The Last of You
(Worm AU/The Last of Us) (One-Shot)
An axe was not a clean weapon.
Thunk.Though technically a bladed tool, its edge tended to be much duller than something like a knife which was made for cutting and slicing. It was more of an impact weapon really, like a hammer with a wedge on one side, built for splitting sturdier materials like wood or bone.
Sharpening it too much made the blade weaker, made it wear out too quickly and break. Too little and it would make the job harder, wasting valuable energy that would be better spent on something else, like scavenging, running, or a future fight.
I stood to my full height, resting the tool on the floor for a moment so I could quickly stretch my back. A spike of pain reminded me of bruises that had yet to heal, from fights much tougher than this one. Though, maybe that was being a bit facetious; this never really was a fight, after all.
Pulling off my glasses, I ignored the whimpering in the corner and found a clean spot of my shirt to quickly wipe them off with. They were a pain in the ass more times than not, but being able to see clearly was vital to survival when every edge mattered. Didn't mean I couldn't curse the bastard of a father that gave me such rotten genes though, genes that I selfishly passed on myself, into a shithole of a world like this.
Who was the real bastard here?
Slipping my glasses back on, I took a look at the corpse at my feet and immediately noticed the flies buzzing around its ruined neck and chest. With a wrenching feeling in my gut, I hefted my axe back up into my hand and spotted the same flies testing the sickly smelling liquid on its blade.
"Taylor!" I turned to the closed door and roared, my voice cracking with the volume. "Get the fucking flies out of here!" I could practically see her flinch in the way the bugs jerked into the air and vanished into the shadows of the room, but better to deal with the guilt of being a right fuck up of a parent than to let her see this.
With a heavy sigh, I turned to the room's other occupant.
The man, whose name I'd never bothered to learn, was handcuffed to an old radiator, wrists bruised and bleeding from his attempts to pull at the metal shackles. He was watching me with wide unblinking eyes, whimpering as he struggled against the restraints with abandon.
Poor bastard, just trying to survive like the rest of us. He should have listened to me when I warned him off. If him and his friend hadn't tried to follow us...
No use thinking about it now.
I took a step forwards.
"No! No, please!" He begged, voice ragged from screaming. "I swear, I swear I won't tell no one, man. I swear to fucking God, you gotta believe me! Please man! Please! Please!"
I stopped in front of him, swallowing around the lump in my throat. It was fucked up, but I wished he was still unconscious. It would have been easier that way. Easier to ignore what I was doing, what I had to do.
He must have thought I was hesitating, and tried to press his advantage.
"I'm an honest, God-fearing man. I swear it! I give you my word that you won't get any trouble because of me." Grimacing I shook my head. He mirrored the action, jerky and crazed. Desperate. "If-if-if you're worried about Jim, he didn't mean shit to me. I just met him not a week ago. He was- he was a right rat of a man, no way you could trust him. But me, when I give you my word, I give you my word, that-"
"Listen," I interrupted him, my tone level. Calm. He must have realized what I was going to say, as he renewed his struggles and screamed out in desperation.
"Please. Please, man! Please! Please!" I waited for his desperate cries to die back down into quiet sobs before speaking again. I met his eyes.
"I'm sorry." He screamed, crying for help as loudly as he could, thrashing so violently that the steel cuffs dug into the flesh of his forearms. I kept talking, regardless of whether or not he could hear me. "I need to protect my daughter, and your word isn't good enough."
No matter the turmoil inside me, it wasn't right to draw things out. Hefting the axe high above my head, I swung with all of my strength.
-Scene Break -
Though the picture was faded and worn, wrinkled from a decade worth of handling that had taken place in half the time, the face smiling out of it was still the most beautiful I'd ever seen. Maybe I was a bit of a masochist, staring at it like this and wondering what she'd have thought of me if she could see what I'd become, see the things I needed to do to keep our daughter safe. Would she think I was justified, or that I was a monster?
"Daddy! Daddy, look!" I glanced up. Taylor was standing at the top of a heavy plastic slide, one of the few pieces of play equipment still standing in the park we'd found, and was waving her arms at me. "Are you looking? Daddy, are you looking?"
"I'm looking." I called back, taking a cursory glance around to make sure we were alone. It was more out of habit than real concern; we hadn't run into any other survivors for over a week. Staying far away from the quarantine zones was good for something, at least.
With much aplomb, Taylor sat down on the slide and stuck her arms up into the air, making a show of sliding down without holding on. When she reached the bottom, she hopped up and twirled to face me, posing.
"Ta-dah!" she exclaimed. I clapped softly, suitably appreciative of her stunt. Grinning, she skipped over to me and threw herself into my knees. "Hey daddy, where are we going now?"
Scratching my head, I pulled out my old wallet and slid the picture back inside. After safely returning it to my breast pocket, I pulled my glasses off to rub at my eyes.
"I don't know, honey. Just looking for more houses that scavengers haven't picked clean yet." She fidgeted, pulling my legs open and closed and not meeting my eyes, the way she always did when she wanted something but didn't want to ask for it. Holding in a sigh, I prodded her. "Why? Did you have somewhere you wanted to go see?" She looked up at me almost shyly: hopeful.
