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A random prompt on Tumblr asked for Minutemen zombies; I wrote the promised vignette but there seems to have been interest for more? So I started writing more, and wow, I am having so much fun. But I'd like to keep this informal, so, see the comment section below for pieces of this as I finish them!

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( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:17 pm (UTC)
part 1
*

"Aw, hell."

It'd been bad at first—bad like they'd all known it would be, the way they could all taste it in the backs of their throats in the moment before someone—Hollis doesn't remember who, later—threw the latch and shoved the double doors open and out. It'd taken shoving, too; the mass of clawing, murderous bodies piled against it had seen to that.

"Damn it—hold him, Bill!"

It'd needed to be done. They'd agreed to a man—and a woman too, the first thing Hollis thinks he's seen Sal and Ursula agree on in the last three years—that if they chose this moment to abandon the people they've spent years protecting, well, then they never deserved to wear the masks in the first place. People were dying; this hadn't been the time to quibble. Even Eddie had been on board, though by god the brat had taken some convincing, and if Hollis has to hear him complain one more ti—

"This is what you get," Eddie snarls from somewhere off to the left, and Hollis has both his hands in poor Byron's gut, up to his elbows in blood just trying to keep his insides inside where they belong, and well. Eddie should count himself lucky. "I told you idiots, this is where not lookin' out for yourself gets you."

"If you don't shut up—"

Bill looks goddamned furious under his mask, the kind of fury that doesn't really know itself, is too tangled up in grief and incomprehension. He doesn't say a word, even when Byron lurches up off of the table, thrashing against his hands and snarling. His mask is gone, his antennas sheared off and the stupid fabric wings hanging off by a thread. The veins at his temples stand out, blue and thick. He seems to want a piece of someone—anyone. "Hold him down, god damn it!"

"Doesn't matter," Bill mutters, and his mask is half gone, too. There's more red in his costume than there used to be.

"Yes it does."

"We were too late," he says, and the words have an edge of catatonic hysteria. "I was too late. We can't fix this."

Hollis eyes the way Bill's hands are loosening in their grip, casts a worried look to Sal, by the door. She's got a shotgun propped against one shoulder, liberated from some ransacked shop, and she nods to him, all frivolity of her showy public persona evaporated.

"Look at me," Hollis says, and Bill does. Under their hands, the body thrashes. "This isn't our fault, and it isn't your fault. I know where you are, and I've been there, but we need you here instead. Are you here?"

Bill's gaze drops to where his friend is frothing beneath them, is struggling like murder. He nods.

"We might not be able to fix this," Hollis says. "But by God we will try our best."

"Okay," Bill says, "Okay."

"Cap'n?" Hollis calls across the room.

Nelly straightens against the wall, posture all numb shock. "Yes?"

"We need rope. As much of it as you have. I know you've got plenty, so don't hold out on us now."

*
lawnnun
Jun. 25th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
Re: part 1
Of course Nelly has plenty of rope. XD
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
part 2
*

It takes a lot of rope.

At first, they’re worried about his injuries, the amount of blood he’s lost. Most of them can’t even be sutured--just broad swaths of exposed muscle where the skin’s been ripped away, across one cheekbone, down one side of his neck, on the back of one hand and forearm. Defensive wounds. They put a few stitches into the gash running down through his right eye, but the eye itself seems ruined, and it’s really the cavernous wound in his gut that they fear will be the death of him.

Once they have him restrained well enough to check his vitals without losing fingers, it’s pretty obvious that, well, that’s already happened. The bleeding has stopped; the blood gels on his skin, taut over the wound like drumskin. It’s not something they can call healing, really. Bereft of pulse or breath, he still fights like his heart’s in it, still howls and screams.

The fever is eating him up.

They take his care in shifts, but some of them are more present than others. Eddie loiters around the edges uselessly, a steady stream of vitriolic commentary, refusing to come anywhere near any of them; they’re all compromised, contaminated, and he’s been chain-smoking cigars like the blue-grey cloud is a ward against them. Nelly’s too eaten up with fear over Justice’s continued absence to be much help, and Bill’s catatonic with sorrow, utterly convinced that everything they’re doing is in vain.

Hollis isn’t so sure he disagrees.

Sal has been an angel about the whole thing, keeping her head like a pro while the rest of them fell apart and doing her best to help, but she’s not hands-on and the bulk of the actual brow-mopping and painkillers and antibiotic administration--maybe pointless, maybe not--has fallen on Hollis and Ursula.

Hollis wrings out a wet rag, lays it across Byron’s forehead. He’s quiet, now; he’s worn himself out again, and these respites in his struggling are the only time they can really try to help him.

Outside the reinforced windows, a jungle-wild howl of rage and misery. Byron whines in response, all of his strength sapped.

“This isn’t going to end well,” Ursula says, across the table, rolling a bottle of morphine between her fingers. She sounds just as drained. “Is it?”

Hollis takes a long breath, lets it out. Under the rag in his hand, Byron’s head lolls woodenly from side to side, single milky eye searching. “Probably not, no. But stranger things have happened.”

“So we try. And keep trying.”

“For Bill’s sake if no-one else’s, yeah.”

“I’m not sure that false hope has ever helped anyone,” she says, quiet, land she’s probably right.

*

Edited at 2013-04-16 08:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
part 3!
*

Hollis can hear the voice on the edge of his consciousness long before he surfaces enough to make out what it’s saying. It’s just encouraging noise, praise and reassurance like he might lavish on Phantom, fully aware the old girl doesn’t understand a word he’s saying.

She’s around here, somewhere. Basement maybe; the loud noises of other, aggressive animals have always driven her to ground.

“...okay. It’ll be okay. Just have to hang on for us... just a little longer... oh god, By.”

His eyes slit open carefully. He’d fallen asleep on the job, obviously, but there hasn’t been much that’s needed doing. They’re out of penicillin and the morphine shouldn’t wear off for another few hours, and the armchair he’d dragged over alongside the makeshift operating table had been awfully comfortable. He is, despite common opinion, only human.

“This isn’t fair, is it?” the voice continues on, wobbling and listing left and right. “This isn’t what was supposed to...”

“Bill,” Hollis says, because that’s who it is, braced over the table on one hand, the other combing back through Byron’s sweat-and-blood-soaked hair. The body on the table is unresponsive, passed out. Bill’s out of costume--they all are, obviously--but there’s something of the innocent all-American golden boy still about him in the terribly visible way his heart is breaking.

“How is he?” Bill forces out, a breathy wheeze.

Hollis pushes himself more upright in the armchair. The chair opposite the table is empty; Ursula must have gone off to get some actual sleep. Smart lady. “Mostly the same. Out cold now, but that comes and goes. Not getting worse, anyway.”

“That’s... is that good? I guess that’s good.”

“You don’t sound sure.”

A slow blink, and Hollis has never seen anyone looking so lost. “Should I be?”

“I’d question your sanity if you were.”

A sharp bark of laughter, and nothing is funny.

Hollis watches him for a moment, propped there unsteadily, then gets up from the chair--goes to where the other one is and drags it around to the same side as his own. “Sit down with me here, for a minute?” he says, and then: “Before you fall over?”

He does, after however long it takes him to process the request. They sit in silence for a long moment, watching their teammate not breathe; watching him lie there in state, and only the heat pouring off of him tells them that he’s not gone.

“Bill,” Hollis says, because it’s a syllable he can put between himself and what he has to say next.

“Mm?”

“...we should have a talk.”

*
etherati
Apr. 16th, 2013 09:34 pm (UTC)
part 4
*

God damn it but this is hard.

“I’m not saying we’re giving up. I’m willing to keep trying for as long as we can, until he’s either better, or...”

“Or dead.”

“Bill,” Hollis says again, careful, “he’s been dead since you and Ursula brought him in here. You do understand that, right?”

Bill scrubs his hands up his face, digging fingers in hard. “Kind of. I’m still having trouble understanding all of this.”

“It’s... pretty complicated.”

“Too complicated for a dumb farm boy like me.”

“I wouldn’t--”

“No,” Bill says, lifting his eyes above the line of his hands. They’re red-rimmed, hollow. “It’s actually really simple, isn’t it? He’s like them. Outside.”

