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10kMurphybyEneada

After traveling all over the country and back again, the small towns and rural roads all seemed to blur together.  10k often had the sense of déjà vu that he had been on this particular street before, even though he wasn’t quite sure what state he was in, let alone what city.   It had only been a few weeks since the team had failed to prevent the Black Rain from spreading across the world; 10k was feeling rudderless and out of sorts, so he welcomed any semblance of familiarity. 

Welcome back to Anytown, USA.  I wonder if they have a cheese wheel?

10k leaned his rifle against a chimney and took a sip of water from his canteen.  Ever since the Black Rain, the sky had a continual dark tinge to it, like an electrical storm was always brewing on the horizon.  It made it difficult to judge what time of day it was, but 10k figured based on the position of the sun that it must be late afternoon.  Doc and Murphy had set up camp near the edge of town, while Sarge and 10k split off in separate directions to do some scavenging and reconnaissance within the city limits.

From his rooftop perch he scanned the abandoned city block looking for signs of movement.   Luckily they had not encountered any Zs in the area, a blessing after they had barely escaped a huge throng of dead Girl Scouts the day before.  The little Zs were always the fastest!  Unfortunately, none of them had any boxes of cookies and 10k’s stomach was rumbling.  He hadn’t had any luck scoring supplies from the apartment building he’d just searched.  Hopefully Sarge had fared better.  He’d scout around for another few minutes, then head out to reconnect with the others.

After the complete failure of their mission, 10k had been tempted to head out on his own to find Red, but none of them were sure yet how the Black Rain had changed things.   He knew his chances of survival were higher if he remained in the group, so 10k reluctantly agreed when Doc and Sarge asked him to stick around to help search for Warren. 

So far they hadn’t seen any sign of the drone ship.  Murphy had assured everyone that she was still alive, that he could feel her and use their special bond to track her down.  

We better find her soon, because I don’t think I can take much more of Murphy acting like he’s the boss of everyone!

It worried 10k that Murphy’s strange abilities were making a comeback, and that he now looked like a demon straight out of Hell.  The old nightmares about Murphy biting him had returned with a vengeance, but 10k was too embarrassed to talk about them with anyone.   They dredged up a flood of uncomfortable memories of being trapped in Murphy’s thrall; he never wanted to feel that violated and powerless again.

I miss you, Red.  When I was broken, you were the one who pieced me back together.  I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.

10k tried to shake off a pang of guilt.  So much had been weighing on his mind lately, he was grateful for a bit of privacy to try to sort things through.  It wasn’t just Murphy he was worried about.  Although he’d promised Red he’d move on with his life, after all these long months he still longed to find her.   He didn’t want to admit she might be gone forever.  But becoming intimate with Sarge had complicated things even further, and he was having a difficult time figuring out what he wanted.

Despite Sarge assuring him that it was okay to “keep things casual,” he had no clue how to do that.  He was never good at shutting off his feelings, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Since the Z outbreak he had often wished he could be numb to everything.  The truth was he liked Sarge…a lot…yet he also felt like he was taking unfair advantage of her. 

Especially when the nightmares returned, and he’d reach for her in the middle of the night.  Under the cover of darkness he’d pull her close and imagine he was back in Red’s arms, back in the idyllic meadow of his fantasies where she’d stroke his hair and whisper that he was safe and that everything would be okay.

He knew it was wrong.   Sarge was an incredible woman, she deserved better.  He wasn’t proud of himself, but he kept up their trysts because those moments together were the only times he could push aside his grief and pretend he was happy again.  Until she’d kissed him that first time he never knew how much he had needed that release.   Joy is precious, Doc had once said.  He’d told 10k to hold onto it when he found it because you never knew when it would be stripped away and replaced with some new variant of zombie hell.

So he’d held onto her and let himself enjoy the simple pleasure of being close to someone.  But it pained 10k to know that one day he’d have to make a difficult choice and either let go of Red, or let go of Sarge.

Hey, wait a minute…what was that noise?

10k roused himself when he heard someone shout and what sounded like a scuffle coming from the street behind him.  He grabbed his rifle to check things out.  He crept over to the roof ledge and used his scope to locate the source of the sounds.

In an alley down the street he could see an older white man in denim overalls carrying a baseball bat tussling with a clan of Enders.   It looked like he’d already taken out one Ender based on the bedraggled form slumped on the ground, but he was outnumbered and the feral attackers would soon have him cornered. 

“Shoo!  Stay back!” the old man yelled at the Enders.  He swung his bat at the approaching Enders who snarled angrily at him.

10k had no desire to kill any of the Enders, but he couldn’t let them hurt the old man.  He aimed his rifle above their heads and fired a warning shot.

As soon as they heard gunfire, the Enders panicked.  They grabbed their unconscious companion and scampered back down the street, muttering and howling incoherently.

“No, wait…” the old man yelled after the departing Enders.  “Aw, God dammit.”  His shoulders slumped.

10k deftly clambered down the fire escape.  “Hey, mister, are you okay?” he asked when he got to the bottom.  10k was confused when the older man looked more disappointed than relieved.  He was panting from exertion but otherwise looked unharmed.

“I will be.”  His frown upturned into a smile.  “Thanks to you, young man!”  He clapped 10k on the shoulder.  “You showed up just in the nick of time.  But we best skedaddle, before any more of those fellas come back.”  He pointed his bat towards the street.  “I live not far from here, so let’s go!”  While they hustled down the alley, he thrust his hand at 10k.  “Good to meet you, son.  I’m Fred, by the way.” 

10k returned the handshake. “I’m Ten Thousand.  I helped you, so maybe you could help me.  I’m looking for a friend of mine.   Maybe you’ve seen her?  Pretty black woman, long blonde hair, total bad ass?  She might have passed through here recently.”

“Huh.  Blonde hair you say?”  Fred searched his thoughts.  “I don’t think so.  We don’t get many survivors around here anymore, except for some pesky Enders now and then.  But when we get back to my place you can ask my daughter, Darla.  Maybe she knows something.”

“Great!  Thanks.”  10k checked out their rear flank, and it did not appear that they were being followed.  The Enders were all gone, but gunshots could also attract Zs, so it was best to be careful.

