They were in Texas again, in some no-name town with a population that didn't even hit triple digits within the city limits. It was New Years, but neither of them felt like celebrating. Another year was drawing to a close, and they were no closer to finding Nick's Forsaken than they had been at the end of the year before. They were running out of time. Nick was running out of time.
So, they had dinner at the greasy spoon diner out by the highway and listened as the big busted waitress rambled on about how on New Years last year some of the local good-for-nothings had gotten drunk and blown up a propane tank, killing two of their own and torching the Zionist church in the process. Then, bellies full, they'd gotten a room at the one motel.
Nobody had bothered to mention that the yokels in this dust ball town liked to ring in the New Year with shotguns. They'd gone off first when Dick's ball had dropped on TV, and now they were going off again as the central time zone left the old year behind. Sean had dozed off in between, and the second volley had sent him flying out of bed.
Now, he stood in the middle of the room, in nothing but his boxers, clutching Nick's gun with both hands as he tried to slow his breathing. Nothing but rednecks, he reminded himself. If Nick wasn't still in the bathroom, he'd be laughing his head off at how panicked Sean had been just a second ago.
Fuck, Nick had been in there a long time.
Sean tossed the gun—safety on because he wasn't a moron—onto the bed and knocked on the bathroom door. "Nick?"
"Go to bed, Sean," Nick shouted back, his voice a little too sharp. A little too desperate.
He tried the knob but found it locked. "Come on, Nick, open the fucking door!"
The door didn't open, but he heard the snick of the lock being flipped, and he pushed it open. Nick was just kneeling in front of the toilet, the rim of which was already splattered with bright red droplets of blood. More blood was smeared down the other man's front as he leaned over to spit crimson into the bowl. His skin—even his right arm that was usually sunburned from riding in the car—was ghost pale, his dusty brown hair plastered in wet curls to his face.
"My god, Nick, what's wrong?" He took a step forward, then thought better of it. Nick could get prickly about personal space when the virus acted up.
Nick spat again. "Vamps…feeding."
Sean felt his stomach do a weird plunge and twist. If it was the Forsaken, then they could end it tonight. End it, and move on with their lives. "Is it him?"
He shook his head. "No. Feeders probably. Maybe the bitch who infected me. I don't know."
"We should still go." Sean started to move back towards the room, but Nick's voice stopped him.
"I can't, man." He slumped back against the wall, not noticing or just not caring about the trickle of blood that dribbled out of one nostril.
Shit, the virus was reacting big time. Sean had been lucky that his infection hadn't lasted long enough for him to go through this. The virus, Nick had said, was telegenetic. It knew when there were others infected nearby. There'd been other nights when his traveling companion had started leaking blood, but usually Nick was out the door, gun in hand, before Sean even knew what was happening. To see him this beaten down was terrifying.
Sean knelt down beside his friend, yanking some toilet paper off the roll and using it to clean off Nick's face. "You need me to get the drugs?"
"They…" he started to say before a spasm of coughing cut him off. Mucus mixed with blood hit the cold floor tiles. It sounded like his fucking lungs were about to come up as the coughing doubled him over. Sean grabbed his shoulders, rubbed his hand uselessly across his friend's back, feeling like utter shit at his inability to do anything. The only way to fix this was to kill the Forsaken but that involved finding the old son of a bitch and that was something Sean couldn't do on his own. He didn't have Nick's instincts for the hunt—the ability to look at a newspaper full of murder reports and pick out the one that had been committed by a vamp. He certainly couldn't keep track of all the pills Nick popped to keep the virus in check.
After what seemed like forever and was probably only two minutes, the coughing stopped. Nick sort of sagged sideways, in Sean's lap and just rested his head against Sean's arm. "Sean, man," he said after a moment, his voice low and raspy, "The drugs aren't doing it for me anymore."
"There's got to be something we can do," he said, feeling frantic. "Change up the cocktail or something." His hand kept circling over the small of Nick's back. At the back of his mind, he registered how sharply the vertebrae protruded. The man he'd picked up off the side of the road a year ago had been sick; the one slumped against him was sickly.
Dying. Transforming into the undead.
"There has to be something," he repeated.
Nick shook his head, sweat droplets from his hair landing on Sean's arm. He ran a constant low-grade fever thanks to the virus. Made traveling in the desert—especially in the old Charger with its busted AC—occasionally toxic. "The drugs stopped working weeks ago, Sean. I'm just going to keep getting worse, and then I'm going to turn, and you're going to have to put me down." The finality in his voice was chilling. This was the only way he could see it playing out. Most of Sean's mind was screaming nononononononono, but a part of him couldn't see another way. The Forsaken were hard as hell to kill, and he didn't think he could do it alone. Nick certainly wasn't in any shape to help.
He opened his mouth, wanting to protest but knowing he couldn't. Not really. This was the future they'd been facing since they'd first met—a slow descent into bloodlust unless they destroyed the origin of the virus, the Forsaken. They'd already killed one—curing Sean—but Nick's was still out there…somewhere. And they were out of time. "What…" He swallowed, forcing the lump out of his throat. "What do you want me to do?"
Nick coughed into his elbow. "Go get my gun."
He pushed away, scooting back against the wall. "Sean, please!" Pale and vulnerable, it was hard for Sean to call up the memory of the Nick who'd approached him in New Mexico and badgered a ride out of him.
Don't think about it. Just do what he asks. You owe him that.
But what about me?
He stumbled as he went back into the main room, banging a knee against the doorframe. Firecrackers popped just outside the window, and he heard shouts from people out in the parking lot. Motel guests ringing in the New Year. Someone would probably pull the fire alarm before the night was out.
The gun was a dark splotch on the stained floral bedspread. He cast a wary glance at it and went to the chair by the window instead. They both needed to do laundry and had mounded it up for a trip to the laundromat down the road. An undershirt of his sat on top, stained pink from washing it with one of Nick's shirts. He pushed them aside and dug out a pair of jeans.
He was going to feel naked enough without running around in his underwear.
The gun, when Sean picked it up, was warm to the touch, making it feel almost alive in his hand. The world seemed to slow as he crossed the room again. The slap of his bare feet on the tile of the bathroom floor sounded both unnaturally loud and impossibly far away, almost drowned out by the rush of blood in his ears. Breathing might not have happened between the threshold and sitting down across from Nick, close enough that their folded legs bumped.
They sat there in silence, not looking at one another, until finally Nick reached across and took the gun out of Sean's hands.
Sean kept his eyes down at where the gun used to rest as he heard Nick check the clip and then remove the safety.
"I'm not going to be a monster."
The gun went off with a roar—deafening in the tiny room—and something wet hit his face as red spatter covered his hands and jeans.