Hollis doesn’t respond for a while; he picks at the seam on one arm of the chair just for something to do with his hands. There’s a thread hanging free, and when he pulls on it the seam starts unravelling, all the pressure of stuffing inside pushing out on it, making it bulge.

He sighs, pushing the stuffing back in with his thumb. “I know you two are close. I just don’t want you unprepared for what might happen, here.”

“He’s the best friend I’ve ever had. God, that sounds so stupid.”

“Not from where I’m sitting.”

“Just these... cliche things, like, how could he do this? How can this be happening? I keep trying to wake up, like an idiot, like if I just keep trying...”

He trails off, thick hands masking his face completely. He’s been shaking, just a slight, constant baseline shudder, for the last thirty-two hours. Hollis isn’t sure he’s aware of it. It makes him think, suddenly, of Nicky Bukowski from work, the day he’d found out his wife Marcia had drowned. It’s that same terrifying depth of sorrow.

And they all know, even if he’s never said--

“Go ahead and tell me if this is out of line,” Hollis says, teasing at the thread again. “Because it probably is. But were you two ever, ah...”

He looks up as he trails off; Bill’s face is a picture of confusion. Then he seems to get it.

“Oh, uh,” he says, looking away. “No, I mean. I think he might have wanted that? But I’m, I’m not--”

Hollis nods vaguely. It doesn’t matter, he wants to say, I just wanted to know how much of a mess you’re going to be, but he can see the answer in front of him: an awful one. It doesn’t need to have been like that.

“Sometimes I wish I...” Bill says, then resettles himself in the chair, restless. He ends up leaning forward over his knees, reaching one hand out as if to touch the edge of the table. It’s all just useless, wasted motion. “I’ve always just wanted him to be happy. Now...”

Now nothing. Now it’s done.

Hollis sighs; gets up to re-wet one of the rags, arrange it across Byron’s throat where the fever is worst, heat rising from rent skin. It’s hard to get it where it needs to be, with all of the rope lashing him down.

Then a rustling from the next room, and Sally leans her head in, one hand on the doorframe like she’d had to stop from a dead run. She’s a little breathless.

“Bill, honey?” she says, all motherly gentleness. “On the radio. You’ll want to hear this.”

*
wednesday42
Apr. 17th, 2013 01:24 am (UTC)
Re: part 4

*tries to think of something eloquently appreciative and encouraging*

*sobs incoherently instead*
etherati
Apr. 17th, 2013 04:01 am (UTC)
Re: part 4
I'm sorry don't cry! ;.;
wednesday42
Apr. 17th, 2013 12:38 pm (UTC)
Re: part 4
It's ok... I'm just getting sucked into this world, and the added oomph of all the Minutemen feels is hitting hard - it's a good thing, really!
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: part 4
I'm glad it's... effective? At being awful and heartbreaking?

oh god what am i doing with my life

<3
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
part 5a
*

They got themselves a proper headquarters a year or two back--Hollis has always had a setup at home, but it’s not big enough for all of them, and neutral territory really is best given how explosive the combination of all of their personalities can be--and it’s a high-security paradise. They have all the food and supplies they’ll ever want, but what they really need right now is a radio room, because the communal kitchen cannot hold the number of people currently crowded into it, perched in chairs or leaning on counters, looming. There are three units in here: the shortwave, the local AM receiver like everyone has, and the police frequency scanner Hollis donated to the cause two years ago, hardwired to the local stations. It’s the AM they’re all listening to, though he can see that the scanner’s on too, turned very low.

“...secuted at the time as it’s discovered they have committed such crimes. Call your local municipality if you have reason to suspect anyone in your neighborhood of criminal activity.”

Sally steers Bill to a chair by the table; his strength isn’t going to hold for much longer. She keeps one hand on his shoulder, reaches across the counter to dial the volume up.

“How many goddamned times,” Eddie drawls from the far side of the room. He’s all false ease, slouching against a cabinet like a kid against a fence, shirking his work. “...do we have to listen to this?”

“You’re free to leave whenever you like,” Sally says, chilly. Something’s gone south between the two of them, and Hollis hasn’t worked out what yet but he’s never been a fan of the kid nor had a reason to doubt Sal’s judgment. The radio hisses silence and static, and then there’s a hitch in the white noise of a tape splice, a message spooling up to repeat.

“This message is being broadcast by WMCA on the behalf of the New York Police Department,” it starts, and it’s the usual groomed radio voice, but there’s a sobriety to it.

Nelson is in the other chair, leaning forward across the table to listen more closely. He’s at attention, rapt, just a little glazed. Byron might be their only known casualty, but he wasn’t the only one who went disappearing into to a cacophony of violence two days ago.

“The police department would like to advise the following precautions to all citizens. The phenomenon of disease and sudden insanity being observed in the city has been reported across the country and, possibly, the world. Do not attempt to evacuate to another location. Do not attempt to reach loved ones. Do not leave your homes to intercede on others’ behalfs.”

Bill snorts, a low noise of frazzled nerves entirely unlike laughter.

“If you have a safe location, stay there and do not attempt to engage with the activity outside. Relief efforts to provide supplies safely are being coordinated. If you must defend your location against violent and insane individuals, the use of lethal force is authorized. Do not, under any circumstances, allow a compromised individual into your home.”

“...why are you having me listen to this?” Bill asks, and Hollis is wondering that too. It isn’t encouraging information.

“Shh,” Sally says, “Listen.”

“We should get Ursula in here,” Nelson says; his voice is flat, a wrung-out monotone.

There’s a crackle and a hiss from the radio, and then it smoothes out again. “However,” it continues in a different voice, oddly conversational, like an afterthought or an add-on, an edit: “the police department would also like to remind its citizens that violence against someone not presenting an actual threat is, as always, against the law. A compromised individual that is no longer showing madness is not a threat, and lethal force used against any nonthreatening citizen of this city will be considered murder. Violators will be arrested and prosecuted at the time as it’s discovered they have committed such crimes. Call your local municipality if you have reason to suspect anyone in your neighborhood of criminal activity.”

Static. The white noise fades out as Sally turns the knob again, silencing it.
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 05:02 pm (UTC)
part 5b
Hollis leans against the kitchen door, considering. “So, they’re saying...”

“That people are getting better,” Bill says, shocky. “Or else they wouldn’t be worried about that? Why would they care if...”

“Kill ‘em all anyway,” Eddie says, smirking around his cigar, and good god but Hollis wants to throw him out into the street himself. See how long his attitude keeps him afloat out there. “Set ‘em on fire, I say, and--”

“Edward,” Nelson says, not moving from where he’s still sitting attentively, not even moving his eyes. “If you don’t stop talking, I am going to set you on fire.”

“Whatever, man. I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking.”

Nelson leans forward a little bit, licks his lips between teeth that want to clench. Sally looks like she wants a piece of this action too.

“No,” Hollis says, quiet and even. “You’re actually the only one thinking it. As usual.”

A stretch of silence so profound that the the voices on the turned-down scanner start to become intelligible, and then Eddie shrugs, slumps away from the counter.

“Do what you want,” he says, “But you heard what they said. Who knows when I might start feeling threatened by your fucking mess of a boyfriend in there?”

Bill looks up, genuinely caught off guard, and Eddie just smirks and tips an imaginary hat, and then he’s out the door and back off down the hall.

“He’s not...” Bill says, looking between Hollis and Sally. “We’re not--”

“Ignore him,” Hollis says, and he feels a little sick for having brought it up earlier. Feels sick if it’s true, feels sick if it isn’t. “He’s all talk. We’ll keep him away.”

Bill shakes his head, and it’s like he’s shaking something off--like all of his size and strength come back at once. “No, I can keep him away,” he says, taking a breath. “I’m not afraid of him.”

“Good,” Sally says, and picks up the shotgun propped against the counter; shoulders it on her way out the door.

*
etherati
Apr. 18th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
part 6
*

Watching Bill push himself to his feet with a startling new steadiness—necessity finds strange pockets of strength, sometimes—and stride off back down the hall, Hollis has a distinct feeling of My work here is done. It’s not, probably; it’s not close to over for any of them, but he can leave it be for now.

That just leaves Nelson at the table, and before he can even think about why he feels the need to help everyone, all the time, he’s already slipped into Bill’s abandoned chair.

