Chloe Prince brought the axe up, left it up in the air for a second, and then with a grunt full of rage she swung it back down easily cleaving the log in half pretending it was that bastard's head. Quickly replacing the log with another, she repeated the process. Again, again, and again. More than anything she wished that she were around back in the zombie's heyday, giving her a more satisfying outlet for all her anger. But now the damn things were so scant and decrepit that it wasn't even worth it.

Chloe brought the axe down once more, splitting another log as if it had been the one that had personally wronged her. This time she brought own too hard and it got stuck in the tree stump she'd been using as a base. Putting a foot against it, Chloe tugged at the axe until she stumbled back a bit when she got it free…. Another log.

"I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask what was wrong," Becky said, walking out from the house with a bemused smile.

"Nothing," she answered swiftly, bringing the axe back up and swinging it back down.

"C'mon, talk to me," she went on. "Who do you think was the one that showed you this outlet for stress?" Becky patted the expanding lump on her belly as she waited for an answer.

Still not wanting to talk, Chloe said, "Should you be walking around in that condition?"

"I'm pregnant, Chloe, not a vegetable," Becky answered. "Now tell me what's wrong."

"Martin broke up with me!" she snarled, grabbing for another log only to find she was out.

"Really? Why?" she asked, confused.

"His damn parents don't like me!" Chloe told her, tossing the axe aside. "They say…they say that I don't come from a proper family."

She stood stock still as she absorbed those words. "I'm gonna fucking kill them!" Becky yelled furiously, actually turning to leave.

"Wait, wait," Chloe said quickly, calming down some and grabbing on to Becky. "I suppose if Martin doesn't have stones to stand up to his parents then he's not worth it." The thought cheered her up some, so she said again, "Yeah, he's not worth it."

"That still doesn't make it right," she fumed. Gripping her shoulder, Becky told her, "Chloe, I don't give a damn about blood, you are my daughter, too. Got that?"

Smiling a little, Chloe said, "I know, Becky…. Thanks."

"Want my advice?" she asked after a pause. Chloe nodded. "Go out and have some fun."

"Kind of a tall order in this town."

"I'm sure you'll find something."

Becky spread her legs and bent down to pick up the axe, but Chloe quickly scooped it up instead. "Y'know, if you and dad insist on having sex, at least use condoms," she said.

"I know," Becky sighed, straightening back up as they headed back in the house, "but they're a total bitch to make." Chloe couldn't help but grin, though, since Becky was in that stage where she welcomed the addition to the family. Angie was transitioning into a teenager, and Dave was getting older, too.

Later that day found Chloe at the dining hall with two her friends, who were in the process of bitching out Martin.

"He was a douche, anyways," Mark said flatly.

"Yeah, no where near good enough for Princess," Kendra commented.

"Shut the fuck up," Chloe told her, annoyed but smiling. Because of that nickname, Chloe often found herself wishing she were given her dad's name instead of her mom's. It was made even worse when her dad reached a pretty damn high position in town. And her friends, knowing that pity wouldn't get them anywhere, instead treated her like they normally did—which is exactly what she wanted.

"He's right, though, why did you ever go out with him?" That question wasn't new, either. Kendra generally wondered since day one why Chloe ever went out with Martin.

"Who cares, at least that mama's boy is outta the picture," Mark commented.

That generated a round of sniggering. The verbal abuse towards her ex was certainly cheering up Chloe, although she couldn't help but wonder where her other two friends were. It wasn't as if Mark and Kendra weren't enough company, but she'd appreciate the support of—

"Oh shit," Mark said.

"What?" Chloe and Kendra said together. Mark jabbed his thumb over at the entrance, where Will and Joanne were having an argument as they entered the dining hall.

"What's wrong with them?" Chloe asked.

"Dunno," Kendra replied slowly, eyeing Will suspiciously. "Anything wrong, Will?"

"Of course not," he claimed, his voice a little strained.

"Then what was the fight about?" Chloe asked skeptically.

"It was nothing," Joanne said, sitting next to her and looking a bit flustered. "So already exhausted the topic of how big a dick Martin is?"

"Not in the slightest," she said with a smile.