"I wanna see Kurt and Lacey again."
"No." I declared immediately. Her flinch was like a punch to the chest. "We've talked about this, Taylor." I tried again a bit more gently. "We can't go there. Not anymore."
"Okay." She whispered, quiet acceptance without even trying to argue. The sigh I'd been holding in slipped out and I slid my glasses back on.
"Is there anywhere else you want to go?" She stayed silent and I scratched at my head again, racking my brain for an idea. "What about that spot on fourth, the old fire station. You'd wanted to look around there, hadn't you?" She looked up, her attention caught.
"The one with the big red truck?" She asked meekly, an ember of light in her tone.
"That's the one." I confirmed. She looked down and half turned away from me, rocking slightly on her heels.
"But you said we couldn't before." I nodded, reaching out to grab the heavy backpack on the bench beside me and pulled it up onto my shoulders with a grunt.
"I did, but I picked up some extra filters for my mask, so we should be able to look around for a little while." I hadn't, but it felt like I'd lose what little respect I had left as a father if I didn't find some way to indulge her a bit.
She looked up, meeting my eyes with indecision. I could see the turmoil roiling around her little head, her desire to go, clashing with worry over causing me trouble. I cursed myself internally. No kid should make a face like that.
Grabbing her forearms, I stood up and hoisted her a few inches off the ground. She squealed in surprise, the sound morphing into delighted giggles as I waddled us forwards. After a few steps, I set her down and rubbed the top of her head.
"Come on, if we start moving now we should be able to get there in a day or so."
"Okay," she nodded, her voice still soft but colored by an undertone of excited anticipation.
I reached out to her and she readily took my hand with both of hers, sticking to my leg as she walked close beside me. We'd barely traveled a block when she stopped abruptly, pulling on my arm. I turned to see what was wrong and found her staring blankly ahead, eyes unfocused.
Heart suddenly thundering in my ears, my head snapped up to study the street ahead of us. It was overgrown like most of the old city, with tall grass and weeds pretending to be trees, worming their way up through the cracked pavement. The uneven surface of broken down buildings and abandoned cars added to the clutter of the scene, and though I couldn't spot any immediate dangers, that didn't amount to much when visibility was so limited.
"Daddy," Taylor's voice broke in through the haze of adrenaline and I turned down to look at her. When our eyes met, she sheepishly turned away. "We shouldn't go that way."
I accepted her words without question, immediately turning around and pulling her along after me. I knew better by now than to doubt my daughter's warnings, as much as they unsettled me. We'd backtrack and find another way through.
How did we always manage to get wrapped up in this sort of shit?!
"Move, I'll do it!" I snapped in a harsh whisper at the panicking woman, as she ineffectually tried to apply pressure to her husband's bleeding leg.
Fucking people from the quarantine zones: they sneak outside for the first time without any of the skills to keep themselves from getting killed. They'd be better off staying put no matter what conditions were like.
As the woman moved out of the way, I quickly pulled the bloody fabric away from the wound to make sure it wasn't a bite before applying pressure the right way. There was a deep gouge in the man's leg, too messy for simple stitches. For now, I'd have to fill it with gauze and wrap it tight.
"Taylor," I hissed, my gasmask giving my voice a hollow quality. When she didn't respond I turned to check on her. She was crouched nearby, peering intently over a pallet of supplies. I should have been used to it by now, after all of our time out in the abandoned areas of the city, but the sight of her expression still sent a chill through me.
Backdropped by the murky darkness of a building overrun by spores and filled with the horrid chorus of a half dozen Clickers, a kid not even ten shouldn't look that fucking calm.
"Hey, Taylor!" I hissed more sharply. When she turned to look at me, I shook my head, wordlessly willing her not to do anything. She averted her eyes and turned away.
I'd just have to pray that she listened for now.
I turned to the woman instead.
"Hey, in my backpack, in the second outermost pouch, there's a plastic bag with rolls of gauze and a bottle of alcohol in it. Grab them for me." She nodded, carefully rummaging through the bag for moment before she found the right compartment and pulled out the items. She handed them to me, but her attention was elsewhere, focused on Taylor.
"Why isn't she wearing a mask?" She whispered, a tremor evident in her voice even through the muffle of her own mask. She must have been the type to talk when she was nervous.
"She doesn't need one. Don't worry about it." I replied abruptly, doing my best to organize my supplies while keeping the gauze relatively sterile. After a moment and a few more furtive glances, the woman tried again.
"But-" she began. I preempted her.
"Stop talking. Your husband could still bleed to death." Maybe it was a bit cruel to throw it in her face, but I needed her to shut up so I could focus. "Hey," I called out to the man, shaking him a bit to get his attention. He groaned but turned to me. "Brace yourself, this is going to hurt."
His wife shuffled closer to him, clutching at his hand and leaning close to whisper frantic reassurances. The gesture sent an ugly stab of envy through me, but I swallowed it down and focused on the wound.
