Something New

Things Will Always Get Worse, Nick

As if things couldn’t get any worse.

Nick blinked the stars out of his vision, coming to an immediate realization; he was about to be torn to shreds. He could feel the Hunter’s claws ripping into his bicep, the soft dirt pressing against his back, the splitting headache in his skull, and most importantly the numbness in his extremities. He sucked in a breath, swinging his left arm – the one that hadn’t been pinned down – and managing to land a decent blow on the Infected’s face. Its head swung to the side, dazing it momentarily, but Nick didn’t get a chance to strike again before a long set of claws tore into his ribs. He swore, his voice cracking as as he started thrashing wildly. His head was spinning too fast and the pain accompanied by his bruises and cuts were muddling his ability to think coherently of something he could do in this situation, forgetting all he’d learned over his years of fighting and fending for himself.

The Hunter on top of him snarled, slashing more or less aimlessly at him as it tried to get past his flailing limbs and gain access to his throat. He felt his skin split on his arm but the pain barely registered past everything else. What had happened? Where had this thing come from? How had he ended up in this position?

He heard a shriek that seemed farther away than right in front of him, and remembered the oddly well-planned ambush, the Smoker, the three infected that he’d barely had time to deal with before he’d been pounced on.

But most importantly, he remembered the moment of terror he’d felt when he’d seen that rope-like tongue wrap tightly around Dal’s throat and drag him off, the instant knowledge that his companion was in danger, the horrific realization that he didn’t just wonder about the kid, he cared. He’d panicked, barely managing to take out the three Infected that had come at him because he’d been too busy calling for Dal, trying to figure out which direction he’d been dragged in.

And now he was probably gonna die. See, Nick, this is why we’re supposed to be conning and not caring.

In a blur of movement, the Hunter that had been holding him down disappeared and Nick was left to recall how much everything hurt. He slowly started to move, trying to find his bearings and relocate his body parts. The injuries he’d sustained were throbbing and aching, and every time he moved it aggravated his pounding headache. He considered just not moving, but he knew he couldn’t do that. Someone (or something) had gotten that Hunter off him. He needed to know who and what; he needed to figure out his course of action.

He forced himself to turn his head, his vision spotty and blurry with dizziness. Eventually, though, it focused and he could hardly figure out what he was looking at around his disbelief.

Dal was back – and injured, judging by his stiff and sparing movement – and he was standing between that Hunter and Nick. He stood still, shifting only slightly when the thing prowled back and forth, looking for an opening as it snarled and growled. It abruptly darted to the side, trying to get around Dal and get back to its prey, but the younger, slighter of the two dove at it, tackling it to the ground. They thrashed against each other, Dal’s face blank but his eyes watering from the pain he was in, and the other’s twisted with rage. It was hard, from his angle, to tell who was winning. All he could tell was that the bigger Hunter had a sizable advantage.

He slowly started to move again, his eyes locked onto the two brawling Hunters. He swallowed down a mouthful of nausea, unsure of how he’d made it to his feet. But that didn’t matter right now, he needed to do something, he needed to…

He needed to help Dal. Nick found himself glancing carefully around the area, looking for something, anything, that he could use as a weapon. He’d just spotted a decent sized rock when he heard a cry of pain that he recognized. His attention flew back to the Hunters, his eyes locking onto a torn portion of Dal’s sweater, blood flowing freely from a location far too close to his throat.

He didn’t have time to find that rock again, and so his feet were moving before he knew it. He saw those clawed fingers bend slightly, rearing back and ready to tear into Dal. He shouted something he was relatively sure was incoherent, catching the Hunter’s attention easily by kicking it square in the side of the head and sending it to all fours. Dal scrambled to get away, and Nick took the opportunity he’d presented by dazing the Hunter to kick it to the ground and grab its head. In one fluid, practiced motion, he snapped the Hunter’s neck, inwardly acknowledging that he’d done it with enough ease to have frightened the group he was looking for.

Man, he needed a gun.

He fell away from the fresh corpse, the adrenaline finally reaching his headache and making it probably a million times worse. He groaned, hands coming to his head in an instinct to try and hold his splitting skull together. He did not have time for excruciating agony, he needed to take a look at Dal’s injury and run for it before anymore Infected came-…

He felt a hand touch his shoulder and he flinched away from it because he hated being touched, but he couldn’t move away fast enough when Dal’s hands grabbed him and hauled him to his feet, making Nick’s head spin even worse. His knees buckled immediately and he heard Dal make a soft noise that sounded both worried and shaken. He felt his feet leave the ground but he didn’t have the energy or mental fortitude to argue with Dal’s method of getting the hell out of there. He allowed himself to lean against the impressively strong boy, ignoring the sticky wetness against his side and willing himself to pass out.

