The few kilometres took hours. Though both Riley and Kel were fit, Ryan was a full-grown man, and that meant that he wasn’t exactly a sack of feathers.
“Let me help.” Gwen said to Riley, who was starting to look exhausted.
“No, it’s okay. It’s not much further.” Riley told her, adjusting Ryan’s arm “Your height will make things more difficult, and it’s not fair on Kel.”
So she let off on the matter, despite how bad she felt about it. “You told me there wasn’t a cure.” Gwen accused him. “But there is one.”
Riley sighed. “I know. I was hoping that would deter you from going in there and breaking all the rules.”
“But you helped me.”
“Yeah, but look where it got me.”
“Why would you help us?”
“You told me that you loved him. I know what it’s like to lose somebody you love, and I didn’t want you to be able to relate to that.”
She swallowed, unsure what to say to that. “I appreciate it.”
Riley offered her a smile. “Don’t mention it. Any of us would’ve done it.”
“No.” Kel said. “Half of us are selfish and don’t want any part in helping others, and then a quarter don’t want to be anywhere near the infected, an eighth is too busy working and we are in that last eight of idiots.”
“Do you regret helping us?” Gwen asked with a frowned.
Kel shook his head. “No. I don’t want to be a part of what they do back there.”
“What did they make Ryan do?” Gwen asked quietly. “Surely you can tell me now. We’re not under anyone’s rules now.”
Kel and Riley shared a look over Ryan. “We might as well tell her.” Riley said. “She deserves to know.”
“Ryan was a part of a team that sent him out on missions, often collecting things needed for the cure, or gathering items that had been requested.”
“That’s not all though.” Gwen said, feeling as though too many things that had been left unsaid.
“No. In this team, you’re expected to do certain things, kill the infected, put them down, or round them up, use them for testing. Ryan never had to kill anymore, but they don’t exactly let you close your eyes and cover your ears.”
“That’s-” She couldn’t even find a word that would properly express her disgust. She felt sick at the idea.
“Had to be done,” Kel said, “no matter how much we didn’t want to do it.”
“Were you apart of the team?”
“Cabin’s up ahead.” Kel said instead of answering. “Should come into sight soon. Gwen, you might need to clear a path for us. No one does maintenance around here and the last thing Ryan needs is for us to send him flying because we tripped over a tree root.”
She frowned at the sudden change of subject but nodded, occasionally pushing things out of the path.
“You got keys, right, Riley?”
The man nodded. “Take Gwen and go get the cabin set up. I’ve got him.”
“Are you sure?” Riley asked.
“Just go man; I’ve heard you dragging your feet for the last few hours. I’m fine.”
Riley nodded, and stopped, holding Ryan upright while Kel adjusted his grip, and then swung the man into his arms, bridal style.
Gwen smirked at how Ryan would react if he woke up in the arms of a man he didn’t know, though the humour was quickly lost on her.
“Come on Gwen, there’ll be food up in the cabin. Comfortable couches too.” Riley said, and it was enough for her to pick up her pace.
The cabin wasn’t a big place, but it was big enough to fit all of them comfortably, and maybe a little uncomfortably when the rest of the others came, but with hope, Ryan would get well quickly, and would be able to stand and walk without the assistance of others, and they would be able to leave the cabin before it became too claustrophobic and they could go off in search of their camp.
“Ryan will get better, right?” Gwen asked. “I mean, I know you said it’s a fifty fifty chance, but do you think he’ll get better?”
“I think he’s strong.” Riley said after a pause. He didn’t answer the question though, falling silent.
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
“That’s an ‘it’s too soon to tell right now but I have high hopes for him’.”
“When will he start to improve?”
“Depends. If the cure is one of the more potent ones, he could start getting better within a few days, if it’s one of the weaker ones, it could be a week before we see any improvement at all.”
“Do you know which type you gave him?”
“Gwen.” Riley sounded tired. “It’s a ‘wait and see’ game. It sucks but there’s nothing I can do to change that. I have no idea if I gave him a stronger or weaker one; there isn’t a way to tell without trying it. Which reminds me, you need to take the cure too.”
Panic seized her chest. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be healthy, because she did, she really did. She hated this whole ‘waking up every morning and wondering if she’ll lose herself to the disease’ thing, she hated having to see the thick veins every day, but she loved the colour. She honestly felt as though if the colour was removed from her life, she would lose reason to live. She didn’t know if she could let it go that easy, it wouldn’t be like a child giving up a well-loved teddy bear, but more like hacking off her own arm with a plastic spoon.
“The colour-” She started to say before shaking her head. “I don’t want to lose the colour. I can’t go back to a drab world, where the only colour we know is called ‘grey’ Just the name is boring. I like seeing the colours of the world.”
Riley didn’t answer her, completely ignoring what she had said. He walked up the steps to the cabin and put the key in the door, jiggling the doorknob a bit before slamming his shoulder into the door. It swung open, and Gwen eyed it cautiously.
“Is that safe?”
“Safe enough.” Riley said, walking inside. The floorboards complained under his weight, and the cabin was dark, but other than that, it seemed safe enough. She stood in the middle in the room, wringing her hands until she heard the tell-tale signs of Rile flipping a few switches and sighing in frustration when the lights didn’t turn on.
