Enter Sandman



Author: UTsSQ

Rated: NC-17 For language, violence and sex.





“How come Dad never asks you to go out with him?”


Riley stopped in mid-sip of her bottled water, luckily before she had a mouthful. She laughed and shook her head at the child seated next to her on the couch. “Because we’re friends. Where did that come from?”


“I dunno.” Charlotte frowned and stared at the television, but Riley could tell her mind was not on the show. “Makes sense to me.”


“Charlie, you’re a trip.” Riley said with a laugh. Charlotte was seven, getting ready to turn eight, and precocious as all hell. She couldn’t love the kid anymore if she tried. Which was why Riley didn’t mind babysitting her for a bit on a Friday night so her father, Mark, could go out on a dinner date. His usual sitter was held up with some school function. She would be in at ten. Riley would be relieved of duty.


“Does Courtney have to watch me tonight?” Charlie was an old hand at changing the subject.


“Well yeah. She is your sitter. I’m just here for the free food.” Riley wrapped an arm around the little girl’s shoulders, hugging her. Charlie let herself be hugged. They sat in companionable silence for a few moments.


Charlie’s mom was gone, she’d moved away two years ago after abruptly ending her marriage to Mark. The little one didn’t seem to miss her…Roxanne was her mother by blood, but had not been affectionate toward her daughter. She resented the little girl for taking Mark’s attention from her from the moment she’d been born. Riley could understand the woman’s jealousy, but not her actions.  If Charlie had been born to HER, she’d go through hell and high water to be with her.


Charlie sighed dramatically, making Riley smile. She had inherited Mark’s dark auburn hair, and his intensely green eyes, but there the similarity stopped. Mark was a big guy, nearing on seven feet tall. Charlie was a tiny little thing, the smallest in her class at school. A pixie compared to her father. She would probably shoot up and be a total knockout when she hit her teens, but at seven she was a wisp.


“All she does is talk to her boyfriend on the phone.” Charlie imparted, as if telling a great secret. Riley laughed again. She could remember those days.


“Well, when you’re in high school, you’ll probably be doing that too.”


“Not gonna happen.” Charlie shook her head. Her long hair tickled against Riley’s arm. “I’m not gonna be a babysitter. I’m going to get a job with the police.”


“I thought you wanted to be a nurse?” Riley said, grinning.


“Changed my mind.” She replied simply.


“You’ll do that a million times before it comes down to getting a job, darlin’.” Riley hugged the girl again.


“Nuh uh. Gonna be a cop and chase bad guys like Dad does.” Charlie made a gun with her fingers, shooting imaginary criminals. It made Riley laugh again.


“Kiddo, I’d take you as my partner any day of the week.”


“Then who would work with Dad?”


“He can find his own partner.” Riley said, tickling Charlie’s ribs. She giggled and squirmed away. Riley shook her head and glanced at the clock. It was nearing on nine-thirty. Courtney would be there soon, and Mark would come in around midnight. Riley knew his routine almost as well as he did. He went out, had dinner, maybe a movie, maybe just a few drinks at a bar, before declining any more invitations for the night and heading home. He would not leave Charlie overnight while he had fun. He was the most responsible person Riley knew.


Her friendship with Mark stretched back almost ten years. She’d been a rookie, fresh from the academy, when she’d been assigned to partner with him. He had raised nine kinds of hell about working with ‘a kid’, but had to give her grudging respect over time. Riley was no lightweight, but compared to Mark she seemed small. She held her own. Against crazed women, drunk men, masked robbers, abusive husbands. After two years, Riley had been reassigned to another division. Mark had put his foot down. He didn’t want to lose a partner he’d spent so long trusting.


The rest was history. Mark was ten years older than she was, a veteran at the department. Where he went, she went. He made detective at thirty-four, the youngest in their precinct to earn that level. Riley outdid him, gaining it the day after her thirty-first birthday.  She got offered an assignment, outside her regular police duties. Mark had come with her. Not because he had to, but he’d wanted to. They did their regular work during the early week. The latter part was meant for their new venture, an idea conceived by their captain. They were part of a squad of specially trained police officers. An armed tactical response unit. It was like being on a swat team on speed. The training was intense. They learned about weapons, hand to hand combat, explosives…Riley often stopped to wonder why their sleepy little town needed a team of such highly dangerous police officers. The answers were not forthcoming.


It didn’t matter. The extra training turned out to be beneficial to the rest of her work. Riley found that using what she’d learned in special ops often unblocked dead ends on regular cases. Mark said the same thing, and he’d taken to it even more than she had. In fact, he’d recently been named their squad leader for special ops. She supposed this date tonight was his way of celebrating.


Riley shook herself out of her thoughts. “All right, Charlie. Bed time.”


“Aww…do I have to? There’s no school tomorrow.” She gave her best pout, her green eyes pleading. Riley rolled her eyes in response.


“Yes you have to. Orders from the boss.” She smiled. “Besides, tomorrow is Saturday. Don’t you get up early to go out walking with your dad?” Riley knew this had become a ritual with Mark and Charlie. They did it every weekend, rain or shine.


“Yes.” Charlie heaved a sigh and slid off the couch. Riley followed her lead. They headed upstairs, and Riley helped Charlie into her pajamas. She tucked her into bed and sat on the edge of the mattress chatting to calm her down.


“Want a bedtime story?” Riley asked, pointing out the shelves of books against one wall. Sometimes Charlie liked being read to.


“Not tonight.” The little one had the blankets pulled around her chin. Her green eyes were troubled. “If I tell you something, will you laugh at me?”


“I don’t know. Is it something funny or something serious?” Riley said honestly.




“Ok. Lay it on me.”


Charlie bit her lip. “I don’t wanna sleep up here by myself.”


“Oh? Why not?” Riley smoothed the blanket over the girl’s shoulders, giving her an encouraging smile.


“I had a bad dream.”


“Dreams can’t hurt you, baby doll. They’re just mind movies. Something for your brain to do while your snoozing.” Riley was hoping for a smile. Charlie’s expression was grave.


“Is Daddy all right?”


Riley had not heard Charlie call Mark ‘daddy’ in ages. It seemed to punctuate how scared the little girl was about being left alone in her room.


“Of course he is. Probably eating the restaurant out of business. He’ll be home before you know it.”


“What about monsters? They gonna wait til he gets home to try to get me?”


“There are no such things as monsters, Char. I can check under your bed, and in your closet if you want, just to prove it to you. But you can’t psych yourself out. You’re the bravest kid I know. No monster is gonna mess with you.”


This brought a flicker of a smile on Charlie’s lips. “What if…what if…” She couldn’t seem to finish. Whether it was because she was not old enough to grasp the concept of her dreams and articulate them, or if she had just developed a fear of the dark, Riley did not know.


“What if nothing, hon. Look.” Riley picked up Charlie’s cell phone. Mark had given it to her when school started. It was tiny and pink, and Charlie had fallen in love with it the minute she’d laid eyes on it.  He wanted his daughter to have a way to contact him at any time, and it made Charlie feel grown up to carry the device. “Sleep with it in your hand. If you have a bad dream, you call your Dad.”


“Even if he’s in bed?” Charlie asked, taking the phone from Riley and holding it in a death grip.


“Especially if he’s in bed.” Riley said with a nod. “And if he doesn’t come in here to chase the monsters out, you have my number. You call me and I’ll come runnin’.”


Charlie nodded and hugged the phone to her chest. She blinked sleepily. Riley had noticed that the little girl had seemed strangely quiet all night. She had joked and talked, but not with her usual energy.


“Have you told your Dad about this?” Riley asked softly. Charlie didn’t answer. Her eyes had drifted shut. She was asleep. Riley leaned over and kissed the little one on her forehead, careful not to wake her. “Sleep tight doll baby.” She whispered. With a smile, Riley rose from the bed and left the room, turning off the light behind her. In concession to what Charlie had said, she left the bedroom door open and the hall light on so her room was not dark.


There was a knock on the door as Riley descended the stairs. She answered and let Courtney into the house. The teenager was tall, blonde, utter cheerleader material. She carried a purse and a stack of books. “I’ve got some studying to catch up on. Do I need to put Charlie to bed?” She asked as she set her books on the coffee table.


“She’s down. Asleep already.” Riley picked up her own purse and shouldered it. “I’m heading home. If you need anything, just give me a call. Let Mark have his date.” That made Courtney giggle.


“Sorry I couldn’t get here earlier. I don’t know why I volunteered for that dance committee. It’s not like I don’t already have enough to do.”


Riley laughed. She remembered those days too. “Have a good night Courtney. You might want to check on Char in a little while, just to make sure she’s all right. My number’s on speed dial.”


“Sure thing, Riley.” Courtney smiled and held the door while Riley exited. She’d no more than shut the door behind the woman than she had the phone in her hand. “Hey Mike. Yeah, I’m here finally. What’s wrong? You sound weird. What? Bit you?” Courtney settled on the couch and laughed. “Well hurry up and come over. I can kiss it better and you can tell me all about it…”




Riley muttered under her breath, blinking her eyes open. She’d gotten home and had fallen asleep on the couch. Her neck throbbed from the weird angle she’d had it in. Smiling ruefully, she rolled from the couch and went in search of her ringing cell phone. She glanced at the clock in the kitchen, seeing it was a few minutes shy of midnight. She had been up that day since four in the morning, no wonder she’d passed out on the couch.


Her phone lay on the counter. She didn’t bother with the caller ID, figuring it was either Mark, telling her he’d gotten home, or someone from work, giving her bad news.


“Daniels.” Riley yawned sleepily.


“Riley?” It was Charlie. Her voice was a hoarse whisper.


“Charlie? What’s wrong?” Immediately all the way awake, Riley gripped the phone tighter.


“Help me Riley…please…” Charlie was crying. Her breath came in gasping hitches.


“Baby, what’s going on?” Even as she spoke, Riley was already going toward the living room, looking for the shoes she’d kicked off.


“It’s Courtney…and I…” Charlie gasped, cutting herself off, and Riley’s ear was pierced by the little girl’s scream. She could hear a loud pounding noise. “Please Riley, come and get me!” She screamed again.


“Ok. Ok I’m coming to get you Charlie. Just stay where you are, sit tight, try to calm down. I’ll be there in five minutes…”


“Riley!” Charlie was barely able to get the word out. There was a clatter as she dropped the phone. Riley grabbed her keys and without thinking about it her gun.


“Charlie? Charlotte?” Riley dashed to her car, scared now. A million things were running through her mind, none of them good. Something awful was going on at Mark’s, and she knew she had to get there and fast.


From the phone came the sounds of screaming, more pounding, and low growling noises. Riley threw her car into gear and peeled out of her driveway, slamming on the gas to head to Mark’s. She kept talking into the phone, just in case Charlie could hear her, wanting to try to calm the girl down.


The five-minute drive only took two. Riley slammed her brakes and was out of the car, leaving it running. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Mark’s front door standing wide open.


There was a movement from the corner of her eye. Riley glanced left and saw one of Mark’s neighbors standing in front of his house, watching her. “Call the cops!” Riley yelled to him. If he heard, he didn’t acknowledge. Instead he began to shuffle toward her across the lawn.


Riley didn’t waste time explaining what was going on. She yanked her gun from her holster and ran to the open door, bursting in, ready for whatever might happen.


The living room was empty.


Riley glanced around, still moving, going toward the stairs. Courtney’s books and papers were scattered around, some of them torn. A puddle of something that looked like blood was on the couch…Riley didn’t want to believe it but she had seen it enough to know it for what it was.


Cursing, she thundered up the stairs and turned toward Charlie’s room. She wasn’t prepared for what she saw. Courtney and a boy she did not know were standing in front of Charlie’s closet, doing their best to break the door down. Something was off about their movements.


“What the fuck is goin’ on here?” Riley asked, lowering her gun. The two teenagers stopped and slowly turned around. Riley took a step backward.


The boy didn’t look so bad…he was pale, his eyes blank. But Courtney…the girl was missing a chunk of flesh from the front of her neck. Her glassy eyes stared at Riley. The boy growled, low in his throat. Riley heard the sound of glass breaking from downstairs, and it seemed to snap her out of the horrified trance she’d been in.


“You two wanna tell me…” Riley began to speak, but Courtney suddenly lurched toward her, letting out a growl that matched the boy’s.


“Riley! Riley help me!” Charlie’s voice came from the closed closet door. The sound of the little one motivated Riley like nothing else could. She brought her gun up and trained it right at Courtney’s face.


“You wanna stop right there.” She said. The teenager ignored her. She lurched another step and threw herself at Riley, her teeth snapping dangerously close to her bare arms.


The force of it sent Riley stumbling backward into the hallway. She tripped over her own feet, falling backward, barely able to get a hand under her in time to cushion the fall. Courtney fell on top of her, glassy eyes boring into her face, teeth snapping. Riley shoved at her, keeping her sharp teeth away from her.


From over Courtney’s shoulder, Riley spotted the boy. He was stumbling their way, snapping his own teeth. Riley heaved upward, using all the strength she could muster, throwing Courtney off of her before rising to her feet.


Courtney slowly got up. Riley trained her gun once again, this time aiming for the girl’s leg. When Courtney showed no sign of stopping her attack Riley did the only thing she could. She fired her gun.


The loud boom from the .38 echoed in the closed hallway. The bullet entered Courtney’s leg, right above the knee. The teenager stumbled and went down, dropping onto hands. Keeping an eye on her and the boy, Riley slowly backed toward the stairs.


To her shocked eyes, Courtney slowly stood up. She took a halting step, and another, still determined to get to Riley.


Riley didn’t know how that was possible. It wasn’t like she was using a bb gun. The girl should not have been able to even move the leg, let alone walk around on it.


“Fuck. Stop. I mean it Courtney.” Riley leveled her gun again. Before she could fire at the girl, she shifted and let the gun boom in her hand again. Almost too late she had spotted the boy coming up from behind her. The bullet caught him in the center of his chest, the force knocking him backward and off his feet.


He didn’t stay down. Almost immediately he fought to get up again. Riley circled around until she was standing in Charlie’s doorway, both of the teenagers in front of her. Courtney’s teeth were snapping again. Riley aimed for the girl’s face.


This time Courtney was knocked backward at the loud report from the fun. A small hole appeared in her forehead, and the wall behind her was splattered with blood as the bullet punched through the other side of her head. Courtney fell face first to the floor, and did not move.


Riley brought the gun up to aim at the boy again. He paid the body at his feet no mind. Although she’d shot him dead center, his shirt was not covered with blood. Riley expected it to be pouring from the hole in his chest. Instead, there was just a small round hole where the bullet had entered.


She leveled her gun and squeezed off another shot. The back of the boy’s head exploded as her bullet caught him between the eyes. He fell on top of Courtney and both of them finally lay unmoving in front of her. Riley kicked at the bodies with her foot, just checking to see if they were indeed down. Neither reacted. With a muttered curse, she tucked her gun into its holster at her hip and went back into Charlie’s room.


The closet door was streaked with blood. Riley winced and groped for the knob. “Charlie?” Her voice was not much louder than a whisper.


“Riley? Riley please help me…” The girl moaned out, sounding half hysterical. Riley tested the knob, pulling the door open. She almost cried in relief at the sight of Charlie’s small form tumbling out to fall into her arms. She hugged the girl close, trying to calm her.


“It’s all right darlin’…I’ve got you…” Riley whispered it over and over, stroking Charlie’s long auburn hair. The little one was shaking uncontrollably, sobbing against her neck.


“I tried to call Daddy, he didn’t answer his phone, I got scared and hid in the closet…” Charlie’s words were rushed and she was still hitching her breath in short gasps.


“It’s ok Char…we’ll find him. He’s going to be all right…” Riley rose to her feet, picking Charlie up and cradling her as she did. Charlie clung to her for dear life, refusing to look around, her hot face still pressed tight to Riley’s shoulder. “We need to go downstairs and call the police hon.”


Charlie shook her head, her fingers digging into Riley’s shoulders. “I don’t want to go down there!” She moaned out.


“I’m not gonna let anything happen to you Char.” Riley gave her a squeeze. “You just keep your face right there until we get down the steps, all right? Don’t look.”


“Ok…” Charlie squeezed her eyes shut and sniffled as Riley began to move toward the door. She stepped over the bodies, keeping a wary eye on them in case they decided to miraculously get up again. They didn’t.


She stopped at the head of the stairs. She had closed the door behind her upon coming into the house. The glass window set in the center of the wood was broken. Riley managed to shift Charlie’s weight so she could hold her gun in one hand and the girl with the other. Slowly she made her way down the stairs, her eyes darting around, trying to see everywhere at once.


The man from outside, Mark’s neighbor, stood in the living room. He seemed to be fixated on the pool of blood that stained the couch. He must have sensed Riley’s presence. He turned slowly, that same glazed look on his features. The whole left side of his face was a bloody mess. He was missing an eye. Riley tightened her grip on Charlie.


“Don’t look, Char. Cover your ears…” She whispered. Charlie managed to do that and still hold onto Riley. Riley took the last step and aimed her gun at the man who was already moving toward them. He didn’t seem fazed by the weapon at all. Instead his eyes were locked on Charlie. Riley saw red. Before he even got close, she pulled the trigger, blowing the man backward. He twitched once, his whole body jumping, then lay still. She hadn’t wasted time or bullets on a leg or chest shot. That time Riley went straight for his head.


Something wet lay against her neck. Riley realized that Charlie was crying. “Come on love. Let’s call your dad.” She said, balancing the gun and the girl as she headed for the kitchen.


Everything there was as it should be. Riley kept an eye on the back door and the entryway as she sat Charlie down on the counter. The girl didn’t want to be let go, but as she saw Riley grope for the phone she released her hold.


Riley punched in Mark’s number. From behind her came the trill of his cell phone. “Great…” She muttered. He’d forgotten it. Typical of him. She cut off the call and redialed, this time calling the station.


“Cena.” The male voice that answered sounded out of breath.


“It’s Riley. We’ve got a problem here at Mark’s house…”


“We’ve got fuckin’ problems all over town.” John said, relieved to hear Riley. They’d been trying to get in touch with her, but there had been no answer. Riley remembered leaving her cell phone in her car.


“What the hell is going on John?”


John started laughing. There was nothing happy about it. “Zombies. Fuck me runnin’ Riley, we’ve got zombies attacking people all over town.”


“Zombies.” Riley repeated. Her voice carried her disbelief.


“You know, the walking dead? I’m on my way out, the team is meeting up at Joker’s.”


“I can’t believe this shit…” Riley said, unmindful of Charlie sitting in front of her.


“Believe it. Meet us at Jeff’s bar. We’ll explain what we know. Is Mark with you?”


“No…he went out earlier…”


“Christ. We’ll need him. I hope he wasn’t downtown tonight. That’s where this shit started.”


“He…” Riley choked on her words. Of course he’d gone downtown, to that steakhouse he liked so much. “We’re leaving. The door is busted, I don’t want to stay here for too long. I’ve got Charlie with me. If Mark calls, tell him that, ok? We’re out the door. There in twenty minutes.”


“Be careful Riley. And try to shoot for the head if you run into any of those things. Seems to be the only way to stop them.”


Riley had already figured that part out. “Be careful yourself.” She said before hanging up the phone. She snatched Mark’s cell phone from the counter and lifted Charlie into her arms again. The little girl wrapped around her, latching on tight. Riley rubbed a hand over her back, trying to comfort her as best she could as they moved toward the living room. Her car was outside, still running. It would take twenty minutes to get to Joker’s. The bar was their hangout, it was like a fortress, completely underground. It was also on the very outskirts of town, all by itself. Meeting up there was not a bad idea, but Riley had no clue what would come next. 


She peered through the broken glass of the front door and saw three people walking aimlessly along the center of the street. None of them showed any interest in what she was doing.


“Ok…” Riley whispered into Charlie’s ear. “I’m going to run now, baby doll. To the car. We’re going to meet your daddy.” She felt the little one nod against her shoulder. “Just keep your eyes closed and when I tell you, let go all right? We’ll be safe in the car.” Another nod answered this. Riley took a deep breath and prepared to run. She had lost count of how many times she’d fired her gun upstairs, but she knew she should conserve her ammo. No need to blow away the three outside if she could just get to the car fast enough. There was a metal lock box with bullets and her other gun under the passenger seat of her car. She’d feel a lot better once she had that in her possession. She hugged Charlie tight and mentally crossed her fingers as she stepped onto the front porch.




Mark sighed and glanced at his watch, wondering if this night was ever going to end.


This was the first time he’d asked Miranda to dinner. She worked at the station, in dispatch. He knew better than to go out with a co-worker, but she had seemed like a nice person.


She was nice. Nice and forward. She’d barely climbed into his truck when she was sliding across the seat toward him, practically sitting in his lap. Mark had to remove her hand from his thigh on at least four occasions during the short drive. The movie had been another form of hell for him. Miranda insisted on leaning against him, clutching at him, talking too loud. And now at the restaurant, she had slid her chair until they were side by side. All the better for her to reach under the table and lay her hand possessively against his thigh again.


It was nearing on eleven-thirty. She was hinting that she’d like Mark to go home with her. He admitted to himself that he loved to disappoint on this one thing. He would not leave Charlie overnight so he could get laid. Of course, he was pretty sure that Miranda wouldn’t have minded going straight to bed and skipping the movie and dinner. She was coming across as the proverbial man-eater.


Maybe he should have taken Charlie’s advice. Mark gave it to the little one, she didn’t mince words, she just said what was on her mind. Charlie wanted to know why he didn’t just take Riley out. He could have gotten into a complicated explanation about their job and being partners, but instead he’d smiled and said that they were just friends.  His daughter had rolled her eyes, an expression so much like him that Mark had laughed.


He couldn’t say that Charlie had planted a seed in his head about Riley, because he’d done that himself at least two years ago. He knew better than that, she was his partner after all, he didn’t want anything between them to interfere with their job. Besides that, Riley didn’t seem to be interested. She went out on occasion, had a steady guy until about six months ago, but she was immersed in her job and didn’t seem to care about her personal life.


He knew that was not a fair statement, but he was frustrated. He didn’t know how the hell he was supposed to feel about her. She was his best friend, and he trusted her with his life. He had developed feelings beyond that, he admitted it to himself, but Riley was just Riley. She thought of Mark as a friend and only a friend, and the idea that he was interested in her outside of work might just cause her to end their partnership.


Mark realized that Miranda had been talking while he zoned out thinking. She didn’t seem to notice his inattention. In fact, she’d taken his lapse in concentration to slide her hand further up his thigh. She had to be the pushiest woman he’d ever met in his life. He pushed his plate away, and looked down at the blonde next to him.


“I think it’s about time we headed home.”


Miranda smiled. Apparently she had been waiting for that. “Good. I’m ready when you are.” She winked.


Mark sighed and tossed some money on the table to cover their bill. Miranda was going to be sorely disappointed when he dropped her off…alone. He didn’t know what the hell he’d been thinking.


Just as he rose to his feet, there was the sound of breaking glass from the kitchen area. Someone shouted. Mark smirked and watched as two of the servers went through the swinging doors in the back to see what was happening.


“Well, maybe we can have some coffee or a nightcap at my place…” Miranda said, oblivious to the noise.


“I don’t think…” Mark’s refusal was drowned out by an explosion coming from the front of the restaurant. The windows exploded inward, spraying glass across the tables nearest them. Patrons screamed in shock as the blast sent them tumbling out of their chairs. Mark was pushed backward by the force of the blow, stumbled as he feet tangled against the chair he’d just vacated, and caught himself before he could crash against the floor. “What the fuck?” Miranda had fallen to her knees. Mark helped her up without thinking about it, his eyes trying to take in the scene on the dark street through the broken windows. People were everywhere. A few were running. Most were just walking along as if the explosion had not bothered them in the least.


One of them, a man from what Mark could tell, was on fire. He shambled along, either in shock or just plain not noticing the flames spurting from his clothes and hair.


He took a step toward the windows, meaning to go outside and find out what was going on. The flaming man suddenly lurched sideways and threw himself though the shattered glass, falling on top of a well-dressed older woman who sprawled on the floor. The woman screamed as the man’s teeth clamped down on her arm. Her hair caught fire from the close proximity to the flames coming from the man’s head.


The scene felt like it took ages, but in reality only seconds had passed. More people were falling through the windows, coming into the restaurant. They fell on the patrons who had not moved out of the way.


Something was wrong with them, that was obvious.


Mark felt Miranda grip his arm, her nails digging in as one of the strange people shuffled toward them. A woman this time, her eyes a milky blue color. She stared straight at Mark, and her mouth opened. He had a moment to register the fact that her skin was oddly pale before she lunged for him.


Without thinking about it, Mark sidestepped. He would have laughed. The woman was a good twelve inches shorter than he was, and a hundred pounds lighter. He wondered what she thought she could do to him.


The woman stumbled in confusion when Mark got out of her way. Her eyes lit upon Miranda, who stood there with her hands to her mouth watching in horror. The woman was on her before Mark could do anything, snapping her teeth, catching Miranda’s bare shoulder.


Miranda screamed in pain and shoved at the woman, trying to get her off. Mark finally made himself move. He grabbed the woman by the hair and yanked, watching, his stomach rolling, as a chunk of Miranda’s skin came away in her teeth.  Mark freed Miranda from the woman’s clutches and half pushed, half threw her over the table. She landed with a muted thud, growling in her throat.


Mark barely glanced at Miranda before the woman was coming at them again. “Fuck…we gotta get out of here…” Mark said, giving Miranda a gentle push toward the kitchen. There would be a back way out, loading docks, something. Miranda didn’t want to move. She was too busy looking in horror at the blood that spilled down her arm.


Mark grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him, ignoring the noise around him. He shoved through the swinging doors, yanking Miranda through, taking in the chaos in the kitchen. The two servers who he had seen run in through the doors were trying to pull a very heavy man off one of the cooks. He appeared to have his teeth sunk into the cook’s neck. Blood coated the front of his white jacket.


Miranda was struggling to break Mark’s hold on her hand. Mark looked at her and realized she the tugging was not her trying to release her hand, but trying to bring his hand up to her mouth. Her eyes had gone glassy, like the woman in the dining room. Her hand felt strangely cold to him. Miranda lurched toward him, her teeth snapping. Mark didn’t think about it…he brought his fist up and popped her in her forehead, dropping her to the floor in a heap. She lay still for a moment before twitching, writhing, trying to gain her feet.


Mark left her there, not waiting to see if she’d get up. He didn’t have his gun with him, and he realized for the first time, feeling even more nauseous, that he didn’t have his cell phone either. He checked his pockets in vain, knowing it wasn’t there. Riley had only told him a million times to take the damned thing with him, but Mark was constantly forgetting it.


Thinking of Riley made him feel a panicky kind of sickness in his stomach. Did she know what was going on? Was she still watching over his daughter, or had Courtney taken over? Christ…maybe all of them were changed, like Miranda had changed. Mark charged through the kitchen, shoving people out of his way, ignoring the way most of them snapped and growled at him. Charlie…that was what he thought of now, his tiny little girl, she’d been having nightmares lately, she thought he didn’t know. She didn’t want to tell him though, and Mark felt choked up at the thought of not seeing his girl again. She was all he had to live for. Everything he’d ever done in his life had been for her, he was wrapped around her finger, he knew it and he loved it.


The door to the loading dock stood open in front of him. Mark hesitated. There was another door to his right. He assumed it was the manager’s office, and was proven right when he peered inside. It was empty. He went in and shut the door behind him, blocking out the screams and howls of the people in the restaurant. A black phone sat on the desk. Mark picked it up and started to dial his house before he realized that there had been no dial tone. He jiggled the cut off switch a few times and got nothing for the effort. The phone was dead. The explosion outside might have messed with the lines. He had no way to be sure.


His truck was parked in the back lot. The movie theater was across the parking lot from the steakhouse, so it had seemed easier just to walk between the two. Mark tugged his keys from his pocket and left the office. He heard a woman scream from the kitchen and looked that way. His instincts warred within him. He wanted to go back into the restaurant and help, that was the cop in him, that was how he had always been. But the greater part of him, his heart and soul, told him to get to Charlie and Riley, and to do it NOW. He couldn’t ignore that persistent feeling in his gut that something was just plain wrong, and knew without thinking about it that there was nothing he could do for the people in the restaurant. There were too many of those…things…out there, and he was unarmed.


Mark cursed under his breath and moved onto the loading dock. The parking lot was empty save for the vehicles parked along it. He could see people in front of the movie theater, walking in circles, and knew they were more of those things that had attacked the customers inside the restaurant. With his keys clutched in his fingers, Mark dashed for his truck. He had to get home. He’d get Charlie, he’d find Riley, and they’d all just find a place to hide to wait this out, whatever the hell was going on. He only hoped it was not too late. He forced that particular thought out of his head, not wanting to think about anything happening to his little girl as he sped from the parking lot.


More people milled the streets. Mark was forced to detour twice, once due to several cars blocking the road, the second time because so many of those strange people were standing in front of him he’d been afraid to drive through them. The twenty-minute drive to his house took him nearly forty-five, and his nerves were frazzled by the time he pulled the truck to the house. He ignored the driveway and the garage, instead parking in the lawn, up against the porch. The door stood open. Mark felt his heart stop.


He was out of the truck without thinking, exploding into the house. “CHARLIE!” He yelled his daughter’s name as he ran from room to room, then upstairs. The house was empty. Except for the three bodies he’d found on the floor. The one downstairs was his neighbor. He recognized the man even though his head had been blown apart. The two upstairs were undeniably Courtney and her boyfriend. Mark felt like gagging as he forced himself to study the scene. They’d been shot, all three of them, and by someone who knew how to handle a gun.


“Riley.” Mark whispered her name out, knowing that somehow it was true. It had to have been Riley, Riley had come and gotten Charlie when she figured out something was going wrong, and they were safe together, holed up somewhere waiting this thing out. His eyes feel on a small pink object on the floor, and he stooped to snatch up Charlie’s cell phone. It was close to the open closet door. Mark thundered down the stairs, heading for the kitchen. The cordless phone was laying on the floor as if it had been dropped in a hurry. His own cell phone was gone.


Mark went to his home office next, slamming the door open. With shaking hands he unlocked the safe tucked into the closet. His two guns were nestled there in their velvet lined cases. Mark snatched them both up, tucked one of them into the waistband of his jeans, and kept the other in his hand. He slid a panel in the safe aside and grabbed for the shotgun he kept hidden there. The thing was illegal, the barrel sawed off on the end, and had been modified with a pistol grip. He’d gotten it from one of the thugs they routinely took downtown. He’d actually bought it for his ex wife, but she had freaked out at the sight of it. She complained constantly about not feeling safe, yet hadn’t been able to harbor the thought of defending herself.


It didn’t matter. The piece might come in handy before all was said and done. He grabbed an empty gym bag from the floor of the closet and filled it with bullets and shells. He hoped it was enough. Mark shouldered the bag, grunting at the weight, and spun around as the sound of glass shattering filled the house. It had come from the kitchen. Those…things…were probably trying to get in. As he left the office, Mark punched in numbers on Charlie’s phone, praying that it would still be working. He pressed the phone to his ear and walked toward the front door with his gun at the ready, the heavy bag seeming to get heavier with every step.


There was a rush of static and a harried sounding ‘yeah’.


“Riley!” Mark couldn’t help but raise his voice. He was so relieved to hear her, even with all the noise on the line, that he wanted to laugh. “Where are you?”


“Heading…Charlie’s with me…Jokers…” Her words were garbled and the interference grew so heavy that her voice seemed to fade out as she spoke. Mark got the gist.


“Riley, is Charlie…”


“…Good…meet…there…” Again it was broken up. Mark heard the phone click several times and disconnect the call. The circuits were probably clogged with people calling for help. Either that or the damned things that had attacked were trying to take out the towers. Mark didn’t doubt either theory. He ran to his truck and tossed the bag inside. He slid into the drivers seat just as the man who had broken his kitchen window came to the front door. Mark eyed him through the thick glass of the side window of his truck and started the engine. The man had taken no more than a step when Mark was out of there, flooring the gas and heading to Jokers to meet up with Riley and Charlie.




Riley breathed a sigh of relief when she spied the fence that surrounded Jeff’s property. Joker’s really was in the middle of nowhere, on private land. A ten foot tall chain link fence marked the edge of the land Jeff owned. The bar catered almost exclusively to police officers.


The gates were closed. There were none of those…things…in sight. Riley was bracing herself to climb out of the car when the metal that blocked the entrance began to move aside. Muttering a ‘thank you’ to whoever had pressed the button, she hurried onto the grounds so the gate would shut behind her.


