Michael didn’t stay for any length of time until after Charlie died. He protected them the night she was killed, and then he stayed. For hours he refused to let Jeep hold Alex, refused to put the baby down. He just cradled the baby to his chest and stared off into space. Jeep worried for a while, but the archangel was responsive. He would hum if Jeep asked a question, would blink if Jeep waved his hand in front of his eyes. He would glance down at Alex if the baby made a noise in his sleep.
About an hour after sunset, almost an entire half a day since the attack, Jeep sits himself down in front of Michael- the archangel covered in drying blood- and asks, “Why won’t you let go of him?”
Michael doesn’t think before he says, “I can’t let go of my son.”
For a second Jeep is surprised- this never came up before. But he thinks about it- Michael coming to protect Charlie and her baby at the diner, Michael fussing over Alex whenever he came to check up on them, Michael fussing over Charlie whenever he came to check up on them. Suddenly, he wonders how he missed it.
“You’ll have to eventually. To sleep.”
“I don’t have to-“
Michael’s eyes focus on Jeep. They narrow. “Excuse you?”
Jeep narrows his own eyes, meeting the archangel’s eyes. “I’ve seen you go a week without sleep. By the end of it you were about dead on your feet. You have to sleep. Maybe not as often as me, but you have to.”
Michael holds Jeep’s gaze for a second, before glancing down at Alex. The baby’s still sleeping soundly, one of his little fists curled lightly around Michael’s shirt. Michael smiles a bit, the corners of his mouth curling up just slightly.
“You make it sound like I’m not going to go back to Vega,” he remarks, glancing briefly at Jeep.
Jeep laughs sharply. “You aren’t leaving Alex, you’ve made that much clear. And Alex and I aren’t going to Vega. Therefore, you have to come with us.”
Michael smiles outright. “I’ll send in my resignation from the post of ‘resident archangel’.”
* * *
They head east. Michael says that something pulls him there, but he’s not sure what. He thinks it could help Alex save the world one day. Jeep just wants to get out of the desert. They meet several small settlements along the way- many more than Vega has recorded as existing. Michael isn’t surprised that Vega missed them. The city scouts were only looking for large settlements- they wouldn’t pay attention to something the size of about 100 feet of interstate.
They stop at some of the settlements sometimes, and each time Jeep asks if these are the people. It’s almost always not. But sometimes they stay for a while- once, when Alex was still young, they stayed with one in Northern Texas for almost a year. They leave just before Alex’s third birthday.
But then, as they’re getting ready to leave a settlement in Central Arkansas (one that’s holed up inside a diner that’s still got a working generator- and it’s a bit too close to home for Jeep, but
they stay about a week) when Michael turns to Jeep and tells him, “We need to go south.”
They don’t find any settlements in the rest of Arkansas and most of Mississippi until they find a sign that says “Welcome to the City of Greenwood, Cotton Capital of the World” (and it’s a wooden
sign with these words painted on them).
The settlement- and that’s an understatement for this place- is too pre-apocalypse for Jeep’s liking. There are still some shops open, they don’t take money you just do what you can in exchange (Jeep promises to look at someone’s truck in order to get some food and a place to stay for a while- it turns into several people’s trucks and cars, and sometimes even a boat or two). Michael doesn’t have an explanation for it, how did this city survive with very little protections? No one seems to want to offer up any explanations.
They’re there for three months before things get super weird- like oh, there are higher angels here protecting these humans from the eight-balls and that’s how they survived kind of weird. Michael suspects that these angels were there before the apocalypse- technically they were fallen angels who had fled before punishment. One of them figures out who Michael is and threatens
to tell the others. They get back on 82 going west.
The group they find near what was a town called Carrollton is scary. They’re decked out with guns and camo and ammo. They don’t stick around long.
They find a nice patch of woods and Michael suggests that they stop moving for a while. They manage to stay in the woods until an eight-ball attack just after Alex’s fifth birthday, and damn by that time they really, really are starting to feel like a family. Michael says that they already were one, ever since Charlie died. Since before that.
They only stay with the group by Madison for a month before they move again. Michael tells Jeep they need to go further east, but still south.
Jeep follows orders until they reach a settlement, another little town really, called Mallory, Alabama.