With that they struck up a conversation on what they should do to make Chloe feel better. They suggested everything from sneaking alcohol from the distillery and getting drunk to…well that was about it. There wasn't a whole lot to do in town. If any of them wanted to get out of town they had to wait until they needed hands at the docks at Lake Michigan or some other outpost.

…Then for the first time in her seventeen years Chloe asked herself, Why though?

"What's up?" Joanne asked, seeing the face Chloe was making.

"How come we've never gone out of town overnight?" Chloe asked them, making sure that no one was listening in.

That question took them all by surprise. "What do you mean? Of course we have," Will said.

"Yeah, but never for no good reason."

"Uh…why would we want to?" Mark asked.

"For the hell of it!" she said enthusiastically. "Can any of you honestly say you've left Yuba's borders just to have a good time? All we've ever done out there is collect supplies at the docks or something boring like that. I say we get out and have some fun."

"What the hell is so fun about being exposed in hostile territory?" Mark demanded.

"What the hell is so fun about staying here and doing nothing?" she retorted. "Let's get new experiences in. Isn't that what people our age are supposed to be doing?" Being young and recently dumped, Chloe was up to do almost anything reckless.

"You're forgetting a few things, Chloe, we can't go out just like that," Kendra said obviously. "We'd need first aid, food, transportation, guns!"

"Kendra, where the hell do you work?" Chloe asked in an exasperated manner.

"Duh, at the…clinic," she answered slowly, coming to a realization.

"And how hard would it be to nab a field medical kit?"

She thought about it, and Kendra said, "Not hard at all."

"See, that's first aid out of the way," Chloe simply said. "Now I wonder who here would be able to provide transportation…"

Shaking his head and laughing softly, Will said, "You know very well I can get us into the horse stables."

Looking towards Joanne and Mark, Chloe asked them, "And wouldn't it be simple for you guys to provide food for this hypothetical trip?"

Neither of them said anything for a second, until Mark said reluctantly, "Yeah I should be able to grab some bread from the bakery."

Everyone looked at Joanne, who casually said, "Fine, I'll take some steaks." Her father was the town's main butcher.

"And getting into the armory is a piece of cake for the Defense Advisor's daughter…. So what do you guys say?" Chloe finished.

"Y'know that we'd get in a shit ton of trouble, right?" said Will.

"So we'll be put on some crappy detail for a little while. Who cares? C'mon, guys."

There was a silence that hung there for a few seconds, and Chloe was worried that they would all turn down her idea. It was a risk sure, but it was a change of pace that all of them should have welcomed. Also, while the supplies they were proposing to take might be considered plundering…it wouldn't be that big of a deal, would it?

"Fuck it, why not?" Joanne conceded.

"Alright, I'm in," said Will.

"Okay," Kendra said.

"Fine," said Mark.

"My folks got business tomorrow around three. Let's meet at the stables then with all the supplies so we can take off," Will told them. They all agreed.

So the next day Chloe went back at her dad's house, and opened the door with her key. Expecting it empty, she was surprised to see Angie tutoring her younger cousin Ryan. They only acknowledged her with a nod and went right back to work. Taking advantage of the distraction Chloe went for her dad's bedroom.

Once in, Chloe opened the wardrobe, grabbed a box from the top shelf, and took out the armory's spare key. Piece of cake, she thought as she pocketed it. With a smile she left the bedroom just as Angie was telling Ryan, "You have to carry the one." As if she hadn't done anything Chloe just strolled over to the front door. Just as she wondered how the others were doing, Angie suddenly asked, "What are you up to?"

"What do you mean?" Chloe asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

"I'm not stupid," Angie said, turning in her seat to look at her. "You just walked in and out of mom and dad's room. Obviously you grabbed the key to the armory."

"Dad asked me to," she swiftly lied.

"What happened to the copy he always has with him?" she persisted suspiciously.

"How would I know?" Chloe said airily.

"I'll ask him," Angie warned.

"Go ahead, Ms. Goodie goodie," she told her sister, going over to pat her head. I'll be gone by the time you get the chance, anyway.

With a wave she left the house, and walked to her mom's house, where she had stashed a sack with a change of clothes and a sleeping bag. At the moment Chloe was thankful Jack had moved out to live with his girlfriend, otherwise she might have risked running into him—and he'd have been a lot harder to simply wave off.