Charlie was huddled against her side in the seat, her legs pulled against her chest. Her head rested against Riley’s arm. She had tried her hardest to comfort the little girl, but Charlie had retreated into herself and refused to talk. Riley had never felt so helpless in all her life.


She parked as close to the building as she could and shut the engine off. “All right, let’s see if your dad’s made it yet…” She slid out of her door and reached in to take Charlie into her arms. She didn’t mind carrying the girl, she hardly weighed a thing, but Charlie shivered and trembled and there was nothing Riley could do to stop it.


She stepped toward the building in front of her. That was too grand a word. She would be better. It looked like any other rickety forgotten old storage building Riley had seen in her lifetime. The only difference was the covered porch that wrapped around the outside. It looked like a miniature house, and a haunted one at that. Inside the double doors was a single room with only one window, and an elevator against the back wall.


The elevator dropped twenty feet and opened into the bar. Jeff had outdone himself. Everything was wooden, and the space was huge, the ceiling high overhead. Tables and booths were scattered here and there, but the centerpiece was the bar in the corner. Jeff had it custom built, and it could seat fifty people comfortably.


“Christ Daniels, could you have taken any longer to get here?”


Riley had just stepped through the door to the building when a voice stopped her. She looked over her shoulder, into the shadows, and spotted Randy. He had a rifle cradled in his arms, looking very comfortable with it.


“Had to detour. A lot.” Riley shifted Charlie.


“You want me to take her?” Randy stepped forward. He saw that Riley looked pale, and more tired than he’d ever seen her. He only wanted to help.


Charlie heard him and her grip tightened, almost cutting off Riley’s supply of air. “Loosen up, ladybug…” Riley choked out, hugging Charlie quickly. “I think I can handle her. Everybody downstairs?” She made a gesture at Charlie, and Randy picked it up immediately.


“Still waiting on a few.” His voice carried a note of worry that he could not hide. Riley mentally cursed. So Mark was not there.


“I’m going to take her inside. Any news?” She asked.


“Nothing. Phones are down. Cell phones are going bad. Hell, we tried the CB and got nothing but static across the dial.”


Riley thought of her short phone conversation with Mark. It had been too garbled to understand what he was saying, but she hoped he had heard her. Charlie needed him, she would not respond to Riley, and damn it…Riley missed his leadership. No wonder she felt so lost. All hell breaks loose and her partner is not around.


“I’m freakin’ tired.” Riley censored herself for the girl’s benefit and gave Randy a wan smile. Randy only looked confused. “I’m heading down. You got somebody to spell you up here?”


“Cena’s out walking the fence, checking it out.” Randy said. “We’re going to work out a watch, but they wanted to wait for Calaway…” He realized what he’d said and hurried to finish. “But I’ve only been out for about twenty minutes and so far all’s quiet.”


“Good. Be careful up here.” Riley waved and stepped into the building. The elevator stood ready. She got on with Charlie still cradled against her, and pressed the ‘down’ button. The ride down was smooth, and she sighed in relief again when the doors opened in the bar.


Every light in the place was on. When the bar was in operation, Jeff kept it fairly dim, but now bright fluorescent overheads chased shadows into the corners.


“Riley!” Jeff bounced over the top of the bar and hurried to her, grinning and looking worried at the same time. Riley mustered up a smile for him and shifted Charlie, her arms beginning to go numb. “Christ…I can’t believe you made it in. What the hell is goin’ on up there, any clue? What started it?” Jeff practically tripped over himself to ask her questions.


“I have no idea Jeff. I need to sit down for a minute.” Riley interrupted his flow of queries and had to smile when he looked pained.


“Oh geez, right, sorry…come on to the bar, I’ll get you a drink…” Jeff rambled on as Riley followed him to the stools that lined the bar. She sank down onto the first one she came to, resting Charlie on her lap, sighing in relief as her arms tingled.  “What’ll it be? Soda? Water?”


“Gimme a SoCo.” Riley grimaced. She didn’t drink much, but at the moment felt like she could put away a whole bottle of Southern Comfort. “Make it a double.”


Jeff cocked an eyebrow but said nothing as he began to pour her drink. Riley took the moment to look around.


Scattered through the room were the familiar faces from her team. Paul Levesque and Shawn Michaels were of course huddled together, talking quietly further down the bar. The two were best friends, had known each other since childhood…and neither one of them liked Mark. Riley figured it came from the fact that Mark had beaten Paul out as their squad leader. Paul was a sore loser about things like that.


Behind them, at one of the huge wooden tables, sat Adam Copeland, Steve Austin and Glen Jacobs. Glen was a big guy, Mark’s size, and had once been Mark’s partner. The two were still friends, but Riley got the idea they’d had a falling out before she’d met either of them. Mark didn’t like to talk about it. Adam was fairly new to their group, he’d transferred in to the precinct just a month ago from Miami. He seemed all right, but Riley didn’t full trust him. She couldn’t put her finger on why that was, she just knew he set of warning bells in her head.


And Steve…Riley eyed him with concern. A half empty bottle of beer was in his hand, but he wasn’t drinking. He was staring across the room. Riley followed his gaze and saw why he looked so distressed. His ex wife, Jess, was seated at one of the booths across from David Batista. After Steve and Jess had divorce two years earlier, they had tried to avoid each other but had been picked to be in this squad. Neither wanted to let the opportunity to move up pass them by. By that time, Jess was seeing David, and it drove Steve crazy to see them together.


Riley did a mental count. With Randy and John above ground, watching, the only people missing were Mark and Heather Austin, Steve’s sister, their communications officer. Riley had a feeling Heather would be holed up at home, waiting this out. The place was like a fortress. Heather had married young, and had married money. Her husband had hated the fact that she wanted to be a cop, but understood her need to work. He had died while building a forty story office building in Chicago, leaving Heather the mansion they’d lived in, the cars, the business he’d built. And money. More than she’d ever know what to spend on in her life. If Jeff’s bar was secluded, then Heather’s place was remote, about an hour further away, in the woods that separated this town from the next. An electric fence surrounded the property, there were motion sensors and cameras everywhere, and Heather would feel safe there until something major happened to her directly. Riley didn’t expect her to be here, in the bar.


Charlie’s grip on her had loosened while Riley had been lost in thought. Jeff brought her drink, smiling at the little girl, and waited while she knocked back the glass, downing the liquid in one gulp. She closed her eyes and handed the glass back to Jeff. “I’ll take that soda now. No ice.”


“Comin’ up.” Jeff said with a grin. Riley smoothed Charlie’s hair back from her brow and saw that the little one had fallen asleep. She’d been so scared, so tense, that it was a relief to see her drop off. Her features were unlined and smooth, her breathing steady. Riley envied her the nap. She could use another one herself. “You want to make her a bed in one of the booths?” Jeff asked, setting her soda down.


“She’d freak out if she woke up. I’m fine holding. Mark should be here any time now.” Riley tried to sound convincing. She honestly wasn’t sure if he’d make it at all, but had to believe for Charlie’s sake that he would come walking in any second.


“You want me to take her for a while?” Glen’s deep voice spoke from behind her. Riley hadn’t noticed him moving. He slid onto the barstool next to her and smiled.


“I don’t think she’d like that.”


“She’s out cold. I don’t think she’ll notice.” Glen scooped his arms under the little girl and lifted her easily against his chest. Charlie muttered and snuggled closer to him, maybe comforted by the size of him.


“Thanks. Any news?”


“I was gonna ask you that.” Glen said with a chuckle. His voice was a low rumble. “Heard from Mark?”


“He tried to call. Cells are about worthless.” Riley took a sip of her drink. Even without ice it was cold, and it felt good going down. She looked down at herself and smirked. Her left side was splattered with blood, probably from the shots she’d fired in the hallway. She would kill for a shower and a change of clothes. She wished that she’d thought to grab some of their things before leaving home. Going back was looking impossible.


“Damn CB looks like a relic from the fifties. It’s no wonder we can’t get out on it.” Glen muttered. “Shawn and I were already here when it started. We tried to head downtown. Lost the car about halfway in. There was an explosion, I think it was a gas main breakin’ open. We hightailed it back to regroup. Had to walk it. Talk about fun.”


Riley smiled grimly. “We went off road a couple of times. Never try that shit in a Toyota.”


Glen laughed. Riley saw Jess moving their way and smiled at her. Jess’s return smile was weak, and she looked tired. “Hey girl. Thought maybe you decided to get the hell out of dodge.”


“Where would I go?” Riley asked, shaking her head. Her parents had died, and she had no other family. She had nowhere to run to. Best to just stick this out with Mark and the others, and see what they could do that go out on her own.


Jess rubbed her shoulder. “Fair warning. Paul and Shawn are talking mutiny.”


“Fuck. Again?” It was no secret that Paul had campaigned, loudly, for Mark to be dismissed from his leadership position. He had done everything in his power to gain the spot, including hinting that Mark and Riley had a relationship beyond their police work. Luckily, this was not the first time that Paul had not gotten his way, and the higher ups ignored him.


“David seems to be agreeing with them.” Jess sat down and cast a furtive glance at her boyfriend. He had moved so he was sitting at the bar with Paul and Shawn. The three of them looked Riley’s way before bending heads together, whispering.


“Well fuck them.” Riley took another long drink from her glass. “If they wanna go, then let ‘em go. Not like we’re a fuckin’ team anymore. In case you hadn’t noticed, order has been shot all to hell.”


“I did notice thanks. And I also know that they’re up to something. I just don’t know what. David won’t tell me.” Jess’s whisper caused Glen to frown thunderously.


“Let them try something down here.” His tone was dangerous, deceptively calm. Riley raised her eyebrow but said nothing.


“You would think they’d get along, considering what’s happening out there.” Jess said sadly. She nervously toyed with a gold necklace around her neck, glancing at her ex husband. “You think we’re all right here?”


“For now.” Riley said, not wanting to lie and say yes, absolutely. If those things really wanted in, she was sure they’d find a way. “Maybe we can get that CB going, call out for survivors, see if we can get them all together and find somewhere safer. But until we know what’s happening…”


“We’re kinda stuck.” Glen finished. His eyes moved from Riley, looking over her shoulder. “What do you want?”


“Just seein’ how Daniels is.” Paul said, looking smug. “We about gave up on you.”


“Yeah well, like a bad habit, I’m back.”


“Sans loverboy.”


“Don’t start that shit again.” Riley said, turning around to glare at him. “I’m going to start thinking that you have a crush on him or something, you bring him up so often.”


Paul made a low sound in his throat, but the look never left his face. “I think we should go ahead and get started planning a way out of this. He’s probably dinner by now, don’t ya think? Those things don’t seem to particular about who they tear to pieces…”


Riley was grateful that Charlie was asleep through this. The little one was already traumatized, and to hear this guy talk about her father being killed might have been enough to send her over the edge.


Her bored expression covered her anger at the man standing in front of her. “You know what asshole? Let me hear you say that shit in front of the kid again, I’ll rip off your left nut and feed it to you. Then we’ll see who eats what for dinner.” 


“No need for that, Riley. But we should be thinking of the group’s safety, not just of Calaway. There’s more here to worry about.”


“Spare me the fake ass concern. Go back to your fuck buddy and shut your big mouth, would you? I’ve had to shoot better than you already tonight, and I’m awful damn close to making you an example.” Riley turned around again, dismissing him. Paul stood there, his eyes furious, before he turned on his heel and stomped away.


“Feed him his left nut huh?” Glen said with a chuckle. He’d been quiet through their exchange, biting his tongue, knowing that Riley could take care of herself. She’d have to, if she was Mark’s partner. He had made her a tough one. He was good at that.


“Or both.” Riley drained her drink. Jess was snickering behind her hand, trying not to laugh.


“Jessie…come on.” David walked up and took his girlfriend by the arm. She looked from him to Riley, the smile leaving her face.


“I’ll talk to you later…” Jess muttered as she was practically pulled from her seat. David led her over to where Paul and Shawn were smirking in Riley’s direction.


“Jessie?” Glen whispered.


“David’s idea of a cutesy name.” Riley said with a shrug. “If I was her, I would kick him in the balls and tell him to fuck off.”


Glen started laughing. It was no secret that Riley didn’t care for David, as a matter of fact, none of them really did. He was good at his job, but generally came across so overbearing that no one enjoyed working with him. How Jess could go out with him was a mystery to everyone. Riley was looking over her shoulder. She caught Steve’s eye and waved him over. He came reluctantly, empty beer bottle clutched in his hand.


“You’re being uncharacteristically quiet. No opinion? No jumping ship?” Riley said as Steve sat down on the stool his ex had vacated.


“Keepin’ my mouth shut. You should be relieved.” He glared down the bar at his ex wife and her boyfriend, frowning thunderously at the way David seemed to be lecturing her.


“I am. Hey! Jeff…another beer for my friend here, and I’ll have a refill…” Riley called to the bar owner as he washed some glasses from earlier.


“Hey…” Glen’s voice made her turn to him. Charlie was awake, her eyes wide, as she struggled to get away from him.


“Char…baby doll…it’s all right, its just Glen…” At the sound of Riley’s voice, Charlie dove for her. Riley barely had time to prepare herself as the little one crossed into her arms, hugging onto her again. Riley shared a helpless glance with Glen as she whispered softly to Charlie, telling her everything was all right.




Mark eased the truck along the road’s shoulder, wincing as gravel shot up from the tires and pinged against the side. Not that he had to worry about his truck’s paint job, it just gave him something to think about besides his daughter being in danger.


Those things were in the road, at first hundreds, dwindling as he got further out of the city limits. This was the largest group he’d seen in half an hour. Ten of them. All shuffling along the blacktop as if they had somewhere to be.


He hoped it wasn’t the bar. Mark thought he actually recognized one of the men on the road, a guy named Chris Newton, he was a rookie cop on the force. When he passed the man, Mark was sure as he got a look at the dragon tattoo on the man’s arm. He’d just asked him about it the other day. Feeling sick to his stomach, Mark risked speeding up, wanting to get to Jeff’s before he completely lost his mind.


A few miles later, the fence appeared to his right. Those things hadn’t quite gotten this far yet, which was good. He would be able to go inside without worrying about getting attacked at least. The gate rolled open as he approached and Mark heaved out a breath he hadn’t been aware of holding.


He was out of the truck almost before stopping it completely. Randy was standing in the entranceway to the elevator, a grin on his features.


“About damn time!” Randy smacked him on the arm as Mark walked past. Mark met his smile with a grim one of his own.


“Fast as I could. Is…”


“Charlie and Riley are both downstairs…they got here ‘bout an hour ago.” Randy resettled his rifle and rolled his shoulders, relaxing. “John’s on fence patrol in Jeff’s Jeep. He says it’s all secure, but we’re keepin’ an eye on it just in case.”


“Good.” Mark clapped Randy on the shoulder. “I’ll come up and spell you in a bit.”


“We got it covered.” Randy smiled. “Go on and see your girl. I know that’s what you’re wantin’ to do.”


Mark didn’t have to be told twice. He punched the button on the elevator and rode it down, striding into the bar as soon as the doors slid open.


Riley was pacing with Charlie in her arms. She looked worn out, more tired than he could ever remember seeing her. Charlie was wrapped around her, head buried against her neck, and Mark could see how she shook in Riley’s arms.


Riley turned and caught sight of him. Her exhausted expression faded into a relieved smile. “Must have been a hell of a date to take you so long to get here.” She joked, stepping toward him. Mark moved to her and wrapped his arms around both her and Charlie, hugging them both until Riley couldn’t breath. “Hey now…” She playfully pushed him away and Mark reached out for his daughter.


“Daddy…” Charlie whispered it as if she couldn’t believe it. Big tears coursed from her green eyes as she hugged her father. Mark laughed and hugged her back, tighter than before, unable to really believe that she was here, she was all right.


“Baby…are you Ok?” Mark forced her to look up at him. He glanced at Riley, at the relief on her features. Apparently taking care of Charlie through this had been rough.


“Riley saved me.” Charlie stated simply, raising a hand to touch her father’s cheek. Mark smiled down at her, feeling like crying himself.


“Riley’s good at that baby.” He kissed her on the nose, making her squirm. Mark started to lower her to the ground, but Charlie gripped him tighter, not yet willing to let him go. “Ok, but you know I’m not going to be able to carry you all night. I’m an old guy, remember?”


“Just for a little while.” Charlie pleaded. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him again, making Mark’s eye tear up. Again.


Riley stood by silent and watched them interact for a moment before turning and heading back to the bar.  It was private, what they were experiencing, and she didn’t want to intrude.


Mark cuddled his daughter and looked around. Everyone except Riley looked back. He couldn’t deny the hostility he felt from Paul, Shawn and David. Neither could he ignore the way the others looked to him for leadership and guidance. He couldn’t even begin to think of what they should do.


“Down you go, Charlie.” She didn’t protest when Mark lowered her to her feet, but she did reach up and grip his hand as if afraid he’d disappear.  Mark smiled down at her, taking in her mussed hair and tired eyes, and felt his heart clench up as it always did when he looked at his daughter. She needed sleep, and maybe now that he was here she could relax enough to drop off.


Mark led her to the bar, and sat down on the stool next to Riley. Charlie clambered onto his lap, resting her head back against his chest. Mark ran his fingers through her hair, humming under his breath as he felt her relax.


It took him a moment to realize that Riley was watching them. He glanced at her, and saw her smile.


“Never would have guessed such a little thing would turn you to mush.” Riley whispered. They were alone there at the bar, Jeff was on the further end talking animatedly to Glen, Steve had staked out a corner table and brooded.


“Yeah, well…can’t help it.” Mark half-smiled back and kissed his daughter on her head. She was totally relaxed in his arms now, and Riley confirmed that she was sleeping.


“Jeff offered to make her a bed in one of the booths.” She said softly. Mark nodded.


“Good idea. She needs to sleep.”


Riley waved at Jeff. He bounded over, full of his usual energy. “Yo. Mark. Glad to see you man.”


“Yeah. Same here I guess.” Mark chuckled. He made no secret of how Jeff’s energy made him nervous. “Do you have any towels or something I could use to pad the booth down with for Charlie?”


“Oh, yeah. I have blankets and pillows in the storeroom. And before you ask, I ordered them to take home with me and haven’t gotten around to it yet.” Jeff saw the amusement in Riley’s eyes at his admission. “What? I practically LIVE here.”


“Might be time to hire some help…oh, fuck it never mind. The world ended. Looks like you’ll have plenty of time to make your bed.” Riley’s voice held nothing but amusement. It always amazed Mark how, after the initial shock, Riley managed to take things in stride and find something to laugh about in the middle of tragedy. It was one of the things he found so damned attractive about her. He was too serious sometimes, never seeing the humor in anything unless it jumped up and bit him on the nose. She had made him see differently.


Jeff laughed and left them to seek out his bedding. Mark adjusted Charlie in his arms so she was sitting more comfortably. A hand touched his shoulder. Mark glanced around and saw Jess standing there, a grim look on her face. “You need to talk to Riley.” She smiled, but it did not touch her eyes. “Welcome back. We almost gave up hope.”


Mark nodded but said nothing. David had come up behind Jess, his face a careful blank. He watched as Jess followed David around the bar and into the hallway that led to the bathrooms.


“I give up on what she sees in that asshole.” Riley muttered, drawing Mark’s attention. She was drinking something…he assumed it was soda from the way it bubbled. Mark could use a drink himself.


“Love is blind. I guess.” Mark shrugged.


“And apparently rides the short bus.” Riley sighed and propped her chin in her hand, leaning against the bar. Mark smiled and watched as Jeff returned, carrying not just a blanket and pillow but a whole box.


“Bulk order. Found ‘em on sale. What can I say?” Jeff said before anyone could speak. “Way I figure…we’re safe here for now. We all might as well rest up while we get a chance. We can get John and Randy back down here, lock down, and huddle for the night. Tomorrow we can all go up and see what’s what.” As he spoke, Jeff opened the box and pulled out several blankets. They were all blue, and made of some soft brushed cotton. He went to the booth closest to the bar and spread the blanket, plopping a pillow on top. “Come on then, I’ve had to sleep here a time or two myself, it’s not totally uncomfortable.”


Mark got up and carried Charlie to the makeshift bed. He settled her down, running his fingers once again through her silky hair, murmuring to her as she shifted. He tucked her securely into the blanket and gave Jeff a pat on the shoulder. Hopefully she would sleep through the night.


“How are you for food?” Mark asked, moving away from Charlie so their voices would not disturb her. He sat down once again next to Riley. Steve had finally taken in upon himself to come closer, as had Glen. Jess returned from the bathroom without David. She also came to sit at the bar.


“We’ve got some hamburger and…ya know…grill food.” Jeff shrugged. “Some canned stuff. Milk and water, gallons and gallons of each. Might have to make a run out for veggies or other stuff, but we’re good for a least a few days.”


“What if we lose the power?” Mark asked.


“I have generators.” Jeff said with a grin. “Three of ‘em. And a backup in case they go down. That gives us some time. If we run low on fuel, we can always siphon out of the cars outside.”




“There’s the fence. And a camera up in the elevator room. Points out the door so you can see who’s coming inside.” Jeff’s smile hardened. “Just had the fence checked about a month ago, repaired a few spotty places, so it should be good.”


Mark nodded. He glanced at the others. Once again, they all looked to him for what to do. “All right.” He said it out loud without realizing it. They were used to him leading, that was obvious, so he was going to try his hardest. “If we cut off the elevator, we’re all gonna be safe down here…at least for a while. Won’t need a watch, as long as the gate holds. We need to get that camera moved so it’s on the roof, not in the room. Give us a better watch over who comes and goes.”


There were nods. Mark sighed and continued. “We’ll have to think of something else, something a little more permanent after that. We can’t stay here forever. And those things might eventually find a way down. How are we on weapons?”


“Everybody brought something.” Jess said, ignoring the look her ex husband was giving her. “Police issue mostly.”


I’ve got some stuff in my bag.” Mark said.


“I have a lock box of ammo in my trunk.” Riley said. It was the first time she’d spoken in a while. She was being quiet, a rarity. She usually had something smart to say. “Forgot about it until now. And two guns.”


Steve and Glen nodded. Mark glanced once more at Paul and Shawn. They had been joined by Adam. “Think they’re gonna give us problems?”


Jess sighed. “They’re already talking about it. Paul was playin’ it off like you were dead, but now he’ll just want to be bossy like he always is.”


“He can try.” Riley stated simply. “Like I’d really ever do anything he said.”


“Yeah. Same here.” Steve rubbed a hand over his goatee. “So we just sit tight for a few days, then what?”


“I don’t know.” Mark said, being honest, his gaze going to his daughter. She slept deeply, curled onto her side. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it I suppose.”


“I’ll get the camera moved around.” Riley offered.


Mark hesitated before nodding. He didn’t like the idea of her going up top, but she was good with electronics. She’d manage it quickly and without tearing the camera up. “Get Randy and John down here. We’re not going to keep an above ground watch until we absolutely have to. We’ll rest while we can, gather up supplies, and figure out what the hell we’re going to do.”


Riley shrugged and finished her drink before sliding from her stool. Mark watched as she walked toward the elevator. Steve took the seat that Riley had vacated, turning his icy blue eyes to Mark. “What are we gonna do about them?” He jerked his head toward Paul’s group. David had rejoined them.


“Nothing. Unless they make us. For now, they can stay in their corner, we’ll be in ours.” Mark sighed and knew it was useless to try to get Paul on their side. He’d been passed over for a promotion and he held a grudge. He didn’t like Mark anyway. It was not the first time they’d tangled.


Riley stepped out of the elevator, glancing up for the camera. She followed the wired toward the small metal box above the doorway. “Randy!” She called, reaching up and testing how tight it was screwed in. She had a tool kit in her car. She’d probably have to run and get it.


“Yeah?” Randy popped his head around the doorway. He grinned. “Finally, somebody is doin’ something. What do you need?”


“Mark wants everybody in the bar for the night. No watch. Except this.” She tapped the camera with a fingernail.


Randy raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”


“Yeah. I heard him.” Riley grinned. “We’re going to shut the elevator off. So will you please run and get John, hightail your happy asses back here, and make it snappy? I don’t wanna be outside all night. I don’t care how good the fence is.” Randy nodded and hurried off. John had said he’d be down by the gate, keeping an eye on the road for a while. He wanted to look their first.


Riley went to her car, grabbed her tool kit, and after a hesitation went to the trunk to pick up her other store of ammo. It was in a larger box than the one she’d kept under the front seat, and it was heavy. She grunted and set it on the elevator floor before snatching a screwdriver out of the tool kit.


In five minutes she had the camera in hand. She climbed nimbly onto the rail that surrounded the building, propping the camera up so it more or less pointed in the direction of the front gate. She hoped it was good enough as she screwed the device down, straining to get the screws through the weathered wood. She shook the camera, nodded in satisfaction when it didn’t move, and began to climb down, pocketing the screwdriver.


She heard voices from behind her. Hands grabbed her waist, helping her to the ground. Riley gave John a smile and he grinned back. “Riley. Already climbing the walls huh?”


“Not yet, but I’ll be damned close if you don’t keep me entertained.” She led the men into the room with the elevator. Randy shut the door, then looked around.


“Nothing to bar it with.”


“There’s a padlock.” Riley pointed it out. The door had a clasp for it, but it was rusty. After some grunting and groaning, Randy finally had the lock latched and the padlock through it. “Don’t close it up. Who the hell knows if Jeff has the key?”


“Good point.” Randy left the lock dangling open. The small metal arm would keep the door closed at any rate. “Let’s go down.  I could use a drink.”


“That makes two of us.” John said with a groan. “Hell…they’re all over the road. None of them tried the fence, not that I could see, but it’s just a matter of time I guess.”


“Where are they going?” Riley asked as the elevator slid downward. Randy and John shrugged.


“Who the hell knows?” John said, sounded helpless. Riley could understand how he felt. She’d felt the same until Mark had shown up. It wasn’t that he’d decided they would stay locked down, that he’d made that decision. It just felt good to have her partner back with her. She always felt safer with him around.




Riley wasn’t expecting to walk into a stand off back in the bar, but that was what happened as soon as she, John and Randy stepped off the elevator.


Mark was still seated at the bar. Paul, David, and Shawn had circled around him. Paul had a gun. Riley’s eyes narrowed. Her gun. The one she’d left on the bar. She shared a look with Randy and John, and the two men stepped forward, putting themselves between Paul and Mark.


“Back off Johnny. This doesn’t concern you. Not all of us wanna wait down here to fuckin’ die.” Paul said, waving the gun from Randy, to John, back to Mark.


“Nobody said you had to stay, Levesque.” Mark’s voice was calm, even. It seemed to infuriate Paul.


“This is why you shouldn’t be runnin’ this fuckin’ show, Calaway. Something happens and your idea of fixin’ it is to sit on your ass and wait!”


“And what do you suggest we do? Run through the town and wipe out the entire population?” This came from Steve. He stood behind Shawn, ready to leap onto the other man if he made a wrong move. “I don’t know about you but I ain’t carryin’ around ten thousand extra bullets in my pocket.”


“Shut it Austin. This doesn’t have anything to do with you either.” That came from David. He stared at his girlfriend’s ex husband with glittering hatred in his eyes. Steve looked amused.


Riley sidestepped around the group, keeping an eye on everything at once. She’d thought this would have at least waited a day, maybe even two, but no. Paul was eager to prove how brave and manly he was. At the risk of all their lives.


He had her gun, but she wasn’t entirely unarmed. Paul had her .38 leveled on Mark’s chest, and his eyes were boring into the taller man’s. No one paid any attention to her as she took the screwdriver from her pocket and stepped in behind Paul. Without giving herself time to think, Riley reached up and dug the point into Paul’s neck, holding onto his shoulder with her free hand. He jumped and tried to turn, but she pushed a bit harder on the handle, making him wince.


“Move and I’ll ram it through your throat.” Riley said, her voice conversational.


“This is how you train your partner? To fuckin’ kill another cop?” Paul asked, aiming it at Mark, his voice sounding choked. Riley eyed Shawn and David. They were both in shock apparently, as they hadn’t moved to save their leader.


“This is how I train myself, to fuckin’ kill a loser asshole that steals my gun. Now drop it. Or you’ll be breathin’ out a tube for what’s left of your miserable fuckin’ life.” The point of the screwdriver scratched his throat. A bead of blood appeared. Paul hesitated, cursed under his breath, and thumbed the safety on the gun.


“You fuckin’ bitch. You’re gonna get us all killed down here!”  Paul hissed out, dropping the gun to the floor.


“Maybe. Maybe not. But I’d rather die fighting those fuckin’ things upstairs than have to waste a bullet putting your ass down.” Riley glanced around once more. “Allow me to make a suggestion gentlemen. Since you…” she made it a point to tighten the hold on the screwdriver, making Paul hiss. “And your friends are so determined to do your own thing, why don’t you leave? Take my car. Keys are in it. Hit the road and do whatever it is you think you gotta do. But this is the last time you’re going to make waves for the rest of us. Got it?”


“You can’t fuckin’ force us out of here, Daniels…” Paul said, his voice rising. “It’s not my fault your boyfriend can’t fuckin’ lead to save his own ass…”


“Keep on talkin’ Pauly.” Mark cracked his knuckles. “No rules say I have to treat you like a friend anymore…”


“All right you two.” Riley interrupted them both before they could get into another insult match. “If you are done comparing how big…or small…” She pointedly poked Paul in the neck with the screwdriver. “Your penises are…Jeff…Pack them a bag.”


Jeff had been standing behind the bar this entire time, wide eyed. He nodded and hurried off, snatching up an empty box and filling it with canned food and bottled water.


“Randy…please take their guns and ammo, and pack them in the trunk of my car. We’re just going to sit here and wait ‘til that’s taken care of.” Riley didn’t look to see if Randy had agreed. She bit in a sigh of relief when she heard the soft sound of the elevator go up. “John…my gun please.”


John grinned and picked Riley’s gun up from the floor. She took it, trading him for the screwdriver. “Now…” Riley thumbed off the safety and cocked the .38. “Sit. Shut your mouth. I’d hate to wake up Charlie with a loud noise, but it would be easier to listen to her freak out than hear you pissing and moaning all night.” She gestured with the gun. Paul shot her a dark look but turned, hands up, and sat down on one of the stools. “You guys too…” Riley motioned to David and Shawn. Adam came forward then, seemed about to say something, then thought better of it and sat down on the stool on Paul’s left.


The elevator thumped. Randy bounded into the room. “Got it, done, car’s runnin’ and ready.”


“Good. Gentlemen. Riley gestured with the gun again. “Don’t come back. Next time I might not be so particular on the use of my bullets.”


“Fuckin’ bitch…” Paul muttered under his breath. “Fine…we’ll go. Good luck when those things start tearin’ you all apart. Be interesting to watch ‘em get to the kid…” Mark made a move as if to get up. Riley stopped him with a hand on his arm.


“Anything else you jackass? It’s late and I’m tired.” She sounded unaffected by his tone and what he said, but inside she seethed at the thought of anything happening to Charlie.

Paul looked from person to person as if marking them. There was the sleeping child, Riley with her dark hair and serious expression, her gun not wavering, her hands not shaking in the least. Mark was shooting him a glare that would probably melt the wall. Glen and Steve were on either side of Mark, as if protecting him. John and Randy had retreated to stand near Charlie’s sleeping form, as if protecting her.


“Jessie.” David’s voice interrupted Paul’s thoughts. He hadn’t noticed her standing in the shadows behind Randy. “C’mon. Let’s get the fuck away from these people.”


Jess took a step forward, glanced to Riley, then shook her head. “I’m not leaving.”


“Bullshit you’re not.” David stepped forward. Steve was there so fast Jess had barely seen his progress.


“Step on through if you think you can.” Steve’s Texan drawl was even more pronounced than usual. He was pissed. He was damn tired of seeing his ex put up with this asshole she currently slept with.


“You gonna stop me?” David asked. He looked over Steve’s shoulder at Jess, smirking. “Well come on you bitch, we’re not gonna wait all fuckin’ day for your ass.”


“Good. Leave.” Jess abruptly turned and crossed her arms.


“You’re signing your death warrant Jessie…” David called out as he backed into the elevator with Paul, Adam and Shawn.


“Stop callin’ me JESSIE you piece of shit! It’s JESS.” She raised her voice enough to get her point across, but not loud enough to wake up Charlie.


“Hit the button Jeff.” Riley said, amused beyond words at Jess dumping David in the middle of this. It was about damned time.


Jeff nodded and went to a panel against the far wall. The elevator doors slid shut, but not before Paul had time to make one last statement. “I’ll fuckin’ kill you! Don’t think I won’t be back you bitch! You and your fuckin’ boyfriend!”


