They were not terribly fortunate with the supplies left in the new safe house. There were a few half-used med kits, some cans of mixed fruit, two or three cans of tuna, a small collection of water bottles, and very few bullets that actually matched their weapons. They were grateful, however, for a surplus of bedding that greatly overshadowed their one-person sleeping bag from the night before. There was also a large collection of battery operated lanterns that were still functional. It was nice to have some decent light for a change.
Todd carefully applied antibiotic ointment to the evil-looking slashes on his stomach, but his focus was on his peripheral. Dee was constructing a bed -to the best of her ability with one useful arm—out of a few sleeping bags and a number of blankets that they had gathered together from around the safe house. She looked pitiful, hard though she tried to hide her pain. She was pale as ever and hunched in utter exhaustion. Blood stained most of her arm and some continued to ooze sluggishly from under the bandages. He tossed the tube of ointment aside.
"Take a break. I'll put the bed together," he said, taking a corner of the blanket she was currently struggling to smooth.
"I've got it," she replied with a hint of crabbiness in her voice as she tried to tug the blanket free from him.
He shrugged off the bite in her tone. It wasn't the first time she'd gotten snippy with him after a long day. He shifted his grip on the blanket to keep her from pulling it away from him and accidentally brushed her hand with his. Her grip momentarily loosened in surprise at the breech of their usual physical boundaries, and he was able to take the opportunity to flick the blanket to rest smoothly on top of the others. He fought the urge to grin when he caught a glimpse of her pursed lips. Sometimes he liked irritating her just to see her scrunch up her mouth that way. This happened to be one of those times. He grabbed another blanket and added it to the pile.
Dee resignedly sat down on a decrepit wooden chair and looked around. Empty gauze packages littered one corner room. The wrappers stood out in sharp contrast to their dusty surroundings. It appeared to her that another party had been there recently, but at least one of them was gravely wounded. She thought about that. Despite her torn up arm and Todd's deep cuts, they had been very lucky so far. It unsettled her. Eventually, their luck had to run out. It twisted her already frayed nerves to think that something could happen to them. Something could happen to Todd.
She glanced at him as he put the finishing touches on their makeshift bed. Any time he'd touched her hand before, it was either to yank her out of the way of the trouble she inevitably got into or pat it reassuringly. Tonight was different. Heat and electricity had erupted on contact. Strangely, it angered her. She'd ached for that sensation for ages. Sure, she'd assuaged it with a few scattered romances during high school and college, but her desires were always inexorably drawn back to him. Now, at what could easily be the end of the world, what could very well be the end of their lives, it seemed that he had decided he wanted to act on the feelings that they had locked tightly away for years. Where the hell had he been all of this time? All the built up frustration from her ignored hints and failed attempts at making their relationship advance seemed to burst through their barriers at once.
She set her jaw and stalked over to the sink. From the look of it, it wasn't likely to give her any water. She twisted the knob and nothing happened. She twisted it back to the off position. Then on. Nothing. Off, then on, off, then on. Same result. She felt Todd's eyes on her but she didn't care. She went to her medical kit and tore it open. Furiously, she scrubbed at the dried blood on her arm with an antiseptic wipe. Her forehead was starting to hurt from scowling.
Todd sat on the bed and watched Dee threaten to rub her skin raw. What had gotten into her?
"If you aren't careful, you won't have an arm left after all of that scrubbing," he said in an attempt at creating some levity. Her head snapped up and she glared at him. The optimistic grin on his face withered under her cold green stare.
"Are you okay?"
She fixed her gaze back on her bloodied arm and he saw her jaw muscles clench.
"Fine," she hissed through gritted teeth.
"Is this about the bed? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she growled shortly as she tossed the bloodstained wipe into the corner of the safe house that seemed to be designated for trash.
Todd was getting annoyed. He knew this verbal game and hated it. He could never win.
"Alright, don't tell me. I'll be over here if you decide you want to talk like a reasonable person."
The words stung enough to coax Dee part of the way out of her tantrum. She was being immature… but she reminded herself that had the right to be angry. She looked back up at him and, begrudgingly, her face softened. He was on the makeshift bed chewing his tongue and furrowing his brow at his hands. He was utterly clueless, she knew. Her anger began to deflate, but a stubborn little part of her tried desperately to hold onto her indignation. He had to know what he was doing. Right?
But, if she was fair, all he did was brush his hand against hers. He hadn't kissed her. He hadn't pulled her into an embrace. He hadn't even given her a look. It was just skin against skin; easily an accident. She rubbed a tired eye and grimaced. She was being stupid.
"I'm sorry," she sighed and released the tension in her shoulders with another exhaled breath, "I'm just not thinking clearly. I shouldn't have snapped at you."
Todd shrugged a shoulder, obviously irritated as well. He chewed his tongue for a few long moments and finally expelled his tired wheeze.
