This was, by all accounts, a goddamn disaster.
Not only have the infection failed to be contained in Hachetfield as hoped (it certainly would've been convenient for the hivemind to be the meteor-a little too convenient for their tastes, as it turns out), the P.E.I.P. team dispatched to handle the incident had been infected as well, and had worked their way into Clivesdale. Hopefully, whatever shadowy branch of the government was in charge of the team would figure out exactly how fucked things were, and quickly. Until then, they were patrolling the hospital, looking for Kelly Nancy, the fake name assigned to the sole survivor of the Hachetfield catastrophe. The humans thought there were two survivors-Kelly, and one now known as Ben Bridges. The humans didn't know how deep the hivemind's puppets ran. But they would soon enough. She would know soon enough.
See, here's the thing-
Oh, don't mind me! he thought, gritting his teeth behind a tight smile as he shuffled past one of them. Perfectly normal meat-puppet here!
Thankfully, they still hadn't nailed replicating human emotions, so his obviously-forced smile didn't stick out too badly from the others' more-skillfully-forced smiles.
Because I am not dying in Clivesdale, he reminded himself. We agreed that was the only thing worse than dying in Hachetfield. Well, I didn't mind dying in Hachetfield so much. Though in a theatre was probably on the bottom of the list…
He kept replaying the events of that last day in Hachetfield, as much as he hated to. He had to remember. Had to keep a grip on himself.
My name is Paul Matthews. I worked at CCRP Technical. I had two coworkers I would consider my friends, and a third I didn't even know thought of me that way. All three are dead. All three were killed by those things. That's why I can't let them control me.
He held his breath as he passed two nurses. He wasn't even sure which ones were human anymore.
He forced himself to remember the bile that rose in his throat when Charlotte walked out, singing, intestines hanging from her sweater. We should've been out there. We shouldn't have left her alone with him. Now she's gone. Even then, I think I knew she was gone.
"No, no, no-"
"He has a daughter!"
Fat lot of good that little sob story did.
He bumped into someone. He hurried around them, not bothering to try to see whether they were infected or not. He didn't want to remember. Didn't want to remember holding his friend upright as the man fell to pieces-
"Bill, you're my best friend. I'm not going to let you die!"
I shouldn't have put the gun down.
-or seeing the last of his coworkers fall to what was supposed to be their rescue-
"No one else is coming, they've all been infected!"
Can't really blame Ted for leaving me to die, can I?
I don't want to think about it I don't want to think about it-
You left her.
At least you were honest.
He stumbled into a nearby, blissfully-empty room, leaning against the wall, trying to fight back the tears that were choking him as badly as the spores did.
Do you even know if she died?
He wiped his eyes, trying to catch his breath. No. That's why I need to keep it together.
Her name was Kelly Nancy. He didn't know who she used to be. The hivemind probably did. That was probably why they were sending him. Or maybe it was just that he was their favorite. He wasn't sure which was worse to imagine.
After a moment, he was on his way again. He didn't know if he wanted it to be her. He wanted her to have made it. He didn't want her to be here. He wanted to see her again. He didn't want her to see what he had to be.
What he had let himself become.
You have to find a balancing point, he repeated to himself. You have to survive. Just long enough to save Kelly. Whoever she is.
He bit his lip as he passed Colonel Schaeffer. She smiled and said, "Good luck, Ben." He smiled and nodded back, knowing there was a good chance she'd die soon. Or that she was already a goner.
And then he saw her.
It was almost the same outfit he'd seen her in last-maybe it was the same, just cleaned back up. Her hair was tied away from her face-again. God, she barely looked any different, save for the bandages around her leg. And when she turned to face him, he could see those beautiful brown eyes light up, that grin spread across her face-a real grin, not the fakes those things put up.
And for just a moment, he felt himself smile back.
He ran to her without thinking, letting her tiny (but, as he'd seen firsthand, quite dangerous) body press close to him as she wrapped her arms around him. Oh, god, Emma, I don't want to let go, but…
And it was in that same moment he could almost feel their eyes on him. Nobody else was in the room, but he could feel it. One wrong move, and he'd lose her again. He'd lose what he had left of himself.