Now with her sack, Chloe arrived at the armory, unlocked it, and entered it as if it were the most natural thing in the world (because it was). In the sack she put five pistols with a spare magazine for each one. And simple as that, she went back outside, locked up, and stashed her sack outside her dad's house so that she could return the key to its proper place. Angie was still giving her a look that Chloe ignored.

And by three Chloe was making her way over to the stables where everyone else was waiting for her.

"Got the goods?" Joanne asked.

In response, Chloe handed out the pistols and magazines to each of them. "What about you guys?" she asked, taking a saddle and taking it over to a horse.

"We're good," said Mark, patting the sack he had tied to his horse's saddle.

Chloe began strapping the saddle on her horse, but it began stirring uneasily. "It's okay, girl," she said to it, patting the flank. It was as if the horse could sense that they were going beyond the perimeter without permission. After settling it down some, Chloe tightened up the horse's saddle, tied the sack onto it, stuck the pistol in the saddle's holster, and mounted the horse.

"Ready?" Chloe asked everyone. They all nodded.

"Let's ride!" Joanne yelled.

Bursting out of the stables, they galloped onto the road and headed for the nearest gate. Leaning forward Chloe let the wind whip through her long, red hair. Since they were on the outskirts of town they only passed a few people that threw them curious looks as they rode past. Upon reaching the gate, the person standing guard shouted as they passed, "What the hell!"

"We'll be back tomorrow!" Chloe hollered back. They were in so much trouble…

"So where the hell are we going?" Will asked over the galloping.

"Dunno," Chloe responded. "I figured we'd just keep riding until it starts getting dark."

"Sounds good to me!" Mark exclaimed.

Once far enough away they decided to slow to a steady trot. "So what are the odds our folks will come looking for us?" Will asked.

"Not all that high," Kendra said calmly. "I mean they got better shit to do than to come and get us."

"Speak for yourself, my mom might freak," Joanne told her.

"Look, they know we're not retarded," Chloe reasoned, although her mom might freak, too. "And even if they wanted to, they wouldn't be able to form a big enough search party."

"I suppose," Will said, easing up some.

"Yeah," Mark interjected, "they aren't gonna waste gas and mileage, and they aren't gonna waste time searching on horseback."

The five friends rode on for a few more hours just taking in the scenery. The road that they were riding on was falling apart, vegetation had been taking it over for years and there was nothing to stop it. The road was also littered with rusted and beaten down hunks of metal. To Chloe this was the world she lived in and never knew it to be different. People her age could only wonder what it must have been like before the infection.

Her parents may be content being confined to the town since it was their sanctuary in the early years, but not Chloe. She realized now that not only did she want to blow off steam, but to expand her horizons. Even if it was just going to be for the night she had to get out.

Another two hours passed and on a whim the group made the next right. It was the same old thing; only this time it turned out the road they were on was a dead end. To their left was a broken down house, and everywhere else they were surrounded by trees.

"So should we double back, or go off road?" Will asked.

"Neither," Mark groaned, dismounting his horse and rubbing his lower back. "This seems like a good a place as any."

"Agreed," Kendra said, following suite.

When Chloe got off her horse she found that she was pretty damn sore too. "Let's get set in that house," she suggested.

"Why?" Joanne said, confused. "Isn't the point of this to be outdoors?"

Giving her a look, Chloe argued, "We'd have to pull guard shifts, then. A zombie could—"

Joanne snorted. "It's been years since those things have been an actual threat!"

"Then how about you stand in front of one and do absolutely nothing? I'd love to see a newly reanimated zombie."

That wiped the smile off her face. "Okay, point taken. Let's settle in, then."

The horses were tied up on the poles of the house's concrete porch, and took their belongings inside. First off they checked every room to make sure it was all clear—which it was. After that they placed their sleeping bags in the living room. "Excellent!" Joanne exclaimed, rubbing her hands together once they were done. "Who's up for some steak courtesy of my dad?"

All of a sudden Chloe's stomach growled, and everyone nodded in agreement. In the kitchen Joanne looked through the cabinets and found some stainless steel frying pans. It wasn't until then that they realized they were missing something crucial: fire. In hindsight they should have started cooking the second they got there.

"Well fuck!" Joanne groaned.

"C'mon, let's just go gather firewood," Kendra said.