When they emerged from the alley, Fred motioned 10k towards a brick townhouse down the block.  “Right over there on the corner.  Darla was taking a nap when I left, so she should still be there.”

With his rifle raised, 10k quickly scanned the perimeter looking for additional threats before approaching, but the coast looked clear.  He took note of the pharmacy – it might be worth looting before he returned to his friends.

“Hey, you said you were looking for a pretty black woman.  Is that her?”  Fred pointed behind 10k.

“Warren?”  10k excitedly turned to look, but there was no one there.  Before he could say anything else, something hard smashed against his skull and then everything faded into darkness.

Chapter Text

Murphy dug through the back seat of the smashed up mini-van, hoping to find a bag of stale Goldfish crackers, a package of gummy bears, anything to satisfy his gnawing hunger.  His fingers latched onto something between the seat cushions…he dug it out, but it was only a bejeweled makeup compact.  He flipped it open and checked himself out in the tiny round mirror.

Hello, handsome!

He smiled and stroked his beard appreciatively.  Murphy kind of liked the new red look.  It was…distinctive.  Not to mention a little easier to explain than the old blotchy blue look.  When strangers gawked, he’d just ask them if they had any extra sunscreen and they’d leave him alone.  He tossed the compact back in the van.

“Dude, are you picking up anything new on Warren yet?” asked Doc.  He threw another piece of broken furniture on the fire he’d built to boil their drinking water. 

Murphy kicked a crumpled soda can across the street.  “Not really.  I got a flash a few hours ago, but nothing since.   I keep telling you, I never know when I’m going to connect.”  His stomach growled again.  He was disappointed that the city was so picked over when it came to supplies.  They’d have to move on soon if they wanted to find their next meal.

Doc stationed the pot of water over the fire.  “So how does it work, anyway?  Can you read her thoughts?”

Murphy turned over a sturdy plastic bucket to use as a chair and sat by the fire.  “Not exactly.   I might be able to see memories if I try really hard, but mostly I pick up what my Blends are feeling.  And it has to be a strong feeling for me to get a good read.”  He grinned.   “Thankfully, Roberta gets pissed off a lot.”

Anger wasn’t the only thing Murphy had gotten flashes of from Roberta.  Regret, shame, self-recrimination…he’d felt waves of that, too.  Teller’s deception about the Black Rain was obviously weighing very heavily on her.  But despite how low Roberta was feeling these days, Murphy found that he enjoyed sharing this emotional connection with her.  It was almost like the bond he’d once had with Lucy.  It made him feel far less isolated from other humans, which is how he’d often felt over the last few years.

“Hold on a second.”  Doc looked over at Murphy.  “Blends?” he asked, emphasizing the plural.

Oh, shit.

Murphy shirked nervously on his perch and pretended to be fascinated by a bottle cap he’d picked up off the ground.  “Wow!  Look at this!  Remember PBR?”  Murphy launched into his best Dennis Hopper impression.  “Heineken?  Fuck that shit.  Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

“Don’t change the subject on me.  You said ‘my Blends.’  Are you saying you can still feel more of ‘em out there?”  Doc scrutinized Murphy’s face trying to get to the truth.

Dammit.  This conversation just slid down a very slippery slope.  

To be honest, he wasn’t sure if he could pick up any of the Murphytown Blends, because he hadn’t bothered to try.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But he definitely had a blazing fast wifi connection when it came to Blends he knew well.  He’d been able to dig a little into Roberta’s mind before the Black Rain, so that really didn’t come as a surprise.  But 10k…that was quite unexpected.

I thought Sun Mei canceled out the whole Blend thing.  I mean, I felt his mind slip away.  Or maybe that was just because he died?  I don’t know.  The zombie rules keep changing all the time.  Maybe the Black Rain did something to him, too.  Technically the kid did die, after all, and these days that’s when the weird shit starts happening.

While Roberta hadn’t ever held her transformation against him, Murphy knew how much 10k feared being a Blend.  Not just back in Spokane, but now, too…Murphy could literally feel it emanating from the kid in waves.  At first, the resonance of trauma had taken him aback…Murphy hadn’t ever considered that the boy might not have gotten over his ordeal. 

For Pete’s sake, it’s been two years!  Isn’t it time to let bygones be bygones?  Well, okay, okay…I guess I did kind of abduct him, lock him in a cell, turn him into my slave and sent him off to assassinate Roberta.  Mea culpa!  But at least I gave him that fabulous leather jacket!  I even had it tailored for him and everything.  Thanks to my snappy sense of style, he never looked better. That’s gotta be worth something…right?

Murphy had decided to keep their re-established bond to himself, because the last thing he wanted was for 10k to freak out…especially if it involved shooting him in the face.  So for his own safety he’d tried very hard to pretend nothing had changed.  It had been immensely difficult, to say the least!

Murphy grudgingly supposed he had the kid to thank for helping him figure out how they could find Roberta.   Luckily, the day Murphy’s powers rebooted was also the day Sarge decided “what the hell?” and figured if the world was going to end, she might as well bang 10k.

Who could blame her?  10k may be a pain in the ass, but he is also a fine piece of ass.  If she hadn’t grabbed him first, who knows what could have happened.

Doc and Murphy had ducked out of the hangar to give the two some privacy, and it wasn’t long before Murphy was hit with his first empathic flash: exhilarating pleasure. 

He had to hold onto a guard railing to keep from melting onto the concrete until the feeling passed.   If Murphy’s face wasn’t already red, Doc would have seen him blush harder than he ever had in his entire life.  He’d stammered some lame excuse and stole away to discretely rub one off in the rest room. 

It had not been hard to connect the dots.  Whenever 10k and Sarge hooked up, he was barraged with wave upon wave of pleasure that he assumed synched with their lovemaking.  Murphy hadn’t masturbated this much since he’d left prison.

Those two lovebirds are wearing me out, but I have to admit, vicarious orgasms are a million times better than any porn ever invented!  Especially since I haven’t gotten laid since I fled Zona. 

Yep.  Being bonded to 10k was very, very weird.