He screwed his eyes shut, wanting to take a deep breath. Wanting to whisper an apology in her ear. But he couldn't take the risk. Couldn't let them know their favorite player was cheating the game.
So instead, he just opened his mouth and began to sing.
If he was being honest, he wasn't entirely sure how he was getting away with this.
He had a feeling it had something to do with the fact that they liked him. He knew that-for some reason-they'd decided he was the 'hero' in this little show of theirs; the central character, the one to change everything. Maybe that had made them complacent-so proud of their protagonist that they weren't paying enough attention.
There was another possibility, and one he honestly preferred-that he'd been such a pain in the ass to recruit that they were just grateful to have him. Like having spent so long on a report that you don't bother hitting spell-check before you send it in. (Not that he'd done that before.) The thought that the planet-invading aliens were getting lazy was kinda comforting, and the thought that it was because he made that big of an ass out of himself was surprisingly… fulfilling. Good to know that his stubborn, nearly-lifelong insistence on not acknowledging his emotions did him some good.
Now, there was a third choice. And that was that he wasn't fooling them-that they knew what he was doing, and were letting him play things out for… some reason. Probably so they could tear him to pieces-emotionally, literally, or both-down the line. And that wasn't something he wanted to think about.
Especially not here and now.
He was really glad that he wasn't in complete control-he wouldn't have been able to fake this smile himself.
But this part was going to have to be him.
"If we get out of this, I would love to just see a nice, silent movie with you. But in case we don't… kiss me?"
Well, I can't make good on that deal.
He blinked a few times, trying to clear his mind. He coughed quietly, trying to ignore the thick, neon blue goo that dribbled down his chin as he did.
But I'll at least make sure you get out of here.
"Excellent work, everybody!" He clapped as hard as he could, not daring to turn and face them, lest they see right through him. "All of you, take your bows, you've earned it!"
He could almost hear the confusion, and for a few tense seconds, he thought they wouldn't follow through. But to his relief, the hivemind's obsession with a good show won out, and he heard a smattering of applause and cheers from behind him. He sighed softly, then forced a grin and spun around, clapping along. He looked around the group (Six of them here, and I worked with three of them…), pointedly not looking in her direction, giving her a chance to-
The applause was cut through by a yelp of pain, and six heads spun just in time to watch the nurse get shoved sideways, crashing into what used to be Mr. Davidson.
"Oh my goodness!" Paul made a show of helping the two up, giving her another moment to limp away. Emma Perkins, you wonderful fiend… "Are you two alright?" He saw one of the others make a move out of the corner of his eye, and he yelled-a bit too loudly-"No, no, I'll get her!"
He felt them turn to him, and he held his breath. Then, he added, "I mean, she's… special to me! I'd like a moment alone with her, I'm sure I can convince her to join us!" He didn't stick around long enough to see how they reacted, but they didn't follow, at least. "All of you stay right there!" he added over his shoulder, and then he ran.
Ok. Ok. Ok. I can work with this. He rounded a corner, trying to steel his nerves. He passed a confused-looking nurse, flashing her a forced grin as he passed. I have to do this, Ok? Ok. Another corner, then a T-shaped split in the halls. He heard a slam to his right, and turned that way. He took a moment to look around, then he sighed in relief. This portion of the hospital seemed to be empty... Maybe that was why she'd turned this way?
But I gotta find a way to get her out of here. He knew he couldn't save everyone. Hell, he didn't even know which ones were still human, and there was no easy way to check without blowing his own cover. So he had to focus on the one he knew was human, had to get her out of here.
He wrung his hands as he walked down the hall. Oh, and how do you plan to get her out of here, anyway? He asked himself. And even if you do, how is she supposed to survive the world now, as possibly the last human on earth?
He froze, noticing out of his peripheral vision that one of the doors on the right was closed. Well, we can figure that out in a moment.
He stared at it for a moment, trying to work up the nerve to open it. She was hiding in there, he knew it. Scared, heartbroken (I didn't think you'd take it that hard), but likely ready to fight. He was going to have to keep her from causing a scene, in case they came to help him.