"Only one of us has to go out," Mark said, holding up his sack of bakery items. "We could have a few of these in the meantime."

"Not it!" Kendra suddenly shouted.

"Not it!" Joanne, Will, and Mark yelled.

"Not—Fuck!" Chloe blurted out a split second too late. Giving them the evil eye, she told them, "I'm not about to risk going out there by myself. One of you are going with me."

"Alright, alright, I'll go too," Will laughed.

All of a sudden, Joanne urgently said, "On second thought maybe I should go—"

"No, Will can go," Mark interrupted, pulling Joanne back hard.

"What the fuck's wrong with you?" she hissed audibly at Mark.

"Nothing," he defended. Waving away Will and Chloe, he said, "You two go on."

"Okay," Chloe said slowly, a little confused.

"Here, to tide you guys over," Mark said, tossing both of them some cornbread.

Catching it, Chloe left the house with Will, passed the tied up horses, and started making their way to the woods. But halfway across the street Chloe ended up turning back and powered walked to her horse, so that she could take her pistol and spare magazine from the saddle's holster.

"Holy shit!" Will remarked, also getting his pistol. "Did we actually check the house without our guns?"

"Yeah!" she said, pissed at herself. "God dammit, my dad would fucking kill me if he ever found out how stupid we were!" Since the first day Chloe held a gun her dad drilled two things into her: safety…and always have your weapon in reach whenever you were beyond the perimeter. Hell, it was specifically her job to get the weapons. Imagine, Cameron Marsh's daughter getting killed in the wilderness because she was unarmed!

Eating at her cornbread she was surprised to see she had walked into the woods while she was busy bitching at herself. Stuffing down the rest of food and tucking her pistol away, Chloe began looking down at the ground with Will as they walked. You'd think that finding firewood in the woods would be easy, but unfortunately mother nature made it much more of a chore than it had to be.

It had rained the previous night. All the big chunks of wood that would've made a good fire were wet and it would be a lot of trouble to ignite it. They ended up having to kick around for some that was relatively dry, slowly gathering it up in their arms as they went. But as tedious as the job was they spent almost a half hour picking out good kindling because they wanted those steaks to cook well.

Eventually Chloe suggested splitting up just to get the search over with quicker. Will seemed against it but he gave in.

Chloe saw what looked like a promising stick, which she bent down to pick it up. Her fingers enclosed on the stick and instantly there was a gurgling sound coming from under the wet leaves. Yelping in surprise, Chloe dropped all her wood and backed away quickly. Heart still pumping madly, she inched back closer and the dry gurgling sound came again. Then all anxiety vanished and it was replaced by annoyance.

"What happened?" Will yelped, running into view and pointing his pistol in all directions.

"Nothing—and be careful with that!" Chloe said, forcing his gun down.

Snatching up the sharper of the sticks she dropped, Chloe used it to move the leaves on the ground to reveal a skull with hanging rotten flesh. At the sight of her it made that dry gurgle once more, and made the feeblest attempt at trying to move. Damn zombie, she thought, sticking the pointy end of the stick through the thing's eye. It was so hard to believe that those things actually used to be human beings.

Letting out a sigh, Chloe told Will to go back and get all the wood he had abandoned and began picking back up all the wood in front of her. By then the sun was starting to set and Will rightfully suggested that they get back before it gets dark.

"Man I can't believe it," Will suddenly chimed in.


"How retarded Martin is."

Chloe snickered. "Thanks, but he's never exactly wronged you."

"Please, if we were dating I wouldn't give a shit what my parents thought about you."

"Yeah, but it also helps that your folks are good friends with mine," she pointed out. Cole and Kat had fought alongside her dad for years, and still do even though they mainly take care of the horse stables.

"Still, I wouldn't be dumb enough to break up with you."

Will gave her a smile, and at that instant something clunked into place inside of Chloe's brain: Joanne arguing with Will, Joanne's reluctance to let Will go with Chloe, Mark encouraging it, and finally the current conversation…. Oh shit. "Well it doesn't matter," Chloe said, doing her best to keep her voice straight. "I won't have to worry about relationships for long ass time."

"Well, yeah that's kind of obvious," he said, although a flicker of disappointment seemed to have passed through him. "It's not healthy to rush into another relationship."

