blake and Willy weren’t looking.

“Māori, yeah,” Travis was saying, playing along. The Chinese guy had begun waking up, snarling. “See, you get to kill yourself your first Māori.”

“This world is just exceptional, don't you think?” Willy asked, and Travis said, “Yeah,” and then he threw both fists through Willy’s face. There was a grunt, and then Travis hit Blake in time for Nick to spring up and shove Blake down into the Chinese guy’s teeth. Blake screamed. Blood gushed. Quinn had Luci, helping her move to the exit while Travis and Nick quickly knocked Willy out of their way and dazed him.

They all left the shower room. Quinn asked about the other prisoners, but Nick grabbed them and told them to run, so they did. They ran for their life.


 

Outside, the sun was hot and cruel on Quinn’s skin. Once they were able to cut their restraints on the sharp edges of a truck bumper, Quinn took under Luci’s arm, and Nick took under her other.

“Get her safe,” Travis instructed them, unbound now too. “Nick, I'll find your mother and sister.”

“I can come with you,” Quinn said.

“No.” Gunshots sprayed over their heads and they had to run into a maze or cargo storage. “Run, go!” They had no choice. Travis stopped to fight, and Quinn had to help get Luci to the sewer grid.

Stephen tried to go down first.

“Hey, not you, asshole, her!” Nick said, yanking him back.

“Come on, come on, let's go,” Stephen said.

“Hurry, you're okay,” Nick said. Luci whimpered while she was lowered in, climbing down by herself.

“Hurry, we're not gonna make it,” Stephen said. Quinn saw the armed men coming around the corner. “Hurry!”

“Go, go, go!” Nick all but shoved Quinn down before him.

“Come on, we're not gonna make it,” Stephen said. “Hurry up.” He was about to get in, but a spray of bullets were sent through his chest and he collapsed over the opening above, sending warm blood oozing down over them. Quinn staggered back, staring up at the wheezing man, helpless, and had time to wipe their face before Nick pulled them to their feet and urged them on.

Quinn heard Willy’s voice: “Happy hunting...” before Stephen’s body was thrown down into the sewer and the grid was shut behind him.

It wasn’t long before Luci became too exhausted.

“Tengo que parar,” she begged.

“No,” Quinn grunted, limping from their junky hip. “We can’t stop, Lu-Lu.”

“No, not yet,” Nick told her too. “I'm gonna get you safe. Both of you.”

She gasped and shoved them both away, staggering back against the wall. “I'm slowing you down!” Nick took her face in his hands.

He said, “No te voy... dejaré!”

He put his palm to the centre of her chest and she cried.

“Nunca!” he said. And kissed her. “Okay? Okay. We gotta move.” And they did.


 

The three of them followed the rats through the sewers until they got to another sewer grid opening above them, water dripping down from the rain that had started. It wasn’t outside of the depot yet, they could tell from the helicopter sounding so close.

Luciana was panting. They kept walking, and after a turn right found an end gate, which was a hollow wall that with a few hard kicks and shoves from Nick and Quinn, toppled down easily. One problem. Outside the depot, there was nothing but the dead. Nick stared. Luci began heaving. Quinn grabbed Nick’s arm and they ran back inside together, helpless, while they grabbed Luciana back up and dragged her further back inside the sewers.

Luci hobbled along for as long as she could, escaping the dead long enough to be clear for a few minutes, until she collapsed.

“I can’t!”

“No, we can't stop. We can't stop.”

But they had no choice. Rats squealed while Nick set Luci down on the ground. He and Quinn knew it wasn’t a good place to rest, but had no better options. Luci couldn’t go any further. She was sobbing.

“Shh,” Quinn tried, while Nick went to check nothing had followed them. “Shh, shh.” They saw a flash of Stephen’s growling face, as Nick was dragged around the corner. He disappeared for a second. He screamed. Quinn got up but Luci pulled them back, and then Nick was stumbling back into view. Quinn ran to him. Stephen was on top of him, writhing, teeth snapping. Quinn tried to pull him off but he was too strong, so they had to look for a weapon instead.

“Nick!” Luci screamed.

“Nick?” a voice came from above. Quinn couldn’t see who, their head was too full of terror and screaming and growling. “Nick!”

“Help us!” Luci screamed. “Help us! Help us!”

“Here!” Something clattered to Quinn’s right. A butterfly knife. Quinn snatched it. They grabbed the geek by the hair, yanked it back, and drove the blade through the crown of its skull. It collapsed to the cement beside Nick and they both spent a second catching their breath.

“Nick!” Without so much noise now, the voice became more familiar. “Quinn!” she called — Alicia called. Quinn’s breath caught alight inside their throat and they went up in flames, only on the outside they just forgot how to talk. And then the depot guys grabbed her.

“Alicia!” Nick screamed.

“No!” She fought. They could all hear her. “No, no, no, no!” Until they couldn’t hear her at all anymore. Men were looking down on them, unscrewing the grid. They kept their guns on the three of them while they climbed up one by one, just in time before the rest of the dead would have found them. The reunion with Alicia was silent, with harsh breaths and firm hugs that were forced apart by the green guys, and then the four of them were taken to the outer edges of the depot, a place some guy referred to as ‘the pits’.

Madison was there. Travis, too.

“Mom!”

“Oh, my God.”

“Mom.”

“Nick. Let him go.”

She held her son, and her daughter, and Quinn stood there, feeling too small for all the feelings ricocheting around inside of them. Travis must have felt it too because he stepped over, slowly, and for a minute he just looked at Quinn very closely. Then, all at once, he put his arms around Quinn and held them like he might have held a young child, and Quinn held him back. They buried their face inside his denim jacket and the tears bombarded them both fast and hard and brutal.

“We’re okay,” they heard Madison say. “We’re okay.”


 

Once the other depot members were involved, everybody was let go and allowed their weapons back. All of them. Quinn was even given back their baseball bat, at Nick’s very specific description of it; he got every detail from the slightly blood-stained tint to the small dog-shin-shaped dent.

It hit Quinn then that they had no idea where they were going now. They just knew it was with the others; Madison, Travis, Nick, Alicia and Luci.

Quinn stood with Alicia and Nick by the table Luci was being treated on—the depot owed them that much. Quinn hadn’t said a lot. It was hard to shake the terrible feeling of loss from their shoulders. It was heavy, like the sky was falling on their back. Alicia hadn’t spent a lot of time not holding their hand yet. Quinn appreciated it.

On the other side of the warehouse, they saw Madison comforting Travis over the same boy he and Quinn were mourning for. And as justified as it was to cry, Quinn didn’t; not too much. A few tears would catch them off guard quickly enough that they wouldn’t notice for a second, but it was easy to blame on the wind in their eyes or not blinking enough, or Alicia and Nick were polite enough not to draw attention to it.

“Come on,” Alicia said finally, softly. Quinn had missed that, her softly. “We aren’t needed here.” She guided them across the room. “Sit.” She pointed to another table.

“Why?” Quinn asked, obeying anyway.

“Your limp. Today?”

“No,” Quinn said. “Happened before on the road, right after Celia’s, actually. Some crazy lady... protecting her kid.” Quinn didn’t want to admit the rest of that story, so they stopped talking.

“It hasn’t fixed itself yet?”

Quinn shrugged. It had gotten better at the Colonia, less painful, but after almost two weeks without the limp going away totally, Quinn had resigned them-self to the fact that a junky hip was something they were going to have to live with now.

Quinn was looking at their hands, their wrists, all sore and cut up from the zip-line restraints.

“I’m sorry,” Alicia said then. She was talking about both Hye and Chris, and maybe she meant it for whoever else Quinn had lost. Maybe she just knew, all of it, all the Colonizadores like Dr. Nuñez and Josefina and Miguel and all the other orphans, and even those sacrificed to the wall. “I’m... I’m so sorry, Quinn.”

“You say that too much,” Quinn whispered, but grew cowardly, and said the rest in hope Alicia wouldn’t understand: “para alguien que no tiene la culpa.”

