I asked Dani if I should drive. He said the steering was easier in the jeep so he was fine. I glanced at his arm laying still across his rifle in his lap. What we had fixed back at the storage was quick and only temporary. He would have to get stitches, something I had not learned how to do nor knew if I could stomach sticking a needle through someone's flesh. Dani took the road and recognized where we had come onto it, the tire tracks still in the mud. We'd have to erase those tracks eventually, i thought. If we make it out of this, I added.
I must of dozed off, because when i looked up after feeling Dani pull to a slow stop, I could see patches of the stone walls of the castle through the trees past the valley. The sun was high over head by now, taken us almost half a day to get back.
He had stopped just shy of the tree-line, avoiding the open valley and attention. Both he and I scanned the trees around us looking for movement. We both knew the city was the worst of it, but the memories of their screams, and the sight of their rotting flesh was still fresh enough on our minds to keep us just as cautious as we had been in the city. I knew it would take a week at least for me to get back into the normal routine, and stop checking around every corner, pause at every door, or every few steps. I guessed it would be the same for Dani.
We saw nothing.
Dani looked over at me, my arms wrapped tightly around the black bag that held our salvation. He looked at my eyes, still a little red, but the dark circles had been reduced to sleep deprivation. Color had fully returned to my face after the long trip and apparent nap. His eyes wondered to my chest, watching me breath steady. From the side of my eye i could see him looking at me, as if waiting for me to say or do something. I kept my eyes on the trees around us.
"we can't leave the Jeep out here." i said. Dani nodded, finally leaning back in his seat.
"Can we hide it?" he asked.
"The mill foundation." Dani said, "where i was bitten. you remember?"
"Will the jeep fit through the doors?"
"Let's hope." I said. Dani started the car up, and I cursed the engine for being so loud. Dani drove behind the tree line as far as we could and then stopped once the wall of the encampment was in sight. From where they sat, they could see the heavy wooden doors were closed.
"Someone's inside." I said, "What now?" I licked my lips. I put the bag down by my feet and pulled the gun our cocking it. Dani gave me a nod, and quietly opened his door. I did the same.
We inched towards the encampment listening. We heard voices on the other side of the wall. More then one. Dani hissed at me and i looked oer at him. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and pulled a knife from his boot tossing it at my feet before drawing a second from his belt. I bit reluctantly, i took it up and put the gun away. I didn't know if i had the energy to do this by hand. But quieter was better. Just as we approached the wall, the door creaked. Dani and I bolted for either side pressing our backs to the wall. A figure stepped out of the door, and i recognized the jacket as one of the prison guards I had threated with a knife in exchange for the keys to the cells. I slammed my fist forward, my knife going for his shoulder. But i was to slow. The boy blocked it, and rerouted my hand into the wall, smashing my fingers, the knife clattering from my grip. I yelped and Dani full on tackled the boy to the ground. He locked the boys arms to his body with his legs, one arm around his neck from behind the other holding the knife going for his chest. I saw the boys horrified face.
I jumped, and grabbed Dani's hand.
"It's Tags!" I hissed, "Stop!" I felt the muscles loosen slightly and Dani focused in on the face.
"Son of a bitch!" Tags hissed, "I can't breath!" Dani finally let Tags go.
"Hey!" A second voice tumbled out of the doors and both Dani and I snapped our guns forward. Dub through up his hands, "heeey..." he siad, "Oh hey!" when he recognized us. Dani and I lowered our weapons.
"Guys! It's Dani and Vera!" he called back through the doors.
I helped Dani to his feet as everyone piled out through the doors.
"Vee?" The low voice that met my ears made my eyes water instantly. I turned and found Alex standing in the doorway, a nasty gash above his eye and a fresh scar on his neck.
"Alex." I breathed. We ran to greet each other and his arms enveloped me in a hug.
"I thought i lost you..." he said, 'I was so worried."
"I was too." I said, "I'm sorry we took so long. It didn't go as planned..."
"It's alright. Come on, we have food and water inside. You look tired." he siad.
"i got the stuff." i said pulling away from him, "I got everything." Alex's smiled at me, but his eyes said something different.
"Good." he said, "Where's the jeep?"
"A few yards back that way..." Dani said pointing with his rifle. "I'll go..."
"I got it..." Flint said, "I'll bring it over. You look like hell man."
"I feel worse." Dani said. he lifted his sleeve and revealed the bloody mess.