One hand rested on the doorknob. Christ, what was he supposed to say? What even could be said? Would she even believe him? It would be smart of her not to, but then he would have an even harder time getting her out safely.
You have to do this, he told himself. Get it together and open the fucking door-
Just a supply closet.
He sighed. Well, all that buildup for nothing, then. He glanced sideways, and saw the four identical doors further down the hallway. Maybe one of them?
He rested his hand on the next door, holding his breath. Man, who designs a hospital like this? Nobody. Next door. This whole thing feels like a fucked up nightmare. Nobody in that one, either. Why am I even trying? She's probably-
It was the quietest noise, but it was enough to shake him out of his thoughts. His eyes fell to the small figure curled up on the floor, pressed against the wall two feet back in the tiny closet. He saw the glint of something metal in her hands, clutched close to her chest. Then he forced himself to look up a bit more, at the wide, glistening brown eyes that held his stare.
Just saying her name seemed to scare her even more. She shook her head, pushing herself further backwards. "St… Stay back." She didn't yell it; instead, it came out at a soft whimper. As Paul shifted in place, he could make out-in the harsh white light that shone from behind him-the shape of a scalpel in her fists.
Impulsively, and trying to lighten the mood, he muttered, "Y'know, uh, fighting those things off with a surgical tool isn't the best plan I've ever heard. N-not the worst, but…" He trailed off, shaking his head. No, no, Paul, you idiot, what were you thinking? That's what you're gonna open with?!
Emma stared up at him for a moment longer, then sighed. "No, it's not." There was a silence, where Paul would readily admit later on he was too dense to understand what was happening until she already had the scalpel moving to her throat.
In that moment, all pretenses of stealth were thrown out the window, as he couldn't stop himself from screaming "NO!" as he dove forward, almost falling on top of Emma as he tried to wrestle the blade from her hand. For a moment, the two fought, a series of expletives ringing out, somehow not alerting any of them as to the trouble. Finally, it was cut short-
Paul went still when he felt the blade go into his chest. Not very deep-there was a limit to how deep it could go-but he saw the look in Emma's eyes, the survival instinct mixed with an undercurrent of rage, and he had a feeling that one wrong move would send it in a few more inches.
Well, guess you better have a plan now, Matthews! "Emma, listen…" He coughed, hoping-for once-that it was just from the infection, as opposed to blood in his lungs. "I-I know this doesn't look good, b-but please, I need you to stay alive, okay? I-"
His first thought was Yeah, no shit? You stabbed me! But then he reached up, brushing his shirt just enough to get some blood on his fingers. Some crimson red blood… "Oh, yeah, they don't normally do that, do they?" He chuckled to himself, then looked back up at Emma, who was staring ahead in silence, gears visibly turning in her head. "Uh, don't feel too bad about it, though! I probably deserved that. Letting you think I was… One of them. I-I know that was a dick move, to put it lightly, but…" He dropped his hands from her shoulders (he hadn't even noticed he was still holding onto her), wringing them together in front of himself, eyes wandering down to watch them. Yup, his stress-rambling was at a new high now. "Well, the other option was them killing both of us, which I figured was still a worse fate than this. Not that this was good by any means, but-"
"Shut-" With a surprising amount of force, he lurched backwards as Emma flung herself into him, careful to lean on his left side to avoid the wound. He gasped, then heard her sniffling against his neck. "Shut the fuck up, Paul."
"Oh." God, that's the worst possible answer. He gingerly wrapped his arms around her, one hand resting on the back of her head. "I'm… I'm sorry, Emma. It… It was the only choice I had. I'm sorry."
"Quit apoligizing, you fucking jackass."
A pause. "Getting mixed signals off of that one."
She laughed dryly, and he felt a tug on the back of his jacket. "How the fuck- What, you came up with all that yourself, or-?"
