note: Here's three.
Don't own MSB or The Walking Dead or the title.
under cover of darkness
by the ultimateSora
Arnold knew the girl in his bed was Wanda. There was no mistaking the scent of her perfume or how her body felt. Yet, he always pictured he was with Phoebe, that it was Phoebe he was kissing and holding, that Phoebe would be the one he would wake up next to. He would never be over her, he knew that. He cared for Wanda, and he hated that he could never give her everything emotionally, not when he still loved Phoebe.
When she was asleep, he got up and put his boxer-briefs and jeans on. He took the photo album he usually kept under his pillow out from his backpack, and he went outside. He walked a little ways into the woods, and he looked at Phoebe's pictures in the moonlight. He was far enough away that his cries couldn't be heard. He was still mourning her. Crying to himself over her images was all he could do. And now that it was well after midnight, it was officially July thirteenth. She would be eighteen today.
He kissed her picture. "Happy birthday, Phoebe. Part of me is sorry you couldn't see your eighteenth, but the other part of me is happy you're not suffering like the rest of us."
Arnold could clearly remember his last days with her, her lifeless body strapped to those hospital machines. He was at that hospital everyday, talking to her as he'd lay beside her. He'd hold her hand, give her the occasional kiss on the cheek, whisper in her ear that he loved her and wanted her to wake up. He'd put fresh roses in her bedside vase, different colors to surprise her.
Arnold never cared that she borrowed his Porsche. The only thing that upset him was that his small car was the reason she was hurt as bad as she was. He always felt she would have walked away from the accident had she been in a bigger vehicle.
"Should have left my car in the street," Arnold had said. "She would have been all right in the Lexus or her Jeep. Hell, she might have never crashed."
"It's not your fault, man," Ralphie said. "Hence this being an accident."
Arnold was sitting on the bed as he held Phoebe's limp hand with both of his. Ralphie was sitting on the chair at the end of the bed while Robbie had gone on a snack run.
"Still, she crashed in my car. I can't help but feel somewhat responsible."
"She has no brain damage, and she's stable, thank God," Ralphie said. "Mild concussion with some bruises and scratches. She could be a lot worse."
Arnold ran his finger along Phoebe's cheek. "I know, I know." He moved closer to her and kissed her cheek before he whispered in her ear, "When you wake up, we'll weekend in the Vineyard, just you and me. It'll be easier for you to recover there."
He wasn't sure if she smiled or he was imagining it. Most likely the latter. He would see her one more time before the shit hit the fan. Everything had happened so fast. One day he was at the hospital, visiting his injured girlfriend, the next, he's stuck in a gridlock on I-95 with Ralphie and Robbie as Ralphie tried driving them to Providence.
As the military helicopters flew over them and Robbie slept in the backseat, Ralphie broke the news to him. "I went to the hospital this morning."
"How is she?"
His face was white, and he swallowed hard. "The nurse said they would start evacuating the patients to Providence and Boston and New York, if they had to. Phoebe was one of them, but shit went down as they were getting her ready. These military guys came in, shooting everyone, saying something about 'the infection.' I hid in her room, ready to take her myself, but she had-" He choked back a sob. "She had- no- no pulse. She wasn't breathing. I tried CPR, but nothing."
Arnold clenched his jaw. "So you left her there."
"You think I wanted to?" he snapped. "She's like a blood sister to me, and I feel like shit for leaving her! But it was either risk my life for her corpse or get back to my little brother who needs me."
He had a point. Robbie was priority now.
"Sorry." He didn't care that the tears were falling. "So...she's- she's at peace. Away from all...this."
Ralphie sighed. "Thank God."
It wasn't long after that they found their friends on the road and decided to set up a camp outside of Walkerville. There were a few other survivors, but they all went their own ways. Now, almost a month later, everything that had happened seemed even further back in time than it was. Just a month ago, he was getting ready to go to Boston with Phoebe. A month ago, his biggest worry was moving and the overall stress of starting new.
Arnold closed his photo album and went back to his tent. Wanda was still sleeping. She wouldn't be up until the break of dawn, ready to take watch. He put his album in his bag, where it would stay until she left, and he took his jeans off. He kept his boxer-briefs on and got back in bed. Wanda turned over and wrapped her arms around him.
Wanda was so much shorter than Phoebe- around five feet while Phoebe had been close to five-ten- but she had the muscle, curves, and D-cups that Phoebe didn't. She was beautiful, there was no denying that, but too many times he wished he was holding that lanky, skinny form he had been so used to and adored so much.
