Ashleigh didn't remember falling asleep, but she woke up in a sitting position on the floor, leaning sideways against the couch with her head resting on the seat. Peter was awake, but it looked like it was only by a few seconds. Something must have woken them both up... her stomach growled again, but that wasn't it.
She got up to go check the clock, but the electricity was out. Then she remembered her phone in her pocket. It said it was just after midnight.
She glanced back at Peter, who was shaking like he was having a seizure. Bright blue blood dripped from his nose, and Ashleigh dashed back over to him with a wad of napkins to try to stifle the bleeding. Then she realized it wasn't blood, but something else entirely. She had no idea what it was exactly, but it was bright blue and translucent. Some kind of goo just pouring out of his nose.
Eventually, it stopped coming out, and Peter was left with a small trickle of normal, red blood down his lip and chin. The goo had left a nasty mess all over him and the couch, but Ashleigh didn't care.
She dabbed at the real blood, wiping away the blue shit.
"Fuck," she mumbled. "Peter, can you hear me? Are you okay?"
"What's happening?" He moaned, eyes closed tight. "My head hurts, why does it hurt?"
Ashleigh ran to the window next to the front door, and saw smoke rising from downtown. Something in her chest felt lighter, like a weight being removed.
"Something happened downtown," she said. "Maybe something to the meteor."
Her thoughts raced. "If the spores came from there, and something destroyed it, maybe that means you're okay, now! You're bleeding normally, now—"
"What are you talking about?" Peter interrupted. "What spores, what meteor?"
She froze. Did he really not remember, or was this another trick?
"Peter, what do you think of when I say the word hive?"
"I don't know," he snapped. "Bees?"
"Bees," she repeated slowly.
"Where are we? And why am I tied up?" He sounded scared.
"My place, because you tried to attack me earlier today... or yesterday, rather. It's past midnight," she mumbled the last part, trying to figure out what to do.
"What?!" Peter blanched, struggling to sit up. "I would never do that, why would I do that!"
"From what I can tell, you were possessed by some kind of alien hive mind," Ashleigh shrugged, hoping to seem calm, and went over to help him up. "You kept talking about it, insisting I had to join you and that it would fix all my family problems like it did for you and your dad."
He froze, squinting at her, and she gave him his glasses back— carefully putting them on his face so she didn't poke him in the eye. She knew how that felt.
Her name left his lips, and she sat down next to him. "You told me about your mom," she said, finally starting to believe him. "And I told you about mine. Sort of. A little bit." She shrank into herself for a moment, before moving to finally untie him.
"What, exactly, did I tell you?"
"That she left to be with her new boyfriend, and hasn't even tried to connect with you since she left," she replied, moving to the rope at his feet.
"And what did you say about yours?"
"That she's turned to drugs and alcohol since my dad died. Well, I think my exact words were alcohol and other activities," Ashleigh mumbled, "'cause it's not just drugs. She's had a lot of boyfriends... or at least, a lot of guys have come home with her."
Finished with her task, Ashleigh look back up at Peter, who pulled her into a hug. She hesitated to return it, fearful she was wrong and it was a trick, but he didn't start singing.
"What's the last thing you remember?" She mumbled into his shoulder once she returned the hug, wrapping her arms around him.
"My dad had tickets to see Mamma Mia downtown, but the theatre was destroyed by the meteor when we got there," Peter said, pulling back and straightening his glasses. Ashleigh had to straighten hers, too, and clean them of the tears clinging to them. Peter took her hand.
"I think I'm starting to remember more, though. About what you said before," he said. "I'm really sorry about the last couple years... I never wanted school to come between us, and I never meant to torture you."
That made her pause in confusion. She didn't know what he meant by that, and told him so.
"When this started, you said something about me torturing you at school and work," he explained. "I never meant to torture you. I just... didn't know what else to do anymore, I guess." He dropped her hand so he could fiddle with his own, not meeting her eyes. "I went to Beanie's just so I could see you more. And I never tipped to be an A-hole, like that other barista said to the rude guy the other day. I was trying to be nice."
"God, I've never hated people who tipped until Nora brought that stupid singing thing in last week," Ashleigh sighed. "I love singing, but I hate performing."
"I should have told you that you didn't have to sing," he said. "But I've always loved hearing your singing voice."
Ashleigh felt her cheeks heat up in a blush. "Thanks," she mumbled.
"And you were right, I never would have chosen the Hive on my own," Peter assured her. "But... there is one thing I said that I actually meant."
Ashleigh glanced at him, eyes darting all over his face as she tried to calm her racing heart. "Peter, I—"
"I've been in love with you since the fourth grade," he admitted. "It broke me when we stopped being friends, when I couldn't go to you about the drama with my mom. That's why I went to Beanie's all the time. Because, no offence, but the hot chocolate there sucks."
