Every fiber in his body was telling him that what just happened was wrong, that the soldier responsible for the deaths of Scotty and Mrs. McGregor should've been dealt with in the same fashion as they were. Yet to pull the trigger would be signing the death warrants of the three people who resided in the barn with him. The sheriff's common sense overrid his obligation to make that boy pay for what happened and in the end Russell's loyalty to his friend kept his finger from squeezing the trigger.
He handed the assault rifle over to the soldier before he could change his mind and waited for the inevitable to happen. The soldier denied finding anyone inside the barn and hustled out of the confined space with his fellow brother-in-arms. No one relaxed until the sound of their humvees droned off in the far distance, no more a threat to their immediate survival. David was the first to rise from his crouched position, followed by Judy and Becca. Russell stood last, his heart hammered loudly in his ears, the image of fire billowing out into the night danced in his head like a fever.
Judy took a few unsteady steps, Becca was clinging to the doctor for dear life, her face was devoid of any recognizable emotion, yet it didn't take a genius to realize what she was feeling. Husband and wife shared a look that implied everything and nothing, Russell realized they wished to talk and stepped forward. "I've got her, Miss Dutton," Russell barely spoke above a whisper, but he knew the doctor heard him. She regarded Russell with an almost untrusting expression. Her arm tightened around Becca's waist, maternal instincts getting the better of her.
Russell paid no mind to her hesitation. Without invitation, he snaked an arm around Becca's waist - careful to avoid Judy's arm as he did so - and pulled her away from the doctor. Becca sagged against him, her arm mimicked his movement and secured itself around his waist like second nature. She pressed her face against his chest and released a half-sob. David turned in response to the noise, one eyebrow raised in concern. "We've gotta get movin', Russ," He murmured.
"You still think the military is letting' folk leave after what we saw?" Russell nearly snapped. "Chief-"
"Russell, this isn't open for debate. Quick Phil's is still our best bet," David rebuked in a voice too calm for its own good. "We get there, we can leave all this behind us." Russell felt compelled to argue against David's logic. There was no way the military was going to let them out of the town, not if they thought they were sick, not with the way they were swarming all over the farmsteads.
"Russell," David's hand placed itself upon his unoccupied shoulder, commanding his attention. Russell looked the sheriff, his friend, square in the eye, letting him know right then and there that he didn't agree with this idea at all. David's expression implied nothing except a chance to be heard. "I know this a shit deal, man, but you have to trust me on this. I need you to trust me on this. Alright?" There was a pregnant pause before Russell finally conceded to his friend's wishes.
He nodded stiffly, eyes downcast as he did. David managed a thin smile in response. He squeezed the deputy's shoulder in appreciation, a silent promise to keep his word. David would die trying to get them out of this hellhole. Especially Judy, given her condition. Both men took a moment to check their weapons; David double-checked his glock before reholstering it, Russell handed him the shotgun and proceeded to check the hunting rile that once belonged to Scotty. All the while, Becca remained immobile against him, crying silently into the bulletproof vest.
"We ready?" David inquired, reaching the shotgun back to his partner. Russell slipped an arm through the leather strap of the rifle and reclaimed the shotgun in one smooth motion without disturbing the girl against him. "All set," He answered in the affirmative. David nodded and proceeded down the narrow path toward the barn door. Judy cast an uncertain look in Russell's direction when he started clumsily after the chief. "Russell, maybe you should let me look after Becca," She said. "You'll need both hands to use that shotgun."
And she wasn't wrong about that. He couldn't look after Becca and protect them at the same time, the realization had hit him the moment he took it upon himself to take her out from the doctor's motherly embrace. Still, in spite of the woman's wisdom, Russell found himself unwilling to release the teenager from his custody. He gave a sheepish shrug as a frown of frustration graced his thin lips. "I can handle it, Mrs. Dutton," Russell replied stubbornly.
"Russell, you have to be realistic about this," Judy pressed gently. "If not for me, then at least think about Becca's welfare. You're no good to her distracted." Again, she had a point and one he couldn't shrug off a second time without seeming overly defensive about the situation. He wanted to keep Becca at his side, but if that meant comprising her safety, he couldn't. Swallowing his anger, he released his grip on Becca's waist and gently nudged her in the direction the good doctor.
Becca seemed to oblige to the silent request being made of her, but paused long enough to regard Judy with a distressed look. "C-Can I stay with him, Dr. Dutton?" She hiccupped. "Please, I won't- I won't be a distraction, honest." Her voice was hoarse and rose in volume as she tried to control her composure. "I- I promise, I won't be-" Judy shushed the frazzled girl's frantic promises, she smoothed her matted hair back with the familiarity of a mother. "Alright, alright. Calm down sweetheart, you can stay with him," She soothed. "No need for promises."