“There’s a generator in the back.” Riley told her. “Stay here, and go to Kel if something goes wrong. I don’t need you tripping over something and get eaten by a snake because you tried to find me.”
“Alright. What do you need me to do?”
“There’s a cupboard down the hallway with blankets and sheets. Grab some and then go to the first room on the left in the hallway.”
She did as she was told, and made her way into the room that Riley had descried. It was simple, but it would sleep several people. A single bed sat in the corner and a set of bunk-beds opposite it, with a foldout sofa pressed against the wall. If needed be, it would sleep all of them despite the room’s sized.
Gwen nodded to herself, and set about putting the sheet on the single bed. She had just finished putting the blanket on the bed when Riley came into the room. He stood in the doorway for a few moments, and she found the bravery to speak about the thing that had been niggling at her for a while now. “You still haven’t told me how you lot haven’t gotten infected yet.”
Riley glanced at her and seemed to weigh the benefits of telling her. For a moment, she almost expected for him to talk in circles again, and was pleasantly surprised when she got a straight answer. “We were given something similar to the cure; an experiment that we got to decide if we wanted in on it or not. They gave access to it to the important people, so basically the people who work for The Council in some shape or form. We all heard the good responses about it, so we took advantage it.”
“Why wouldn’t you release it to the whole community? Share it with the world?”
“I don’t know, Gwen. I can’t speak for The Council’s actions.” He sounded tired and frustrated, opening his mouth to speak again, to maybe have a go at her.
At that moment, they heard heavy footsteps outside, which made Riley close his mouth. She tensed despite the fact that she knew it would only be Kel, and for the first time, she wished that she carried a knife on her. She immediately tried to force that thought out of her mind.
“You know, for someone who is rather skinny, he’s damn heavy.” Kel said, pushing his way into the room, and gently dropping Ryan onto the bed with a grunt. “I expected him to be lighter than that. He stretched, his back popping. “Might call it a night if you don’t need me.” Riley shook his head.
“No, go. Take the couch for the night; we’ll set up the beds later.”
Kel nodded, rubbing at his eyes and made his way out of the room, not giving them a second glance. She figured that they were all tired at this point. She heard the springs creak as he sat down on it, and the dull thud of his boots coming off. The springs creaked once more when Kel laid down, but otherwise they were left in silence.
“His breathing is quieter than before.” Gwen noted. “That’s good, right?”
Riley nodded. “Yeah. It might mean he got one of the more potent cures, but I can’t be certain. If he did get one of the potent cures, he should be up on his feet within five days, maybe.”
“When he’s well, can we go east? Head to the coast? That’s where our camp was heading before we left. They might still be there.”
“I’ll have to talk to the others about it. The plan is to get away from The City before they find us and make us pay. They won’t be happy with any of us, and separating from you two won’t be the best idea.”
“Thank you for doing this for us.” She said. “I know that you were a part of The Council, and now you’re in some cabin with two stupid kids who both got themselves infected.”
“I was never meant for a desk job.” Riley told her. “And I wasn’t proud to be a part of The Council. Kel hated his job and is always on the move anyway, and Isiah and Ariana go where Kel does, and Iz hated The City. It’s not the worst thing that could’ve happened to us.”
“Don’t worry about it.” A sudden voice said, causing the both of them to jump. Isabelle stood in the door, with Ariana and Isiah standing behind her. “The City might seem like this magical place with all the answers and every good thing, but you don’t know what goes on beneath the surface. We do. I’m willing to bet that none of us have any regrets about leaving the city.”
Isabelle was a very beautiful girl, with eyes the colour of a morning sky and hair the colour the colour of dirt that fell down to the middle of her back. She had eyeliner on, making her eyes seem much brighter than they actually were, and to top it off, she was perfectly tanned. She looked like someone who belonged on the cover of magazines, not someone who had been living in a world where they were constantly faced with the threat of dying.
“How is he?” Ariana asked, nodding to Ryan.
“He’ll be on his feet in a few days, and we can get to safety.” Riley told them,
“Good. Now, if you don’t mind and we’re not needed, I think it’s time for us to follow Kel’s lead. It’s been a long night.” Ariana told them with a tight smile.
“Do you want me to make the beds?” Gwen asked, starting to stand up, but Isiah shook his head.
“It’s alright,” Isiah said. “We’ll sleep in the lounge room.”
“On the floor?” Gwen said.
“It won’t be the first time.” Isabelle informed her. “And I’m willing to bed that it won’t be the last time either.”
“And to be honest, we’d be more comfortable if we could sleep near Kel, and I don’t want to wake him up.” Ariana said with a sheepish smile.
“Okay…” Gwen said, and with that, the trio went off, talking quietly with themselves as they went off to sleep on the floor, despite the fact that there were beds available. “Are they weird or is it just me?”
Riley laughed quietly. “They’re weird, don’t worry about it.”
“I’m sure if you ask in the morning, they’ll tell you all their weird stories. For now, let’s just make the beds and get some sleep.”
And it sounded as good as an idea as any.