CHAPTER THREE

The only excitement on the way back to Sebastian was busting a rung on a ladder and almost plunging to my death, but that was it. I kept telling myself that everything needing to be killed had been killed, but I still couldn't suppress my pessimism. I was always picturing the worst. What if they'd gotten to him before I had and were feasting on his still-living body, eating away at Sebastian – my Sebastian?!

The image infuriated me. So much, in fact, that even when my lungs started to sting and my legs began to burn, I surged forward at a sprint even faster than before.

By the time I reached the forest of spears, I was practically stumbling over my own numbed feet. My breath rasped against my ribcage as sweat rolled down my face and stained my glasses, and I'm sure that to any onlooker I resembled the undead as I dragged my aching body to where Sebastian lay.

I saw him sitting up. He'd hauled himself upright so his spine was resting against the wall. A sickening trail of blood from his leg was painted in his wake. He was sort of slouched over, his head resting uncomfortably against his shoulder while his eyes were closed in his ashen face. For a second, I feared that I'd lost him – the bandage around his harpooned thigh was almost completely red. Blood dripped lazily onto the wooden planks beneath his leg. The scarlet pool grew wider still.

My knees took the brunt of my weight as I crashed down next to his cadaverous figure. "Sebastian!" I cried, cupping a hand under his unshaven chin and turning his face towards me. "I found it – wake up, will you?"

He didn't stir.

"Sebastian!" I screamed again. His skin felt cold… too cold. I began to panic again and – shit, was I crying? I blinked rapidly to disperse the moisture that suddenly weighed heavily in my eyes. The truth was… I didn't know what I would do without Seb, especially not in this hellish landscape. And to lose him like this, knowing he'd taken the hit trying to cover my pathetic ass? It was downright heart-wrenching.

"No, no, no," I breathed. Desperation began to take hold. So I tried the only thing I could think to do.

I hauled back and slapped Sebastian square across the cheek.

"Fuck!" The older detective's head snapped to the side and he stumbled over the word, slurring its single syllable as bloody saliva trickled from the corner of his mouth. His chest heaved and his eyes shot open. Movement in his lap showed me that he was reaching for the revolver I'd left him, and he was clumsily thumbing back the hammer.

"Whoa! Hey, Seb, it's me! Joseph!" I spoke frantically, throwing my hands up in a submissive gesture. He slid me a wary glare, sizing me up, but then his face relaxed and he sagged against the wall. My hand latched to his shoulder to support him when he started to slump to the side again. "You doing all right?" I asked calmly, righting him with a firm grip.

"Gahh…" Sebastian moaned. His forehead creased as his eyebrows drew together. "Just… get this thing outta me…"

"I will, Seb. Hang tight." Any relief I'd felt at finding him still alive quickly eroded back into fear. I had a plan, but honestly, I wasn't sure if it was the best one.

I knew what this serum would do. The flesh would immediately begin to close up as soon as I injected him. But that raised an issue: I didn't want the spear to become permanently lodged in his thigh as his body healed around it. If that happened, I'd have a hell of a time removing it – I'd likely end up cutting it out of him, mangling him worse than the weapon already had.

So, my actual plan was this: work quickly to remove the spear, then rush to inject him before he bled out. In theory, it would work. In reality… well, I guess I was about to find out, wasn't I?

"Bear with me." I peeled back the soiled bandage I'd applied earlier. The dark-haired detective flinched, sucking air through his teeth in pain, and I shushed in an attempt to comfort him. The strip of soiled cloth slid through my gloved hand, warm and wet with his blood. I cast it aside and gritted my teeth.

The lantern was lying on its side a few feet over, so I turned it over and flicked it on, bathing us in a harsh white glow. Sebastian blinked and feebly raised his forearm to shield his eyes from its glare, but his strength gave out and he dropped it back to his side. It was pathetic, really, to watch such a strong man struggle to even lift his own goddamned arm.

He was fading fast. Judging by the bleakness of Sebastian's distant gaze, he knew it, too.

"I'm going to take it out now," I said as soothingly as I could, trying to maintain a calm demeanor. "It's gonna hurt, Seb. Pretty bad."

He nodded.