"We've both had a rough night. Let's just drop it and start over tomorrow, okay?" He turned to read her face.
She nodded, feeling the remainder of that indignant voice in her head fall silent. It was replaced with a deep and crushing exhaustion that threatened to force her eyelids shut right at that moment. She shuffled to the bed and carefully lay down. After he turned off the lanterns Todd lay down as well, and turned his back to her, as usual.
"Thanks, Todd," she said, sounding about as small and vulnerable as she felt.
She heard him shift under the blankets and felt his eyes on her, though she couldn't see two inches in front of her face.
"Stop worrying," he said, "we're cool, Dee. G'night."
The words "we're cool" would have meant little to anyone else, but Dee knew their full meaning. He had forgiven her stupid tantrum. The words warmed her tired body and she cuddled deeper into the mass of blankets.
"G'night," she whispered and let herself slip into oblivion.
Todd was stretched to the very end of wakefulness, but frustratingly unable to sleep. A muted growling echoed in the front of the pawn shop. The Hunter hadn't left since they entered the safe house, and it was driving him crazy. All of the Hunters he had encountered in the past were never so tenacious. This oddball unnerved him. He quietly slipped out of bed and picked up his pistol. There was no reason for him not to be rid of the persistent Infected.
He poked his flashlight between the bars of the safe house door and swept the front room with its beam. He couldn't find the damn thing anywhere. Suddenly, a clawed and grey-mottled hand knocked the flashlight out of Todd's grip. The Hunter leapt on the offending object with a snarl and bashed it against the floor until the light went out. Todd heard the unmistakable thump of the Hunter's sneakered feet meeting the wall above the door and quickly backed away. There was no way he could safely squeeze off a shot at that angle. The Hunter was obviously smart. That worried Todd more than he cared to admit.
He gripped the pistol so long and so hard that his hand started to go numb. It had to be past midnight, he guessed. Unable to keep his eyes open much longer, he relented and crawled back into bed. There would be time to take care of the Hunter in the morning. At long last, Todd went to sleep. Outside, the Hunter's feet met the floor with a slap that nobody was awake to hear.
They slept late into the next morning. As soon as Dee opened her eyes, she felt watched. She looked over at Todd. He was still in his typical sleeping pose, with just his wild hair sticking out from the Todd burrito he had created from his share of the blankets. Just she was started to feel a smile tug at the corners of her mouth, she heard an urgent clicking noise coming from the direction of the reinforced door.
She saw a Hunter through the bars, its dried and bloodied lips twisted in frustration over equally stained teeth. It was frantically working the doorknob back and forth. When it found that the door was not going to open, it began to claw and snarl and bite at the door knob, shifting instantly from something strangely resembling reason to typical mindless Hunter aggression. Dee reached for her pistol but a jolt of pain in her arm made her recoil. She nudged Todd and clamped her good hand over his mouth when he gasped his way awake.
His brows furrowed as his sleepy mind started to clear and Dee pointed to the door, wincing when another painful shock traveled up her arm. Todd quietly rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself up slowly to reach for his gun. The Hunter wasn't getting away this time, he told himself. His fingers met the metal of the gun and the Hunter suddenly stopped attacking the doorknob. The creature's shadowed face hardened into fearful lines when it peered through the bars and saw Todd. It clutched at its wounded shoulder in memory and it leapt away from the door just as Todd swung the gun around to fire.
"Did you see that?" whispered Dee.
Todd pushed himself into the sitting position and nodded, "He's a lot smarter than any other Hunter we've dealt with. I tried to shoot him last night, but he knocked my flashlight out of my hand and made sure I couldn't use it again."
Dee shuddered and sat up, "What if there are more like that one? What if they're getting smarter?"
Todd looked at her and saw the fear in her eyes. He squeezed her good shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile.
"We'll just have to be smarter than them," he said with a confidence he didn't really feel.
He felt Dee's anxiety lessen, but his intensified. How the hell were they supposed to defend themselves from God knew how many smart Hunters? The one at the door seemed to be about one step down from them in the reasoning department. What sort of plans could a group of them create together? He rubbed his eyes and got up to change his bandages.
Dee sat in bed for a little bit longer. She didn't relish the thought of leaving the warm blankets and facing the reality of yesterday's injuries. The goose egg on her head throbbed, her arm was painfully swollen, and the rest of her body felt weak and strange, as if all of her muscles had turned to mush. She finally made herself get up –albeit unsteadily- when Todd tossed her a roll of gauze for her arm and it flew over her head.
She followed the runaway roll to the door and cautiously took a peek outside. The sun was bright outside and sparse Infected were shuffling around on the street. As she watched, she tried to see if any of them moved with purpose or showed any signs of thought like the Hunter had. She didn't find anything unusual; all of the Infected that she could see moved in their typical sluggish way without seeming to know where they were going. That was a comforting thought.