The doors shut on his words. The elevator rose up, and there were footsteps from overhead as the four men walked out into the night. Riley lowered her gun, putting the safety on once again. She turned to Jeff. “Well?”


Jeff was watching the monitors that he had hidden under the bar. Riley had moved the camera to a decent position. He saw the four of them pile into her car and watched as it backed away. “They’re leavin’. Hold on…” He thumbed a button to open the gate, closing it again as soon as the car’s rear end cleared the opening. “Gone. They’re gone. Went toward town.”


Riley walked to the bar and thumped her gun down on the wooden surface. “Good. Get me another drink. I think a triple this time.”


“Right on it, boss.” Jeff winked and set about pouring her Southern Comfort. Glen came up to her and gave her shoulder a squeeze.


“Christ Riley. Who figured you to be such a hard nose?” He said with a chuckle.


“I can’t believe a roomful of men, and I had to come in and get rid of the trash.” Riley glanced at Mark. He was staring at her, an unreadable expression on his face. “You all right?” She asked softly as everyone else began talking amongst themselves. Mark blinked a few times, and nodded slowly.


“Yeah. Never figured he’d stick a gun in my face.”


“I’m only shocked it took him this long.” Riley slid onto the stool next to Mark. Their shoulders touched. Mark took a bit of comfort from the contact, but knew that Riley was reaching the end of her reserves. They were all going to have to be self-sufficient if they were going to get through this thing. “How about I buy you a drink?”


Mark grinned. Jeff approached and heard Riley’s comment. It caused him to giggle. “Two for one end of the world special tonight. Quarter beers.”


“Bring a fuckin’ keg out then.” Riley muttered. Mark resisted the urge to reach over and take her hand, hug her, kiss her…something. He’d seen murder in Paul’s eyes, and she’d stepped in and saved him. He never would have figured it happening like that.


“He’s pissed. If they survive long enough, he’s going to come back.” Mark said softly. Riley nodded.


“You got that elevator locked down?” She asked Jeff. He poured Mark a beer and gestured at the far wall. The lights that lit the area around the elevator were off.


“Cut the power. Emergency shut off, they could still use it to come down. Means if we need to get out in a hurry, we’ll have to flip the breakers back on. But it’s dead now. Even the magnets won’t separate that hold the doors shut without some juice runnin’ into them.”


“Good. Means we can get some sleep.” Riley brought her drink to her lips and swallowed it down, closing her eyes as it burned her throat. “Hell. Bring the bottle Jeff. It’s gonna take more than a couple of shots to put me to sleep tonight.”


Jeff grinned and handed over the liquor. Riley and Mark sat in silence, listening to the conversations around them, each lost in their own thoughts. It was going to be a long night. Riley hoped things would look better in the light of day, but she had serious doubts that it was possible.




Jess leaned against the sink in the ladies room, studying her reflection. Riley was a few sinks away, her shirt removed as she scrubbed dried blood from her skin with wet paper towels.


“I miss my shower already.” Riley stated, tossing the wad of paper towels into the garbage can. She took up her t-shirt, grimaced, and put it in the sink to try to scrub it a bit cleaner.


“I’m gonna miss my bed.” Jess sighed, shoving her dark hair back over her shoulders. “I might have brought an extra shirt if you want me to check…”


“That’s all right. Jeff gave me one of his.” Riley tugged a white cotton beater from her back pocket, shaking her head. “That kid practically lives in this bar. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for him or be grateful.”


Jess smiled and began to braid her dark hair. She did it every night, and it was comforting to go through this bedtime ritual. Her hair was naturally wavy, unruly if she didn’t tame it down. And too long. She’d been meaning to get it cut for weeks, but just hadn’t found the time.


“Stop fiddlin’ with your hair. You look good as usual.” Riley said from inside Jeff’s undershirt as she tugged it over her head. Jess laughed.


“Busted.” She finished her braid and tied it off with an elastic band that she wore on her wrist.


Riley smoothed the shirt down and frowned a little. It was see through. Her black lace bra showed up clearly against the white. She sighed again. “Great. I look trashy.” She went back to scrubbing at the bloodstains on her other shirt.


“You look fine Riley.” Jess said with a giggle. It had been so long since she and Riley had hung out. She had forgotten how much she liked her, how well they got along. That was because of David, Jess knew it, David had not wanted her to be friends with anyone else on the team, he had wanted all of her time.


Jess shook her head. She’d already wasted more than enough time thinking of David and their ‘relationship’.


“So…tell me. Why did you stay here?” Jess asked, watching as Riley wrung her shirt out before going back to scrub it again.


“Three reasons.” Riley said, blowing a stray lock of hair back from her face. “I can’t fuckin’ stand Paul, I trust Mark, and I am not about to let anything happen to Charlie.”


Jess nodded. She’d thought as much.


“So why did you stay? Didn’t you hear Davie boy demand that you go with him?” Riley glanced at Jess and grinned. On the rare occasions that the two women had been alone, Riley had done her best to make Jess see that David was not the guy for her. Riley had a suspicion that David might not be the guy for any woman.


“Yeah, yeah.” Jess shrugged her shoulders. “I feel safer down here with you guys. Especially with you, now that I’ve seen you in action.” She added with a laugh. Riley smiled sweetly.


“Seriously now, how much of Paul’s shit did you think I would take?” She ran water into the sink to rinse her shirt. “What an asshole. I’m surprised he hasn’t been shot yet. And not necessarily by a criminal.” She got as much water off the shirt as she could and hung it over the sink to drip dry. “Definitely going to have to brave a trip up top in the very near future for some clothes.”


“Makes me wish I’d bought a house further in the country.” Jess said softly. She had given it some thought and realized that every one of them lived in town. Which would make it very hard to go back home to grab anything.


Riley looked down at herself and shook her head. “Well…I’m going to brave the public looks and go out there and get some sleep. I feel like I’m going to fall over.”


“I’ll be out in a few minutes.” Jess said with a smile. Riley gave her a pat on the arm as she walked past.


Jess had the bathroom to herself. It was strange to her, to hear the bar so quiet. She knew she’d have a hard time sleeping that night. Not just because of what had happened earlier either…if she tried hard enough, she could temporarily convince herself that they really hadn’t been attacked by-and she hesitated to use the word-zombies.


There was a noise at the door. Jess turned to look, and her dark eyes met Steve’s ice blue gaze. She didn’t know what to say to him, so she kept her silence, unable to tear her gaze from him.


He had been the best and worst part of her entire career as a police officer. She had been a rookie cop when they’d met, and he was a transfer from a department further south. They got married six months after they started dating. For two years, Jess had been the happiest woman on the planet. Steve looked and played the part of a rough edged redneck, but she knew that he was caring, witty, and the gentlest man she’d ever been with. Then she’d lost their baby, and everything had gone downhill.


Jess had not even known she’d been pregnant when the miscarriage happened. She’d been doing a routine sweep of a house downtown after they had busted a couple of teenagers for a drug charge. A man had been hiding upstairs. He’d knocked Jess down the stairs trying to get away from the cops who swarmed the house. She found out at the hospital that the bleeding she experienced was her losing a baby she hadn’t been aware of carrying.


Steve didn’t blame her. As a matter of fact, although he’d grieved their loss, he’d been even more gentle and caring. Jess had been wracked with guilt though, and had found every excuse she could to start arguments with him. Eventually she’d left him. When she filed for divorce, he fought it. They were technically still married, as they hadn’t managed to settle on a court date to take their case in front of a judge.


“You all right?” He drawled out now, leaning against the door to hold it open.


“Just great.” She said shortly, tearing her gaze from him. It still hurt to even look at him, reminded her of what she’d lost because she’d been too stubborn to go to a doctor to find out why she’d been feeling nauseous.


Steve sighed and entered the bathroom, letting the door close behind him. “Kinda silly for you to keep that attitude of yours when all the world is fallin’ down around your ears, Jess.”


“I’m not keeping an attitude Steve. I’m just tired.” Jess picked up the brush she’d carried into the bathroom and toyed with it, giving her hands something to do.


Steve came to a stop in front of her and reached out to take the brush from her hands. Jess let him. She couldn’t help herself either…she looked up into his eyes again, and felt like crying. He wasn’t even mad at her, for tearing their marriage apart, for being with David. None of it seemed to matter to him. He looked at her with concern in his eyes, with emotion she couldn’t even begin to name, and it made her feel weak in the knees.


He didn’t say anything. Jess shifted nervously and stiffened up when Steve set the brush aside and reached out for her. He pulled her into his arms. She wanted to protest, to stop him from touching her, but seemed to have lost her voice. Instead, she clutched at him, wrapping her arms around him and holding tight. Her eyes shut as she breathed in him, and she felt like crying for all they had lost, all she had put him through. And here he was, still willing to love her. She had done nothing do deserve it.


Steve stroked her back, cradling Jess close. He kissed her on the top of head before laying his cheek there and just holding onto her as if he’d never let her go.




Riley passed Steve in the hallway. He glanced at her sleep attire with a raised eyebrow. She pushed him toward the door to the women’s bathroom without a word. He caught on quick. Riley smirked and entered the bar again, noticing that Jeff had turned off the overhead lights. The room was in shadow except for the area immediately around the bar.


“Nice shirt, Riley…” Randy said from her right. Riley swung her arm and caught him in the stomach with her fist. She heard his breath whoosh from him.


“Dude…don’t fuck with Riley. She might whip that screwdriver out on you.” John admonished his friend, faking a punch at his arm.


“You got that right.” Riley said, grabbing a blanket from the end of the bar. She wrapped it around herself, effectively covering up. Mark was sitting in the booth where Charlie was sleeping. Glen was stretched out on the floor near the elevator. Jeff was still behind the bar, making a bed for himself. He grinned at her and held out a pillow.


“Found a few extra of these back there.”


Riley took it with a smile and picked up another blanket. Jeff offered her another pillow without asking. Riley walked toward Mark with her hands full, trying to hold the blanket she used to cover herself with one hand.


“Here…” She pushed a pillow and the extra blanket toward Mark. He hesitated before taking them, seeming to be lost in thought. “Might as well get some rest. Going to be a long night otherwise.”


Mark grunted but didn’t move to make a bed for himself. Riley sighed and got on her knees, shoving her pillow under the booth’s table. It was screwed into the wall, so she wouldn’t have to worry about a table leg getting in her way.


“What are you doin’?” Mark asked, a smile tilting the corners of his mouth.


“I’m going to sleep down here, so if Charlie rolls off the bench at least she’ll have something soft to fall on.” Riley said with a smirk. She knew that Charlie was usually a very mobile sleeper. She tossed, turned, ended up with her head at the foot of her bed on most nights. The booth’s bench wasn’t nearly as big as her bed at home. And at least if she fell off onto Riley, it would wake them both up and someone would be able to comfort the little one.


“I’ll sleep down there…” Mark said, reaching under the table to grab Riley’s pillow. She had already crawled into the gap. She swatted Mark’s hand with a laugh.


“Too late, I claim this land for my kingdom…” Riley said, still smiling.


“That’s my kid, Riley.” Mark reminded her, tossing his own pillow next to hers.


“No shit, really?” Riley stretched out and lay back on her pillow, wiggling to make herself comfortable on the floor.


“You sleep up on here on the bench…” Mark slid from the bench in question and crawled under the table. “I’ll sleep down here.”


“I’m already asleep. You sleep on the bench.” Riley muttered, turning on her side.


“I’m too big for the bench.” Mark said with a chuckle as he stretched out on his back next to her. He pulled the blanket over himself with one hand, being careful not to ram an elbow into Riley’s back.


“Don’t steal my pillow during the night either.” Riley said, her voice barely audible.


“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Mark said, turning on his side to face her. The dim light from the bar gave him enough visibility to see Riley’s face in the shadows. Her eyes were closed. A lock of her chestnut hair fell across her forehead. He had to fight against the urge to reach over and push the hair back from her face.


With a sigh, he forced himself to close his eyes. Riley was right. It was going to be a very long night.




Two things woke Riley up.


She was hot. The space under the table had pooled their body heat. She absently kicked the blanket off and frowned. Someone was snoring. That would explain the noise she heard. She had to laugh at herself. It was probably Randy…he’d broken his nose a couple of months ago and was still suffering the after effects of it. Riley was a light sleeper by nature. Randy’s breathing was a little heavy that was all.


Riley carefully…quietly…crawled out from under the table. Everyone was asleep. She saw Randy sleeping on top of the bar, one arm thrown over his head. He’d kicked his blanket off too. Riley shook her head and draped it across him. Although hot under the table, it was rather chilly once she was back in the air of the bar. Jeff was on the floor behind the bar. He didn’t seem to be bothered a bit by Randy sleeping practically on top of him. Riley went around the bar and studied the monitors.


Some of those things were outside. None seemed to be paying attention to the fence, or the gate. They just shambled along the road slowly. She sighed in relief. No activity near the shed either, which hopefully meant that John was right, those things couldn’t get in.


Speaking of John…Riley looked around again. Glen was still asleep in the position she’d last seen him. John had shoved a couple of tables together, making himself a bed off the floor. He was about ten feet from Glen’s right, curled on his side, muttering in his sleep.


Steve and Jess were against the far wall. Riley eyed them with a knowing smile. They were cuddled up together, under one blanket, sharing a pillow. Riley thought it was about the sweetest thing she’d ever seen in her life.


She grabbed a bottle of water and crawled once more under the table. All was quiet. Charlie had shifted in her sleep so one little hand dangled off the edge of the makeshift bed she was on. Riley tucked her back in, giving her hand a kiss before doing it.


“She still sleeping?” Mark’s whisper made Riley jump. She’d thought he was still asleep himself.


“Yup. Out cold.” Riley kept her voice as low as his. She knew from earlier in the night that the bar’s acoustics didn’t allow for many echoes, but they were all on edge and she didn’t want to disturb anyone’s rest.


“Good. She needs it.” Mark sighed and rolled onto his back. “Hot in here.”


“Can’t help you’re a human furnace.”


“Me?” Mark huffed. “Could raise the table a little bit I guess.” Even in the dim light that still fell from the bar, Mark could see the clamps that allowed the table to be raised or lowered.


“Worry about it later.” Riley drank half the bottle of water. She held it out to Mark. He took it and finished it off. Riley stretched out once more, on her back, crossing her arms behind her head. Since she’d crawled out from under the table and gotten some air, it didn’t feel nearly so hot. She still didn’t want the blanket though.


“What’s wrong?” Mark had put the empty water bottle on the bench next to him and turned to face Riley once again.


“Nothin’. Never could force myself back to sleep once I’ve been up. Might just lay here for a while and just stare at the table ‘til I pass out.” She whispered with a smirk. “Don’t stay up on my account. Get some more sleep.”


Mark wasn’t sure he’d be able to either. He held up his arm and looked at his watch. It was almost six in the morning. It seemed as if it should be much later than that. He sighed and resettled himself. There was no telling when Charlie would be up, and he really should try to sleep while he could. None of them knew what the day would bring.


Riley could tell when Mark fell asleep again. His breathing was deep and even. Lulling. She looked at him, saw his eyes closed, his features relaxed. She smiled and turned her back to him, resting on her side once more, looking up at Charlie with a worried little frown on her features.


She jumped when she felt Mark’s arm wrap around her. Riley relaxed and let herself be held. Mark muttered and snuggled closer, spooning her with his body, his face pressed into her hair. She knew that he was doing this in his sleep, that he didn’t even realize they were touching, but it still felt nice. She closed her eyes, thinking maybe she’d be able to get a little more sleep after all.


Mark woke up again almost an hour later. He’d gotten so used to getting out of bed at seven in the morning that he found it damn near impossible to sleep later than that. And he woke up to Riley cradled in his arms. For a minute he thought he was dreaming. She shifted and snuggled closer to him, making him realize that it was real.


Mark closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of her hair. Even after everything they’d been through the night before, she still smelled of the soap she used. And that perfume she wore. Mark couldn’t remember the name of it, he only knew that it was the most sensual fragrance he’d ever smelled. Riley wore it on a daily basis. Some mornings the smell would about drive him crazy. By afternoon it had either faded or he’d gotten used to it, and the only way to really smell it was to get close to her.


Riley turned in his arms so she was facing him. Her head was pillowed by his arm, and her hand snaked out to wrap over his waist. She sighed in her sleep and settled down once more. Mark studied her features in the dim light, a rare opportunity he was not going to let pass him by. Riley’s straight chestnut hair fanned over his arm, the texture silky. Riley had kept it cut to a length just below her shoulders. She had a scar on her full lower lip, courtesy of a domestic abuse call they’d taken six years before. Mark remembered how the guy had split Riley’s lip open and got mad all over again. She had laughed it off. The cut had required stitches. It had also left a crescent moon shaped scar that traveled over her lip.


Mark did not realize he had moved until it registered that he was tracing her lower lip with his finger, feeling the scar against his skin. Her breath puffed across his finger, making him shiver a bit at the sensation. He trailed his finger along her lip, down her chin, then back up to start all over.


He watched his fingers touch her, mesmerized, for several long minutes. His eyes finally swept over her features again and he saw with no surprise that Riley’s gray eyes were open, and she was looking at him, her expression unreadable.


“Riley…” Mark whispered her name, meaning to apologize for waking her up, for touching her while she slept. He got nothing but her name out. Riley reached up and touched his face, then cupped his head, bringing his mouth down to hers.


Mark was too surprised for to react for a moment. He’d wanted this to happen for a long time, had thought about it, had fought against it, but now that his lips touched hers his whole body had frozen.


It only lasted that one breathless moment.


Mark shifted his head, angling his lips, and pressed harder against Riley, letting the tip of his tongue trace the edge of her mouth. He felt the scar against his mouth, and sighed against her lips. Riley hadn’t cared to be scarred, she hadn’t gotten into police work to be a beauty queen. Mark found the scar to add to rather than take away from her beauty. She wasn’t perfect. She didn’t pretend to be perfect. She was just Riley, feisty, gorgeous, uninhibited Riley.


He felt her tongue touch his and sighed again, biting back a moan as their kiss deepened. Mark held her tighter against his body, pressed full against her as he delved his tongue into her open mouth, tasting her, wanting even more than what she was offering.


Mark had to break for air. He pressed his forehead against Riley’s and gently touched her face with his fingertips, unable to believe that he had just kissed her. Or that she had kissed him. He had never through she’d had any of those kinds of feelings for him, beyond their partnership.


He was afraid to say anything, afraid it would snap him out of what he assumed to be a dream still. And afraid he’d say the wrong thing and ruin the moment. Riley gripped the front of his shirt and sighed, just holding on to him for the time being.


“Riley…I…” Mark’s voice was barely a whisper in the  confined space under the table.


“Don’t.” Riley shushed him. “Wrong time and place for this, we both know that.” She kissed him again, this time on the tip of his nose. “We’ll talk about it later…” With that she pushed away from him, sliding out of his arms and out from under the table. Before Mark could stop her, she was heading for the bathroom to see if her shirt was dry so she could get dressed.


Mark sighed and rolled onto his back, running a hand over his face. He could not believe that had just happened. And in the midst of everything else that was going on. No wonder Riley had felt the need to get away from him. They already had more than enough to keep them busy without him trying to complicate things further.


He smirked. He’d been trying to figure out a way to ‘complicate’ things with Riley for a long time now. And besides that, she’d been the one to start the kiss, not him.


Charlie muttered from her perch above him. Mark watched as his daughter stirred, waking up a little at a time. He would have his hands plenty full that day trying to keep her calm, he was sure of that.


Charlie surprised him. She sat up and looked around, curious about where she was. She spotted Mark under the table, and looking extremely serious asked if she could have something to eat.


Mark was relieved that she was hungry. He grinned and slid out from under the table to take her hand and lead her to the bar. They’d find breakfast for everyone, and it would give Charlie something to do. Glad the night was over, Mark lifted his daughter and sat her down on the bar next to Randy’s sleeping form, gesturing for her to wake him up. Charlie giggled and began to poke the sleeping man with one finger.


Randy groaned and still mostly asleep rolled off the bar. His body hit the floor with a thud, making Charlie laughed animatedly. The noise woke everyone else up. Riley watched from the hall to the bathroom as Randy got back to his feet and pretended to be angry at Charlie for waking him up. It was a hell of an improvement from the night before in the little girl.


She met Mark’s eyes for a brief second before looking away. Truthfully, she could not explain what had come over her that morning when she’d kissed him. It was MARK for crying out loud, her partner, someone she’d thought of as a big brother of all things…and for some reason she had kissed him. Maybe because she sensed, somewhere inside him, that he wanted to kiss her and just couldn’t bring himself to do it.


Her t-shirt was still damp, but the blood was effectively washed away. Riley smoothed it down over her stomach and joined the others at the bar. They would eat and then talk about what they were going to do about what was going on in their town.  In the light of day, things would look better than they had during the night. Riley hoped that was true.




“You’re joking right?”


After a breakfast that consisted of pop tarts and milk, the group gathered at the bar to discuss what their next move should be.


Mark was the one who had voiced what they were all thinking. A couple of them would have to go to town, to their houses, and pick up clothing, essentials, and gather more food. The debate went on for an hour about who should go and who should stay.


“I’m dead serious.” Mark stated, meeting Riley’s eyes. She huffed and rolled hers.


“Ok, so that’s three times you’ve split the group and amazingly enough all three times we females have been elected to stay behind. Not to play the discrimination card, but that’s bullshit.”


“No it isn’t, Riley. You’re the only one Charlie trusts to watch over her.” Mark reminded gently. His tone only infuriated her more. Charlie spent the morning talking, laughing, joking just as she would usually do, but Mark or Riley were always within two feet of her throughout it. If they ventured too far away she’d chase after them as if afraid they would leave her behind.


“And you’re her father. So it would make more sense if YOU stayed here with your kid, and let us go do what’s gotta be done.”


Mark clamped his mouth shut against an argument that rose in his mind, looking from person to person. Apparently they were with Riley on this one-everyone was nodding in agreement.


“Well you can’t all go.” Mark grumbled, knowing when he’d been beaten. He had not wanted to leave Charlie here, but he sure as hell didn’t like the idea of sending Riley back out there.


“I’m going.” Riley was the first to pipe up. “Deal with it.”


“Me too.” Glen and Steve said at the same time.


“I’ll go.” Jeff said with a shrug.


“Wait…you’re going to leave the bar?” Jess asked, speaking for the first time since they’d started this conversation.


Jeff blushed. “I go outside on rare occasions.”


“Jeff, thanks for the offer, but it’s probably best if you stick close…you know how to work the gate and elevator.” Glen said with a grin.


“I’m goin’.” Randy said. He was sitting on top of the bar, loading his rifle. “We can probably take Glen’s truck. It would hold more stuff than Jeff’s Jeep.”


“Or mine…” Mark said, tugging the keys from the pocket. “Or both. Hell, are we going to need to make lists of what we need?”


“Won’t be necessary.  Glen and I can take his truck…Randy and Steve can take yours. We’ll go get the clothes and stuff, they can get the food, we can meet back here in two hours. Three hours.” Riley corrected, trying to remember how close together they all lived.


“I don’t like the idea…” Mark wasn’t going to get a chance to finish. But this time it was Jess who stopped him instead of Riley.


“I don’t like it either. Splitting up. But it’ll probably make them get finished faster and get the hell back here.” She said, looking from Mark to Steve. Her gaze at her husband was full of something sad. Steve gave her a lopsided smile.


“All right.” Mark threw his hands up, knowing he was outnumbered. And at least Glen was going with Riley. Mark trusted him, at least to a point…but he didn’t want to think about that now. “Take whatever guns and ammo you want, but try not to use it unless you have to. We should conserve it for a while yet.”


The four of them gathered their loaded weapons and extra shells before heading to the elevator. Riley stopped to give Charlie a kiss on the forehead before joining the others. Mark watched his daughter carefully, but she seemed unaffected by Riley’s leaving.


“You be careful damn it.” Jess was speaking to all of them but looking at Steve.


“Don’t worry darlin’. We’ll be back before you know it.” Steve kissed her on the cheek, near the corner of her mouth. Jess smiled and stepped away from him. They had talked. And talked. And now they were going to take this slow and see what happened. Although she felt like screaming at him to stay with her, she knew that this had to be done.


Jeff powered on the elevator. When the four of them stepped on he flipped a switch and sent them upstairs. “I hope we’re doin’ the right thing here.” He said to no one in particular.


Mark waited until the footsteps from above had disappeared. “You and me both, Jeff.” He said it softly. Jeff didn’t hear him. He was watching the gate, ready to open it and close it up again before any of those things got inside.


Charlie came to Mark and took his hand. “Will Riley be back Daddy?”


Mark bent down and lifted his daughter up into his arms. “Of course, baby.”


Charlie nodded. There were tears in her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Mark hugged her close and looked at his watch. Two or three hours seemed like so little time, but he knew it would drag.


“Heya bug…” Jeff suddenly spoke up from behind them. Charlie smiled gamely at the man. “Wanna help me put in a shower?”


“A shower?” Mark and Charlie said it at the same time.


Jeff laughed. “Yeah, this was gonna go in the bathroom behind the kitchen, but I never got around to it…” As he spoke, he walked around the bar into the storeroom and came out with a box. “There are drains in the floor in the bathrooms. I thought I could rig this up to run from the sinks. Best to do it while the water is still pumping through.” Mark smiled at the heavy box, then at Jeff.


“You sure you weren’t planning on just living here forever?”


“I might have thought about it.” Jeff smiled serenely. “So how about it? Wanna play plumber? I promise not to show off too much crack in there.”


Charlie giggled. It was music to Mark’s ears. She wiggled to be let down and followed Jeff eagerly toward the bathrooms. Mark decided to go and watch. It was definitely one way to pass the time. And at least watching Jeff do something halfway mechanical would be more entertaining than watching the clock.




Riley had spent a few minutes jotting down clothing sizes at the bar. She and Glen had decided their best bet was to hit a department store for clothes for everyone while Steve and Randy went to the grocery store down the road from them. Nobody felt bad about technically stealing the items…there was no one left to accuse them of shoplifting.


The way into town was rough, but not nearly as bad as Riley had imagined. The things that walked along the road generally left the truck alone. There were more of them as they got closer to town, facilitating a detour around several blocks. They didn’t seem to have a purpose, just ambled in the streets, circling, walking back and forth. It was even creepier than getting attacked by one in Riley’s book. At least when they attacked they were doing SOMETHING.


The clothing store they wanted was mercifully at the end of town. The parking lot had a few of those walkers in it, but nowhere near the number that strolled the streets. Glen grimaced and backed toward the double doors that led into the store.


“I hope like hell there’s none of those things in there…” He said, checking his gun to make sure it was ready. The doors behind them opened inward.


“They should have been closed when this shit happened. Let’s hope they didn’t find another way in. Glass isn’t broken.” Riley pointed at the doors. “I have an idea though. I’ll get out, open the doors. You back in a little further. It’ll block those things and we can just throw the stuff in the bed.”


Glen looked thoughtfully at the parking lot. The nearest of the walkers was about forty feet away, heading for the road. “I don’t like it, but it’s better than runnin’ back and forth with our arms full. All right…go ahead…just tell me when. And be quick…just throw ‘em open and move.”


“Yeah, yeah…” Riley gripped her gun and opened the door, sliding to the ground. She took a moment to glance around, just to make sure they were unobserved, then went to the doors to the store. A heavy chain and padlock were stretched across the handles. Riley sighed and turned the butt of her gun in her hand, then used it like a hammer to break the lock open. She tossed the chain aside.


“Hurry up Riley!” Glen called through the window. She glanced at the lot once again. Apparently the noise she made attracted some of the walkers’ attention. A few were looking their way, as if trying to decide if they wanted to investigate.


Riley shoved the doors open, turning sideways and gesturing to Glen as she went. He backed between the doors, the jambs scraping the sides of his truck. He was nearly to the wheels when he stopped and got out of the driver’s side.


“That’s as far as I can go without getting stuck. Let’s hurry the fuck up.” He said, climbing over the truck to enter the store. Riley tore her list in half and gave him part of it. They both took carts and headed in opposite directions.


Riley’s attention went from her list, to the racks in front of her, to the store in generally, and lastly to the truck. One of the walkers was trying to get around the idling vehicle but was having no luck. Apparently it hadn’t figure out how to climb. She went faster, grabbing at clothes and shoes as soon as she saw the sizes, stopping only a few times for things that weren’t on their lists.


The store had a display of air mattress. Riley grabbed eight of them. They didn’t need that many, but who the hell was there to tell her not to get so many? She also snagged more blankets, pillows, and a few propane powered grills. They would work just in case the electricity and generators gave out.


“Shit.” Riley muttered. She was at the end of her list. She didn’t notice Glen come up behind her.




His voice made her jump. She laughed and turned to look at him. “The generators. Are they gas powered? We should have made somebody go get some gas for them…”


“Jeff said he’s good for a month. Maybe more. We can always come back out. Those damn things don’t look like they’re in too much of a hurry to get us.” Glen pointed. Riley saw that the one walker that had been trying to get in was gone. The parking lot was empty.


“Good. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Riley said, wheeling her heavy cart around. “Got everything?”


“Yeah. Got some extras on towels and stuff too…” Glen glanced at her cart and started laughing. “I’m glad this isn’t costin’ us anything. We’d be broke as shit.”


“If I had to use money, we’d be waiting for a decent sale before we tried this shit.” Riley said, leading the way to the truck.


“Out of curiosity, how are we going to get back in the truck?” Glen asked as he started to unload their items into the bed. Riley smiled.


“I’ll climb through the back window. Easy enough.”


“I’m not gonna fit in there.”


“I’ll pull up a little and you jump in. We can get the hell out of here.” Riley emptied her cart and shoved it away. There was still no sign of those things. The nearest one she spotted was now on the sidewalk, more than eighty feet from their position. With a grunt, Riley climbed onto the tailgate and climbed over their things to get to the window.


Glen hadn’t locked it, which was good. She slid it open and eased through the small window, twisting and turning to make the gap. She wasn’t a big woman by any means, but the hole in the rear window wasn’t meant for people to crawl through.


“Shit…Riley…” Glen shouted just as she popped the truck into gear. Riley turned her head just in time to see one of those things slam himself into the driver side door.


“Fuck me runnin’.” Riley muttered, fumbling her gun out of her waistband. She couldn’t shoot him through the glass. Then there would be no protection in the cab. With another muttered curse, she rolled the window down a couple of inches, just enough to angle her gun.


She didn’t get a chance to fire. A loud shot cracked and blood splattered the window. The thing that had once been a man crumpled to the ground. Riley felt the truck shift as Glen clambered over the bed, climbing down the side where the man lay twitching. Glen shot him again and glanced at Riley with a grim smile. “Shove over lady. Nobody adjusts my seats but me.”




Steve peered out the window, ignoring Randy’s cursing for the time being. The trip to the store had been fairly uneventful. The back of the truck was loaded down with all the food they could carry. Randy had pulled out on the same road they’d used to get to the grocery, but had been forced to take a side street as more of the walking dead had appeared in the hour they’d been inside.


They’d both seen Riley and Glen driving off earlier. Before this mess. Steve frowned and renewed his grip on his gun, tapping his foot impatiently as Randy eased along the road.


“Fuck Orton. You drive like a half blind goat.” He finally muttered.


“How the fuck does a half blind goat drive?” Randy asked, laughing. He either did not see or chose to ignore Steve’s dark look at his amusement.


“Like you. Only faster.”


“Christ Austin, your woman is safe. Jeff won’t hit on her too hard.” Randy grunted when Steve punched him on the arm. “Hey! Driving here!” He snapped, still giggling.


“Shut the fuck up and do it then.” Steve growled. If he was honest, he would admit it, yes, he was worried about Jess. They had seemed to be mending their bridges, and he had been thinking of nothing but her the entire trip. He should have never volunteered to go, but he couldn’t stay cooped up in that bar all the time. He liked his wide-open spaces, being outdoors, even if the town was infested with zombies.


“Oh what the hell now?” Randy said, slamming on the brakes. Steve braces his hands on the dashboard and muttered another curse.




“Fuckin’ car. In the way.” Randy muttered. The road had been clear when they’d entered town. Now a large black car blocked most of the road. The fence was too close on either side to get around it.


“We’ll have to move it.” Steve said grimly.


“Fuck that. How?” Randy counted. There were four of those things, about twenty feet beyond the stalled car. “There’s no way we can move it before they’re on us.”


“Then we take ‘em out. Then we move the car.”


“What if the gunfire draws more of those things?” Randy pointed. Beyond a break in the fence Steve could see more of those things wandering around.




“I’ll second that.” Randy put the truck in park. “Let’s do this fast before I have a fuckin’ coronary.”