Alicia almost laughed, looking sort of taken aback too. She looked at her feet and bit her lip. “You, uh — You know I took Spanish, right?”

Quinn did not know this, and felt their face burn purple. Alicia didn’t stop smiling at them, or looking at them, right in the eyes. Alicia had the kind of eyes that changed colour sometimes, depending on the light, hell, maybe depending on her mood. Quinn swore the last time they remembered her eyes, they were pale hazel, or, maybe blue, but now they were green. Quinn’s favourite type of green.

Alicia still had their hand. Quinn held onto that. They gripped it tight. They tugged her closer, and—

Madison burst across the depot.

“We gotta go!” she shouted. “Travis! We gotta go. We gotta go now!” She rushed across to them. Quinn saw outside, flooded with geeks—they must have somehow escaped the sewers. They were off the table, Ally (the bat) in hand. “Nick,” Madison went on, “behind you!”

They were coming in the other side. Nick took a crowbar. Travis told Quinn and Alicia to get Luci.

“Get her to the chopper,” he instructed, and ran to help Madison. But Luci collapsed. Quinn tried to get her legs while Alicia took under her arms, but Quinn’s junky hip couldn’t take the weight and geeks were closing in too quickly.

“Travis!” Alicia screamed. “Travis!” Quinn fought off any impending geeks until Travis was able to come back. He scooped Luci up into his arms and carried her into the helicopter with Charlene and a guy called Jake—Troy’s older brother; the guy who wasn’t into killing for science, which Quinn viewed as a good thing. Travis shot down geeks until Quinn and Alicia climbed in too, then got inside and shut the door. Quinn could see outside, past the snapping teeth, Nick and Madison getting in the truck with Troy, who, hours before, she’d almost removed his eyeball with a spoon—this was probably less of a good thing.

The chopper rose rockily. Troy shot down the last few bodies clinging to the landing skids from his truck, and Jake and Charlene were able to get the hunk of metal moving more smoothly.

Quinn lost sight of Madison and Nick when they were made to sit back and buckle up. Over the helicopter blades, it was impossible to hear each other, but Quinn and Travis read Alicia’s lips: “Travis, are they clear? Travis!”

“They're safe,” Quinn lip-read him. “They made it. They're clear.”

Chapter Text

They flew through the night. Luci wasn’t getting any better. To settle her, Alicia stroked her hair back and whispered things into to her ear. Quinn and Travis sat beside each other, almost the same way Quinn and Chris used to. Quinn almost felt as calm as that, like they were back in time a month ago, sitting on that bus on the way back from school the day everything changed.

The pilots, Charlene and Jack, talked about how many clicks out they were. Twenty, Jack told Travis, and decided to take the chopper up higher. The helicopter shuddered, but smoothed out after a moment. And it was as Jack was talking about Lost Horse Canyon or something that a small part of glass above Alicia’s head shattered. Quinn had seen it happen but the dots didn’t connect until Travis started yelling.

“We're taking fire!”

“I know, I know!”

“Evading!” Charlene said. “Hold on. Eagle One to base, we've been hit.”

Another hole was sent through glass. And then another. Another. Then through the metal. Quinn flinched and looked at Alicia, who was staring at them, when some burning flash of pain rocketed up across their forehead and send them doubled forward holding their face. It bled. Quinn thought they were dead, but they can’t have been because they could hear Alicia screaming and they could still feel the helicopter rocking around them in the sky. And then Quinn looked at Travis, blood dribbling past their eye, and saw the deep tear up and out through his throat. Travis was holding it, holding himself, like he could keep it all together. He was sitting up straight, like he’d been hit by lightning, staring at the space in front of him. He blinked. He frowned. He swallowed. And then he looked at Quinn. They saw the blood pouring through his fingers, and his guts; unzipped and spilling out of his T-shirt. He looked at his hand; it was shaking and bloody.

“Travis?”

He held a hand out.

He said, very calmly, “Help me.”

“Travis, are you hit?” Jake asked. Alarms were beeping. “I'm losing hydraulics!”

Travis was still reaching out. Quinn took his hand, like it would help. Their hair whipped their eyes and stuck to the blood on their face. The scream was in their throat. Travis! Stuck there like tar. Travis! Travis!

“Help me,” he said again.

And again, “Help me.”

Alicia was screaming for him. And then he let go of Quinn’s hand. He opened the helicopter door. What are you doing? Quinn wanted to ask, wanted to scream. No, please. You’re... You’re all I have left of him.

And he said, “Help me.”

Alicia was there, out of her seat, pulling him to face her. She saw his stomach. His stomach. Spilling. Travis’ face was very far away. His eyes rolled back, and then he let go.

“TRAVIS!” Alicia screamed, and watched him fall fall... fall... into the night and mountains. Quinn stared at the back of her head, her hair writhing in the roaring wind, like living brown limbs. Then Jake was there. He grabbed her and put her back in her seat. Quinn too.

“He’s gone,” he said. “He’s gone. He’s gone...”


 

Nobody slept all night, bar Luci, who was mostly unconscious after the plane managed to land in a mountainside clearing. They hid out in the cover of tall, hollow boulders for the rain to stop, but by morning, it was still going.

Charlene was tending to Quinn’s head. Just a flesh wound; one deep, straight line from their right eyebrow up to their hairline. All Quinn could do was let it clot and keep it as dry as possible. The bullet that did it went through Travis first.

“That man saved your life, kid,” Charlene said. Quinn wiped their eyes. “Bullet that did this, went through your friend first.”

Quinn didn’t say anything. They didn’t want to think about it.

“We waited too long,” Jake said. “This weather won't lift for a few hours. We need to double-time it.”

“Yeah, I don't see that happening with her,” Charlene said. Jake didn’t relent. “Okay, alright...” Charlene went to help Luci. “Alright, Luci, we're going to get you out of here.”

Alicia was still trying to clean Travis’ blood off her hands. She couldn’t see it but Quinn knew she would feel it. They kept their distance, still feeling his blood on their hands, too.

“Hey,” Jake said. “Luciana’s as stable as she's going to get. Whoever shot us may still be out here.”

“Why would they do that?” Alicia asked, softly—the bad kind of softly now. “Why would anyone do that?”

“Maybe no reason at all. Someone playing with a toy, but we don't know, so we gotta move.” He stepped around her. “For what it's worth, Alicia, you did the right thing.” Quinn was grateful someone had words for her when their own words were failing them so badly.

“Do you think that Travis is out there? That—”

“No.”

“Maybe—”

“No. Nobody, nothing could survive a fall from that height.”

“I know, but—”

“He's gone. And we gotta move. The wreck's a beacon. I know these mountains. I can get us home. Travis would want that.”

“You don't know what Travis would want.”

They walked all day. The rain stopped after a few hours, and left the ground soft and their shoes sodden. Quinn was almost used to it, the walking, even with a junky hip. It was the pain on their head, and the pain in their head, that ached the worst. It all sort of just cancelled each other out, and before long, Quinn was numb, and Quinn was glad for it. They didn’t want the pain right now, reminding them that they were still there, living inside their skull and eyes and fingertips and feet.


By nightfall, Quinn could barely walk anymore, but waited for Jake to call it a day before they rested. They helped set Luci down on a rock and a few coats laid out, making her as comfortable as they could. Everybody looked like crap; dirty and knotted, inside and out. They managed to make a fire, at least. Charlene took first watch, with Jake’s instructions to watch west of the trail.

“I know, Jakey,” she said as she left. “I know.”

“Hey, give a whistle if...”

Without looking back, she demonstrated the whistle for him as she disappeared through the brush. Jake sighed, smiled, and struck up a conversation with Alicia.

“We go back,” he said.

“Clearly,” she answered, which made him smirk. “What happens to Luciana when we get back to your ranch? What happens to Quinn?” Quinn looked over at this, but didn’t chime in.

“You worried about my brother?” Jake asked.