I tentatively reached towards the spear's shaft that glinted evilly in the lantern's glare. I clasped both hands around it and positioned myself on my knees to lend maximum leverage to my arms, and I found myself hesitating. "You ready?" I asked him quietly.

"Yeah." The word was strained, spat through clenched teeth.

I pursed my lips and took a deep breath. "Alright," I whispered hoarsely. "Here we go."

I'll never forget that tormented cry that ripped from Sebastian's throat as I started pulling on the harpoon as gently as I could. In my peripheral vision, I saw him throw his head back, his skull thudding painfully against the wall behind, jaws stretched wide as he screamed his agonies to the sky.

I didn't like it. Not one bit. "Hold on," I murmured, trying not to let my panic leak into my voice. "You're okay. I promise you're okay. Just hold on, Sebastian…"

Flesh tore beneath my hand as I shifted the spear as delicately as I could. Blood leaked from severed veins. Exposed muscle gleamed as I eased the weapon out of his body. The barbs caught at his skin, causing it to bulge out and shred even more. "Shit," I whispered, wrenching the stalk back the other way. Sebastian screamed again. Oh, God, there was so much blood! It rushed to fill the gaping wound, spilling over his thigh and draining away into the gaps between the wooden planks of the ground.

"Almost there," I panted, more to encourage myself than anything. Sweat began to bead at my brow anew in response to my elevated heart rate. What the hell was I doing to my partner? Was I helping him or just making it worse? I gave one last twist, wincing as I saw the metal catch again, tearing sensitive flesh and widening the alarmingly large hole in his leg. Just a little more. Just a little more and we'd be in the clear…

The spear came free.

I spun the weapon in my hand and violently jammed its bloody point deep into the ground. My palm sank into the shredded flesh left behind in Seb's leg. I swore I could feel the slight pulsing pressure of blood leaving his artery as I bore down on it. My other hand fumbled around as I blindly grasped at the syringe. "Hold on," I repeated numbly as my partner writhed in the throes of agony. "Hold on…"

The needle in my hand glinted as I held it up to study it, debating my best angle of attack.

There was only one problem now - one that I hadn't thought of before. Where the hell was I supposed to put the damn thing? It seemed too large for the vein in the arm, and with the way Sebastian's head was angled, I knew I wouldn't have a straight shot at his jugular. "Damn it," I spat, wracking my brain.

"Chest…"

"What?" My gaze snapped away from Sebastian's neck as I locked on his distant gaze.

"Chest." He repeated the word as though his tongue were numb.

My eyes traveled downwards, falling on his rib cage that stressed the seams of his clothes with every ragged inhalation. And that was when I understood.

He meant for me to inject him in the heart.

I reached out with a black glove, streaking my partner's clothing with his own blood as I tore the knot out of his disheveled tie. When that fell away, I went for his collar. Jugging the syringe, I made a swift downwards motion with my hand. Buttons popped and went clattering away somewhere into the shadows. Unlike me, Seb chose to exclude an undershirt from his daily wardrobe, and I was honestly thankful that I didn't have to fight with another layer of cloth. I finished ripping his dress shirt open and shoved his waistcoat out of the way, exposing the smooth, solid musculature beneath. My palm flattened over his bare flesh as I searched for the best injection site.

There! I made a fist over where his heartbeat felt strongest. Now came the hard part: making sure I aimed correctly. I drew the syringe back, drawing a mental target on his breast. "Alright, Seb," I whispered, unsure if he was listening. "This better work."

With that, I slammed the needle into the older man's chest.

Metal scraped against bone and tore at sinew, making me cringe. My thumb found the plunger and I mashed it down. The greenish liquid rushed into Sebastian's body with a watery gushing sound, and once I was sure that every drop had been emptied into him, I withdrew it.

Sebastian fell silent.

Slowly, hesitantly, I took my hand away from his thigh. My glove hovered millimeters above the wound as I dropped the empty hypo and went for the lantern. Blood glittered as I swung the light forward, illuminating the gash. It still bled profusely, but as I watched, it began to slow, and the fresh stream stopped replenishing the supply inside the gash itself. A sticky, oily scab began to take shape at the edges of the jaggedly torn flesh.

"Joseph…" My name was coughed, mumbled.