Steve smirked and followed the younger man’s lead, opening his door and stepping onto the road. The four walkers paid them no attention, at least not yet. Steve hustled to the car, surprised to see the keys in the ignition.


“Might be easier than we thought.” He said to Randy, ducking into the car. Then again…he turned the key. The car made grinding, coughing noises but did not start. “Shit!”


“Pop the hood…” Randy cursed again and ran to the front.


“Great. Time for popular mechanics.” Steve searched and found the hood release. Randy was in the engine before he could get out of the car. Steve went to the front anyway, leaning in to watch as Randy tinkered. “Try turnin’ the…”


“I think I fuckin’ know how to do this, Stevie.” Randy said amicably. “You should get in and turn it over… see if I got…fuck…Steve…” Randy’s eyes went wide. Steve realized that he’d forgotten all about the walkers behind them. He whirled and one of them, a woman, was just inches away. Her mouth came open, her teeth snapped the air.


And her head fairly exploded before she could do more than brush at his shirt with her fingers.


“What…the…” Steve groped for his gun, thumbing off the safety. The three other walkers had been heading in their direction. One by one they fell, and this time Steve actually heard the shots being fired.


He whirled, gun up and ready, seeking out whoever was shooting. There was another shot, this time aimed into the field. A man and woman came out of the tree line across the street, the woman looking smug, the man carrying a high-powered rifle.


“Fuckers almost had you.” The guy said, turning around to check their backs.


“I told you not to wait to take the shot, asshole.” The woman smacked the man on the stomach, making him grunt.


“Hell fire woman! Stop fuckin’ hittin’ me.”


“Stop being a fuckin’ retard.” The woman turned to Steve and Randy, who had joined him in watching the new people argue. “I’m Trina. This…” She gestured, flipping her middle finger at the man who had come onto the road with her. “Is Layfield.”


“John.” The man corrected.


“Whatever.” Trina smiled and took the gun from him. “I’ll take that back now Annie Oakley.” She looked at Steve and Randy again. “You guys goin’ anywhere in particular?”


“We’ve got a place.” Steve said, smiling. He couldn’t help it. The couple had the air of people who had been together a long time and knew how to insult each other for laughs. He could relate to that. “You two are more than welcome to come with us. We’ve got plenty of food…”


Trina and John were both shaking their heads. “We’re going to her mother’s…” John said it distastefully. He was lucky Trina didn’t smack him again.


“She lives in the woods, in a gated community. We’re going to check on her.” Trina explained further.


“Helluva time for a trip to visit in-laws.” Steve said with a smirk, aiming it at John.


“In-laws? Hell…I’ve never met ‘em.” John laughed. “I just met HER three or so hours ago. Next to almost havin’ my guts chewed out, it’s been about the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”


“Nice. Ass.” Trina shook her head and eyed him with malice. “See if you get laid by my again. I swear…one little round of survivor sex and he thinks he’s married to me…”


“Uhm…” Randy glanced around. A couple more walkers were approaching, up the road, but they were still a distance off. “Is this your car?”


“Yeah. Damn thing stalled out on us.” John said with a nod. “I know shit about cars.”


“And less about women.” Trina added, adjusting her gun. “I might have to walk it.”


“We.” John corrected. Even though they spent a majority of the time being verbally abusive to each other, Steve could see that John was reluctant to leave Trina on her own. It was kind of sweet actually. Of course, Steve would never admit that out loud.


“Give it a crank.” Randy said, holding in a laugh. Steve got into the car again and turned the key. The engine cough and chopped to a start, bellowing black smoke for a moment before smoothing out.


“Thank god.” Trina breathed. “Piece of shit car…I should have traded it in…”


“You could still.” Steve said, climbing out of the car and grinning. “Best deal you could ever get. Just find the key and drive it away.”


“I might do that.” Trina smiled. “Thanks you two.”


“Yeah. No prob. And thanks for takin’ care of those…uh…things…” Randy said, waving a hand.


“Don’t mention it. Seriously.” John looked a little pale. “We gotta get. Make use of daylight while we got it. You guys stay safe.”


“Yeah…you too.” Steve said. He watched as they climbed into their car and stopped John before he could pull away. Without thinking about why he was doing it, he reached into his pocket and yanked out a pen. “If you guys need a hideout and can’t make it where you’re goin’…we’ve got a crew hiding out at a bar a couple of miles down the road…”


“Jokers?” Trina asked, leaning across John to see him.


“That’s the one.” Steve smiled at her.


“Hell, I know where that is.” She waved off his pen and his offer of directions. “Maybe we’ll see ya around Tex.” Trina blew him a kiss, then hit John’s arm to get him to put the car in gear. Randy and Steve watched them drive off in silence before glancing at each other and busting out laughing.


“Survivor sex!” Randy giggled. “Christ, I’m going to go find a woman to rescue.”


“Just don’t be lookin’ at Jess…” Steve growled out between chuckles.


“Oh fuck…or Riley…” Randy giggled. “Figures.”


“Riley?” Steve asked, shoving Randy out of the way to climb into the driver’s seat. Randy didn’t argue, he went to the other side and got in.


“Yeah. Hell, you’re the half blind goat Steve.” Randy refused to let him in on the joke as Steve drove the last leg of the trip.




Everyone had just finished unloading Glen’s truck when Randy and Steve pulled into the bar.


“It’s about time.” Riley said, from her perch in the bed. She was handing things down to Mark, who in turn was passing them on to Jess in the shed to put on the elevator to send down. John and Jeff were down there, unloading and sorting.


“Met some interesting people.” Randy said, elbowing Steve when Mark could not seem to take his eyes off Riley as she spoke to them. Steve snickered and covered it by pretending to cough.


“What’s so damn funny?” Riley asked, her hands on her hips.


“Nothin’. Survivor sex.” Steve drawled out, tossing Mark’s keys to him. A giggling Randy followed him onto the elevator where they almost fell against each other laughing.


Riley looked to Mark. “Weird team you’ve got here.”


“It’ll get weirder.” Mark predicted, smiling a little. It was nice to see Steve laughing, even if he had no idea what was so funny. “I should tell him that Jess was checkin’ out Jeff’s ass earlier. That’ll sober him up.”


Riley stopped handing him things. “She what?” She started laughing.


“Long story. Plumber’s crack.” Mark said with a snort. That got them both to giggling. Jess caught the last part and stuck her head out the door.


“I told you I wasn’t looking!” She called to Mark, swinging at him. Mark dodged her and tossed a bag of clothing her way.


“Hell, I’m a guy and I was lookin’! He was runnin’ around with his pants around his ankles!”


“Oh god.” Riley wiped her eyes and kicked the last bag toward Mark. He caught it and tossed it toward Jess. Then he reached up to help Riley down from the truck.


“Don’t get too comfortable. We’ve still got food to unload.” Mark said. Riley groaned good-naturedly and went to stand with Jess while Mark moved the trucks around. She couldn’t believe they were laughing, but it felt too damned good to stop. She had a feeling they’d need all the good humor they could get in the days to come, so she wasn’t going to begrudge them their fun.




Getting the portable grills had been a great idea.


They packed three of them back upstairs and outside. Mark, Steve and John all had their own to cook on. Jeff and Randy remained down in the bar for the time being, working on side dishes as the men above ground grilled steaks. Glen was playing a very involved game of Chutes & Ladders with Charlie that looked like it could go on all afternoon.  Mark had been grateful that Glen had thought to pick up some things for Charlie to occupy her while they were staying at the bar. It had never even entered his mind.


“They’re so going to burn them.” Riley grouched, peering down from her perch. Jess giggled next to her. They had climbed up on the roof of the shed, mainly to keep an eye on the fence and front gate. Riley had noted her real reason, and that was to make fun of the men cooking.


“Steve won’t. He’s a native Texan. They’re born knowin’ how to cook on a grill.” Jess finally whispered. “So’s Mark.” She giggled again. “Poor John…get that northerner off that grill before he ruins the steaks!” She raised her voice, drawing amused looks from Steve and Mark, and a scowl from John.


“You ladies having fun up there?” Steve drawled out.


Riley smirked. “You just mind your meat, Stevie.”


That set Jess off into another laughing fit. Even Mark got a chuckle from that one. Steve rolled his eyes.


“Somebody’s wantin’ their steak dropped in the dirt.” Steve muttered.


“Do it and die, asshole. I’ve got the gun up here.” Riley gave the rifle she’d taken from Randy an affectionate pat.


“Girl is serious about her meat.” John quipped, snorting with laughter when Riley threw an empty soda can at his head.


“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” Jess sobered up and pointed at the gate. It was barely visible in the distance, but the sun was still high enough that they could see the road. Someone was at the gate. Trying to get in.


“Hell. Another one.” Riley stopped laughing and peered through the rifle’s scope toward the gate. Definitely another one. It was a male, and he was repeated walking into the fence as if thinking it would just go away if he did it enough. “Get on the mic.”


Jess smiled grimly and picked up a walkie-talkie. Riley had managed to think of those on the store trip. Everyone carried one now, but this one was special. It only went to the matching blue unit that they’d taped securely to the gate.


“Hello…” Jess spoke clearly and slowly. “This is Jess Austin, police department. If you can hear and understand, please speak clearly into the mic.”


Riley watched as the guy at the gate spun around, looking for the source of the voice. Those things had ignored them until they’d come up to cook. This was the fourth or fifth one that had tried the gate. He focused once more on the metal bars and threw himself into them.


“I feel kind of ridiculous introducing myself to the walking dead.” Jess deadpanned. Riley snickered and thumbed off the safety, taking careful aim. It continued to amaze her, how much they had laughed that day. Gallows humor. Anything to keep from wondering what had happened to everyone, their friends and coworkers, their families. They were trying to carry on as if everything were normal when it was obviously not.


“I feel kinda ridiculous sitting a hundred yards away from a gate, shooting these things with a rifle.” Riley said, blinking to clear her vision. She got the man’s head in the crosshairs of the rifle. “Fire in the hole.” She said cheerfully, loud enough for the men below to hear her. They covered their ears. The rifle was loud. Riley was the best shot out of the group, even the men had to admit it. The bullet tore into the thing’s skull and he fell in a heap in front of the gate.


“Two points.” John said, raising his beer to toast her.


“I believe that was more like three, but I’ll accept the score and the MVP award.” Riley said dryly, replacing the bullet she’d fired with another one. “We should go out and check the fence again. Might as well do it a couple times a day now. They’re tryin’ pretty hard to get through the gate. I think. If that’s tryin’.” She sounded confused, and was confused. She didn’t know anymore than anyone else did about what was going on, she was running on pure survival instinct. She wanted to protect herself, Charlie, and everyone else in the bar below ground.


“Let’s do it. My butt’s cramped up.” Jess said, standing up carefully.


“I don’t think you two should go wanderin’ off by yourselves.” Mark said, helping Jess down from the roof. Riley just stared at his offered hands and put her hands on her hips, mindful of the rifle she held in her right.


“Ah…and here’s Mister Discriminate. I thought we’d packed him away for the day.”


“It has nothin’ to do with you bein’ a chick.” Steve said with a laugh as Jess glared at him.


“Do I look like I hatched from an egg?” Riley waved off Mark’s hands and braced her free hand on the roof. She agilely hopped down to the ground, bending her knees and taking most of her weight on her hips.


“Spiderchick…” Steve muttered.


“I didn’t climb the building, you redneck hound.” Riley set the rifle against the porch rail and brushed her hands off. “We can take Jeff’s Jeep. John was toolin’ around in it yesterday.”


It was as if the men hadn’t spoken. Jess handed Steve the walkie-talkie and followed Riley toward the vehicle. Mark and Steve shared a look. Both of them were worried, but neither really had the right to stop the women from doing what they wanted.


“Flip those steaks, boy. Nobody eats that shit well done.” Steve said amicably to John, trying to get his mind off his wife and Riley leaving them.


“They’re not goin’ to burn! Jeez.” John flipped the steaks dutifully, wondering how the hell he’d gotten the job of cooking with those two.




A path wound around the property on the inside edge of the fence, making it easier for Jeff to have repairs done. Riley drove slowly along the trail, keeping a watchful eye on the chain link. All was quiet. There was only one of those walkers, and it had been off on the property next to Jeff’s, moving in the opposite direction.


“Obviously they’re not homing in on us.” Jess mused as they bumped along the trail.


“We’d be swarmed if they did. Town is thick with ‘em.” Riley muttered.


“How many? If you had to guess.”


“Well…” Riley didn’t even want to speculate but there wasn’t much else to do about it. “We had about twelve thousand in population. Let’s say, given us being here…maybe about two percent still able to breath.”


“Only two?” Jess asked with a grimace. She’d put the odds a little higher.


“Maybe only one.” Riley shrugged. She was a realist. She didn’t want to try to kid herself.


“Damn.” Jess stared morosely out the side window at the fence. “So…you think this is everywhere? Or just here?”


“Oh…pretty much bank on it being more than just a local problem.” Riley said with a sigh. “Otherwise you’d see Army everywhere. This is more a job for them than us. Help would have come last night, and they would have had to go past us to get to town. There was nothing. Might as well have been on Mars.”


“You know, that’s what I like about you Riley, your rosy outlook on life and all it’s wonders, and your unshakeable optimism.” Jess laughed when she said it. Riley smirked.


“Yeah, I do wonders for your sense of safety don’t I? Makes me wonder why they wouldn’t let me be the school safety officer.”


Jess cracked up again. School safety officer was a job usually given to a police officer who was almost ready for retirement. A bit too slow or overweight to chase criminals, but with a mind that was quick enough to deal with the five to eighteen year olds who attended the schools. No one actually wanted the position. It required a certain mindset to deal with all those kids day in and day out. Riley had been a smart ass several years before, had gotten a write up from their captain…and had offered to do the safety officer job as punishment. The captain had destroyed her write up before Riley could even finish her pitch.


They rounded the last corner of fence before they would turn back toward the shed. Riley glanced at Jess and smiled. “So…married again?”


“I was wondering when the grilling would start.” Jess said with a content sigh.


“I wasn’t going to grill. Can’t play good cop bad cop all by myself.” Riley said with a grin.


“You have the bad cop part down.” Jess said, laughing. “And I don’t know…all right? Just…with everything that’s happened, it’s kind of made me open my eyes.”




“Yes. Finally. Better late than never right?” Jess rubbed nervously at her ring finger. She hadn’t worn her wedding band in a long time, but the habit to twist it around stayed with her. “I can’t believe how stupid I was about…”


“You weren’t being stupid. Over emotional maybe. Should have probably gotten some counseling. But not stupid. I would have done the same thing.”


“No you wouldn’t. You’d have kicked him in the balls and screamed and gotten all the venom out…then gone on like it never happened.” Jess said, smiling sadly.


“Ha. Yeah. You got me there.” Riley drove slower. This section of fence was ending. The road was visible ahead. “But that’s over and done with and you guys need to start a new life. It’s totally possible.”


“In this mess?”


“Good fuckin’ grief. How many people do you think are getting this kind of second chance right now?” Riley had turned serious. She looked at Jess as if she’d lost her mind.


“None. I guess.”


“Well.” As if that explained everything, Riley offered only the one word.


“What about you?”


“What about me? The last guy I dated didn’t even stay a full night at my house, so why would I want to make up to him?” Riley made a face. “He’s probably zombie fodder by now anyway.”


“Not him, dense one. Mark.”




“Yeah. Wow. You know his name.” Jess grinned, knowing she had Riley on the spot. It didn’t happen often.


“What about Mark?” Riley asked. She brought the Jeep to a halt and half turned in her seat to face her friend.


Jess felt nervous suddenly, unsure how to go on. She’d seen Riley mad before, they all had, but it had never been directed her way. And Riley didn’t do mad well. “Um…it’s just…well…”


Riley waved her hand in a circular motion, telling her without words to spit out whatever it was she was trying to say.


“You’d have to be blind to not see how he looks at you, is all I’m tryin’ to get at. And you guys have been friends for so long and…hell…you know the guys at work had a pool going to see when one of you would admit ya’ll were havin’ a…uh…sexual…”


Riley started laughing. Jess was just glad she wasn’t mad. Then she realized that Riley hadn’t even been close to mad. She’d just acted like that to make Jess spill whatever secret she’d been keeping in. And she’d let it out. “Damn it.” Jess laughed at herself too.


“Some day you will learn not to fall for that.” Riley giggled and put the Jeep in gear. “And Mark and I are not…sexual…” She dragged the word out like Jess had done. “At least not yet.”




“He…well…we kissed. This morning.”


“A kiss.”




“That’s it?” Jess said, laughing again.


“That would be all. A kiss.” A pretty damned good kiss, but Riley didn’t feel the need to tell Jess that.


“And here I thought you guys were way past the ‘ripping each other’s clothes off in a frenzy’ phase.” Jess sighed and relaxed in her seat as Riley drove them toward the shed.


“Not even close to getting there, thanks very much.”


“But you want to.”


“I won’t deny the idea has merit and requires some serious thought.” Riley said with a smirk.


“You could just say you want to do him when the time is right.” Jess said, laughing yet again. It felt so good. She’d done so little of it lately, she had worried she’d forgotten how.


“That too. I guess.” She mocked Jess’s voice on her last phrase as she parked the Jeep and climbed out. Jess snickered and followed her lead, hungry for the first time in days, relaxed and ready for whatever the night would bring.




That night didn’t bring much.


Neither did the next few weeks.


During the day, they all took turns above ground, watching the walking dead move seemingly at random up and down the road. They used the walkie-talkie on occasion, but there were never any answers. At night they all slept on the air mattresses that had been brought in. More than once, the term ‘camping’ was thrown out.


Riley didn’t like it. She didn’t like that they’d all become complacent in the bar, that they all seemed unwilling to even harbor the thought of leaving. What drove her really crazy was wondering where they would go. No place seemed as safe as the bar. And she knew that it was really just a trap waiting to happen. Enough of those things piling in the shed, at the elevator doors, and they would all be trapped there in the bar. There was no other way out.


She kept those opinions to herself. And she kept mostly to herself in general, being quieter than anyone could ever remember her being. After that first night sleeping under the table with Mark, Riley had separated herself from him and Charlie at night as well, choosing to sleep on her air mattress in the darkest corner of the bar. If it bothered him, Mark did not say so.


“What’s on your mind?”


Riley had been so lost in thought she hadn’t noticed Glen come outside. She was perched once more on top of the shed, rifle near at hand, but had been doing more daydreaming than keeping watch. She smiled guiltily down at him.


“Random shit.” She offered. Glen shrugged and leaned against one of the rails below her.


“Steve and Jess back yet?” He asked with a smirk.


Riley snorted. “Hell, it’s not dinner time yet.” The two of them had taken to walking the grounds every afternoon. The walk should have only been twenty minutes, half an hour at the maximum. They tended to stay gone for hours. Nobody actually had to wonder what they were up to out there in the trees to the north. Riley was happy for Jess, she seemed to regain something of herself that had been lost for a long time.


Glen chuckled and scanned the fence. “More of them out there today.”


“Yup. Still nobody breakin’ down our door.” Riley slid to the edge of the roof and let her legs dangle over the side. She and Glen had been friendly for a while, and this ordeal had brought them closer. She felt like she could tell him what was on her mind without worrying about getting rebuked. Mark had a kid to think of. He would not move Charlie unless he absolutely had to. “We have got to figure a way out of here.”


“Cabin fever setting in?” Glen looked up at her, his hazel eyes piercing.


“More like…I’m getting a definite sitting duck feelin’, being here so long. Like something is GOING to happen, I just don’t know what or when.”


“Don’t buy trouble.” Glen said, with a smile.


“I can get plenty for free. I know.” Riley sighed and shoved a hand through her hair. “We need to have…a plan…I guess…cuz nobody really wants to talk about what happens if they…” She gestured at the road. “Get in here. We might be able to hold them off for a while, but eventually they’ll outnumber us and then what?”


Glen looked thoughtfully past Riley, taking in the flawless blue sky. “We should leave before it starts to get cold.” He spoke softly. “That way we’ll have time to find something before we all die of exposure.”


“I was thinking…”


“Go ahead.” Glen looked at her again when she hesitated.




“What about her?”


“She practically lives in a fortress. If we can make it there…”


“No guarantee she’s still alive. We haven’t heard a thing from her.” Glen pointed out.


“I know this. I also know that she had steel shutters on her doors and windows, an electrified fence, and four solar powered generators to run everything.”


Glen rubbed his jaw, speculating. “It would only take an hour to get there. If the roads were clear.”


“If we can find a big enough vehicle to roll out in, I don’t think clearing the roads would be a problem.” Riley hesitated again, and this time didn’t have to wait for Glen to urge her on. “I’m worried about Levesque and his gang.”


“Oh?” Glen snickered. “I didn’t know you gave a damn about their welfare.”


“Not their welfare. Believe me, I hope those things bit all their balls off.” Riley made a sour face. “I’m worried that they’re going to try something while we’re here. No law. You know how Paul is when he doesn’t get his way. He’s going to want to get back at Mark. Fuck. At all of us for staying here and kicking him out.”


Glen nodded slowly. “Good point. It’s too easy to forget about them. Even with all this shit, Paul’s still a bitch crybaby.”


“I’m not going to leave unless Mark and Charlie leave.” Riley said softly. “I feel like I owe it to him, to stick it out with him. Wherever he wants to make his last stand.”


“I can talk to him. I don’t know if he’ll listen to me though.” Glen sighed. He and Mark had their issues. They worked around them, mainly because neither one of them could really hold a grudge against the other. They had been friends since childhood. Mark’s ex wife was the wedge that had driven them apart. Glen shook his head.  “We should at least be prepared for that. You’re right. Paul and his buds have been quiet for way too long. I’m not banking on them getting turned either. I’ll send John up in a few minutes to give you a break. And I’ll see if I can get Mark alone while I’m down there.”


“Good. Thank you.” Riley smiled in relief. In actuality she didn’t want to bring this up with Mark because she was afraid he’d say no. She had been honest, she really would ride with whatever choice he made, but staying here at the bar was surely signing a death warrant for all of them. He had to see that.


And…she had been avoiding any kind of deep conversation with him since she had admitted to Jess that they’d kissed. It seemed like nothing, thinking back, but to her it was something. Mark wanted more. She was not blind or stupid. She found herself wanting more at the same time, and it scared her. She didn’t want to use the man just because they had survived the end of the world. That was what it felt like to her. Survivor sex. Steve had found it hilarious but the more she dwelled on it, the more she didn’t want that to be her first time with Mark.


She had to smirk at herself for that thought. Riley debated herself endlessly, but it always came down to thinking ‘their first time’. As if she expected sequels of a romp in the sack with Mark. She blamed Jess for that one. Putting ideas into her head.


Glen gave her leg a squeeze and went back into the shed, heading for the elevator. Riley sighed and gripped the rifle, her eyes roaming the walkers on the road. Mark just had to agree with them. He had to. She didn’t want to die in a bar. She didn’t want to die period, but she’d be damned if it happened here.




Mark listened to Glen speak, giving no indication of agreement or argument.


If he were being honest, he’d admit to seeing Riley and Glen’s point. Hell, he’d thought the same thing briefly on several occasions on the last week. But damn it…why had Riley gone to Glen with this? Her ideas, her fears, her worries, Mark had taken for granted that she would seek him out first.


OF course, she wasn’t seeking him out for much of anything lately. They barely spoke to each other. Riley was still Charlie’s favorite person in the world, and the feeling was obviously reciprocated, but it was as if their kiss a few weeks back had put a wall between them that Mark could not fathom how to tear down.


“Let me think on it.” Mark finally stated after several long minutes of silence. They had taken a seat at a booth in the corner, away from Randy, Jeff and Charlie. The three of them had been watching a DVD on a television that was bolted to the wall, and they’d all fallen asleep almost before it started.


“We’re not sayin’ we should up and leave now.” Glen said softly. “But we should be ready. Just in case…” He trailed off. He didn’t feel like Mark needed a reminder of what could happen.


Mark nodded and resumed toweling dry his hair. Jeff’s shower plan had worked, although they had flooded the bathrooms on more than one occasion. The water didn’t heat well, but it was better than nothing. “Where is she?”


Glen didn’t need to ask whom Mark was referring to. “Up top. I sent John up to give her a break for a while.” Glen cleared his throat. “Go on. Talk to her.”


Mark eyed his friend. “And say what?”


“Hell if I know. Do like Steve, drag her off into the trees and work whatever is goin’ on out.” Glen smiled. “It’s weird, not seein’ you two together. And Charlie’s not happy about it either. Kids notice this stuff.”


Mark smirked and draped the towel he’d been using over the back of the booth to dry. “She’s sharp I guess.” He rubbed a hand over his face, unsure of what exactly he was supposed to do now. “All right. Will you keep an eye on things down here?”


“Of course.” Glen chuckled. “They’re not up to causin’ much trouble at the moment. But if Charlie wakes up, I think I can keep her occupied. You’ve got time. Hell, that’s about all we’ve had since we got here.”


Mark nodded and slid from the booth. He wanted to say something, he didn’t know what. Glen waved him off as if sensing his hesitation. Mark turned and headed for the elevator.


“So she told me I was doin’ it wrong. How the hell was I supposed to know I was doin’ it wrong?” John’s voice carried through the shed as the elevator doors opened above ground. Riley’s musical laughter followed his statement, making Mark smile without realizing it. “Oh. Hey Mark.” John heard the doors slide shut and offered a semi-salute to Mark. Mark nodded at him.


“All quiet?” He asked, stepping out onto the porch.


“As usual.” John sounded disgusted. To be honest, he was getting rather antsy being cooped up in the bar. There were times when he thought about going out the gate to the road, just so he could shoot a few of those things and make it challenging.


“Don’t worry. Can’t stay in the eye of the storm forever.” Mark said with a chuckle, sensing the other man’s need to be proactive. His eyes fell on Riley. She was still perched on the roof, her legs dangling down. She had handed the rifle to John. Now she looked content to just sit there hanging out for the afternoon. “Want to go for a little walk with me?” Mark asked without being aware he had spoken out loud.


Riley gave him a wary look, her gaze sliding to John, before nodding slowly. “Sure. Place is dead anyway.”


John snickered. He and Riley, being dark-humored, had started bringing up the word death or any related word in every conversation they could squeeze it into.


“Better make it a short walk. Riley looks dead tired.” John said, watching as she slid from the roof and onto the ground.


“I’m not quite dead on my feet.” Riley shot back. She was a lot quicker at their game than he was.


“All right, all right.” Mark laughed and shook his head. “Wanna walk the fence?”


“As long as we don’t head north.” Riley gestured. Mark gave her a confused glance. “Steve’s territory. And I am really not in the mood to stumble into whatever he and Jess are doin’.”


Mark smirked and led the way to the south. Riley felt into step beside him, glancing every now and then at the fence to their right. Mark looked back once, saw that John had climbed on top of the shed, and lost sight of the building as they went down a small hill.


“So Glen talked to you.”


Riley’s voice interrupted his thoughts. Mark nodded. “Yes. He…you…made some good points.”


She sighed and rubbed a hand over her eyes. “I just…I don’t want to be left with only having one defense. And getting cornered in the bar isn’t the best defense I could come up with either.”


“So tell me how you would get us to Heather’s.” Mark said, slowing his pace. The path on this end of the property wound through a healthy patch of trees. It was cool and quiet under the branches. Without thinking about why he was doing it, Mark reached out and took Riley’s hand, guiding her off the trail and onto the grass. She went willingly enough. They took a seat under a huge maple tree, looking through more trees at the barely visible fence.


“I’m not sure yet I know how to do it.” Riley finally said. “We’ve got a lot of people, and even more stuff to take with us. So a school bus. Or one of those charter busses they have at the airport would work.” She sighed. “But in front of that, somebody would to be driving something else.”


“Oh?” Mark noticed that he had not let go of her hand when they’d reached their resting place. He laced his fingers with hers, surprised when she didn’t pull away. “Why is that?” He asked, his voice not quite steady.


“We’d need something even bigger in the front.”


“Bigger than a bus?” Her words momentarily took his mind away from their hands touching.


“Well not necessarily bigger. But definitely heavier. A bulldozer. Or hell…one of those salt trucks that have the blades on the front.”


“You mean to clear a path.” Mark said, realizing exactly how her thoughts were running.


“Yeah.” Riley pulled her hand from his. Mark was saddened at the loss but knew she was going to be talking with some animation to her hands. She tented the fingers of both her hands together, making a rough V. “If those walkers get in front of it, the blades will slide them right off to the sides of the road. Same for the cars that are blocking. A dozer might just push them straight on ahead, but a snowplow is pointed. So that would probably work better.”


Riley surprised him again. When she was finished demonstrating, she reached for his hand once more, lacing her fingers through his the same way he had done.


He swallowed, hard, and forced himself not to react any more than that. “So you think we can make it to Heather’s. And you think she’s all right? Enough to realize that WE’RE all right and let us in?”


Riley smiled. “Yup. Banking on that. And…” Her smile widened. “She has a scanner. When we get within five miles, we can start callin’ her on the walkie-talkies and she’ll hear.”


“She’ll have it going? Even now? No cops to listen to.”


“She’s a die hard junkie when it comes to that thing. She’ll be listening for civilian communication too. I know how she is.” Riley hesitated. “If something…has happened to her…we can hack into the fence and get inside anyway. At least it’s above ground. There are different ways in and out. We won’t be boxed in so much if we have to make a quick escape.”


“She still has those warehouses behind her.” Mark said thoughtfully.


“Food warehouses. Yes.” Riley smiled. “That’s why she got the land so cheap, out in the middle of nowhere. And that’s what the fancy security was for. To help separate the warehouses from her lot. If we need anything, we can just cut across the fields to get it. Fence can be deactivated a section at a time. Plus…” At this her smile widened again. “She’s got solar powered generators. We won’t have to run to get more gas.”


Mark nodded and kept silent, thinking it over. “It’s not a bad idea. Considering it all goes as smooth as you say.” He had no reason to believe it wouldn’t. “But it might have to wait a few days before we try it. Everybody is comfortable here. Charlie might not like being uprooted again…”


“I’m not saying we leave right this second.” Riley interrupted him. “But we should get ready. Go to town, get the bus and plow, stock as much as we can if we need to make a quick getaway.” She took a deep breath. “And it’s been a couple of weeks since we got rid of the bad seeds. How long do you think it will be before they decide to come back and try to make trouble? I don’t want Charlie to have to see that, but it might come down to it.”


Mark sighed. Paul, Shawn, David and Adam had been the furthest things from his mind lately. “You think they’re still alive?”


“I don’t know for sure. But you know Paul. Guys like him are like roaches. He’d survive a nuclear blast and brag about growing a second head from the radiation.”


“All right.”


“All right what?” Riley looked at him.  Mark met her eyes, giving her a reassuring smile.


“We do this thing. Get that big bus of yours and the plow. Start loading them up. I guess in town would be a good test run, to see if it will actually work. We’ll get some gas for both too, cart it in containers, just so we can make sure we have enough.” Mark’s green eyes twinkled. “One question though. Do any of us know how to drove one of those big busses?”


Riley smiled. “Glen does. Randy does too. And I can run the plow. That’s what I used to do for extra money during winter in high school.”


Mark raised an eyebrow. “You really have thought this through.”


Riley shrugged. “You seemed to be preoccupied with other things.”




“Yeah?” She looked at him again, biting her lip.




“Don’t. It was my fault, I shouldn’t have kissed you, I don’t know what I was thinking…”


“I wanted you to. I wanted a hell of a lot more than that.” There. He’d finally said it out loud.


Riley sighed. “I thought I was just in the mood for some survivor sex.”


Mark laughed. He’d been hearing that term for weeks now. Steve especially liked to bring it up. “So what do you think now?”


Riley smiled. “I think we’ve already survived plenty. I might just be in the mood for some good old fashioned sex.” Mark gaped at her. Riley laughed once more at the expression on his face. “What? No points for being honest?”


“I…hell…” Mark laughed at himself and took a deep breath. “What kinda points do I get for wantin’ you for a long time? Even before this mess?”


“Oh…I dunno…” Riley smiled and brought their joined hands up. She kissed the back of Mark’s hand and pressed it against her cheek. “That entirely depends on how good it is I think.”


Mark swallowed hard again, this time because his throat had gone so damned dry he didn’t trust himself to talk. He felt like pinching himself. Was she really offering herself to him? Or was that just his overheated imagination playing tricks on him? There was really only one way to find out. Mark leaned forward, pressing his lips lightly against Riley’s.




His hands were shaking.


