Wow, long time no write, guys. My apologies. My writing muse is nowhere NEAR as… shall we say, "exuberant" as my artistic one, hahaha. (Well, I DID have a one-shot about halfway done around a month or two ago, but I kind of accidentally… deleted it, so... yeah, my bad there. Wasn't that great, anyway.)

But THIS new fanfic could actually be considered a "reworking" of the plot from the original accidentally-deleted one-shot. It started off as just a spontaneous passing idea, nothing special… but something about the concept kept drawing my mind back to it, and I knew I had to expand upon it before it got away from me. This'll be my first multi-chapter fanfic… ever! Will it turn out to be as good as it sounds in my head? Let's find out. Fingers crossed.

- Hemoptysis

I of course do not own Left 4 Dead, the Infected, so on and so forth, you know the drill. I own only Thomas as a fan character. Credit will be given where credit is due as other people's fan characters begin to appear, as well…

oOo

Unity

Prologue: Escape

"SAFE ROOM!"

If there was anything Thomas Bates could be certain of in this world anymore, it was that there were no two words more beautiful-sounding and welcoming in existence.

It was dark, terrifyingly so, the only sources of light the dirty bulb shining dimly above the safe room's door at the end of the long and narrow city street and the short beam cast by the small flashlight taped onto Brent's rifle, everything in between smothered in shadow, and they were running. The rain poured down upon the battered group of six, stinging their exposed arms and faces but that didn't matter, none of it mattered, they were blind to pain, focused solely on the single word that drummed itself repeatedly into their brains like a frenzied war cry only they could hear – run, RUN! Safe room's ahead! Don't stop, run run run run RUN!

The screaming reverberated all around them, echoing throughout the nearby alleyways – the screams of the horde, the Infected, alerted to the presence of possible fresh kills. They came at them from every side, materializing from seemingly nowhere, inhumanly fast, eyes that caught the minimal light and shone as hollow and predatory as those of sharks, completely stripped of all humanity by this devastating illness. Their existence defined now only by killing, feeding, killing again, and they clawed at them with clumsy fingers slick with blood and filth and rainwater that they beat away with the butts of their guns, never stopping, not even as they loosed flurries of bullets into the swarms of diseased bodies. Some fell; others just kept coming despite their wounds. They knew no fear, no agony, no sense of self-preservation, God almighty WHAT KEPT THEM GOING?

Thomas was ahead of the others, his massive surge of adrenaline the only thing keeping his tired body on its feet. His eyes barely left that reinforced, safety-promising door on the opposite end of the street, even as his fists collided with Infected's jaws and shoved them away to fall and be carelessly trampled by their cohorts. He allowed himself just the barest flicker of hope – they were nearly at the halfway point now, they had only to keep running, keep holding off the attacking horde, they couldn't let themselves be stopped, they couldn't even FALTER, slipping up was NOT an option here, because in a – dare he think it? – ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE situation slipping up even for the briefest second could mean CERTAIN DEATH…

He lifted his Submachine Gun and fired off another few rounds into the shrieking crowd of Infected, several more dropping into twitching, bleeding heaps out of sight. His hope was growing, if ever so slightly; the horde, it was lessening! This was it! If they kept this up they COULD make it to that safe room, they WOULD make it, they WOULD live, they WOULD they WOULD they WOULD, they just had to keep RUN-

An ear-splitting screech knifed through the sounds of the pouring rain and the wails of attacking and dying Infected, and then a second. A third. They tore Thomas right out of his racing thoughts and nearly caused his feet to slide out from beneath him in a puddle. It felt as though his stomach had just twisted itself into a thick knot, blood frozen in his veins, the rainwater on his skin suddenly cold as frost. Cold as death.

But he still didn't stop running.