“Things he did to them, the people they were with...”

“It won't be like that when we get back,” Jake assured her, and turned to Quinn, then back to Alicia. “Erm, could you, you know, tell...”

“They speak English,” Alicia said.

Jack paused. His cheeks darkened, then he turned to Quinn and nodded. “We watch him when he's close. I can control him.”

Quinn just made something of a grateful smile with their mouth and turned back to the fire.

“How long has it been going on?” Alicia asked.

“Since he was little,” Jake answered. “My dad, Troy's mom, pulled him out of school. Gave him the run of the ranch. It's a lot of land. Well, you make allowances for the ones you love.”

Quinn thought about their dad, all the fights they kept quiet to ‘make allowances’ for him. It was bullshit. He never changed.

“I made allowances for my brother, ‘till I saw that was going to get him killed,” Alicia said, apparently on the same page. “My mom made allowances like Nick's drama was giving her purpose.”

“At least when we get back, your brother will be happy to see you,” Jake said. “Mine?” Just then, they heard Charlene’s whistle in the distance. Quinn stood up immediately, Ally cold in their hand. They heard her again.

“What is that?” Alicia whispered. Jake put his hand up to quiet her. He kicked out the fire and took out a handgun from his holster, handing it to her.

“You know how to use one of these?” He cocked it. “Here's the action.”

“Yeah, no, I... I know. I—”

“It's ready to fire,” he said. “Quinn, keep that bat up.”

“Got it.”

“No matter what happens,” Jake said, “you both stay put ‘till I get back. If I don't, you follow the main trail. By midday you'll see the ranch.”

They both watched him leave after Charlene, standing back-to-back, staying silent, looking around and shuffling. Soon, they heard a struggle in the way Jake had left; snarling, yelling.

“We have to help him,” Quinn said.

Alicia hissed through her teeth. “Alright. Come on.” Beyond the bank, they saw Jake struggling with three geeks. One had him pinned against a dune, disarming him. Alicia shot it through the skull, then the second, and the third.

Jake caught his breath, then shone his torch to the side and saw Charlene lying dead in the dirt, torn open. He got up, out of breath, and reached out to Alicia.

“Hand me the gun,” he said quietly. “Find your way back. Quickly. Please. I have to... take care of it before more come.”

Quinn and Alicia walked back. Alicia stopped when the gunshot went off. Quinn took her hand, and kept walking.


The next morning, Quinn and Alicia had gotten a little sleep. Minutes, maybe. When they woke, Quinn tried to wake Luci, but she didn’t stir.

“Alicia...”

She woke up with a start, scrambling for her butterfly knife.

“No, it’s okay. It’s Lu-Lu.” Quinn cleared their throat. “Luci, I mean. I can’t get her to wake up.” Alicia tried, too. Luci was still breathing and had a pulse, at least. Alicia went to tell Jake.

“I'll carry her,” he said. He took his rifle, avoiding looking at both of them. “We'll be at the ranch in a few hours...” He stood there for a minute, looking at them. “It's a terrible world, isn't it?”

“I'll help you carry her,” Alicia said, and motioned to Quinn too. “We will. We'll make better time.”


Luci was in and out of consciousness all the way, brought back and taken away again by the pain. Until finally, Quinn saw the ranch as they came over the next hill. It was huge, with a big house, some smaller ones nearby, and shacks, and barns and fields and cattle and gardens. It even had vehicles and a helicopter landing spot. Alicia had been carrying Luci longest now, so she allowed Quinn to take over for her, supporting under Luci’s right arm. They didn’t stop. They were so close. Luci woke up from the pain again.

There was a man at the gate.

“Just a few more steps,” Jake was telling Luci. People were gathering at the gate. Most in green, from the depot, but some were civilians. And Madison. “Stay with me,” Jake went on. “Stay awake, stay awake. Open the gate. It's okay. It's okay. Okay.”

“Give them a hand,” someone said.

“Watch your head, watch your head,” Jake said as he and Quinn set Luci down just inside the gate. “Okay.”

Madison held Alicia, then Quinn, kissing the side of their head quickly, which made them flinch. She asked how they'd hurt them-self but Quinn didn't know how to answer.

“Here, let me in there, let me in there.” A man, a doctor, said.

“Mom...” Alicia knew who Madison was looking for.

“Where is he?” Madison said breathlessly, cupping her face to look into the distance. “Where is Trav? Where is he?”

“He... He's not...”

“No,” Madison said. She bent into her knees. “No. No.”

“I'm sorry.” Alicia was crying. Quinn had to look away. “I’m sorry.”

Nick sprinted past. “Luci. Luci. Hey. Hey, it's Nick.”

“We were shot down before we got to the ranch,” Jake explained to an old man wearing a Stetson hat and a scowl. Quinn guessed he was Jeremiah Otto, Jake and Troy’s father.

“By who?” Jeremiah asked.

“Unknown.”

“Where's Charlene?”

“Dead got her on the pass.”

“Hey, it's Nick,” Nick was still trying. “Luci, hey—”

“Not sure she can hear you,” the doctor said.

“What — What do you mean?”

“She's not going to make it is what he means,” Troy said. He had a bandage over his eye now. Quinn glared at him.

“Help her,” Nick said.

“No. We take her to the infirmary, she may turn. It's against policy.”

“It's your fault. You shot her.”

“I was defending my people.” As much as it could have been true, Troy wasn’t telling the full story, and he didn’t give anybody time to either. “I'll do it again. I know what to do.”

“No,” Nick begged, “no, no, no.”

“This is how it has to be.”

“No. Come on.”

“Out of the way. Move aside.”

Nick was panting. He stepped back, like he couldn’t believe it, and as Troy cocked his gun, Nick leaned over and told him, “I'll do it. I'll do it. I'm allowed this.”

“Alright,” Troy agreed. “Alright.” He handed over the handgun, and walked away. Nick stared down at Luci, and then he lifted his gun... to Troy.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Jeremiah said. Other guns were raised too, to Nick. Every gun.

“Don't,” Nick growled anyway. “Let her in.”

“Nick,” Madison said.

“I said let her in.”

“Nick, this is not how we do things here,” Jake said desperately.

“Nick,” Madison tried.

“Not this time,” Nick went on.

“Do what your mommy says,” Troy goaded.

“Come on,” Jake complained.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa...” Jeremiah stood between them, hands up. “Nick, Nick, easy there. Come on. Let — Let me have the pistol, son.”

“You can't let her die,” Nick said, voice breaking.

“If she's got a pulse, we'll let her in,” Jeremiah said. “But you got to give me the gun.”

“Do it, Nick,” Madison said. “Give him the gun.”

He did, and Jeremiah returned the gun to Troy.

“Get her to the infirmary,” Jeremiah said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Secure her before you treat her.” Jeremiah turned to the rest of them. “All right, everybody, that's enough fun. The show's over. Go back to doing what you were doing.”

“Go in there, get yourself looked after,” Madison was saying.

“Mom, I want to be with you.”

“No, I'll find you.”

“Mom.”

“Please,” she said, “go. Go.”

Alicia backed away, allowing Quinn to tug her sleeve. They went to the infirmary to get a few cuts cleaned up and a check over, as well as Quinn's forehead dressings changed, and were both dismissed and told to rest. They didn’t. They went to check on Nick and Luci.

“The handcuffs really necessary?” Alicia asked.

“They are just in case, yeah,” Nick said. He looked at both of them. “Thank you for bringing her back. Both of you.”

Quinn stepped around the bed, gently slipping their fingers through Luci’s.

“Alicia?” Nick said.

“Yeah?”

“You okay?”

She nodded, and then she started crying. Nick hugged her and she cried even harder. Quinn just stood there, holding Luci’s hand, shutting their eyes and waiting for the terrible hollowness in their chest to go away.


Later, Quinn was told how to find the shack where they were staying with Madison, Nick and Alicia. They left Nick and Alicia some time to themselves, and found Madison inside the bedroom, alone. She was crying and smoking.

