Clive awakens in a sweat. Dream images of Keira, nude and rising over him, tumble through his mind, and it takes him a long moment to get his bearings. Once he does, he swiftly cleans himself up - as silently as possible - and gets up on deck, a piece of freeze-dried apple between his teeth. The waves are calmer now than they were the night before, he sees with some relief, and the boat is still at anchor and secure in the sheltering inlet. Spying Antony at the helm, he checks in. "Need a hand getting her out of here?"
"Yeah." Antony nods, busying looking over one of their maps for the millionth time. "That would be great. Did you get some sleep?"
"I got some amazing sleep, for the first time in who knows how long. I feel pretty fucking fantastic," Clive says, stepping back to check that none of the sails came loose in the night. "How about you? Were you actually able to relax for a bit? I've kind of been watching you," he admits. "Wondering when that hyper-vigilance wears off, just how huge a crash it'll be."
Antony looks up and actually grins. "I'm planning on sleeping the first three weeks we're on the island."
"I respect that," Clive says with a chuckle. "The weather's clearing. Still planning on making our way back to shore today?"
Antony nods. "There's a military base at Arbroath. If it hasn't already been raided, we should be able to find a couple decent vehicles and more weapons and ammo there." Fuck. He leans back for a second, the thought of the long road still ahead exhausting him for a moment. "I wish we could just keep going, but we'll need a bigger boat on the other end and we'll need to take the time to stock it with as many supplies as we can scavenge."
"I--" Clive looks aside when Jess comes up from belowdecks.
She hands Antony a mug of instant coffee and a bowl of oatmeal. Then, "Sorry, I didn't know you were up here too," she says, and dismisses Clive with a glance, heading back down.
Antony gives Clive a look. "What'd you do?"
Clive shrugs, though the pained expression on his face belies the casual gesture. "I didn't let her murder an unarmed man," he says quietly, frowning at the horizon. "I guess I have to hope I'll be forgiven at some point."
"You really think he was unarmed?" Antony asks. "That he wasn't a threat to her? Or us?"
"No-- No, I didn't think he was armed. Yes, he was obviously a threat. I just..." Clive shrugs helplessly. "She's been through so much shit already. I didn't want it to be on her conscience as one more thing she can't let go of."
"It might have been that but it also might have been cathartic for her," Antony says. "I'm assuming she didn't get to do anything to... the ones who have her so tense around us. Maybe being able to fight back and even take out her attacker here would have made her feel less powerless."
Great. Clive sucks on his tongue a moment, staring at the horizon. And he nods. "She was petrified when we found her. Pain, fear... Even without the infection, I think she'd have barely been able to move." He definitely hadn't thought about it in terms of her needing resolution.
"What infection?" Antony asks, taking a sip of his still hot coffee.
"Some of her wounds when we found her-- not bites," Clive assures Antony, realizing that's likely where the man's mind has gone. "She had, ah, some cigarette burns. Fresh, and they got infected. But that was a couple weeks before we met you."
Antony shakes his head, his expression grim. What he'd give to get his hands on the men who did that to her. Hell, what he'd give to tie them up and let her at them. And he doesn't feel one bit sorry for the thought. "We should have Ryan check everyone out before we head over," he says. "If we're all willing. Any medical supplies, anything else we might need, we can get here, before we go over."
"Good call. And, I know she meant it at the time, so if Jess is still up for that massage idea, we can look for oil or whatever." Oil, god. His face burns once more.
"I'll ask her," Antony volunteers. "Or Logan can. They seem to be getting along okay."
"Thanks. You look like you're set here," Clive says, "just give a yell if you need anything."
Below decks it's a minefield, however, making Clive long to be back upstairs, jogging Antony's elbow. There's Jess to avoid in the so-called kitchenette, there's Keira to look for, he should probably find Sam so they can talk, and meanwhile he's staring at three closed doors. Opening any one of them would be Russian Roulette.
Coming out of the cabin he and Ryan share, Sam rubs a hand over his face, wiping the sleep from his eyes. "Morning," he says to Clive.
"Good morning." Clive is so relieved he actually smiles brightly, stepping back so Sam can arrow straight for the oatmeal Jess is holding out. Then he looks past him. "Jess, can I have a minute?"
She doesn't even look at him, but the set of her shoulders stiffens. "No."
It's like talking to a brick wall. Feeling the weight of Sam's presence in the room, Clive doesn't push, despite the stab of pain in his chest. "Sam, after you've eaten, can we talk for a bit?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam nods, still half asleep, thanking Jess for the mug of coffee she hands him as well. "Come up top with me. We can talk while I eat."
Back up on deck, Clive gives the other two men their space, crossing to stand at the bow. A fresh morning breeze blows in off the sea to tangle his hair, and he inhales deeply. At this distance from the shore, too far out to hear the godawful groans and growling, it's an instant of bliss. A time to forget about all the horrors.