Oh God oh God oh GOD PLEASE GOD NOT NOW IT CAN'T BE, OH NO PLEASE GOD PLEASE NO NONONONONO-

One of his friends, Phil, was shocked into stopping; he dropped his pistol, eyes wide with fear that his friends would never glimpse. "HUNTE-"

The warning shout dissolved into a terrified scream as something large and heavy leapt onto him from above, knocking him to the ground with a wet thud, and he didn't stop screaming until it became a choked gurgle seconds later and then it was silenced. Infected streaked past the other five survivors and into the darkness towards the spot, spurred onward by the noise and apparently undeterred by the sounds of deep, bestial snarling and ripping flesh, the scavengers…

Carter skidded to a halt, turning around, his expression horrified. "PHIL-!"

Thomas swore loudly, pausing for only the briefest moment to seize Carter by the shoulder and practically drag him along with him. "He's gone! You can't help him now! Worry about yourself, KEEP GOING!"

A distraught Carter obeyed that order, but he was unable to hide his quiet sobbing.

Another piercing screech tore the air and now Thomas could make out someone, someTHING racing along the rooftops to the right of them, just barely visible in his peripheral vision, effortlessly matching their frantic pace. Tracking them. A dark, limber silhouette, leaping from building to building and back again, impossibly agile in such poor conditions, INHUMANLY agile. No, not just one, TWO, one following directly behind the first. The one in front turned its head and he could see two ember-bright eyes, fixed directly onto him - the prey.

Yet another horrible screech sent a new surge of terror-driven energy into him, forcing renewed vigor into his legs and pushing his exhaustion aside. For now. He dared not turn his head to see but he knew there were more, there HAD to be. A pack. A WHOLE FUCKING PACK OF THEM. Too fast to shoot at, too powerful to take on PHYSICALLY. A sudden wave of crushing despair threatened to overwhelm him but he refused to let it get the upper hand, not yet. Their chances of reaching the safe room at all were slipping through their fingers like the raindrops themselves and they were powerless to stop it…

How cruel this game of chance could be.

They must've gotten Brent next, because suddenly the little flashlight's beam went out and they were plunged into total blackness. They hadn't even heard him fall, or scream, but somehow, they knew it was over. Thomas dug his teeth into his lip and kept moving, dodging the swiping fists and gnashing teeth of the weaker Infected still giving chase. He no longer bothered to shoot at them. Not enough time, only time enough to shove them aside. They were BY FAR not the most dangerous things coming after them now...

No more than a few seconds later there came the sound of a painfully loud metallic crash against the concrete that made the surrounding Infected cry out in anticipation; for a moment Thomas thought that one must've tripped over a trash can in the thick darkness, until he heard the panicked shouts and gunshots that swiftly went quiet followed by an ugly spattering sound that he didn't want to imagine the likely cause of. A pang of nausea carved through his insides and he fought the intense urge to vomit, eyes welling up with furious tears…

"STEPHEN? BARRY?" he called out desperately to his friends. The only responses were the cries of the horde and the faint sounds of Carter's mixed panting and sobbing behind him. That was it. They were the only ones left now. He felt the creeping dread, sick and dizzy from exhaustion, he wanted to cry but he would not break, he COULD NOT, not when he still had his own reasons to fight on…

Almost there, that feeble light above the safe room door like the beacon of a lighthouse across a stormy sea. Thomas' lungs burned, his lank blond hair plastered to his face with a mixture of rainwater and sweat and bloody grime and what he suspected might've been tears; he wasn't entirely sure his legs would even carry him the rest of the way but still he gave it one last burst of strength, all that was left in him, running like the Devil himself was on his heels. In a way, he WAS.

So CLOSE, only a little farther, a little farther and they'd be safe. Maybe there was still a chance, maybe they COULD outrun this pack, just a minute longer, oh please God please help us-

Carter's foot caught in a pothole and he fell sprawling into a shallow puddle, gasping with the pain of the impact and his fear. "THOMAS!"

Thomas' momentum carried him forward several feet, nearly losing his balance when Carter's alarmed shout halted him. He whirled back around, heart hammering in his chest. He knew he had to run, that stopping even for a SECOND like this left him vulnerable, but he couldn't just LEAVE his only remaining companion behind, could he…?