Ralphie took Robbie with him to the quarry to fish early the next morning. The sun wasn't quite up yet, but Robbie wanted to fish with his big brother. They were all the other had. Their sister was dead, and their parents were fifteen hundred miles away. Ralphie had considered he and Robbie just getting in his Nissan Xterra and driving the twenty-three hours to Baton Rouge, but he knew they couldn't. If the rest of the country was like this, they wouldn't get far. Best to stay with their friends.
The brothers sat in the canoe as they waited for the fish to bite. Despite his dark hair and eyes, Robbie resembled Phoebe more. It hurt Ralphie sometimes to look at his little brother. Dorothy Ann understood. She was the only one he had told, and she comforted him by saying he was still grieving. The fact Phoebe wasn't given the proper send off only made it harder for him to mourn and move on.
He had Dorothy Ann, he'd tell himself. Robbie and D.A.
Not Arnold. He hated Arnold. Sure, he'd tolerate him enough to have him as a hunting companion, but aside from that, Arnold was no longer his friend. The way he acted like Phoebe was never in his life, how he moved on fast with Wanda...asshole. The one person he thought he could have as support during his mourning seemed like he never had.
"Today's her birthday," Robbie said. He kept his eyes on the water.
"It's July thirteenth."
He was right. Ralphie's stomach tightened. Phoebe had been the youngest in the gang, and now she was the only one who didn't live to see eighteen. He would have started crying, but Robbie's sudden change of demeanor distracted him.
"I got something!"
Ralphie helped him reel the fish in, and the brothers cheered at the large fish flopping around their canoe.
"What kind it is?" Robbie asked.
Ralphie knew right away. "Salmon."
They caught a few more large fish, including salmon and some trout and catfish, and they rowed back to shore. Mrs. Ramon was cleaning some cookware, and she looked up when she noticed the boys.
"Take those fish by our tent," she said with a smile. "I'll cook 'em up for everyone tonight."
"We can help, if you'd like, Mrs. R," Ralphie said, also smiling. "Our mother did teach us how to cook."
"We'll see. You boys run along. Oh, and if you have anything that needs washing, leave it outside your tent, and I'll take care of it."
"We appreciate it," Ralphie said.
"See ya, Mrs. Ramon!" Robbie said, hurrying back to the camp to show off his fish.
Carlos' parents had taken on two more sons with Ralphie and Robbie, which Ralphie had to admit he liked. Carlos and Mikey were all right with it, especially since he and Mikey didn't have to share a tent with Ralphie and Robbie. Without his mother and step-dad there, Ralphie was happy he had Mr. and Mrs. Ramon.
Dorothy Ann and Keesha's families had been out of town, just like Suzette and Mark, so Wanda's mother had taken to looking after them. She and Mrs. Ramon would trade off from time to time. Tim and Arnold had no idea where their parents were (though, Arnold had said he had a strong feeling they were dead), but Ralphie felt bad for Tim. He didn't give a shit about Arnold.
"That's quite the fish you caught!" D.A. said to Robbie as he and Ralphie came into the camp.
"Isn't it great?" Robbie was beaming as he held up his fish.
"We'll eat well tonight thanks to Robbie Terese," she said, ruffling his hair. She winked at Ralphie.
Robbie took his fish and the ones Ralphie was carrying to Mr. and Mrs. Ramon's tent. D.A. put her hand on Ralphie's arm and pulled him close.
"You're a good big brother."
He grinned. "You think so?"
She playfully hit him on the chest. "You don't need me to tell you what a great guy you are."
"So, I'm a great guy, too?"
She laughed and took his hand, pulling him to her tent. "Shut up."
The hushed voices kept Phoebe from moving from her cot. She was awake, but she didn't want them to know.
"I don't want to put her in danger, but we could use the extra hand."
"Listen, Archie, I get it...you have some weird teacher-student obligation to her, but I know her a little better." That voice...no, it couldn't be. "She's timid, weak, and useless. The sooner she's gone, the better. I just hope my idiot cousin never finds out she's alive."
But if Janet was there, then Arnold had to be close, right?
"I agree with Janet." It was the man from yesterday, the one she wondered was Mr. Seedplot's brother. "We're only sending our most trusted and capable into Providence."
"She can be trusted, Henry," Mr. Seedplot said. "She woke up alone in a hospital yesterday and managed to find her way here without getting bitten or killed. I think she is more than 'capable.'"
There was a slight pause.
"She'll go," Henry said.
