“Where did you find her?”

“At the bottom of a scaffoldin’, on a car. Me an’ Ruby were right there when she fell.”

“And the pistol-whip around her eye?”

“Marlo’s guessin’ she sustained it right before she fell. Which means there was another raider that knocked her off.”

I felt someone come right up to me, hovering above me. I didn’t need to open my eyes to tell that it was Johnny trying to detect the scent of my attacker.

As a joke, I lifted my arm to poke him in the face, but was met with a stabbing pain shooting throughout my back and up my shoulder. I grimaced and tried to double up, but that made the pain even worse.

“Shh, shh. Don’t move,” Johnny lowered himself to my side. He ran a warm, tender hand down my face and tried to hold me steady. My eyes fluttered open to see him chewing his lower lip, assessing my damage. But his eyes held something a little more intense than concern; a building anger I needed to stop. His hand slid into mine, and gripped tightly.

“I’ll get Marlo,” another voice said, fading quickly. Benji. I vaguely remember him hoisting me into a fireman’s carry and running as steadily as he could to a safe area. The shouting voice next to him must have been Ruby, calling us into a retreat.

“Awake, are we?” a kindly, hurried voice and gentle hands straightened me flat onto my back. My whole body throbbed in annoying dull pain and white specks swam in my eyes. A bright light shone directly into my eyes, stunning me still.

“Pupil dilation’s good; response normal. Sweetheart, can you remember what happened?” Marlo lowered her flashlight.

“I got… separated, so I needed… vantage point… Gunshots… Ken shouting… A guy at the top… surprised him I guess… He panicked and hit me… I fell… onto… something hard,” I wheezed. My chest hurt.

“Very mild concussion, but she should be fine in a while,” Marlo concluded. “Try to keep her talking, but keep it slow okay?” she instructed Johnny. I guess she rushed off to other patients, having done with me.

Johnny shifted beside the makeshift bed I was on, rubbing my hand. “Do you remember what he looks like?” his voice going scarily steady. “Don’t,” I struggled to open my eyes wider. His jaw was set and translucent waves were swimming in his eyes. His was angry, and his beast side felt it.

“Hey there, darlin’. Still up for a fight?” Benji came into view. “Couldn’t stop me if you tried,” I moaned back, trying to sit up. He and Johnny slid their strong arms behind my back and helped me upright. Johnny tipped me into a supportive embrace against his chest. “How’re things?”

” Their side took mucho damage from us too, so they’ve also stopped attackin’ for the moment to patch up. Apparently Ken’s managed to get a face-to-face with the boss, so we’re kinda roundin’ up anyone who’s able to go with,” Benji filled me in.

“How long was I out?”

“Not very. I mean, you swam but ‘cha managed to keep a conversation with me for a bit. Nice to know you’re a Chili Pepper fan as well,” Benji grinned. I smiled back.

Johnny seemed lost in thought, his chin tucked over my head. I could tell that he was watching Ken move around the area, checking up on each of our group. “I want in,” I tried to sit up straighter. “What? No,” Johnny finally turned his attention to me, his arms tightening around me.

“You’d kill someone if I’m not there,” I tried to look up into his eyes, but the ache in my shoulders preventing me. The dim translucence in his eyes died down, and his pupils returned to its dark shade. I felt his muscles tighten, and a response jam halfway up his throat.

Nada worry, flor. I got ‘im. And Ken as well,” Benji sat at the foot of my bed and patted my leg. I felt Johnny tense into a glare. “Thanks, Benj,” I nodded, giving Johnny a pinch on the arm.

Johnny dipped me into a cuddle so that I could look at him straight in the eye without straining. “If you’re that worried, I’ll stay,” he sighed.

“Nah. Ken needs all the help he can get. Just… promise me… you’ll stay human,” my voice dropped into a whisper so that Benji couldn’t hear. Johnny’s mouth twitched and he took a deep breath. He ran a hand through his long dark wavy hair and nodded grimly. “I promise.” He drew me close and kissed my forehead. I buried myself in the crook of his neck and breathed his scent in.

A standstill treaty, especially after what had happened was sure to be extremely delicate. Getting carried away with returning a punch was the worst option one could follow up on. With Benji’s reassurance and Johnny promising me, I could only hope that my absence while Ken worked out something peaceful-like would be fruitful. If worse came to worst, me staying back here with the currently immobile would at least be some last line of defense.

It wasn’t that I had no faith in Johnny protecting me, protecting all of us; but to expose him as inhuman would cast hostile consequences, and not just from that side. The more his facade of being human remained intact, the better our odds of survival were. Travelling alone was a very difficult option, something I would rather not experience again any time soon.

Ken finally made it to check on me, and went over with his plans to ceasefire for at least a night. I talked him out of trying to squeeze out some supplies from the enemy camp, as neither of us were expecting a tiny war to happen so quickly. The best we could do was to patch up, rest for at least a day, and get the hell out of this area. The massive horde of undead South of us was already too much to handle, and moving on to the base of the mountain was our number one priority. I suggested teaming up, but Ken made it clear that our own group was enough to handle. Anymore ‘strong’ opinions and we would never make it over the mountains alive.

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