Hollis doesn’t pretend to understand the unstated thing between Nelson and Justice. He can be generous in the abstract, with Bill going to pieces and their teammate dying in front of them, but the actual reality confuses him more than he’ll admit. He doesn’t get what it is or why it exists or what they get out of it or whether it’s wrong or right—but he knows what misery looks like and this is it: missing, dreading, not knowing.

There’s a lot of it going around. He lets the silence hang.

“…windows,” Nelson says, as if coming out of a trance. One hand taps the table. “We have to make sure all the windows are covered, that none of the bars are working loose.”

“I checked them all a few hours ago,” Hollis says. “They were fine.”

Nelson shakes his head. “Highest activity is between noon and three.” It’s three-fifteen now, Hollis can tell by glancing at the clock over the stove. “That’s when they do the most… when they’ll make the most inroads.”

A nod. “I’ll check them again.”

“Just from in here. It would be a bad time to be outside.”

“I’ll be sure of it.”

A pause, and in any other situation it would be a dismissal, Well why don’t you get a move on, then?

“We need to work up some sort of protective gear we can wear,” Nelson continues eventually, “so we can start sweeping the neighborhood. We’re not in a good location; they’re going to shut us in, let us eat each other and exhaust ourselves and die off.”

Like a mushroom colony, Hollis thinks; he’d found one growing in the woods he’d been sent to as a kid one summer, a broken ring with nothing in the center but emptiness and death. Fairy ring, his cousin had said, but he hadn’t been able to get the stink of rot out of his city-kid’s head for a month. “Are you sure?”

He shakes his head, digs through his pockets. “Hate to say it, but it’s what I would do,” he says, coming out with a folded map of the borough. The HQ is marked on it, and other lines highlight the area’s major arteries. “See here? There’s too many ways in and out, too many places for easy ambush. They won’t risk sending help.”

“The radio said—”

“To hell with what the radio said.” Nelson runs his fingers back through his hair. “They won’t send help.”

Hollis just leans over the map; tries to get a clearer sense of how big the area they’re talking about is. It’s big, and they are very small, but he’s a cop—he’s used to looking at maps that look like this one.

“To hell with it,” Nelson repeats, reaching to fold the map back up. “We can’t rely on anything they say. Not about help, and not about… anything else.”

Hollis lets out a long, metered sigh; pushes the chair out as he stands up.

“I hope we can,” he says. “I hope you can.”

A sharp laugh, frightening in its context. “I’m not a kid, Hollis. And I don’t need coddling.”

“And false hopes don’t help anyone, I know. Ursula’s already given me an earful on that.”

“She’s right.”

“Yeah… but I’m not sure they hurt, either.”

Across the room, the quiet voices on the scanner seem excited about something. There’s a build up and a crescendo, and then a gutted silence, and he hasn’t checked in with the guys in his department yet. He doesn’t want to.

“You’ll get the windows?” Nelson asks, words like an exhale.

“Yeah,” Hollis says, because he will. “Don’t worry.”

*

Edited at 2013-04-18 08:39 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC)
part 7
*

Bill surfaces from a nightmare, a terrorscape of dead-eyed rabid cows and fields where nothing grows except for cornstalks that bleed when he cuts them--he always dreams of the farm when anxiety gets the best of him, a vestige of childhood spent with its borders as the sum whole of everything that can go wrong in the world--to the sound of lively conversation somewhere in the building. It’s a nonspecific hum of layered voices, suffusing in from the walls, coming from everywhere at once.

He pushes himself up, rubs at his eyes. He doesn’t know how long he’s been asleep but it can’t have been long; he feels worse now than before he lay down. His mouth feels gummy, his head cottony, and to complete the set, he could swear his skin has been coated in dried-on machine grease.

Stumbling, he finds his discarded pants on the floor, struggles into them. One leg sticks and he almost falls; his body feels like jelly.

It’d seemed like a good idea, hours ago, to sit up guarding Byron all night; Hollis seemed convinced Eddie had been bluffing, but he’s just a little less certain. But sitting by the bedside while his friend alternately frothed mindlessly and lay there like the dead had gotten to him after a while, had worn out his fresh resolve. It’s not just that it’d been hard to see him that way--though of course it had--but also the utter, complete helplessness of their position. What do you do for a wounded man except bandage his wounds? What do you do for a dead man except...

So when Hollis had come to relieve him at three in the morning, and he’d seen neither hide nor hair nor smokecloud of Eddie the entire time, he’d given in.

His window’s covered in bars outside and slats of wood inside, nailed up with meticulous neatness. There’s no light coming in between them, so either their building is now so completely covered in the bastards that they’re blocking the sun, or it’s still night.

“Hell,” he mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose. Still night, he figures. What, one hour of sleep? Two? He’s not going to be any use to Byron like this, or to Hollis or Ursula or any of them. He should just go back to sleep, but...

But something drove him up to his feet, drove him to get up and stay up. Maybe the voices, maybe a hunch, a feeling. He feels his way to the light switch, throws it. Gives himself a few blinking seconds to adjust before braving the hallway.

Only to run headlong into Nelson, hand raised to knock, a collision made soft by how little energy either of them have. He still reels, apologizes. Steadies himself on the doorframe.

“They want you in the kitchen,” Nelson says, and his voice is cold, a little angry, which would confuse Bill if he wasn’t half-asleep and really lousy at those sorts of social subtleties anyway. He could tell you sixteen ways to detect it when a cow’s about to kick the stool out from under you but he can’t for the life of him work out what’s at play here.

Then Nelson moves past, down the hall towards his own room. “Surprise for you down there,” he adds over his shoulder, and this time it’s downright cruel, in a childish way that could almost be jealousy, or vindication.

Bill blinks in the hall light, works on putting it together. Then, suddenly: Eddie, his threat, Hollis looking dog tired himself when he sent Bill off to sleep, a surprise, oh god.

He’s down the hall faster than he can breathe, the steps at the end two at a time all the way down to the meeting room and then on into the kitchen, heart in his throat and going double time because what if he found a way around them what if he did it, what if his friend is on fire, is a pile of ash, is lying there with his head gone, with his skull split, Eddie laughing and laughing, what if--

Around the corner at a skid, and it’s only when three heads turn to look up at him from the kitchen table that he finally registers something his eyes had seen but his brain had not processed: the sicktable in the common area is empty now, the ropes shed around it in loose coils.

“Uhm. Hey?” Byron says, lifting one chewed up, mangled hand from the table in greeting.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
part 8
*

Hollis and Ursula are both frozen where they are, watching him--Hollis leaned back in his chair with a bottle in his hand because yeah, if there was ever an ‘I need a beer’ moment it’s this, and Ursula perched up close into Byron’s space, lifting one of his bandages away.

“Hi,” Bill says, through the hand he has pressed to his mouth because he’s suddenly a little worried he might throw up and god but that’s the last thing he wants to do now. He should be happy, and he is, because Byron is... not alive, maybe, but here, sitting up, awake, talking.

Talking to them with half of his face hanging off, oh jesus.

“Don’t look so happy to see me,” Byron says, but the side of his mouth that can grin is, so he’s not that upset. The words are a little slurred, no worse than when he’s had a drink or two. “‘course, I probably can’t blame you. They haven’t let me look at a mirror yet, so I don’t have any idea how bad it is.”

It sounds like an excuse, a defense. “It doesn’t matter,” Bill says, forcing his hand back down to his side, because Byron should not need to make excuses for this.

Then Byron laughs a little, dropping his face down and to the side self-derisively, and it’s so him and so normal and Bill can feel something in his chest give with a spang, something that had been winding tighter and tighter. He takes two steps forward and drops onto his heels, at eye level with the slumped form in the chair--reaches out to gather his friend into his arms, pull him nearly out of the chair with the force of it, and who cares what anyone thinks because god, the last two days--

He can feel the embrace returned, shot through with a slow shudder, and Byron’s hands around his back are as strong as ever but the rest of him just collapses there, boneless. There’s a wetness on the side of his face and he doesn’t know if the dead can cry or if it’s something else, but he doesn’t care.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 06:37 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2013 08:33 pm (UTC)
part 9
*

“You’re gonna knock me over in a minute here,” Bill says after a moment, low enough to be just between them, joking. Trying to joke. “Heavier than you look,” he says, and Byron laughs again, and it sounds strange but also like it always has, with that sharp edge aimed inward. His hair is still a filthy mess, hanging between them in blood-stickied hanks, and Bill combs it back once with his fingers, steadies him back in the chair.