"I'm here, Seb," I breathed, daring to remove my hand from the injury's proximity so I could place both on his shoulders. He gave a weak smile, and though he still appeared deathlike in the lantern's ghostly light, I saw some color return to his face and the fire to his hazel eyes. "You're gonna be okay. It's working."

"I know." He was trying to sit up, blinking rapidly with a grimace. "I can feel it."

"Are you in any pain?" I aided him in assuming a more upright position, eyes soft with concern. He still appeared distant. I feared that without me to stabilize him, he'd collapse over onto his side. He looked like he'd been through Hell and back (which, I supposed, wasn't too far from the truth).

But, despite his ailments, he was shaking his head. "No," he said. "No pain. I just feel… drugged."

A sigh escaped my lips. "I have no idea what this stuff is," I muttered, holding the empty hypo at eye level. "But if it works… well, I guess I'll take 'drugged' over 'zombie meal'."

Sebastian laughed and I heard the strength seeping back into his voice. "Not 'zombie', Joseph. Haunted."

My hands fell from his shoulders as I went for the pile of bandages. I tugged one out, and propping up his knee to allow clearance, I began to wind it around his leg. "Haunted?" I questioned.

"Have you seen those goddamned eyes?" He shuddered so hard I thought he'd fall. "Fucking haunted, that's what they are."

"Watch your language," I grumbled, but it was all in good humor. I was always needling him about his vulgarity, to the point where it had become sort of an inside joke between us. But while I criticized his foul mouth, he didn't think I cussed enough. Of course, I told him I didn't need to – his use of colorful language was more than enough for both of us.

We lapsed into silence as I worked to dress his thigh. Every piece of my scrapped shirt was used up, and I was more than happy to see the white stay white and not turn red with blood. Now that the drama was over, I began to realize how fatigued I felt. My arms were leaden and my eyelids felt weighed down by sandbags. Stifling a yawn, I knotted off the bandage and neatly tucked in the loose edges.

To my surprise, Sebastian tried to rise. "We need to move," he said in a strained voice. "I want to get the hell outta here."

"Now, wait a minute." I stood up to counter his movements, stalling him with a heavy hand to his shoulder. "You almost died – "

He scoffed. "Since when have I let that stop me?"

(This was the Sebastian I was used to handling back in the force.) "Look," I sighed irritably. "I think that most of the Haunted – if that's what you want to start calling them – have been eliminated. The threat's at a minimum. We need to take advantage of this." My voice sharpened, prepared to cut down any feeble argument he might conjure up, a tactic I often used when trying to get him to listen to reason.

He narrowed his eyes, searching me, but after a moment, he dropped his head in defeat. "Fine," he sighed. "We'll rest, but not here. We're still exposed."

"Fair," I said, this time giving into the urge to yawn. My jaws stretched wide and I went to clamp a glove over my mouth, but stopped when I remembered that it had spent some time in a half-rotted haunted brain earlier. I settled for snapping my mouth shut and giving a violent shake of my head to stave off the waves of exhaustion. "Can you walk?"

"Of course," Seb snapped. Then, to himself: "Should've seen me back at that goddamned hospital."

I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just gave a tired shrug and strode ahead of him, lazily weaving through the spears littering the ground. I heard Sebastian breathe in sharply before starting after me. At first I thought that he might actually be able to follow me on his own two legs, but when his uneven steps were punctuated by pained groans, I dropped back. My pace slowed just enough to allow him to catch up to me.

A sidelong glance was thrown in his direction as he limped up next to me, pointedly avoiding eye contact.

He'll never admit he needs help, will he? I thought with a sigh.

I offered my outstretched arm, and without a word, Seb sidled up to me and tucked himself against my body. I became a human crutch, wrapping my arm around his rib cage as I felt his arm drape across my shoulders. He took care not to disturb the weapons slung from my holsters and positioned himself accordingly. I gripped at his side, taking a fistful of his waistcoat. His hand, in turn, dug into my upper arm as he leaned on me for support.

Not a word was spoken between us.

Sanctuary came as a high platform with partially intact walls on three sides and a pile of crumbled brick on the other. I carefully picked the least-difficult passage and directed Sebastian through it. He swayed on his feet, still obviously battling the effects of the drug and blood loss. Neither of us had slept for more than a few scattered hours over the past day, and I knew that certainly didn't help our situation.