"So does the coffee," Ashleigh admitted with a wry grin and a sniffle. She grabbed his hands. "We need to get out of Hatchetfield, or else none of this will matter."
"How? How do we leave? The bridge was raised, and the ferries aren't running!"
Ashleigh swallowed harshly, trying and failing to come up with a plan. "We could swim to Clivesdale," she joked weakly.
"Or... my uncle still has his fishing boat," Peter countered, words coming slowly as he thought it through. "We'd have to row, but we could make it across the sound."
"Where's he docked?"
"Near the bridge," Peter answered.
"Do you think the Hive will be keeping an eye on the bridge, for people who might try to escape that way?" Ashleigh didn't want to think about what would happen if Peter got re-infected.
"No, they were too focused on getting to someone named Paul, on the other side of the island." He shook his head, standing up and pulling Ashleigh with him.
"We're doing this?" She checked, and he nodded.
"We're doing this," he confirmed.
From the very moment they stepped out of her apartment, everything was different. The street had been dead before, sure, but even when the teens were quiet, they could still hear the singing in the distance. But now? Dead silence. Not even crickets were chirping.
The only sound was a low wind rustling the leaves on the trees.
They carefully made their way through town, and Ashleigh nearly vomited when they came across the first dead body. It was a woman whose guts had been torn from her belly, pooling out in a heap around her. There were more, further down the street. Other people, in the same state.
But there were also survivors. Living people, stumbling around, who must have either not been infected, or they had been but in a different way. Anyone and everyone who was bleeding, bled red. Not blue.
"They must've been kissed," Peter muttered beside her.
"What?" She hissed.
"Some of them could spread the infection by kissing someone," Peter explained carefully. "Not all of them. Most of them had to— had to do that." He pointed to the dead woman.
"Did... did you?" Ashleigh wouldn't know how to feel if the answer turned out to be 'yes', but it didn't matter. She leaned into him some more anyway, before he answered.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I didn't infect anyone. You... you were going to be my first."
Ashleigh's breath hitched. "How?"
"I—" Peter hesitated. "I would've been able to kiss you. I was going to."
Ashleigh nodded slowly, processing. Was it weird if she still wanted him to kiss her? Not at that very moment, of course, but when she was sure they were safe. In Clivesdale.
"We should keep moving," Peter mumbled, and she nodded again, letting him lead her.
They made it to the docks without getting stopped or bothered by other survivors, and Peter helped her climb into the fishing boat. The keys to the engine were hidden and taped under one of the seats, and he started it up and steered them toward Clivesdale. Surprisingly, there were teams of emergency responders waiting on the beach— and the teens weren't the first stragglers to arrive.
Two weeks later, Ashleigh was finally let out of isolation and quarantine, and allowed to reunite with some of the other survivors, including Peter. Emma and Black Coffee Guy were among the others, both looking worse for wear but okay.
"I can't believe we made it," Paul said quietly. "After all that... we survived."
"Less than half the town did," Emma said, wincing as she shifted her weight to her bad leg. Paul helped her sit down.
"I'm never letting you not a wear a seatbelt again," Paul mumbled.
Peter hugged Ashleigh tightly. "I'm glad you're okay. The doctors said you were malnourished. Like, half starved to death."
"Yeah, money's been pretty tight lately," she admitted quietly. "Rent and school fees kinda had to come before groceries."
"Not anymore," Emma called. "You're living with me from now on. If I'd known how bad you were doing before, I would've done this sooner. I've been looking for a roommate."
Ashleigh laughed quietly. "Don't roommates usually get a choice in whether or not they're gonna live with somebody?"
"Usually," Emma allowed. "But not this time. What about you, Peter? Do you need a place to stay?"
"I... I don't know," he admitted. "I don't know where my dad is... if he made it. And my mom's out there somewhere, too. Outside of Hatchetfield."
"You don't have to live with her if she's all that's left," Ashleigh said gently. "You could emancipate, like I did."
"I'll be eighteen in just a few weeks anyway," Peter said, sighing. "Does it really matter if we're not getting out of here before then?"
"Probably not," Paul said.
Emma yawned, so Paul took her back to her room, leaving Ashleigh and Peter in hers. She laid her head on his shoulder.
"I love you, too," she mumbled. "I didn't get to say it before... I was too scared. But now that we're safe, I— I want to."
He kissed the top of her head. "I love you," he whispered. "Can I... can I kiss you? For real?"
She pulled away and grinned wryly up at him. "Like when we were thirteen?"
"Not exactly," he admitted, and cupped both sides of her face to kiss her.
It definitely wasn't like the one when they were thirteen. It was much better than that.