Moment passed, the scene unfreezes; Ursula goes back to poking and prodding at Byron’s bandages, not ungently but not with a healer’s touch either. Hollis is unreadable--he’s smiling like he’s happy but also like he’s overwhelmed, expression a little glazed.

“This hasn’t healed at all,” Ursula says, peeling back the dressing on Byron’s forearm, peering under it. They’ve thrown a bathrobe over the worst of it, a mess of badly-fitting maroon terrycloth. “How are you even moving your hand?”

“Same way he was when he was tied to the table,” Hollis says, pulling from the bottle.

Bill frowns, pulls up an empty chair of his own, turns it to sit in it reversed, leaning on the back.

“Why was I tied down? Someone getting a little--” Byron asks, and then flinches, because Ursula’s peeling away the bandage on his neck now and Bill has to think happy thoughts, happy thoughts, because it’s been flayed right down to the jugular and he didn’t really need to see that on anyone, much less a friend.

“What?” she asks, “Did that hurt?”

He bats at her hands, and one of his fingers is gone. “No, just, if I need a physical,” he says, grinning halfway again, “Can’t we get Dawn in here instead? You’re good at a lot of things, Urs, but bedside manner’s not one of ‘em.”

It’s like the temperature in the room drops ten degrees; Bill can feel his stomach drop out. No one says a word, though Ursula turns away, expression brittle and determined.

“...what?” Byron eventually asks, though it should be obvious, is obvious.

Hollis considers the label on the bottle he’s holding; has been peeling it away in little strips. “Dawn’s missing,” he answers without looking up. “Last heard from... what, two da--”

“Three days,” Ursula says, with the steadiness of careful, necessary control. “Not since all of this started.”

“...oh,” Byron says.

“And you were tied up because if you hadn’t been,” Hollis continues, “you would have killed all of us.”

“......oh.”

Hollis pushes up from the table, goes to the fridge for another beer; they can hear glass clinking too loudly, too carelessly.

“Edward’s going to be upset,” Ursula says, “if you take more than your ration.”

“‘Edward’ is hiding so he doesn’t have to deal with anything. Cowards don’t get beer.” Hollis’s voice sounds hollow, echoing out of the coldbox’s bare interior. “What do you say, Byron? Feel up to a Schlitz?”

“I’m... not sure I should. Thinking about eating or drinking anything feels... weird.”

“Let’s give it a try and find out, then,” Hollis says, a little strained, and two bottles drop onto the table. Ursula’s gone quietly back to her investigations, probing at his neck again; this time he tolerates it silently, picking up the open bottle in his free hand.

The normality of it hits Bill suddenly: they are back at HQ after a hard fight, after near-misses and near-losses, having a few drinks to celebrate pulling victory once more from the jaws of defeat. Maybe that’s what Hollis needed, but Ursula’s cold professionalism is a front and Byron grimaces at the taste of the beer, mutilated face scrunching up, and this is no Saturday Evening Post cover.

“...doesn’t taste like it used to,” Byron mutters, “but the fizzy’s good at least.”

We thought we were going to lose you, Bill wants to say; he rubs one hand over his face instead.

“Kinda clears the gunk out,” Byron says, looking down the bottle’s mouth like it’s the barrel of a gun.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:21 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 21st, 2013 01:34 am (UTC)


Edited at 2013-04-21 02:36 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 22nd, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
part 10
*

Twenty minutes and half a bottle later and they’ve got him over the sink while he spits it all up in a foamy mess. It’s all clear and the froth looks to just be beer foam--it’s like his body hasn’t processed it at all. And really, why should it?

“Okay,” Byron says, voice strained from his heaving; he grapples with the edge of the counter, sets his forehead into his arms. Talks to the sink. “Elephant in the room, here. I’m basically dead, aren’t I?”

Bill looks over his hunched back; Hollis looks right back, and pointedly reaches to turn off the tap.

“Yeah,” Bill says, because there’s never any good to be had from dancing around things. “That’s what we think. I mean, you were basically bled out by the time we got to you.”

A mangled hand reaches up, touches the bandage on his throat. One stupid second they'd dropped their guard, and... “So why with the beer?”

“Wishful thinking, I guess,” Hollis says, and he sounds honestly apologetic. “Or hell, I just plain wasn’t thinking at all. I’m sorry, you didn’t need that.”

Byron coughs into the sink again; a thin film of beer and spit drools from his mouth, and he looks even more miserable than he did before. Considering the state he's in; that’s saying something.

Bill sets his hand between the shaking shoulder blades, silent support.

“Never thought I’d say this,” Byron wheezes, halfway laughing and halfway gagging, “But I don’t think I ever want one of those again.”

"Nothing wrong with that," Ursula says. She reaches past them all to drain the rest of the bottle into the sink. “As long as you don’t strand me on martini night.”

“Heh,” Byron says, leaning heavily on the edge of the counter.

“Tch.” Ursula turns the bottle in her hand, studies the label--chucks it into the trash can. “Pisswasser.”

Hollis raises his eyebrows, mock-indignation. “Hey now, nothing wrong with--”

“Was I really trying to kill people?” Byron asks, and his voice is small but the question comes out of the blue like heat lightning.

Bill closes his eyes for a second, remembers the day the Mothman had joined their ranks. No killing, he’d said then, not ever.

“I don’t think we have any way to know for sure what you were trying to do...” Hollis trails off, the lie obvious in his voice.

It’d been only shortly after Bill himself had come on board. He’d been idealistic, fresh out of Kansas and high on his recent victories on the field and excited to have been hired to do this, to stop criminals and evildoers and it hadn’t even occurred to him that lethal force would ever be in play. He remembers feeling a little cowed by that frail-looking slip of a man who nevertheless understood more of how the world really worked than he did.

“But I was acting like...”

“Yes,” Ursula says, setting the other empty bottle back on the table.

“Like the ones that got you.” Bill leans back on the counter himself, thick hands propping him up against it. “You were...”

“Okay,” Byron says.

“Just... thrashing, and screaming, and biting...”

Okay,” he says again, “okay.”

It’s an uncomfortable silence after that, broken up by the noise of the creatures outside, battering against the windows--and by the sound of another bottle landing in the trash can. Ursula excuses herself abruptly, disappears into the hallway.

Byron scratches at the back of his head, where the hair’s matted under the bandage that covers his bad eye. “I didn’t actually--”

“No,” Hollis says, and this time, there’s no lie there. “You didn’t hurt anyone.”

“Thank god,” Byron says, and follows suit, drawing the bathrobe up around himself and making his way unsteadily for the door.

*

Edited at 2013-05-23 10:22 pm (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 22nd, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
part 11
*

He runs into two other familiar faces on the way to his room. The first is Sally, who stops to pat him gingerly on the robe’s shoulder and say that she's glad to see him up and about. There’s something perfunctory about it, but it’s not like they’ve ever been all that close.

He nods, smiles as best he can, and keeps moving.

The second is Eddie, standing in the hallway with his back to Byron’s door and a grin on his face that almost manages to hide his generalized malice. He gestures loosely with the lit end of his cigar. "Byron, man. How you feeling?"

"Eddie," Byron says, because Eddie is not really asking how he's feeling, and he just woke up tied to a blood-soaked table after trying to kill his friends and apparently he can't even drown those sorrows without puking them all back up, so he's not really in the mood for games.

"Hey, that's great. You remember who I am."

Bravado, Byron thinks; he can see the way Eddie’s pulse is racing, can smell the fear on him. The insight is sudden and shocking, would be even if it didn’t come with the fleeting impulse, there and gone again, to take advantage of the frightened prey. "Why would I not?"

"I dunno, man," Eddie says, drawing from the cigar. "Thought maybe you'd be squishy in the head, after being dead for three days."

A short shrug. "I don't know how any of this works," and his voice is carefully neutral. It's still a startling thing to hear, but its something he needs to get used to and he won't give Eddie the satisfaction.

Eddie laughs. "Hell, man. Ain't you the medic?"

