Alone Together


There was panic on the streets outside. Dark green vehicles between the lights, shining read and blue. The bullets burning the heavy sky.

Bristling with grenades and ammo, gripping at the well-oiled steel of her weapon, she could feel her heart race under her tactical vest. They had run through last-minute mental checklists, triple-checking weapons and rehearsing their choreographed moves. The swell of the revving helicopter engines made the earth tremble.

In the rush of adrenaline, time slowed. All her movements became very deliberate. The slide down the rope now seemed far longer than any they had done in training.

Her feet touched down next to Phillips and the copter released the rope. It fell twisting to the road. As the bird moved up and away, the noise eased and the dust settled. The city's sickly-sweet odor bore in. The odor of death.

Her feet were shoulder-width apart, her weapon raised and ready to fire. The dead were getting closer. It was still a difficult image to take in, and she had to tell herself more than once that those were no longer people. She aimed at the one in the center and squeezed off a round that sheered away the top of its head in a fountain of blood. She dropped two on the left, a shot to each one through the face. The others kept coming, unfazed.

A scream to her right made her loose focus for a second, the fourth shot hitting the dead in the throat instead of the head. Harris, the squad's medic, was already at work on Moore - a kid who couldn't be more than nineteen years old - his helmet off and blood gurgling from his throat. The two grabbed Moore under his arms and, trying to keep his neck straight, dragged him to the edge of the street. They squatted behind two cars.

Harris looked up at her. "He's urgent, Sarge. We need to extract him right now or he's going to die."

"He's going to die either way." She could tell the dead were getting closer. Close enough to smell them. Between the gunfire, she pulled the trigger as another body walked in their direction, teeth bared, its mouth closer than she had expected. The bullet went through its teeth and tore out of the back of its skull in a spray of bone and brain.

"Sergeant, we need to move him away from here! We gotta radio for evac!" The medic shouted, his voice muffled by all the gunfire, shouts and screams.

"We can't!"

"What do you mean we can't?"

She turned for a quick look over her shoulder and saw more corpses coming towards them. "No one's coming for us. There's no extraction plan."

Val's eyes opened to face the white ceiling. Outside, day was about to break, the morning light starting to pour inside her bedroom. She sat on the queen sized bed and inhaled slowly, holding her breath for a few seconds before exhaling. Her eyes examined the room she still hadn't gotten used to call her own, a hand going to the back of her neck. Her boots were next to the chair where her clothes rested. Without thinking twice, she got up and started getting dressed. Her right hand palmed the bulk of her pants pocket, knowing what it was without needing to see it, just making sure it was still there.

Max was asleep on the couch, and her presence was enough for him to wake up, but quickly falling back asleep once he realized it was her. Val smiled. At least one of them was getting some rest. She opened the front door and closed it softly. The light of dawn seemed to mute everything around her, and one could almost think to be the only one awake at that time of the day, but she knew she wasn't.
Time played tricks. It would have been hard to explain to someone who wasn't there. Events seemed to happen at twice normal speed, but from inside her personal space - the place where she thought and reacted and watched - every second seemed a minute long. She had no idea how much time had gone by. Had it been days? Weeks already? It was hard to believe things could have gone so much to hell.

Now it was just her and Private Harris. The rest of the squad was dead. Most of them turned into those mindless bodies before either of them could have pulled the trigger. She couldn't believe they were alone, they weren't supposed to. The assault force they were a part of was a convoy with 8 vehicles with soldiers and 6 helicopters with Rangers and Delta Force troops. So she knew they couldn't be the only ones left.

They were shooting in every direction except the one they moved towards. The dead were growing on number and food and ammo getting scarce. No more grenades, no more MREs.

The thundering sound reached her before she could see it, the wide-bodied vehicle that served as the Army's all-purpose transport, round the corner two blocks down. They kept shooting at the dead until the vehicle stopped next to them.