In the past 10k had been inscrutable and defiant, making Murphy dig deep for the tiniest glimpse into his psyche, and now after the Black Rain upgrade it was like he was an open book.  Every time Murphy experienced a flash he was torn between savoring the intense intimacy, and wanting to respect 10k’s boundaries.  Being able to feel things from 10k’s perspective had made him more sympathetic. He didn’t want to cause him more distress.

Because when the kid is upset now, who feels it?  That’s right.  THIS GUY.

Back in Spokane, 10k had been the only Blend who could ever wall him out.  Despite their acrimonious relationship, Murphy always secretly respected 10k.  He never knew whether his other Blends were being honest with him or just telling him what he wanted to hear, so it was strangely refreshing whenever 10k would defy him.  That was probably the same reason Murphy had always been attracted to Roberta, too.  He admired a strong will.

Yet Murphy had been so excited when he’d finally penetrated 10k’s mental defenses during the knife game, after he’d fought so long and so hard to resist his influence.  It was almost intoxicating, that feeling that 10k was completely his.  

But that hard won victory soon felt hollow.  Murphy finally had his fealty, but it was like 10k’s entire personality had been erased.  Thomas was just another sheep like the other Blends, and Murphy had missed their delicious tension.

Now instead of wishing 10k would let him in, Murphy had been concentrating really hard on keeping 10k’s emotions out.  He was too much of a tempting distraction when Murphy knew he needed to concentrate all his efforts on finding Roberta.  Unlike the kid, she needed him.

So far, suppressing his link to 10k seemed to be working.  He hadn’t picked up anything since the Girl Scout attack.

“Hello?  Earth to Murphy!  What is with you today?  Are you bogarting some Z-Weed or what?” Doc prodded him with the stick he’d been using to stoke the fire. 

Before Murphy had a chance to respond, Sarge walked around the corner carrying a backpack.

Grateful for the distraction, Murphy dropped the bottle cap and stood up.  “Ah, just the lady I was hoping to see! “  He clapped his hands together and rubbed them.  “So?  What’s for dinner?”

Sarge grinned and dipped into her backpack.  “Catch!”  She tossed two big cans of Alpo dog food over to Murphy. 

“YES!  Stew time!” he exclaimed.  He rummaged through their supplies to pull out the can opener.

“You guys seen Ten Thousand?” Sarge asked.  “We were supposed to rendezvous at the Circle K, but he didn’t show.”

“He said he saw an advertisement for a gun shop, he probably went out to check for ammo.  I think it was on Walton, or maybe it was Walter Street.”  Doc made room for the cans of dog food next to the pot of water.  “I’m sure he’ll turn up soon.”

“I don’t know.  I’m concerned.  I heard a gunshot not long ago.  Was that you?” she asked.

“Pshaw!” Murphy scoffed.  “Who needs guns?  I’m more of a swashbuckler these days,” Murphy joked, waving his cane blade around with a dramatic flair.  “You never have to reload.”

“Welp.  Now you’ve got me worried, gal.”  Doc stood up and brushed the dust and ashes off his pants.  “Murphy, look after the fire while we track down the kid.” 

As they made their way to leave, Murphy dropped his blade on the ground.  His pupils rolled back, exposing the full whites of his eyes, and he started shuddering like he was having a seizure.

“What the hell?”  Sarge rushed over to grab Murphy before he could fall.  She looked over at Doc.  “Has he ever done this before?”   Doc joined her to ease Murphy gently to the ground.

“Murphy?  Murphy!”  Doc shook him to try to evoke a response.  Just as suddenly as the episode began, Murphy stopped quivering and his eyes returned to normal.

“He’s afraid,” Murphy mumbled so softly the others could barely hear him.  The look on his face was one of abject terror.

“Huh?  Who’s afraid?  Warren?  Are you picking up Warren?” asked Doc.

“No. He definitely said HE,” insisted Sarge.  “HE’S afraid.”

Murphy pushed himself off the ground.  He was still shaken, but coming back to himself. “I-I wasn’t even sure anything could get to him like that.  Yesterday we were surrounded by 20 creepy Girl Scout zombies and the kid was as cool as a cucumber.”

Maybe suppressing 10k’s emotions wasn’t such a good idea after all…it felt like some kind of dam just burst!

Doc’s eyes widened.  “The kid?  Holy shit.  You’re Vulcan mind melding with 10k!  I knew you were hiding something!”  He grabbed the lapels of Murphy’s jacket.  “Where is he?  Can you still feel him?”

“He’s feeling…trapped.  Helpless.   He’s not far from here.” Murphy muttered.  He closed his eyes and moved his head back and forth like he was trying to hone in on a signal.

The kid isn’t just scared, there is something else there, something disturbing that I can’t quite suss out.

Sarge wrinkled her brow in confusion.  “Can someone please explain what is going on?  And by the way…since when does Murphy give a crap about Ten Thousand?  I thought they hated each other.”

Murphy let out a wry chuckle.  “Oh, he hates me all right.”  Murphy pulled himself out of Doc’s grasp and rubbed the bridge of his nose like he was recovering from a migraine.   “I can pick up that emotion loud and clear on a daily basis.” 

“You need to focus that mental mojo on finding 10k, and you need to do it right now!” Doc demanded angrily, poking the red man in the chest hard enough to make him wince.   Doc shook his head.  “Damn you, Murphy.  You really should have told us about this before, man.”

“Oh, really?  You think so?” Murphy snapped.  “Do you think 10k would want everyone to know that I can feel it every single time he gets off with Little Miss Friends With Benefits over here?” Murphy yelled, motioning at Sarge.  “Do you have any idea how many times I have had to change my shorts after one of your (finger quotes) ‘rendezvous?’  Jesus!  Didn’t anyone ever teach you kids about abstinence?!”

Murphy immediately regretted his outburst when Sarge turned as red as her hair, and Doc withered into an embarrassed grimace. 

“Ooookay.  You’re totally right.  That is definitely something I’d rather not know,” Doc said, his hands raised in a surrender gesture.

Sarge’s features hardened while she stood in front of Murphy and glared up at him, arms akimbo.  “Me, either.  So why don’t you shut your big mouth and start leading us to Ten Thousand, or the only thing you’re gonna FEEL next is my boot up your red ASS.”