Suddenly, glass shattered. Dee and Todd instantly looked to the two boarded up windows on the back wall of the safe house. One of the planks that protected the first window rattled under the determined hands of whatever had broken the glass. Todd grabbed a formidable looking desk from one end of the room and braced it against the window. There was a familiar frustrated snarl and the crash of the other window breaking. There was nothing left that could be used to barricade the window. They would have to leave while the Hunter was distracted.
Dee snatched up the medical supplies and food while Todd hurried to reload their guns and checked the map for the next safe house. He grimaced when he saw that they would have to use the city's sewer system. The Hunter pounded against the boards, splintering two and loosening a few nails. Dee unlocked the door as quietly as she could and the pair slipped out into the front room of the pawn shop. Todd stepped over the remains of his flashlight and quickly scanned the room for any supplies that they might find useful. He found a bottle of whiskey and a lighter and put them in his medical kit.
There was no time to lose. Todd drew his AK-47 and moved hunched in front of Dee, who held her rifle-turned-club at the ready. They were spotted immediately and the Infected came from all sides. Todd was able to mow most of them down, however, and Dee managed to dispatch a couple with the butt of the rifle. Once free, they ran as fast as they were able in the direction of the electrical plant that they had passed through just the night before. Todd was fairly certain that Dee didn't have the stamina to take the course planned on the map, so he improvised. They turned right down an alley that led to the next street over.
A woman sat sobbing in the alley behind a car that blocked their path. Dee's blood ran cold. A Witch. The Infected woman's light hair shook as she cried, the bright red glow of her eyes sometimes escaping through gaps in the too-long fingers that shielded her face. Todd turned and shot a couple of curious Infected that had wandered down the alley. The Witch didn't seem to care. She was too caught up in whatever it was she was bawling about. Dee saw Todd take out his med kit.
"This is no time to change your bandages," she hissed, gesturing with her rifle at the Witch.
Todd gave her a look and produced the bottle of whiskey and lighter from his kit. He carefully tore a strip of cloth from his already ruined shirt and fashioned a sort of Molotov cocktail. The fuse lit with a hiss and he threw the bottle over the car at the Witch. Fire erupted across the alley and the Witch shrieked in what could have been anger or pain or both. Hampered by the car blocking her path toward her attackers, she turned and ran the other way, engulfed and screaming like something out of hell.
Todd flashed Dee a triumphant grin before turning to pick off the straggling Infected that shambled down the alley. Once the fire from the Molotov had died, they climbed over the car –Dee managed to burn a few knuckles and both knees on the hot metal—and made their way to the next street.
A large office building stood higher than the other buildings on that road, and Todd knew it was the one that the map said they should go to. A lift would bring them to the top floor, where he was sure they would be even more vulnerable than they already were. Once they got to the top floor, they would have to make their way back down to the ground level to enter the sewer. There was no way Dee had that sort of stamina. She was slowing their progress already.
Todd took a moment to redirect their course. If they continued down the road they were on for maybe ten or eleven blocks and then turned right, they should have a straight shot to the next safe house at Mercy Hospital. It was a longer route, but at least they could see their surroundings and wouldn't have to worry about contaminating their wounds in the sewer.
They headed down the road at an increasingly faltering pace. Dee was having a hard time keeping her rifle up and running at the same time. Short bouts of dizziness were starting to impede her, as well, but they had to keep moving. She crashed into Todd when he suddenly stopped in front of her.
He silenced her with an upheld hand. In a moment, she knew. The ground shook beneath them. From the volume of its roars, she guessed that Tank wasn't very far away. They had to clear the street before it saw them. That was really their only chance; even if they were both as healthy as they could possibly be, it very unlikely that they could take down the beast without outside help. The strengthening vibrations worked their way from the ground up Dee's weak legs. She still couldn't see the beast, but that could have been because her vision was starting to blur.
Todd looked around frantically for some place to hide. The office building was an impossibility. The clothing store next to it was too boarded up to try and break into. The expensive restaurant further down the street had huge windows that left them wide open for an attack. He turned around. Perfect. The library was an old building with thin windows and tall, stylized doors. The Tank might be able to break into the building, but he'd have a hard time getting around. Plus, floors and floors of bookshelves would provide ample opportunities to hide.
Another, much louder roar heralded the Tank's arrival. It stopped at the end of the street and lifted onto its legs to get a good whiff of the air. Good. It hadn't seen them yet. Still watching the Tank, Todd reached out and grabbed the first part of Dee his hand met: her injured arm. She gave a pained yelp and clapped her good hand over her mouth. The ground rumbled and a furious roar shook the air. They'd been spotted.
Todd pulled Dee along, this time grasping her sleeve instead of her arm. The library door was locked. From a rooftop a couple buildings away, they heard the familiar screech of a Hunter. The Tank was barreling down the street toward them. And then, to put the icing on this already fatal cake, Dee fainted dead away.