“Sorry,” Quinn said, and made to leave.

“No, no,” Madison said. “It’s okay. Stay.” She wiped her face while Quinn sat in an empty bed opposite. There were four bunkbeds. Madison had a new gun. A Beretta. She offered them a cigarette, then stopped. “God. Sorry,” she said, miserable. “I’m not thinking straight. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Quinn said, lost on what really to say, so they didn’t say anything, and sat in silence with Madison while she smoked cigarette after cigarette, watching the thin wisps of smoke float up through the glistening sun as it filtered in between the blinds.

Finally, Nick and Alicia arrived.

“Mom?” Alicia said.

“Close the door,” Madison told them both. She sat on the bunkbed opposite Quinn, like she wanted to talk to them all. Quinn was grateful they weren’t being told to leave for a minute. “I'm okay. I'm okay. You asked me if I had a plan, Nick.”

He sat next to her. Alicia sat beside Quinn.

“Mom, that was before. We don't—”

“It was the right question,” Madison interrupted him. “We're going to stay here.”

“What?”

“We're going to make it our home, even if we have to take it over.”

“Mom, that's insane.”

“No, it's our fate.” She had that same terrible look on her face like Travis had. “We suffered to get here. Travis died getting here. We have to accept it. We have to be stronger.”

Quinn looked at their hands and saw the dirt in the lines of their skin.

“Tell me how it happened.” They looked up to Madison. She was looking right at them both, Alicia and Quinn. “Tell me everything.” So, in the little, dusty, old shack in Broke Jaw Ranch, Alicia and Quinn did.

Chapter Text

Quinn slept for twelve whole hours that night. From six PM to six AM, and the next day, they attended Charlene’s no-bodied funeral. What looked like the whole ranch joined each other under a canopied, wall-less room, and listened to Charlene’s mother, Pat Daley, give her speech.

“I was in the dining room, dry-canning some beans when an angel fell from the damn sky and crashed in my backyard,” she said. “I screamed and ran out there. And there she was, all of 12, a lump on the ground, holding on to a giant lawn umbrella. She’d jumped off the roof. Thought the thing would hold her.

She broke her arm in two places, but she never cried.

Charlene embodied the spirit of this place. An: always-ready, never-quit, get-it-right-this-time spirit.

And she would have...

If she wasn't risking her life for the unprepared.”

Pat glared directly at Madison. Jake was fast enough to ask her to take her seat, telling her, “Pat, thank you.”

Quinn felt awkward. The ranchers were looking at them, all four of them, like they’d stepped in something.

“Hello,” Madison said, and stood. “I just want to introduce my family. I'm Madison Clark, and these are my children, Nick, Alicia, and Quinn.” Some sneered at the last part. Quinn felt their spine curl up and snap under the strange, dated weight of being the only not-white kid in class (which they’d never actually felt before). “We wanted to offer our condolences, for Charlene, and for the others you lost,” Madison went on. “We've lost loved ones, too.

Travis.

Travis, he was our compass, and he... We just wanted to say thank you for sheltering us and thank you for your generosity. We will repay it.”

An old man in the seat ahead smirked at the guy sitting next to him, and Quinn hadn’t not noticed the blond girl with the wide, square jaw over on the other side of chairs craning her next to look at them all.

“Thank you,” Jake was saying. “We've all lost. We share that. And, grieving's hard but, it's important that we process it—”

“More important to prepare, Jake.” A tall, slim, balding man stood, pointing a finger. A lot of other ranchers murmured in agreement.

“Good point!” someone said from the back.

“I'm sorry,” the tall guy went on. “There is a time and place for mourning, and Patty is owed that. But who brought down the helicopter?”

“We aim to find out, Vernon,” Jake said.

“When?”

“We're gonna get to the bottom of this.”

“What's your timeline?” Vernon grew tired, and turned to Jake’s father. “Jeremiah, please.”

“Nothing's changed, Vernon. Make no mistake, we're in a wartime posture here. We tasked Alpha Station to scout the crash site. When we know what we're dealing with, we'll act. If it's some wing nut, we'll act. If it's a larger challenge, we will act.”

“Payback, Vernon,” Troy said. The crowd cheered, except Quinn, Nick, Alicia and Madison. “That's what my father means. Whatever this threat is, large or small, we will make this right.”

“Hey,” Jake said, “we'll meet our justice when we know what it is we're dealing with. We can't afford to lose ourselves. We're more than a mob. We have to be something hopeful in this world. Like my father says, if you plan for the future. Plan for a better one.”


 

Later, while Quinn was leaving the washroom, and old man passed them and called them a gook. Quinn forgot it, and went to find the other’s in the cafeteria to grab a tray and food. As they did, they heard a guy call Alicia a freeloader under his breath.

“Excuse me?” Madison said.

He was tall and broad and working on the kitchen staff. He turned to them from the trays he was setting down. “You know the fable: The Ant and the Grasshopper?”

“Hey, what's your problem?” Alicia asked him. There was a short stand-off, with glaring eyes and shuffling feet, until the man walked away.

“Let it go, ‘Licia.” Madison told her. “Let it go.”

“They should be harassing Troy,” she retorted, “not us.”

“I think they would be,” Madison said, “if they knew what he’d done.”

They all turned back to the food tables. The girl serving was the same blond girl with the wide, square jaw staring this morning, about Quinn and Alicia’s age. She was smiling, and wanted all their attention.

“Madison, Alicia, Quinn,” she said, wearing a brown apron. “I'm Gretchen Trimbol, Vernon's daughter. Saw you at the meeting. Welcome.” She sounded like she meant it. “I'd shake, but, it wouldn't be sanitary. Damn hangnail can take you down these days if you're not careful, you know?”

They were quiet a second.

“I'm so sorry for your loss,” Gretchen said. “I wish I'd have had the pleasure of knowing Travis.”

“Thank you, Gretchen,” Madison said.

“Hey, Alicia, Quinn,” Gretchen asked, “the rest of Christ Rizen and I were wondering if you wanted to join us for Bible study.”

At the same time, almost comically, Alicia and Quinn looked at each other, then back at Gretchen, speaking at the same time: “Oh,” “Erm...” “we're,” “we, uh,” “not really...”

“When is it?” Madison interrupted.

“Tonight. One hour, two, tops. Music, punch, and the Lord, of course.”

“What, erm, is Christ Rizen?” Quinn asked.

“Oh, sorry,” Gretchen said. “Christ Rizen is our band.” She pointed past them to a group of teenagers sitting at the bench, the two boys at the end specifically. One was stout and brunette, “That’s Terry,” the other, lanky and ginger, “and Gabe. And, oh, you'll meet Geoff if you come.” Gretchen looked excited.

“We're Jewish,” Alicia smiled.

“Cool!” Gretchen said, serving up for them all now. “We'll do Old Testament. Corral at five o’clock.”

Alicia and Quinn resigned themselves to nod.


In the evening, Quinn, Alicia and Nick were in the shack. Nick was watching the infirmary from the window. He said Luci was getting better, but not much else. Alicia and Quinn were procrastinating from leaving just yet. Alicia was doing tricks with her butterfly knife, Quinn was watching, fascinated.

“Five finger fillet?” Alicia proposed.

“What?” Quinn asked.

She was about to demonstrate, spreading her hand on the table-top, but Madison came in and said, “Don't.”

Alicia put the knife away obediently. Quinn snickered. Alicia kicked them under the table, and when Quinn kicked her back, their feet pressed together for a little too long and Quinn had to get up and pace the room before they did something stupid.

“They don't want us here,” Nick said finally.

“Most of them don't mind,” Madison said. “The ones who do, we win them over.”

“You want to win over Troy?” Alicia asked flatly.

“Work in progress.” Madison looked at all of them evenly. “In the meantime, all of you stay away from him.”

“Not sure I can do that.”

“The hell you can't, Nick. You don't know what sets him off. He doesn't know what sets him off.”

“Okay, but if we stay, we need to do something,” he said.