Feeling a bit relieved, Chloe let them fall into silence. It wasn't as if she didn't like Will, or she only saw him as a friend, or something dumb like that. She just never considered it since she had no clue how he felt. Exiting the woods, the house was in sight across the road and she saw something that made her groan: there was an extra horse by the porch. Apparently someone from Yuba did follow them, forcing them to face the music twenty-four hours earlier than she'd have liked. Oh well, might as well get it over—

Will freed one arm and stuck it out to stop Chloe. "What?" she asked.

"That's not one of our horses," he warned her.

"C'mon, how can you tell?"

"You know how many years I've spent brushing and feeding them? Trust me, I know."

Together they receded back into the trees and kept an eye on the windows. A minute later a man appeared in it and tried to squint through the glare of the sinking sun. Most likely seeing nothing, he left their sight again. He was clearly waiting for their return.

Dropping the wood in her arms and breaking out her pistol, Chloe said, "Make your way around to the rear of the house, while I sneak up the front."

"No way, he'll see you!"

"Don't worry, the sun will be behind me," she said. "Just remember not to engage until you know for a fact that he's hostile."


"Just do it, Will!" Chloe told him.

"Fuck that, I'll go head on," Will said forcefully, dashing forward.

"Will!" she hissed. Dammit! Seething, Chloe ducked back behind the trees and proceeded to maneuver her way around the house unseen. She swore that he was going to get it the next time she saw him. Stupid romantic, chivalrous feelings had no place when danger was around. In a gap between the trees Chloe saw Will start crawling through the overgrown grass of the house's lawn. At least he had a brain.

Hoping to reach the reach the backyard of the house around the same time Will reached the front door, Chloe quickened her pace. She then saw a shed not far from the tree line that looked perfect to start her advance to the house. Rushing out from the trees, Chloe took cover from behind the shed, the damp grass and weeds reaching past her knees.

She pressed her back against the shed and peered around it. There was the man again patrolling the house and looking outside the windows he passed. The shed then started leaning and let out an audible creek. Crap! Chloe was going to get her weight of the shed, but she was a split second too late and she fell with it as it collapsed.

"Who's there?" the man yelled, barging out the backdoor.

As Chloe tried to get her wits about herself, she hoped that the man wouldn't come to investigate, but they were unfounded as she heard him moving through the brush towards her. Aching, Chloe rolled onto her stomach, and slowly pushed herself up so she could just see above the grass. The man was coming towards her and had a gun in his hands. Verdict: hostile.

There was no way she could get a good shot off her from current position, and she didn't feel comfortable waiting until he got closer so she could shoot him point blank. So Chloe stood right and began running and firing her pistol. The man was startled but managed to dive behind a brick grill. Chloe ended up behind a tree with a rotted away swing set hanging from one of the branches.

"Give it up!" he shouted.

In response, Chloe aimed from around the tree and fired more rounds. The man took cover, fired back to force her back behind the tree, and the firefight ensued. Every time a round failed to hit her target, Chloe got more and more frustrated. She wasn't about to let this dickbag be the end of them. Bang! Bang! Bang! Miss, miss, miss. Concentrate, she told herself. Remember your training.

There was a pause in the fire, so Chloe aimed once again and fired at whatever bit of the bastard she could see. There was suddenly a click that made her blood run cold, so she hastily put her back against the tree to try and replace the magazine with fumbling fingers.

She managed to insert the magazine and load the chamber, when a searing pain crossed her arm. "Dammit!" Chloe screeched, doubling over in pain and clasping the spot where she got winged.


Bang! Dread filled every fiber of Chloe's being as a gagging noise issued from someone that sounded like Will. Her own wound forgotten, she left all cover to see as Will stumbled back against the wall of the house, grasping a bleeding wound on his stomach. The man she had been firing at still had his gun pointed in Will's direction.

"YOU FUCK!" Chloe screamed. Enraged more than she's ever been in her entire life, Chloe aimed and pulled the trigger over and over again, emptying the magazine in a matter of seconds. Four hit their mark: one in the belly, two in the chest, and one that ripped right through his throat.

The man collapsed out of sight behind the brick grill, but Chloe no longer gave him the slightest bit of attention. She began sprinting desperately to Will, who was breathing in deep gasps and bleeding. Kneeling next to him, in the light that was left, she saw him losing color rapidly and Chloe was drawing an absolute blank on what to do.