"Well, I'm… not as safe as I would like to be…" Paul leaned away, pushing a bit of loose hair from Emma's face as he did. God, she was crying… That really did make him feel like a jackass. But he could see the delight in her eyes, even as she was fighting not to smile, not yet. "Some of those… spores" (even the word was gross) "got into me, and they were able to control me… for a little." He sighed, shaking his head. "But sometime after destroying the Starlight Theater, I felt like I… woke up. I have to keep fighting it, and…" He shrugged, trying to fight back the annoyance in his voice. "I can't fake it perfectly, so I have to… give up just a bit of control to blend in sometimes."
"Oh, you mean the singing thing?" He sighed and nodded, and Emma continued, "What, the guy who doesn't like musicals can't write a song on the fly? Stop the presses!"
"Look, it's not like I have anything against music as an art, I just-" He cut himself off when Emma leaned forward again, this time with her arms wrapped loosely around his waist and her face pressed into his shoulder. He blinked in confusion-he wasn't exactly used to this kind of intimacy, hadn't really engaged in it since his early twenties. Not that he had a problem with it, which was something he remembered as he leaned in to rest his head against hers and wrapped his left arm tightly around her again. "Like I said, if they found out, they were gonna finish the job, so-"
"Hey, I'll send you my therapy bill. And to be fair, I'm the one who sent you in there. It's kinda my fault."
"No, no-" Paul lifted Emma's chin, locking eyes with her. He tried for his best 'stern but kind' look, though he wasn't sure he was succeeding. "Don't say that, alright? We didn't really have any other choice."
"Well, shit, not like it fuckin' worked anyway, right?!" Emma's voice cracked at the end, and Paul gently grabbed her shoulders. "It fuckin'- didn't work, and they got across the bridge, and now-"
"Hey, hey." She stopped, looking up to meet Paul's eyes. "I don't know why it didn't work. That might've even been the right answer, but they figured us out- I don't know. All I can say is that I hope that the P.E.I.P. figured out something was wrong."
"Well, your little show wasn't very subtle…" Emma mused.
"And I told them all to, y'know-" he waved his hands, "take a break after working so hard, so there probably wasn't much more carnage."
Emma nodded. "Yeah, I… I hope you're right." She winced and added, "Sorry about the... scalpel… stabbing."
"Hm?" Paul looked down at his chest with a small "oh!" He grabbed the handle, muttering, "Yeah, uh, like I said, probably had that coming."
"Whoa, hey-" Emma put her hands on top of his, hissing, "I didn't mention it 'cause I didn't want you to panic, but you can't just yank that shit out!"
"Uh, don't worry." Without thinking, he took her hands in his. "I still have some of that weird alien healing, so I just don't want my chest closing up around it." I'm already probably gonna need grenade fragments fished out of me, he thought bitterly, but she didn't need to hear that part.
Emma stared at him incredulously for a moment, then shook her head. "Alright, fair enough." She looked down at their hands, then said, "Will you have to… lose control over yourself for a bit to do that?"
Oh, shit. He bit his lip, thinking for a moment. "Now that you say it… probably." He sighed. "So we've gotta get you out of here first."
"Right." Emma winced as she pushed herself to her feet, using the top of Paul's head as a handrest to help herself up at one point in the process. (Paul, to his credit, was a team player and didn't say a word when she did.) "Soooo, how the fuck do we do that?"
Paul was just about to admit that he had no fucking idea when he heard a noise from back the derection he'd come. "What was…" Emma took his hands and helped him to his feet, and he led the way out of the closet. The two stood still for a moment, straining their ears. Gunfire.
"Holy shit," Emma gasped, and Paul felt her grip on his hand tighten. "The army. Did they-"
"Either that, or those things found a few firearms." Paul didn't sound convinced, though. Mostly because he really wanted to be wrong. He turned back to Emma, grabbing her shoulders. "Run, go meet up with them. If they're human, then you're safe. If not, then come back this way. I'll cover for you."
"Well, aren't you coming with?!"
Paul shook his head. "I… I still have the infection in me. The smart thing to do would be to kill me, just in case." He took a deep breath, fidgeting with his jacket, trying not to disturb the scalpel still stuck in his chest. "And I'm… not in the mood to die anymore. I mean, I think I've burned through all my selflessness." And I still have someone to live for.