“What does that mean?” Alicia asked. Quinn too gave him a strange look.

“I'm doing something!” Madison complained.

“No, what do you mean, Nick?” Alicia insisted. He didn’t answer. “What are you gonna do? Do you want my knife? You gonna do something?”

“All I'm saying is that we should start over somewhere else, okay?” he said. “Like find a house, grow crops. We don't have to stay here, that's all.”

“Farming's more your style,” Alicia jibed.

We have options,” he said, losing his temper.

“We're not leaving,” Madison said.

“Why?”

“We're not leaving!”

“Why are you so convinced that this is the place, Mom?”

“Because it's all we have. Because there's no place better. Because we hauled you out of that hell hole and Travis died because of it.”

The room was quiet and strange for a second.

“Luciana won't be safe here,” Nick said finally. Him saying this out loud sent an adrenaline rush through Quinn’s sinew. Would that be true for Quinn, too?

“They let her in,” Madison said.

“What if they make her go?”

“You'll have a choice to make...”

Again, the room fell into quiet. Quinn began for the door. They didn’t want to think about this, and it was time to go to Bible study anyway. Alicia followed.


Gretchen, Terry and Gabe, along with two other teenagers named Adam and Evie (whose names’ irony wasn’t lost on any of them) took Alicia and Quinn out along a passage to the outskirts of the ranch, hooded by brush and trees. While Quinn, Alicia, Adam and Evie were fairly quiet (Adam and Evie were cuddling and whispering to each other, to be fair), Gretchen brought the Bible and the jokes, and Terry talked about music, and Gabe gushed over the militia and asked questions about the depot. Alicia was modest, and civil, and Quinn didn’t much want to talk about it.

“How much further?” Alicia asked finally.

“We're here.”

Gretchen stopped by a hatch, one of those built to hide bomb shelters. That’s what it was, Quinn realised. Terry, the strongest, pulled the hatch open, and Gabe stood over it proudly. Alicia and Quinn looked at Gretchen.

“You first...” she said.

Quinn thought of a time similar to this, when they were told their things had been moved to another locker, right before they were shoved in them-self and locked there all through lunch. Still, people knew who they were with, and the kids here weren’t cruel enough to pull off more than a few practical jokes at worst—they hadn’t even left the ranch since everything started, so Quinn stepped inside and trusted Alicia to follow them, which she did.

Underground, they were in total darkness, bar the light from the hatch with five ominous faces grinning down at them. They all came down, which made Quinn feel a little better.

Alicia lead the way through another door, into a storage unit, empty now of anything useful, with just barren shelves and blue container barrels, until they got to the main room. Shelves were lined with jars filled with what looked like water but definitely was not water. A huge, home-made bong was sitting on the coffee table, and the smell in the room was pungent and grassy like the elephant den in the park Quinn and Chris used to play in.

“All right, everybody,” Gretchen chirped. “Get your study materials.”

“Jesus shit,” Quinn muttered as the others began setting up, sitting around the small wooden table on couches or beanbags. They lit candles and lanterns and started passing around the water that wasn’t water.

“Here,” Terry said to Quinn, grinning, “I wanna see how red your face can get.” And Quinn laughed in good spirit while they drank some, and after they swallowed, their mouth stopped working for a few seconds and their face twisted up like a hurricane. The others laughed and someone patted Quinn on the back and guided them to sit with Alicia on the couch.

“Greens to the girl?” Gabe offered, passing the bong to Alicia.

“She is one of God's chosen people,” Gretchen joked.

“This is not what I expected,” Alicia said. Gabe lit the herbs for her. Alicia inhaled deeply. Quinn heard the bubbling, saw the smoke rings when she pulled it away from her, and laughed when she began coughing.

Gretchen had some next, and pointed to Quinn, who nodded; Gabe had passed over them before. They wondered if it was personal when Gabe still didn’t pass it, acting like Gretchen hadn’t spoken. She took the bong from him, and handed it to Quinn, lighting it up for them.

“Go your way,” Gretchen said as she pulled the bong away, her voice an airy, floaty tune. “Eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works.”

They laughed and grinned up at her. Even Gabe loosened up.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing,” he recited, smoking more. “You've removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”

Terry bust out laughing.

“You said ‘sackcloth’,” Gretchen groaned, giggling too.

Quinn had been staring off into space for a while, smiling idly. Music was playing from Terry’s collection. It was Bowie’s Heroes, except to Quinn, it sounded warped and spacey and far away. Quinn’s eyes danced to it anyway, tracing colours of music across the air as it all swirled in and out of sound-beats. Alicia’s voice brought them back into the right time-life.

"So... where is Geoff?”

The others chuckled and drank and looked at each other. Gretchen got up and opened a barrel behind her against the wall. She sprayed perfume over it, but the smell of mould and old flesh still managed to waft through the weed into all their noses.

Gretchen picked up a bird cage and carried it to the table. Inside was a geek’s head, groaning and staring right at Alicia and Quinn.

“Say hi, Geoff,” Gretchen said.

Alicia sat forward, amazed, and Quinn grimaced and smiled and said, “Whoa...” as they tapped the cage with their knuckle, and then they both began to laugh. They fell apart into laughter. They crumpled up into a heap of it. And then they began kissing, right there in front of the others, who began cheering and laughing and Quinn and Alicia didn’t stop. They carried on kissing. Kissing like their lives depended on it. Kissing like they were all tangled up inside the crazy space of nothingeverything and they were.

I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns
Shot over our head
We can be heroes
Just for one day

We can get them
Forever and ever...


Things calmed down after a while, and Quinn began passing out with their head on Alicia’s lap. Quinn was glad nobody really thought them and Alicia were siblings, not that they were really much else. Adam and Evie were cuddling on a beanbag. Gabe began playing tunes on a guitar. Terry was very quiet, and smiled a lot. Gretchen was talking about stuff Quinn couldn’t really retain for very long, so she began talking very slowly and carefully so they could understand her, always with that wide smile on her mouth.

She leant down towards Geoff, like she was listening to something he was saying to her. “He wants to know where you're from,” she said, pointing to Alicia.

“El Sereno, Los Angeles, California, America, North America, Earth.” Alicia grinned, like she was proud of herself. Gretchen pointed to Quinn.

“Same,” they answered, struggling to drink from their jar of definitely not water. Alicia helped them not spill, then took a few sips herself. “Uh, Downtown though,” Quinn added, “not El Ser-Ally’s place.”

Gretchen giggled.

“Geoff wants to know what it's like,” was the next statement, from Gabe. He motioned his head upward, “out there...”

Geoff growled from the table.

“Chaos,” Alicia answered. “Ruin. And it changes you. Not like Geoff. Something worse.”

Quinn pulled them-self to sit up. They felt spacey, but they were listening.

“Can I ask Geoff something?” Alicia asked.

Gretchen leaned in to listen to his answer. “Sure.”

“Who are the Ottos?”

“Our founding family,” Terry said. “They made this place before most of us were even born. Jeremiah saw what was coming.”

“And how long you guys been here?” Alicia asked.

“It varies,” Gabe said. He was looking at Quinn. They passed him the jar politely and he nodded as he drank. “Most came when the event began.”

“Geoff showed up a week after T.E.,” Gretchen said. “He was the first one we saw, like that: dead alive.”

“Geeks,” Quinn said, and pointed at it.

The others laughed.

“Geoff claims he's from Flagstaff,” Gretchen said, “but, I doubt it. He's indifferent on the Ottos, except Troy.”

The others ah’d and ooh’d.

“Geoff is not a fan,” Terry said.

Gretchen whispered, “Troy took Geoff's body.”

“Troy's done a lot worse than that,” Alicia said. Quinn felt their body shudder, but they didn’t say anything.

“Troy and the militia do what we can't,” Gretchen said. “They protect us.”

“You can't rely on the Troys of the world,” Alicia said. “Not anymore.”

“We've been behind the fence since this started, Alicia. We can't do what he does.”