"Stay with me, Will. You'll be alright," she whispered to him frantically, pressing her hands over his to try and stop the bleeding.

"You…okay?" Will wheezed, eyeing her injury.

Glancing at her wound, she said, "It's nothing. You're the one that's really hurt, moron!"

"Chloe!" a different voice shouted. Looking inside, Chloe saw a tied up Kendra worming her way towards them. "Cut me loose! I'll try and help!"

Immediately, Chloe went inside the house and dug through her sack until she found a knife she had brought. Unsheathing it, she went over to Kendra and cut off her bonds. Kendra then went to her own sack and took out medical kit that she began using on Will.

A meek plan of action then formed inside Chloe's head. Cutting Joanne's bonds, she said to her, "You're gonna stay here and pull security." Going to Mark, she told him, "And you're coming with me back to town to get help."

It took maybe a second for that to register with Mark, but he finally got to his feet and ran out of the house with her. Outside Chloe untied her horse from the porch and quickly mounted it. Asking Mark if he had his spare magazine on him, he tossed it to Chloe, who quickly reloaded her pistol. She and Mark turned their horses back the way they had come from and started hauling ass back in the town's direction.

"You should get that cleaned," Mark said as they rode.

"No time," Chloe said.

"Seriously, let's stop for a second and—"

"NO!" she snarled, even though it hurt like hell.

It's all my fault! Chloe couldn't help but think now. If she hadn't suggested going out they would have never run into that bastard and none of their lives would be in danger. Fuck!

The darkness was starting to settle in completely, and Chloe was seriously hoping that it wouldn't impair their ability to get back to Yuba before it was too late. Leaning forward, she urged her horse to go faster, even though it was probably already going at its top speed.

Night arrived in its entirety but the sky was blissfully clear, and the moon and stars lit their way as Chloe and Mark continued hurtling down the road. It was still dark enough, though, that neither of them would be able to spot a pothole or some other kind of obstruction, which would result in disaster if the horses got in its way. All they could do is trust their instincts to get them home.

Over an hour into their ride Mark suddenly pulled on the reigns, yelling, "Whoa!"

Seeing this, Chloe had her horse come to a stop too, and doubled back to him. "What're you doing?" she demanded angrily.

"That," he said, pointing over her shoulder. Looking over she spotted a dark figure silhouetted against the sky that she hadn't spotted.

Bringing out her pistol, she said, "C'mon." Squeezing the horse's sides she trotted with in the direction of the figure, guiding it with one hand while the other was ready to fire at a moment's notice. Mark did the same thing as he came up along side her.

The figure suddenly reached down and held something up! Fearing the worst, she and Mark raised their pistols, but then a bright light appeared—a flashlight! But it was unlikely that anybody for a hundred miles would have a flashlight, much less batteries, unless they were from…

"The question does not matter!" the figure yelled, still shining its light.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Chloe put her pistol away, and yelled back the proper response that everybody in Yuba knew: "The answer is Chuck Norris!" She sometimes wondered who this Chuck Norris person was, but at the moment she didn't care.

"You guys are in enough shit as it is, without me having to tell everyone you guys split up," Felix admonished, as the distance closed between them. "Alright, Princess, where—?"

"Will's been shot," Chloe informed him.

"What?" he asked after a pause.

"A hostile caught us off guard and tied us up," Mark said quickly. "Chloe and Will were away and tried to rescue us when they got back—but Will caught one."

Pulling out his heavily taped radio, Felix yelled into it, "Yuba, this is Recon! Over!"

"This is Yuba. Managed to make visual with the Juveniles?"

"Ran into two of them while they were en route back to town to warn us that one of their number has been shot. Prep a medivac ASAP! We'll meet it at the intersection of roads Q and G!"

"Oh my God! What do I tell—?"

"Nothing!" Felix ordered. "Just wait!"


"Recon out." Looking at them, Felix ordered, "Let's go!" Together, the three of them turned back towards home and once more started going at top speed.