“Fine.”  Murphy picked up his sword and snagged one of the cans of dog food, wincing a little as the hot metal singed his fingers. “But we’re eating on the way.”  He scooped the food into his mouth as fast as he could while they hurried down the street.

Sarge nudged Doc.  “What’s a Vulcan?” she whispered.

The trio only managed to cover two blocks before Murphy stopped in his tracks. His cheeks bulged and he clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Oh God,” he moaned.  He urped behind his hand.  Doc and Sarge paused and turned around to face him.

“Are we close?  What’s happening?” Doc cocked an eyebrow when he saw Murphy’s face turn from bright red to light pink.  “Um…you don’t look so good, man.”

Murphy rushed over, yanked the boonie hat off Sarge’s head and violently puked into it.

“Hey!” Sarge’s nose wrinkled when she caught a whiff of the vomit, while Murphy heaved and heaved into her hat. “Oh, gross!” She tried to wave the smell away with her hand.

“Great.  Food poisoning.  That’s exactly what we need right now,” Doc said with an exasperated sigh.

“It’s not the dog food…it’s 10k again,” croaked Murphy.  He spit, trying to rid himself of the last vestiges of bile in his mouth.  He meekly handed the vomit filled hat back to Sarge.  “Sorry,” he shrugged.

Sarge looked down at her ruined hat, scowled at Murphy, and tossed it into the gutter.

“We’re definitely close,” Murphy said, wiping his mouth on his jacket sleeve.  “I can still taste what was in his mouth, and it was like something crawled up and died in there.”  He frowned and spit again.  “On a scale of one to ten, 10k’s anxiety level just shot up to 27.”

“That’s it.”  Doc coned his hands around his lips to amplify his voice.  “10k!  10k!  Kid?  Where are you?”

“Doc, keep it down.  We gotta be smart about this.  We don’t know who or what might be with him.”  Sarge shouldered her rifle, put her back to the wall and scanned the rooftops with her scope looking for trouble.  “You got any intel you can share on that?” she asked Murphy.

“All I know is that 10k is miserable.  But it’s the apocalypse, isn’t that kind of the default setting these days?”  Murphy unsheathed his blade and followed Sarge’s lead.

“Look!”  Doc pointed to the sign on the corner reading ‘Walton Street.’  He pulled out his hammers and crossed to the other side of the road.  He paused in front of a CVS Pharmacy.  He leaned down and picked something up off the ground.

“Guys, I found 10k’s goggles,” Doc yelled.  They were speckled with fresh blood.  “Murphy, you were right…he must be somewhere nearby!” 

“Movement, eight o’clock!  Window on the second floor of that townhouse!” Sarge pointed her rifle towards the building in question. 

That’s it.  That’s where he is!  We found him!

Murphy stopped after he picked up another intense flash of fear from 10k, because this time it came with a one word message:

“DANGER.”

Chapter Text

“Unghhh…” 10 groaned.  He tried to clear his throbbing head while he sputtered in and out of consciousness.  In between flashes he became vaguely aware of something tugging at his legs and a viscous fluid seeping into his eye.  Confused, he blinked and tried to focus on where he was.  

How did I get on a bed?  Wait…is that blood on my forehead?  What is going on?

His head hurt, and his vision was blurry.  He groggily moved to rub his eyes, only to discover he couldn’t because both his arms were lashed to a bed frame.

“What the hell?”  His predicament jolted him to full consciousness.  He tried to yank his wrists free but the cords binding him were too tight and the bed posts were fashioned from solid wrought iron.   10k looked down at his feet to see the old man he had just met finishing up the final knot on his ankle. 

10k panicked when he realized that not only was he tied to a bed but the old man – Fred?  Was that his name? - had stripped him down to his maroon undershorts.  The rest of his clothes were in a heap on top of a bedside table.   

Great.  Why do all the psychos and perverts survive the zombie apocalypse?

“Let me go!”  10k yelled as he thrashed and struggled trying to wrest himself from his bindings, to no avail.   The mattress was wrapped in slippery plastic which made it difficult to get any purchase.

His frustration ramped up to fear when he took in the rest of his surroundings and saw a rainbow assortment of plastic shower curtains tacked to the walls and floor, all of them splashed with copious amounts of dried blood.   With a sinking feeling he realized he was not the first prisoner Fred had tied to this bed.  Who would have thought a room plastered with images of sea horses, flamingos and tropical fish could be so terrifying?

Confident his knots were secure, Fred patted 10k’s bare leg and creakily rose from a crouch to his feet. 10k slackened and ceased his struggling when it dawned on him that it wasn’t desire that he saw in his captor’s eyes.

It was guilt.

“Why are you doing this?” 10k asked him.  “I helped you!” 

“I know, and I am so sorry about this, son.”  Fred shook his head, his creased face filled with woe. He pulled a handkerchief from his overall pocket and gently dabbed the blood out of 10k’s eye - a strange kindness, given the dire circumstances.  “I can see that you are a good kid, and there sure aren’t many like you left in the world.  The ugly reality is that now we all have to make the hard choices to feed our family.”

Oh crap, not cannibals!

10k remembered the horror stories Cassandra had told him about her days with that cannibal cult.  Since the Z outbreak, food had become scarcer and scarcer with every passing year. He’d had some close scrapes with desperate people during Black Summer himself, and some of the Enders they’d encountered in the past few years had devolved into eating each other.  If 10k’s father hadn’t taught him how to live off the land, he’d never have survived this long.

“Fred, please…you don’t have to do this,” 10k implored.  “Look, I can help your family.  My friends and I have food back at our camp.   Just let me go and -”

“No, you don’t get it.”  Fred stuffed the hankie back in his pocket.  “The Black Rain changed everything.  My daughter…I guess you could say she has very specific dietary needs.  A can of peaches just ain’t gonna cut it.  I would have preferred one of them Enders you scared off, but now you’ll have to do.” 

He walked through the open bedroom door to a room across the hall that 10k could see was locked from the outside with several large padlocks.  Fred pulled out a ring of keys and started unlocking.

“Darla?  Wake up, dinner’s ready.  Just like I promised.”

