A zombie made a weird retching sound in the distance. We hadn’t heard one since before we stopped to take a break, so they were gaining on us again.
“Remy,” Boden said. “We need to get moving.”
“Go.” I looked back over my shoulder at him. “We’ll catch up.”
Boden sighed. “Fine. But hurry up.”
They started walking away, and I heard Max asking Boden something about me. Boden spoke too quietly for me to hear his answer, and I turned back to Daniels.
“Why, Remy?” Daniels asked. “Why is it so damn important to you that I live?”
“Why does it matter to you?” I asked. “Why isn’t just living good enough?”
“Because it isn’t anymore.” He hugged himself with his thin arms, and he looked so despondent staring down at the dirt.
“Look, I get it. I’ve been where you’re at,” I said. “But losing your girlfriend isn’t reason enough to quit. We need to keep going.”
“Why?” His voice cracked. “Why do we keep going? Why, when there’s so clearly nothing left to live for?”
I rubbed my eyes, hating this philosophical argument I was having with someone that I wasn’t even sure I liked.
“Dammit, Daniels, you only knew her for a few days. What did you live for before that?”
“Finding a cure. Trying to save us. And that failed,” Daniels said. “I worked as hard as I could, and I didn’t do anything, except nearly kill you. And then I met Nolita, and I couldn’t save her. I can’t do anything, and the whole world’s going to end.”
“Maybe it will. Maybe we’ll all die,” I said. “But that’s not your fault. And we’re not dead now. And that’s why we keep going. We keep living as long as we can, and that’s all there is to it.”
He considered that for a moment, then lifted his eyes to look at me. “Why do you care, Remy? Why are you helping me?”
“You did the best you could, and I know it,” I said finally. “You did the best you could by me in a really shitty, fucked up situation. And maybe it wasn’t always the right thing or what I wanted, but it was the best you knew how to do.
“And this is the best I know how to do,” I said. “And all I can tell you is that shit happens, get over it, and go on. But I can’t keep dragging you over these mountains. So if you want to stay here and die, then… I guess I’ll have to let you.”
I waited a moment to see what his reaction would be, but he didn’t seem to have one. A zombie let out a long, low death groan, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I turned around and walked away.
Just when I thought I’d left Daniels behind, I heard his footsteps behind me. He caught up to me, but neither of us said anything. There was nothing more to say. He’d made a choice, and I thought it was the right one.
We hurried, so we reached the others quickly. Bishop was helping Max down the hill, holding his hand so he didn’t slip down a ridge. I took over and helped him until we got down on flatter land. Daniels did just fine without me.
When we reached smoother terrain, Boden fell back next to me. He normally led the group, but he let Bishop take the lead. Max was walking beside Daniels, talking to him about a weird blue bird he’d seen in a tree, and for a change, I wasn’t pissed or worried that the two of them were interacting.
“I take it that you’ve forgiven him then,” Boden said quietly and motioned toward Daniels.
“Honestly?” I shook my head. “I’m not sure there was ever anything to forgive.”
“Really?” Boden raised an eyebrow and stared down at me as if he didn’t believe me. “What about everything that happened? All the scars you have from him?”
“He didn’t do most of that, and the parts he was complicit in… well, I’m not sure I would’ve done anything different.”
Boden looked almost comically shocked at that. “You really think that?”
I shrugged. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and nothing’s ever been as desperate as it is now.”
“Hmm,” Boden said thoughtfully. “Are you ever going to tell me what exactly happened to you at the quarantine?”
“Probably,” I said. “If we live long enough.”
“Ooo, a new reason to stay alive.” He smirked.
I laughed, for the first time in quite a long time, but it was cut short by the sound of a zombie howling right beside us.
Somehow, we’d missed it, and seven zombies were only a few feet away from us, standing between the trees. Maybe they hadn’t even been following us. It was entirely possible they’d just been standing there, and we walked into them. But either way, we were kinda screwed.
“Take Max and run!” I shouted at Daniels, but it was the only way I could think to protect my brother. I’d stay here and fight and send him out of harm’s way.
“Get the kids out of here!” Bishop yelled, apparently having the same idea I had.
Teddy was holding Stella, who’d begun to cry, and he ran off through the trees. Daniels did the same thing, hesitating a moment longer than I would’ve liked, then he was pulling my brother along as they raced through the forest.
That left Boden, Bishop, Serg, and me to try to fight off the zombies. At least it was an even fight.
Or it would’ve been, but right away, a zombie took off, running away from us. That ordinarily would’ve been a relief, but that meant it was going after Daniels or Teddy. It was going after the kids.