The flow of time brings forth an impossible meeting. Reunions, and new alliances, however, are torn asunder when enemies from the past descend upon them all.

~-0-~

I moved silently through the ally's, or as silently as lightly stepping on years of trash would allow. At least I was attempting to keep quiet, my Border-collie companion had a nasty habit of chasing shadows and the tiniest of sounds; Lucky would be a valuable asset, once he got bigger and trained. Fortunately, he never strayed too far off and would always stay close to my heels.

It had been a month since the day that I'd found him, consequentially one month since that last battle in Emporia. Hunter and his people were making it surprising difficult to track them. Having followed them from all this time, I had expected to find them weeks ago; however, they'd thrown me for a loop at the exit of I-64. Stopping for supplies in nearby Short Pump, I had found a frightening sight: at least forty zombies crowding around a single truck. With a quick, scoped, inspection, I found the bodies an elderly couple; zombies still chewing on some, unidentified part of their anatomy, and blood still sliding down the windows. Despite the horrific sight, this was actually good news. In the same direction as the message pointed, the unfortunate pair had to have been a part of Hunter's camp. Collecting what little gas I could, we quickly maneuvered through to the Northside of the city, eventually heading north back on the ever so familiar I-95.

I remember sighing on one of the long drives; I'd been in Emporia too long. Covering ten or fifteen miles was a tedious task these days, a trip that used to be made distance in less than an hour could take all day depending on how the zombies were acting. But day by, crawling, day, I continued northbound, through Hanover, and Spotsylvania. Eventually, the Jeep crapped out on me, forcing Lucky and I to continue on foot; unguarded and no replacement vehicle, night had regained its title of scariest time of the day, especially with a living, breathing car-alarm as my company. Whether it was in the woods or in the trunk of a broken into car, his fear instincts seemed to be directly connected to his young vocal cords.

Four weeks later, we found ourselves outside the city of Fredericksburg; staring from the sign to the weather-worn map, I couldn't stave off the feelings of despair. Maybe I'd passed them, but doubling back wouldn't do me too much good, not without a ride. Then again, perhaps it was just what I'd suspected all along…

Pushing the thoughts from my mind, I set to work scanning the map for my location. The 130 exit had a good deal to offer: numerous restaurants, hotels, and too many shopping centers to count. Assuming the city wasn't too badly picked, there was a chance we could find food, maybe even a car.

No such luck on the car. However, what bad luck we had with vehicles, we more than made up for in zombie population. Yes, the city was still ripe with the undead (in more ways than one), the air wreaking an odor beyond description. Lucky and I managed to hole up in a steakhouse restaurant…it wasn't the worst place to be: wide, empty, dark, and minimally populated with the undead. Fortunately, with plenty of material for a fire and the discovery of a freezer stocked with food, and even Lucky was silent with our ten pound stack of ribs.

That was when I saw it.

As the sky was turning deep purple, the sun inching down over the horizon, I could see the zombies flocking down the road, away from the highway. Before I could even wonder where in the hell they could possibly have been going, I could see lights going out a few blocks away.

Lights?

I couldn't deny my instant intrigue with the prospect of more people…however, the thought of more like Chris gave me pause. That's how I came to be sneaking through Fredericksburg much later that night, armed as usual, the little flashlight shining in my hand. Peering around the corner of a building, I found the parking lot of an abandoned Walmart, the concrete structure standing tall and strong as ever, its parking lot littered with cars. Allowing a moment for my eyes to adjust and to make sure there was no movement among the number. Clicking the flashlight off and enveloping myself in darkness, I moved stealthily across the stretch of grass, weaving my way through the traffic. I could see it; just barely from behind the thick mass of boards and obstructions, but there was a faint glowing light and the shadows of movement inside.

Just a closer look, that's all I needed; Lucky whimpered from behind but followed closely. The moonlight caught on something from above, and I froze, my eyes locked on the midnight shine of the gunman's barrel; however, the sight of him was enough to make me pause for another reason. He was in plain sight. Why make a sniper obvious…unless!