"What are you doing here?!" A soldier with bright blue eyes and probably in her mid twenties yelled from the driving seat. A Master Sergeant, a man at least ten years older than her, was at the passenger seat, his submachine gun constantly firing. Neither Harris nor her replied, the question a bit too stupid to be asked at that point. "They're napalming the city tonight! We gotta get the hell out of here!"

A groan escaped Val's lips before she could even open her eyes. This time, it wasn't even morning outside. Sitting on her bed, she stared at the bedroom's door for a moment, before deciding to go downstairs in her makeshift pajamas. She stumbled onto the kitchen and filled Max's bowl with water.

Val had already chosen a book from her living room's bookshelf when she pulled the coffee pot out of the coffee maker and poured into a ceramic mug. She took a seat on a stool at the kitchen island and grazed her fingers over the book cover. Hemingway. She had nothing to do and nowhere to be for the next couple of hours. She opened the book. The prose was tense and brilliant. The descriptions of Paris at night could leave anyone speechless. The restaurants, the bars, the music, the people. The lights of a real, living city. The freedom to explore it.

After twenty pages, Val closed the book. She couldn't take it anymore. Life, in the way it was described in that book, could no longer be lived.
The heat threatened to make her pass out. The blood that oozed from her leg had started to make her vision blurry. She couldn't stop, though. She knew they could still be after her.

She was alone now. The two people that had saved her and Harris, had chosen not to go with them to Fort Benning, and Harris, Harris was dead. Killed just minutes ago.

Kneeling on the dirt with more force than intended, she focused on catching her breath, her eyes never leaving the bullet wound on her right leg. She couldn't believe they had killed him. Harris had tried to help them, he was a medic, and they had killed him. People weren't human anymore. They were animals. Things. Just like the dead.

She opened her backpack and took out all the items she needed. A bottle of rubbing alcohol, a handful of cotton balls. A tube of super-glue, a penlight. A pair of forceps Harris had pocketed from an OR back in Atlanta and gauze.

She stared at her leg for a while, preparing herself for the task ahead. She ripped the right leg of her pants, a few inches above the wound, blood falling freely to the sides of her leg. Opening the bottle of rubbing alcohol, she poured a decent amount directly on the wound. The sharp smell hit her nose and she had to shut her eyes at the stinging and burning sensation. She wet a cotton ball and sterilized the blade of her knife.

The blade was extremely sharp, which was a gift. With no resistance - like cutting warm butter - she pulled it easily down the already opened wound. Her face scrunched and turned red, as she insisted on widening the wound.

She withdrew the blade with a gasp of pain, blood coating it. The beads of sweat that went down her forehead stung her eyes.

She took the forceps, turned on the penlight and stuck it between her teeth. Leaned in close to study the self-inflicted cut. With her left hand, she spread the wound open. With her right, she worked the forceps inside the incision.

Tears started to fall, her teeth biting at the penlight with enough strength to hurt her jaw. Slowly, she opened the forceps and readjusted the penlight. The bullet reflected from the inside of her muscle.

She pushed the blade into the wound. A deep and guttural sound, coming from the back of her throat, escaped her lips. She worked the tip of the blade between the muscle and the bullet and broke it free. She withdrew the blade and drew in a big gulp of air, as if she'd suddenly forgotten how to breathe.

Picking up a handful of gauze, she held it to her leg, blood coming through almost instantly. After five minutes and a lot more gauze, the flow became manageable. After ten, it had almost stopped.

She wet another cotton ball with alcohol and cleaned the wound with a cringe. Then she pinched closed the gaping wound, ripped the top off the super-glue with her teeth, and squeezed out a generous bead, which she extended down the length of the cut.

The sun was starting to set. She wondered if she could walk the rest of the day without opening her wound. She held the incision closed for five minutes and then let go. The adhesive held. The glue was working, but she knew she had to stay put for a while.

The sun set and rose many times before she could set eyes on the army base. As she passed through the once guarded secondary gate, she had already expected to see what her eyes saw, but hoped that it wasn't real. Destruction and death.