“Sometimes you have to handle your own shit,” she whispered. The others watched her. Quinn was looking at their hands, clean now; they still felt all the blood.

“Geoff wants to know,” Gretchen said after a while, “what bad stuff have you done out there?”

“I killed a man,” Alicia said. As much as Quinn didn’t know this, they did, too. It was in Alicia’s every movement, every blink and breath and step, just like it was in Quinn’s.

“How did it feel?” Gretchen asked.

Alicia didn’t take so long to answer out of not knowing what to say. To Quinn, it seemed like Alicia knew how it felt all along, and that it was just a case of admitting it... so she did.

“It felt easy.”


Bible study lasted all night. They all finally stumbled back to the ranch early in the morning, just as the sun was starting to rise, when the sky was paling from blackness and the ranch was just starting to wake up. Jake was outside mending his quadbike when he saw them all.

“Turning water into wine?” he asked Alicia and Gretchen, who were walking ahead.

“Praise Jesus,” Alicia teased. Quinn saw the way Jake looked at her. Just like Quinn saw the way Alicia looked at him...

When they were far enough away, Alicia said, “What do you think of this place?”

Quinn shrugged.

“I’m liking it a lot better than yesterday,” Alicia said. She looked back at Jake again. “A lot better.”

Quinn didn’t say anything.


Without more than half an hours’ sleep, Quinn attended breakfast with Madison, Alicia and Nick. Nick had been out with Troy and some ranchers last night, and caught boar, and one was grilling over the barbeque now, while everybody ate and sat at their benches. Quinn didn’t have much appetite, eating so close to the people who had tried to turn them into a lab rat less than four days ago.

“Everybody, listen up, please.” Jeremiah spoke out to everybody. “I just got updated on Outpost Alpha. McCarthy and his unit went out thirty-six hours ago, and we ain't heard nothing back. Could mean a hundred things, ninety-nine of them benign. But we always got to prepare for the one-off. Troy here is gonna take a party out, but we're gonna need volunteers.”

People —militia mostly— began raising their hands.

“Blake. Mike. Coop. Jimmy... And Madison Clark.” Jeremiah looked surprised, but smiled. Others stared.

“All right, everybody, enjoy your meal.”

Alicia, Nick and Quinn guessed Madison would come sit with them. There was room for her as Quinn and Terry moved over a little, but she sat on another bench with Troy. Even he looked confused.

“Your kids are over there,” he said, as Madison placed a napkin on his thigh.

“I know,” she said.

Chapter Text

That night, the barn caught fire. Of course, Quinn only found out later in the morning because they had been at Bible study all night again with the others. They got so messed up that they could hardly remember most of it. They did remember that they kissed Alicia again, which felt like they were the ones on fire, and that they even kissed Gretchen, when the bottle landed on her—it was only then that Quinn realised they were playing that game. Quinn was more talkative that night too, now they were more used to everybody. They talked about their mother’s herbal tea for her diabetes, and how much they missed Newt, and then they brought up that one time they kissed Chris and told them how much they missed him too, and Gretchen, totally innocently like she really didn’t know what words meant to people, asked if Quinn was a fag, and Alicia’d said, “Hey,” softly, and Quinn’d said no, that that word meant a pile of sticks and that they, clearly, were not a pile of sticks, which made the others laugh, even Gabe, and they all asked more question about Quinn’s hair and pronouns and the stuff in their pants, and Quinn drank and frowned and laughed and was just grateful nobody was punching them in the pants to get an answer—which is what people used to do in school. Still, all of that stopped pretty quickly and the subject changed to music because Terry was itching for something faster and more up-beat to listen to and Gabe was getting uncomfortable, and anyway, Quinn didn’t know how they felt being the strange play-thing to pass around and prod questions at.

Once back at the shack, finally, Alicia and Quinn passed out together in a bottom bunk for a few hours before Nick came and woke them. That’s when Quinn found out about the fire.

Quinn had drool on their mouth, and felt like death.

“Get up,” Nick told them both. “Mom’s leaving for the scout.” They went outside. The sun was too bright and Quinn wondered if smoking enough pot turned you into a vampire.

“Mom!” Alicia called out. Madison squinted at her and Quinn, stepping away from the truck where she’d been talking to Coop.

“Feeling a little rough?” She hugged Alicia, giving Quinn a mild, disapproving look. Quinn was aware they looked sweaty and had big, grey bags under their eyes—both of them did, but Madison hugged them too. “Party all night, you gotta pay the price.”

“Never again,” Alicia said. Quinn groaned in approval and winced at Nick’s mocking back-rub.

“Mom, you don't have to do this,” he said to her at the same time.

“We need to contribute,” Madison said.

“There are other ways,” Alicia said.

“We should go,” Nick said. Quinn thought about what Luci said to him once. Do what you do, Nick. Run...

“You should take care of Luciana,” Madison told him. “Make her feel safe.”

Troy honked the horn.

“Looks like you're with me,” he said, grinning that grin.

“I guess it does,” Madison answered.

“Mom, this doesn't feel right.”

“I'll be gone a day, two at the most. Don't worry about me.”

“You cannot trust him.”

“The more we understand this family, the safer we are.” He honked the horn again. “He won't hurt me,” Madison assured, and sat in the front when Troy insisted.

With a wave from Troy, Madison and the scout crew left the ranch.


At breakfast, Quinn still felt crap and Gretchen noticed, and stole them an extra ration of mash out of kindness. Gretchen was also saying something about the Browns, the old couple who died in the fire last night, about Russel being one of the last four of the founding fathers or something, but Quinn wasn’t really paying much attention because they were watching Alicia talk to Jake across the cafeteria, struggling with the coffee maker.

Gretchen snapped her fingers in front of Quinn’s face to get their attention.

“Careful,” she said, “I can see the green in your face.”

Quinn grumbled something bitterly.

“Look, be kind to yourself,” Gretchen said. “Quit chasing tail that’s gonna get away.” Gretchen was very blunt, Quinn had found. She wasn’t every trying to be rude. “Alicia’s not interested, like that. I can see you’re close, but she’s got other things on her mind.”

“You know that?” Quinn asked.

“I can see it in her, woman’s intuition.”

Quinn watched Gretchen for a second, then asked, “And what do you see in me?”

“I don’t know.” She tilted her head. She smiled. “Hey, you wanna hang out with us later? Gabe's been working the still.”

“Sure he’ll wanna share?”

Gretchen sighed. “Sorry about him. He’s a product of his environment.” You all are, Quinn thought, but Gretchen seemed to know this. “Racism’s been bred into us. But we’re getting past it. Exceeding our elders, whatnot. Planning for a better future. It’s just harder for some of us.”

Quinn appreciated this, they guessed. Still, “Uh, I don't know. Headache, you know?”

“Hair of the dog?”

“What?”

“Another drink,” Gretchen said, motioning to the gin on the desk. “It helps to cure the hangover.” Quinn considered it, and watched Gretchen snatch a small bottle and pour half into Quinn’s empty cup and the other half into hers. If nobody smelled it, they would look like simple cups of water.

Quinn drank. The smell reminded them of their father.

They both went to talk to Alicia. Gretchen talked about the same things she had talked to Quinn about. Except Alicia listened to the stuff about the founding fathers and declined the offer to hang out later and the offer to the ‘hair of the dog’, and the offer to the home fry. Eventually, Gretchen laid off.

They sat at a bench. Quinn had to drink three cups of gin before their hang over waded away. Alicia kept groaning. Quinn was worried it was something they were doing wrong. When they asked, Alicia said, “Sorry. I’m fine. Sorry. I just feel like shit, okay?”

Quinn laid off, too.

At some point another cup later, when Quinn began trying to play the knife game with their fork, Alicia told Quinn to, “Stop now,” and Quinn said, “Why?” and Alicia said, “Because you’re drunk.”

“Maybe I wanna be drunk, Ally.”

“You don’t.”