'Shik-Shik'

The sound made the hairs on my neck stand on end; the sniper was a decoy, to distract from the guard in the darkness. Twisting on my heel, a sharp, biting pain flared into my wrist and palm as my right knocked the thick barrel of the gun from my back and then the left blindsided the weapon, wrenching it out of my ambusher's grasp. The darkness was proving to be a deadly asset to him, using it to remain low and out of sight, as he rushed me, curling thick arms and broad shoulders around my waist; rearing back my shoulders, I drove my knuckles hard into his sides, but he was heavy-set and immobile, making my punches like throwing rocks against a tank.

With a twist of his waist and a loud grunt, my vision went topsy-turvy as I flew and hit the ground with a loud 'oof', my head hitting the asphalt with a 'crack'. Blinking the painful stars out of my eyes, a small growl and exclamation of 'Ouch' reached me; with enough orientation and breath regained, I rolled onto my stomach: Lucky had his little teeth sank into the exposed flesh between my attackers boot and the end of his jeans, trying his damnedest to shake the dog off. He was moving towards his downed rifle!

Pushing to my feet and charging, I ejected a loud yell as I tackled him around the waist; he and I grunted as we landed, wrestling on the ground. This guy was strong: taking all of my blows like a champ; forcibly pounding his palm into my jaw, I was launched backward and landed squarely on my rump. Scrambling up, shaking the pain out of my mouth, I put my hand in my jacket and drew the Parang machete, the moonlight shining off of its blade; my square-shouldered opponent sank down low, his fists raised. I made the first move, Lucky's barking ringing in my ears, slashing my weapon wide; he leapt backward, dodging it easily. Drawing back my shoulder and thrusting the weapon forward, he again leapt to the side only this time he reared back his knee and drove his boot into my hand; I couldn't help the yell of pain that escaped me as hard rubber smashed into my fingers, releasing the machete, which flew off into the darkness and hit the ground with a ringing clatter.

I pushed off with my knees again, diving for another tackle; however, head-on and ready for it, as my arms wrapped around his waist, his legs locked and his arms curled around my chest. I grunted in pain as his knee tore, twice, into my gut; gasping for breath, I barely noticed him release me only to painfully drive two, bony elbows into my back, dropping me to the ground. Forcing several deep breaths into my lungs, I pushed up with my left, reared back and plowed my right deep (albeit painfully) into his gut. As he staggered backward, I pushed myself into a crouched position, reaching into my jacket for the 1911; raising it up, I found my attacker, still wheezing from my blow, but holding his own handgun up. We both stood there, locked in our silent mental grapple; I could feel the whimpering, shaking pup move silently up beside me. A shining red light beamed down from over my attackers shoulder, straight onto my chest.

Sniper…right…

"Tough break jackass," my attacker hissed, his wheezing lessening "You picked the wrong place to ambush."

"Just calm down" I said coolly, placing a comforting hand on the terrified dog "I'm, just looking for information, not to attack you or your people."

The man made a disparaging noise, one of his hands still clutching his stomach "That part I don't believe."

"Just hear me out" I said cautiously, making double sure he didn't see me click off the handgun's safety "I'm following a group of survivors from a prison in Goochland county. Are you guys them?"

The man was quiet for a long moment, I couldn't see his face but I could tell that he was watching me…studying me.

"And if we are," he said slowly "who's asking?"

I gripped my gun loosely; I had his attention now, so I kept talking hoping to persuade him quickly enough avoid drawing the attention of the undead. "One of your people is my brother, I came looking for him."

"BULLSHIT!" spat the man, the sudden rise of his temper prompted the return of my other hand to my gun. "That guy's brother is dead…I know that for a fact."

"I thought so too" I said calmly "Trust me, it took a lot to get me up here, I just need to try. I need to speak with Hunter Harrison."

The man gasped quietly, his gun lowering by inches; I stifled a yelp of annoyance, averting my gaze as a sudden, blinding light radiated from his direction; it hung over me for a long moment, my eyes barely adjusting to it before it fell to the ground.

"Sam?"

The word came as a shocked gasp, and I turned back to face him, the light of his flashlight illuminating the lower half of his torn jeans. Stripping the flashlight from my pocket and vengefully clicking on in his direction, I took sight of him in full. Despite the tall, broad shoulders that I wrestled with earlier, he had the look of someone that had lost a lot of weight in a very short amount of time; his face was hidden mostly under the long mane of brown hair, but what was exposed was gaunt and sunken. However, there was no mistaking that hair, that height, or those grey-blue eyes…my eyes.