"Yeah, I’ve got working knowledge of how to set a bone or stitch a wound. This is a little beyond that? I mean, no, of course it doesn’t make sense. And yet--" Byron lifts his arms out from his sides, ostensibly to say Here I am, here we have it. The robe pulls open at the gesture; he can feel cold air in places he probably shouldn’t be able to.

"Jesus christ, man," Eddie says, laughing, but the fear stink on him has magnified, is suffocating.

"Do you mind?" Byron lowers his arms, gestures to the door. He feels cornered, trapped; he feels a little like he’s going to be sick again.

A deliberate stretch of inaction; then Eddie steps aside, gesturing to the door. “Gonna be keeping an eye on you,” he says, and it should be ominous, but.

But it just feels prophetic, because now the images are rising up, all the easy ways he could go through Eddie instead of around him, never mind the difference in their sizes, never mind the strength advantage Eddie really should have. Moving past him and through the door, he’s suddenly drowned in them, in perfectly detailed sense-pictures of exactly how that would go, and maybe Eddie actually has a point this time.

Maybe he is dangerous. Maybe this isn’t a game, a little act with with Bill and Urs and Hollis all sitting around with him pretending like nothing’s changed, a few drinks, a few jokes, hurrah.

He pushes the door shut behind him; leans heavily on it for a long moment, soaking in the darkness, letting the hum of a thousand years of bloody animal instinct fade out of his mind.

*
etherati
Apr. 24th, 2013 05:34 am (UTC)
part 12
*

It’s not that he ever really thought it was a game; he just hasn't had time to think much about it period. The last two hours have been an exercise in rolling with the punches, a combat technique he has always been exceptionally good at. He remembers being dragged down and an awful lot of adrenaline-dulled pain and just red, red everywhere, hazing out into grey. Then dreaming, he thinks, though he can’t remember of what.

(And then? Waking up into another layer of the nightmare?)

Byron pushes away from the door, wanders a little woodenly into the room. Flips on a light when he finds it. There’s a mirror over the bar, reflecting a dozen bottles he can't drink from anymore. Off to the side, a closet mostly full of spare costumes; it’s not like he lives here.

Not like he ‘lives’ anywhere, anymore.

He sighs--it takes effort--and pushes a hand back through his hair. Takes a look.

(The ropes had freaked him out, he won't deny that. But the quiet was worse--the quiet of his own body, without any of the usual thrumming that he never even noticed until now, now that it's gone silent. It's like he's lived his whole life to the step of some jazzy backbeat, all confidence and energy, and now it's dropped out, leaving the rest of the music to find its own meter.)

His face is a disaster, so he avoids it for the moment; lets the robe fall open so that he can get a look at what he already knows about. It’s a half-bandaged mess, the gauze stained mahogany, the skin of his abdomen a deep bruised blue where it runs under the bandages. There’s been some attempt made to stitch some secondary tears, one long run of them snaking around the bottom edge of his ribs all the way to his kidney and another dipping below the waistband of his shorts; he pulls the band down over his hip to see how far it goes. But it’s like sloppily sewn fabric, the edges loose and unmended, raw.

He’s not a vain man, he tells himself, but he also knows that if he really wasn’t, he wouldn’t need to say it. His body has always been pleasant-looking, he thought; not conventionally, but in a sort of svelte, catlike way that drew exactly the attention he wanted it to. Now, it is a monstrosity.

One knee is skinned, an incongruously mundane injury, and otherwise he’s riddled with defensive wounds on his arms and his hands--he remembers, vaguely, trying to shield his face and neck, though it obviously did fuck all good--which are, at the moment, mostly covered. He peels the dressings away, mechanically, ending with the mass of them covering his middle.

(And why had he been under their teeth in the first place? Some kid, cornered on a flight of steps, unable to get through the door into what was likely not even his house. Byron hadn’t even thought--just dived in and busted a way through, and when they’d pulled him down he’d shouted, screamed, hoping one of his teammates would be close enough at hand--)

It’s as awful under the gauze as he expected.

He covers it back up; lifts his face to meet the one in the mirror.

(The kid got away, at least. He thinks.)

His hair is a mess of blood and dirt, always unmanageably thick but worse like this, and all he lets himself think in the first few seconds is no big deal, just wash it, it’ll come clean just fine even as his hands are going on autopilot to peel away the loose dressing circling over his eye.

And god, even if he truly wasn’t vain, he thinks--one eye stitched closed, the socket swollen, and the other staring back at him in a glassy, dead white--this would be too much.

*
etherati
Apr. 24th, 2013 11:23 pm (UTC)
part 13a
*

Byron’s waggling his fingers in the mirror, contemplating muscle fuel and brain fuel and what little he knows of where each comes from, when there’s a knock at the door.

“Yeah?” he calls out, pulling the robe closed again in a rush.

The door creaks open; it’s Bill, hesitating on the the threshold. Byron closes his eye, shoulders the robe up higher.

“Just wanted to see if you were... well, not okay I guess, but...”

“I know what you mean, and no, there’s not a good word for it.” Chin tucked to his chest, Byron turns to wander further into the room, find the sofa.

“Getting by?”

“Could be worse.” He drops into the cushions; rolls his wrist, runs through articulation on each finger. “At least I don’t have rigor setting in. Though who knows why not. Hell, four minutes without breathing is supposed to doom your brain, right?”

“You would know best,” Bill says, though really he knows too; they all do, after that botched takedown by the docks last year that left their target drenched and too braindead to stand trial. This is what Bill does: he defers, pretends that everyone else knows better than he does, that he isn’t clever in his own right.

Byron frowns, scratches at the center of his palm. Bill might have been in college on a sports scholarship, but he hadn’t been taking underwater basketweaving and grass growing 101.

“I feel like an impossible monster,” he says; resettles himself on the sofa, restless, disappearing down into the robe. “But I also still feel like myself?”

“Maybe you’re both?”

A sharp laugh, so that it’ll sound like he’s joking around. “At least now I can stop wasting time with booze and coffee."

"We won't have to deal with you always stealing all the brownies and chips."

“Guess I don’t have to deal with this anymore either,” Byron says, scooping an envelope off of the endtable and handing it over to Bill. He watches his friend take in the return address, then lift the flap to peek inside; he goes still.

“Yeah,” Bill says after a moment, handing it back. “You’d never pass the physical.”

“See? It’s not all bad.” Byron drops the draft letter back where he found it, laughs a little. "And hey, now you don’t have to worry about me hitting on you anymore.”

There’s a pause, and then a sigh, and then the cushion next to him shifts and that’s the only way he knows Bill’s sat down there because he’s stupidly put himself on the wrong side of the couch, blind side exposed. He’s going to have to get used to that, adapt to the disadvantage it presents.

“I mean,” he says, forging onward, “Look at me, right? Now you’re definitely never going to--”

“I never worried about that,” Bill says.
etherati
Apr. 24th, 2013 11:23 pm (UTC)
part 13b
“Never? Really?” He has to turn his head too far to get Bill in his view; does it anyway. “Because I distinctly remember you being very deer-in-headlights. Wide eyes, fear of death, the whole package.”

“By, I’m not from the city. I’d never even been in a subway or, or had chop suey at that point, much less met anyone like... it surprised the hell out of me.”

“I guarantee you some of the bachelor farmers you knew--”

“Were bachelors for a reason. Yeah. But it wasn’t... no one talked about it, no one thought about it. You can’t blame me for being surprised. How many of them,” he says, gesturing with his head toward the door, the rest of headquarters, “do you think actually know?”

“Pretty sure Nelson has a hunch.

“Hah,” Bill says. “Fair enough.”

Byron ducks his head, arms tight around his middle. Has to forcefully stop himself from rocking back and forth.

Bill sighs, sets one hand on his back to still him. “Anyway, the point is, it took me a while to get my head around it? And I don’t, I’m not... like that, but it’s not something I was sitting around worrying over or being upset about.”

“You’re a rare kind of person, you know that?”

“And I guess, if someone thinks I’m, uh,” Bill says, fast like he’ll lose his nerve if he doesn’t get it out. “Good-looking, that’s a compliment? So I should just accept it gracefully?” There’s an innocent blush creeping up his cheeks but he’s also laughing, low and guileless.