10k’s heart pounded as he tried again to pull free from the cords, but with every struggle they cinched tighter around his wrists and ankles.  He saw that the window next to the bed was cracked open. 

“Doc!  Sarge!  Murphy!  Help!” he shouted.  10k had no idea where Fred had taken him, but maybe his friends were within earshot.  He couldn’t just give up and let himself get eaten.

Fred unlatched the final lock and opened the door.

A woman in a red sundress padded out of the room, her head hung low and her long white-blonde hair obscuring her features.  Or was she a Z?  10k honestly wasn’t sure.  The skin on her bare arms and legs looked dead and grey, but oddly she didn’t lunge at Fred like a zombie.  Was she trained?

10k kept shouting. “Doc!  Can you hear me?  Anyone?”

The Z yawned and stretched.  “What’s with all the yelling?”  

10k was stunned into silence.  Since when could zombies talk?  Then he remembered how Doc had said he’d heard a new rumor about talking Zs, but at the time 10k had figured someone had been smoking too much Z-weed.  Apparently the rumor was true!

Darla perked up as soon as she saw 10k.  She pushed the hair out of her face, revealing a grossly swollen nose, milky yellow eyes and rotting patches of flesh around what looked like a huge bite on her cheek.   She was probably quite beautiful once, but now she was a decomposing mess. If she wasn’t a zombie, she was doing an awfully good impression.

“Oooh, Daddy, is that for me?”  She gave her father a hug like he’d just surprised her with a birthday gift.

“Try not to make a big mess this time, pumpkin.”  Fred kissed his daughter on the forehead.  “Sorry, son.  I wish there were another way, but you gotta understand.  My Darla has…needs.” He cast 10k one last regretful look before heading downstairs.

“Mmmmm.  Fresh brains!”  When Darla grinned at him she revealed a black, rotten maw behind her yellowing teeth.  She stalked towards 10k.  “You.  Look.  So.  Yummy,” she purred as she teased her finger slowly from his ankle, up his leg, across his chest, along his throat until she was able to grasp his chin.

“W-what are you?” 10k cringed away from her fetid breath and tried not to vomit as she leaned down and licked the blood off his forehead. 

Memories of Murphy flooded back to him.  “Don’t fight it, kid.  It will all be over soon…” His heart began to thud faster and faster.  “No…please…don’t bite me!”

“What am I?” Darla giggled.  She plopped down on the edge of the bed and traced playful circles around 10k’s nipple.  Trapped as he was, he couldn’t angle his body away from Darla to make her to stop.  “What are you?  Because you sure don’t taste or smell like other humans.” 

What does that mean?  I thought Sun Mei cured me.  Am I still different?

She eyed 10k hungrily like a predator ready to pounce, but her features abruptly froze when she glanced at his arm lashed to the frame.

“Wait a second…that’s a zombie bite.” She grasped his forearm and rubbed at the scar Murphy had given him.  “No wonder you smell different.  You’re just like me!” 

10k almost blurted out that he was nothing like Darla, until he realized this might be his out.  “Uh…yeah!  I’m like you!  So you better not eat me…because…uh, we probably have mutated brains or something!”

“Wow!  This is amazing!” she squealed with glee.  She sprawled on top of 10k and hugged him so hard he could barely breathe.  “I knew I wasn’t the only one!” 

10k blew her long strands of greasy hair out of his face.  Although 10k now had hope of surviving this bizarre encounter, it was somehow getting even more creepy.  “Lady?  Um, do you think you could untie me now?  Please?”

She responded by kissing the side of 10k’s neck. 

Uh oh…I really, really hate where this is heading…

“But this could be so much fun, too,” Darla purred.  She pressed closer and undulated against him while she suckled his neck and jawline.  10k was beginning to wish she had eaten his brains as he tugged futilely at the bonds holding him prisoner. 

This is not happening this is not happening please don’t let this be happening…

“Mmmm.  It has been so long since I have been with a man,” she moaned into his ear.  She nibbled his lobe while she nuzzled  him.  “Just think, together we could repopulate the earth with a brand new race!”

“Let me get this straight.”  He coughed and swallowed back the bile forcing its way up his throat.  “A minute ago you wanted to eat my brain, and now…now you want to marry me?”

Darla rolled her eyes at him.  “Jeez.  Aren’t you old-fashioned!   I don’t want to marry you, silly boy.”  She grasped his chin and forced him to look her.  “I just wanna jump your bones!” 

When she leaned in to kiss him, 10k recoiled and tried to move his face away, but she ignored his protests, forced her bloated tongue through his lips, and devoured him.  It horrified him that she tasted like spoiled, maggot infested meat left in the sun all day, and 10k had never felt so nauseated in his life.  When she finally pulled away, he gasped for fresh air and it was all he could do to keep from retching. 

She straddled his thighs and flipped her hair back, striking a playful pose.  “Although I have to say, you are quite the catch,” she cooed.  “Gorgeous, still have all your teeth, and you’re not decomposing!”  

10k winced when Darla leered down at him in a way she probably thought looked seductive, and then her hand roved lower, inching toward his shorts.

“Hey, hey!  Watch the hands!”  He blushed and tried to buck Darla off of him, but it only seemed to excite her more.  “Please, stop!”

“My, you are so hot when you’re flustered!   C’mon, baby. Don’t be shy.  Let me make it good for you.”  She leaned down and lapped at his nipple, then dotted his neck and chest with kisses, descending lower and lower towards his shorts while he squirmed.  10k blanched when she got a little too forceful and her nose suddenly separated from her face; it was barely hanging on by a tiny strip of flesh. 

“Oh my God!”  10k dry heaved.  It was a good thing he hadn’t eaten in two days or else he’d be painting the pink flamingo shower curtains with his vomit.

Darla tried to push her nose back in place, but it kept flopping back and forth, revealing her bloody nasal cavity and part of her skull.  “Ugh.  I hate it when that happens!”

 10k gulped, trying to suppress his gag reflex.  “Darla, please!  Before this goes too far, can we talk first?   Get to know each other?  We just met!”

