Well, this is it, the last chapter. I know there are some loose ends that people will have questions about, but i really just feel like this story is done. Maybe sometime in the future I'll do a sequel, but this is it for now. Thanks to all who commented and reviewed, it means so much! Enjoy...
Claire's head hurt. She grimaced as she tried to open her eyes, her forehead wrinkling just worsened the pain in her right temple.
Fighting through the throbbing ache, she opened her eyes, thinking that she had been sleeping in the SUV. As she took in her surroundings she knew that was false.
She was in the back of a small, dark cave. The light from the entrance wasn't far away at all, and cast stretched shadows of both Kmart and Carlos standing against the sunlight. They were whispering to each other in hushed tones. Claire couldn't make out anything they were saying, but they seemed oblivious to her bout of consciousness.
She looked to her left and spotted Chris, still sleeping. He was sitting up against the curved cave wall, his head slumped over to his shoulder and his breath came through his open mouth. He looked like he used to when he would fall asleep on the couch, arms straight at his sides though his hands were tied together, and legs outstretched in front of him.
Claire shifted her body and found that her own hands were bound tightly with thick rope and enforced with a layer of duct tape. Her legs and feet were free.
She scowled angrily to herself as she remembered what had happened; how Carlos and Kmart had betrayed her and knocked her out. She almost cried out in rage, but stopped herself as their private conversation rose slightly in volume, enough for Claire to finally hear. She quickly closed her eyes and faked sleep as she listened.
"I don't know how she got away," She heard Carlos growl through gritted teeth. "You know how she is. It's easy for her to break out of restraints that would undoubtedly hold anyone else."
"Then you shouldn't have expected to be able to hold her here!" Kmart snapped. "What made you think some loose rope and tape would keep her still?"
"You would have done the same thing if you had been in my position."
"No, I would have killed her. End of problem."
"That's easy for you to say in hindsight." Claire could almost hear Carlos rolling his eyes. "It's different when it's actually happening. Timing is everything. I had to act quickly."
"Yes, and in acting quickly you sacrificed stealth and accuracy. I can't believe this." Kmart's voice was slightly clearer, like she was facing Claire head on now. She could just picture the teenager turning away from Carlos with crossed arms.
"You of all people must know how important timing is in these situations," Carlos said. "Otherwise you wouldn't have screwed things up with Claire. You just couldn't wait, could you?"
A loud crack sounded and bounced off the walls of the cave. Claire squinted one of her eyes open the tiniest bit to see Carlos holding a hand to his cheek.
"Shut up. Yes, I screwed up. Yes, I tried to hasten things that should have been held out longer. But I intended to fix the problems I made. See? Chris and Claire, right there where I can watch them; stop them from doing anything to hurt us. But where's Alice, Carlos? Where's your mistake?"
"This isn't my fault." Carlos said stubbornly. "And not the issue at the moment either. The issue is getting her back; making sure no one else finds out about any of this."
"That's right," Kmart said in a low voice. "And damage control. We find Alice, bring her back here. Deal with the three of them. Then we come up with a story to tell the rest of the convoy to explain their absences."
"What do you mean 'deal' with them?" Carlos asked hesitantly.
"Ugh. Look, Carlos, just because you were friends with those women once doesn't mean we need to keep them around. The plan has obviously gone to shit, and there's no way to fix it other than ending their lives. They won't keep quiet any other way."
"I can't kill them." Carlos whispered. For a minute his tone reminded Claire of her old friend, the one who would have died to protect her at any given moment. Maybe Carlos wasn't all gone, she thought.
She opened her eyes, hoping to see the sincerity on his face. Maybe if she could just talk to him they could get out of here.
But when the blurriness faded from the edges of her vision, she not only saw Kmart and Carlos, staring each other down. She also saw the figure standing behind them, silhouetted black by the angle of the sun.
She knew by the sure stance and the outline of short cropped hair, the two sheathed knives strapped to the legs and the handle of a compact gun peeking over the back of the shoulder: it was Alice.