Mark would have laughed at himself for that if he could draw in the breath to do it. Riley didn’t seem to mind. His trembling fingers touched her face, stroking her cheeks, and she sighed into his mouth. Her hands rested against the backs of his, holding him there as they kissed.


Riley let her fingers slide up his wrists, over his forearms, onto his shoulders. She stroked the bare skin of his neck over his shirt collar, drawing a moan from him. Mark’s head tilted as he angled his mouth over hers, deepening their kiss, sliding his tongue between her lips to taste her mouth.


She slowly eased herself down until she was lying on her back, pulling Mark with her. His chest pressed down against hers, and the soft swell of her breasts against him made him groan. He wanted to feel her against him, all of her, and without the clothes that separated them.


Riley stroked his arms again, her nails lightly tracing his skin. Mark growled wordlessly and broke their kiss. He nuzzled his lips to her neck, nipping and sucking at her soft skin, tasting her with his tongue. Riley whimpered beneath him, and the sound sent a red-hot wave of lust through his body. His hands roamed over her, sliding up and down her body, and he tugged impatiently at her shirt.


Riley smiled up into his eyes and pushed his hands away. Mark watched as she eased her shirt up, pulling it over her head. Mark stared down at her, taking in the rise and fall of her breasts as she breathed. She was wearing a red lace bra that clasped in the front. Her dark nipples were visible against the skimpy material. His body was overheating just from looking at her.


His mouth found her skin again. This time he nibbled along the base of her neck, onto her shoulder, his teeth finding a sensitive spot over her collarbone. His fingers brushed along her ribs, rising, until he found the hook that held her filmy bra closed. The clasp snapped in his fingers freeing her breasts.


The cool air in the shade caused her nipples to tighten up.  Mark pressed his palm flat against her left breast, feeling the nipple pushing into his hand. Riley moaned softly as his fingers curled against her, cupping her. Her hands tugged at his shirt, pulling at it, forcing him to momentarily let her go so he could yank it over his head and toss it aside.


“Mark…” His name was a hoarse whisper from Riley. He met her passion clouded gray eyes as he slid down a few inches. His fingers ran back and forth, side to side, barely brushing her nipple, making it even harder. With his eyes locked on hers, Mark let his tongue snake out to flick over the tip. He curled his tongue around her nipple, wetting it, feeling the heated skin against his lips as he sucked it into his mouth. Riley’s hands came up and tangled into his hair, her fingers tightening every time he nipped at her with his teeth.


Mark slid his hand her side, feeling the way her breath caught as she moaned. He encountered the waistband of her jeans, and made short work of flicking open the button fly. Keeping his mouth locked on her nipple, he wiggled and pushed, forcing her jeans and panties down from her at the same time.


Riley whimpered when he pulled away from her. Mark smiled and finished removing her pants, taking her shoes off as he went, unable to stop looking at her. “Riley…” He slid back up her body, letting his chest touch her thighs, her stomach, her breasts. “You’re beautiful…”


Riley grinned. “We’re a little past all that smooth talk, Mark.” Her voice was whispery, breathless. She cried out as his hand slid between them and touched her center. His index finger pressed into her folds, and Mark grunted at how wet she was, how hot. He found her clit and circled it with his finger, barely brushing against it, relishing the feel of her under his hand.


Riley made an unintelligible noise low in her throat and stroked her hands against his chest. His skin was hot and smooth. Mark took great care of his body, it was obvious as she felt the play of muscle under her fingertips. Her hands dipped lower and lower until she felt the rough cotton of his jeans. She didn’t release him just yet. Instead, she cupped his erection through the material, drawing a hiss from him as she squeezed rhythmically.


Mark kept up his attention to her clit, but his head dipped low as he closed his eyes to concentrate on the feeling of her hand on him through the thick material. If he wasn’t careful, she would make him finish like that…it felt so damn good and he had wanted this for so long he would not be able to help himself. And there was so much he wanted to do for her…he wanted to touch and taste every inch of her as she lay under him, moaning his name. Wanted to feel her climax against his fingers and tongue.


Apparently he wasn’t the only one having trouble being patient. “Mark…I want you inside me…” Her hips were jerking spasmodically against his hand as he stroked her clit directly. Her hands tugged at the zipper holding him inside, and she shoved his pants until his cock was freed.


“Riley…I don’t wanna rush this, darlin’.” His voice was a hoarse drawl against her neck.


“You’re not…” She moaned as she felt his finger stroking her, sending heat spiraling through her body. “I wanna feel you inside me. I want you inside me when I cum.”


Her fingers wrapped around his throbbing cock, stroking him. Mark growled again, this time because he knew he would not be able to deny her. He didn’t bother to remove the rest of his clothes. Mark parted her legs and settled himself between her thighs, pressing his cock against her overheated flesh. Riley hissed and wrapped her legs around him, then her arms, pulling him down against her.


She moaned as his cock rubbed maddeningly against her clit. Mark pulled his hips, sliding the head of his cock against her, finding her dripping entrance. He slowly eased forward, burying himself inside her willing body, straining to keep himself from thrusting until he was pressed fully into her. He waited, letting her adjust to him, feeling her walls pulse and quiver around him.


“Mark…please…” Riley dug her nails into his shoulders and cried out when he gave an experimental thrust. “Oh…yes…harder…” Her lips were right against his ear. Mark didn’t know what was more erotic, her words or her breath against his earlobe, but once again he could not say no. He began to slam into her body, barely pulling out before ramming his cock all the way to the hilt again. Riley held on, grinding up against him at every thrust, panting and moaning and…the feel of her, the sound of her was too much. Mark angled his hips and pounded against her, pressing her clit and sliding against her g-spot every time he moved.


Her body beneath him jerked, bucked, and went stiff as she moaned out her climax against the hot skin of his neck. Her teeth grazed him, making him shudder with need as he pumped into her squeezing body a few more times. His control slipped. With a growl of pleasure he came inside her, tightening his grip on her as his body finally released.


They lay still for a few minutes, trying to catch their breath.  Mark finally kissed Riley lightly on the neck before rolling off of her, pulling her into his arms as he did so they were lying side by side. He did not want the moment to end. She was everything he had thought she’d be and more.


Riley snuggled against his chest, a smile tilting the corners of her mouth. She felt better than she had in weeks. Months maybe. Her body tingled from the attention it had gotten, and her legs were going to be shaky for hours. It was well worth it.


“We’ll have to head back soon.” Mark said, his voice low, tinged with regret. Riley nodded.


“There’s gonna be talk.”


“There already was.” He said with a chuckle. “Riley…”


“You broke my bra.” She interrupted whatever he had been about to say as she sat up and held the ends of the flimsy lace together.


“Sorry…” Mark’s face reddened a bit. Riley leaned over and kissed him quickly on the lips.


“Don’t apologize, hon. You can buy me another one.” She said with a laugh. Mark smirked and watched as she tugged her shirt over her head, covering his view.


Now that it was done, he couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, would change between them. Riley was his best friend. He hoped he hadn’t just ruined that by taking their relationship to a physical level. Of course, in this new world that had spawned, all bets were off. Anything was possible.


Mark stood up and righted his jeans before pulling his shirt on. He watched as Riley sat down again to tie her shoes. “Riley…”


“Yeah?” She smiled up at him. Her cheeks were flushed with color, her eyes sparkled. She looked energetic. Mark felt like he could take a nap.


“Would you…do you want to…” He sighed. “Tonight. Will you sleep with me tonight?”


Her smile widened. “You mean, share your mattress and blankets?”


“Yeah. That’s what I mean.”


“In a roomful of people? What about Charlie?” She stood up and brushed at her jeans.


“Charlie would probably dance for joy. As for the rest of ‘em…” Mark shrugged. “They already think something was going on. And…no sense in hiding it I guess. Not like we can get fired for fraternizing with each other.”


“Good point.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed his lips one more time. “All right.”


“Good.” Mark smiled in relief. To be honest, since that first night they’d been here he hadn’t slept well. And he realized it was because Riley wasn’t there with him. That one night had left him yearning for more. Much as this one time of release made him picture their next time. He reached for her hand. Riley smiled and laced her fingers through his. They turned back to the path that led to the shed and the bar.




Three days passed.


Mark wanted the time to work out any kinks in their plan. He could find none, especially when Riley volunteered to stay behind at the bar with Charlie.


Jess would also be skipping the trip into town. She claimed she had a headache and curled up on her mattress. Everyone else went above ground to get ready.


Riley stood next to the shed, her hand on Charlie’s shoulder as the men left. All of them were going this time. Mark and Glen were going to find the bus. Steve and Jeff a plow. And Randy and John were going to see what they could do about getting some gas. Mark gave Riley a lingering kiss that made Charlie giggle before getting into his truck with the rest of them.


Riley took Charlie downstairs and used the control panel to open the gate when the truck drew up to it. She watched it close behind them, feeling sick to her stomach. She didn’t know what it was, she only knew it had more to do with being here at the bar than the guys leaving it.


“Hey Riley…can I watch a movie?” Charlie bounded over to her, carrying a DVD in her hands. Riley nodded absently.


“Sure thing, jelly bean. You know how to get it goin’?”


“Yep. Jeff showed me.” Charlie grinned and ran off to the TV. Riley shook her head. With any luck, the little one would be occupied for a while watching her cartoons. She went to Jess’s bed and saw the other woman was awake.


“Hey…do you mind keeping an eye on her? I want to go up top for a little bit.” Riley asked softly. Jess nodded.


“Sure. She’ll be glued to the TV for a while.” She smiled. “I’m not going to sleep, I just needed to rest my head for a bit.”


Riley grinned. “It’s all those walks you take.” She said with a wink. Jess snorted but refused to reply. “I’ll be back down in a few.”


“Be careful out there.” Jess said softly before the elevator doors closed. Riley was already prepared. She’d gotten into the habit of carrying her .38 with her during the day, even when she wasn’t on watch. She didn’t know why, it just gave her some comfort.


Riley stepped onto the porch, surveying the property. Everything was as it should be. There were a few walkers beyond the fence. None of them tried to get in. After the first few days of them shooting all who came near the gate, the others stayed away. If she didn’t know better, she’d say the damned things were learning.


Thunder rumbled to the west. Riley stepped off of the porch and walked toward the gates. She wanted to check the fence line before what looked like a decent summer storm slammed them. Apparently the coming storm did something else…there were no walkers in the fields around the property. As Riley walked the last section of fence, she only saw a few of them on the road.


Something moved to her left. A cool breeze scented with the rain that was coming shivered the branches of nearby trees but that wasn’t the only thing. Riley drew her gun and headed into the tree line, peering through the branches to see what the hell was moving around.


She had to laugh at herself as a flap of fabric waved in the freshening breeze. Someone had put up a tent. It didn’t take a genius to figure it had been Steve and Jess. This was where they came when they disappeared for hours at a time. It was actually a pretty good idea. She’d have to remember it and tell Mark, although she wouldn’t mention finding this one.


Shaking her head, Riley tucked her gun back into her waistband and headed for the tent. The zippered door was partially open, probably the wind had loosened it up. She reached down to close it again when a noise from inside the tent made her skin prickle with goosebumps.


She knew that sound. Didn’t she hear it almost every day from the walkers on the road? Riley eyed the tent, reaching once again for her gun. She thumbed off the safety, warily tugging the zipper up instead of down. The inside of the tent was gloomy, but she saw the shadowy figure in the corner lunge toward her. Riley brought the gun up and almost pulled the trigger, but stopped herself when the thing pulled up short and fell down.


It was tethered with a chain to metal spike in the ground.


Riley’s eyes adjusted enough to see that. She also saw that not only did someone have a walker chained up in here, there was also a portable generator, a lap top, and a table lined with different bottles and containers.


The thing was getting up again, growling, snapping its teeth. Unlike the walkers outside the gate, this one seemed…aggressive. It tugged and pulled at the chain, jerking on it, trying to get to Riley’s position.


“Fuck me runnin’.” Riley breathed out. What the HELL were Jess and Steve up to out here? And keeping one of these things on the property…that was just madness to her. Riley watched as the thing tried for her again and the metal stake held. The chain rattled.


Riley slowly backed out of the tent. The thing watched her with malevolent eyes, hissing, straining. She tucked her gun into her waistband again and pulled the zipper on the tent shut with a shaking hand. Jess had some serious explaining to do. Riley turned and headed back to the bar.




Paul shifted, making the branch he rested again groan. He was about fourteen feet off the ground, peering through a pair of binoculars as Riley paced back and forth across the porch that led to the elevator.


“What is it?” David asked from below. He was keeping a wary eye on the walkers. So far none had ventured into the trees on this side of the road.


“Everybody gone but Jess, Riley and Mark’s brat.” Paul said with a satisfied smirk.


David smiled coldly at the mention of Jess’s name. That bitch owed him for deciding to stay behind. “We goin’ in?”


“Why wouldn’t we?” Paul dropped from the tree, landing nimbly on his feet as thunder cracked overhead. “We can give Calaway a nice little surprise while we’re there.”


“The kid?” David asked, cracking his knuckles. He followed Paul as he led them away from the bar. They would cross the road and climb the fence, well out of sight of Jeff’s camera. Paul knew there was only one, and he figured that Mark’s group had not taken the initiative to install another. Not when the walkers behaved themselves as they were.


“Fuck no. I was thinkin’ more along the lines of his bitch.” Paul smiled again. It did not touch his eyes.


“What’s the plan?”


“I’m still thinking about it.” Paul said, rubbing absently at his throat. That bitch Riley was going to pay for drawing his blood. A sneer crossed his features. “Might just decide to fuck the slut. How about it?”


David grinned without humor. “Not like there’s anybody here to stop us. Except for her. She’s a sneaky fuckin’ whore.”


Paul nodded in agreement but said nothing. If he had known that he’d have an opportunity like this, he would have made Shawn and Adam join in. Too bad they were going to miss the fun.


“What about Jessie?” David broke into his thoughts.


“What about her?” Paul snickered. “You want her, you take her. Leave the fuckin’ brat here to tell her daddy how we tore those bitches up.”


David smiled again. It looked predatory in the gloomy morning light.


Paul found a place for them to scale the fence. He went first, dropping down to his knees on the other side. David followed his lead. Together they dashed across the path and into the trees. They moved silently, trying as best they could to be stealthy. A flash of red in front of them cause Paul to halt. He brought up a hand.


“Hold it.” His voice was barely audible. David froze and peered through the thick branches around them, trying to see what Paul saw.


A familiar figured appeared through a break in the branches. Riley had not seen them. She looked pale, on the verge of being sick. Something had happened to her. What that was, Paul did not care. He bared his teeth at David in a grin and pressed a finger to his lips as they followed her through the trees.


“Gotta get her before she gets in the open.” Paul breathed out. David nodded, keeping his eyes glued to Riley’s red shirt. They closed the gap. They were within ten feet of her when Riley turned her head and saw them.


“Fuck…get the bitch…” Paul growled out as Riley turned to run. She didn’t get far. David tackled her after a dozen yards, knocking the wind out of her as she hit the ground, his shoulder catching her in the lower back.


Paul came to a halt and looked down into Riley’s dazed eyes. “Well, well sweetheart. What do we have here?” He smiled slowly. Riley hitched in a breath and began to scream, but David clamped a hand over her mouth. His other hand went around her throat, squeezing her. Not enough to kill her, but enough so that she understood that he COULD if he wanted to.


“Pretty fuckin’ bitch when she’s got her mouth shut.” David said with a smirk. He kept his hand on her mouth and leaned down, nuzzling at her ear. Riley tried to jerk away but there was nowhere to go. David was too heavy, he was laying full on top of her.


“Pick her up.” Paul ordered. David sighed, seemingly with regret, and yanked Riley up to her feet. He kept his hand on her neck though. Paul took his t-shirt off and ripped a strip of cloth from the bottom. “Now hold the bitch still. I’m gonna tie your hands, Daniels. You be good, that’ll be about all you have to worry about.”


Even with her life threatened, even with David’s hand over her mouth and neck, Riley’s eyes still shot daggers at Paul as he advanced. If looks could kill, he would have died on the spot. With a laugh, he jerked Riley’s hands to her back, smiling at her grunt of pain when her shoulders were stretched, and twisted the cotton over her wrists until she was bound tight.


David roughly turned her, his hand leaving her mouth, the other one still on her throat. Paul looked Riley up and down then stepped forward. She was pressed between the two men, her bound hands dangerously close to David’s crotch. “What do you think, Davie? Want a sandwich?”

David laughed. His breath puffed over Riley’s cheek, making her shudder. “I am a little hungry…” He nuzzled her again, his mouth sucking at her ear. Riley squirmed and opened her mouth to protest, but Paul anticipated her. His hand shot up before she knew he was moving and he backhanded her across the face. Her eye watered maddeningly as the sting sank in.


“Listen up, you fuckin’ whore. You’re gonna do what I say or I’m gonna hurt you.” Paul didn’t wait for her to agree with him. He leaned closer and rubbed himself against her, grinding their bodies together. David did the same thing from her back. Riley still didn’t look panicked. She looked downright insane with anger at what they were doing to her. “If I tell you to lay down, you will. If I tell you to stay still, you will. If I tell you to open your pretty little mouth…” Paul brought a hand up and rubbed his fingers against Riley’s lips. “You will.”


“I’ll fuckin’ bite off whatever it is you think you’re putting in my mouth.” Riley’s voice was low. There was no fear in it. Paul smiled. He hit her again, this time in the stomach. Her breath was forced out of her again and she went limp for a moment before her breathing kicked in.


“You fuckin’ bite me…” Paul reached up and ripped her shirt. The collar tore away, exposing the strap of the black bra she wore and her shoulder and left breast. “I’ll fuckin’ bite you. I think I might owe you one anyway for that shit you pulled in the bar…” Paul nodded at David. David grinned and slid his free hand around to hold Riley still. He groped her breast as he moved, digging his fingers in and squeezing at her nipple until Riley wanted to scream with pain. At the same time Paul lowered his head, his tongue licking a wet line over the swell of her left breast. The sudden sharpness of his teeth made Riley stiffen up but she refused to cry out.


“She thinks she’s a tough one.” David said, right into her ear. Riley barely heard him. She was too busy concentrating on not feeling the pain of the bite. Something warm and wet trickled down her chest. She knew without looking that it was blood, he’d bitten her hard enough to draw blood.


“Gonna prove her wrong Davie boy.” Paul grinned again. Riley realized with horror that his mouth was red with her blood. She felt the world swim around her as the men ripped at her shirt, tearing it away from her body. She closed her eyes and tried to control her breathing, feeling their hands on her body, unable to do anything to stop them.




The rumbling thunder brought Jess to her feet. Charlie was still sprawled across her air mattress, watching her movie, totally absorbed by the images on the TV screen. She glanced around, surprised that Riley wasn’t back yet. With what sounded like a big storm ready to pound them, she should be inside.


Jess walked over to Charlie and grinned down at her. Charlie returned the smile. “It’s booming up there.” The little girl said, pointing up.


“Yep. But we’re safe and sound down here.”


Charlie made a face. “I’m not scared of any old thunder storm.”


Jess laughed. “I never said you were sweetness.” She shifted from foot to foot. Something was wrong. Charlie was all right, better than she had been in a while. She’d settled into a routine. So that left only the men in town and Riley to worry about.


Well, Riley she could do something about. “I’m going to go up and take a look around, Charlie. I have to tell Riley to come in out of the rain. Can you do me a favor?”


“Sure.” Charlie sat up and pressed a button on the remote she had close by. The TV was muted.


“I’m going to ride up in the elevator. You go behind the bar and watch the little television. When you see me leave the elevator, you hit the switch to close it off. Can you do that?”


“Sure. Jeff let me do it last night.” Charlie grinned and slid from the bed, dashing to the rear of the bar.


“And you have to watch. When Riley and I come back, let us in. But nobody else.”


“Not even Dad?”


“Not even dad. Make him wait for us.” Jess winked at the little girl. Charlie giggled and stared at the monitor as if entranced. She didn’t want to leave the kid down here, but knew she had no choice. Something was definitely wrong. She could hear the alarm bells in her head. Without thinking about why she was doing it, Jess picked up the rifle that was normally used for the watch upstairs. She shouldered it and got on the elevator, stopping the door before it could close on her. “Hey, Charlie?”




“Do me one more favor?”


“Sure Jess.” The little girl giggled. She loved helping out around the place.


“Is there a walkie-talkie over there?” Jess had almost forgotten the damned thing. She knew that Steve had one and Jeff another. She wasn’t sure about the rest of them.


“Yeah. Sitting on the bar.”


“Good. You know how to use it?”


“Press the button and talk right?”


“You got it. Now, after you lock the elevator down, press that button and call for Steve or somebody to haul their ass back here. Can you do that?” Jess didn’t know why she wanted backup, there was no reason other than her intuition, but she would feel better knowing someone was on the way.


Charlie was laughing. “Haul ass. Yeah, I can do that. Better go Jess. It’s startin’ to rain!”


Jess smiled grimly and let the elevator doors slide shut. She rode up, fighting her nerves the entire time. She tried to tell herself she was being silly, but didn’t believe it.


She stepped off the elevator and watched as the door shut. The machinery hummed to a stop. “Good girl.” Jess whispered, knowing Charlie had shut it off as asked. She gripped the rifle and stepped outside, waving at the camera so Charlie could see her.


Jess looked around. There was no sign of Riley. Or any of the walkers. The street was remarkably empty. Fat raindrops fell from the sky, spattering the ground. In minutes it would be a downpour. Lightning flashed in the distance, making her jump. She would have to walk the property if she wanted to find Riley, but she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly where the other woman had gone.


With a sigh, Jess turned north. She’d check around the tent first, just to be sure. Riley would be pissed. Hell, they would all be pissed when they found out what she and Steve had really been up to out there. Jess brushed the thought aside. It didn’t matter. What they were doing had to be done, they would just have to understand that.


Jess slipped through the trees, walking the familiar path. Her eyes scanned the area, looking for any sign of Riley. There was nothing. The rain was starting to fall harder. Thunder rumbled again as the drops fell on the leaves over her head. The noise grew until all she could hear was the drumlike beat of the storm.


Almost all she could here.


Jess thought she heard a voice. She froze in mid-step, head tilted to the side, listening. There was nothing for the longest time except the sound of rain falling. The voice came again. Followed by a burst of male laughter and what sounded like a sharp slap.


She checked to make sure the safety was turned off on her rifle, and brought it up, ready. A few more trees passed as she walked, keeping her eyes on the area she was sure she’d heard the voices come from. A flash of color broke through the greenery around her. Red. Riley had been wearing a red shirt. Jess peered around a tree, raising a hand to her mouth at what she saw.


It was Riley all right. Her shirt had been shredded and lay strewn across the ground. She was pressed up against a tree, a gag tied around her mouth, her hands behind her back. Jess immediately recognized the two men. Paul and David. Paul appeared to be roughly groping Riley’s breasts through what was left of her bra. David stood to the side, his hand wrapped around Riley’s throat.


The sight of her friend made Jess gasp. Riley’s face was bruised along the side. Above David’s hand Jess could see the beginnings of bruising. Her chest was smeared with blood, her nose was bleeding, her stomach and ribs looked as if they’d taken turns punching her. There were bruises along her legs too, and Jess saw that they’d removed her pants but the men were still fully dressed.


She didn’t know whether that was good or bad. All she did know was that apparently Riley was not giving them what they wanted, and they were hitting her again. She refused to make a sound. No whimpers of pain as Paul slapped her again. No sign of discomfort when David squeezed at her neck.


Jess stopped thinking. The rifle seemed to float itself into position. She wanted to kill them for what they were doing, both of them, but most of all…she wanted to kill David. For everything he’d ever done to her. She knew exactly what Riley was going through, because David liked this kind of game. He liked to see women in pain, and he loved to leave bruises on them. She aimed and squeezed off a shot without really considering that she was drawing attention to herself.


Her hands were shaking. That was the reason the bullet grazed David’s head instead of burying itself into his skull. He yelped and fell backward, letting go of Riley to clutch at the gash in his scalp. Paul was laughing. He found it amusing that she was trying to save her friend.


“Get up David and get that bitch…” He growled out. Paul’s mouth went to Riley’s ear. “Looks like we’re going to get interrupted. But I’m gonna give you a little message to pass on to your asshole boyfriend…”


David clambered to his feet, shook his head, and looked at his bloody hand. “You fuckin’ bitch…” He growled out, coming for Jess. She needed to chamber a round into the rifle, but she didn’t have time. She knew how fast David was. With a wordless cry, Jess turned and ran, David on her heels, weaving through the trees and overgrowth.


She managed to out distance him before reaching the edge of the woods. She knew this area, he did not. He tripped a few times. Jess leaped over a fallen tree and dashed toward the shed, her steps faltering. She did not want to lead David to Charlie. Charlie would power up the elevator for her but she didn’t know if she really had enough of a lead on him to try to go to the bar. A noise broke her thoughts. The sound of a truck revving at high speed reached her through the falling rain and she sobbed in relief. Someone was here.


It was Steve and Jeff. They drove a modified diesel extended cab truck with a huge snowplow lifted on the front of it. The truck had barely come to a halt when Steve was jumping to the ground, running toward her. The look on his face would have scared anyone, but not Jess. She was too damned happy to see him to fear his anger.


She heard a curse from behind her as David caught sight of the truck. She dared a glance back and almost fell over her feet in surprise. David was only fifteen yards or so behind her. She could tell he did not want to tangle with Steve, not now when he was winded and he’d already been tired out dealing with Riley. But she also saw that he hated to lose out on catching her.


Steve drew his revolver. Even over the sound of the storm, the report was deafening. David slipped on the wet grass and fell, the bullet missing him by inches. He cursed again and got up, turning and dashing back toward the trees. Steve started to follow him, aiming the gun. David was fast though. He disappeared into the trees before he could get in another shot.


“Fuck! What the fuck!” Steve yelled, his face red. Jess pressed a hand to her chest and tried to catch her breath.


“Riley…Steve…they got Riley, go help her! Please!” She sobbed and tears poured from her eyes as some of the shock of what she’d seen began to wear away.


“Where?” Steve forced Jess to meet his eyes.


“The tent…near the tent…they had…God…I can’t…” Jess sobbed uncontrollably and jerked away from him. Jeff joined them, listening in silence as she spoke brokenly. He sat down on the wet grass next to Jess and hugged her close, giving her some comfort.


“Go on. Find Riley before they kill her.” Jeff waved a hand. “I’ll take care of her…”


“I’ll be back. With Riley.” Steve’s tone brooked no argument. He turned and dashed toward the trees, gun drawn and ready.


He did not find what he expected to find. Of David there was no sign. Riley lay on the ground a dozen yards from the tent he’d set up for Jess. She was dressed but her shirt was ripped to shreds. From what he could see of her, she was covered with bruises and blood. She also didn’t appear conscious. Every now and then she would moan in pain, but that was it.


Steve got on his knees and lifted Riley into his arms. He could fire the gun under her if he had to, but he was pretty sure that David and whoever else had been here were gone. They wouldn’t want to risk running into all of the people coming back now that Steve and Jeff had returned.


Riley stirred in his arms. She whimpered softly. It took a moment to realize that she was trying to talk.


“It’s all right, darlin’…I’ve got you now.” Steve murmured. He could not believe this had happened, someone should have known it was going to. Of course, someone had known. Riley. Riley had said that Paul and his gang were overdue, and now she paid the price for all of them doing nothing to prevent this.




“Tell what darlin’?” Steve stepped from the tree line and easily carried Riley across the field leading to the shed. Mark was pulling into the fence, followed by a bus. He had heard Charlie’s message, but had been hindered by the need of following Glen back in the bus.


“Don’t…tell…Mark…” She whispered. Steve glanced at her. She was gone, unconscious again. He frowned. Don’t tell Mark what? That she’d been attacked?


He looked at her tattered shirt, her bruised and bloodied face, and knew that he wouldn’t have to tell Mark a thing. One look would be enough for him to know what had happened. Jeff led Jess behind Steve as they waited for the elevator to take them downstairs. Riley needed help. And she needed it now.




Mark took Riley from Steve’s arms before he could cross the threshold into the shed. He looked absolutely livid as he saw the damage that had been done to her. His green eyes were shooting off sparks of rage as he looked at Steve.


“I’m going to fucking KILL him.”


Mark’s voice was low, steady, and utterly chilling as he cradled Riley against his chest.


“Not if I get to his ass first.” Steve muttered, cracking his knuckles. Damned rain…if the grass hadn’t been so slick, Batista would be one dead mother fucker right now.


“It was both of them…” Jess said softly. “Levesque and…and…” She shook her head, choked up again. She could not believe she had actually LIVED with that man, let him touch her. She felt dirty. Filthy. But it was nothing compared to what Riley must be going through.


“Paul.” The name was a growl on Mark’s lips. “We should go after them. Catch the fuckers and take them out before they cause any more damage.”


Even before he finished speaking, Steve was shaking his head. “In this rain?” It was pouring still, with thunder and lightning. The wind had picked up considerably. “They could be anywhere by now, and we could spend months searchin’ and not find anything.” His blues eyes blazed icily from his face. “Let ‘em come around again. Let ‘em try some shit. I fuckin’ dare them to.”


The elevator finally opened. Mark stepped on, careful to hold Riley close and rode down in silence. “Shit…” Before they could stop in the underground level, he spoke.


“What?”  Steve and Jess said it at the same time.


“I don’t want Charlie seein’ Riley like this…” He trailed off, unable to finish. Riley was limp in his arms, her breathing labored as the pain sank into her in waves.


“I’ll take care of her.” Jeff said softly. He’d been so quiet they had nearly forgotten he was there. The elevator stopped and he got out first, going to Charlie before she could see her friend. “Hey little bit. How about some cookies?”


“Really?” Charlie bounded over to him. “I did all the buttons like you showed me to.”


“I’m proud little bit. Maybe I can hire you on when you get a little older. You can be my partner in crime.” Jeff kept up his chattering until they disappeared into the storeroom. Mark looked helplessly from Steve to Jess.


“Take her into the ladies room.” Jess finally spoke up. “I’ll get her cleaned up.” Mark did as she said, waiting while Steve gathered towels and blankets. Jess laid out the bedding so Riley would not have to lie on the hard tile floor. He touched her forehead tenderly, her cheek, her jaw and closed his eyes. “I hate to do this…but I’m gonna have to kick you out.” Jess said softly.


“I’m not leavin’ her.”


“You are too. For half an hour. Go on, I can take care of her. Steve…please go get me the first aid kit behind the bar. The big one.” Jess sorted through the towels Steve had brought in and found a smaller one. She wet it at one of the sinks and returned to Riley’s side, gently swabbing her face with a damp edge. The blood came off easily, but her bruises were another story. She was lucky they hadn’t broken her jaw. Jess gently felt along her jawline, down her neck, over her collarbone. Nothing seemed broken. Her ribs were another story entirely. They were so bruised that it hurt Jess to look at them.


Steve returned with the first aid kit and a large bucket of water. He set them near Jess and pulled a reluctant Mark out of the room. Jess sighed and picked through the first aid kit, pulling out a pair of scissors. She was not going to try to undress Riley, she was just going to cut her clothes off. It would be less painful for her that way.


She worked quickly, slicing through the clothing. Before joining the team, she had been in forensics. Before forensics and her early career on the force, she had been a pre-med student. She liked medicine, but it had not called to her like being a police officer had. She enjoyed a mystery, liked to solve them, and found the work to be challenging. She now found herself calling up things she had not thought about in a long time.


Tears slipped from her eyes when she removed the last of Riley’s clothes. Her entire left side was bruised, from her ribs to her knee, over her hip and across her stomach. There were marks over her left breast…teeth marks. Jess shuddered and dipped the towel into the water. She began to gently clean Riley’s wounds, removing the blood. Finally finished, she soaked another towel in peroxide and disinfected the bites. Riley’s throat was a startling shade of purple. There was nothing she could do for the bruises.


She carefully bandaged the open wounds. Riley’s nose had stopped bleeding at some point, but her lip was split open. Jess found some salve in the first aid kit for that. Riley’s breathing didn’t seem to be hampered by her ribs, so hopefully Jess could rule out a broken one. That was a relief.


What was not a relief was that Riley was bleeding elsewhere. Not just the bite marks. Her inner thighs were bruised, chafed. She had scratches on her hips and stomach, down her legs. Jess gently swabbed off the blood and used as many bandages as it took to cover the seeping wounds.


By the time she was done, Riley was moaning again. Her eyes fluttered. Jess knew she was waking up. She grabbed one of the extra blankets that Steve had brought in and covered her up. Riley’s eyes opened and she winced.


“Shit…” She hissed out.


“Quiet now. It’s all right.” Jess soothed her and ran her fingers lightly across Riley’s forehead. It seemed to calm her a bit.