“What do you know what I do and don’t want?” Quinn grimaced. “You’re clueless. Just like me.” They didn’t mean to say those parts. Still, they kept going. “You mess with me, Ally, always. But I know what you want. You want—”

She tried to take the cup from them, but Quinn staggered away from her. Alicia tried again, this time snatching Quinn’s wrist. They dropped the cup. It splashed across the bench. Quinn stared at it blankly for several seconds, then went to get more.

“Stop,” Alicia said, very calmly, taking their arm. They yanked it out of her grip, then tripped over a bench leg. Nick was there then, asking things, helping them to their feet.

“Sorry,” Quinn said. “Sorry. I’m fine. Sorry.” Then they started laughing. They pointed at Alicia. “I sound like you now. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Sorry for other people’s problems. Sorry I’m perfect. Sorry I pretend I’m okay even though I’m really really not. Well, I’m sorry, Ally. Sorry I’m not perfect, like you are. That I’m not enough for you. Sorry that you kiss me when you feel like it and then pretend it’s a game.”

“Quinn...”

Alicia looked like she was crying, but it was hard to tell; Quinn dropped their glasses, and they were being taken back to the shack now. Nick kept saying, “Easy. Easy, kiddo,” in between trying to support them and not drop the trey of food he had with him. Quinn kept saying, “I’m not a kid,” back, and Nick told them not to be too loud, that enough people already saw that, and Quinn said, “Worried they’ll hate the tranny gook even more than they already do? That it’s pining over your perfect little sister like a fucking idiot?” Except the words didn’t come out very well because Quinn was crying too hard. Nick shushed them. He told them to calm down. He was telling Alicia to go away, too (because she was following), telling her to tell her friends to take it easy on the peer pressure next time, and then the brother and sister were yelling at each other and Quinn was crying even harder. It was a mess, and it drew attention, but it was over quickly and Quinn was suddenly inside the shack and collapsing across the first bed they came across. Nick’s bed. It had his smell in it. Quinn hid under the covers and waited away the dizzy.

Luci was saying things. “What happened?” “Why are you crying?” “Nick, what is going on?” “Did someone do someth—”

“Quinn’s fine,” Nick said. Quinn peeked under the sheet and saw the blurry shape of him make a drinking motion to his mouth. Luci frowned.

Nick changed the subject.

“Okay! We have eggs, we have bacon, we have toast.” He placed the steaming tray on the table between them. “And we have butter, and that isn’t the fake stuff. Somebody actually churned this.”

Luci kissed his cheek and said, “Thank you.”

“You’re gonna thank me even more once you’ve tasted it,” he said, buttering his toast. She did. “Right? It’s good!”

“Wow,” she said. She ate some more. She glanced at Quinn, who was biting their fingernails and watching the room idly. Luci sighed. “What’s wrong?”

“People burned last night,” Quinn said; saying the first thing they realised they were really thinking about.

“Mm,” Luci said, “I heard people talk about it. It’s sad, but beautiful.” She ate another forkful. “They were together to the end.”

Quinn went back to hiding and fingernail biting. Nick mumbled something.

“Nick?” Luci was saying outside the sheets. “It’s time for us to go.”

“Mm,” he noised. “You’re not ready yet.”

“You know I am,” Luci answered. Quinn heard movement across the room but wasn’t willing to resurface yet. “Don’t make me the reason to stay.”

“What, now?” Nick asked. “With Quinn like this?” Quinn wiggled their foot to show they were mobile but it seemed no one noticed.

“Not right now,” Luci said. “Tonight. Or tomorrow. Or—”

“Look,” Nick said, “we can’t just walk to Tijuana without a plan.”

“I know people closer in Mexicali,” she said, voice raising. She was standing right by the bed now. Quinn poked their hand out, and Luci touched it; fingertip to centre of palm, with a wiggle, then a softer than soft stroke right down their wrist.

“You knew people, okay?” Nick was saying from the other room. “They’re gonna be long gone by now.”

“There are tunnels where they would hide! Prohibition tunnels.”

“Luci...”

“You’re afraid to lose your family,” Luci accused.

“No. It’s just...” He didn’t finish talking. He hesitated too long.

“I can’t live here,” Luci said.

“I’m not gonna make you,” Nick said.

“You promise?”

“Yeah, I promise.”

“You will come with me?”

“Si,” he said, “prometo.” And then he left the shack.

Luci sighed in the silence. She touched Quinn’s hand again. Quinn hadn’t and didn’t give their opinion. They figured it was probably because they were too intoxicated. Or maybe they just didn’t like the responsibility of an opinion. Either way, they kept their mouth shut while Luci brought the tray of food over and crawled under the sheets with them, making some small fort. Luci sat, cross-legged, under the sheet, and ate, while Quinn remained curled up beside her, fiddling absently with the tear in Luci’s jeans.

“I remember the first time I saw you,” Luci told Quinn. “Skin and bone. Bloody and pretending to be dead. Pretending to be invisible. But I saw you.”

Luci stroked a long black lock of fringe out of Quinn’s eyes.

“And look at you now.”

Quinn didn’t want to. They probably looked awful.

They hid their face.

Luci went quiet for a minute.

“You love him,” Quinn muffled into the mattress.

“I do,” Luci said through a mouthful of toast. The washed-out fabric made her face glow brown and gold. Quinn thought of their mother, and shut their eyes.

“It’s terrible,” they whispered, feeling sleep close in, “the promises you make... for the people you love.”

Chapter Text

Alicia didn’t go to Bible study that night, and she didn’t speak to Quinn the next day when they tried to apologise. Quinn spent their time trying to forget about it with Gabe’s still and Terry’s herb. Also, Gabe seemed to be warming up to Quinn, finally. He’d found their glasses the evening after the drama at breakfast and returned them, and the two of them agreed to sneak out early the next day to smoke before breakfast, then spent the rest of the morning in the bunker, throwing jokes at each other and playing thumb wars, which, after long enough, resolved into a full-on wrestling match. Quinn remembered the smell of Gabe’s hair, like paprika, and wondered if it was just their brain playing tricks on them because of its colour, only, when they told Gabe this —in between attempting to hold him down— he laughed so hard he fell asleep.

Quinn grinned down at him, catching their breath. They scoffed when they realised Gabe was hard. To be honest, Quinn was a little flattered. Still, they got up to spare his dignity. Their mind was foggy and bored, so they stepped across the room and opened Geoff’s barrel. Quinn covered their nose from the smell immediately, then sprayed some of the perfume over the cage—which didn’t much help so much as add. Regardless, Quinn lifted the cage and carried Geoff over to the table.

Gabe muttered something from the floor, raising a hand as if to reprimand them, but quickly fell asleep again. Quinn put their attention on Geoff.

They asked him, “Are you really sentient?”

Geoff growled.

“Was that an answer?”

Geoff growled.

“Growl if you’re a moron.”

Geoff growled.

Quinn snickered.

“Okay. Serious now... Growl if I am.”

Geoff watched them, snapped his teeth, then growled harshly. Quinn rolled their eyes and sat with their back to him, staring off into space for a little while until they thought of another question.

“Geoff... what happened to Chris?”

I died, dumbass.

Quinn looked around dazily. “But how?”

Don’t be a dumbass. I just... died.

Quinn sat up, turned, and tapped the cage impatiently.

What, Chris asked. You want to know more? Then come and find out... His voice seemed to be coming from inside Geoff’s mouth, as if Chris was sitting right between torn tongue and throat. Quinn reached through the metal bars, in close enough to hover there in front of Geoff’s nose, and then—

“What are you doing?!”

Before they could even startle, Gabe yanked their hand down and shoved them away from the table. Quinn collapsed to their back, a little winded as Gabe stumbled down with them. He was panicked, with that paranoid high look in his eyes, holding Quinn’s wrists down hard against the ground.

Quinn glared him right in the face, and then they kissed him. Just like that. Just like kissing Chris. Though, he didn’t act the same way Chris had. He shoved Quinn back immediately and roughly. He looked disgusted, and then he just sat back, looking sleepy and vaguely uncomfortable.