Alice didn't rush at Carlos and Kmart as she silently dropped from the overhanging mouth of the cave. Instead she stood still and quiet, listening to them talk in front of her. She wanted to know how the conversation would end; what Kmart would decide to do to "deal" with Claire and Chris.
But mostly she just wanted to wait until the perfect time to kick their asses.
As they argued, Alice saw Claire stir on the far side of the cave. Anger surged within her as she noticed the ropes binding Claire's hands together and a large purple bruise on her temple. Her feet wanted to move on their own, twitching in place. She wanted to go to Claire, but not just yet...
She saw Claire's eyes shut and her pulse quickened. Something had happened, she thought. Something bad.
With a grunt Alice propelled herself towards the back of the cave, stopping with both hands pressed against the back wall around Claire, and knelt to form a protective barrier. She moved her right hand to sweep gently across the redhead's cheek.
Claire's eyes snapped open in response to the touch. "Alice." Her relief was apparent in her tone.
"You're okay?" Alice asked, finally hearing someone's footsteps behind her.
Alice scrunched her eyebrows together in confusion and then, realizing what Claire wanted, bent backwards at her knees until her head touched the ground behind her.
She saw Kmart above her.
She saw the gun pointed at her own chest.
And she saw Claire's face twisting into a terrifying mask of rage as she brought a leg back until the knee touched her chest, then struck forward, her boot catching Kmart square in the face.
The blonde staggered back, managing to keep her footing, and Alice moved.
In one fluid motion she twisted back up and around to face Kmart, once more at her full height. She reached for her kukri knives as she positioned herself protectively in front of Claire.
"I'm glad you decided to show up," Kmart said, blowing light hair out of her face. "It would have been a real bitch trying to find you."
"Well you won't have to worry about that anymore. Here I am." The knives squealed intimidatingly as they slid against the smooth leather sheaths, as if they were delighted to be of use.
"I do have one question," Kmart said. The two of them had begun stepping carefully, plotting in a large, slow circle. Their eyes never left each others'. "How did you do it? I'd been hinting to Claire for months; trying to get her to notice, and here you come along and in just a few days she's all over you. How does that happen?"
Alice rolled her eyes. "It helps to not be a fucking psychopath, for one thing."
Behind her she heard Claire snort.
"Maybe one day when you're older you'll learn. If your stupidity doesn't get you killed."
"I'm not the one whose going to get myself killed anytime soon." The teenagers' eyes darkened with a menacing danger. She fingered the trigger on the rifle she held.
"Do you really want to do this?" Alice asked, raising an eyebrow.
Kmart sneered in response, bringing the butt of the gun up to rest on her shoulder. Her supporting arm shook in response to the weight of the weapon.
"What about you, Carlos?" Alice called over her shoulder, not taking her eyes off the young girl in front of her. "You've been awful quiet back there. You gonna try to bring me down, too?"
"Alice, Claire..." He began, his voice dripping with sincerity and sorrow. "I wish I could begin to explain to you how-"
"Yeah, okay." Alice cut him off, and didn't pause before she launched herself at Kmart, who had cocked the gun and started to aim. She was knocked to the floor by Alice's shoulder, but managed to hold on to the rifle.
"See, the thing about your gun is," Alice said, dancing away from Kmart as she swiped at Alice's feet. "That it's a long range weapon."
The younger woman fired a shot haphazardly in Alice's direction, but the bullet went long and high, grazing the cave's ceiling as Claire thumped her in the side of the head with her fists, hands still clasped together.
Alice tossed one of the knives at the teenager. Not wanting to hit Claire accidentally, she aimed for Kmarts' leg, but she jumped to the side at the last second. The knife missed.
Kmart aimed at Alice again, firing another shot that almost hit, but instead grazed the blonde's arm, painting a thin line of red along her skin.
Alice cried out in pain and surprise. She gasped as she saw another bullet coming straight at her face, and flattened herself to the ground instantly. She sucked in a deep breath.
This kid must have been watching Claire's fighting skills intensely,she thought.