“In the bathroom. We didn’t want to freak Charlie out.” Jess smiled sadly.


“What happened?” Riley groaned as she tried to move. Jess held her down, keeping her still.


“You don’t remember?”


“I remember…Paul…and David…hitting me…” Riley sighed, and nothing she could have done would have transmitted her pain better. “My head is killin’ me.”


Jess eyed her worriedly. “If you don’t have a concussion, I’ll be surprised as hell. Here…” She reached into the first aid kit and brought out two aspirin. Riley held them loosely while Jess got her a cup of water from the sink. She swallowed them down with some difficulty, wincing as her throat protested the action. “Just lie down and rest for a bit Riley. I’m going to go out and make a bed up for you, so you can be more comfortable. Ok?”


Riley nodded slowly, her eyes squeezed shut. Tears were slipping from under the lids. Jess gave her hand a squeeze and left the room, choking on her own tears.


“How bad is it?” Mark asked before Jess could step all the way into the bar.


“Pretty damn bad. She’s bruised and battered but there’s nothing major that I could find. She might have a concussion.” Jess sighed warily and ran a hand through her hair. “I’m going to set up a bed for her out here, so she’s not on the floor all damn day. Why don’t you go sit with her for a minute while I do that?”


Mark nodded and headed for the bathroom. He hesitated before pushing the door open and walking inside. Riley was lying just as he’d left her but her eyes were open. They were wide with pain and fear, but she was aware. Mark sat down beside her and lifted her hand to his lips, kissing the back of it.


“You scared me.” He said softly.


“That makes two of us.” She said weakly. Her voice sounded hoarse. Mark saw the bruises and felt his anger rising another notch. He struggled to control it.


They were silent for a few minutes, Mark stroking her hand, trying to get a handle on all the pain that her body was feeling. A noise at the door caused Mark to look around. Jess came into the room, carrying a shirt and a pair of shorts. She looked from Mark to Riley.


“Well…you’ve had your visit. Now you’re going to have to go so Riley can get dressed.”


“You want some help or…” Mark started with a weak smile.


“I can dress myself.” Riley stated, interrupting him. Mark sighed and kissed her hand again before rising to his feet and leaving the bathroom. Jess smiled and helped Riley sit up. She tried to ignore the bruises, but was careful not to touch any of them. Riley hissed in her breath only once, when the shirt was sliding over her head. That was it.


“Now…do you think you can walk or should I get Mark to carry you out there?” Jess asked.


“Let me try walking first.” Riley said softly. Her voice got weaker the more she used it. And getting dressed had worn her out. She could barely sit up, let alone stand.


“All right, just relax for a second…” Jess went to the door and peered into the hallway. She gestured. Mark appeared again. He and Jess spoke quietly at the door before he came to Riley’s side.


“So you’re going to relax and let us take care of you now?” Mark asked as he scooped her gently into his arms. He made sure her blanket was wrapped around her and headed for the door that Jess was holding open.


“Only til I feel like a human bein’ again…” Riley muttered against his chest. Mark chuckled, relieved to hear that joking note in her weak voice. He carefully laid her down on the mattress that Jess had fixed up for her. He grabbed another blanket and tucked it around Riley’s body. She smiled weakly and turned on her side, curling up into a ball. “I’m going to take a nap…I’m so tired…” She whispered it. Mark barely heard her. He pulled a chair over from one of the tables and sat down, watching her. She was either sleeping, or keeping her eyes closed so no one could bother her.


He sat with her for half an hour, just watching her sleep, studying her bruised face in the dim light. She would heal, with time, and she would be all right, but he still couldn’t believe he might have lost her. He couldn’t believe that Paul and David were capable of something like this either. The world was over, true enough, but they had been cops. They should have lived by some of the codes they were taught at the station.


If he saw either man again, Mark knew that he would kill them. Just thinking about them made his blood boil. He leaned down and brushed a stray lock of hair away from Riley’s face. He kissed her gently on the forehead. He rose to his feet, turning toward the rest of the group.


They were all sitting at the far end of the bar, talking quietly. Charlie was once again sitting on her air mattress, eating cookies and finishing her movie. Mark sighed and went to the bar, sliding onto a stool.


“It doesn’t change anything…” Steve was saying. He was sipping a beer that Jeff had found in the cooler behind him. “We still have to get the hell away from the bar. Riley was right about that. This just kinda proves her point.”


They were all nodding. At some point, Randy and John had returned. They looked sick with worry. Mark understood where they were coming from.


“As soon as she’s well enough to be moved, we’ll go.” Mark finally said. Everyone looked to him. He shrugged. “We can’t just sit here and wait for them to come back. And they will. It’ll make it harder for us to go to town, nobody is gonna want to leave again.” They all nodded. Mark sighed. “So we go. We can start loading the bus down with what we want to take.”


“Good.” Jess rubbed her arms as if she were cold. “I thought this place was safe, now I just feel like…I don’t know. Like it’s holding its breath, waiting for something.”


There were agreeing nods again. They all felt it, as if Paul and David had brought some kind of invisible guest with them and left it behind.


“Until we can leave, we’re going to set a watch up in the elevator.” Mark went on. “In the shed actually. That way we’ll only have one door to keep an eye on. “


“I’ll take the first one.” Steve piped up. Jess looked at him, wanting to protest, but she bit her tongue. “I’ll go on up there now. I can’t take sittin’ here anymore.” With that he got up and headed for the elevator. Mark sighed and let him go.


“We’ll trade off every hour or two.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I’m tired. I think I might lie down for a little bit until it’s my turn to go up.”


Without waiting for a reply, Mark got up and went to his bed. He slid it so he was closer to Riley and stretched out, feeling weary down to the bone. He forced his eyes shut, intent on catching a nap. He had a feeling he’d need it before the day was done.




At two in the morning, Glen took the elevator down to the bar to wake Randy up. It was his turn to be on watch. Jess was up in the shed. He was a night owl by nature, and was too riled up to sleep just yet. Glen thought that was a good thing. Two on watch were better than one.


He stopped short before he could collapse into his bed. It took a moment to realize that someone else’s bed was empty. Riley’s. Glen frowned and wondered if she’d gotten up to use the bathroom. If that was the case, he was going to lecture the hell out of her. She shouldn’t try walking around on her own just yet. She had been weakened by the attack. She could fall and hurt herself worse.


Glen sighed and headed for the bathrooms. He pressed his ear against the women’s door and heard nothing. He hesitated a moment and pushed the door open enough to put his head through the gap.


Riley was on the floor, against the far wall. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, her arms crossed around them, her head down again them. He didn’t know how she managed that position given the bruises on her ribs, but she managed it. She was shaking. He saw shivers wrack her body.


Glen realized that she was crying. The thought shocked him. He’d known Riley for…he had to count backward. Eight years. And he had never seen her cry. They’d been to funerals and she had always remained the calm one. He entered the bathroom, letting the door swing shut behind him.


“Riley…” He said her name softly, his voice full of concern. It had been on the tip of his tongue to ask if she were all right. Of course she wasn’t. He sat down next to Riley and pulled her against him, hugging her close but not too tight. He didn’t want to hurt her anymore than she already was.


“I’m s…sorry…” She stuttered out, her voice a hoarse whispers.


“Why darlin’? You don’t have a damn thing to be sorry for.” Glen said, his voice low and soothing. He stroked her back, letting her cry against his chest, and felt utterly helpless. He did not know what to do for her to make this pain go away, no one did, and it was eating him up inside.


“I just…just…” She caught a sob before it could fully form and took another shaking breath. “I woke up because I…it…hurt. Couldn’t…go back to sleep. I remembered.” A shudder went through her. Glen could do nothing but hold onto her and let her talk. “Everything. All of it…and I just…” Her voice trailed away.


“Riley…hon…you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to…”


“He raped me.”


Her voice was so low that Glen wasn’t sure he had heard her correctly. That was not entirely the fault of her bruised throat. She seemed to be in shock. Glen did not blame her in the least for that. He felt a little shocked himself. That she’d been beaten, yes he’d seen the marks and bruises himself. That she had been raped…Jess had not mentioned it. And probably wisely so, as Mark wanted to go on a killing spree after getting a look at Riley’s wounds.


“He…said…he said…” Riley took another shaky breath, trying to get the words out. “Levesque…said ‘Tell Calaway he’s fucked too’. T…t…’tell him it’s his fault this is happening’.” She choked back another sob. “They wanted…Mark to…to go after them. They were going to wait for him by…the fence.” Her words came easier now that she’d gotten the worst part out. The sense of violation was too much for her, it ate at her as she thought about what had been done to her.


Glen did the only thing that he could think to do. He pulled Riley onto his lap and held onto her, his arms wrapped protectively around her. She turned into his chest and he felt her tears soak into his shirt. “Riley…you have to tell Mark.” He said, keeping his voice low. Riley shook her head against his chest. “He’s not going to stop lovin’ you if you tell him, darlin’. He’s gonna protect you. You just gotta let him.”


“I don’t…I don’t want anything happening to him…” Riley whispered.


“I don’t wanna make any promises, Riley. Not now, not when you’re hurtin’. But you two gotta take care of each other now. And that little one. And he has to know. Paul thinks he’s got a weapon against him now that’ll hurt him more than a gun ever could. You gotta tell him so he’s not surprised with it.”


Riley sighed and sniffled against him. “I couldn’t fight them off. Not both of them…”


“Hell, I probably wouldn’t have been able to take both of them darlin’.”


“He tied me up. Tied my arms and…and he bit me. And he…” She choked, not wanting to go on.


“Was it just Levesque? Or was Batista in on it too?” Glen asked, hating to do it but knowing he needed some answers.


“Both at first…until Jess showed up. Levesque was the one who…” She shivered. She did not need to finish her thought. Glen’s eyes narrowed. If Paul were standing in front of him, Glen was pretty sure he’d rip the man’s heart out and feed it to him.


“I know you don’t want to do this…” Glen said gently. “Why don’t you go to the sink and splash a little cool water on your face while I go get Mark. You can tell him. Tell him tonight, don’t let it stew.”


“He’ll hate me.”


“No darlin’. He couldn’t hate you if he tried.” Somehow Glen knew it was true. Mark’s feelings for Riley ran deeper than he let on, but Glen could see it. If the world had not changed, Mark and Riley would have eventually found each other. They would have been together and it would have been good. He was sure of that. Now that everything was in chaos, the process had been sped up. They all realized that they wouldn’t live forever.

Riley thought that over for a few minutes, sniffling on occasion but otherwise pulling herself together. “Ok. Ok. I’ll tell him. I’ll…” She broke off and sighed. “Go get him. Go get him before I change my mind please.” She slowly got off of Glen’s lap, giving him the saddest smile he’d ever seen in his life.


“Two minutes. Go on, get a drink and sit. It’s going to be all right.” Glen touched her chin and turned to leave the bathroom. Riley went to the sink and purposefully avoided looking in the mirror. She’d done that once already, and had been assaulted with the reality of what had happened to her.


Glen shook Mark’s shoulder. He sat up as his eyes opened, assuming the worst, that the walkers had gotten in. Or maybe that Levesque and his buddies were back. In the dim light he saw everyone else still sleeping and Glen standing over him.


“What is it?” He asked, rubbing his eyes and keeping his voice low.


“Riley needs you.” Glen said simply. That was all it took to get Mark to his feet.


“Where is she?” He whispered, looking at her empty bed.


“Bathroom. Just…” Glen didn’t get to finish. Mark walked past him and headed for the bathrooms in the back. Glen shook his head. He did not want to intrude on them, so he didn’t follow. Instead he went to his own bed and lay down. It would be a long time before sleep took him.


Riley stood in the corner, her arms crossed, her head down. Her words were soft, her voice hoarse. She couldn’t look as Mark as she told him. She was too afraid of what she would see there.


Mark couldn’t decide if he was infuriated with Levesque or hurting for Riley. He wavered back and forth, unsure how to respond to her when she let the news out. His hands curled into fists as he thought of Levesque touching her, hurting her, raping her. He wanted to strangle him. Strangling was too easy. He wanted to use his bare hands and tear the man’s head from his body.


Tears fell down Riley’s cheeks. Mark cursed under his breath and stepped forward. Riley stiffened up when he pulled her against him at first, but after a hesitation her hands crept around his waist, hugging him back.


“Riley…baby…” He was at a loss for words. “You could have told me before. You don’t have to go through this alone…”


“That’s what Glen said.” Riley’s hoarse voice was muffled but he heard her.


“Well he was right.” Mark stroked her hair, down her back, trying to ease some of her tension. “You don’t have to be…ashamed…or scared…” He pulled back a little and carefully tipped her chin toward him. His eyes met hers. It was hard not to see the black and blue bruise that colored her face, or the angry red and purple around her neck but all he focused on was her eyes. “He’s not going to hurt you again. Do you believe that? He is NOT going to hurt you again.”


Riley nodded slowly. Her gray eyes were cloudy with tears. Mark raised his hand and brushed them away with his thumb. He kissed her on the forehead, gently, his lips barely brushing her skin. She sighed and leaned forward, resting her head against his chest.


“Can I…” She hesitated a long moment before continuing. “Can I sleep in your bed?”


“Riley…I don’t think…”


“I don’t want to be by myself.” She said softly. “I want to feel safe, not scared.”


“I’m afraid I’ll hurt you.” He didn’t have to point out her bruises.


“You won’t.” She whispered.


Mark thought it over. Hell, he wanted her to sleep in his bed. He wanted to be close to her and listen to her breath and smell her and touch her. There was really no argument against him from his point of view. He just wondered if Riley really needed to be close to someone…a man especially…at this point.


“All right. I can’t tell you no, Riley. I can’t even try to tell you no.” Mark chuckled, the sound vibrating against her ear. She closed her eyes and breathed him in, feeling comforted beyond words. “Come on. We can talk more in the morning. Let’s get some sleep. Let nature do it’s healin’.” He kept his arm wrapped around her, guiding her as they left the bathroom.


Mark let her get onto the air mattress first. He stretched out next to her, feeling the mattress move as she settled in. “Thank you…” Her voice was so low he thought he imagined it. Her hand found his in the dark. Mark squeezed her fingers gently and closed his eyes, completely drained of energy from the day they had all experienced.




Weeks passed.


Things remained as they had been. There was no sign of Paul or his group. The walkers kept walking. The people in the bar loaded things into the bus, preparing for the time when they would have to leave. It was clear, they would HAVE to go at some point. What had happened to Riley hung over their heads, making everyone sullen and killing whatever spirit had kept them in good humor.


Riley ventured upstairs just once. It was raining when the elevator opened and she stepped out. Her bruises had faded, turning colors. Glen, Jeff and John were standing on the porch, talking quietly, when she walked through the door.


“Riley!” Jeff grinned and made room for her to lean on the rail with them. She stood there for a moment, looking out to the gate, a slight frown on her face.


“They don’t like the rain.” She said. Her voice was returning. She coughed a lot, as if clearing her throat, but it was healing up finally.


“What?” Glen looked toward the road.


“This is the third time it’s happened too. I wonder why.” John said, his voice a monotone. It was strange since usually nothing short of dying would keep him down long.


Riley looked around, apparently losing interest in the road. She sighed and turned. Before any of them could speak, she had disappeared back into the shed.


Glen shook his head and ignored the looks he received from John and Jeff. Without a word, he stepped into the rain and headed for the bus. Mark was inside, stowing some gear into the travel compartments, busy work.

Glen stood and watched him for a few minutes. Mark finally glanced around and gave him a glare. Glen was not frightened. Mark had been moody these last few weeks, and it was no wonder why. What Levesque had done ate at him more than the others. He felt as if he’d failed Riley and nothing anyone could say would change his mind.


“She’s dying.”


“Who?” Mark sat down in one of the seats and rubbed his eyes.


“Riley. Don’t who me.” Glen crossed his arms over his chest.


“She’s fine. Healin’ up pretty good now that she’s eating better.” Mark looked away from Glen, out the window. It was true, for the first week Riley had been unable to hold down any food other than basic canned soup.


“Don’t be dense, Mark. She doesn’t eat nearly enough. She doesn’t come outside. She doesn’t talk to anybody. She just lays there in bed all the time, staring at the wall, and you aren’t doin’ a damn thing to help her!” Glen couldn’t help it. He raised his voice. Mark closed his eyes and didn’t argue with him. He knew it was true.


“I don’t know what you expect me to do.” He finally said. His own voice was low, and he sounded defeated. Glen narrowed his eyes.


“Do. You don’t know what to do.” Glen spat the words out. “What you do is you go down there…” He pointed. “You tell her you still fuckin’ want her. You tell her you love her, you make her feel like she’s worth fuckin’ havin’. What you don’t do is fuckin’ cuddle with her all night while you’re sleepin’ and give her the cold shoulder in the daytime when she’s awake!”


“I haven’t been…”


“BULLSHIT!” Glen yelled it. He was so sick and tired of watching this, of watching Riley and Mark hurting, and Mark refused to see that he could fix it. Glen saw him flinch and lowered his voice. “You want to lose her? You want her to be so fuckin’ down and hatin’ herself that she walks out on the road when those things are in full force? Or maybe you want her to find a gun and put it to her head. Amounts to the same thing…we’ve seen it before Mark, we both have, you know what happens when something like this happens and they reach a certain point…”


“Shut up.” Mark opened his eyes and Glen was surprised at the anger there. “She won’t.”


“She could.” Glen stated. He refused to back down. Mark had to wake up and see. He might not be holding a gun to Riley’s head, but he sure as hell could not miss the fact that she was doing it to herself, figuratively. “She will. You know Riley. When her mind is set, she does it. How far away do you think it is? How much you wanna bet when she looks in the mirror she sees those bruises and cuts and they still look like they just happened? Do you think she wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes and feels like Levesque is right there on top of her? Doing it all over again? Because YOU KNOW that’s what’s happening, you know and you do NOTHING to stop it!”


Mark stood up. He and Glen were eye to eye, the same height. “I’m warnin’ you Glen…”


“Oh please. You won’t do shit to me. You can’t do shit for HER.” Glen scoffed at the idea.


“Tryin’ to make me mad so I do what you want to prove you wrong isn’t gonna work.” Mark said sadly.


“You think I’m fuckin’ playin’ a mind game with you?” Glen’s eyes narrowed again. “GO to her. Set this shit straight. Or we’re all fuckin’ dead, do you hear that? We’re a group without a fuckin’ leader, we have no focus, and you wanna sit out here all day and fuckin’ daydream all the different ways you’d kill Levesque. Well FUCK HIM! He’s not here, we are. And we all need you. We need BOTH of you.” Glen shoved Mark and stormed out of the bus, seething. Mark stood there for a moment, shocked that Glen had exploded, and knowing deep down that he was right. He had to do something. He just didn’t know what.


With a sigh, Mark raked his hands through his hair and exited the bus. Glen was on the porch once more, his hands gripping the rails so tight his knuckles were white. The rain was slowing down, it was barely sprinkling. The walkers would return shortly. They didn’t pose a threat at the moment. Mark and Riley’s relationship did. He knew that. He saw how it looked now from Glen’s point of view. Mark stepped up to Glen and looked at him, his eyes full of sadness.


“Do me a favor.”


Glen eyed him dubiously. “What is it?”


“Get everybody up here. Get the grill goin’. Play catch…just…give me an hour with her. Alone.”


Glen nodded without hesitation. He hid his relief, that finally he had gotten through, that Mark was going to at least TRY to make Riley better. “I can give you all the time you need. Everybody would understand.”


“Will you keep an eye on Charlie?” Mark asked softly.


“I’ll watch over her.” Jeff said. Mark had forgotten Jeff and John were there, so intent was he on getting this done. Jeff was not a cop, he was not a trained fighter, but Charlie trusted him completely. And Mark trusted him to take care of her. Jeff would die before letting something happen to his little girl. He nodded gratefully. Glen walked with him into the elevator and they said nothing else as they rode down into the bar.


In fifteen minutes, everyone was gone. Charlie had been excited at the prospect of another cookout, and a game of tag that Jeff promised her. Steve and Jess were once again out in the trees surrounding the place, so they weren’t there to know anything was going on. Glen would keep them above ground if they came back though.


Mark stood at the bar, looking at Riley. She was lying on her mattress, on her side, curled up. Her eyes were closed but he knew she was not sleeping. She was hiding. From reality, from herself…Mark sighed and moved across the room, stopping when he reached the side of the bed. Without giving himself time to think, he slid onto the bed next to her and pulled her into his arms.


Riley stiffened up again. She held herself that way for the longest time, refusing to give in to the comfort her offered. Mark did not give up. He cradled her against his body, holding onto her as if he would not ever let her go.


“Riley…” He breathed her name out. “You have to stop this.” He let his instincts carry him.


“Stop what?” She asked softly.


“Shutting everybody out.” Mark turned her, rolling her so she was facing him. Riley let him do it. “You can’t keep it up. You’re killin’ yourself, darlin’. And everybody else that loves you is dyin’ too. Nobody likes to see you hurtin’. Nobody knows how to help you, cuz you won’t let ‘em.” He took a deep breath. “You know I love you, right?”


Riley was silent for a moment, her eyes locked with his as she processed what he said. “I…don’t know.” She finally whispered.


“I do. I love you. I’ve loved you for a long damn time. Can’t believe I never told you that, I guess I thought I didn’t have to, that you’d just know…” Mark trailed off, shaking his head. “Charlie loves you. Charlie about worships the ground you walk on. You belong with us, do you see that? You’re part of our family, more a part of it than her mother ever was.”


Riley took that in, saying nothing. She couldn’t talk. She found herself choked up just listening to him.


Mark looked down into her eyes and let his gaze travel her face. Even though the bruises were still there, he did not see them. He only saw her. “I still want to be with you. That one time wasn’t near enough. I want to hold you and make love to you…I want you to want me. I want you to be with me, I wanna be closer to you…” His voice grew hoarse. “What happened…what he did to you…I want to make you forget that. I know I might not be able to, I know that there are some things in this life that just stick with you until the end, but I want you to forget with me…even if it’s just for a little while.”


“I…” Riley spoke but Mark shushed her.


“Let me talk. This has been too long comin’ as it is.” Mark smiled sadly. “Do you care about me at all? Even a little bit?”


“Of course I…”


“Then you do this for me. You eat. You live. You don’t let Levesque win. He’s winning you know. He meant to do this to you, to us, and he meant for it to tear us apart. Maybe he even meant for you to fall so far down that you had no choice but to end it permanently. I AM NOT going to let him win. He’s NOT takin’ one of the best things that ever happened to me away from me. I’m not gonna let him. We’ve got somethin’, there’s somethin’ between us that he can’t fuckin’ touch and it drives him crazy. That’s why he did this, Riley. Not because he wanted to prove how fuckin’ strong he is, but because he hates seein’ anybody get something he can’t have.”


Riley sighed and blinked a few times. “Mark…I don’t know…if I can…be like I was anymore. I feel like…I can’t get clean. I can’t do anything without it comin’ back to me. I can’t think of anything else. I close my eyes and…” She took a shaky breath. “I start to doze off and I feel them hitting me. I feel him…doing what he did.” She couldn’t bring herself to say it. She probably never would have that ability. “I feel like it’s my fault, it was my idea for everybody to go to town, it was my idea to go for a walk…”


“I feel the same way darlin’. I shouldn’t have left you here. I should have known something was wrong. I should have taken care of him when I had the chance…” Mark sighed. “This would have never happened. It SHOULD NOT have happened. But it did. It did and I don’t know what I can say or do that’ll make it go away.”


“You can’t make it go away.” Riley said softly. “I think I’m the one that has to do that.”


Mark nodded slowly. “I understand. I think.” He brushed her cheek with his fingers. “He damaged you. That’s all there is to it. I want to help fix you if I can. I know I’m not puttin’ it in the right words, but that’s all that comes to mind. I wanna hold you and love you and show you that I am not like him.”


“I know you’re not.” Riley shifted until her forehead touched his. Mark closed his eyes, relishing the small contact she had given him. “How can you still want me, knowing what he did to me? I look at myself and…I’m disgusted.” Her voice was wavering. She was going to cry and could not help herself.


“I could never be disgusted with you Riley. You didn’t ask for what he did. He took something that didn’t belong to him. He thought he was takin’ a part of you that was meant for me. But he didn’t win, darlin’. Because I still want you. I still think about you, and I ache for you, and I want to be with you if you’ll have me. If you can ever trust me to show you how good it can be.”


“I do trust you, Mark.” Riley said softly. Mark opened his eyes and leaned back a bit to study her.


“You do?”


“Yes.” Riley licked her lips. “And I know you can make it good. I know we can be good together. I don’t want to push you away…but I don’t know if I can right now…”


“Who said anything about right now?” Mark asked. He cupped her face in his hands and forced her to hold eye contact with him. “When you’re ready. I won’t pressure you. I won’t lecture you cuz I want you. When you’re ready, you come to me. We’ll get through this. I’m here, and I’m not goin’ anywhere without you, you hear me? I’ll wait…days months weeks. Hell, years if I have to. You’re worth waitin’ for Riley. You are. I know you are. I’ve had a taste. I want more. Can’t just throw that away and start over.”


Riley nodded again. “I love you Mark. I really do. I can’t believe it’s taken me this damn long to tell you that.”


Mark smiled. The words were music to his ears. He had been afraid that she wouldn’t return his feelings, that she would laugh at him.


Riley brought up a hand and touched his cheek. Her fingers brushed along his skin. “I don’t know if I’m worth waiting YEARS for…” She dragged the word out.


“Years. Centuries, eras, eons…whatever it takes.” Mark said, unable to think clearly he was so focused on the touch of her hand.


Riley laughed. It was not her full-throated damn-who-was-watching her laugh, but Mark had not heard her amused in so long he would take what he could get. “I want to feel better.”


“You will.” Mark promised. He would make sure of it. He’d been moping for weeks, lost in himself, oblivious to the fact that she was hurting so deeply. And in truth, he hadn’t wanted to examine it closer. He already wanted to kill Levesque. He was afraid he would be forcing a turn toward torture if he kept thinking about it. “We have at least an hour. Glen’s giving us some alone time. What do you want to do?”


Riley smiled. “I want to talk to you. It’s been a long time.”


“That it has.” Mark pulled Riley closer. She nestled against his chest comfortably, holding onto him. Mark smiled. This was right damn it. It was just a matter of time until Riley saw that for herself, until she could be herself again. He would have to remind her every day that he loved her, that he was waiting for her, and he didn’t mind the thought one bit. He made a mental note to thank Glen when he saw him. The smile still on his face, Mark began telling Riley about his days as a rookie cop. He had some funny stories. One of them might coax another laugh from her. He couldn’t wait to hear it again.




It had been almost two weeks since Mark and Riley had their conversation. She seemed better. When she had issues, he talked her through them. He gave her space when she needed it, learning when to push and when to back down.


Riley made an effort to be more social. These were her friends after all, they only wanted to help her. And she loved them for it.


She was still not ready to be physically intimate with Mark. She knew that it was too soon, that it would take time, but her fear of contact with him annoyed her. Riley had never been afraid of anything in her life. She was too hard on herself for that.


Mark and Glen sat on the shed’s porch, talking quietly. Everyone but Riley was outside, enjoying the beautiful day that was occurring. The nights were starting to get quite cool as summer gave way to fall. The days were still warm and sunny after the last storm two weeks before.


“You know what’s weird?” Glen asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. “I haven’t seen a walker that’s younger than…late teens. No kids.”


“Yeah.” Mark rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Now that you mention it…”


The door behind them opened. Riley stepped outside, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses she’d found somewhere. Mark smiled at her, and she returned it. It made him feel better seeing that expression on her face. It meant she wasn’t done fighting just yet.


“What’s up, Ri?” Glen asked, leaning back and propping himself up on his elbows.


“Nothin’. Thought I’d take a walk.” She adjusted her glasses, the smile remaining. Mark frowned a bit though.


“You want some company?” He asked, not wanting her to be alone on the property.


“I don’t think I’ll manage to get myself lost out there.” Riley said, note of humor in her voice. Mark grinned at Glen and watched her walk off the porch. When she was out of ear shot, Glen turned to his friend.


“You’re going to follow her.” It was not a question.


“Of course.” Mark smirked and rose to his feet. Glen followed his lead.


“I’m with you then. No sense in letting BOTH of you get lost out there.” Glen grinned and walked with Mark in the direction that Riley had gone. A few minutes later, they entered the trees. “You don’t she’s goin’ back to where it happened do you?” He asked softly as they weaved through the trees.


“Probably.” Mark shook his head. Why would she want to torture herself and do something like that? He would never understand, even if he asked and she explained it.


Glen stopped suddenly. Mark wasn’t paying attention and walked right into him. He chuckled and stepped around him, his eyes falling on Riley. She was leaning up against a tree, waiting for them apparently. The glasses had been pushed to the top of her head.


“Seriously. If you were trying to be sneaky you failed miserably.” She pushed away from the tree and brushed absently at her shirt.


“We weren’t sneakin’.” Glen said with a laugh.


“Just bein’ nosy.” Riley amended. She looked around, taking in the greenery. 

“Looking for anything in particular?” Mark asked, glancing at the trees. The area looked like every other place in the woods around them. His eyes fell on something red on the ground. It was a piece of Riley’s shirt, the shirt she’d been wearing the day of the attack. He felt his insides clutch up when he realized they were standing right on the spot where Levesque had violated her.


“Nope. Found it already.” Riley stepped away from him, seeming not to notice or care where she was. She stooped down and scooped something up from the ground. When she turned, Mark saw she held her .38 in her hand. She sighed and looked at it. A few weeks of being outdoors and it was all but worthless now. She did not want to leave it here though, and had wondered if Levesque had taken it. Instead, it had been lying in the exact spot she recalled it falling as the two men had roughed her up.


“Shit. Gonna take some elbow grease to get the rust out of it now.” Glen commented looking at the gun.


“Wasn’t plannin’ on cleanin’ it. Just don’t want it to be here.” She held it down against her side and looked around again. Something else caused her to come out here. And now that she was here she remembered what it was. “I’m goin’ this way.” She pointed. Mark and Glen nodded, both knowing that they would not be leaving her alone out here again.


Riley led the way through the trees. They didn’t go far when Mark spotted the tent. Even though it was green, it did not blend into the surroundings. It was too bright a color to do that.


“What the hell is this?” He asked, picking his way over a fallen tree.


“Jess is runnin’ some kind of experiment out here.” Riley said softly. She could hear voices now. It sounded like Steve, and he sounded angry. “Uh oh. I think they’re arguing. Let’s go look.” She grinned impishly, almost flooring Mark with the expression. It was damned good to see that fire back in her eyes.


The tent’s door was open, maybe to let in a bit of breeze that was blowing. Riley stepped through the opening and crossed her arms as silence descended. Steve stopped yelling. Jess just looked surprised.


Their chained friend was doing his best to get to Jess. She stood just out of his reach, seemingly oblivious to his low growls and efforts.


“Hey. What’s up?” Jess finally asked, her voice not carrying a hint of the surprise she showed on her features.


“What’s up?” Mark had followed Riley into the tent. He stood to her side, looking around. “I think you better be the one explainin’ that. And givin’ us a damn good reason you have that…THING…” He pointed at the walker. “On the property.”


Jess sighed and rubbed her temples. The laptop on the table behind her beeped and she jumped a bit. First Steve decides to pull his possessive act, now this. She had known she’d eventually have to come clean on what she was doing out here, but had hoped for a little more time.


“All right. Ok.” Jess finally looked at them. Steve she ignored. She would deal with him later. “I was…I mean WE…” She gestured at Steve. “We decided to try some tests on these things, to see what the hell we’re up against.”


“Christ.” Glen muttered.


“He’s not like he was last time.” Riley said softly.


Mark and Jess both shot her surprised looks. “You’ve been out here before? Why didn’t you tell me?” Mark was the first to speak.


“Well, I had other things on my mind. I forgot.” Riley shot back at him.


Mark backed down. None of them needed reminding of what had happened.


“Last time…” Jess mentally counted back. “Oh. Yeah. Interesting wasn’t he?” She pointed to the walker. “I decided to try to get a blood sample from one of them a few days after we got here. Steve caught me tryin’ to climb the fence. Instead of a blood sample, he brought back everything you see here now.” She gestured, taking in the tent and equipment.


“Couldn’t let you go wanderin’ through town by yourself.” Steve muttered.


“But it’s all right if you do it?” Jess asked, her eyebrow raised. Mark cleared his throat. Jess shook her head. “Anyway…at first he was just a regular walker. Slow. Weak. We had him tied down with rope we found at a hardware store. I did some tests…random things, always with him doped up on morphine so he would be completely harmless.”