Then he turns back to Sam and steels his spine. "I was sorry to hear about your brother."
Sam blows out a breath, his chest tightening the way it does every time he thinks of Cal. "Thanks."
"I know he and Keira were engaged," Clive says quietly, steadying himself in case Sam decides to punch him. "So I want to tell you myself that Keira and I, we... we're starting a relationship."
Mouth full of oatmeal, Sam stares at Clive for a long moment before slowly chewing and swallowing. "Which means what exactly?" And yeah, he could probably sound a little less pissed off, but he figures he's entitled.
It means she jumped me and I'm hoping she'll do it again really soon. Nah, probably not the best tactic. "It means that, for right now anyway, we're sleeping together."
Sam clenches his jaw, letting the words wash over him, and with them, a whole raft of feelings. There's how could she let Cal go so easily but he knows that's not fair. There's also the temptation to just punch Clive in the face or throw him overboard and he knows both of those are equally bad.
A beat passes, and Clive exhales. "I didn't want you to hear it from someone else," he murmurs, turning away.
"Wait," Sam says, rubbing a hand over his face.
Clive turns back, alert to Sam's tiniest movements, any cues that he's about to strike. "Yeah?"
Sam starts to say something - ask that they not rub it in his face, keep it on the down low, give him time to adjust, but fuck, who knows how long they've all got left. "Just - treat her right or you'll have me to answer to," he says. "And I'm a really good shot. School of Antony."
His lips quirk and Clive nods. "Understood." Now to find Keira and let her know that he told Sam -- and pray it won't piss her off that he didn't ask for her approval first.
Maybe he'll even get a kiss out of it.
* * *
Jess shrugs and gives Keira a rueful smile. "I rolled over and banged my head against the storage bin. There was no going back to sleep afterwards. I think Antony is up, too." She gives the instant oatmeal a quick stir and looks back over her shoulder. "Do you want tea or coffee?"
"Tea, please," Keira says, leaning against the counter. "Did you sleep well other than banging your head?"
"Yeah, eventually. I spent some time on the deck just watching the sky first." Jess sighs and hands Keira a mug. "I actually felt... I don't know, almost free. That incredible pressure of constantly looking over my shoulder... it eased. It was wonderful." She smiles slightly, and confesses. "I was so pissed off at Clive. I just wanted to punch him. So I was kind of avoiding him anyway. Logan was on watch and we talked a little."
"Yeah?" Keira grins, wrapping both hands around the mug. "How was he?"
"He was... fine?" Jess hazards, uncertain just what the question means. In this context. "He seems like he's fitting in with us." And it's so crazy that there already is an us with the group, but she can't deny it's so. "I hope I didn't disturb you when I came back to bed. Did you sleep okay?"
"I slept wonderfully," Keira says, unable to stop smiling. "Promise you won't hate me?" With the way Jess and Clive are getting along her timing probably couldn't be any worse.
"For... for sleeping well?" Jess asks warily. Then her eyes widen. "Oh, my god! You didn't. Was... was it Logan?" she asks, immediately realizing what a stupid question that was -- Logan was on watch, of course. But that leaves...
"No." Keira shakes her head. "It was Clive. I'm sorry. I didn't realize you and he were on the outs and Sam and Ryan were at it again and I was just-- I'd had it, so I jumped him."
Jess blinks, for a moment imagining what that jumping could've looked like. Then she laughs softly, and echoes Keira's words of earlier. "So, how was he?"
Keira grins. "Fantastic," she says.
Jess stares a long moment more, then shakes herself. "Good jumping," she opines and has to giggle. "Oh god, no, I mean, I'm happy for you," she tells Keira with a genuine smile. "Plus, Logan... Logan helped me see that I'm not being totally fair to Clive. Even though I'm still mad at him."
"Yeah?" Keira takes a sip of her tea. "What did he say?"
"Fuck that!" Jess exclaim with a shake of her head. "Tell me more about fantastic sex!"
"...Sorry," Ryan says, standing frozen in the hatchway. "I'll just-- I'll be--" He points vaguely back over his shoulder and disappears.
Keira starts giggling, almost snorting tea through her nose. "You seriously want to know?"
"Yeah, of course I do." Jess laughs, "Have you looked around this boat recently? There's not a lot of hot gossip around." Her cheeks flush, and she shrugs a little. "Plus, I was never able to decide whether he was clumsy in bed or not. You know, my best guess."
"Farthest thing from clumsy," Keira tells her, blushing just a little. "He definitely knew what he was he doing and I really had a good time. Three good times," she amends, unable to keep from giggling.
"Three?" Jess whispers, smiling. "Oh, my god!"
Stooping in the hatch, Alex clears his throat. "Sorry to interrupt. Is this a private party?"