Byron lets himself join in, and it’s like the first burn of a shot of good gin, loosening his joints and relaxing his hunched body. He falls against the back of the couch, pressing one hand against his eyes as the laughter wrings the tension out of him.

“Oh, god,” he says finally, and he can hear the hysteria in his own voice, “What am I going to do?

“We’re gonna get you cleaned up,” Bill says, pushing off from the sofa, offering a hand up. “You’ll feel better. Then we’ll figure it out from there.”

*
etherati
May. 23rd, 2013 09:52 pm (UTC)
part 14
*

Hollis has taken to staking out the kitchen, leaned back in one chair and feet propped into another, just listening to the police scanner. He’s gone through more cups of coffee than are fairly his, the last few doctored up so that the mix of stimulation from the caffeine and lull from the whiskey is just nerve-jangling enough to keep him focused.

“I’m at 6th and Main,” the voice on the radio says, “And I don’t even know how to describe this.”

“10-34?” prompts the dispatcher. Assault, Hollis thinks. Understatement.

“I guess you could call it that, yeah.”

“Then cut the chatter. Sending an assist.”

The kitchen door swings open; Ursula comes in, drops a canvas bag into one of the chairs. Leans to start unpacking its contents onto the table.

“Any word?” she asks; nondescript, unlabelled cans stack up.

Hollis tilts the mug up. Just about down to dregs. On the radio, the relative quiet of static. “No, not yet. Nothing that sounds like... well, like anyone we know.”

“I suppose that’s good.” The cans stacked, the next thing that comes out is a cord of rope, a few bags of dried beans. Her fingers twitch slightly over the bag’s edge, clench and unclench. “No news is good news?”

“I think that’s how it goes. What’ve you got there?”

“Things from the basement.” A few rolls of gauze next, and some paper tape. “Found them in the utility room, while I was training.”

Hollis furrows his brow, picks up a can. “How did you end up in the utility room?”

“The routine I was running through went... a bit afield.”

The can feels cool in his hand; he presses it to his forehead. “How much of a mess is it?”

“Hardly important right now.”

“I guess not, no.”

The static on the radio breaks; there’s a lot of shouting all of a sudden, and gunshots, and just generally the sounds of a situation going to hell. Every cop knows that sound, knows to divert straight there in hope of finding something salvageable, but. Again, false hopes. They’ve been hearing this sound a lot, the last few days.

Ursula picks up the whiskey bottle, turns it against the light. “Yours?”

“Came along with my promotion this year.”

“Very nice,” she says.

“10-13!” shouts the voice on the radio, desperate. “Assist, assist!”

Ursula sets the bottle down, sinks into one of the chairs. Retrieves a fresh smoke for her holder, and someone else can stock these cans into the pantry later. Or maybe they’ll stock themselves. Stranger things have happened.

“Anyone you know?” she asks, exhaling a thin stream of smoke, and Hollis is glad to be able to shake his head, slow and heavy.

“Rookies, from the sound of it. Guess that’s all they have left.”

“They’re not coming anywhere near us, are they? The police.”

This, he realizes, is the real reason for the whiskey. “No,” he says, setting the mug down, “No they are not.”

There’s a constant banging noise coming from outside now, as their numbers grow and it becomes impossible for six warm bodies--and one cold one--inside their walls to evade notice. The windows are holding, but just barely. Hollis hasn’t told anyone yet about the state of the front stairwell.

“Then we will just have to save ourselves,” she says, and the finality of it should be more encouraging than it is.

*
etherati
May. 23rd, 2013 10:23 pm (UTC)
part 15a
*

Ursula has been fond of Hollis and Byron for the past few years, for as long she’s known them. She doesn’t let on much, of course; reputation to uphold. But they’re both a bit like brothers, she thinks—Byron like a younger tagalong type who needs a bit of looking after, though she does not know which of them is actually younger, and Hollis like the estranged eldest who tries and often fails to understand what his younger fellows are going through. She’s getting all of this from stories, books; she has never had brothers, so she does not know for certain.

She also isn’t sure how to reconcile this fondness with the fact that Hollis is obviously cracking under the burden of leadership he never asked for--Gardner is ostensibly in charge, but he is useless at the moment, flopping about in his grief--and Byron is now wiedergänger: a revenant, a ghoul. Something out of childhood stories, told to frighten little girls to sleep.

She steals a swig of Hollis’s whiskey when he excuses himself to the other room, and thinks: the same way she has reconciled going on with the daily grind of life when such an important part of it is missing. She will not allow her grief to render her useless.

So: the cans and supplies. Swinging the cabinet doors open, she stacks them up inside. They’re not sorted but they have no labels and anyway, food is food; people can cope.

“Oh,” a voice comes from behind her somewhere. Sally. Ursula sighs, presses her eyes closed; the can in her hand rests just on the ledge inside the cabinet. It must look like she is simply being indecisive about where it belongs. “I didn’t realize anyone was in here--”

“I was just finishing up,” Ursula says back, and a perfunctory coolness is all she can muster right now. There’s no energy for anything else.

“I wasn’t intending to stay,” Sally says, with a light disdain that says that the kitchen is no place for her, that she has better places to be. But it’s just as hollow, and when she’s drawn herself a glass of water at the sink she settles down at the table regardless.

Ursula lowers herself into another chair, considering the remaining cans as if there’s something she can divine by staring at them. Ridiculous, but she still turns one around and around, shiny metal glinting in the overhead light.

“In the stories,” Sally says, between careful sips of water; contamination is a real worry. “They always come back to avenge themselves, or a murdered lover, or... something. Some reason.”

Ursula lifts her eyebrows, looks up from the can. She can’t feel the expression on her face.

It must be sharp, because now Sally looks annoyed. “Sorry. Just trying to make conversation.”

A handwave, permissive. “It’s fine.” It isn’t. “Go on.”

For a second, it looks like Sally won’t, but then she sighs; her expression softens. She looks toward the boarded up window. “Just that there’s so many of them out there. How can they all have a reason?”

“They’re all dead, and they don’t want to be. Maybe that’s reason enough?”

“People die all the time,” Sally muses, and Ursula feels a twitch in her eyelid and then it’s like Sally’s brain catches up to her mouth and she realizes what she’s said. “Oh...I didn’t mean--”

“No,” Ursula says,snappish. “You did. And despite being staggeringly insensitive, you’re also right. People die all the time, in more mundane circumstances than this.”

Silence, for a long while, broken only by Sally sipping at her water. Odd silence; actually; the creatures haven’t given up battering on these windows for the last three days. Why now, suddenly?

“I’m sure you’ll find her,” Sally says, the sentiment a poor fit for her voice after years of casual derision. “We thought Byron was gone too--”

“He was gone, and still is.” It feels wrong, using these words; they’re betrayal words. “And at the same time, was never out of our sight.”

“He’s... he’s your friend, though.” She sounds confused. "I thought you'd be happy..."

“Oh, I am. Of course I am.” Just not happy enough to overcome other sadnesses. “And I suppose you think we make an even better match now. The funeral director and the walking corpse.”

Sally coughs like she wants to laugh, like she isn’t sure if it’ll come out too cruel.
etherati
May. 23rd, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC)
part 15b
“We had plans, Byron and I, for this Friday.” Ursula picks a can up, sets it on top of another. They don’t nest; their rims are bent all out of shape from long storage. “What is today, even?”

“Saturday, I think.”

She clicks her tongue. “Missed chances. And Dawn and I were going to see a film tonight, I suppose. Some romantic nonsense at the Regent.”

Sally taps her fingers on the glass, visibly uncomfortable.

“Do you know,” Ursula finds herself asking before she can think better of it, “what ‘let’s do it tomorrow’ means?”

“I’m too busy today?” Sally tries, and there’s the cruelty Ursula’s used to, just a twist of it.

“No.” The third can sits precariously, all of its stability contingent on those supporting it. “It means ‘I hope tomorrow comes.’”

No response to that, and Ursula isn’t waiting for one--she’s already turned back to the cabinets, finishing the job she started. The tower of cans is disassembled, one at a time.

“I thought you said,” she says over her shoulder, “that you weren’t staying?”

She hears the chair legs scrape and Sally mumbling something under her breath, something that sounds like to hell with you and sounds like I tried. And Ursula has to lean her forehead on the back of her hand for a minute, there against the cabinet door, because yes, she did try--

But what makes her think, with the dead outside waiting to judge their every mistake and one of their number verifiably killed in action and the common room covered in blood like a grisly expressionist painting, that trying is enough?