Oddly enough, as darkness began to filter into his aching brain, Nick suddenly wished he would stay awake at least long enough to deal with Dal’s injuries. He had a feeling the kid wouldn’t do it himself.

One of the things he’d kept on him at all times, even after the stupid apocalypse hit, was his wallet. In his wallet was his Learner’s Permit, thirteen dollars and seventy four cents in cash, and a family photo he’d nagged his parents into taking with him the day before he left home for good. The leather artifact was in his back pocket, probably all kinds of soggy and smelly now that he’d trudged through waist-high swamp water and muck.

Dal knew what he had looked like three weeks ago, when he’d ditched North Carolina, when he’d left home. He knew what Dallas R. Easton looked like. He hadn’t been prepared for what he had turned into.

Nick was lying on the smelly, moldy wooden floor in the room adjacent to him, a single gauze pad holding barely staunching the blood flow from his injury, and a roll of shredded tape by his hip that Dal hadn’t been able to operate. The kid (monster)reminded himself that he needed to open the medicine cabinet and see if there were any medical supplies in there, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the dirty, cracked mirror. He could tear his gaze away from that… beast he was looking at.

He looked like that thing he and Nick had killed yesterday. The crazy guy that had pinned him down and slashed open his shoulder, nearly tearing out his jugular. He looked like the crazies. He looked like a freak, like a product of a zombie movie.

He took in a shaky breath, trying to steady himself, trying to ground himself in reality before he fell into despair and really lost himself. He reached up and opened the medicine cabinet forcibly, finding a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and another box of gauze bandages. He didn’t let himself stop again to look in that mirror, to retrace the deep, ugly scars that marred his cheek, or the bruise and rashes that he could see poking out from under his hoodie…

He slammed the mirror shut and turned away quickly, returning to Nick’s side. The first gauze pad he’d used had been one he’d discovered in Nick's jacket, luckily still sealed in its plastic wrapping, but the single pad hadn't really been enough to clean and bandage the area.

Carefully, Dal peeled back the red-stained medical gauze, grabbing a bottle of hydrogen peroxide that he’d come across and pouring it over the injury. The wetness would help to make sure he didn’t rip off any scabbing while he took off the bandage.

It came off cleanly, and it looked like the bleeding had stopped. He put the new gauze pad on anyway, just to protect the wound from the swampy, muggy, bacteria-ridden air. Dal placed his hand on Nick’s throat, trying to feel for a pulse with the seemingly-dead nerves in his hand. He could hardly feel anything in his hands and feet, it was almost like he’d developed gangrene but he hadn’t.

The guy probably wasn’t going into shock with the relatively minor injuries he’d sustained, but Nick was concussed and he had just fought tooth and nail with one of … those things. He shook his head to clear his head away from the reminders that he was, actually, a freak and kind of a monster and all that fun stuff.

Setting aside the thought that you look like something out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, let's take a moment to remember that we're treating someone's injuries. Sort of.

Nick’s pulse was stable and strong, though he was a bit clammy and looked fairly pale. Nothing serious to worry about though – it was likely that he was beginning to come out of his fainting-spell and was simply reacting physically to whatever amount of pain he was in. Dal retracted his hand, glancing down at the gauze again. There wasn’t any blood seeping through, so he had been right to assume that the bleeding had stopped. He just needed to make sure Nick took a moment to properly tape the gauze down so it stayed in place.

Just as the teen (freak) was beginning to let his thoughts creep dangerously close to depression and brooding again, Nick stirred. His eyes fluttered open and shut several times before his eyelids decided to settle for half-open. His gaze was tired and slightly glassy, as if he wasn’t entirely conscious. Dal looking him over again, wanting to make sure that he wasn’t actually dying or something, but nothing jumped out at him. No signs of infected injury, and since he had woken up, the chance of a brain bleed or something was significantly lessened. Nevertheless, Dal held up his index finger and moved it back and forth in his companion’s line of vision. Nick followed the movement, looking bewildered in his own not-entirely-awake manner.

It was probably just fatigue that was putting him in such a state. He wasn’t getting nearly enough rest, considering his injury. He needed rest for his brain to heal; the guy probably had no idea how important it was to properly treat and tend to a concussion.

