Murphy watched the young man as he made his way through the gates, with a fresh set of clothes and a gun slung over his shoulder. Thomas was a man on a mission, and that suited the both of them just fine.
The first day that Thomas was back among his blends, Murphy kept his cool. He was full of smiles and praise, an innocent kind of affection that could easily be passed off as fatherly pride. If only the others had known how hard it was for him to keep his hands to himself, to refrain from claiming those lips, sucking bruises into that pale skin and making the young man moan and cry out beneath him. But Murphy had made a promise, and it was one he intended to keep.
On the second day, resentment grew quickly once it was clear that Thomas was reverting to his customary semi-catatonia, and the whisper of his thoughts became muted and dull. More zombie than human, more dead than alive. Perhaps selfishly, Murphy decided that he would never get anything useful done while the kid was moping about in his close proximity, so it was time for the mission.
On the third day, Murphy clapped him on the back, and sent him on his way. So long, Thomas. Give 'em hell.
Thomas still had the note that Murphy had given him, crumpled and worn in his pocket. The message was simple and clear enough even for a muddled and cloudy brain to understand. Find Warren. Bring her to me. If she won't come, kill her.
As Thomas vanished into the wilds of the less civilized parts of Spokane, Murphy watched him go. He didn't regret what had happened between them, and he wondered if he should. Sure, he had a drink or two before visiting the kid in his dank cell, but they both made a clear and conscious choice to escalate the situation. If Murphy closed his eyes he could conjure the taste of the other man's skin, the feel of his firmly muscled ass. The memories of their sweet violence together were a lingering torture, knowing that Thomas would never stand for a repeat performance. Not while Murphy still hummed inside his brain.
It was for the best that they spend some time apart, but he still hoped to see the kid again. Thomas receded into the distance, and Murphy sighed. He had an empire to build, and the throng of refugees outside his gates weren't going to vaccinate themselves. "Back to work," he muttered, realizing as he did that there was nobody else in the room. For a brief and wistful moment, he felt completely alone.
During his time at the compound, 10k had successfully managed to avoid mentioning that Doc and Addy were on their way to find Murphy's daughter. He shuddered to think what his mission would have been if he had let it slip. He would rather die than hurt either of them, regardless of what Murphy wanted. This mission wasn't ideal, but it least it got him a few steps away from Murphy's influence.
Halfway through midtown, 10k heard a commotion of laughing and shouting. He veered down an alleyway, moving swiftly and quietly toward the sound. It was a circle of men beside a truck. Some masked, all heavily armed. They were messing with a lone Z, pushing the creature back and forth as it stumbled between them, snapping and clawing. 10k set his pack down as he hid behind a dumpster, peering down the scope of his rifle at the gruesome game.
They were members of the Red Hand, if the decapitated limbs adorning their vehicle were anything to go by. 10k had already seen the gang's handiwork in town. Two blends had wandered too far from the compound, and their mutilated bodies were propped against a wall signed with a flourish of spray-painted handprints. There was no justice in the actions of the Red Hand, only brutality. 10k wondered if it would be possible to take them all out before they started shooting back.
Absentmindedly, he mimed one trigger-pull after another. Pew. Headshot. Pew. Right between the eyes. Pew. I give you mercy.
10k stopped dead in the middle of his imaginary bloodbath, a chill running down his spine as a familiar face hovered in his sights. It was Warren, and she was clearly leading the group. Punctuating his shock, a single gunshot echoed as one of the men grappled the captive zombie and delivered it mercy.
10k wasn't sure what drew her attention - some kind of noise, some involuntary movement - but Warren's gaze shifted in his direction. Before he knew it, she seemed to be staring down the scope right back at him.
He ducked behind the dumpster, heart pounding. A couple of zombies shuffled past, paying him no attention as he tried to calm his breathing. Warren was pretty damn observant, but he still hoped that it was just a trick of perspective, and she hadn't actually clocked his presence. A quick glance out toward the road was promising. The truck was gone, and Warren with it.
Conscious of his mission, 10k gathered his gear and dashed out of the alleyway. He had enough skill to track the vehicle from a safe distance, but first he needed to know the vague direction they were traveling in.
He rounded the corner, and his senses screamed an alarm as a blurry shape approached him rapidly. He felt a brief flash of pain, and then there was nothing but the all-too familiar darkness.
Only a couple of hours had passed when the call came. Not in the form of words but a series of images, emotions. Distant but urgent, rising above the background noise of the compound and planting itself directly in Murphy's brain. The sound of water and the shadow of concrete pylons. The falls. Warren, and some unfamiliar friends. Fear. Pain.
It was Thomas, Murphy realized with a dash of panic. He was reaching out, broadcasting blindly through their shared wavelength. He was begging for help.
Murphy took a deep breath, his hands shaking from the burst of adrenaline. He set down the beaker full of vaccine in an effort not to drop the glass vessel, knowing even as he did that this batch would probably denature before he had a chance to get back to it. He had no choice. It was time to move.
A group of armed blends were waiting outside the building as he hustled down the stairs, alerted by Murphy's silent call. "Start the truck," he said. "We've got a party to crash."
It was a very brief drive to the lookout, and the men that Warren had left to stand guard were quick enough to dispatch. Hope, the earliest and most loyal of his Spokane blends, identified the corpses as members of the notorious Red Hand, and knelt to sever one man's right hand with a hunting knife. Murphy didn't begrudge her this grisly trophy. It didn't take long to get through the bone, and besides - this marauding gang had killed many good men in the Spokane surrounds. He was disappointed, though, to discover that the virtuous Lieutenant Warren was aligning herself with these monsters. Murphy took the bloody hand with him as they moved swiftly to the lookout. He had a plan, and he loved to make a dramatic entrance.
Thomas was lying defeated and helpless on his back, the weight of Warren holding him down. There were others there, people Murphy didn't know, but as Murphy saw the young man his focus narrowed to a point. Memories flashed through his mind. Shock collars and a forced private interlude at the hands of a crazed zombophile, straddling Thomas's body and leaning in to bite. And even more recently, the way he had held the kid down in a dark room and kissed him hard and bruising, overcome by his long-repressed need to taste him, to possess him. Seeing Thomas pinned like a bug by someone else triggered a red-tinged rage in Murphy, but he swallowed it down.
"Let me examine his blood," a woman was saying, in the midst of an argument. "I need a baseline. He's been bitten, injected by Dr Merch..."
"I'll do it myself," replied Warren, scrabbling in a nearby pack. Murphy saw the injector as she raised it, no doubt filled with the vaccine that could so easily break his bond with Thomas. There was a split second where Murphy could have made his presence known, where he could have stopped her. But he froze, telling himself he was giving his people more time to get into position.
Warren jabbed the injector into Thomas's leg, pushing the plunger with an audible hiss. The young man slumped, his eyes rolling back into his skull. Murphy shook himself from his stupor and did the only thing he could think of.
The severed hand of the guard landed on the wooden deck with a dull splat, and the confusion in Warren's eyes as she looked up was pure perfection.
"Thomas," Murphy said, hoping that the kid could hear him even through the twitching seizure that overcame his body, that it would somehow give him hope. "Your ride's here."