"No! Oh no, god no," Jess blurts out, embarrassed to be caught gushing like a... Well, like a girl. And it occurs to her she hadn't thought she'd smile about sex ever again. But here she is laughing. Still flushed, she gives Keira a quick hug and ducks out.
Keira grins after Jess and gives Alex a smile. "How's your leg?"
"Great. How's your good times?" There's no way Alex is going to pretend he didn't overhear.
Keira blushes then grins again. "Amazing. If you heard more than that though, could you please keep it to yourself? I haven't had a chance to talk to Sam."
"Yeah, got it," Alex agrees with a nod, snagging two mugs of hot coffee. "I'll bring these back," he says, then turns back before ducking out. "And hey, good for you." He winks. "Fantastic."
Fresh from his discussion with Sam, Clive enters the galley, and it suddenly seems too tiny by far. Anywhere he stands, it seems impossible to not touch Keira, and so he doesn't even try. "Hey, I was just coming to look for you," he says, taking her into his arms. Stealing a kiss.
The kiss takes Keira by surprise. "What are you doing?" she asks, pushing him back. "Someone might see us." Never mind that she's just told both Jess and Alex and maybe even Ryan about them.
Hands in the air, he steps back. "Sorry," he says, his heart sinking. "I didn't know this was supposed to stay a secret." He leans back against the galley table. "I guess you're really going to hate what I have to say next."
"Which is what?" Keira asks, eyes wide, her stomach in sudden knots.
"I talked to Sam." Clive watches her closely, attempting to judge just how badly he's miscalculated.
Keira's eyes widen even further as the words sink in. "You told him." Oh fuck.
"I wanted to be up front with him." He refrains from saying it was Antony's recommendation as well. "I like you, Keira. A lot. I don't want to sneak around like we've got something to be ashamed of."
"But it wasn't your place to tell him," Keira says pointedly before relenting a little, "What did he say?"
Raising an eyebrow, Clive folds his arms across his chest. "Do you want to hide it from him that you're moving on from Cal?" he asks, considering her and trying to keep his feelings out of it. "Or was I mistaken to think that you are moving on?"
"No, I am, but I wanted to tell him," Keira says, staring him down and blinking back sudden tears. "It was my place to tell him, not yours. He was almost my brother-in-law, we spent days in that flat, waiting for Cal to come home, we went out looking for him together, he kept me safe the whole time - at least partially because of Cal - and I wanted to tell him."
Well, fuck -- he's got no damn defense against tears. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "I'm sorry for not talking to you first." He nods towards the hatch. "I told him that it's your call whether the relationship continues. I'm sure the two of you will still find plenty to discuss."
"What did he say?" Keira asks again, taking a step closer, her anger and frustration dissipating with Clive's apology. "You don't look like he punched you and you're still onboard."
He shrugs lightly, more than uncomfortable. "He reserves the right to kill me if I break your heart."
"That seems fair," Keira says with a small smile, then, hoping she hasn't screwed things up, "Is there any chance I could have that kiss now?"
"Only if you're genuinely no longer pissed off at me," he answers, studying her face. "If I'm still in the doghouse then I'd rather wait until you mean it."
"You were only in the doghouse for a few minutes," Keira says, staring up at him. "And I don't hold grudges."
His lips quirk, and he pulls her into an embrace. "Then, yeah," he breathes.
Moaning softly into the kiss, Keira winds her arms around Clive's neck and lets herself cling for a moment.
That's better, and god she tastes so good, seductive yet familiar in one. The last bits of tension ease from his shoulders and he slides his hands down her back to her hips, savoring simple touch.
Keira draws back finally, reluctantly, smiling up at Clive for a moment. "I wish we were already on the island," she says, the thought of what's ahead of them - that they don't even know where they'll be spending the night - exhausting already. Who knows when she'll get to jump him again?
"We'll get there. Soon," he tells her. He believes in it whole-heartedly, because he has to. He kisses her again, unable to resist sucking on her bottom lip for a moment, his hands tightening their grip.
"Don't tempt me," she says with a soft laugh. "No one's going to let me take another shower this morning and I don't have any clean clothes."
He grins, and cups her ass. "Who says I'll get them dirty?" Fuck knows when this fragile bubble of existence will pop, and they'll be forced back into the real world once more.
"If we do what we did last night, they'll get dirty," Keira says, hoping Clive will get what she means and she won't have to spell it out. Fuck. "You should ask the guys if they've got some condoms."
"Yeah, I'll ask." His grin flashes wolfish for an instant. "But I can go down on you now and you won't even have to worry." Because the boat is just so spacious and soundproof, right.
Keira starts to protest but why not? She did just have an actual shower last night so there's never been a better time to say yes. "Okay. My bunk again?"
He laughs, lust in his eyes. "I'll follow you."