The each of us lowered our weapons, rising to our fullest heights, and glared at each other.

"Looks like you finally learned to throw a good punch."

Hunter clutched his stomach "Some things change, other things don't. Good to know your sucker-punches still hurt like hell."

Despite myself, a snort of laughter escaped me; from the light of our flashlights, I could see Hunter's mouth split, fighting to keep closed from the repressed laughter. Another snort escaped, but I allowed it to turn into a chuckle; tiny streams had broken behind the dam of my brothers eyes, flowing freely as the two of us laughed at the impossibility of the situation. Stepping forward simultaneously, the two of us locking the crooks of our elbows around each-other's shoulders; holding my half-laughing, half-crying brother tightly, I turned my own wet eyes upward, making a mental note to apologize to those who said I was wrong.

I had to admit that I was impressed by Hunter's group: having heavily fortified every possible entrance, they had settled in quite nicely. The aroma of stewing food wafted through the single metal and concrete room; with such an appeasing offering even Lucky had warmed up to my brother. Having been introduced to the rest of his people (two brunette, bespectacled females, the long, blonde sniper, two Mexican women, and three other guys), I spent the rest of the night telling the silent room my story: about Emporia, fighting Chris and his guys, losing the others, and my escape north.

"How'd you find us?" asked the girl named Crystal sharply, staring at me with hard brown eyes.

"That message you guys left by the highway was a big help," I explained through a mouthful of chicken soup "Threw me for a bit of a loop, though, by the end of 288. Hey, by the way, was there an old couple travelling with you guys?"

The four of them exchanged sad looks, the other girl turning to me "A pick-up truck, in Short Pump?"

I nodded in confirmation; as they refilled my bowl (Austin offering me a baggie of grayish jerky; as I reached for it, a hand snatched it away, I could see the playful look of scathing my brother shot his friend) it was my turn to be quiet and listen. Evidently, the couple had decided they'd had enough of running and had opted to remain behind.

"We were heading towards the Marine base at Quantico when Alex went into labor; we stopped here but…" Mariah heaved a hefty sigh before continuing "…she didn't make it, her or her son."

All of their gazes dropped to the ground; I stared at their despondent faces pitifully. Their group hadn't fared much better than mine since leaving the prison. Despite that, they were still making the effort, still surviving…and I, privately, grinned. Crystal regained her voice first and stared hard at me.

"You're positive you weren't followed here?"

"Yeah; the guys I was fighting were at least three miles away when I hit the interstate. There's no way they could know where I am."

"Nevertheless, let's not leave anything to chance. Everyone, lights out, group two will take over guard duty at 3!" She barked, moving away, her voice echoing around the room. As Mariah and Austin grabbed their weapons, shuffling away towards their posts, Hunter also rose to his feet stretching wide. My arm gave an almost involuntary, spastic reach for him; he noticed this move and smiled.

"Nature of the beast, ya know?" he said wearily "Get some sleep; there'll be plenty of time to talk tomorrow."

Watching him as he climbed the ladder to the roof, the light from the room dying gradually, I settled into the squashy green sleeping bag they'd given me, Lucky curling up comfortably beside me. Feeling as safe as I had been for the first time in two months, I slowly drifted off to sleep.

Opening my eyes slowly, I was greeted back to consciousness by the most incredible smell: a roasting that I never thought I'd smell again…coffee. I sat up slowly, shrugging off the squashy blanket; the others were all awake and moving. Two of the guys were standing guard by the doors, the other three (a third guy, a despondent looking girl, and an old woman) were crouched in the center of the room, hovering around the source of the smell. Hunter and the others were nowhere to be seen.

"Buenos Dias" said the woman quietly, offering me a cup; I'd never been much of a coffee drinker, but I accepted the offer, appreciating the warmth it brought to my hands and body, even with the cost of the acrid, bitter liquid it contained.

"Where are Hunter and the others?" I asked behind my tightly clenched cheeks.

"They're all on the roof" said the boy "That's usually where they hold their meetings."

