Nick clenched his fists, "Life Ellis. Life isn't fair."
Alex sat with Hailey as long as he could. Then, he gave her a final squeeze and looked down at his niece. "I think there's a garden down the street there." He pointed at a gate situated down the road, barely visible through the thick vines covering it. "Maybe Rochelle will take you to see if there are any flowers?" Alex glanced up at Rochelle.
Rochelle nodded quickly and held out her hand, "I'm sure we'll find something pretty!" Her voice was steady, but her eyes glistened with tears.
"Are you sure?" Hailey asked her uncle.
"Go on." Alex told her.
"Ok!" Hailey jumped up and grabbed Rochelle's hand. She gave Alex a little wave and the two set off. The older woman glanced back at Alex.
He nodded and mouthed, "Thank you."
She gave a slight tip of the head in response and resumed talking with the girl.
Alex looked after them, pain evident in his face. Then, he let out a string of hacking coughs. As his hand left his mouth, Nick saw the blood.
"Oh, shit." Coach crouched next to him, "What can we do?"
"What're you talkin' about?" Ellis exclaimed, "We aren't jus' going to stand here and let you die!"
Alex sighed and slowly, painfully, rolled up his shirt. They all stared at the enormous red bruise that covered the entire right side of his abdomen.
"I've seen this before. It doesn't end well." Alex dropped his shirt and rested his head back on the wall. He looked up at the survivors, "Can I talk to Nick alone?"
Coach nodded and crouched down. He put a hand on the man's shoulder, "Godspeed."
Coach stood and moved toward the middle of the street, watching for any stray infected.
Ellis put a big smile on his face, "Don't worry Alex, I'll teach her everything I know!"
"Is that a good thing?"
"Of course it is!" Ellis claimed. He turned to join Coach.
The mechanic looked over his shoulder, "Yeah?"
Alex dipped his head, "Thanks for making her laugh."
Ellis' smile faltered for a moment, "No problem."
Nick watched Ellis walk away. The mechanic's shoulders were stiff and Nick knew he was trying not to cry.
Alex began coughing again, much more violently than before. As the fit subsided he wiped away more blood from his mouth. "I need you to do something for me." He said as he reached into his jacket pocket.
Nick looked down at Alex's outstretched hand. A teenage boy smiled back at him with messy, dark hair nearly covering his eyes. Alex pressed the photo into Nick's hand, careful not to bend it. "That's about a year old. He should be sixteen now. He was evacuated from a summer camp outside the city and ended up somewhere across the river. That's where the military set up at."
"You want us to go find this kid?" Nick asked incredulously.
"His name is Jamie."
"No way! We almost got blown up getting across the goddamn river the first time! What makes you think we'd go back?" Nick hissed.
Alex opened his mouth but Nick cut him off, "How do you even know the camps are still there?" Nick knew he was being a dick to the dying man but he was on a roll, "They blew the bridges to keep the infected out! I've been on both sides, there are infected everywhere!"
The soldier suddenly grabbed Nick's shirt and yanked him to eye-level with surprising strength, "Cut the tough guy act Nick. I saw what happened in that alley."
Nick glared at him, "You didn't see shit."
"But I also saw you two weeks ago. You waited until the last second to leave that window. You care for those people whether you like it or not." Alex pushed the conman away weakly, his strength failing. He took something off his neck and held it out to Nick.
He hesitated before taking the dog tags.
"You protect her. You protect her and find her brother," Alex's voice was low and threatening, "He's all she's got left."
"We can barely take care of ourselves." Nick replied, but there was no bite left in his words. The soldier had voiced exactly what Nick thought would never happen.
Alex's head slumped against the wall and he smiled weakly, "You already have one kid to take care of, I'm sure you can handle another." The grin slipped from Alex's face and was replaced by a grimace of pain. "Please, don't let her see me." He rasped.
"I won't." Nick promised.
The soldier's eyes closed and he took a few shallow breaths. Then, he was still.
They worked quickly. Coach and Ellis moved the body inside while Nick found cardboard to cover him with. Ellis produced a black marker and had written "Alex" on the wall.
"What's his last name?" the mechanic whispered.
"Give me that." Nick snatched the marker and with a quick glance at the id tags, finished the words.
"Alex Meyer. Uncle, brother, soldier, friend." Coach read. He nodded solemnly, "That's good Nick."
"Yeah, whatever." He turned and walked to the door. As Coach and Ellis passed him after saying their final goodbyes, Nick looked over his shoulder at the fallen survivor. He nodded once before hurrying after the others.
As they neared the garden Hailey tore around the corner, yellow daisies clutched in her fist, "Look what Rochelle found!"
She ran past Coach and Ellis but stopped short when she saw only Nick. "Where's Alex?" she looked around and noticed Ellis, "Why do you have his backpack?"
Ellis looked at the bag in his hand as if it was going to explode.
Rochelle crouched in front of the girl, "Hailey-,"
"Where is Alex?" Hailey asked slowly.
"He isn't with us." Coach said as gently as possible.
"What do you mean? What did you do to him?!" her voice rose.
Rochelle put a hand on Hailey's shoulder, "Sweetie, that Tank hurt him really bad and,"
Hailey shoved Rochelle away and backed up a step. "You're lying! Nothing can hurt Alex!" The others flinched at the shrillness of her voice and adjusted their grips on their guns.
She suddenly took off past Rochelle, "ALEX!"
Nick caught her easily.
"Let go, let me go!" she squirmed in his grip.
He looked at Coach to see him pointing down the street. Nick glanced over his shoulder and saw a single infected shuffling onto the street.
Time to go.
Without letting go of her wrist, Nick shouldered his gun and picked up Hailey, pushing her face into his chest. She beat at him with her little fists, her cries muffled by his jacket. The group set off at a slow run.
Nick didn't look back. None of them did. Their thoughts were on the safety they hoped was still there.