"No!" Janet hissed.
"But," Henry continued, "if she's separated or attacked, she's on her own. Got it?"
Phoebe had the feeling that was directed towards Mr. Seedplot.
"If she slows us down, I won't hesitate to leave her," Janet said.
"Wake her and tell her she's going scavenging with you guys in an hour," Henry said. "Archibald, you find her a weapon. Crossbow should do."
Phoebe kept her eyes shut as she heard some footsteps move away and another set come towards her. She felt the sharp heel strike her back as she was kicked off the cot. She landed on the floor, looking up at a visibly irritated Janet Perlstein. Even in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, she managed to look styled and put-together. Her black knee-high, heeled boots went perfectly with her dark jeans and loose black v-neck tee. Her thick orange curls were pulled up in a messy ponytail, but it was a "perfect" kind of messy.
"Get your ass up, Terese," she said. "We're going to Providence."
Phoebe wasn't going to trust her. After all, Janet basically said she'd leave her for dead. "Why should I go? What's in it for me?"
Janet clenched her jaw and took a deep breath. "If you help us, I'll...I'll tell you where Arnold's camped out."
That got Phoebe to her feet. "He's not here with you?"
"Don't make me regret this."
Phoebe still didn't trust her. "And how do I know you won't just kill me first chance you get?"
"You don't." Janet turned on her heel and started to walk away. "You have ten minutes."
Phoebe sat down on her cot and sighed. She'd have to be on guard at all times, making sure Janet wouldn't try to kill her. If she managed to get in and out of Providence safely, then she'd be reunited with Arnold (if on the off chance Janet was being truthful) and, hopefully, Ralphie and Robbie.
With that in mind, she moved everything in her backpack to her duffle bag and packed the backpack with some clothes, first aid supplies, and some of her food and water. She closed her duffle bag and hid it under her cot. She put her boots on, pulled up her hair, and shouldered her bag, off to look for Janet so they could scavenge the capital.
The shortened rifle- a Winchester Model 1892 "Mare's Leg"- was Keesha's new baby. She loved that gun. Ralphie had been the one to find it, but she was the one to fall in love. Dorothy Ann- of all people- had been the one to teach her how to shoot. Of course, as D.A. put it, it was her "Minnesota farm stock blood" that made her a natural with guns. Keesha had to admit to herself that the shiny revolver on D.A.'s hip made her look badass.
The revolver was holstered as Dorothy Ann carried a hunting rifle. Keesha hunted and killed maulers with her Mare's Leg, so she was with one gun. Though, she had a big knife strapped to her leg in case of maulers. She actually preferred the knife so ammo wouldn't be wasted.
"There was deer in this area yesterday," D.A. whispered. "I swear I'm gonna get us a deer today."
"Shoot a deer without attracting maulers, and I'll be impressed," Keesha whispered back.
D.A. narrowed her eyes. "Just watch my back, okay?"
They found a good spot behind a giant log. It overlooked a meadow that deer tended to walk through, and they had a good vantage point to watch for maulers. Keesha was on mauler watch while D.A. was on deer watch. Keesha sat with her back against the log. Her shirt was stained with dirt and blood and sweat, so she didn't care the fabric was touching the mushrooms growing on the bark. D.A. was on her knees, gun resting on the log while she had it aimed towards the meadow.
"When we were kids," Keesha said, "did you ever think we'd be sitting here, hunting dear and walking dead bodies?"
Keesha smiled, pleasantly surprised at D.A.'s quick response. "In a sad way, I feel like the Friz prepared us for this kind of crazy shit."
"We may have been turned into animals and flew into space and be inside Arnold and Ralphie, but we never had to shoot animated corpses."
Keesha looked down. "Or deal with a friend's death."
Phoebe's death felt more surreal than the maulers did, but she had the feeling it was because none of them got closure. Keesha tried not to think about it too much. There was no room for sadness in this mauler-filled world. Hell, if Arnold could move on...granted, he was using Wanda to move on, but still. To take her mind off those thoughts, she pulled a cigarette from her pocket and lit it.
"I wish you wouldn't smoke," D.A. said. "It stinks."
"Everyone but you and Ralphie smoke, you square. We probably won't live much longer anyway, so why not?"
"Okay, then the smoking itself occupies one hand when you should be using two."
Keesha shook her head. "I've killed maulers while smoking." She took a drag and slowly blew the smoke out. "So, are you going to watch for deer or lecture me?"
"I was hoping I could do both."
"You're finally getting a sense of humor. Who knew all you had to do was bang Ralphie?"