“Oh, fine.  Party pooper!”  Darla pouted, but 10k breathed a huge sigh of relief when she lifted herself off him to sit at the edge of the bed again.  She reached over to the bedside table drawer and pulled out a tube of Krazy Glue, which she used to re-affix her nose.

“Tell me the truth.  Does this look okay?” She turned her face back and forth to show him different angles.

10k thought it looked crooked, but he nodded sheepishly.  She seemed satisfied by his response and tossed the glue back in the drawer.

“Okay, so talk.”  She adjusted her skirt and primped her hair.  “What is your secret?  How do you keep from falling apart?  How often do you have to eat brains?” she asked.

“Ew.” He grimaced at the thought.  “I don’t eat brains!”

Darla looked doubtful.  “Never?  Then what do you eat?”

“Normal stuff.  Fish, crickets, puppy chow if I can find it…”

She pushed at his chest.  “Get out of here!  You were bitten, just like me.  Are you seriously trying to say you have never craved brains?”

“I’m not lying!  I died two years ago, but since then I have never wanted to eat anyone.”

10k thought back to when he had died.  He had been feverish, so his memories were chaotic, but forever ingrained in his mind was the sensation of Warren choking the life out of him.  Red’s beautiful face looking down at him had been marred with tears.  10k had been terrified, gasping for breath, not understanding what was happening, but then there was nothing.  The fear, the pain, all of Murphy’s influence nattering in the back of his mind, it all slipped away and everything went gloriously quiet. 

Death had been a relief, like being completely immersed in a warm bath or being wrapped up in his mother’s quilt…but just as soon as he accepted his fate, he was violently jerked out of that perfect tranquility and he woke up looking at Murphy’s face.

Damn him.  He knew I never wanted to be bitten!  What if Darla’s right, and I am like her?  It took years before Murphy started going all freaky Zombie Messiah.  Am I going to start craving brains, too?

 “Huh.  So you died before the Black Rain?” Darla’s voice jolted him back to the present.  “Maybe that explains it.  That gunk messed everything up.   I can’t remember everything, but Daddy said I got attacked by a Z and I woke up like this.  I was fine for a while, but then the cravings started. I’m normal most of the time, but if I don’t eat brains every other day I start to go all ‘UHRRR!’” Darla curled up her hands into claws and acted like a lurching zombie.

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”  And despite everything, 10k meant it.  In a way, this might be his fault.  He and his friends unwittingly let the Black Rain descend upon the world.  It changed all the rules, and now Darla was paying the price.   No matter how hard he’d tried, ultimately 10k couldn’t control himself when he was a Blend, so how could he expect Darla to resist what she had become?

Darla shrugged.  “I guess it is better than dying.  But I could do without the rotting, you know?”

“…or the brain eating?” 10k added.

“Oh, man.  Brains taste AMAZING.”  Her face lit up and she licked her lips at the thought.    “You don’t know what you’re missing!”

“Uh, I guess I’ll have to take your word on that.  How many people have you eaten, anyway?” asked 10k, unable to contain his morbid curiosity.

She tapped her cheek while she considered.  “Five?  No, six.  They were all Enders,” she said with air of dismissal.  “They were so far gone that I tell myself they were mercy kills.  Besides, I’d rather eat a stranger than attack Daddy. He’s all I have left…except I guess now I have you, too!”

Suddenly, 10k could hear someone yelling in the distance.  “10k!  10k!  Kid?  Where are you?”

10k’s heart leapt for joy.   “Doc?  I’m h-mmmph!”  His happiness was cut short when Darla swiftly clamped her hand over his mouth to muffle his cry.

“Shhh, baby.  We don’t want anyone to ruin our fun,” she whispered.  “We haven’t even gotten to the good part, yet!”

Good part?  Hell, no!  The only “good part” in this scenario is me getting the hell out of here!

“Mmmmrph!”  10k bit into her hand and shook his head trying to free himself, but Darla was very strong and seemed immune to pain.  While he struggled, she grabbed his bandanna from the pile of clothes next to the bed and used it to gag him.

“Guys, I found 10k’s goggles,” Doc yelled somewhere off in the distance.  “Murphy, you were right…he must be somewhere nearby!” 

 “What the heck kind of name is ‘Ten Key’ anyway?”  Darla whispered.  She slid the window closed and smiled down at her silenced captive.  “Never mind.  You can tell me later, baby.  Right now I’m going to go find your friend so I can eat HIS brain!”

10k’s eyes widened.  No!  Don’t hurt him!  he muttered from behind the gag.  He glowered at her and yanked furiously at his bonds.  The cords were so tight they were starting to dig into his flesh and cut off his circulation.

Fred burst into the room carrying two rifles, and 10k recognized that one of them was his own.  He tossed it to his daughter.  “Look alive.  We’ve got company!   An old hippie, a red haired boy, and a fella with the worst sunburn I’ve ever seen. ” 

The old man was surprised to see that 10k was still alive.  He shook his head with an exasperated scowl.  “Darla!  Honestly.  Ever since you were a little girl, I never could get you to stop playing with your damned food.” 

“I’m keeping him, Daddy.  So we need to take at least one of the strangers alive.”  She looked over at 10k.  “If you’re a good boy, I’ll share my brains with you.  You’ll start to like them, too.  I promise.”  She blew him a kiss before she followed her father downstairs.

10k was desperate.  He couldn’t figure out to free himself, and now his friends were in trouble.  He had to warn them somehow.  He tried one last gambit not knowing whether it would even work…and half hoping it would fail.

Forcing away all his apprehension, he reached out to that cobwebby, long walled off part of his mind that had once been his psychic connection to Murphy and with all his might tried to push out a message:

“DANGER!”

Chapter Text

“DANGER!” 

Murphy’s hair stood on end when he realized it was 10k’s voice inside his head.

He must really feel desperate if he's reaching out to ME, of all people…

“Shit.  Get ready for trouble,” he warned the others.  “10k thinks we’re in danger.”  His adrenaline kicked in and he grasped his sword tighter, scanning the street for any sign of movement.

 “You there!  Put down your weapons!” a grizzled old voice yelled from down the street.  “Don’t make me ask you twice.”  An elderly man in overalls leveled his rifle at them.