The run in with Felix had reinvigorated Chloe with new hope. Not only did she not have to wait for a medivac to be prepped, one was going to meet them on the way back! Chloe may not have been as friendly with Felix as she was with other older people in town, but she knew enough about him from her parents to know he was a reliable. He had been in charge of Reconnaissance since the early days, and always did a hell of a job.

Without a hitch, less than half an hour later they approached a fork in the road that was formed by roads Q and G. Right there was the vehicle that was promised to them with Greg and an assistant inside. Mark, much to his dismay, was told to take the three horses back to Yuba's stables and explain what had happened, while Chloe and Felix got in the station wagon.

The light inside the vehicle finally brought attention to Chloe's wound. So as Chloe gave direction, Greg's assistant began to wrap her up. Greg started pressing Chloe for every little detail she could about Will's condition: how much blood, his breathing, responsiveness, anything that could help. But once she ran out of things she could remember, the car ride went on in an agonized silence.

"Good thing you were sent to bring us back," Chloe eventually said monotonously to Felix as she stared out the window.

"Bring you back? Ha!" he responded. "I was just asked to keep an eye on you in case anything happens. I wish I was able to track you guys faster, though."

"Track us?"

"Horses have to take a shit too," Felix said with an attempt at humor.

"Funny," she said, guilt eating away at her.

"It's not your fault."

"Going out was my idea!"

"You just wanted to have fun, right? You're parents may be pissed but they get that. It was that asshole's fault that it was ruined—and if Mark's right you saved their lives."

"Still—shit! Make a right here. The house is the last on the left."

Will was thankfully still conscious when they got into the house. Greg took over care and gave him a once over, declaring Kendra's patch job to be good enough to hold until they got back to town. He groaned in pain as he was carefully placed on a stretcher.

"Hang in there," Chloe said, trying not to panic as she walked along with the stretcher.

"Hey, Chloe," Will breathed, a smile cracking across his sweaty face and blood trickled out of the sides of his mouth. "This hurts like hell."

"Don't talk," she snapped urgently.

"Alright, everyone pack it in," Felix ordered, once Will was secured in the back of the station wagon.

"What about the horses?" Joanne asked.

"We'll get them tomorrow."

"What if—?"

"I don't care, I'm not leaving any of you out here with the possibility of more assholes out here. Now get in!"

Following orders without further question, Chloe, Kendra, and Joanne filled in the back seat. Felix was driving, the medical assistant was on the radio telling the clinic what to prepare for their arrival, and Greg was in the back watching over Will. Finally they made it back to Yuba's perimeter, and from there they made a beeline to the clinic. Will was unloaded and taken inside, followed frantically by his friends.

Chloe barely saw as Will was carried into surgery when her mom seized her and pulled her into the tightest hug she ever got. "Oh my god," she said, as the other parents hauled in their respective children. "Chloe—oh god, are you okay?" Her mom looked over every inch of her as she coddled her. Spotting her wound, she screeched, "What happened?"

"I'm fine!" she said, pulling her arm free and looking over at Will's parents. Kat and Cole were being held back as they desperately tried to get into the surgery room, and the guilt flooded inside of her all over again.

"Are you sure?" her dad asked, coming up and putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Mark told us what happened. Taking a life—"

"Dad, I don't care about that!" Chloe told him forcefully, actually irritated by his reaction. She knew for a fact that he didn't concern himself very much, if at all, when Jack did it six years ago. "I did what I had to do."

Breathing a sigh of relief, he squeezed her shoulder. "That's my girl."

"You actually support this?" her mom screeched angrily.

"She has to defend herself, Marge," her dad retorted fiercely.

"Honey," Dennis tried to say, grasping her. "He's right."

"No, I won't have my daughter—"

"Forget it!" Chloe said angrily. She wasn't about to argue with her, especially now when her friend was getting operated on. Blowing them off, she went over to Will's parents, who were still waiting by the doors mortified with their other two kids. "Cole. Kat. I'm so sorry…going out was all my idea."

"Oh…Chloe, no, no, it wasn't you who shot Will," Kat reassured her.

"She's right, it was that asshole. Good job taking care of him," Cole said.

The night was getting on and Chloe and her friends were told that they should get to bed and wait until the morning for news. But they weren't having any of that. All four of them were staying on the couches in the clinic's lobby along with Will's family. Chloe's parents left, but Becky lagged behind hoping to speak to her. Knowing what it was about, she assured Becky that she bore no responsibility in Chloe's idea to skip town for a night.