*
lawnnun
Jun. 25th, 2013 11:06 pm (UTC)
Re: part 15b
Ah, the sweet, sweet feeling of a Bedchel test pass. I love how you write these two and their utter failure to get along.
turbo_is_faster
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:12 pm (UTC)
This is amazing, and I really hope you find the energy to come back to it at some point, because all these hanging threads and empty hearts, all these arms that are reaching out to find something to hold on in this time of need --- the undercurrent of violence that is only mentioned and never directly viewed, the threat and tension that bleeds into this exhausted acceptance, the lingering questions of who is left and what is left and what will be left when it's all over and how, if at all, they'll get through this, the will-they-or-won't-they, the fragility of this separate peace --- all of this is crafted so carefully and so perfectly that it cannot languish unattended in this un-dead stasis forever. You are a master with your words; I felt like clutching at your petticoats on the WM:KM, and it's so exciting to see some new life in old work on AO3. Perhaps that unknown current of energies might re-infuse this work with new life, so we might see it rise again. You understand so perfectly that zombie fiction is less about the question of death and the dead among us, and more about what life even means when it ends and when it continues on. The tastes of these desperately-lived lives is just pure divinity.
etherati
Jul. 16th, 2015 01:28 am (UTC)
Wow, crazy timing! I just decided yesterday that I had a weird urge to work on this, so you're getting your request basically the next day, haha.

And, thank you, seriously. I never expected to get this serious and deep a commentary on this fic, because I felt like people weren't taking it too seriously, but it's not like I ever write anything without TRYING, you know?

Zombies tell us a lot about death but also a lot about life, imo.
etherati
Jul. 16th, 2015 03:02 am (UTC)
part 16a
*
AN: This seems like a good spot to point out that for various reasons, I’m playing pretty fast and loose with the canon/timeline.
*

Sally spends the five-minute’s walk downstairs to the basement armory fluttering between anger at Zandt for being so damned abrasive and unforgiving all the time and shame at herself for not being the better person. It’s not something she usually concerns herself with when dealing with this particular annoyance, but goodness, she’s lost people too—everyone has. There’s a point where being a grown adult means letting people do the things that annoy you because their position is so bad that anything they do is forgivable.

Then there’s Eddie, grinning up at her from the low bench near the gun rack when she walks in, and all thoughts of tolerating people’s bullshit go right out of her head.

“Mornin’, sunshine,” he says, dropping the last round into the frankly massive revolver he’s been carrying around. He gives the cylinder a theatrical spin and snaps it into place.

Sally rolls her eyes, goes to the next cabinet over. Pulls down a heavy box of shotgun shells, then another, contemplating shot versus slugs. She’s never been much of a gun person, doesn’t know much about them, but circumstances have a way of making a person reevaluate, sometimes.

“You looking to make as much a mess of ‘im as possible,” Eddie says from behind her, and god but she’s got to stop letting people sneak up like this, “Or put ‘im down quiet and fast?”

Sally closes her eyes, counts to three. “Who’s ‘him’?”

A huff of laughter she can just about feel on her neck. “Them. Sorry. The ones outside?”

She sighs, frustrated. There are times when she almost—but then he’s got to go and turn creepy on her. On all of them. That business in the kitchen, for instance, and she’s suddenly got a headache, a sharp throb between her eyes.

“The side door is what we’re worried about, I think.” She turns around so that she’s facing him, both boxes still in hand.

He seems to notice the awkwardness of how close he’s hovering all at once, and he backs away until he’s leaning against the explosives locker, the one that’s been mostly empty for two years. This isn’t much of an armory, really, and this is a dance. One step, two. Turn. He grins, stretches, tries to look unruffled, like a cat might after it’s fallen off of something.

“So,” he says, smooth as anything; on another day, she might have noticed how precious he is when he’s pretending to not be afraid. “That’s a choke point. They can only get through one at a time.”

“I guess so, yes.”

“Slugs, then,” he says gesturing to the box in her right hand. “And a good aim.”

“I’ve got that.” She does; it’s almost frightening what a natural she’s turned out to be. “Anything else?”

“A willingness to take the shot.”

“Why would that be an issue?”

“Because,” he says, holstering the pistol, “This all might hit closer to home than we’re expecting.”

A careful pause, as Sally fingers one of the shells, loose in the torn-open box. Then she laughs, sharp.

“Eddie,” she says, and she shouldn’t be smiling because this isn’t funny. “I’m not going to stand here and talk with you about murdering one of our teammates. And if you think I’m going to be a nice quiet little lamb about it...”

Maybe that’s what’s funny. She closes the box, presses her thumbs in over the lid--moves to push past him, on her way out. Is stopped with a jolt when he reaches out and grabs hold of her arm. It’s not hard enough to hurt, but—“Let go.”
etherati
Jul. 16th, 2015 03:03 am (UTC)
part 16b
“I’m not talking about murder,” Eddie says, cajoling, pitched low to avoid eavesdroppers. “What kind of monster do you think I am?”

Sally pulls her arm against his grip; he relents, lets it go. Holds the hand palm out, placating. “I’m just talking about defending ourselves. Responding to a threat, when it presents itself.”

“When.”

“Yeah,” he says, and he’s not even hiding the fear, now. “Not if. When. He’s going to turn on us, and when he does, someone’s gonna need to pull the trigger.”

Sally chews on her lip, gives it a few seconds’ honest thought despite the distastefulness of what he’s proposing. The rules have changed a lot in the last week, and there are concerns beyond good taste.

“Nelson’s military,” she says, musing. “And Hollis has his service revolver—”

Hollis is a lost cause,” Eddie sneers. “He’ll stand behind his dead little buddy until it’s his turn to get eaten, and then it’ll be too late. And don’t get me started on Captain fucking Pisspants.” He knocks on the side of his head. “Nothing upstairs, nobody home.”

Sally narrows her eyes. “That isn’t fair,” she says, “You know he—”

“If he’s so busy mooning over his fucking boyfriend that it gets the rest of us killed, believe me, honey—fair is the last thing I’m gonna care about.” Eddie shakes his head, lowers his voice another notch. “No, it’s gonna come down to you and me.”

Despite her public persona and the frills that go with it, Sally is not a frail woman. The box in her hand still feels heavier than it should, heavy enough to weigh her down to the ground. The casings jostle against each other when she shifts it side to side.

“If someone threatens any of us,” she says, “Anyone. And I have a shot, I’ll take it.”

A smile so wide and so sunny he really looks like the teenager he is, for a moment; he’s good at faking sincerity. She smiles back, not hiding the sharpness. She’s never had a thing for masks, and anyone means anyone.

“So how you doin’ otherwise, darlin’?” he asks, riding out that smile for all it’s worth. “Holding up?”

She sighs. “As well as anyone. I managed to get a hold of Larry before the phones went down and he said he’d try to track down my folks, since I have no idea where they even are anymore. I think he’s putting a call in to Bill’s family, too.”

“The hell is he, anyway?”

“Upstate, I think. Visiting with his lawyer, he said.”

“Must be nice, sitting out the fight.”

“Oh, come on now,” Sally says, laughing a little. “It’s not like he knew this was about to happen. Besides, the way this is spreading, I doubt anyone will be sitting it out for much longer.”

She flips the box in her hands open, idly counts the shells for something to do. It’s only when she gets to fifteen that she realizes the room’s gone quiet. She glances up to see Eddie looking down and off to the side a little, anxiety screwing up his face, and like the fear—this is real.

“Yes,” she says, because it bears repeating even if he doesn’t want to hear it. “It’s going to be everywhere, they’re saying.”

He looks up, takes a breath through his nose. The anxiety breaks into a grin like it’s the only shape it knows. “Makes you wonder what the fuckin’ punchline’s gonna be,” he says, laughing it off. But it isn’t funny, and they both know it.

Then: a wrenching from upstairs, a repetitive shriek of twisting wood. Raised voices, anger escalating very quickly into panic.

“Oh god,” she says, and Eddie swears something foul and jams the revolver into his belt.

They take the stairs at a run.