"Geeze. Come inside. we'll get that fixed up."
Inside looked more like a refuge center. There were small piles of boxes everywhere, some labled and some not. I saw a few rifles leaning against a rack at the far end, and hoped that wasn't all the weapons they had. There was a small fire at the center of makeshift beds, which is where Alex lead me. I sat down by the fire and Dani sat across from me. Tags and Dub helped Flint fit the jeep through the doors and they closed it tight, setting the large wooden plank across the doors to lock it. Tags and Dub began to empty the jeep of what supplies they found and put it in teh corresponding piles around the encampment. Flint came over to the fire with a black back with a red cross on it. He unzipped it.
"First... those jackets come off." Alex said, 'We'll burn them. they stick to high heaven and their soaked."
Dani and I shredded out jackets and we gave them to Tags who took them and a bottle of gasoline and left out hte doors.
"Vee..." Alex siad, "We have a change of clothes for you..." I glanced down at my bloodied dirty shirt and jeans, and then nodded.
Alex pinned one corner of a dark blanket up on the wall and held the other end up high, giving me enough privacy to change. The clothes i had on now, were dry, clean and warm. My skin felt dirty agansit them and a hot shower crossed my mind.
"I call dibs on showers..." I muttered. I heard Alex chuckled from the other side of the blanket.
When I was done Alex let the blanket fall and gave me a new jacket. Alex tossed my clothes into a pile dumped some gasoline on them and set it a flame. I sat back down at the fire.
Dani had taken his shirt off to let Flint work on his shoulder. I tired not to let my gaze linger. He was covered in bruises and scratches both old and new, and my mind flashed back to when i had passed out in the elevator. He had taken care of me then... and probably suffered the bruises for it.
"So... tell us what happened." Alex said sitting next to me. He wrapped an arm around me and squeezed, "Tell us everything."
Dani was the one that told the story, only pausing a few times and looking at me as if he was expecting me to fill in. I starred at the fire. the story turned mute as i was lost in my own thoughts. One fight was over. But was still had two more to go. The leeches... and the infected. Could we possibly win both? Did we stand a chance against our own fortified castle when already we were beaten and bruised? They already outnumbered us... and that wasn't counting the infected, or how well supplied either of them were. We barely made it back, and it looked like the situation here hadn't improved much at all. After Dani's story. Alex told theirs.
They had raided a few of the storage rooms and stole everything that they had here. They almost lost Tags over the wall when one of the guards attempted to throw him over. Alex decided who's life would be lost, saved Tags, while the guard tumbled over the edge. Alex had gotten cornered, and that's how he got the scars. he explained to me spesifically that these guys knew stances and hits that he didn't recognize. they fought in a way that he and I hadn't been taught in. That's why Alex got the scars. I listened caraefully as he told me that Flint, Tags and Dub all rushed in, and saved him. I looked at the boys... they had saved my brothers life. It seemed every run they did, they just barley made it out without casualties. I didn't want to say anything, but the hurtful, hopeless truth seemed to be sinking it's teeth into my chest: this was a lost cause. I sank deeper into Alex's arms. There was no way we were winning this fight.
I opened my eyes again as Tags and the other boys joined us. I realized Dani had been starring at me. He smiled at me, and then took the water Flint offered him.
"Your backpack is behind you." Dub said and Alex and I a water.
"So how did you get out of town?" Tags asked.
"Ah..." he paused.
"Operation two by two." I said. They all looked at me.
"Are you kidding me?" tags said, "Seriously?"
"Ya." Dani said, with a cocky smile.
"The paint ball strategy he made up?" Flint said.
"Ya... why?"i asked.
"Cause it never worked." Dub said, "The last time I did operation two by two I got shot in the..."
"Hey... lady is present." Dani interrupted.
"Right. I got shot in the fruit."
'The fruit?" Alex laughed and the others chuckled.
"Operation two by town never worked?" I asked.
"Not once" Tags said. i looked at Dani who shrugged.
"There's always a first." he said. I looked at him, while the boys laughed. He rubbed his neck with his free arm, with an embarrassed smile. Alex gave me a squeeze and i sank into his jacket.
I suddenly didn't care if it was possible. I didn't care if we won or not. We would leave. Leave the castle and start over if we had too. But i wasn't loosing Alex... or Dani. Or any of them. I lost my family once and i would not loose it again.