“Dal…?” He muttered hoarsely, blinking as he tried harder to rouse himself. Dal felt his shift against his hand, and he quickly grabbed Nick’s shoulder and held him down before he could reopen his wounds. He wasn’t met with much resistance, which only emphasized how completely exhausted Nick was. It was slightly worrying, but, Dal reminded himself, if a person was worn out enough to faint, it wasn’t a surprise if they woke up slightly delirious.

Dal croaked in reply, “Dal,” he confirmed, just so Nick knew he was in familiar territory.

“How long was…” Nick trailed off, blinking as if he was being met with bright light, “You can’t talk,” he recalled to himself. Dal frowned slightly, and then held up his hands with all his fingers up.

“Ten…? Oh, ten minutes?” As the minute passed, though, he seemed to be regaining his awareness, “I was out for ten?”

Dal nodded mutely, lowering his hands. He grabbed Nick’s wrist and maneuvered his arm until his palm rested against the gauze pad, just so he’d know it was there. The well-dressed man hissed slightly in pain, nodding in understanding and pressing gently on the gauze pad as he slowly sat up. He moved the pad, looking down at the injury.

“It’s not… too bad,” he muttered, “I’ve had worse. Where’s… Uh, tape?”

Dal handed him the roll that he hadn’t accidentally shredded, watching his companion tape down the gauze. He wanted to stay there, in the shack, a little longer. Nick really did need to rest, but he knew that the man wouldn’t be willing to sit still for more than two minutes. He frowned, unhappy with his predicament. He needed to tell Nick to let him carry him (or else), but there weren’t many descriptive gestures he could use to explain that set of thoughts.

“What’s wrong?” Nick’s voice cut into his thoughts and he looked up, surprised. Since when did Nick concern himself with things that were wrong with Dal? The corner of his mouth tipped up, a slight smile gracing his features for only a second before he sighed. He pointed to Nick, and then to his relatively useless throat and shrugged unhappily.

“Yea, it does kind of suck that you can’t talk. It’d probably make everything a bit easier if you could.” Nick agreed, “Too bad neither of us know sign language.”

Dal snorted. He actually did know sign language – at least, he knew the alphabet. He’d had a deaf aunt that he’d met a couple of times, and so his mother had begrudgingly taken an hour of her time to teach him, entirely because his aunt (her sister) had requested it.

The only issue with that was that he couldn’t use sign language anymore. He still remembered A through Z, but that didn’t matter because he couldn’t make the symbols with his hands anymore. Writing out the alphabet in sign language had been his favorite way to calm himself down when he was pissed, but he couldn’t do it anymore. His fingers didn’t work right, and the knowledge that literally every method of communication had been taken from him put a serious damper on his already down-trodden mood.

His mouth twitched into a bitter scowl, his mind taking that opportunity to remind him that it wouldn’t matter even if he had been able to communicate – who’d listen to something with a face like his anyway?

Nick suddenly stood up, tapping Dal’s head, “We should get going, right? The others aren’t gonna last much longer without their daily doses of verbal abuse.”

The comment was funny, and Dal managed to force a slight smile despite the fact that he wasn’t entirely amused by it. He was officially in a bad mood, but he wasn’t going to let himself take it out on Nick. The guy already had no reason to let him hang around as anything other than a bodyguard. And it wasn’t like they were going to be “friends” anymore after Nick found a gun, anyway. Part of him miserably hoped that the guy hadn’t changed his mind about killing Dal the moment he found a gun, but the rest of him squashed the thought immediately. It was no good to think like that. Getting upset over it wasn’t going to fix anything, and a big baby was the last thing anyone needed in the middle of the God damn apocalypse.

He’d trudge on, like he always had.

As they delved further into the swamps, the humidity increased with the water level. It had already been pretty horrible to take deep breaths, but it only seemed to be getting worse. Dal had been leading them in a slightly more roundabout route, keeping parallel to the path that the other's had been traveling but purposefully avoiding the shanty little villages with the mildly higher populations of Infected. However, now that the water had gotten high enough to warrant a certain amount of sloshing and the humidity was so thick that it felt like he was inhaling dirty water, Nick had taken the initiative to lead the way along the trail of fresher corpses. Dal's sense of smell had become nothing short of useless once the others had started cutting through the water. He knew that they hadn't done it on purpose, but he couldn't help but curse the way they had managed to thoroughly inconvenience him without even realizing he was still alive.