Keira laughs too and heads for the cabin, starting to open the door only to find Jess inside. Thankfully clothed. "I'm so sorry!" she blurts out, eyes wide, blushing right down to her toes, aware as she is of Clive standing behind her.
"Why? It's all--" Jess looks up mid-sentence and great, now her face is burning too. "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, let me just--" She edges past Keira into the narrow passage, and tries to pass Clive as discreetly as possible but, "Clive, move! You're gigantic," she snaps, irritable in her embarrassment. Of course then she replays her words in her head and just feels like a fool, but at last she escapes to the deck.
Keira's still blushing after Jess disappears but that doesn't stop her from grabbing Clive and pulling him into the cabin, her mouth on his when a voice comes from above. "Land ho! Everybody get up here and bring your stuff!"
Clive groans and lightly thumps his head on the wall. But then, fuck it -- one last long hot kiss, his arms going tightly around her.
* * *
Ryan glances up and sees Clive nod acknowledgment. Good, that's one worry down, he figures as he reloads his 9 mm. He steps closer to Antony and Sam so he can speak quietly. "What's our plan if we run into people? Shoot if they pull weapons on us? Run?"
"Shoot if we have to," Antony says. "Otherwise try and gauge how many there are, whether they're possible additions... we still need a few people to round out our numbers."
"Women," Sam interjects. "We're getting a little testosterone-heavy." He grins at Ryan. "Not that there's anything wrong with that but Jess and Keira might like some company and we'll need slightly better numbers on the island."
A host of cheeky replies light on Ryan's lips, but he manages to tamp them down with a snicker and a shake of his head. Not the time or the place.
"How long are we doing this?" Alex asks, walking up with his Glock. "Before we rendezvous back, I mean. And were you thinking we'd split up or move in pairs?"
"Actually, I was thinking you'd stay here with Clive," Antony says. "I want you to give that leg as long as you can."
Alex's eyes flare and his jaw tightens, but he doesn't argue. Just turns and walks back to the boat. He knows Antony's right. He's just pissed off about it.
"I'm coming," Keira announces, sharpening her knife.
"Me too if you'll have me," Logan says, standing by quietly until now.
Antony nods. "That makes me, Sam, Ryan, Logan and Keira in town and Clive, Jess, Alex and Luke with the boat." He glances at Jess. "Is that okay with you or do you want one of us to switch out?"
She's surprised to be asked, and nods her head. "It's fine. I'll help them here while we wait for you all." Her gaze crosses Logan's briefly before she looks away.
Antony checks his watch. "It's just after nine. We'll do three hours out, three hours back and be back - with or without a vehicle - by late afternoon," he says, making sure he's got everyone's attention. "If we're not, you'll take the boat out, anchor it for the night, come back in the morning and wait til noon. After that, it's up to you. Luke has the map and the full directions to Auskerry. You can try making your way up the coast, anchoring close to land until you get the right weather to keep going but you'll have to make sure you get a bigger boat and stock up enough for the winter before you head over. If we're still alive, we'll meet you there."
"We're not leaving without you," Jess blurts out, her eyes suddenly fierce. "Three hours out, three hours back," she echoes Antony. "And you are coming back."
Overhearing, Alex smiles faintly.
Antony smiles and nods. "Yes, ma'am." He adjusts the pump across his back, shifting his bag with it. "Late afternoon." He nods again to the group. "Let's go. Stick together. Keep a low profile. Blades only, unless absolutely necessary."
They're still within shouting distance of the docks when Ryan looks back, trying to signal a message to Alex. But it seems they're all back inside already, so he shakes his head. Looking up, he gives Sam a sheepish shrug. "He'll be all right once his ego heals. And he's got Luke to make that go faster."
Sam nods. "You're lucky you found Luke," he remarks, constantly scanning the way ahead of them. "He seems to be quite the calming influence."
Ryan snorts a soft laugh. "You say that like you've noticed Alex's temperament," he murmurs, keeping pace with the others, but letting a bit of distance stretch between him and Keira. Staggering their line-up so they're not in an easily targeted knot. He hopes today won't be like yesterday. He could do with some not-yesterday. Probably they all could.
"He's certainly not Miss Mary Sunshine," Sam says, taking in one wrecked car after another as they make it to the main street. "Not that any of us are these days."
Smiling in wry acknowledgment, Ryan raises his rifle to scan buildings through the sights. He can hear deathly moans as they make their way down the street, every now and again. And it occurs to him that last night was the first night in months that the godawful noises were missing. He wants to say something to Sam, and tell him what he's starting to mean to him - who he is, what they're building together - but the timing is awkward. He hopes he won't regret putting it off till later.
Keira walks beside Logan, observing the way he handles his weapon, the way he's constantly on edge without being anxious or fearful. He's like Antony, only a more human Antony, she thinks with a small smile for herself.