Three standing walls meant we could only be attacked from one side. In one corner, the sagging remnants of a decaying roof provided cover from the sky. I tugged Sebastian towards it, pausing only to kick a few shards of sun-bleached bone out of the way. With some difficulty, I bent enough to allow him to slip free of my grasp with his back against the wall, groaning as he sank to the ground.

Blood dotted his bandage, but nothing like it'd been before.

I tugged the sniper rifle from my back and swung it to point. Hastily aiming down the scope, I surveyed the immediate landscape for any sign of danger. When nothing moved, I exhaled before turning back to my partner.

He gladly took back his weapon when I offered it to him and placed it at his side. "This's good," he mumbled, fumbling around for the lamp on his hip. "But I wanna get moving - "

"As soon as you've recovered your strength," I finished sternly. I met his clumsy fingers and undid the clip holding the lantern to his belt loop before setting it on an outcropping of poorly laid brick. "We're not pushing this, Sebastian."

An irritated groan was his response, but other than that, he made no argument.

I did a quick walk-around of our shelter, and only when I was certain that we were completely safe did I allow myself to let my guard down. The empty space next to Seb suddenly looked very inviting, and I found myself stumbling over to him. I took my place beside him, crossing my forearms over my stomach. My hand traced the edge of my revolver's holster, and I undid the fastener – just in case I had to make a quick draw. The sniper rifle sat between us, also within reach.

Beside me, I heard Sebastian sigh heavily in his throat. A protective hand was curled around his bandaged thigh. His mind began to close down on him, and I watched him start to sag to the side, his back scraping against the decaying bricks. His body tilted as he exhaled and his shoulder contacted mine. I shifted so I could comfortably take his weight and stared blankly into the darkness.

"Ah, hell." I felt Seb's shoulder dig into my bicep as he shoved away from me. Dark hair dripped in front of his eyes as he violently shook his head, and he reached up to push it back. "Sorry," he mumbled.

I chuckled. "No need."

Puzzled eyes met mine, but he was quickly distracted by a wince as his fingers caught in a tangle at his scalp. Frowning, he busied himself with tugging on the knot, breaking eye contact.

"It's fine. If you want to lean on me, you can." I smoothed the dirtied sleeve of my white dress shirt before carefully flattening out my waistcoat's lapels. "I promise not to complain." And when he arched an eyebrow at me, I couldn't help but grin. "Not too much, anyway."

There was no mistaking the warmth of genuine gratitude that lit up the gold flecks in his hazel eyes. He blinked at it was gone, replaced by his default surliness. He said nothing. The snarl in his hair came free, and he dropped his arm back to his side, blinking slowly. Fatigue was catching up to him. (He'd just never admit it.)

I was slowly losing the fight against the urge to nod off myself. My eyes began to drift closed behind my glasses. We've still gotta get to that tower, I thought groggily. See if we can't figure out what to do from there. I hope we don't have to fight. Ammo's so damn scarce around here…

Beside me, Sebastian began to doze. I knew because his stocky frame slumped and his head dipped towards his chest.

The landscape was blissfully quiet, almost peaceful. I would have called the moonlit scenery beautiful had I not known what horrors hid within it. If I listened hard enough, I could hear the lapping of waves on the lake. Crickets became white noise that successfully lulled me. Hard to imagine that less than eighty minutes earlier, I'd been engaged in the ultimate fight for life.

That was when Sebastian tentatively allowed his head to rest against my shoulder and his arm to press heavily against mine. When I didn't pull away, he settled even more, breathing out heavily as pent-up tension leaked from his battle-weary body. His relaxation was contagious. I was vaguely aware of the night's droning and the radiation of heat from Seb's body. His presence was oddly comforting – especially with the knowledge that I'd almost lost him today.

Only when his breathing slowed into the steady rhythm of slumber did I realize that I was missing something.

My axe! The thought was the one of the last that would cross my mind that night. I knew exactly where I'd dropped it, too. It'd left my hand, abandoned in favor of Sebastian.

A damned axe, I realized after a moment, can be replaced.

A partner, however, cannot.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you so much for reading. I had a lot of fun writing from Joseph's perspective. Keep an eye out - I might decide to write from his POV again! ;) Hope you enjoyed this story. Comments are always greatly appreciated ^_^