“Like hell we will!”  Sarge squeezed off a round.  The man cried out in pain and clutched his shoulder.  “The next one goes right between your eyes unless you tell us what you did with our friend!”

“Um, guys?”  Doc put his hands in the air.  Directly behind him was a zombie in a red dress…and she was holding a rifle! 

Since when did zombies use weapons?  

She prodded Doc with the tip of the rifle until he dropped his hammers.  “Unless you want the hippie to die, you best do what my Daddy told you,” yelled the zombie.

Talking zombies?  What the holy hell is going on?

“That’s 10k’s rifle,” gasped Sarge.  “Where is he?”

“Weapons down.  Now!” insisted the zombie, putting the barrel of her rifle against the back of Doc’s head.  “Hands up!”

“Okay, okay,” Sarge relented, carefully putting her rifle on the ground.  She reluctantly raised her hands above her head.   Murphy dropped his sword on the ground and did the same.

The older man in denim overalls  took his place next to the talking zombie.   He pressed a red hankie against the wound on his shoulder.

“You okay, Daddy?” she asked worriedly, motioning for Doc to get to his knees.

“I’ll be fine, Darla.  It was a through and through.”  He grabbed Doc’s hammers off the ground and tossed them far out of reach.

Darla scowled at Sarge.  “Just for that, I’m eating you first, bitch!”

“Murphy, now would be a great time for you to do that thing you do,” Doc stage whispered, nodding his head towards the zombie.

Murphy took a deep breath and reached out to the zombie’s mind.  He was rusty, and this new zombie’s presence felt far more chaotic and willful than he was used to, but focusing with everything he had he was able to connect.   Slowly, per his command, the zombie lowered her weapon.

“What is going on?  I’m not doing this!  Daddy, help!” The zombie was completely puzzled as to why her limbs were moving against her volition.  Her father ran back to her side and struggled to move the rifle to point back at the group.

“Brains!” Murphy yelled, drilling the command into the zombie’s mind with as much force as he could muster.  Darla dropped the rifle and with a feral snarl leapt at her father and chomped on the top of his head.  He screamed, trying to scramble away from her, but she overpowered him and continued biting him until he collapsed.  Blood spewed everywhere from his head wound. 

“Oh my God,” Sarge mumbled, her face aghast as they watched Darla feast hungrily upon her own father. 

“Sooo hungry…”  The zombie’s moans while she greedily shoved bits of brain into her mouth sounded almost orgasmic.  She seemed oblivious to everything else going on around her while she fed.

Sarge pulled herself together, picked up her rifle and used it to dispatch Darla with a perfectly placed head shot.  She crumpled onto the corpse of her father. 

Murphy strode over and jabbed his sword into the eye socket of the corpse to prevent him from turning. 

Doc clapped him on the back.  “Thanks, man.  That was a close call, but you still got it!  A bona fide zombie whisperer, that’s what you are!”  He picked up 10k’s weapon from the ground.

“More like a zombie yeller, but you’re welcome.”  Murphy grinned back at his friend.  “10k is still alive.  I can sense him upstairs.  You two stay down here and make sure no one else shows up, and I’ll go get him.”

Sarge nodded at him.  “Copy that.”  She and Doc took up a defensive stance by the front door.

Murphy rubbed his wrists, which had been feeling increasingly sore, and on top of that he had a doozy of a headache.  He bounded up the steps, honing in on 10k’s waves of anxiety.  The first bedroom door, covered in padlocks, led to an empty room.  Just past that he hit the jackpot.

He couldn’t believe what he was seeing when he stepped through the doorway. 

No wonder the kid was so freaked out!

The plastic covered walls were coated in blood.  How many people died here?  Murphy was chilled by the grotesque pastel chamber of horrors – it looked exactly like Dexter the serial killer’s plastic wrapped kill rooms except assembled by his great Aunt Edna.  He was pretty sure she had that same teal sea horse shower curtain in her bathroom.

Stuck in the middle of the macabre scene was poor 10k.  He’d been bound, gagged, and strapped to a plastic wrapped mattress that was spattered with the gore of other unfortunate victims.  His eyes widened at the sight of Murphy, and he squirmed in his bonds and muttered something through his gag.

Despite the disturbing surroundings, Murphy immediately got a rush out of seeing 10k’s lean form splayed out, taut and writhing before him like one of his darkest fantasies come true.  It took his breath away.

Why does he have to be so beautiful?

He gulped and forced those thoughts from his mind.   10k was currently feeling so scared and vulnerable that Murphy felt shamed for harboring such desires.  He rushed over to the bed and tugged the gag out of 10k’s mouth, and hoped the kid didn’t notice that he’d gotten hard.

“Doc?  Sarge?  Are they –“ 10k flailed, desperately searching the hallway to see his friends.

“- they’re fine,” Murphy assured him, tossing the bandana on top of the rest of 10k’s clothes.

“Darla…Fred…where are they?  You can’t trust them!”  10k’s eyes were wild, frantic.  “Doc!  She’s gonna eat him!  You have to -”

“Shhh.  Calm down.  We took care of them.  You’re safe now.  Everything is going to be okay.”  He inspected 10k’s restraints.  “Let’s figure out how to deal with these.”

“Oh, thank God!” 10k relaxed a bit, but abruptly winced and gasped in pain when Murphy touched his wrist. 

“Sorry, I’ll try to be gentler.”  Murphy used his sword to carefully saw at the rope.  He was not happy to see that 10k’s wrists were severely abraded and bruised from all the struggling.  Upon closer inspection he could also see blood caked in 10k’s hair, like he’d suffered a blow to the head.

“When we’re done here, we should have Doc tend to your wounds.  We don’t want anything to get infected.”  Murphy paused for a moment.  “What the - ?”  He reached over to 10k and lifted up his chin to get a better look at the mark on his neck.

“What are you doing?” 10k squawked indignantly.

“Is that a hickey?” teased Murphy, cocking his eyebrow at 10k.

10k blushed and wrested himself out of Murphy’s grasp.  “Shut up.”  He averted his eyes.  “Darla.  I-I couldn’t stop her.”

Ah.  The zombie got fresh with him.  Everything makes sense now! 