"What's so funny?" Logan asks, smiling too, unable to help himself.
"Just a silly thought," Keira says, not willing to share. She adores Antony. She owes him her life. She won't say anything about him to anyone else even in jest. "So, you've been inside most of this time?"
Logan nods. "Yeah. I was lucky. We heard them, saw them, kept quiet, made sure we went dark at night, but we never actually had to deal with them until Stella died."
Keira frowns. "I'm sorry."
Logan nods again. "Me too." He starts to say something else but Antony holds up a hand, motioning for them to stop, go silent, and he does. Fuck.
Ryan freezes, listening intently. The groans are gaining volume, and in a second a roamer shambles around the corner of a building. It seems to be a loner and Antony deals with him quickly, all of them on breathless edge before he waves them on once more.
The next block's clear and the one after that, each and every vehicle they encounter completely wrecked, hemmed in, out of gas or still occupied. Out of gas'll do if they can find a gas station, what with the pump Antony's carrying, but the rest, no thank you, and they still haven't found anything that'll carry them all - minus Logan on his bike. Antony's contemplating detouring into a more residential area when a low groan catches his attention. He glances left just as a whole fucking chorus joins it, a good dozen walkers south of the intersection with more behind them.
"Here we go," Ryan mutters, slinging his rifle back over his shoulder and pulling his blade from its holster. In truth it's a relief to have a target again; it's the complete absence of attackers that makes him so goddamn jumpy. The crew of them work silently and efficiently, taking down one walker and then another, then another, until they're nearly up against a barricade of vehicles. A groaning clawing mass reaching for them from the other side, though they haven't figured out how to climb the barrier. Yet.
"Fuck me," Antony murmurs, shaking his head at the sight. He rubs a hand over his face and looks to the others. "Everyone good?"
Ryan nods, turning in a slow circle and absorbing the impact of the sudden carnage. A musical whistle catches his ear and he looks up, snapping his rifle to aim. Two shadowed figures crouch on the roof of one of the two-story buildings opposite. One of them seems to be waving them closer. "What do you think?" he murmurs, not dropping his gun for a second.
Logan does a quick sweep of the surrounding buildings. "I don't see anyone else," he says, knowing that doesn't mean they're not there.
Antony nods. "Yeah. I don't think we should go into the building though."
Keira waves and motions the people to meet them down at the entrance. "If they want to talk, they can come down here," she says. "Otherwise we move on."
One of the figures disappears from sight. The other keeps a rifle trained on them. In a few moments a door at the base of the building opens, a tall man framed in the aperture. He holds a Glock in his hand but lets it hang at his side while he runs his gaze over each of them individually. "You're not from here," he calls, soft enough that it's difficult to hear him. Soft enough that nothing else overhears him.
Sam exchanges a quick look with Antony and steps forward. "No, we're not. We're coming from the south, heading north. We're just looking for a vehicle or two and then we'll be on our way."
The second Sam steps out in front of the group, Ryan's heart skips a beat. Moving slowly, cautiously, he takes up a flanking position where he's got the best line of sight to protect his lover.
"We might be able to help you with the vehicles," the stranger replies, a wide open down-home Texas accent coming through loud and clear. "If you're willing to help us."
"What kind of help are you looking for?" Sam asks, unwilling to commit them to anything before they hear the other man's terms.
The man hesitates, then answers, "We want out. Two of us. We don't have anything," he says, lifting his empty hand in a warding gesture, like that'd be any kind of defense if it came to numbers. "But we can fight. We'll help you get where you're going."
Sam exchanges another quick glance with Antony. "That sounds good," he says slowly, softly, not wanting to sound like he's challenging the guy, "but why would you trust us? And if you have access to vehicles, why haven't you got out yourselves?"
"There are only two of us," the man says again. "The parking garage I'm thinking of was damn near surrounded, the last time I checked. We need numbers just to make it in."
Sam looks towards Antony then scans the rest of the group before nodding. He hates the idea of adding another two guys to the group, but they're being offered a shortcut and they need to take it. "Okay. How quickly can you get yourselves together?"
The guy whistles, and in barely two minutes his companion joins him. Electric sapphire eyes peer out from under a gray beanie and immediately track to Keira, and she gives the other woman a nod. "Marcus," the man says, labeling himself, "and Eva. Are you ready to move on this now?"
"Sure," Sam says, quickly getting over his surprise. He does a round of introductions, reeling off names. "We need two vehicles, preferably at least one van. We've got four more back on our boat at the docks - three guys, one woman - and we need to swing back and pick them up."
"The garage is west," Marcus says, and points the way. "There's a couple miles of road in between. Mostly it's clear," he adds, eyeing Eva when he adds, "It's been a while since anyone new came through town."