He bared his teeth and started back, shouting and swinging his gun at the advancing Infected that grabbed for him, scraping his skin with their broken, bloody nails, searching for handholds. One seized his arm and he punched it in the mouth, feeling several teeth break against his knuckles, cutting into them. He was too distracted to feel the pain. He had to get to Carter, had to help him before one of those… those THINGS got its chance…

He was only feet away. He dove forward, reaching out for Carter's outstretched hand…

His fingers had just barely brushed against the tips of his friend's when Carter was suddenly jerked backwards, being dragged across the ground on his belly; Thomas could make out a large shape on all fours, its teeth fastened securely in his ankle, growling and snarling viciously through the mouthful of flesh, bone…

The last he saw of him before he was lost to the shadows were his two wide, terrified eyes staring pleadingly into Thomas' own, fingernails scrabbling helplessly against the asphalt and screaming for his help though he knew there could be none for him now…

Bile rose in Thomas' throat and he choked it back down, turning and forcing his legs back into a run towards the safe room. He was alone now. There'd been six of them and in only a minute they'd been torn down to one. An angry howl rose above all others like a siren and he knew he was next…

He'd be DAMNED if he'd let that happen.

He ran and ran and all that he knew was running and adrenaline, his body was reaching its breaking point but nothing else existed except for the slap of his boots against the wet pavement and the rush of blood in his eardrums from his thundering pulse. He gulped in lungfuls of the humid, corpse-scented air and powered through the burning cramp in his right side; he barely had the strength to duck down as he moved, hoping to whatever cruel God there was that the few remaining weaker Infected would help to conceal him…

Another howl, it was gaining on him…

The safe room was no more than twenty feet away, he could practically TASTE safety, oh God Carter if only he hadn't tripped, we BOTH could've made it, if only we hadn't been found by those-

HOWLING…

NO!

He squeezed his eyes shut and with a final lunge his shoulder hit the metal bar that opened the door and he was finally through, inside the safe room at last. He spun around just in time to see a dark figure springing straight for him with a hellish scream above the charging bodies of the ordinary Infected, a jump far beyond the physical capabilities of any normal human being; the light above the doorway glinted off of stained, sharpened teeth and claws and two wild eyes aglow beneath a hood…

Thomas grabbed the battered, steel-plated door and slammed it shut with the last bit of strength he was capable of summoning, hearing it lock itself with a heavy click - not a second later it shuddered in its frame as the beast's body smashed into the other side. There was a barely-audible snapping sound and a yelp, then nothing. He stood there, swaying, dumbstruck with disbelief and alone in the dark, empty room where five others should've been with him, hands still clamped white-knuckled around his well-used Submachine Gun. He listened blankly to the weaker Infected baying and pounding at the door for him; against all odds, he'd made it - he was safe, for now… but completely, totally, and hopelessly alone.

His knees trembled, buckled, and finally gave out underneath him from sheer exhaustion; he fell back against a wall, sliding slowly down until he was in a sitting position on the floor, wheezing, aching, soaked and shivering with the combined cold and crazed overexertion. The pain was finally catching up to him; not all of it was physical. Neither his panting nor the continuously pouring rain outside could do anything to stifle the sounds of the roaring, pounding horde, or the pack's victorious cries of a hunger sated and ripping viscera…

He finally released his death-grip on the gun; it clattered onto the tiles beside him. He fell over on his side, curled into a pathetic, shaking ball, and wept.

oOo

I'm not very good at writing fast-paced, intense action scenes, okay? (I've gotten a tad rusty in the few months I haven't SERIOUSLY attempted to write anything, pfffft.)

So yeah, only a weak prologue for right now (hopefully it came across as fast and desperate-sounding and FILLED WITH DANGER as I would've liked), but I hope to have the ACTUAL first chapter done soon, work, college, and muse permitting, so stay tuned! Any reviews would be greatly appreciated! (And for the love of God, don't worry - this story won't be written ENTIRELY in italics. Hahaha.)

PS: The title of this fanfic comes from a Shinedown song, also called "Unity". I had to. The lyrics were just TOO fitting, heh. Until next time!