Maybe I was a bit indelicate, or maybe the man just had a low pain tolerance, but as I quickly washed the wound and packed it with gauze, his choked scream was far too loud.
My blood froze and I stopped moving, trying to be as still as possible as I listened for the dangers behind me. The Clickers' calls had soared into a frenzy and I could hear their frantic footfalls as they dashed around searching for the source of the scream.
I picked up the pace, trying to bandage the wound as quickly as I could, but only half my attention was on it. I glanced over my shoulder, meeting my daughter's calm and resigned eyes as the clicking calls grew louder.
My breath caught in my throat.
Don't do it, Taylor. Don't use your power. Please don't use it.
I wanted to call out, to tell her the same warning I'd used a thousand times before, but I couldn't, and not just because of the nearby couple.
I was a coward at heart.
Turning away from her, I desperately clawed at the straps on my bag with shaking hands, trying to unhook my shotgun. After a moment I gave up, grabbing my axe and turning back.
Over the pallet, I could see the silhouettes of misshapen, humanoid forms, like a person whose head had been replaced by cauliflower. The Clickers had fallen silent, standing absolutely still after coming so close to locating their prey. As one, like some nightmarish troupe of disfigured soldiers, they all turned and slowly marched away.
Mouth dry, I looked down and met my daughter's eyes. The guilt on her face hit me like an ice-cold bucket of water and I turned away, glancing fearfully at the couple.
They were holding each other, completely absorbed in a cycle of paralyzing, mutual fear.
It didn't seem like they'd noticed.
I tried to speak up, but my voice didn't come. Swallowing thickly, I cleared my throat and managed a weak rasp.
"We need to go." They didn't react. Frustrated and shunting my fear into anger, I grabbed their shoulders and yanked them up hard. "We. Need. To. Go. Now!"
Rattled into action, the woman helped hoist her husband to his feet and supported him as he limped a step forwards. Slinging my bag back up onto my shoulders, I grabbed my axe in one hand and Taylor's arm in the other.
Hooking the arm with the axe under the man's other shoulder, I practically hoisted him from the ground as I fled from the building, dragging Taylor and the pair along behind me.
Somehow, it always seemed to come to this.
"Hey! Fucking answer me, old man! What the fuck was that?!"
I threw my head back, taking a deep swig of whiskey directly from the bottle. It was lucky that this old bar still had some. It must have been too dangerous of an area for most scavengers.
"Brett, maybe we should go." The second man said, tone cautious. I'd have to watch out for him. In my experience, the careful ones were always more dangerous than the ones filled with bluster.
"Fuck that, I know what I saw!" The loud one shouted, pointing at me. "This dude and that kid walked straight through the plaza, right by all those infected. They didn't even turn to look at them. Don't you want to know how they did it?" The second man murmured something I couldn't make out and I took another swig of whiskey.
I should probably be saving it, strong alcohol could be used for any number of useful things, but at the moment I didn't care about any other applications. I just wanted to numb my thoughts, just for a little while.
Taylor, you're hiding upstairs like a good girl, aren't you? You're not watching this through the flies and cockroaches, right? Please don't look. Don't watch your daddy do these things.
"Stop fucking ignoring me you son-of-a-" As the man's hand fell on my shoulder I spun, whipping the whiskey bottle up and smashing it into the underside of his jaw. The hard glass bottle cracked in half and he fell to the floor. His friend was quicker on his feet.
Pulling a machete from the sheath on his leg, the second man lunged forward. I was ready for him, sweeping up a barstool from beside me and hurling it at him with all of my strength. He brought up his arms, trying to protect his head, and the impact knocked the weapon from his hand.
Before the stool had even hit the ground, I had my axe in the air, swinging it in a full arc at the disoriented man. It caught him in the collar bone.
I followed up unrelentingly, roaring in rage and continuing to swing until his head had come clean off. One threat eliminated, I spun back to face the first man.
He was watching me, trying to get his feet beneath him as he struggled to support himself on the bar. He had a knife in his hand, but with how unsteady he was, it didn't seem like he'd get a chance to use it.
He slurred something unintelligible as I ran a forearm across my face, trying to wipe some of the blood from my glasses but only managing to smear it further. Shaking my head in denial, I stalked closer to the man.
"I'm sorry," I said, my voice hollow. The man tried to take a step away from me, but lost his balance and toppled to the floor. He rolled onto his back and tried to push himself away. Shaking my head, I took my glasses off and slipped them into my shirt pocket. No use getting them dirtier than they already were. It was hard to come by new pairs these days.
"I'm sorry," I repeated, as he backed himself into a wall. I took my axe up in both hands. "I need to protect my daughter. I can't let you know her secret." The man screamed something that I couldn't understand, spitting a mouthful of blood at me. I shook my head again, denying something at the back of my mind. "Not after everything that's happened. Not when she's all that I have left.
"I'm sorry. I'll make this quick."
Twisting with my whole body, I swung the axe down.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.