It seemed like the rest of his group had been taking the most obvious paths they could find in the hopes of finding signs of civilization. Obviously they had found the signs, but actual civilization was no longer available. He glanced over at Dal briefly, noting the stiffness in his companion's movement – it had been made apparent within the past hour or so that the boy was not happy about the situation with the swamp water. At the very least, the absence of his flashlight and the height of the water, the Infected didn't seem particularly bothered enough to attack them. Water was enough to keep them away as long as they kept quiet and didn't wave around light.

Once again, he thought to the trio of torch-wielding, noise-making idiots he was looking for. They would probably be less often attacked if they didn't move through areas as obnoxiously as possible. If only Ellis could be relied on the shut up for a full ten seconds.

He tapped the baseball bat he had stumbled across against his shoulder and frowned. He'd be better off and more likely to survive this mess if he stuck with Dal and let the other three go off on their own.

They stepped up a slight incline onto dry land once again, pausing just long enough to peer around and listen carefully for any tell-tale snorting or growling, as well as relocate the trail of corpses. Surely enough, only a few feet away there was a bloody body lying in the wet sod, so they started walking again, ignoring the squelching of their wet shoes.

His mind sank away from the shallow waters he had sent it to in an effort to recuperate his brain from his awful slip up earlier. This was supposed to be Operation: Stay Alive, and yet somehow it was turning into a relief effort for Nick's skewed personality. His common sense and street smarts had been pummeled nearly to death when his conscience had teamed up with a whole army of the dusty remains of his actual personality and waged an all-out war. Somehow, his life motto had wound up being a prisoner of war and was being forced to parade around a billboard the size of Texas that read “Look out for Numbers 1 and 2!!

Nick wasn't entirely sure which side he ought to be rooting for. Obviously, his common sense and street smarts had kept him alive, but...

Surviving and living aren't the same thing,” Tragic Childhood Experience wisely stated.

Street Smarts rolled his eyes, “Surviving is more important than living.”

Especially during a zombie apocalypse,” Common Sense added.

Conscience pointed an accusing finger at Street Smarts, “So, you would just leave this kid out here in the middle of the apocalypse, alone?”

What a jerk,” Kindness muttered.

Yea, who does that?” Life Motto chimed in unashamedly.

Common Sense made a face at Street Smarts, “Really, though, that's kind of harsh, even for you. He's like, 18, tops.”

Streets Smarts looked around helplessly, grasping at excuses that wouldn't work in this particular situation. In the background, several others shook their heads and muttered about how mean Street Smarts was, going so far as to gossip about the terrible things that his advice had wrought in the past.

W-... B-... We can't just keep him!” Street Smarts attempted to defend his point of view, “He's... uh...”

What?”Faith in Other People scowled at the last remaining line of defense for Nick's bastard-without-a-heart persona, “Willing and able? Surprisingly helpful? Obviously very bright?”

No, no, no! Nick cut off his thoughts valiantly, It's not like that, its...

I like 'im.” Metaphorical Ellis offered unhelpfully.

He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked over at Dal, who was staring up at something. He followed the kid's gaze, swimming his mind back to the shallow waters again as he took in the sight of the corpse hanging from the trees. It took him a brief moment to realize that it wasn't flying, but hanging from a series of strings and ropes and straps that connected it to a parachute.

Who in the world would think that parachuting into this place would be a good idea? Setting aside the stupidity of mankind, Nick glanced over at Dal again, who was stepping over to one of the trees this parachutist was connected to.

“What?” Dal gestured back to the corpse again, and Nick took a couple of steps closer. It was surprisingly dark in this part of the swamps. He couldn't make out much, but he thought he could see a promising glint from what might have been a pistol.

Dal clambered up the tree carefully, making his way across the branches to the not-floating carcass. The kid fumbled around the belts for a moment before pulling a pistol out of the fella's holster and pocketing it. He couldn't help but smile slightly as Dal worked his way back down the tree. Willing and able? Surprisingly helpful?

The second I find a gun, you're dead.”

His stomach lurched and he really hoped that Dal didn't remember him saying that. The boy stepped over to him, pulling out the pistol and holding it out for him. He hesitated, his brain driving in uncertain circles around what he should do and what he wanted to do, and running over what he'd previously said several times in the process.

