Erica looked at her straw, and then she looked at Gail, and then she turned and ran out of the room without saying a thing.
Gail observed the faces of the other people in the room. They all looked sympathetic, but each and every one of them was clearly thinking “Thank god it wasn’t me.”
“Thank god it wasn’t you,” Todd said to Melissa.
“C’mon. I would’ve been fine,” Melissa said, utterly unconvincingly. “I got my meds now to stop me losing my mind. Also, Karl’s not exactly an innocent bystander, is he?”
“You volunteering, Melissa?” Gail asked.
Melissa said nothing.
“Erica’s not doing it,” Gail said. “You hear me? She’s not doing it.”
“She did draw the short straw, mom.” Carol said nervously.
“I don’t care. She is one of the very few good things left in this world, y’hear? She is innocent and she is not a killer!”
“None of us wanna be killers, mom!”
“But we all are,” Gail said. “I know in most cases it wasn’t on purpose but we are. Me and Todd killed Phil while trying to save him and I feel shitty about that every day.” Todd give a little nod of acquiescence. “Carol, you killed Gordon by accident and I’m pretty sure you feel shitty about that too. Melissa, you… let’s not get started.”
“Yeah, good call,” Melissa said darkly.
“Tandy, you’ve tried to kill a whole bunch of people cos you’re an asshole.”
“Was an asshole,” Tandy said. “Wait, not important, go on.”
“So we’re fucked. In a big sense, we’re fucked. But she isn’t. She’s the last damn innocent person on earth who isn’t a literal child, and she’s good and she’s mine and I’m not about to let her become a executioner.”
It was a very good speech and everyone fell silent.
“Right, who’s got a weapon?” Gail asked, her voice cracking.
No-one moved except Carol, who swallowed and said “Go talk to her first.”
“I just want to get it over and done with.”
“No, talk to her,” Carol said. Then she added “If it was me who’d drawn the short straw, I’d want Tandy to come and talk to me.”
Gail found her wife out in the garden, sitting on a wall. There were a ton of dead flowers in the flowerbed behind her but some living ones at her feet, which Gail thought was very poetic, but somehow that depressed her even more.
“This’ll be a fun thing to explain to Dawn when she’s a bit older, won’t it?” Erica said in the old Australian question-not-a-question way. Gail had always found that terribly endearing.
“Nope. Nothing to explain,” she said. “Karl’s a serial killer and he’s actually surprisingly chill with dying, so I gather. Them kinda assholes usually are.”
“Right,” said Erica. “Don’t suppose he stated a preference for where he wants to be shot, does he? Chest? Head? Stomach? Balls? You never know.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Gail said. “You’re not doing it, I am.”
“See, I knew you would say that,” Erica said. Her hands were quivering a little. “Give me one good reason why.”
“All righty then. You remember your little bank incident? Not the one you were arrested for, the first one. Where you basically just overdid it and wore a dumb mask the whole time?”
“It wasn’t my best moment, okay?” Erica said after a second.
“Actually, hon, I’d argue it was. Cos you told me, it was the first time you ever pointed a loaded gun at someone. Some random clerk, right? And you…”
“Oh god, I know where this is going.”
“And you were so terrified you pissed yourself. Kinda funny in hindsight, you know?” Erica did not look remotely amused. “Except not. Because to you the thought of actually killing someone in cold blood was the worst damn thing in the world. And obviously several years an’ a whole apocalypse has passed since then, but I don’t think things have changed much.”
“Well,” Erica said, in a tone somewhere on the crossroads between sad, angry, frustrated and fearful, “I’m not gonna piss myself this time, okay?”
“Damn right you won’t,” Gail said, and she took a pistol out of her pocket. “Cos I’ve got a gun, and you haven’t, and I’m not giving it to you.”
Erica looked at the gun as though she’d never really seen one before, which was an odd move in a way, because she’d had even more experience with guns than Gail herself had. Then she said, “I do get it, yeah? You think that cos you… cos you didn’t save Phil on the operating table, you’ve like already got blood on your hands or whatever. Well,” and suddenly her voice rose in a way it very rarely did, “that is bullshit, Gail! You did everything you could, you did more than anyone else could have done. You haven’t ever killed or even hurt anyone, so you’re being absolutely bloody fucking stupid right now.”
“Is that right,” Gail said.
“Yeah!” Erica snapped. “When it comes to dead people, there’s literally no difference between you and me-!” She trailed off halfway through the sentence.
“Sorry,” she started to say, but Gail talked over her.
“You know this and I know this, babe, I’ve lost a child and you thank god never will. And I lost him because of my own stupid fault, I as good as killed him, I’ll never not be convinced of that.”
Erica had opened her mouth, but she reluctantly shut it again.
“My world was shitty even before the virus and then you came along and you were the only good thing… you know?” Gail said. “When I found you in the Oval Office all passed out and spread-eagled I thought you were an angel. A tiny, drunken angel.”
Erica almost smiled.
“And now we’re wife and wife and nothing’s changed. Based on my previous marriages I thought things would get weird between us at some point, you know, but they didn’t? You kept on being this… this amazing person. A good mom and a good friend and a good human in a world where there’s barely anything to measure against.”
“God, it’s like I married fucking Persephone sometimes.”
Erica almost certainly knew more about Greek mythology than Gail, she knew details of all kinds of things, but she kept quiet.
“Anyway,” Gail said, aiming the gun into the dead flowers and cocking it, “that cannibal ain’t gonna shoot himself.”
“That’s a shame,” Erica said quietly.
Gail pulled her close and kissed her, and Erica kissed back.
“Persephone might not be the best metaphor to use,” she said hesitantly after pulling away. “Whole can of worms there.”
“Well, don’t ask me to understand ‘em. She married the god of the underworld, right? Was she happy with him? Or her? You never know, gods don’t have genders, could’ve been a her.”
“Let’s say her. And yeah, she was very happy, apparently.”
That was a strange place to leave things, but it was never a good idea to procrastinate on things like executing a murderer, so-
“Gail, what happened to Danny really wasn’t your fault,” Erica said gently.
“He was three years old. Kids who’re three years old need looking after. And I failed and he wandered off and he fell down a hole and he died. Who else’s fault could it be?”
“Well,” Erica said, as if she’d anticipated a response like that, “I think you’re a great mother, and Dawn thinks you’re a great mother, and that’ll never change. No matter what happens.”
“Thanks, honey,” Gail said. Then, with only one quick look back, she headed off to kill somebody.