Her lips tighten into a frown, and Eva nods as she holsters her gun. "Kara?" she asks, falling into step beside the other woman, her voice thickly accented. Half London, half Paris.
"It's Keira," Keira says, gently correcting Eva. "With an ei in the middle." She smiles at the newcomer. "You're French?"
"Yes. I've been trying to get back to my family, but the Channel is a godforsaken mess," Eva replies, and gestures towards her companion who's gone up ahead to lead the way. "Marcus was studying at Cambridge." She looks at Eva with a piercing mix of hope and fear. "Do you know what happened in the U.S.? He has no idea whether..."
Keira looks away for a moment, steeling herself to deliver bad news. "The last we heard it was overrun as well."
"Ah, merde." Eva looks straight ahead, watching Marcus's back. "I knew it. He knew it too, I think, although he didn't want to admit it. The death of hope and all that." Her jaw tightens. "Undoubtedly, France is the same way." She sighs softly, and gestures at the men. "Do you belong to one of them?"
Keira blinks hard at that. "Belong?" She can't help it. She snorts softly. "No. I'm involved with Clive but he's not here. He's back at the boat." She glances at Eva, suddenly concerned. "Do you belong to Marcus?"
Pursing her lips, Eva considers her choice of words. "We belong to each other, I suppose. But in front of other men, I'm his." She eyes Keira sidelong. "It's difficult these days, not to belong to anyone."
Keira nods, rethinking her original judgement. "I get what you mean. Sam was my fiance's brother. He and Antony made sure I was protected and they've taught me to take care of myself. Ryan - and Alex and Luke, who are back at the boat - were a group and we hooked up with them a few weeks back. Jess and Clive we met a couple days after that and Logan's the newest member of our group." She pauses, glancing over at Eva again. "How do you feel about people being gay?" Someone's got to ask and it might as well be her.
"I don't understand your question." Eva shakes her head, perplexed. "Am I supposed to care about that?" It seems like a dreadful non sequitur to her, and she wonders where the hell the other woman is coming from.
"What about Marcus?" Keira asks, pressing on. She's not about to out any of her guys to a rabid homophobe.
"Marcus's little sister is a lesbian. Was. Is." Eva's brow crimps in a frown. "He said that's very hard in Texas. Is this a problem?"
"No, not at all," Keira says with a sigh of relief. "It's hard here too, which is why I had to ask. Sam and Ryan are a couple and so are Alex and Luke."
"Oh." Eva looks back over her shoulder at two of the men, trying to recall which might be Ryan. Then she shrugs it off. "That's good. Good for them. I think we should take comfort where we can find it." She points down a street. "That way there was a knot of them last week. So he's leading us around. But there is no getting around the ones at the garage, not unless something drew them off."
"How many are there? Do you know?" Keira asks. "Antony had a flamethrower when we went through this tunnel with a whole crowd at the mouth. It was amazing, but we had to leave it behind."
"Shame. There are about a dozen. Too many for just us to taken on. We had a third, and a fourth..." Eva's voice trails off, and she grits her teeth. "One of them is probably there now."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Keira says quietly then sighs. "What were your plans before we came along? Were you just going to stay where you were?"
"No, we want to get out. Anywhere. We've just been moving further east, further north, trying to find somewhere they're not." Eva gives Keira a wry smile. "We haven't found it yet. But Marcus and I, we can't stay here anymore, not by ourselves."
Keira hesitates for a second but why should the guys be the only ones to tell about Auskerry. Plus maybe Eva would be more interested in the idea with it coming from a woman. "We're headed north, really north," she says. "To an island way off the tip of Scotland. It used to be inhabited by a single family who lived completely off the grid but then something happened and they had to leave but everything's still there. Livestock, buildings, solar panels... It won't be an easy life but there's no way the walkers can get out there. The crossing's too rough."
Eva quirks an eyebrow, interested, but at that moment Marcus signals them to take cover and she drops to one knee behind a burnt-out husk of a sports car. They creep up to a bend in the road to find a clutch of walkers spread across the pavement, some milling around, some simply standing in place with no stimuli to draw them out. An office building rises past them, a parking structure visible just on the other side.
"Antony wanted us to stick to blades only," Keira whispers. "You okay with that?"
Eva gives her a pained smile. "We ran out of ammo yesterday. Our guns are just mallets now." She and Marcus had been worried that if Keira's group saw they were essentially unarmed, they never would have survived the negotiations stage.
Keira stares at her for a moment - fuck - and then reaches into her bag for another hunting knife. "Ask Antony for ammo when we get back to the boat," she says, glancing at the guys who have already similarly outfitted Marcus. Waiting on Sam's count to step out from behind the wreck. "Let's go."