Russell suddenly felt embarrassed, Judy gave him look that threatened that he'd better use all his resources to keeping her safe and he was unable to do anything except nod quickly in agreement. Becca let out an unsteady sigh as she leaned against him again. Using his weight to keep them both a balanced, he followed Judy out of the barn to where David was waiting for them.
"Everything alright?" He asked.
Judy nodded. "Everything's fine. Becca's just-" She trailed off, knowing there was no need to describe Becca's current state of mind. David eyed Russell uncertainly, hoping to get verification from the deputy. It wasn't that he didn't trust his wife, but when it came to his friend and partner, he knew she didn't get on terribly well with him. "We're good, chief. Becca needed a moment is all," Russell seconded. David let his gaze linger on Becca for a moment; she stood next to Russell with her hands hidden within the sleeves of his jacket. She was, understandably, distraught over the events that took place tonight, but they couldn't stop to coddle her now. He nodded. "Alright, let's get going," David said.
Russell watched as husband and wife stepped forward into the night, he nudged her. "C'mon," He whispered. Becca raised her head at the sound of his voice. She gazed at him through the blur of tears and nodded. As he began to walk, she kept her distance from him, walked slower than he did. She tried to focus on anything that wasn't the smell of burning clothes and flesh, anything that wasn't within her immediate surroundings.
In the distance, she could see the faint hue of morning blue spreading across the horizon. She wondered where the time went since being rescued from the school, wondered if all of it was spent cowering in the barn.
The distant mumble of voices ahead made her look up. Russell stood in front of her, his face was shadowed by the darkness but she could see his lips moving. Was he talking to her or someone else? "What?" Her own voice sounded hollow and alien to her own ears. Russell stepped further into the light, revealing an expression caught between aggravated and concerned. The shotgun hung idle at his side in one hand while the other made a reach for her. "C'mon, we gotta go," He said. Again, Becca nodded. Of course they had to leave, they couldn't stay here.
They had to leave.
"Becca, darlin', we gotta move."
She was moving, how could she not be moving?
They just had to wait for Scotty and his mom to come back.
"Rebecca? Be- Chief, she, uh- fuck."
A hand clamped down on her forearm, startling her out of her haze. She jerked back with a silent scream, twisting wildly in her assailant's firm grasp before finally recognizing where she was. Russell's expression was a pitying one, he looked at her with the fullest extent of his remorse and she felt her knees go weak. Her boyfriend was dead, shot down in cold blood and set aflame. "Why?" The question came out in the croak of a sob. She looked to the deputy for answers despite knowing he would have none for her. Russell shook his head. "Why are they doing this to us?" She asked again. Again, he had no answer for her. She fell against him, snaking her fingers around the arm that sought to support her, she pressed her face against his vest and let out a broken cry.
For the second time that night Russell found himself in the awkward position of the consolidator. He crouched slightly to relieve the pressure of their combined weight, making sure the nozzle of the shotgun was aimed in the opposite direction of his charge. His eyes wandered over to where David and Judy had stopped to talk, he silently wished one of them would look over here and take the girl from his off his hands. He had no idea what to say to her. There was nothing he could think to say that didn't sound immediately patronizing, let alone comforting.
"Russ!" Chief's voice echoed out into the night, startling both parties to attention. He couldn't see David's face from where he was, but he could tell from his posture that the older man was tired of waiting for him to catch up. He shrugged, offering his friend a hopeless expression. "We'll be right there, Chief," He answered. The revolver in David's hand tapped against his leg in response, Russell wouldn't have long before the man decided to drag them both out of the area.
"Alright, now you gotta listen to me," Russell pulled Becca into an upright position. The girl continued to sob as she focused her red eyes on his face. "There ain't nothing I can say to make this right, but we have to keep going, you understand me? We can't stop now or we will end up like them-" He throws a quick glance toward to the burnt husks on the ground which only made the girl cry harder. He gave her shake, the sob that escaped her is choked by her surprise. "We have to keep moving, Becca. There's nothing more to it than that. Okay?"
She shakes her head. "We're gonna die here."
"No, no we're not. We're gonna get outta here. I am going to get you outta here," Russell argues against her fervent belief in their demise with a vigor he didn't quite feel. "But you gotta work with me, alright?"
When Becca chose to remain silent, he took a moment to wipe the tears from her cheeks with his thumb. The action snapped the girl out of mourning long enough to raise a shaky hand to move his away from her face. Russell is hardly offended when she does this, however. In fact, it makes him smile. "You alright?"
"You alright enough to start walking?"
"No," She repeats, wiping her face.
"That's fine," He said. "Just put one foot in front of the other. There's nothing to it."