The open area that led to the gray building was strewn with bodies, but most of them were dressed in civilian clothes, which led her to believe that they had turned the base into a survivor camp before it had been overrun. They were walking around, mindlessly, but in an instant turned to face her, as if they had been waiting for her in the first place.

Her dirt covered boots shortened the distance between her and the north side of the smaller building, her heart racing faster as the moan of the dead became more audible. She slung the rifle over her left arm and took out her knife. Shooting the dead would only bring more of them towards her. She didn't have time to think before strengthening her grip around the knife, pulling the heavy door open and jumping inside the building.

It was nearly pitch black inside. The sour smell of rotting flesh burned the back of her throat. The metal door that opened to the outside was enough to contain the group of dead that had followed her. She used her left hand to click her flashlight on. A body moved to her left, the corpse trying to reach her from beneath the pile of bodies that restrained it. She slid her knife through its eye, before the groans could call more of the dead.

She worked at scanning her surroundings the best she could, without taking too long at it. If she found supplies, that would be good, but that was not what she had come looking for. The others had gone to find their families and that was exactly why she was here. She just needed to find him, which she now deeply hoped not to. Without any traces of people still alive at the base, her only wish was to not find his body. Then she could start looking for him.

The door to the first floor was locked and had been blocked with a large metal desk. A smile formed on her lips. Maybe someone was barricaded in there. She climbed down the concrete stairs and navigated through the ground floor with ease, searching for the stairs that would lead her to the other access to the first floor. The building was surprisingly free of the undead. Her flashlight darted at every body she found wearing army attire and thankfully, none were him.

She exited the smaller building through a door that had been knocked down. Her search of the upper level had been proved fruitless, but she couldn't be more relieved. The distant noises of the dead reminded her that she wasn't alone and that they would soon come after her, she had learned they were quite sensitive to noise and smell, especially human.

It was when she rounded the corner of the building, that she saw how much the once small group of corpses had grown. Not more than ten bodies had turned into almost thirty. All staring at her, teeth snapping and arms outstretched. There was nothing else to do but run, but instead of turning on her heels she froze. There it was. That feeling again. Fear. Stone cold fear. An emotion she had been keeping at bay, but now emerged fully as her eyes landed on him. The only uniformed body amongst all the civilians.

They got closer. He got closer. Her shaky hand raised the knife to a dead woman, eyes still never leaving him. Her free hand pulled a chunk of black hair, her knife piercing the dead woman under the chin before backing away. It was really him, the name tape on his uniform only confirmed it. His decomposing body shuffled towards her and for a second, the moans of the dead around her disappeared. Tears fell freely when she finally felt him touch her. His fingers cold. Gripping at her arm. His mouth getting closer to it. It was through blurry vision that her knife finally slid to the side of his head.

Val was supposed to be asleep. Having a bed after almost two years of spending the nights on a sleeping bag could be considered a blessing, but somehow, her eyes didn't stay closed for long. The window on the other side of the bedroom showed the hushed gray world around her, still dormant. Asleep, unlike her. She hadn't thought about it in weeks, about him, but now all her brain did was replay those last images of him over and over again.

Shadows were cast in her bedroom as the day began to rise, everything around her becoming more perceptible as the slow minutes went by. Her eyes moved to the dark brown pants that hadn't belonged to her four days ago, to one of the pockets, the one where she knew she had kept it. Her bare feet touched the cold hardwood floor.

"This is stupid," Val breathed out, her green eyes observing what dangled on the ball chain, watching the way it caught the light of the morning, before shoving it inside the pocket as fast as she had taken it. He was dead, had been for two years, and there was no use in thinking about it.

Val knew it was going to be a hot day the moment she and Max stepped out of their front door. The sky was blue, the bluest she had seen in a long time, and the people of Alexandria seemed to be already at work.

She liked to observe them, liked to understand their routines, habits and quirks, but she knew she was also being watched most of the times. The fact that she was not allowed to carry weapons inside the safe zone and that somehow, she was never on guard duty, told her that they didn't fully trust her yet.