They work methodically now, moving as a cohesive team only slightly off-tempo due to the addition of two new fighters. Grab, pull closer. Duck out of the way of grasping clawing hands, and avoid the craning neck and gnashing teeth. One strike deep into the skull. Now push, adding a foot if necessary to shuck the literal dead weight from the blade. Avoid putrid fluid splatters. Shake it off, rinse and repeat. Ryan looks up from the carnage to locate Sam, reassured to find him on his feet by the mouth of the garage. He jogs forward to help deal with the strays just inside in the dimness.
There's one close call, Sam too busy with the walker in front of him to notice the one behind him, but Logan takes him out and Sam nods a quick thank you before turning to dispatch the next one, Ryan taking out another two in quick succession. It takes a long few seconds for it to sink in that they're done, that they've taken out everything within safe distance, but finally it does and Sam leans back against a car, exhausted. The whole fucking thing is becoming exhausting. "Hey," he says when Ryan joins him, managing a smile for his lover. Ryan the one really good thing in his life. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Ryan twitches a smile and reaches out to Sam for a brief touch of hands. In his peripheral vision he sees Marcus do a double-take, but whatever; they'll fill him in later. "Let's go." They spread out and start moving through the garage, scanning vehicles and checking windows.
"This Land Rover would be good," Sam says, kicking the tires and checking the tank which is still half full. "It and the van we saw back around the corner would fit thirteen. And Logan's got his bike."
Pressing his arm to a window, Ryan peers in. "Looks clear," he murmurs in agreement, trying the doors.
"This one's still got the keys in the ignition," Marcus says, and pulls open the creaking door of a transport van. He lifts his flashlight, then bangs it gently against the palm of his hand when the light stutters and dies. "Damn," he mutters, and reaches across the dark interior, searching for the inner handle of the opposite door.
It's too late once he hears the moan.
"Marcus!" Eva shouts, though she knows she shouldn't, shouldn't draw attention. But her lover's pained grunt catches her ear and sheer panic floods her veins in an icy wash. She dashes to the van in time to watch Marcus reel back, his face and hand bloody. "Marcus!"
"Go!" he orders, his voice a strange gurgle issuing from his ruined mouth.
"Shit!" Sam growls, pulling Marcus from the van and slamming the door shut. "Get her in the Rover," he tells Ryan, or Keira. He doesn't care who does it. "Head back to the docks." He turns his attention back to Marcus. "I'm so sorry, mate. I promise we'll take good care of her."
"No, we can't just--" Eva clutches at Ryan, but he's already hauling her into the Rover. "Let me--"
"Sam will help Marcus, it's the best we can do for him now," Ryan tells her, keeping his voice as calm as he can while he tries to block her view, but all he can think is an urgent litany of Shit shit shit!
"Help," Marcus pleads and lurches to his knees. He spreads his arms wide, acid pain mixing with tears and blood, and tries to focus on Sam's face. His vision wavers in and out, Eva's scream echoing in his skull. "Help her."
"We will," Sam promises again, making sure the silencer's on tight before he puts one straight into Marcus's brain, the man they'd barely had time to know slumping over at his feet. Fuck. He takes a step back, blinking away tears - not so much for the man himself but for the shitty fucked up world they're living in that means he had to do this. "Why the fuck didn't he check?"
Antony shakes his head. He knows the question's rhetorical so he just puts his hand on Sam's shoulder and gives it a quick squeeze. "We all make mistakes. If we're lucky, they don't get us killed." He lets go and bends down, retrieving the knife they'd given the man. "We'd better get back. You found another van?"
"I have to see. I have to see," Eva insists.
Her expression appears to be carved from stone, and Ryan feels his heart breaking a little. That's what makes him stop trying to keep her in the vehicle.
She looks all around, automatically checking vantage points while she staggers back to... Her rigid facade slips, for just an instant. Then she turns and silently returns to the Land Rover.
Sam and Antony do a quick check of the van he and Ryan had scouted just a short time ago. There's no surprises with this one, but no keys either and Antony's forced to hot-wire the thing.
"You're a real renaissance man, aren't you?" Sam says, shaking his head as he watches every single move, memorizes every detail.
Antony laughs. "Yeah, that's me," he agrees. He glances at Sam. "I didn't come knowing this stuff. I had my mentors too." He makes one more adjustment, breathing a sigh of relief as the engine turns over and pulls them out of the garage, the Rover still visible in the far distance.
It's tempting as fuck to peel out of the garage and burn rubber. Ryan drives cautiously, though, swinging widely as he can around a staggering trio of walkers. Eva's silence gets under his skin in a way he suspects tears would not.
Logan glances over his shoulder at Keira, meeting her eyes for a moment before he looks back to the road.
"I'm so sorry," Keira says softly. She doesn't really expect a response but she feels the need to say it anyway.
At first Eva looks at her like she's plain lost her mind. But then she swallows hard and nods before gazing unseeingly out the window once more.