He took the gun from his companion, habitually checking to see if it was loaded and how much ammo he would have to work with. After all this time of not having a gun and subsequently not thinking about it nearly as much as he should have, Nick found himself at a loss for what he ought to do next.

Dal stared at him, and Nick wished he could read the kid's mind, or at least ask him what he was thinking about. The look on the boy's face was completely unreadable (as usual), but there was an expectancy in his eyes that unnerved Nick. Dal was probably waiting to be sent away, and Nick was trapped between his hatred of contradicting himself and his unreasonable need to keep the kid around.

“Y-... uh...” he started and stopped himself in the same breath, tearing his eyes away from Dal's face and looking out at the dimness around them, absentmindedly counting the fireflies as they lit up, “If... you wanted to, I wouldn't mind it if you stuck around a little longer.” He huffed out, partially hating himself for saying it, but mostly hating that he'd put himself in a situation where he had to say it in the first place.

He glanced down at the boy again, who was still wearing that blank stare, but Nick thought he could see a sheen of tears in his wide eyes. Dal didn't move, didn't nod or shake his head or shrug or anything. He just stood there, staring, his eyes about to overflow.

Nick frowned, “If you don't decide then I'm going to choose for you,” he started saying before he could stop himself, “And if I decide then you're going to be trailing after me like a duckling for the rest of your life.”

This is a bad idea,” Street Smarts said resignedly.

I don't care,” Unbearable Loneliness snapped angrily, shoving all contrary opinions away, “There's someone here who can to stay. Don't screw it up.”

Both of us are really lonely people, huh? This is pretty pathetic, Nick, even for you. The conman sighed, shoving the barrel of his pistol into the empty holster he'd picked up back in Savannah. Especially for you.

Nick was in pain.

They sloshed as quietly as they could through the waist-high waters, Dal more or less leading the way. Nick was breathing more heavily than he should have been. He was moving more slowly that he normally did. His balance was off and he kept squeezing his eyes shut. He probably had a pretty horrible migraine by now – they had just made their way through what must have been a safe room at one point – before some Tank had gone through it like an F-5 tornado.

Prior to that, they had stumbled into what Nick had referred to as a Spitter, who’s rattling shriek of excitement had alerted several nearby crazies. They’d been trapped by the acidic slobber and four or five of the sick-looking crazy people, but they had managed to fight their way through it, and Dal had grabbed Nick and leapt over the puddle, leaving him for just a moment so he could beat the Spitting-Crazy to death.

Nick called them zombies and infected interchangeably. Dal liked “crazies” better.

Before that, they had been forced to run probably a half a mile by an enraged girl with talons for fingers and a shriek that had called forth this violently laughing little creep that had leapt on Nick’s shoulders and hauled him away. Dal had been forced to stop and kill the Crazed Talons before chasing after his companion, who’s hollering and cries of pain had summoned several more crazies. Once Dal had ripped the Back-Humper off his partner’s shoulders, Nick had collapsed to the ground, and Dal was left to take care of the other crazies as quickly as possible and then carry his companion for probably another quarter mile to escape the horde that had been alerted by the loud scuffles.

The combination of adrenaline and soreness and blood-rushes had slowed Nick down. Dal didn’t know what to do. His friend…

Is it “friend?” I don’t… know? I mean, we’ve only known one another for about a day, give or take five hours. I…

I want him to be my friend. I trust him, right? That means we’re friends. Friends trust each other. I guess he must trust me a little bit. I haven’t killed him yet, no matter how grumpy he’s gotten. Nick should at least know how tempting it is to throttle him.

His friend was in a world of pain, and Dal wasn’t sure he knew enough pantomimes and crude gestures to indicate that they should stop soon. He glanced over at Nick again when he felt a stiff hand grab his elbow, watching Nick’s pace slow exponentially yet again as he pushed himself past whatever level of agony he was in.

Judging by his physical behaviors, the guy probably had a headache to rival all headaches. Dal didn’t have a clue how this person was even able to keep walking. He had managed to offer to keep carrying him earlier, but Nick had rejected the offer in a snarl of crankiness and frustration that he hadn’t expected. They hadn’t communicated in any way since.

But Dal wasn’t holding it against him. Nick was in pain and, if he was remembering his research right, mood alterations caused by concussions usually leaned towards the negative – as in, people with concussions would be incredibly irritable as opposed to deliriously nice.

That was fine, though. The teen had, for the most part, figured out how to deal with Nick’s moods. Generally, he just ignored his irritability as best he could, keeping his frustrated and hostile reactions as internalized as possible. He could always just curse out the man walking beside him in his head, after all.