He sighed and rubbed his face.

“You’re hard,” Quinn said, like it was an accusation.

Gabe looked down at his lap.

“I’m baked,” he said.

“So am I,” Quinn retorted, “but you don’t see me waving my junk around like that.”

Gabe laughed.

“Sorry,” he said. He yawned. “Don’t touch Geoff.”

Frowning, Quinn got up. They put Geoff back in the barrel and made for the exit. Gabe must’ve noticed they were gone quickly, because he caught up with them before the end of the trail, and the two walked back to the ranch in silence.


 

Madison was back with Troy and the others from looking for Jeremiah’s friends. It hadn’t gone well, given that they had returned without them, and without everything else. Even their shoes. There were bad things going on, too. Quinn found it hard to take in. Something about Natives, they understood. And scalping. And threatening the ranch to give them their land back. It sounded far too Cowboys and Indians for Quinn’s taste, but it was served up raw and real anyway. And then Quinn asked Nick where Luciana was.

“She’s gone south,” he said.

Quinn didn’t really know what to say about that. As much as they didn’t want her to go, they weren’t surprised, so they just sort of pointed to Nick’s waist and said, “You have a gun.”

“Yeah,” he said, narrowing his eyes at them.

A memory swam through Quinn’s head and under their breath they mumbled, “He has a gun too. You just have to put it on him.” They smiled. Nick did not.

“Quinn...” he said.

“Yeah.”

“We're losing you.”

Quinn looked at him. “What?”

“You’re smoking too much,” he said.

Relieved, and also attempting to act sober, Quinn shook their head and shushed him, worried about what Alicia and Madison would think, as they were both in the shack too. Alicia just continued to tend to her mother’s wounded feet, like Quinn wasn’t there. Quinn dipped their head, accepting the glass of water Nick pushed into their hands.

Soon after that, Alicia got up to leave.

“Where you going?” Madison asked her.

“Gonna find Jake,” Alicia said. She avoided looking at Quinn, and once she was gone, Quinn got up too.

“And where are you going?” Madison asked them too.

“Hungry.”

Quinn left before Madison or Nick could argue. They didn’t go to cafeteria right away. The temptation to follow Alicia was somehow stronger than their munchies, but then Gretchen caught them.

“Hey!” She looked tired and anxious. Quinn shuffled away from the wall they were trying to loiter behind. “You alright?”

“Mm. You?” Quinn didn’t so much say this as motion is out with their head.

“Madison around?” Gretchen asked, like it was her answer. “Need to talk to her.”

Quinn pointed back towards their shack, and Gretchen left quickly. Quinn was still hungry, and they’d lost where Alicia went, so they gave into their stomach and grabbed whatever they could from breakfast.

They sat at a bench with Terry, Gabe, Adam and Evie. Gretchen showed up a little later. She looked like she’d been crying. Quinn sat with her for a while with an arm over her shoulder, rubbing her hand. Gretchen didn’t tell them what was wrong, even when Quinn told her she could. Gretchen just said, “I know what I see in you now.”

“Yeah?” Quinn asked.

“Yeah. You’re a keeper,” Gretchen said, smiling this miserable smile. “A keeper of secrets... And yours are the worst.”

Quinn let go of her. They felt sick, suddenly. Though, Gretchen hadn’t seemed to say any of it in malice. She sounded grateful, if anything, definitely not like she was talking specifically about how Quinn had killed their own mother and not told a soul, except perhaps Nick in not so many words.

Quinn spent the rest of their day with the others at Bible Study. Gretchen decided not to show, along with Alicia. Quinn distracted them-self from this with weed and alcohol and music, and Gabe, who was acting differently after this morning. He was more jokey and physical, shoving Quinn when they were funny or argumentative or grabbing them into a celebratory noogie when they downed another shot or took another deep hit.

Quinn knew why — or, if they didn’t and were wrong then they had at least decided not to care. Gabe liked them, or he didn’t. He might’ve even just wanted to experiment. Quinn. Didn’t. Care. They were thinking —because they had thought about this— of the one or several times on those nights Chris would steal the prosecco bottles from Eliza’s cupboards, when Chris would come close and put his nose to Quinn’s ear, and whisper things to them. Boys were... something, Quinn knew. But never knew exactly what, though. And the subject was never relevant enough to ever put into practice, except on Chris that night at Baja, but that had been almost an accident.

After some time, Quinn got up and left to pee outside—they didn’t trust the bunker’s washroom. Plus, they needed the air.

Outside, the night air was crisp and fresh and alive, washing their hair around their face. They’d left their cap inside. Being quick, Quinn did their thing behind a shrub fifty yards or so away from the bunker hatch, but they were hardly finished by the time they heard it open.

“Hey, hey, I’m busy!”

Gabe kept his back to them as he climbed outside, shutting the hatch behind him. He held out Quinn’s cap. Quinn, as quickly as they were able, snatched it from him. They held it in their hands and frowned down at the markered-in C.M on the white inner-rim.

“Knew them? The C M?”

Quinn looked up at him. Gabe didn’t look like he usually did, all sly and cocky and disinterested, nor boisterous and guyish like he had been all day. He seemed genuinely curious.

“Yeah,” Quinn said, “he was my best friend.”

“Right,” Gabe said, snapping his fingers like he was trying to remember something. “Erm... Chris, right? You said about him. You said you and him—”

“Yeah.”

There was a small space of quiet.

“What happened to him?” Gabe asked.

“Died.”

The two stood side by side for a minute, awkward, not sure what to do. Quinn could see something was on Gabe’s mind. It was obvious. He was fidgeting and his eyes were moving a lot and he almost looked afraid. Quinn wondered if it was the news about the Natives that Madison and the others brought back, or maybe it was just because they’d caught him hard that morning, and kissed him, or maybe it was just something wrong with his stupid stills.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Gabe said, “about this morning.” Bingo. “And I’m sorry I’m a douche to you sometimes. There’s just so much going on. It's like I can’t ever keep up anymore.”

Quinn was too sober for this. They hadn’t had a hit or shot of anything in hours. They shrugged their shoulders and said, “I don’t care.”

“You— don’t care?”

“I don’t care.”

Gabe looked at them sideways. “As in, you really don’t care, or you just, you know, don’t care?”

“I don’t care, Gabe.” It was remarkable how honest this statement felt. Quinn. Just. Didn’t. Care. Not anymore. Consequences didn’t matter anymore. It all ended the same. It all ended.

In the distance, a cayote crooned into the night and an owl hooted in a nearby tree. The breeze felt cooler, running through Quinn’s fingers and hair. They put on Chris’ cap.

“You know,” Gabe said, “my grandpa fought in the Korean war.”

Quinn rolled their eyes. “That why you hate me so much?”

“I don’t hate you!” Gabe retorted. “Well, okay, I did—” Quinn just rolled their eyes again. “—but I don’t, anymore.”

Quinn grimaced, then smiled at their feet. “Good.”

“Yeah,” Gabe admitted. “You’re a lot cooler than the Koreans Gramps told me about.”

Quinn bust out laughing.

“You’re so full of shit, Gabe.”

He didn’t deny it. In fact, he laughed too, which made Quinn laugh even harder, until the two of them were just laughing their asses off. And then Gabe stopped. He was looking at them. Quinn knew why. They knew Gabe was going to kiss them, and he did. Quinn didn’t kiss him back though, not the first time or the second, or the third, but they did on the fourth time. And the fifth. And sixth. And seventh and fiftee—

“Wait, stop.”

Quinn did, out of breath, turning to look at what had caught Gabe’s attention. Fire. Up on banks surrounding the ranch. One wasn’t far away from where they were, in fact, maybe three or four hundred yards. Had it been there this whole time? Had whoever lit it left already? Were they still around, watching? Quinn swore under their breath. They shoved Gabe towards the bunker and said, “Get the others, now.”