Jess took a deep breath and picked up a notebook she’d been using to jot down notes. She flipped through the pages, seeking, and finally smiled. “No heartbeat. No respiration. Absolutely no circulation, so no blood pressure. The…walker…is dead, absolutely without a doubt dead. Brainwaves were flat. He had some small electrical impulses, but that was purely motor function. They can’t really think. They can’t make choices.”


“So what happened?” Riley asked, fascinated. She had known that Jess had been planning on being a doctor before she’d decided to join the police force. They had all forgotten that fact.


“What happened was…he started to get more and more aggressive.” Jess said with a scowl. “At first he was just snapping his teeth more. We came out one morning and he had almost gnawed through the rope that was holding him. That’s when we put him in chains.” She set the notebook aside. “His aggression escalated. It took a while to figure it out. He wasn’t feeding. He hadn’t bitten anything at all in a least a few weeks, and he was slowly going insane trying to get at something to eat.”


“But…if he’s dead, how the hell does he eat?” Glen asked.


“Good question. Their digestive tract is totally worthless, so they don’t actually EAT anything. Its got to be something in the blood that touches their membranes, maybe it’s just some kind of visceral command that we’d all revert to if we went insane…I don’t know. I do know that until a few days ago, we couldn’t even stand outside the tent and he was trying to rip his limbs off to break out of the chains to get to us.”


“So what happened?”


“The cold.” Steve said, shaking his head. “Best we can figure. It got cold a couple of nights ago. He calmed right down. He’s barely movin’.”


“I think it has something to do with their joints…” Jess said, thinking out loud. “They have no blood. And our circulatory system is what keeps our bodies running at the right temperature. He got cold and his joints froze up. He’s pretty much immobile. He might move a little bit, shuffle, lift an arm, but he can’t seem to get the juice to be aggressive anymore.”


“Damn. So if we can just stick this shit out until December or January…” Mark muttered softly.


Jess was shaking her head. “You know as well as I do that we can’t count on that kind of cold all the time. Winter. Texas. We had a killing frost, that was all. The days are still warm, and our average low is only about forty degrees.”


“So what if they heat back up?” Riley asked.


“I don’t know. We were…discussing…going to town to find a space heater. It’s warm outside, but this tent has held the cold. It might be the only thing keeping him docile.” Jess rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I can’t get a blood sample from him. His blood is coagulated, pretty much worthless. We’ve had to try direct action to experiment on him.”


“Ok. So what have you done?” Glen asked, sinking down to the ground to sit. He had a feeling they’d be there for a while.


“Basics. We’ve tried a few chemicals, we’ve tried a massive dose of morphine directly to the brain. He’s still standing, as you can see. If we inject the morphine into his spinal cord, he goes to sleep. Kind of. But it just sits there until his body gets used to it. I have no other way to describe it. I’m not working in the most strict lab here.”


“So we can’t kill them by making them breathe something in or injecting them with something.” Riley said.


“Right. I was hoping we’d have a way to conserve out ammo. But no dice. Destroying the brain discharges all the electrical impulses. They fall down and stay down.” Jess sighed again. “I was hoping to come up with SOMETHING, if nothing else other than to justify keeping this thing out here. But there’s nothing else. The cold is what we’ve got so far, and we don’t know if it’ll kill them. It just makes them extremely sluggish.”


“Well…” Riley shifted and looked around. “I have to say, I’m not too comfortable keeping him here. But if you need to test him, then you need to test him. Somebody’s got to figure out something.”


Mark heaved a sigh and said nothing. Glen knew he would have plenty of questions later, once he had processed all he had heard.


“So what do we do now?” Steve asked.


Riley shrugged and answered before anyone else. “Now we go to Heather’s.”


“Riley…” Mark said her name softly. “You sure you’re up for that kind of trip right now?”


“What kind of trip? It’s an hour away.” She waved him off. “We need to get out of here. Now. Before those things really do all get aggressive and do more than wander up and down the street. I say the next rainy day we go for it. They don’t like the rain for some reason. And it’ll give us time to take care of some other things.”


Mark and Glen shared a look. It had been a long time since Riley had that take charge attitude of hers. And she claimed to be a natural born follower. “Ok. What other things?” Mark asked cautiously.


“Levesque.” She said his name with venom, practically spitting it out. “I am not risking a run to Heather’s just to have him and his asshole friends follow us.” Riley said. Jess nodded, knowing she was right. The men just shared another look.


“Shit Riley.  They could be anywhere.” Steve said, shaking his head. “We could look all over town and they’d just be a step ahead of us, laughin’ while we fought those things for them.”


Riley shook her head in return. “No. We’ll go right to their front door and deal with them. And I think I have a pretty good idea where they’re hiding.”




The next day dawned overcast and drizzly.


Riley stood on the porch, a frown on her face. The walkers were hiding again. The street was empty.


“We might need to rethink this.” Mark stated, looking up at the sky.


“You want to risk them following us?” Glen asked, tucking his gun into the waistband of his jeans.


“Definitely not. But I don’t know if I like the idea of waitin’ to go until the next rain.” Mark sighed, turning to face Riley. “What do you think?”


She shrugged. “They need to be dealt with.” She added a sigh of her own. “I want to get Charlie out of here though. Maybe they’ll stick to town, leave us alone. I doubt it very seriously, but at least at Heather’s we’ll have better security.”


“More ways out. Hell, we still need to think of something more long term.” Mark said.


“Working on it.” Riley smiled.


“So what do we do?” Glen asked.


Riley and Mark shared a look. “We leave.” Mark pointed to the west. The clouds were darker there, and every now and then a flash of lightning split the sky in the distance. “Never get a better chance. Christ, I hate to do it this way…”


“Only way we can.” Glen said with a smirk. “I’ll head down, get everyone ready.” He turned to leave. Instead of following him, as Mark started to, Riley stepped off the porch.




“To get Steve and Jess. They’re at the tent.” She said, looking over her shoulder at him. Mark looked from her to where Glen held the elevator. He waved Glen off. He would be damned if Riley went off alone in the woods again.


They were quiet on the walk out. The rain turned from a drizzle into a shower. Mark was surprised when Riley reached over and took his hand. He squeezed her fingers and smiled at her.


Steve was standing outside the tent, peering in. He glanced up and saw Riley and Mark and smirked. “Damn fool woman’s gonna get herself killed.” He said amicably. Riley cocked and eyebrow and peeked into the tent. Jess was standing within grabbing range of her experimental walker, ignoring him in favor of her laptop. He was slowly sneaking up on her. The chain pulled him up short and he thrashed against it, lurching into the corner. After a moment, he came toward her again. Sneaking.


“This is new.” Jess said, saving her work. “He couldn’t get me running at me, so he’s been trying to flank me for the last half hour or so.”


“You said they couldn’t learn.” Mark said.


“He’s not learning. He’s going on instinct. That’s all it is. We dodge him, his instinct tells him to be sneakier. That’s all.” Jess sighed. “We’re leaving aren’t we?”


“Good guess.” Riley smiled. “Storm coming in. We have to get while the getting is good.”


“What about…”


“We’ll deal with them. But not now. We’ve got to get everyone out while the rain holds.” Mark gestured. “Better grab what you want to take. And don’t go thinkin’ we’re takin’ him with us.” He gestured at the walker.


“We’ll have to let him go.” Jess said, scooping up her laptop and several notebooks.


“Like hell.” Steve muttered. He pulled his gun out. “Better to just shoot him and have done with it.”


Jess hissed a sigh. “Steve’s been wanting to kill him for a week now.”


“It’s him or us, Jess.” Steve said sternly.


“Fine!” Jess rolled her eyes. Riley fell into step beside her as she left the tent and headed for the bar. “Do what you want. I’m done here.”


Mark and Steve both stayed behind. Riley cleared her throat. “So…bullets or nothing huh?”


“I guess.” Jess said. “No blood flow means no chemicals can saturate them. We could try fire I guess, but that’s dangerous to us too. There’s got to be something.”


“What about cold? You said it…froze their joints?” Riley asked.


“To a point. Hard to tell. We don’t get really harsh weather here.”


“So what if we headed for somewhere colder?”


Jess looked at her, eyebrow up. “What…instead of Heather’s? That would take a lot more preparation, don’t you think?”


“No, I mean we go to Heather’s and we get ready for a trip north. Alaska. Northern Canada. Hell, the top of a mountain.”


“I would be for it. I would have to see those things freeze up before I really got behind your idea.”


“So…the warehouses behind Heatherssome of them are refrigerated.


Jess smiled. “You sayin’ you want to catch one and lock it in a meat freezer, to see if it goes solid?”


“Yes, that’s what I’m sayin’.” Riley grinned. 

“We can’t tell them.” She nodded her head back toward where Mark and Steve had been left behind. “Steve wouldn’t go for it again. No way in hell. And Mark…”


“Yeah, tell me somethin’ I don’t know.” Riley shook her head. “How hard can it be? They’re slow as hell anyway.”


“Unless they haven’t fed.” Jess reminded. “They get more aggressive.”


“But still…slow.” Riley nodded. “Ok. So after we settle in, we’ll figure it out. No rush at the moment. We still have to get there.”


“Should be no…” Jess’s words were interrupted by the crack of a gunshot behind them. Both women stopped for a moment, half turning.


“What took them so long?” Riley asked with a smirk.


“Steve was probably kissing him goodbye.” Jess muttered. With another sigh she followed Riley back to the bar to grab her things and get on the bus.




Charlie chattered excitedly as Glen climbed into the driver’s seat. Since the walkers didn’t like rain, and they were all hiding, they had decided to leave the snowplow behind. They could go faster in one vehicle, and Mark hadn’t liked the idea of anyone getting separated.


Riley kept a watchful eye out the side window as Glen guided the huge vehicle onto the road. Except for the bodies of the walkers they’d shot, it was clear. “We might have to ram a car or two out of the way.” Glen muttered.


“Shouldn’t be too bad. This shit happened so fast, nobody had time to jump in their car and run.” Riley sat down on the steps that led to the exit, next to Glen.


“Should make good time. If the rain keeps up. And damn it feels weird to say that.” Glen said with a chuckle. Riley smiled and peered out the front window. It was pouring now, rain falling in a curtain, lowering visibility. Glen kept the bus at a steady thirty-five miles an hour, getting himself used to the feel of the big vehicle.


Riley looked back and saw Mark sitting with Charlie, interjecting the odd word here and there in the little girl’s monologue. She had been scared at first at the thought of leaving the bar, but now that they were moving, she was excited. She knew she was well protected. She was safe as could be.


In the seat behind them sat Jeff and Randy. Jeff had not wanted to come along. He did not want to leave his bar. The place was like his home. Riley had finally pleaded with him, at Charlie’s request, because the little one didn’t want anything happening to her favorite new ‘uncle’. John and Jess were sitting together, talking quietly. John was flipping through Jess’s notes, totally absorbed by what she’d seen. And Steve sat all the way in the back of the bus, looking out the back windows, keeping an eye on their rear. He looked so down that Riley felt sorry for the man. Jess was blind if she didn’t see he still loved her. She shook her head and faced front again, knowing it was not her business to butt in.


They drove for nearly forty minutes when Glen slowed down. “What the hell is that?”


Riley rose to her feet, bracing her hand on the dashboard. Through the falling rain, she saw…something…in the road ahead. “Damn it. That can’t be walkers…” She muttered. There were people in the road. It was hard to tell how many through the rain, but quite a few by Riley’s estimate. And they weren’t just people. They were too small for that. “Kids.”


“What is it?” Mark had felt the bus slow and left a sleeping Charlie under the watchful eye of Jeff and Randy. Now he leaned around Riley to peer out the window. “What are they doing?”


“I don’t…” Riley trailed off. “Shit. Floor it Glen. Run them down if you have to.”


“What?” Glen asked, applying a little more gas to the bus.


“They’re comin’ at us…RUNNING at us…don’t you…” She didn’t get to finish. The first one slammed against the front of the bus. Even over the engine and the rain, they could all hear it hissing and growling. “Go sit with Charlie, Mark…” She gave him a gentle push as Glen slammed on the gas. The bus lurched forward, and there were more banging noises as the kids outside were smashed against the bus’s grill. Mark went on numb legs, trying to get the image of the kid out of his head. He couldn’t have been more than five or six years old.


Riley stepped down the stairs and leaned against the door. Several of the little walkers were slamming the side of the bus as it shot past, trying to get inside. The door shuddered but did not open. Glen pushed his speed up to fifty. “Christ…there are way too many of ‘em…” Glen said, jerking the steering wheel. The bus shook and Riley could feel its tires losing their grip on the wet road.


“Careful Glen…don’t want to turn us over out here. Obviously.”


“You wanna drive?” Glen asked, grinning. It didn’t touch his eyes, but it was good that Riley was trying to make him relax. There was another sickening crunch and suddenly the bus was running along smooth pavement. “Fuck…that’s the last of them…” Glen said with relief. 

Riley climbed the stairs. She looked out the window. The road was once again clear. Through the back window she could barely make out the shadows as a few of the walkers chased after the bus. There was no way they could keep up, and they soon faded into the background and disappeared.


“Gone.” Steve confirmed, walking up and down the center aisle and checking out all the windows. “Nothin’ on the sides either. What the fuck was that?”


“All the kids that we haven’t seen so far, I would assume.” Riley said softly. Charlie muttered in her sleep, but thankfully the drama had not woken her. “All of them acting as crazy as Jess’s pet.”


“Ha. He wasn’t my pet.” Jess said. “And there’s a simple explanation. I was looking. They all looked young. Very young. Six or seven at the most. If they were slow, they wouldn’t be able to catch anyone to gnaw on. So they probably haven’t eaten. And they’re not smart, obviously, cuz they just tried to take a bit out of a metal bus.”


“I can live with that. I hope we don’t run into anymore of those.” Riley said with a shudder. “Although it strikes me as odd…”


“What does?” Jess asked, interested to hear what was on her mind.


“Maybe the walkers don’t mind the rain. Maybe they hide because those kids are in it. I mean…we haven’t seen those anywhere near the bar. If just…made sense to me I guess.” Riley shook her head.


“Could be a valid point. If the kids are aggressive from the get-go, and they were desperate…as we saw that they are…maybe they are tryin’ to take a bite out of their bigger versions.” Jess shrugged. “No way of knowing for sure.”


“How much longer?” John asked, wanting to change the subject.


Riley shrugged and looked around. The landscape was familiar. “Twenty minutes? Maybe fifteen? If we don’t have any more issue…” She smiled. “Time to get the walkie-talkie out. See if we can get Heather to let us in.”


John nodded and rummaged in his bag. He pulled out his walkie-talkie and spoke quietly into it for the remaining trip. Heather had no way to answer them. They all just hoped she would hear and be ready to let them inside where it was…presumably, safe.




“I’m not gonna pull it into the driveway. We can just park it and block the gate.” Glen said, slowing the bus. The rain was slowing as well, but that was all right. They had arrived. The heavy iron gates were to their right. Glen eased the bus over the edge of the road and brought it to a stop as close to the fence as he could. The doors were lined up with the gate.


“I hope she’s…” Riley didn’t get to finish the thought. The gate slowly started to swing open.


“Oh thank God.” Jess said from her position behind Riley. “I am going to kiss Heather on the mouth. I swear.” Riley laughed. It was no secret that Heather and Jess were not remotely friendly. It had all started with Steve and Jess’s separation. Heather was overprotective of her big brother, and that had started some animosity between the two women.


“Let’s hurry up and get in there. We can come back for our stuff when the rain lets up.” Steve said from the back of the bus. He was still watching out the back window.


“You don’t think they followed us do you?” Riley asked, lifting her own bag and one of Charlie’s in her hands.


“I don’t know. And I don’t really wanna find out.” Steve rose to his feet and walked to the front. He picked up a few things of his own. They left the majority of supplies there for later. Mark carried Charlie. She was blinking sleepily and looking around in confusion.


Riley was the first to step off the bus. She looked around warily before stepping through the gates and into the property. Besides the light patter of rain, the day was quiet. The sky was lightening to the west, meaning the storm would be ending anytime. They had just made it.


Everyone piled off the bus after her. As soon as Glen shut the bus door and entered the gate, it slowly trundled closed behind them. There was maybe a foot of space between the side of the bus and the fence. That was good. It would block any but the most persistent of the walkers.


“Holy shit, I thought my mind was playin’ tricks on me!” A voice called from the direction of the house. Heather stood there, hands on her hips, grinning from ear to ear. She shared Steve’s icy blue eyes and his Texan drawl but those were the only similarities. She did have their family’s  trademark white-blonde hair. Steve did too, although he kept his head shaved clean.


Heather met them halfway up the drive and she and Steve hugged each other. Their parents had both been killed in a car accident when they were younger. Steve had been eighteen, Heather ten. He’d refused to let her get taken away. He dropped out of school and got a job in construction, taking over the role of her father. By the time she was twelve, the tables had turned a bit. Heather had talked Steve into going back to school. And then she’d nagged him into college.


Heather hugged them all, even Jess, even though they had shared more than their fair share of harsh words over the years. Riley accepted her hug with a laugh of relief. Heather was her best friend, next to Mark, and she was just now realizing how very worried she’d been for her, out here on her own.


“It only took you months.” Heather chastised, laughing at the same time.


“You know Mark.” This got another laugh. Mark was notoriously methodical. He smirked at having the blame placed on his shoulders.


“Well come on to the house. Get yourselves settled. Damn it, Steve have you been sleeping? You look like hell!” Heather kept up her rambling talk as they followed her into the massive house. Steve shook his head and grumbled good-naturedly as his sister directed them to their rooms. Charlie and Mark were escorted to adjoining rooms at the end of the upstairs hallway. “At least she’ll be right there.” Heather pointed to the door. “And it’s the only way in and out.”


Mark nodded and took Charlie into her new room to look around. The others continued to follow Heather as she opened doors. Riley took the first room she opened, not caring what it looked like, just wanting to sit by herself for five minutes and gather her thoughts.


Heather made it a point to give Steve and Jess rooms that were next to each other. Whether she was telling them to bridge their gap and get together, or rub it in their faces that they hadn’t done that yet, was a mystery. Heather made sure that Jeff, John and Randy were settled in and turned to grin at Glen.


“I was starting to worry.” She said.


“Just now starting to worry?” Glen asked. He pulled her close and kissed her. He didn’t know why there was still a need to hide that he and Heather had started a relationship. Just a few months before the world went to hell, he’d finally asked her out and was shocked when she accepted. It probably would have gone further if there had been time.


“Well maybe I was worried a little bit before.” Heather admitted with a smirk. She took Glen’s hand. “Come on. You share with me. Who cares what they think now?” She said it before he could voice a protest. Glen smiled at her.


“Probably won’t be as shockin’ as Mark and Riley.”


“Mark and Riley?” Heather laughed, leading him into her bedroom. “Don’t tell me they FINALLY got their shit together. Maybe I should have given them a room to share…” Glen was shaking his head before she could finish.


“A lot has happened. Let me get cleaned up, I’ll fill you in.” Glen set his bag aside and headed for the bathroom, a curious Heather following along behind him.




“Check it out. A working bathtub. I’ve died and gone to heaven.” Riley said, smirking when Jess laughed. They were both in Riley’s room. She had decided to test the big Jacuzzi tub in the corner of the bathroom and was pleasantly surprised when the water ran hot and clear.


They had been at Heather’s for an hour. They all needed time to settle and get their bearings. Jess had been the first to venture outside her room. She’d seen Riley’s door open and they had been chit-chatting ever since. Neither wanted to be too serious. There had been way too much of that lately.


“I think I’m gonna go check on Charlie.” Jess said, watching as Riley let the tub fill up.


“I’m gonna soak in the tub for about three hours.” Was Riley’s answer. Jess already figured that out.


“Have fun with it.” Jess laughed as she left the room. Mark was leaving his room at the other end of the hall. She headed in the direction. “Hey…Charlie up?”


“Yeah. She’s coloring.” Mark gave a worried glance to the room behind him. “She’s nervous about bein’ here. She got used to the bar I guess.”


“Well we’ll get her used to here.” Jess smiled at him. “I’ll take her, show her around the house if you want. Maybe take her for a swim. Heather’s got a pool in the basement.”


Mark chuckled. “She’d probably love it.”


“Good. I peeked around earlier, and everybody is takin’ a nap. Except for Riley…” Jess smiled, letting the suggestion hang in the air as she stepped around Mark to speak to Charlie.


Mark watched her for a moment before shaking his head. When Riley was ready she’d come to him, he had to remember that and not push the issue. That didn’t mean he couldn’t go check on her to make sure she had settled in all right. With a smirk, Mark headed for her room.


The door was ajar. Mark shook his head and entered, closing it shut behind him. The sound of running water came from the bathroom. He cleared his throat, not wanting to barge in and disturb her. Riley peered around the edge of the bathroom door at the noise and grinned.


“Water works. I’m about to take a soak.” She said, keeping an eye on the water level in the tub. She’d found a bottle of jasmine scented bubble bath in one of the cabinets under the sink and had poured it in the water. The thought of a hot soak in the tub surrounded by sweetly scented bubbles was about the best thing that had happened to her in months. 

“I won’t bug you then. Just seein’ if you were settled in.”


“I am. How’s Charlie doing?”


“Good. I think. Jess is going to take her around to check the house out.” Mark sat on the edge of Riley’s bed, not ready to leave just yet. They hadn’t been alone in awhile. He missed it. He missed her.


“She’ll be fine.” Riley disappeared. The water stopped running. “She’ll probably never want to leave here once she gets used to being out of the bar again.” She stuck her head through the door once more, and smiled. “So are you going to get in the tub with me or are we just going to shout conversation back and forth til I’m done?”


Mark raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t come in here to…”


“We can take a bath. That’s about all I offered for now.” She said wryly. “Come on. I promise I won’t look. Oh…that is if you don’t mind smellin’ like a flower.”


“Better than smellin’ like the bar I guess.” Mark muttered. He rose to his feet and tugged his shirt off. “All right. But you stay on your side of the tub woman. I don’t need you torturing me.”


“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Riley said sarcastically. She disappeared and Mark heard the sounds of her clothes hitting the floor. Maybe he should say never mind and go to his own room and tub.  This was going to harder than he thought. “You comin’ or what?” Riley called out. Mark had sat down again to tug his boots off without realizing it. He shook his head.


“Yeah, yeah. Hold your horses.” He shed the rest of his clothes and peeked into the bathroom. Riley was in the tub already, the bubbles nearly touching her chin as she lounged. She sighed and dramatically turned her head when Mark appeared. He had to laugh. She did say she would not look. He climbed into the tub and sat across from her, his legs stretched out next to hers. Even if it was a girly smell, the water felt wonderful against his tired muscles. The heat worked its way into his skin and relaxed him more than he would have thought possible.


They were quiet for a bit, each lost in thought as they enjoyed the sensations of the warm water. Riley shifted, her leg rubbing against his, making Mark open his eyes to look at her.


Her bruises were gone. Her face was just as perfect as it had always been. She’d resettled herself so the bubbles ended at the tops of her breasts. Her chest was fully visible. The mark that Levesque had left on her with his teeth was the only sign of what had happened, and that was fading into a scar. Mark expected to get angry at the sight of the wound, expected the rage he was sure to come but it didn’t happen. Instead he was hit with a wave of desire for Riley that made him feel a little dizzy. He blamed it on the hot water and the lack of sleep from the past several weeks.


Riley caught his eyes and smiled. She moved, turning in the water and wiggling until she was between his legs, her back pressed to his chest. Mark wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight, closing his eyes at the feel of her against him.


“I’m not gonna make you wait much longer.” Riley said softly.


Mark chuckled and kissed her neck. “You take as long as you need.”


“You’re being way too understanding about this.”


“Riley…” Mark sighed her name out and pressed his cheek against her wet hair. “You’re worth it. Now hush and soak. We have all the time we need.”


Riley nodded and kept her mouth shut. She wanted to believe that they did, but who knew? The world had changed. That meant that they had to change to otherwise they’d never survive what was going on. She let Mark cradle her, taking comfort from the texture of his skin and the heat of his body, and knew deep down that it was not over. There was worse to come. And she knew it had to do with Levesque and his men. She did not want to bring them up, did not want to remind Mark of what had happened, so she kept quiet. They would have to talk about it soon enough.




Three weeks passed uneventfully.


The only difference anyone noticed was that in the early morning hours the walkers seemed even slower in comparison to the rest of the day. And a few of them were more aggressive, just like Jess had speculated. It was nothing like the walker she’d experimented on, they had not yet reached that level.


“You sure you wanna do this now?” Jess asked Riley as they crept down the stairs. The house was sleeping. They had double checked, because both of them knew that the men would flat out refuse to help or even agree to this.


“We’ve got to. We can’t consider this permanent.” Riley muttered, although she hated to admit it. Heather’s house was comfortable. It felt safe. That was a feeling that Riley had been scared by. She didn’t want to be complacent again. The first time that had happened, she’d let her guard down and…she shook her head. She didn’t want to think about Levesque. Not now, hopefully not ever again.


“We are gonna be so lectured if they find out.”


“Kinda like your last one?” Riley said with a smirk. She armed the alarm and stepped outside into the cool night air. 

“Ha. Funny. Let’s get this over with.” Jess shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, wincing when her revolver dug into her side. Riley had insisted on bringing it along, and she was right of course, but that didn’t make Jess feel any better about it. She led the way around the house to the back. The property stretched for almost a quarter of a mile before they would reach the fence. They walked in silence, keeping an ear out for strange noises.


It took fifteen minutes to reach the fence. As they approached, Jess started laughing.


“What?” Riley asked, looking at her as if she’d lost her mind.


“How in the world are we gonna get over the fence? It’s electrified remember?”


Riley made such a face of surprise that Jess laughed harder. They had both forgotten. “Well fuck. What do we do now?”


“You climb the fence. I shut down the power to this section.” Heather’s voice behind them caused them to spin around. She was wearing a nightgown that fell to her knees, and no shoes, but she stood there grinning. “You guys are so not sneaky.”


“Christ. Heart attack.” Riley said, pressing a hand to her chest. “Woman…wear a bell.”


“So what are we doing?” Heather ignored Riley’s grumbling and looked over the fence at the warehouses on the other side. “Food run? This late?”


“No. Not a food run.” Jess went to the section of fence that Heather had pointed out and cautiously probed the metal with her gun. When nothing happened she sighed in relief and tucked it into the waistband of her jeans. “We’re going to catch us a walker.”


“Catch one? Why the hell would you do that?” Heather asked, looking incredulous.


“We’re going to domesticate them and train them to fetch out slippers and newspapers.” Riley said, easily climbing the fence. She swung over the other side and dropped silently to the ground. Jess climbed, wincing as something sharp dug into her palm, and almost fell on the way over the top. Riley steadied her and she made it to the ground in one piece. “No ballerina is our Jess.”


“Never claimed to be one. Not everybody is athletically gifted.” Jess poked Riley in the side and turned to Heather. “We should be back in half an hour. Give or take. Want to stand watch?”


“Like I would walk off with the fence shut down back here.” Heather rubbed her bare arms and looked around.


“Here.” Jess pulled her gun out and held it over the fence. Heather took it gingerly from her and held it awkwardly. She hated guns, always had, and only carried one because her job demanded it. Her gun had never even been loaded. “Riley will protect me.”


“Or so she thinks.” Riley said cryptically, making Heather and Jess laugh. “Ok, so which warehouse?”


“What are you looking for?” Heather asked.


“A refrigerated one.” Jess said, eying the buildings. There were ten or twelve, lined up against each other in a single row.


“Try the…hell…second or third one down. I can’t remember.” Heather pointed to the end of the building that was closest to them. “I checked way back when this first started. Didn’t have a reason to go back in. But the generators are still working. They’re solar too. Regular bear for our environment was the guy who built this area.”


“Ok. Let’s check it out.” Riley took a step when Heather’s voice stopped her.


“If you guys run into trouble…fire your gun or something. Hell. Signal me. I’ll get help.”


“Great. And bring down the wrath of half a dozen men on us.” Jess said with a smirk. Heather nodded.


“Better than the alternative. Hurry up guys. I’m freezin’ my ass off out here.”


Riley and Jess hurried toward the warehouses while Heather kept a watchful eye on their backs. The third door down was where they hit pay dirt. The building contained eight huge freezers, and they were all humming quietly in the darkness. Jess flipped on all the lights, wincing at how bright the place was.


“Meat lockers.” Riley said, peering into a window that was cut into one of the freezer doors. “We’ll be eatin’ ribs for months if we stay here.”


“That would make Steve happy.” Jess said with a sigh. “Come on. Let’s clean one out. We don’t want to feed the damn walker. Just freeze it.”


Riley and Jess worked for ten minutes, pulling boxes from the least full freezer. Once it was empty, Jess searched for a way to lock the door. There was none. The freezer was designed so the people who worked there could not lock themselves in.


“I think it’s all right anyway. See?” Jess pointed at a round plastic covered gear on the inner side of the door. “You have to crank that around to break the seal once the door’s shut. Our guy at the bar couldn’t figure out a zipper. I think this will be beyond him too.”


“I hope so.” Riley sighed and blew her bangs back from her face. “Let’s go find us one. Quick. Before Heather decides to wake up the house.”


Jess nodded and followed Riley outside. They left the door open, so they wouldn’t have to deal with anything other than herding the walker inside. On the road near the warehouses were four or five walkers. There could be more in the trees on either side, but Riley didn’t worry much about them. The road was tangled on each side with overgrown weeds and bushes. She had a hard enough time slogging through it. The walkers would just tumble and fall their way.


“Him. Right there…” Jess pointed to the walker closest to them. He shambled away from them, his head down, looking for all the world like a dejected business man. His suit hung from his body in tatters. His dark hair stuck up from his scalp in wild patches. Riley shook her head and reached for her gun. “Can’t do that…” Jess stopped her. “If Heather hears you shoot one of them, she’ll run for the guys.”


“Ok. So unarmed, we wade into the walkers.” Riley let her gun go and flexed her hands. She did her best impersonation of Mark’s deep voice. It made Jess giggle before she could stop herself. The walker heard and turned slowly on his heel, facing them.


There was something wrong with him. That was the first thing that Riley registered. More wrong that just being one of the walkers at any rate. Although he’d been slow as they’d approached, he had a certain look in his milky eyes that reminded her of the captive walker in Jess’s tent.


“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck…” Jess muttered, stepping back.


“What were the odds we’d find an aggressive one first?” Riley moved with her, aware that they guy, who was no more than twenty yards ahead of them, was now RUNNING at them. It was the first time she’d seen one run, and he didn’t look clumsy or uncoordinated.


Jess suddenly screamed from behind her, but Riley was too riveted waiting for the walker to look around. He ran at her blindly. She sidestepped him at the last moment, turning her body so his shoulder barely brushed against her. Riley shuddered at that small contact even as her hands reached out to push the walker off balance. He fell to his face in the street.


There was a thud behind her, followed by a low hiss. Riley spun around and saw Jess. She’d been knocked to her ass on the street, one of the walkers towering over her with glistening blood on his lips. Fresh blood. Riley looked at Jess’s arm in horror. He’s gotten her on the forearm, near her elbow. Blood dripped onto the dark pavement as Jess pistoned her legs, moving backward.


Riley didn’t even think about it. She dove at the walker as he stumbled toward Jess. She caught him around the stomach, spilling them both over to the road. She heard his teeth snap together above her head and shoved him, pushing up to her feet. The walker she’s knocked down was also getting up. “Fuck…Jess…RUN! Go to the warehouse…” Riley barely managed to get the words out. Jess got to her feet and half stumbled, half ran down the embankment that led to the warehouses. The walker Riley knocked down first forgot about her as his eyes followed Jess’s progress.


The walker at her feet had gained his knees. Riley grimaced in distaste and stood behind him, reaching out. She gripped his head in her hands, making a face at the feel of his cold flesh on her fingertips. With a wordless grunt of effort, she jerked his head around as hard as she could, feeling and hearing his neck break under her hands. He feel to the ground. He twitched. Riley was overcome with the pressing need to wash her hands. She settled for wiping them on her shirt as she dashed down the hill after Jess and their walker. He was just entering the open warehouse door.  Riley felt her second wind coming and sped up, not stopping until her feet slid a bit on the smooth concrete of the warehouse floor.


The walker was going for Jess. She had run to the freezer they wanted and stood there, the handle in her fingertips, watching the walker warily. She spotted Riley and nodded before yanking the door open. The walker lurched forward. He was almost too fast, but Riley managed to catch him just as he crossed the open doorway. With another grunt, she body checked him, forcing him to fall sideways into the freezer.