Immediately my gaze turned upward; that didn't sound good. The old woman had poured the remainder of the dark liquid into a bright red thermos and began to make her way towards the ladder.

"Ma'am, let me take that" I said, offering out my hand; she eyed me suspiciously before relinquishing the container. Moving over towards the ladder, a tiny bark gained my attention; kneeling down, I scratched dog by the ears. Holding the thermos tightly, ignoring Lucky's whines, I pumped my legs and arms, propelling myself upward; it wasn't a hard or a long climb, but it was a bit of a shock to drench myself in the cool, early morning air from the warmth inside. Pulling myself onto the gravel covered roof, I found the four of them huddled together and bent over something that looked like a map.

"Out of the question!" said Crystal sharply, her voice no higher than a whisper "We can't leave this place unprotected."

"Well, we can't just leave them out there!" said Austin, much more calmly.

"I'm not saying that's what we should do, but if we handle this wrong, we could risk a panic."

"Then we'll just send two people, no one will notice."

"I don't think sneaking around the backs our own people is the brightest way to go" snapped a third voice, this one unmistakably Hunter's.

I listened to the argument silently; what was going on? What were they talking about? But I didn't have to wait long for an answer.

"Then what do you suggest?" shot Crystal scathingly "We can't send a second team out into the field blindly, that's kind of how we got into this situation! We have no idea where that herd has gone, it would be suicide to move now!"

"I agree with Hunter, we can't just sit on our asses and do nothing!"

"You shouldn't have to" I said, pulling from my eavesdropping and moving towards the four, offering the thermos of steaming liquid as appeasement to Crystal's scandalized face. Scanning the map momentarily, I traced my finger along a thin white line in the center of Fredericksburg "The herd was heading west down Route 3, last I saw."

"Away from the River?" said Hunter thoughtfully, sipping his coffee from an empty soup can "Maybe zombies really don't like water."

"Don't be stupid, that's a myth" said Crystal irritably.

"So, what exactly is going on?" I interjected, seeing my brother swell with a retort he never got to say. He and Crystal exchanged huffy looks before turning to me and speaking calmly.

"We sent two of our guys, Vince and Steven, out on a run to see if there was a quiet way out of here. That was two days ago and we've not seen hair nor hide of them since. We know we can't stay here much longer but we're all in agreement we can't leave them behind…we disagree on how to go about doing it."

I stood there listening, simultaneously racking my brain for all it was worth; I had come in from the highway, and there wasn't much activity that way…which meant they must have headed towards the river…but fat load of good that did us. Austin was right, a second two man team would help, but they didn't know what was out there.

"I'll go" I said at last, "I was out there just last night, I remember what's hot and where we can move more freely."

For the third time in less than a day, Crystal stared at me hard; however, she nodded in agreement. Before she or anyone could volunteer to go with me, there was a loud blast, as sudden and as violent as a cannon blast roared across the morning. All five of us hit the floor instantly (Lucky barked as loudly as the shrill scream from below) Austin, who was nearest to the edge, shouted:

"THREE PEOPLE, PARKING LOT!"

"Jesus Christ" cried Hunter irritably, spitting gravel from his teeth "What does they have, a goddamn cannon?"

"No, just a fat guy with a really big shotgun!"

Immediately a lump formed tightly in the base of my throat; no, it was impossible there was no way! Another raucous blast from the Elephant Gun, dust and concrete erupted from in front; I shielded my eyes but was unable to protect my ears from the agonized scream that followed the blast. Flipping my neck quickly, I could see Mariah and Hunter crouched down over Austin, who was writhing in pain and holding his face, dark blood flowing freely from his and Hunter's fingers.

"You up there Sam?!" came the voice that I hoped I wouldn't hear; scuttling over to the edge, my M4 in hand, followed closely by Crystal, I peered over the edge. Sure enough, there he was: Chris, large and bearded, holding his massive shotgun and flanked by his remaining lackey's: the dark-haired Yousef, and the short-blonde Jo. At the sight of my head, Chris waved in mock pleasantry.

"How the hell are you here Chris?" I shouted back, ignoring Hunter's question of recognition.

"It was tough, and I didn't think I'd ever see you again, but when we were raiding your library we found this very handy map (I inwardly swore, mentally cursing Doyle and that damn map of hers). Managed our way to Goochland and from there we just followed the biters."