At length they pull up to the docks, and Ryan breathes relief to see that everything looks to be as it was. No signs of a struggle from while they were gone. "Eva, we're going to load up what we have on the boat and then everyone'll pile in and we'll get out of here. If you want to just wait here and then we'll do the introductions far away from here, that'd be okay." She nods again, and Ryan climbs out of the Rover.
"We collected another stray?" Luke asks as Ryan approaches the boat. He's about to ask where Sam and Antony are when they pull up behind the 4x4.
"Yeah. And we just lost her boyfriend," Ryan murmurs as Alex walks up behind Luke, keeping his words only between the three of them. "Everyone else is all right, but it was ugly." He's glad to see Alex protectively put his arm around Luke's waist. "Everything was okay here?"
Alex nods. "Yeah. There was some interest when you left, but once you were out of sight they settled down. We kept our heads down and they didn't bother us. Just wandered around."
"Where do we want everything?" Logan asks as Sam and Antony join them. "Van first and then Rover?"
Antony nods. "Try and divide the supplies up fairly easily. That way if we lose a vehicle we're not completely fucked." He nods towards Alex. "How's your leg?"
"Fine," Alex says shortly, frowning past Antony's shoulder at a group of dead shambling towards them. "Whoever's not loading up needs to lay down cover."
"I've got it," Jess, already pulling out her blade.
His arms full, Clive emerges from the hold. He nods a greeting to the men. When he passes Keira he stops and lays a hard kiss on her lips, relief and need and fear joined up in the press of his mouth before he heads for the van.
Keira grins after Clive, her lips tingling. Suddenly really glad they told Sam about them. "I'll help Jess," she volunteers, letting Logan join them while the rest of the gang gets them packed up.
Everything loaded, the walkers all dead, Antony digs into his bag, pulling out two walkie-talkies. He makes sure they're still working and holds one up, everyone gathered in a loose circle. "I'll take the Rover. Who wants to drive the van? Clive?"
"Yeah. How far is this base?"
"About ten kilometres," Antony says, showing Clive on the map. "Straight up this road. Take Alex and Luke and Jess with you. Logan'll take the lead. Everyone else will come with me."
Even before Clive says a word in response, Jess recognizes the mulish look in his eyes. "I'll go with Antony," she cuts in, "so Keira can stay with you. And this'll give me a chance to try to get to know Eva."
Clive blows out a breath, and nods his thanks to Jess. Fuck knows how it would've gone down if he'd simply announced that Keira was staying with him; now he doesn't have to. "All right," he agrees, climbing into the van.
The change in teams takes Antony by surprise even though it shouldn't. Of course Keira and Clive would want to be together now. "We should top up fuel if we pass a gas station," he tells both Logan and Clive. "No detours but let's be on the lookout."
"I'm sorry if I stepped on your toes," Jess whispers to Antony, a bit wary of disagreeing with this man whom they've all but openly agreed is their leader.
Antony shakes his head. "I should've known better. I'm not thinking of them as a couple yet," he says. "Plus I was thinking Keira'd already bonded with Eva." He blows out a breath, tossing the last bag in the back of the Rover. "Sam had to blow her lover's brains out. She's not in a good state."
"Oh, my god." Ryan's "It was ugly," hadn't translated anything like that to Jess's brain. The image leaves her speechless. She nods and turns away for the vehicle, already wondering what the fuck one's supposed to say under circumstances like this.
Everyone buckled up, Logan leads the way out of town. He's got a pretty good idea of where the base is and he's keeping his eye open for a gas station they can stop at as well. There should be gas on base but that's assuming they can get in there and that's it not already gone bad or been used up.
"You okay?" Antony asks Sam when they're buckled in. They've got Eva, Jess and Ryan in the back and it feels really fucking weird not to have Keira with them.
Sam nods. "I will be." It's not the first time he's had to deliver mercy, not by far, but fuck, they'd just found them and they'd survived all that time. It makes him feel like they'd signed the guy's death warrant by bringing him along.
Reaching forward between the seats, Ryan lays his hand on Sam's shoulder. A deeper embrace will have to wait, but god his soul bleeds for his lover.
"Hi, I'm Jess." It's a whispered greeting, Jess feeling shy and uncertain and wary of landmines. "I'm sorry about... about..." Okay, she officially sucks at this.
Eva raises an eyebrow, giving her an opportunity to finish. When it becomes clear that's all Jess has got, she nods and replies in a soft voice, "Thank you."
Daring, Jess reaches out and squeezes Eva's hand for an instant. Then she turns to the window, trying to see Logan ahead of them on the road.
Keira sits in the front beside Clive. She can't get her mind off Eva and what she's lost. How she lost him. At least she didn't have to see Cal killed, turned, put out of his misery. God. For all she knows he's still out there, wandering around, decaying, biting and moaning, the skin hanging off him... She shivers.