Jess slammed the door shut and leaned back against it, not wanting to look inside just yet. Her arm poured blood onto the floor. She seemed to be in shock.


Riley tugged her gun from the waistband of her jeans. “He bit you.”


“Yeah.” Jess’s voice sounded strange to her own ears. Her arm hurt like a bitch, that was for sure. Otherwise, she was just out of breath, and her heart was hammering so hard it was scary.


“Mark said it happened fast. When he sat it happen.” Riley put her finger on the safety, ready to click it off.


“I know.” Jess pressed her uninjured hand against the gaping tear in her arm. “Damn but that stings.”


Riley kept her gun down but did not move forward to help her. Jess could understand that. She would do the same thing.


“I should have watched behind us.” Jess said softly. She felt like crying suddenly. She didn’t want to be one of those things.


“Can’t grow eyes in the backs of our heads.” Riley said, sidestepping to peer into the window over Jess’s head. “I think he’s pissed.”


Jess pushed away from the door and turned, meeting the walker’s eyes. He stood there, not moving, just staring at them through the window. “I think he’s just wondering why he can’t get to us.” Jess winced and looked at her arm. The bleeding was slowing, but she would need some stitches. She laughed suddenly. The harsh noise startled Riley.


“What is it?”


“I might turn into one of those things, and here I am worryin’ about getting infected and needing stitches.” Jess said, giggling hysterically. Riley frowned.


“Let’s go back to the house. Mister Happy here can wait.” She went across the room to a desk in the corner. Riley pushed and shoved it until it slid in front of the freezer door. Even if Jess said he couldn’t get out, Riley did not want to chance it.


“I don’t think that’s a good idea considering…” Jess held up her arm.


“You haven’t turned yet. It’s been five minutes.”


“So? No law says it has to be five minutes.”


“So let’s go back to the house and lock you up BEFORE you fuckin’ turn. Hell, maybe we can figure out a way to bring you back!” Riley grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the door.


Jess sputtered and could do nothing but follow along as Riley led them back to the fence. Heather still stood there, looking cold and mildly worried.


“It’s about time!” She called softly as Riley helped Jess onto the fence. She waited until she was on the ground before climbing it herself.


“We had a little issue.” Riley said, looping her arm around Jess’s waist. “They bit her. We should lock her up somewhere. I wasn’t gonna leave her out there.”


“Lock her up?” Heather asked, going to Jess’s other side. She also put her arm around Jess’s waist, helping Riley almost carry her to the house. “Why?”


“She got bit! That’s how they turn!” Riley said heatedly.


“Jess isn’t going to turn.”


“Oh yeah? How the hell do you know that?” Riley said in exasperation, wondering if Heather had lost her mind.


“I thought everybody knew that. We’re all immune to it. Everybody that was on the team.” Heather’s words halted their footsteps as they closed in on the house.


“We’re all immune to it.” Riley repeated. Jess sighed heavily.


“How the fuck do you know that?” Jess whispered.


Heather looked confused. “I thought…Never mind. Let’s clean that arm up. I’ll tell you. But not out here. And not while that fence is turned off.” Without another word she let go of Jess and slid into the front door. Jess and Riley shared a look.


“Immune.” Jess said, a bit of wonder in her voice.


“Don’t go getting all excited. I might still have to kill you.”


Jess snickered. “Like your dream come true.”


“I would just have to find another reason.” Riley said with a comical frown. She helped Jess into the house and headed for the bathroom. Heather kept a first aid kit in the hallway. She was going to clean Jess up and get some answers.




“All right then. Spill it.” Riley applied a bandage to Jess’s arm, but her eyes were locked on Heather as she entered the bathroom.


Heather sighed and sank down to sit on the edge of the bathtub. “I don’t even know where to start.”


“Try…this immunity thing.” Jess said, wincing as she pressed the bandage tighter against her wound.


“Well…” Heather shook her head. “I’ll get to that. First…I was working dispatch a couple of weeks before this mess started. Captain Haynes actually went out on a call. That’s why I covered dispatch that morning. Time to go home and I was so shocked that he left the office I couldn’t move.” Heather laughed. They all knew that their captain was little more than a figurehead. As far as they were aware, he NEVER got called out for more than a press conference.


“At any rate…it was routine. I guess. Drug bust. They only had four uniforms, it was some small time bust downtown. And Haynes wanted his name in the papers again. What was really strange…after we get the codes that the officers were inside, radio chatter completely stopped. Once in a while we’d get calls from other units, but Haynes and his crew were off air. I was getting ready to call out backup when they came back. Only they weren’t on our police channel. I couldn’t make out everything that was said, it was garbled, so I asked for a repeat.” Heather smiled. There was no humor in it. “All he came back with was ‘Williams…oh-one-seven.”


“Uh oh.” Riley said with a smirk. Oh-one-seven was their precinct’s code for a meeting with the captain.  Usually not a friendly one either. “I’ve had a couple of those.”


Heather nodded. “So two hours later, I’m in the captain’s office. He’s talking like he always does…”


“Like we’re five year olds.” Jess muttered.


“But he was pacing and running his hands through his hair, very agitated. He handed me a stack of papers and said I had to sign them or I’d be fired. They were…privacy statements, gag orders…” Heather brushed her hands absently together. “He told me the craziest damn thing I’ve ever heard after I signed.”


“Zombies.” Riley said.


“Yeah. That they had used some new riot control chemical and instead of knocking the bad guys out, it changed them.”


“Seems like they should have tested it a bit more thoroughly first.” Jess said with a smirk.


“That was the test! That call that morning…” Heather stood and paced across the room. “That wasn’t the only thing…”


“They immunity.” Jess said, echoing her phrase from earlier. “We were going to be test dummies weren’t we?”


Heather nodded. “Yeah. After they sprayed the guys at the drug bust, you all were supposed to go in and clean it up. No worried about the effects. Somehow the team they hand picked all had a basic immunity. We were given some kind of booster shots at our physicals to enhance that and make us totally immune.”


Riley remembered that. They had drawn blood and told her she was getting a tetanus shot. She hadn’t questioned it. It had all seemed so routine.


“But…” Riley shook her head. “They didn’t pick Mark. He volunteered.”


“They didn’t’ have to drat him. They figured if one of you went, the other would follow.” Heather smiled.


“So what exactly was our ‘job’? What was the stuff they used?”


“A never gas. Weak…ha…compared to some the military would use. What it was supposed to do was…reduce the target to an aggressive mess. They’d attack, we’d kill them in self defense.  Saves the time and effort of a trial and holding them in jail right? What it did was turn them into cannibals right after killing them. You all know that by now. It mutated somehow in the victims’ systems and…”Heather held out her hands.


“So how did it get out?” Riley asked, trying to digest everything she had heard so far.


“Hell if I know. Could have been anything. Maybe they didn’t clean it up as well as they thought. Hell…maybe Haynes forgot to immunize himself and ate his wife.”


“You would think…” Riley’s words were interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps from overhead. She shared a look with Jess. “Uh oh again.” Riley whispered. They had not realized they were talking so loudly. “Hide that arm unless you really want a lecture.” Riley said, throwing a towel at Jess.  Jess hurriedly draped it over her shoulder so her bandaged arm was covered up seconds before a sleepy looking Steve appeared in the doorway. He looked from Jess to Riley to Heather and back, an unreadable expression on his features.


“Unless you ladies are goin’ to do some lesbian shit, could you keep the noise down?” He finally said, eyeing them again. Before Riley could mouth off a smart remark, he pointed at her. “What happened to you?”


Riley looked down at herself. The front of her shirt was splattered with blood. Her arms were scratched…probably from the climb over the fence, but she really couldn’t remember. “Guess I ran into the bathroom door.” She said with a straight face. Steve huffed and looked to Jess again.


“What are you hidin’?” Fell down some stairs?” He asked heatedly. Jess smiled and tried to look innocent. Steve reached out before any of them saw he was going to and yanked the towel away from Jess. He looked at her bandages before meeting her eyes. “What damned fool thing have you done now?”


“It’s just a little cut.” Jess stated, trying to hide the bandages with her hand. “I’m not a child, so stop treating me like one.”


Riley and heather exchanged a look and slowly began to back out of the room. Neither Steve nor Jess noticed. They were too busy glaring at each other. Riley closed the door.


“I almost wish I could lock them in there together.” She whispered. Heather covered her mouth to hide a giggle.


“I don’t.” She finally managed to spit out. She looped her arm over Riley’s shoulders. “Want to play a game? Damn it? Phase 10?”


“Nah…I want a hot shower. I’ll beat you at cards and marbles later on.’ Riley hugged her and they headed for the stairs.




“Don’t try to pull this daddy bullshit on me.” Jess’s tone stopped Steve mid-rant. He blinked at her.


“Daddy bullshit? Hellfire woman…if I was your daddy I’d be damn tempted to whoop your ass for this shit!”


“It wasn’t a stunt damn it!” Jess kept her voice low but she wanted to yell at him. Yes, she remembered now why she’d left him. The fights, the constant arguments over everything had been more than she could take. She thought he was overbearing and controlling. He thought she was flighty and manipulative. She’d left him and ended up even worse off with David. His issues had made life with Steve seem idyllic. At times she’d even wished that Steve would take her back, but now she knew why it hadn’t been possible.


“Then explain to me how the FUCK you managed to gash your arm!”


“I don’t have to explain shit to you.” Jess said, rising to her feet. She was tired of Steve towering over her. It made her feel at a definite disadvantage.


“You pullin’ that shit again? Puttin’ us all in danger? Fuck Jess! Is that what you want?  You want everybody here to die?” Steve refused to give up.


“You bastard! I’m trying to HELP everybody! Not all of us want to sit around on our asses and wait for those things to rip us apart!” Jess’s frustration level went up a notch. She couldn’t help it. Her voice rose with every word.


“We’ve managed to do all right so far, darlin’.” Steve snarled at her.


“Don’t you fucking DARLIN’ me, you jackass!” Jess raved.


“You wanna watch that mouth Jess…” Steve’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. Jess knew that look, the one that said she had pushed too far. She didn’t care.


“Don’t you DARE tell me to fuckin’ calm down! You started this shit you overbearing bastard!”


Steve’s hands clenched into fists. “Better an overbearing bastard than a lying whore.” He said, his voice suddenly calm.


Jess reacted without thinking. She reared back, using all the force she could muster and slapped Steve across his face. Her palm left an angry red welt on his cheek. Steve’s expression went from anger to astonishment.


Jess was fairly well astounded herself. She bit back the apology that tried to force its way through her lips, and waited to see what he would do.


Something scary was flashing in Steve’s ice blue ices. Jess had never seen anything like it in her life. She had a moment to wonder if she’d finally pushed him over the edge. She read the emotion as hatred tempered by the situation. She wasn’t even close to being right.


One second Steve was looking at her with that murderous gleam in his eyes, the next he slammed her back against the bathroom wall and crushed his mouth down against hers. Jess was too surprised to push him away, to react at all. Steve reached up and roughly gripped her face in his big hands, tilting her head as his tongue invaded her mouth.


She was still so angry with him that she couldn’t see straight. So she finally responded the only way she knew how. She reached up and dug her nails into the material of the t-shirt he was wearing, suddenly meeting his thrusting tongue with her own, tearing at his clothes to get them off.


Jess felt her own shirt being ripped from her body, the air cool on her overheated skin, the torn cotton falling into a pile at her feet. Steve’s calloused hands were yanking at her bra, the material finally giving way to his tugging, and finally his hands were touching her. He grabbed her breasts, squeezing them roughly, forcing her back hard against the wall as he rubbed himself along the length of her body.


Jess’s fingernails raked at Steve’s bare back as he broke the kiss to lower his head and suck one of her nipples into his mouth. He bit at the hard peak, his fingers tweaking hard at the other one, making her pant with a need she had not felt since the last time they’d been together.


She impatiently pushed him away and shoved the rest of her clothes to the floor. Steve grabbed at her as soon as she was mostly undressed, her feet tangling into the jeans she was wearing. He picked her up, swinging her around and carried her to the sink in the corner. Steve dropped her to her feet and turned her around so the cool tile pressed against her stomach.


Steve fumbled behind her for a moment, unzipping his jeans and sliding them down his hips just enough to free his already hard cock. Jess cried out as he pressed himself against her ass, her arms clutched at the countertop. She knocked a few bottles to the floor, and groaned at the noise they made.


She felt Steve’s fingers slide between her legs, and growled low in her throat as his fingers brushed against her wet center. Of course she was wet. He had a way of doing that to her, even when she was so mad at him she could not see straight. He grunted in approval and replaced his fingers with the head of his cock.


“C’mon you bastard…fuck me…” Jess moaned out, wiggling her ass against him, trying to move him onward.


Steve muttered under his breath, braced his feet against the floor, and slammed the full length of his cock into her body with one hard thrust. Jess moaned in acceptance, whimpering as he rocked back and forth against her, his cock sliding in and out fast, hard.  His hands squeezed her ass rhythmically as he pumped into her willing body. It was all Jess could to do to hold onto the counter as he fucked her senseless, nothing else mattered except for the feel of him slamming into her. More bottles fell from the general clutter of the counter, and Jess laughed throatily, hoping like hell that they weren’t waking everyone up. They were being none to quiet as their bodies moved together, faster and harder.


“Oh…yes…fuck me harder…” Jess ordered as Steve picked up the pace a bit. He obliged her, thrusting into her so hard the counter bit painfully into her stomach. Jess was beyond caring as used the surface for leverage, meeting him thrust for thrust, slamming herself hard against him, impaling him deep within her body.


Steve leaned forward and nipped at the skin of her shoulder, his teeth leaving red marks on her skin. Jess growled at him, loving the sensation, the almost pain, wanting more. Steve grunted and slapped the palm of his hand against her rear, leaving a red mark but sending her senses into a spiral. Jess gasped and grunted and moaned as Steve used her body, using his in much the same way. She reached behind her and groped for his hands, her fingernails digging into the skin of his forearms, jerking him harder against her.


Steve’s fingers found her breasts again. He pinched her nipples, ground his hips into hers, and redoubled his efforts. Jess moaned again, louder this time, jerking under him as she bucked to keep up with his pace. Her whole body tingled, and her orgasm broke over her in one long powerful wave, making her nearly scream out Steve’s name as she came with him deep inside her. Steve roared an answer, thrusting so deep he lifted her feet off the floor as he spilled into her spent body. He collapsed on top of her, panting, his body still experiencing aftershocks as spasms passed through his muscles.


Jess was content to lay that way for a bit, but Steve grunted and pulled away from her. She groaned when he slid from her body, missing the way he filled her as soon as he was gone. Steve didn’t say a word. He yanked his jeans up and gave her another icy glare before leaving the room, slamming the bathroom door behind him.


Jess heaved a shaky sigh. Great. What the hell had she done? She stood slowly, her legs shaking, and had to laugh at herself. Steve had managed to get to her again, even after all this time. There was just something about him that she could not resist…even after all that had happened between them. So why would he use her and just…leave? She couldn’t figure it out. She wanted more damn it. She’d missed him, she hated to admit it, he was the only man who could make her feel the way he did.


She eyed her reflection in the mirror. Her face was flushed. There were several dark marks along her shoulder where Steve had sucked hard on her skin. Jess shivered at the memory and wrapped a towel around her body. She would sneak upstairs, soak in a hot bath, and try to figure out just what in the hell she thought she was doing.




“We should go check on our…hopefully…frozen friend.” Riley said as she, Heather and Jess finished lunch.


“I’m not too keen on going back out there at the moment.” Jess grimaced.


“Yeah…you’re all tired from last night.” Riley snickered.


“I got gnawed on last night! Gimme a break!”


“Yeah. Sure. And apparently a vampire found it’s way into your room too.” Riley said, making Heather laugh. Jess brushed her hair forward over her shoulders to hide the red marks Steve had left on her neck.


“You can work the fence. I’ll go with her.” Heather offered, getting control of herself.


“And how do you propose we sneak away?” Jess asked, trying to get attention off of her.


“We won’t sneak. Sneaky people look guilty. Let’s just go while they’re all busy.” Riley carried her plate to the sink and set it down. “We’ll take one of the walkie-talkies. We’ve got to get it over with. I’d rather go now and deal with a couple of halfway slow walkers than wait til it rains and risk running into those kids.”


“Good point.” Jess said, brushing off her hands. “All right. Show me which buttons to push then.”


It took half an hour to round up the walkie-talkies and head for the fence. Riley and Heather were quiet, both lost in thought.


“So do you think this will actually work?” Heather asked as they neared the fence.


“I have no idea. I’m hoping it does. We can’t stay here either. We can’t live the rest of our lives locked up in a house. We may be immune to those things but I still don’t relish the thought of getting chewed to pieces, ya know? Not to mention…there have got to be other survivors. Not all of them are going to have pure motives. Not now, not when there’s no law to stop them.”


Heather nodded and sighed deeply. “I hate to leave. I love this place.”


“You and Jeff. He didn’t want to leave the bar.” Riley snorted and pressed the button on the walkie-talkie. “You ready?”


“It’s off. Hurry up would you?” Jess’s voice sounded amused.


“I hope she hit the right button.” Riley smirked and reached out, touching the fence. When nothing happened, she climbed up and dropped to the other side. Heather followed her lead, both of them pulling out their guns when they were ready.


They could have saved their energy. The parking lot and roadway were empty, no walkers in sight. Riley was relieved for a moment, but grew more nervous as they headed for their freezer. They had not had a day, besides when it rained, that they didn’t see a walker. And it was not raining. The sun was up, the sky was clear, the air had warmed up again.


Riley led the way into the warehouse, trying to shake out of her weird mood. Everything was as they had left it the night before. Heather helped her push the desk blocking the door aside and Riley looked in the window of the freezer.


The walker stared back at her. It took a moment to realize that his eyes had gone from filmy to absolutely white. His right cheek was frozen over, ice gleaming from his skin.


“Holy shit. It worked.”


“Yeah?” Heather peered into the window. “Ugh. Nasty. So what does it mean?”


“It means we’d all better get used to living in colder climates.” Riley reached for the door handle. She had to make sure the thing was frozen and immobile. Heather stepped out of the way, her gun ready as the door opened.


The walker fell forward. Apparently he’d been touching the door when he froze. His body hit the concrete floor with a thud, and there was a cracking noise as his arm fell off.


“Holy shit.” Heather breathed, repeating Riley’s phrase. Riley nudged the walker with her foot. He was solidly frozen.


“I wonder if he wakes up when he thaws out.” She murmured.


“He’d probably be pissed if he did.” Heather said, kneeling down. She didn’t want to touch the walker, but she forced herself to turn him onto his back. Riley had to help her. He was heavy. “So do we wait and see if he gets back up or…”


The walkie-talkie interrupted Heather’s thought. “Hey…shit…you guys…” Her voice was agitated.


“Yeah?” Riley spoke back to her, looking distractedly down at the corpse.


“We’ve got problems…no walkers…something just happened to the front gate. It’s flashing red at me…”


Heather snatched the walkie-talkie from Riley’s hand. “Do you see anything on the camera?”


“Nothin’ but the bus! Christ…what the hell is that?”


“What’s what?” Riley asked Heather. Heather shook her head, ready to ask Jess the question, but Jess beat her to talking.


“Fuck. Levesque! It’s David and Levesque and…” Her voice suddenly cut out and the walkie-talkie was silent. Heather and Riley looked at each other.


“Jess? If you can hear me, just press the button on the top. It says lock down. Get on that intercom and open the channel, it’ll go through the whole house. Warn ‘em. We’re on our way back.” Heather shoved the walkie-talkie into her pocket and shared a look with Riley.


“Let’s go. Hell, why can’t they just leave us alone?” Riley said, striding toward the door.


“Cuz Levesque is a world class dick?” Heather asked, running to catch up. They climbed the fence again, dropping to the other side. Riley had her gun out before they’d walked two steps, and Heather followed her lead.


“They’re going to get into the house. You should run up, follow the fence line, and make sure the gate is closed.” Riley said, moving slowly, down in a crouch.


“What about you?”


“I’ll go in the back door.”


“If Jess managed to hit the lock down button, you won’t be able to get in. It drops metal shutters over everything.”


“Security nut?” Riley asked, smirking.


“Not me. I didn’t build it.” Heather sighed. “The only way in would be through the attic. No shutters up there. The windows are too small.”


“Do I look like Spiderman?” Riley glanced at the house. There was no way to get to the attic from the outside.


“If you can climb the windows at the kitchen, you can get up there.” Heather said, lowering her voice as the sound of a gunshot cracked from inside the house. “Ok…I’m going to get that fence. Hurry up, get in there…” With that she was gone, dashing into a line of trees to the south.


Riley shook her head and continued her progress toward the house. She wished for a bigger gun idly as she rounded the house, looking for a way in.


Heather was right about the windows. The rear of the house had huge bay windows in the kitchen and the master bedroom right above it. There was also a ledge that ran the length of the back wall. Riley thought she could climb it. The panes of glass were thick, and the wall of either side of the windows formed gaps and ledges to use as hand and foot holds.


Riley tucked her gun into the waistband of her jeans and tested one of the gaps. With a grunt, she lifted herself up and began to slowly crawl up the side of the house. Her foot slipped once, she missed a gap and her toe caught the glass window, but she held on with her fingers and got herself under control. The ledge that marked the halfway spot was only six inches wide, but it gave her a chance to rest her aching legs and arms for a moment. With another sigh, she began to crawl up the second floor. The attic window was only a few feet higher. She would have to break it to get inside, but that was all right. She was sure Heather wouldn’t mind.


With a smirk, Riley braced herself and carefully reached back to pull her gun out. She tapped the butt against the glass and spent a moment knocking out jagged edges. She didn’t want to slice herself up. The windows were small, tall and narrow. She was no Amazon, but Riley had to suck in and squeeze and wiggle to get through the gap.


She smiled in relief as she crept across the attic floor. The exit was somewhere over the guest bedrooms. She went back and forth until she saw the ladder tucked against the floor in the corner. She would most likely come out on the upstairs hallway.


Riley got down on the floor and pressed her ear to the wood. She listened for several minutes, but heard nothing. It was either too well insulated here, or there was nothing going on in the hall below her. She hoped for the latter as she lowered the steps an inch at a time. No noise came from below. Riley ducked her head over the side of the gap and peered up the hallway. It was empty.


Not wasting time, she quickly descended the steps into the hall. All the doors were closed, just as they’d been when they had gone downstairs. Riley carefully tucked the attic stairs back into their recess, and turned to look up and down the hall.


She knew she shouldn’t waste time, but she headed for Mark’s room anyway. He had that shotgun in there. Somewhere. Riley opened the door and made sure it was locked behind her. She didn’t want anyone sneaking in on her. She headed for the closet. The bag that Mark had carried with them was on the floor of the closet, the butt of the shotgun sticking out of it. He hadn’t bothered putting it away. Maybe he figured he might need it eventually. Riley scooped it up, once again tucking her own gun away. The shotgun would work better. It would require less aiming on her part.


She was about to leave the room when a soft noise stopped her. Riley turned and peered through the door beside her, into Charlie’s room. The bright sunlight from earlier was cut off by the metal shades at the windows. The room was too dark to see into. Riley braced herself and dashed in, flipping the overhead light on as she went, leveling the shotgun.


No one was there. The room was empty and just as the little one had left it that morning. Riley almost laughed at herself when she heard the noise again. From the closet. She held the shotgun down, already knowing what she would find.


Charlie sat on the floor, her legs pulled to her chest, huddled in a tiny ball. “Babydoll…you have got to stop pickin’ the same hidin’ spot every time.” Riley murmured. Charlie made a low noise and threw herself into her arms, her whole body shaking.


“Daddy…said to run up here and hide…” Charlie whispered it roughly, trying to hold back the sobs that threatened to come.


“Yeah? That’s pretty smart of him.” Riley smoothed Charlie’s hair, and kissed her temple. “I’m going to have to go help him and everyone else now, hon.” At her words, Charlie’s arms tightened around her neck. “It’s going to be all right darlin’.”


“Is it…those things again?”


“I don’t know. I have to go check and see.” Riley disentangled herself. “You stay here, all right? Lock the door behind me, don’t let anybody in unless it’s your dad or me.” Charlie nodded, scooting backward into the closet once more. Riley tugged a blanket from the bed and tucked it around the little girl. “You just sit tight. I’ll be back soon, all right?”


“You’d better be.” Charlie said, her tone so serious that Riley had to smile. It faded as a noise came from the other room. She turned to see the door opening from the hallway. Riley pressed her fingers to her lips, and Charlie nodded, understanding she needed to keep quiet. Riley moved the closet door, leaving a wedge so Charlie would not totally be in the dark.


She rose to her feet and stepped closer to the door that separated Mark’s room from Charlie’s. Whoever it was, they were taking their time rushing the room. Riley brought the shotgun up, waiting for whoever it was to step through the door.


A gun appeared. Riley smirked, checking the safety on the shotgun. It was not Mark, he would be calling for Charlie if he was standing there. Plus…the guy had no tattoos. And Mark was fairly covered with them.


He suddenly rushed into the room, swinging to look away from Riley before spotting her. It was Copeland. She knew from his blonde hair. She hated to give away the fact that she was here, but knew she had no choice. Copeland’s eyes finally landed on her, and his surprised expression made Riley smirk. He brought his gun to aim it at her, but she was already pulling the trigger, making the shotgun boom in her hands.


The shot took Copeland in the chest and knocked him backward off his feet. His gun went off once, the bullet going harmlessly into the ceiling. His body slammed the wall and he slid down to the floor, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Riley rushed to his side and kicked his gun away, training the shotgun at his face just in case he decided to try anything. She looked at him closely and nodded. He wouldn’t be trying anything anymore. He was dead.


“One down…” Riley murmured. She glanced at the door to the hall. It was standing open. She had just announced her presence to the entire house. Levesque and the others would either come and look for her or they’d wait for her to find them. Riley did not want them near Charlie. She went back to the closet quickly, and peered into the gap. “Remember what I said hon. Don’t let ANYBODY in here, ok?” Charlie nodded, her eyes wide with fear. Riley wanted to get in the closet with her and cuddle her close, but there was no time for that yet.


She made sure that Charlie’s door was locked before heading to the hall. She locked Mark’s door for good measure. The hallway was still empty. Keeping her head down, Riley dashed for the stairs, hoping that everyone was still all right, that she hadn’t been too late.




Jess ducked low and crawled into the knee space under the security monitors. She'd been so caught up in watching for Riley and Heather she had seen too late that Levesque and the others shorted out the main gate.
She realized belatedly that her gun was upstairs inside the drawer of her bedside table. She was the only one not in the habit of carrying it around. Now she cursed her forgetfulness.  
There were footsteps right outside the door to the security room, which was the reason she was hidden. Jess had just enough time to pull the chair toward her, hiding herself more fully just before the door opened.


“Hell…all this security and they don’t even put anybody on watch…” The voice was familiar. It was Michaels, definitely. He spoke with a very distinct hoarse voice. There were noises. It sounded like he was pounding on a keyboard. “Ok. There’s Levesque and Batista. Front hall again. Wait…shit…”


“What is it?” A second man asked. It took Jess a moment to realize it was Copeland.


“Daniels. She just climbed down from the attic.” Michaels laughed.


“I’ll get her.”


“She’s got her gun out.” Michaels called after Copeland as the door slammed shut. Jess bit her lip to keep from making any noise. The minutes ticked by slowly. She knew from her few trips into this room that there were cameras in all of the more public places but none on the bedrooms or baths. She wondered where everyone else had hidden themselves. There had been gunshots earlier, two or three in rapid succession, but she hadn’t seen what happened.


“Shit…” Michaels growled out over her head as a muffled boom rang out through the house. Jess stiffened up, thinking he’d spotted her, but he was still standing at the monitors. There were hurried footsteps and the door slammed once again. He was gone.


Jess sighed in relief and counted to ten in her head before slowly extricating herself from her hiding place. She peered at the monitor that had so fascinated Michaels, watching as Riley made her way down the hall. She carried what looked like a modified shotgun. Jess heaved another relieved breath and began searching the monitors for other movement. Michaels was already climbing the stairs to the second floor. Riley had disappeared off the monitor. Levesque was in the basement, walking around the pool. Of Batista and Copeland there was no sign.


Movement at the front gate caught her eye. Heather was closing it, yanking hard to get the heavy steel to move. Once it was shut enough, she turned toward the house and hurried to the door. Jess looked over all the buttons arrayed in front of her. One of them controlled the gate. She pressed it and watched as the gate finished closing up. They had burned out the electrical current running through it but not the motor apparently.


She found a button that was marked ‘FD’. Hoping it was the front door, Jess pushed it. Nothing happened. Or so she thought. Heather tried the knob and the door opened. She appeared again on the next monitor, the main hall. Jess felt around and found the walkie-talkie she’d been using. She pressed the button, not stopping to think that she would be giving away someone’s position.


“Hey…guys…” Jess whispered it out. She saw Heather jump at the sound.


“Yeah?” Heather’s voice was just as low.


“Levesque is in the basement. Michaels is heading upstairs. I don’t know where anybody else is. Riley disappeared off camera…”


“Riley made it in? Good.” Heather looked directly at the camera. “We’re going to have to kill the monitors. I don’t want them seeing us before we see them.”


Jess grimaced. They had already had a look. So it was probably best to disable the cameras. “How?”


“On the wall by the door…there’s a fuse box…” Heather’s voice dropped lower. Jess took a panicked look at the screens again. Michaels was still upstairs. Batista had appeared at the pool, but Levesque was now missing. “There’s a red fuse, at the top. Pull it out. Pocket it. That’ll shut down the cameras, and the door locks. We’re stuck here til this is over.”


“Got it.” Jess pulled the fuse. The monitors winked off one by one as they powered down. Now she was for all intents and purposes blind. “Can’t tell you where they are now. What should we do?”


“Hell if I know. Can you get to the kitchen?” Heather whispered.


“I…I think so…” Jess was wary about going out of the room, but knew eventually she would have to. She couldn’t hide forever. “Meet you there in five?”


“Three. At least we can lock the door and huddle together.” Heather snickered softly and clicked her walkie-talkie twice, indicating she was turning it off. Jess did the same thing. She steeled herself and slowly opened the door, peeking out into the hall. It was empty. Taking a deep breath, she began a slow, quiet trek to the kitchen.




“John is dead.”


“What?” Mark’s eyes found Glen in the darkness. They were both standing in Heather’s home gym with all the lights shut off. Jeff and Randy were upstairs, in one of the bedrooms. Supposedly keeping an eye out for anyone trying to get to Charlie. Steve had been hiding all day. The women had all disappeared earlier, and it worried Mark to no end. He could imagine all manner of things happening to them at that moment, and none of them were good.


“John. Almost tripped over him in the hall. You were goin’ the other way, you didn’t see him…” Glen whispered hoarsely.


“What the fuck is goin’ on?” Mark asked rhetorically.


“They want us all dead. They’ve lost their damn minds, and we’re the enemy.” Glen sighed. “We have to go out after them. What if Riley, Heather and Jess walk into this without a heads up?”


“We have…” There was a muffled boom from overhead. Mark’s head cocked sideways as he listened. “That was a shotgun.”


“No doubt.”


“Fuck.” The gym was in the basement, located on the south end of the pool. Although both of them had heard footsteps outside the door, no one had ventured inside. The door was almost impossible to find if a person were not really looking for it. It blended into the wall of mirrors on the other side almost perfectly. Mark listened for a moment, heard nothing, and slowly inched the door open. The huge room that housed the pool was empty. Mark gestured and Glen followed him as they crept through the dim room.


Glen veered to the right suddenly, making Mark jump. “What if we cut the power?”




“Won’t kick on if it’s a tripped breaker unless somebody pushes a button.” Glen said, pointing at a closet against the wall. “With this metal blinds down, it’ll be dark as hell down here. We’ll have the advantage.”


Mark could not argue with that. He nodded once, wanting to just go upstairs and end this finally. Glen opened the closet and flipped several switches. The house was suddenly plunged into darkness. A light began to blink inside the closet.


“It’s the generator.” Glen muttered, falling in beside Mark as they headed for the stairs. “Glowing button. So you can find it in the dark.”

Mark nodded again, not wanting to talk. He wanted to protect his little girl first and foremost. He wanted to get his revenge on Levesque for what he had done. And he wanted to make sure Riley was all right too. He had way too much to worry about.


They paused at the top of the stairs, listening. There were footsteps further ahead, down the hall. Other than that, all was quiet. Marks eyes had adjusted enough to make out the shapes of things. He saw a shadow moving ahead of him in the hall, and brought his gun up.