D.A.'s tan face went from bronze to red, but she kept her eyes on the meadow. "What? Ralphie and I are not- I mean, we just- I'm not having sex with Ralphie."
"Oh, please. You two think you're being so sneaky. You're just as subtle as Arnold and Wanda."
D.A. rubbed her forehead with one hand. "Oh, God."
Keesha stopped when she heard rustling. She gestured to D.A. to stay put, and she took her knife out from her leg strap as she got up. The rustling could have been birds, but the sound was too low. Maybe a rodent or one of their friends, but she knew it wasn't. The low growling and odor of rotting flesh confirmed her suspicion before she saw the corpse walk towards her.
One swing with her left hand stunned the mauler when the stock of the rifle made contact, and another swing of her right hand sent her knife into its head. The mauler went down, its blood pooling on the ground. At least its stench would keep other maulers away for the time being.
They had all learned fast that maulers weren't human anymore. Calling a mauler "it," despite one looking obviously male or female, made them easier to kill. If they came across a mauler that looked like a loved one, knowing it wasn't that person anymore would hopefully made them pull the trigger. Fortunately- or unfortunately, however one wanted to look at it- they hadn't had to test that theory.
Keesha knew they all had the same worry: A mauler that had once been Phoebe would cross their path. Could any of them shoot or stab her? Sometimes Keesha wished a mauler-Phoebe would come across them. That would be her closure, knowing for sure Phoebe was dead and gone.
A gunshot broke her from her thoughts, and she ran back to D.A. "What'd you shoot?"
D.A. was smiling as she got up. "I got one. I got a deer. Big one, too."
"We'd better go get it before the maulers do."
She was beaming. "Right, yeah." They walked down the hill towards the deer. "This is so great. We're going to have enough meat for a long time."
The carcass was heavy, but the two of them managed to lift it onto their shoulders. They'd be at a disadvantage if a mauler came by, but none attacked as they made their way back to the camp. Ralphie saw the girls come in with the deer, and he would have helped them if D.A. didn't give him her "We got this, okay?" look. He smiled at her before walking in his and Robbie's tent.
"D.A. and Keesha brought a whole deer back."
Robbie was sitting on his cot, writing on a scrap of paper with one of his last remaining crayons. "Okay."
Their tent wasn't as big as Arnold's or the Ramons', but there was enough room for Ralphie, little Robbie, their twin-sized cots and sleeping bags, and their things. Ralphie, at six-three, still had to stoop over in the tent, but he didn't mind.
He sat down on Robbie's cot. "What're you writing?"
"To anyone in particular?"
Robbie kept his eyes on his paper and nodded. "I'm just writing her a happy birthday letter."
Ralphie nodded, knowing who the letter was for. He cupped the back of Robbie's neck and pulled him close to kiss the top of his head.
"What're you gonna do with it?" Ralphie asked.
Robbie shrugged. "Leave it on the table so she can read it? Daddy says our dead loved ones never leave us. They're in heaven and here in spirit."
Ralphie wasn't sure if he wanted to believe that. He didn't want Phoebe's spirit hanging around this shithole of a world, but if that thought put Robbie at ease, he wouldn't tell him otherwise.
"I think that would be perfect," Ralphie said. "Go check out that deer they brought when you're finished. You could use some fresh air."
Of course he really didn't, as all they got enough fresh air.
"I'm done," Robbie said.
He folded the paper and put it on the small camp table between their cots. Once Robbie was outside of the tent, Ralphie picked up the note and read it to himself:
July 13 2005
Dear sister. I am doing good. Ralphie is a good brother. He makes sure I eat and keep clean and get good sleep. DA also helps me. She's helping me with my reading and writing and math and science. Ralphie takes me fishing. Sometimes Carlos and Tim fish with us. Keesha wants to teach me how to use a gun but Ralphie said no. William is mean to me sometimes but everyone tells him to stop picking on me and he does. I don't see Arnold much which makes me sad sometimes.
I miss you sister. I know you are in heaven. You have to be. Daddy and Momma said good people go to heaven. You were the best sister ever so you have to be in heaven. I know you are an angel now but I still want to say Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday sister.
I miss you and love you,
Your little brother Robbie
Ralphie felt his eyes water. A seven year old didn't need to go through all of this, but here was Robbie, writing letters to their dead sister and living in a world where a mauler could get them any day. Sure, their parents were alive, but they were so far away.
He put the letter away. Gutting the deer would clear his mind and keep him distracted.