Emma nodded. "Alright, ok, ok. Just-" She stood up on her toes and grabbed his face. "Be careful, alright?" He nodded, smiling. She smiled back, then leaned closer, her eyes falling closed-
"Uh, no-" Paul put his hand up over her mouth quickly. "That- that's a bad plan."
"Oh." Emma landed back on her feet, then said, "Look, if I'm reading this situation all wrong, just tell me, alright? I- I'll admit that I fucked up-"
"Nonono, you're reading it right," Paul said quickly, taking one of her hands in his. "It's just…" It was then that he started coughing, and he doubled over.
"Paul?" Through the wave of nausea and dizziness, he heard Emma's voice, and felt her hands on his shoulders. "Are you- Fuck!"
He took a few deep breaths, and when he glanced up, he saw the relief wash over her face. He also saw the blue shit he'd coughed up onto her shirt. "Y-yeah," he muttered sheepishly. "Again, still infected… Don't get that into any… orifices, open wounds or anything…"
"Alright, yeah, that's fair." Emma nodded. While Paul was still bent over and regaining his bearings, she turned towards the hallway and listened. "Hey, Paul?"
He felt her hand on his chin, and his head was tilted up to face her. "I have to go, alright? You find someplace safe to hide."
"M-hm." He nodded, and Emma tilted his head back and forth. "Emma, what-"
"Yeah, forehead looks clear, at least." And she leaned in, pushing a tiny bit of hair from in front of his eyes and placing a light kiss on his forehead. "Take care of yourself."
"Yeah." He wasn't really thinking at the moment. He was, understandably, a little distracted, looking at Emma's proud-almost cocky-face, the grin on her face, the friendly gleam in her eyes. It wasn't until he heard yelling voices approaching that he snapped back to reality, stumbling backwards into the closet.
He strained his ears, listening to the voices outside.
"Halt! Wait… Kelly?"
"N- Yeah, sure. I'm clear! They nearly got me, but-"
"Calm down. If you really are clear, we'll figure that out in a moment." The other voice softened. Get over here, kid."
Soft laughter. "Oh, gladly."
"Wait- and how do you know that I'm clear?"
"In my experience, those things aren't great at faking a person's mannerisms. Like their anxiety."
He waited for a moment as the voices faded out, then he opened the door and slid out. He almost slipped on something, looking down to see a pile of white fabric with neon blue smeared on it. Where did-
"Did she just take her shirt off?" He muttered in disbelief. Oh, who was he kidding? This shouldn't be a surprise. This was Emma Perkins.
He smiled, ever so slightly chuckling to himself. Goddamn, guess I sure know how to pick 'em, huh?
"You forgot to check the rest of the hallway!"
"Shit, sorry, Colonel!"
"Oh, fuck-" Paul glanced over his shoulder, but thankfully didn't see any shadows on the wall yet. Still had time. And while he had no issue becoming a test subject for a cure, he wanted there to be a cure in the works before he became a lab rat.
Oh well, he thought to himself, trying not to smile as he hurried the other way, looking for a window or back entrance. I have at least one person who will vouch for me over there. And she'll be waiting for me.
And I'll see you then, Emma.
*rolls chair in*
*sips my drink*
...The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals has broken me.
I've only been hit this hard by the write-for-this-thing stick twice in the past, and both spawned (albeit not-yet-finished) multi-chapter stories. I don't know if I'll go that far with this? I definitely have ideas, though.
Also, I haven't watched Black Friday yet! I was reeling from TGWDLM's ending for a week before I started writing this, and basically decided that finishing this would mark the ending of my grieving period. By the time you're reading this, I'll probably have done it.
(oh, and re: the first fandom I wrote so much for, apparently my socially-awkward-and-often-nervous-but-will-put-themselves-at-risk-of-death-for-others-and-honestly-I-thought-they-would-survive-how-dare-you character bias is still alive and well since my early Five Nights days b/c *throws one arm Paul* My Boi Now.)
(I also just realized that I misspelled Hatchetfield every damn time... but I'm too lazy to fix it, sorry)