They stepped up onto dry land again, plodding forward with squelching shoes and ignoring the way the mud wanted to swallow up their legs. Nick grabbed Dal's arm again, physically pulling himself forward with the younger of the two as his leverage. Dal slowed again, planting his feet carefully to make sure he didn't lose balance. Nick uttered a pained sound and the younger came to a complete stop. With every forced step, Nick had to be making his pain that much worse.

He looked around carefully, spotting a light in the direction of the bodies-trail. That had to be a safe room, or a shack, or something they could hole up in so Nick could rest. He looked over at his companion again, who had doubled over and was pressing a hand against his right ear.

Fuck,” suddenly, he straightened up again, flinching visibly, “I can't see right, Dal.” He said tightly, “Le...” He uttered that soft, pained sound again, his fists clenching as tight and his eyes squeezing shut, “We ne-... I need to stop somewhere, just... somewhere...”

Dal, alarmed at this point by the rawness that was presenting itself in Nick's voice, grabbed the man by the elbow and wordlessly led him toward the light he had seen. He watched his partner's feet carefully, making sure he didn't trip on anything. They made slow but steady progress until they came across the source of the light – a safe room. Dal let out a sigh of relief and led Nick over to the door, directing his hands to it.

He couldn't work the door – it required too much finesse for his clumsy hands. Nick hastily pulled the locking mechanism open and pushed the door open, stumbling inside. Dal caught him and directed him over to some sleeping bags on the floor.

It didn't require much pushing and shoving to get Nick to the ground, and once he was laying down he completely stilled, “They're warm,” he muttered, his voice barely above a whisper, “The other... s'were here...”

Despite what he'd said about warmth, Nick shuddered, and then immediately choked out a gasp of pain. He curled in on himself until he was in fetal position, fingers digging hard into his biceps before relaxing slightly. Once he had managed to find himself comfort, he didn't move, save for his shivering. He had to be cold – he was pretty wet.

There weren't any towels in the room, so Dal couldn't manually dry Nick off. He instead grabbed one of the other sleeping bags and – after a few minutes of wrestling until he wound up clutching with his teeth – unzipped the bag and spread it over Nick, covering his head as well. The light would make the pain worse, he was sure. That was why Dal wore his hood up – the sunlight bothered his eyes. It never used to, but since... turning, he found that bright light was blinding. He positioned himself by the door of the safe room, wrapping his arms around his knees and resting his chin on them as he watched the lump of mold-grey cloth. There was no shifting or movement at all. Dal hoped Nick would sleep for at least a couple hours. He knew the man wanted desperately to catch up with the rest of his party, but he really needed to let himself heal. That concussion wasn't going to get better if he didn't let it.

His stomach dropped suddenly – the rest of the party. Nick had mentioned that the blankets felt warm, and while Dal could have chalked that up to the sunlight, he knew that it was likely that the rest of Nick's party had been here recently. Should he try to look for them while Nick was asleep? Should he hope that Nick stayed asleep for a very long time? He was afraid that Nick would keep to his unspoken words from before and send Dal away when he had company again. The teen wasn't sure he could handle that. He didn't want to be alone anymore. He couldn't handle it.

His eyes burned and he buried his face in his arms. That wasn't fair to Nick, though. That wasn't fair to anyone but Dal, and he didn't happen to be the center of anyone's world – not even his own, it seemed. He sniffled, trying his best to muffle the sound. It would bother Nick's head.

He ought to go and see if he could catch up to them while Nick was asleep. He could potentially lead them back to the safe room.

How, though? He couldn't talk. He couldn't use sign language, and they probably didn't know it either. He couldn't explain that their friend was unconscious in a safe room they had recently left. All he had was the hat that Nick had given him for scent tracking, as ridiculous as that was. He had kept it because he thought Nick's friend might like to have it back when they found them. He hadn't thought about the actual prospect of meeting them again though, because he didn't think it would happen. Or maybe he had just been so hopeful that it wouldn't happen, he hadn't given it any more thought than that.

I don't want him to send me away.

He choked on another sob, and stood up suddenly. He couldn't stay in here like this. He was going to aggravate Nick's headache. He walked over to the door, and carefully spent ten minutes silently getting it open. The air outside was muggy and hot and disgusting, but he could distinctly smell a hint of gunpowder.

He would find them and lead them back to Nick.

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