*

Edited at 2015-07-16 03:10 am (UTC)
etherati
Jul. 16th, 2015 03:08 am (UTC)
part 17a
*

There’s a moment, Byron turned away to dig through his closet for something that doesn’t come covered in belt straps and wings of varying degrees of usefulness—practical clothing is in short supply around here right now, and there may be a time for heroism again soon but right now they just need to give the monsters less to grab onto—when Bill lets himself have a little bit of a breakdown.

It’s an abbreviated thing: just a flare-up of emotion, a blend of pain and relief and revulsion and gratitude and heart-stopping panic. He lets himself feel the terror and everything else, lets it wash over and crest and recede while he bites down on the ridge of his knuckles, presses his eyes closed. Then he puts it away again.

“Any luck?” he asks, over his shoulder.

“Not... as such.” A deliberate sigh. “Didn’t ever expect to get stranded here for very long, you know?”

“Six days’ worth of liquor,” Bill deadpans, “But a change of pants? That would be excessive.”

“Hah, exactly.”

More rustling, and Byron’s only visible from the waist down; he’s digging deep. Miscellaneous objects that really have no place in a closet—a lamp, a pillow, a curtain rod, a box of crackers—rain down, tossed out over his shoulder. Speaking of which... “Where’s your gun?”

The rustling stills, aside from the delayed thud of a displaced boot falling from somewhere high. It’s comical. “Why?”

“To defend yourself with? We’re still under siege here, it’s just a matter of when they bust through.”

“There’s a reason,” the voice echoes out of the closet, muffled, “that I didn’t take it out there with me. It’s useless against them.”

“Actually, the radio’s saying that if you manage to get a head shot—”

“Bill.” A pause, and then Byron backs out of the closet. He’s got what looks like a pair of black work pants in his hands, wrinkled from being balled up in the corner. “There’s never been anything but blanks in that thing.”

Cover me, he remembers saying two weeks ago, about to duck into a building on the trail of money-launderers. Byron had laughed, and it hadn’t made sense at the time, and no one had been hurt but Bill still feels his mouth fall open, can’t quite find the words.

Byron shakes his head a little, grins. “What, you don’t know me well enough to know that? Why would I carry a loaded gun? Would I ever use it?”

“No,” Bill says, because he does know better. “You wouldn’t.”

“It’s to scare people. Make the crooks think twice about pulling their own. Keep things from escalating, drawing innocents in. That’s it.”

So, yeah. Useless, because these things don’t scare, even if they should, even if they can be killed just like any other wild animal. It reminds him of the year there’d been rabies loose in the coyote packs, and how grim an affair dinnertime had become. Three today, his father would report, dutiful, stinking of blood and gunpowder. One of them was in with the sheep.
etherati
Jul. 16th, 2015 03:09 am (UTC)
part 17b
“All right, well,” Bill says, not sure if he should be feeling betrayed or not. He nods to the pants, kind of remembers the undercover mission they must be from. “Did you find anything to go with that?”

“Not yet. Seems like everything else is costume parts.”

“What’s this?” Bill reaches into the pile, picks up a rejected garment at random. How anyone can be so picky about what they wear is beyond him. “Wouldn’t this wor—oh.” He holds it up, narrows his eyes. It’s just a plain black shirt with a high neck, but... “This is way too small for you.”

“It’s... borrowed. One night when we were going out, and I didn’t have time to go home first.”

“This would have looked ridiculous.”

“It was very popular, actually.” The suggestive wink doesn’t work as well with just the one eye. “Anyway, it was a dare.”

Fine—Bill tosses it aside. “What about this?” he asks, picking up another wrinkled mess of cloth. Shaken out, it’s the electrician’s shirt that went along with the pants. Now he remembers more about that case; he’s still got a full plumber’s getup stashed away somewhere.

Byron grins. “Ah, the uniform of the working class. Dignified as always.” He’s right; the thing is a horrid shade of puke-green and mustard, but who the heck cares?

“Got any better options?” Bill challenges.

“Nope. Electrician for hire it is.”

“Okay, then—” and he’s about to suggest Byron make a visit to the downstairs showers, because he really does reek—mostly blood and adrenaline and fear, but it’s still pungent and unpleasant—when there’s a sudden shouting from the hallway outside.

“Damn it,” he mutters, balling up the shirt and tossing it vaguely in Byron’s direction. He’s halfway to the door when the general alarm goes up, a drunken-sounding klaxon. “Go on, get those on.”

“Uh...”

Bill throws the bolt, turns back to see Byron gesturing vaguely at himself, distressed. He’s never been one for privacy before, but now—

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Bill says, and he shouldn’t talk like that but circumstances are what they are and no one’s shut off the siren, which means it’s probably for real. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen, just get dressed.”

“I just—”

“By,” he says, trying to be patient while the racket outside intensifies. “We are being attacked.”

Byron nods, drops the robe, shimmies into the pants and shirt as quickly as he can—the grotesquery of his condition disappearing under rolls of fabric.

Scooping up a pair of boots by two fingers, Bill tosses them toward Byron, and they head, together, for the door.

*
etherati
Jul. 16th, 2015 03:10 am (UTC)
part 18
*

It's the side stairwell—the goddamned side stairwell Hollis had been worried about, had been so hesitant to bring up because he figured it was a sign of a depressing inevitability still safely several days out. Not a crisis that would come to its head today.

God damn it, god damn it!

And no, his internal monologue isn't particularly sophisticated at the moment, but it can be forgiven given that he's currently throwing all of his weight against the stairwell door while it buckles and groans, pale hands and arms slithering through places where the wood's given out to scrabble over him and over... Nelson, he thinks, and Ursula—with fingernails that are perfectly human but look and feel, in this adrenaline-fueled moment, like nothing so much as claws.

He's shouting, and the others are too, voices overlapping and blending, and the wood keeps breaking and he can feel the hands all over him and all he can think is just hold, just hold it a little longer, a little longer, like some kind of reprieve is actually coming, like this assault will end if only some timer somewhere would hurry up and run down.

He's a god-damned fool.

But it's that foolishness, propped up by Gardner's strength and Ursula's sheer stubbornness, that keeps the door from caving in for another thirteen seconds—just long enough for Eddie and Sally to come barrelling up from the basement and for Eddie to gape for a second before Sally levels the shotgun at the door and, as a consequence, right at the three of them.

"Duck," she says, clean and easy, like this is nothing. And Hollis does.

*

He'd assume the other two duck out of the way too, because as much as Sal doesn't always get along with them at times, he really doubts she'd stoop to friendly fire this early in the game. And it is early days, still; the situation's going to get worse before it gets better and they're going to have a lot of metaphorical ground to cover.

But these are thoughts for later—right now, all Hollis can process is the ear-splitting thoom of the shotgun going off and the wind at his back as the slug flies over and past him, through the door and onward. And oh, thank god she's not using shot—there's no amount of ducking that would help then—but it keeps happening, and he just digs his heels in and, hunched over like this, does the best he can to hold the door in place as it slowly goes to splinters.

The weight on it is lessening, though, the assault more erratic. Pretty soon they'll have a window to—

There's a hand grasping him by the wrist, and the shooting's stopped even though the creature's are still there, are still groping feebly at his clothing and limbs, and at first he thinks it's one of them, but.

But it's too strong, too sure, and when he cranes his neck up from where he's bent double, it's Bill. He has his other hand on Ursula's elbow; Nelson's closest to the wall, looks like he's making ready to dive for that cover at any moment.

The door bows behind him under a powerful bodyslam, creaking and groaning, and it's going to come off its hinges at any moment and then—then they will be in god damned trouble.

Hollis peers over Bill's shoulder, sees Sally still holding aim, sees Eddie pointing his revolver at the door too; sees Byron, of all people, standing there with the goddamned black iron poker from the common room fireplace like it's a sword or a baseball bat, ready to dive in and start swinging.

Maybe that's not a bad idea, maybe they won't go after him, maybe—

His hand finds the doorknob. There's no countdown—just an instinctual sense of now, and he's turning the knob and letting Bill twist their momentum off to the side, off to safety, letting the door peel open before it breaks and then—all the devils are here.

*
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what this is.


This is a fic journal for the most part, with some art on the side and a sprinkling of personal posts here and there. I don't write as much as I used to, but I try.

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