"This is just like you, Sam" hissed Hunter darkly "You got to drag all your shit around with you!"

"You missed it, admit it" flashing him a quick grin.

"Was that Hunter up there with you?"

Instantly, my grip tightened on my weapon; however, looking over our protection, I could see Yousef and Jo move from behind a large truck. When they returned, Hunter and the others all gasped, as they lead two bearded men, one large and the other smaller, but both had their hands bound. I assumed from their reactions, these were their missing people.

"That's good, I'm happy for you. But, I think these also belong to you."

"This has nothing to do with them Chris, this is between us!"

"You know something, you're right about that!"

That was by far the last thing I expected to hear from him; my confusion seemed to alarm the others.

"I came up here fully intent on killing you, but after catching these two, and talking to you; I'm not interested in you anymore and I'll even give these two back, no strings attached. All I want in return: is Hunter."

"What?!" the word slipped from my mouth faster than I could stop it; the others staring from me, to Hunter. My brother stared at me, numbly nonplussed.

"You killed my little brother it's only fitting that I should kill yours!"

"Chris you low-down rat bastard!"

"It's not happening!" shouted Crystal vehemently, priming her rifle and raising it over the barricade. Yousef lifted his own weapon, but Chris shoved it back down.

"I can appreciate your loyalty, but tell me something: is one life more important than those of the many? Refuse my offer and, not only will I kill these two, we will come in there and kill all of you. My offer has less bloodshed."

"Your offer turns us into traitors who sacrifice our friend for our own lives!"

"DON'T DO IT!" shouted the smaller bearded man "HE'S ONLY MAD 'CAUSE HE ATE THE JERKY!" He was silenced from a violent kick to his gut from Yousef.

Chris turned back to us, cracking open his weapon to reload it, and shouted "This can end however ya'll want it to. Just bring him out here, hands tied, and delivered by someone, unarmed. You've got one minute to decide."

I turned back to them, all staring from each other, but mostly glancing between Hunter and me. I shook my head, refusing to even allow the words: forget it! I was not sacrificing my brother to save my own ass!

"We should do it," said Hunter, wiping his bloody hands on his jeans; Austin raised his own blood-soaked hands and grabbed him by his coat, shaking his head. I too stared at him, disbelievingly.

"Shut up Hunter, no!"

"I said we do it, I didn't say we comply."

Seven eyes stared confused at Hunter, watching as he took out and checked his Ruger handgun.

"This has gone far enough, these bastards have terrorized you and so many for long enough. You're one of us now Sam and we don't take these things lying down! This ends today."

~0▬0~

Forget becoming, I was now and completely a truest dumbass. My plan was for Sam to hand me over, under a white flag, so we could rescue Steven and Vince and kill off those three assholes. Never in my wildest fantasies could I have thought this up and think it was going to work. I meant was I said to Sam on the roof, but now the pragmatist in me was beginning to take over, even as I explained it to everyone else, all of whom (I was appreciative to learn) instantly voiced their objections. It took a minute to get everyone organized, but within that time, I stood at the front door, my hands bound behind my back with TV cords.

I had to admit, Sam was a damn good knot tie-er, keeping my wrists bound tight enough to keep up appearances, but loose enough that I could slip my wrists through if I needed to. Standing at the door, with my brother, I could hear him fumbling with folding the stock of his M4; suddenly, I felt him begin stuffing something in each of my back pockets and then then something very solid into the back of my pants, the cold metal upsetting my skin.

"You've got to be the goddamn stupidest son-of-a-bitch I've ever known" hissed Sam, rumpling my hair roughly "But, you're a brave friend, I'll give you that."

Listening absently to Sam's grumbling, I looked around the room: Wayne, Inias and Jake were both standing guard by the right front door, Inias holding my rifle readily. Crystal and Austin had both remained on the roof, keeping a watchful lookout. I felt bad asking Austin to keep in position, his destroyed aiming eye buried under several layers of gauze. However, he insisted on staying right where he was, Crystal remaining by his side for support. Mariah and Sam had come to the front with me, Mariah holding onto the door, evidently refusing to look at me. Pissed off, scared as hell (most likely both), she held a firm grip on the door, her black-bladed machetes sheathed comfortably on her legs and my saber, one that I'd stolen during the battle at the prison strapped across her back. Everybody was in place.