Val crossed the street that led to the gate in time to watch Rick leave the infirmary. Carl was still in there, still recovering from the loss of his eye, so Rick seemed to always be there, only leaving when requested, no matter the countless times she had herd Denise tell him that the worst part was over, that Carl was going to be okay.

Like during the previous days, she waited for someone to come to her and tell her what her job would be for the day, so she wasn't surprised when she saw Daryl walking towards her. Yesterday it had been Glenn. The day before that, Michonne.

"What's that for?" She asked when her eyes moved to the machete he carried, hands going to her hips in a gesture that intended to make him understand that she knew the machete was hers.

He handed her the seethed machete, eyes going to the German shepherd that always seemed to be next to her, like her shadow. "If you're goin' outside, you gotta be protected." He moved around her to push the gate open.

It was weird how different things looked and felt from the other side of the gate. No more than twenty feet separated her from the inside of the safe zone and yet, it seemed like a different world. There was this electricity in the air, the energy she had always felt during the years she had spent roaming the undead world, an energy she didn't feel inside Alexandria.

It was the first time she had set foot on the outside world since that night. The night Daryl had set the duckless pond on fire. The night Carl had lost his eye. The night people had died. And the night she had realized how much she needed these people. Of course, she wasn't ready to let them know that yet.

Max walked ahead of them, taking in the surroundings with his nose and ears like if he had never been on the outside before, the war dog he once was getting ready for anything that could happen.

Rosita held her rifle and watched the surrounding area with careful eyes, nodding them a good morning once she saw them. Heath and Spencer drove cars closer to the gate, displaying them around it and along the walls, doing a sort of maze wide enough for cars to pass through, but not without getting noticed or having to slow down. Val followed Daryl, who had joined Tara in fixing spiked poles through the car windows so that the dead would get stuck when walking through the maze of cars.

It was in silence that she started to work, once in a while glancing to see where Max was, and almost always finding him staring at the forest that started where the parked cars ended.

"So, what did you do before the dead walked the earth?" Val asked Daryl after bringing a few more poles closer to the car they were working on.
Daryl didn't answer and almost looked like he hadn't even heard the question, but Val knew he had.

"I know Abraham was an army Sergeant, like me." Her eyes moved to the redheaded man that just come out of the safe zone, rifle slung over his right shoulder. "Rick was a police officer and Sasha a firefighter."

"Why you wanna know?" He finally looked at her.

"Just making conversation." She shrugged. "That's how people get to know each other." Val fixed the spiked pole that came through the back window of the car, doing her best not to shatter it.

By now she had grown accustomed to the questions people always seemed to have for her, whenever she worked with or talked to someone she hadn't before, but Daryl seemed to be the exception to the case. Of course that in the little time she had been living in Alexandria, she had come to realize that he was not like everyone else, not eager to interact with others, which made others not interact with him that often.

"Funny how I had to come all the way to Washington to meet people from Georgia." She kept on making conversation with him, just for the simple fact that he was the one who would less likely talk to her. "I know I sounded stupid for not wanting to be a part of this group before, but it was as if I was on a mission, you know? As if I really had to find any trace of governmental action. But I guess a person's got to know when to throw in the towel."

"Do you think there's still a government out there?" His question made her look away from the car to face him, eyes narrowed from the intense sun.

"I don't know." She had believed that there was always something. That's what civilization was all about, wasn't it? But Alexandria had proven her wrong. "If there was a functioning government, it would probably cleanse the entire area with nuclear weapons. Then we wouldn't be here." She opened the car door and adjusted the pole on the back seat. "Maybe it can still happen. Who knows?"

Daryl looked up to the cloudless sky for a brief moment, an expression flashing through his face that had Val working hard not to chuckle.

"I wouldn't worry about it, though. You wouldn't hear a thing until it was too late. Whether it was missiles, subsonic or supersonic airplanes, we wouldn't know anything until it was over. Best case scenario, there would be a bright light and an intense heat." She shut the car door with the hint of a smirk. "And then you wouldn't hear a thing."
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Sorry for the huge delay! University sucks...
Hope you enjoy this chapter.