"Stay still so I can kill you!" She heard Kmart shout. She was obviously angry that Alice had just narrowly escaped a sure hit.
Alice jumped to her feet once again, and spotted Kmart's face pressed to the gun, the scope pointed directly at Alice's face.
There was a loud shout, a growl of rage, and both Alice and Kmart had a second to look around for the source of the noise before the teenager was flying through the air.
Alice saw her hit the wall of the cave and bounce off, her head smacking a rock as she landed. The rifle clattered to the ground and skidded to a stop at Claire's feet.
The redhead was panting, her face red from the effort and force with which she had to shove Kmart after jumping to her feet.
"What happened?" Chris asked from the back corner of the cave. The loud fighting must have finally woken him up, Alice thought.
She walked over to the unmoving teenager and gently placed two fingers over her pulse point. She closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh. The slowly growing pool of blood leaking from under her mass of blonde hair was enough to confirm any doubts Alice had about Kmart's condition.
"Tell me she's not..." Claire whispered, taking a tentative step towards the body.
Alice turned to look at her with a solemn expression. "I'm sorry."
"What happened?" Chris asked again, this time more demanding. Alice went over to help him. She cut his bindings with her remaining blade and pulled him to his feet.
"Kmart got a little trigger happy." Alice explained vaguely. "Claire stopped her."
"I didn't mean to," Claire said, staring down at the unmoving body. "I just wanted to get the gun away from her."
Alice looked around the cave. "Where's Carlos?"
"He must have taken off when the fighting started." Claire said.
"Wait a minute," Chris said, looking at Alice with the slightest hint of a grin. "You let a teenage girl almost best you in a fight? And I'd heard such great things about you."
"Shut up." She said, rolling her eyes, but she couldn't hide the smile that crept onto her face, nor the quiet laughter that started to bubble up from her throat.
Claire looked at her with wide eyes, then she too began to laugh. Soon all three of them were chuckling, and trying to stop made it worse.
"So what now?" Chris asked when the laughter had died out.
"We leave. We leave and we forget this happened." Claire said, deliberately not looking at Kmart's lifeless body.
They walked toward the cave's entrance, Chris in front, Alice and Claire behind him. Alice reached for Claire's hand, and the redhead entwined her fingers with Alice's.
Nobody retrieved Kmart's rifle.
The sun had set a few hours ago at the convoy's camp, and everyone had since gone to bed. Chris sat by the fire, taking first watch as he was too filled with adrenaline still from the earlier events.
Alice and Claire were in the SUV, taking off weapons and unnecessary accessories and shoes.
Claire sighed heavily and leaned her head on Alice's shoulder.
"Well, look at it this way," Alice said, wrapping the other girl up in her arms. "It's one less problem you'll have to deal with tomorrow. And you managed to get through today alright."
"I guess." She answered, turning in Alice's arms to face her. "I'm just sorry I didn't see it coming. Any of it. What kind of a leader am I if I can't even see obvious things like this?"
Alice brought her lips to Claire's, silencing the redhead before she could berate herself more.
"Stop," She said as she pulled away. "No one could have seen that shit coming. Kmart was a fruit loop, okay? None of that was your fault."
Claire sighed again. "I know, I know. I think I'll feel better tomorrow, though."
Alice crinkled her brow, confused. "Why? What's tomorrow?"
Claire grinned a mischievous grin as she looked at Alice.
"It's the day we move everyone to that shop and start machining some ammo."
"So soon?" Alice asked in disbelief.
"If not now, when? What is waiting going to do for us?"
Alice nodded. "See? You make a great leader."
Claire pressed her lips to Alice's again, and the blonde leaned into the kiss, lowering the two of them down onto the sheets. Alice's hands began riding up Claire's shirt, raising it above her stomach to her chest...
"Light!" Claire cried out, pointing to the overhead dome light of the SUV.
Alice silenced her again with her lips, and without breaking the kiss, reached around Claire to toss a shoe at the dash controls.
The last light in the convoy blinked out.