The heaviness of a stub handled weapon in my hand was accompanied by the gentle hand that gripped my shoulder; I didn't have to turn to know who it was: "I've got your back, ya know?"

Glancing back at his worried face, I held up my bound arms awkwardly, my fist held out; Sam looked at it incredulously, but smiled and lightly bumped his own against it.

"Yeah, let's go get this motherfucker!"

Turning to Mariah and nodding, she propped herself against the door and gave a hefty grunt, flooding the dark store with sunlight. Feeling the breeze whip around my shoulders, I took a shaky breath and moved only with a gentle nudge from behind.

"WE'RE COMING OUT!" Sam's voice roared as we stepped out into the parking lot. I could see them immediately: Chris had somehow managed to put on more weight in the year-and-a-half since I'd last seen him, however, he still looked strong enough to tackle a small cow if needed; the other two were standing guard over Steven and Vince, the girl holding Steven's own UMP to his head. The porky man watched was, his beady eyes furrowing.

"Stop right there, Sam!"

Instantly the two of us froze; I held my breath anxiously. Sam, despite appearing unarmed, had hidden his M4, strapped to his back and under his jacket, so perfectly, it wasn't possible he could know it was there.

"Step forward and turn around!"

I was impressed by how well he'd thought this through; anxiously gripping the Mare's Leg, I watched as Sam stepped around me, arms out, and turned slowly. That was another thing I had to admit: skinny as a stick, Sam had somehow figured out how to look non-threatening, while still being armed to the tooth. This seemed to appease him, but before I could breathe a sigh of relief, he demanded: "Alright, Hunter, your turn."

Moving shakily past my brother, I freed my fingers, the guns weight disappearing as he surreptitiously swiped it. Feeling rather foolish, in spite of my fear, I spun slowly, but only did so once. Chris' smug grin widened and he spoke loud and slow:

"Very good; Sam, you stay right where you are, I want you to witness this. Hunter, come here, slowly."

He watched me hungrily, like a dog eyeing meat, as I walked, cradling his shotgun in his arm, sending a spasm of fear racing throughout my body. I tried to focus my mind, but fear and adrenaline were pumping through my veins. Vince and Steven were exchanging glances, and I hoped beyond hope that they could guess what was going on. The girl had moved behind Chris, Steven's weapon trained on me and her dark-haired counterpart had his rifle pointed upwards over my shoulder. I was only a few feet away now, and I kept mentally chanting to myself: Vince and Steven are the goal, and Sam, Crystal and the others all have your back; all I had to do now, was keep my legs from betraying me and hope this would work.

BANG!

The gunshot rang from behind, sending a shiver up my spine. I turned back reactively; Sam hadn't fired, looking as confused as I was. As the final echo of the shot faded away, I swung back around, I could see the other two, weapons locked in place but glancing towards their porky leader. Chris' gaze had hardened into a mask of utmost fury

"Resisting, really?" he said in voice that shook with anger "Fine, we can do this the hard way!"

What happened next came so fast that my brain hardly had any time to react properly; I could only watch in open-mouthed horror as he reared back his arm, shotgun facing downward. I screamed out loud as the massive roaring tore into the back of Vince's head, which erupted in a pulpy, gory mess, showering me in blood. Watching as his furiously bleeding corpse, my fear and my sorrow fused like gas to a flame and burst into unrivaled rage! Slipping my wrists from their rubbery bindings, I took hold of the Ruger in my pants, pointed its business end straight at Chris, only finding the business end of his weapon pointed at me.

Suddenly, his face turned to one of surprise as he fell; I didn't exactly see it (because I wasn't exactly looking at it) but as Chris' fat head disappeared, Steven's shot upward making a beeline directly towards me. The blonde switched her target; moving my Ruger and squeezing the trigger, its shots were drowned by the wailing roar that surged through my ears. Ducking around the sedan at my knees, I watched as Chris rose back to his feet his weapon blindly blasting. I dropped to my knees but couldn't protect myself from the shout of pain that collided with the car. I cried out as Steven slid over the hood and hit the asphalt, a gapping, bloody hole in his shoulder.