The hours passed in silence. People went in and out of surgery, but they wouldn't answer any of their questions. It wasn't until five in the morning that Greg came out of surgery looking tired but content, followed by Will who was being rolled out on a bed. Will was unconscious, though, as he was wheeled into recovery.

"He's stable," Greg announced. "Family can go in once he wakes up, I've got someone keeping an eye on him. We're gonna keep him here for a few days to watch for infection." Rubbing his eyes, Greg went into another room as everyone present let out a huge sigh of relief and began hugging each other.

It was about another hour that an assistant came out of recovery, also looking very tired, to tell them that he was awake and ready for visitors. Cole and Kat went in without a second's hesitation. Chloe, Mark, Kendra, and Joanne simply waited until it was their turn to go in and see him.

"Oh thank god! I thought I might not have done enough!" Kendra groaned, rubbing her hands on her face but quickly pulling it away. They were caked in dried up blood. "Ugh, I better wash up."

"Me too," said Chloe queasily, noticing she also still had blood on her.

Together they went over to the water basin and cleaned up. Now that it looked like Will was going to be okay, Chloe felt exhausted. As soon as she got her visit in, she was going straight to bed. Will's parents were in there for an understandably long time, and they didn't leave until the sun had completely risen.

"Don't take too long," Kat advised, as she and Cole left. "He's really out of it." But surprisingly when the four friends took their seats around Will's bed, they found him sitting as straight as he could manage with a smile on his face.

"How're you feeling?" Joanne asked.


"Yeah right, how're you feeling?" Chloe said.

"Like shit," Will admitted with groan, sagging more in his bed. "Man, I wish they had that morphine stuff I've heard about."

They simply talked for a little while, at one point Chloe apologizing for dragging him out there in the first place. Will immediately waved that off (with a cringe), and claimed that it was his own damn fault. "I didn't react right to the gunfire. All I cared about when I ran outside was whether you were okay or not."

"Idiot," Chloe said, though she smiled a little, "the enemy comes first."

For as long as they could they just chatted as if everything were normal. They all knew that people were out right now collecting the horses from the rundown house, and possibly investigating the body left behind. After promising Will that he'd be kept informed if anything unexpected turned up, one of the clinic staff told them that they had to leave so he could get some rest.

Before Chloe was out the door, however, Will suddenly blurted out, "Hey, Chloe!"

"What?" she responded, stopping and turning to look at him. Joanne and Kendra also stopped, but Mark unexpectedly grabbed their collars of their shirts and yanked them out the door. The door slammed shut, and now Chloe and Will were alone. Mark is so dead!

"So, uh," he began nervously. "Um, over that breakup?"

Chloe burst out laughing, because she had completely forgotten the reason that they went out in the first place. "Seriously? I'm pretty sure this whole thing drove him out of my mind."

Snickering too, he said, "Almost makes getting shot worth it…. Hey, since that's the case, I was wondering…"

"Uh huh," Chloe said, crossing her arms.

"After I get better…I dunno, wanna hang out or—uh…"

"Will," she started, irritated, "either grow a fucking pair and ask me properly, or give it up!"

"Wanna go out with me after I get better?" Will blurted out all at once.

Sighing and rolling her eyes, Chloe answered, "Sure."

"Awesome!" he exclaimed, his voice cracking. With that done, Chloe was about to go, paused, and then went over to his side. Chloe kissed his cheek and took her leave, leaving him dumbfounded. It wasn't as if she fell in love with him or something in the last twenty-four hours—that'd be stupid! But she knew Will was a good guy who deserved a fair shot.

On the way back to her house, Chloe spotted a group of people that her dad was a part of. Spotting her, he told them, "We'll talk at my office."

"Hey, dad," she greeted. "I really am alright, y'know."

"And I believe you," he said. "I'm just here to tell you you're grounded."

"What?" Chloe said, her jaw dropping.

"Oh please, you must've seen this coming," her dad said, bemused.

"Yeah, but—but—"

"Have your mom redress that wound, and get some rest. You'll be pulling guard duty all night tonight. See you later, sweetheart," her dad said, kissing the top of her head and leaving.

Parents! Chloe thought.