Now everything was picking back up to proportionate speed, the gunfire was all around me; I reacted jumpily as someone dropped down beside me. However, Sam's focus was busy on Steven; ripping off his jacket, he tied it as best he could around it and then turned to me.

"Come on, we got to get him out of here!"

I nodded, pocketing the Ruger and hoisting Steven's uninjured arm over my neck. Pushing to my feet, bent over and practically dragging my bearded friend, I moved quickly through the maze of cars.

PING! PING, PING, PING, PING! PING!

Twisting my head, I cringed at the automatic fire that assailed my metal cover, never once stopping. Making full speed towards the store, I turned back, finding both the fat attacker and my brother missing. I swore loudly, the gunfire assailing my hearing, but moved quickly, pulling Steven (whose head lolled in unconsciousness) up by his belt loop. I was side-swiped by a sudden, fierce pressure that sent me tumbling to the ground, Steven hitting the ground with a painful groan. Rolling back onto my feet, I swiftly pulled the Ruger and squeezed the trigger, missing the blonde head of my attacker; however, two figures, blurred in my peripherals, zoomed past me and after her.

Turning back, a tiny smile cracked my bloodstained face, finding Mariah and Wayne rushing out of the building. Mariah took one look at Steven and the look on her face immediately registered his mangled arm.

"Get him inside" she barked, rather harshly at Wayne, "Find anything clean, and make him as comfortable as you can, that arm is going to have to come off!"

Gingerly handing Steven over to the young man, I graciously took my offered rifle. As Wayne shuffled away, I turned to Mariah and talked quickly:

"What the hell happened?"

"Jackass back there!" said Mariah harshly, casting a nasty look at Wayne "He got a little trigger happy and he fired a shot! Where's your brother?"

I shook my head, turning my gaze back in his direction. A pair of screams and a mist of dark red painted the nearest car; stepping around it, was a crazed looking blonde, drenched in blood, a small axe in her left hand, and her right holding (to my absolute horror) Inias' severed head. Instantly, Mariah stepped in front of me, her machetes drawn.

"Go, I've got this bitch!"

Priming my rifle, I took off around the car, forcing my gaze forward not allowing them to glance at the fight behind me. Pushing forward through the chaos, I held my weapon firmly against my shoulder, moving swiftly towards the loudest of the gunshots that I could hear. Peaking around the bumper of a pickup, I found them: my brother slumped against the dark blue of a fellow vehicle, feeding his lever-action fat red slugs, and mounted on the roof of a large SUV three cars away, was the porky terrorist, his square-shaped SMG ablaze, tearing away at the metal frame.

Placing my eye to the scope and taking quick aim, I squeezed the trigger three times; fortunately, Chris had seen me shoot upward and turned, giving me a much easier target. The first shot missed altogether, however, the second careened heftily into his hip, although the shot was met by the dull 'fwoomp' of Kevlar protection. As he bent over, winded, the third sent him crashing to the ground as it sprayed his, unprotected, shin blood red. Screaming in agony, he raised his little TMP and bore down on the trigger; my legs gave out as I dropped out of the way, however, a searing pain grazed me as I fell, hitting the ground with a yelp of pain. Pressing my palm into my temple, I barely registered the renewed shouts of anger and heft blasts from my brother's position.

As the brunt of the pain dissolved to a dull throb, I pulled my hand away, looking with mild trepidation; a solid line of dark red went straight across my hand, the freshly exposed wound stung my eyes wet from the air. Giving myself a shake, I grabbed my rifle and pushed upright; Chris had taken cover behind a large black truck, taking pot shots at my brother, who had pinned him nicely to his location. Moving in a crouch, I snuck towards the back of my own automotive cover, peaking around ever so subtly.

Perfect! Sam couldn't move for fear of giving away his cover, but I was in perfect position to take him out. Shouldering the rifle and throwing myself out into the fray, I squeezed the trigger too soon, sending out two shots: the first fell short and smashed into the headlight of the car in front; the second zoomed violently into the taillight just beside Chris' head. Moving out from behind my cover, my ears were filled with the sound of two rifles tearing into a large truck; however, from my right, a terrible sound reached me, something that pulled my gaze towards Sam, who was desperately fighting the stuck lever of his jammed weapon.

KA-BOOM!

I didn't need to look to identify the large weapon that roared from my left; Sam was thrown backward from the force of the blast that ripped into his gut, a mist of dark red burst from his back. I could only watch as he flopped lamely onto the hood of the sedan behind him, trailing gore, as he slid onto the ground. He wasn't moving.

The tiny sound of high-pitched yapping rose through the air, a small black border-collie jumping into sight; I watched as Chris (an evil smile already on his face) turned his large shotgun on the pup. An image of Vince's bloodied, stump of a neck and Steven's mangled shoulder swam into my mind, and reignited my rage past anything I thought myself capable of, threw myself in front of the dog and squeezed the trigger repeatedly. Each shot screamed into his Kevlar protected torso, but I didn't care; I took whatever I could get, even if it came from tiny holes in his arms. I pushed my legs forward, shouting as I fired, before finally striking red gold! My umpteenth shot had hit right were the Kevlar stopped at the neck, the dark liquid geysering from beneath his fingers; but I wasn't done yet, no, not even close! Letting my rifle roar again as he fell, I hit gold again, as it careened under the unprotected arm, past the ribs, and straight into the heart.

I knew he was dead right then and there, but my anger was overwhelming, even as I bore down on the trigger, despite its half-hearted clicks to signify its empty cartridge. Tossing the gun aside, pulling my Ruger from my pocket, I aimed down on his fat, glazed face and fired again, and again, and again, stopping only when even my handgun clicked empty.

Heaving heavy, choking breaths I stared down vindictively at the, hardly recognizable corpse; swishing my jaw, the tears burning past my eyes, I took a final revenge on the porker and expelled repugnantly on him. Turning back, instantly my anger vaporized at the sight of Lucky pawing at my brother's shoulder, the back of his lower jacket stained a dark crimson. Dropping my weapon absentmindedly, I slapped boot to asphalt as I ran, sliding to a halt and yanking him over. His face was milk white, but his eyes were wide open and looking up at me, his breathing ragged; thick red and something very much looking like sinew leaking from under his shirt.

"No, no, no, no, no! Hang on Sam, just hang on!" I spoke quickly, looking around shouting for help, adding to Lucky's tiny whines. I'd forgotten myself completely; somewhere deep down, the survivor in me was screaming to shut up for fear of attracting the undead (hardly noticing the growing volume of the zombie song), but I didn't care: this was my brother! I turned quickly, reacting to the sound of a quick shuffling, but found only Mariah, bloodied and disheveled, but otherwise fine. The look on her face at the sight before her was enough to tell me what she was thinking.

"Please! Help him!" I pleaded, but she looked from him to me and shook her head. I looked from her to Sam, tears streaking down my face. It couldn't be, it just couldn't.

Sam's arm moved slowly, reaching into his jacket and pulling out the Parang from under his armpit. He offered it to me. I stared at it and shook my head hard, turning from him to Mariah…I couldn't, I wasn't…

Turning back to him, I could see it, hell it was all I could see: the pain, the suffering he was in. It occurred to me what he was trying to say: if I couldn't be merciful now, would I condemn him to be left to turn? Curling my fingers around his knuckles, the tears dripping off my nose, we worked together one last time; I couldn't look away as we drove the blade, past the skin, cracking through the skull and deep into the muscle prize beyond.

It was like my eyes had simultaneously gone numb with my brain; too much had happened at once.

Vince was dead. Aside from Christina and Callahan, he'd had been with me, almost, since the beginning. Losing him was heavy enough and now this…

My grey-blue orbs gazed deeply into the two, glassy twins that could no longer see; the day before yesterday he was dead, today he had died in my arms. Barely registering the crying of the pup, the footfalls that distantly registered, I didn't care that they were all here to see it. Appropriated by Lucky's tiny, sorrowful howls, I cradled my brother's head and let the tears flow.

~-0-~

Authors Note: A very tragic end of this story arc, I know but it's just how it all played out in my head. Anyway, this will probably be the last of these I write for a while, because in my present frame of mind, in the next one: we all die (my character included). Plus, I need to evaluate if there's anywhere else I can go with these and not keep telling the same story.