Murphy resumed sawing at the restraints.  “Kid, you have nothing to be embarrassed about.  It’s not your fault that everyone in the apocalypse wants to get into your pants.”  He smirked when 10k’s blush became even redder.  “Lucky you, I guess that includes zombies now, too.”

He finally cut through the cords, which allowed 10k to free his wrists.   10k, silent and withdrawn, carefully flexed and rubbed at his wrists, trying to improve his circulation while Murphy went to work on the cords binding his ankles next.  He forced himself to look away from 10k’s deliciously snug undershorts while he sliced.

What the hell is wrong with me?  Now is not the time to perv on the kid! 

He blinked and sawed a little faster.  He needed to get 10k dressed and out of this horror show of a bedroom as soon as possible.

Murphy nearly dropped his sword when he heard 10k’s voice in his head, the words somehow both tentative and yet clear as a bell. 

How did you find me?  10k asked.  Did you hear me?

He reluctantly looked up at the head of the bed, where 10k stared back at him, his impossibly guileless young eyes rimmed with tears.   It struck him that in all the years he had known Ten Thousand, the only other time he’d ever seen him cry was after the knife game.

That was when I reached deep into his mind, and I broke him. 

Murphy understood immediately that this was a test, that 10k was hoping against hope that Murphy hadn’t just received a telepathic message, and that his earlier communication was all in his head.

Crap.  Should I lie?  Look at him.  He doesn’t want this.  He’s scared shitless already, for Christ’s sakes, he doesn’t need this blend bullshit, too.  But if I lie, he’s just going to hear about it from Doc and Sarge as soon as he leaves this room.

The jig was up.  There was no way to hide their renewed connection anymore.

Yes, Murphy glumly responded via their telepathic link.  I heard you.

“No.”  10k shook his head.  “No!  Not again.  You are not my savior!” 10k growled, kicking the rest of the ropes off his legs.

“Look, I’m sorry…but technically, I did just save you…and in case you forgot, you were the one who called me!” Murphy sputtered.

10k glared at him as he tried to slide off the slippery mattress and stand up, and he almost made it, but as soon as his feet hit the floor Murphy felt him become overly dizzy and 10k buckled to his knees.

“Unngh,” 10k groaned, clutching his head wound.  Murphy reached down to help him back to his feet, but 10k fended him off.

“How long?” 10k demanded, his voice breaking.  He remained in a crouch, distraught and refusing to look up at Murphy.

 “Just since the Black Rain, I promise.  Look, you’re hurt.  Let me help you!“  Again Murphy tried to steady 10k, wincing as he felt the boy’s head throbbing like it was his own. 

“Let me go!  I won’t be your slave again, not ever,” 10k gritted out, and his words wounded Murphy far more than the vicarious pain in his skull. 

He’s right to be scared of me.  I did hurt him.  How can I ever make things right between us? 

10k managed to lurch to his feet, but the physical exertion proved to be too much for him and Murphy could feel his mind slip away as he fainted.  Murphy caught him before he could drop.         

“Doc, get up here!  Doc!” Murphy screamed while he eased 10k back onto the bed.  “Something is wrong!”  Panicking, he patted 10k’s face and shook his shoulders to rouse him, but he was unresponsive.

“No, no, no…” Murphy felt a tear roll down his cheek when he couldn’t find a pulse.   He put his ear against 10k’s bare chest and listened for a heartbeat. 

Doc barreled into the room and pushed him aside.  “Give me some room!  Kid, can you hear me?” 

Sarge waited in the doorway, worry etched all over her face.   Murphy could see the terror in her eyes as she took in all the gore splattered around the kill room.  He didn’t need a telepathic link to know exactly what she was thinking:  Would 10k die in this room, too?

Please wake up!  Murphy messaged as Doc worked on 10k.  I don’t care if you hate me forever.  I can’t lose you, too!

 

Chapter Text

Sarge and Murphy both paced nervously in the hallway while Doc examined 10k in the blood soaked bedroom where he’d been held prisoner.

“What the hell happened?  Can you feel him?  Is he gonna be okay?” Sarge asked. 

“I-I don’t know.  He was fine, being his usual stubborn pain in the ass self, but then he got dizzy and passed out!  I can’t get a read on him; everything is blank now.”  But wait…I could feel him a few minutes ago. 

Murphy poked his head back in the bedroom doorway.  “Check for a head wound!  I saw blood in his hair!”

“Gotcha, brother.” Doc gingerly checked 10k for signs of swelling.  “It’s weird.  His breathing is regular, but I’m having a heck of a time finding his pulse.  You said he got dizzy?   He might have a concussion.”

Sarge spotted a baseball bat leaned up against a narrow side table in the apartment hallway.  “Wait a minute.  Look at this!”  She handed it to Murphy.

The bat was splattered with sticky fresh blood.  Murphy ran his finger through it, and brought it up to his nose to sniff.  It wasn’t enough to discern if it was zombie or human, so he licked the blood off his finger.

Sarge wrinkled her nose.  “Ugh, that is seriously nasty!”

“Oh…it’s definitely 10k, alright,” Murphy admitted, and off Sarge’s disgusted look he tried to cover up how much he enjoyed the blood.  He would never forget that hint of something undefinable underlying the initial taste of salt and copper, a mystery begging to be unraveled.

“They must have hit him with this.”  Murphy reluctantly handed the bat back to Sarge – it had taken every ounce of self-control he had not to lick it clean.

If his blood is this tasty, imagine what his come tastes like!  No wonder Sarge loves giving him head.

Murphy remembered when he had first bitten 10k, back when they had been on the CDC submarine.  10k had been taken aboard to receive treatment for a gunshot wound.  While touring the sub, Murphy learned more about Zona’s plans, and he had not liked what he’d heard.  As soon as he had the opportunity, he turned Dr. Merch and several soldiers into his blends, and used them to stage his getaway.

One of his new soldier blends climbed up from a lower deck and saluted Murphy.  “As you instructed, sir, the explosive charges have been set.  We have twenty minutes to get to a safe distance.”

“Great.  So what are we waiting for?  Let’s blow this popstand!”  Murphy had almost forgotten about 10k until they turned a corner and saw him lying on the floor, moaning in pain and clutching his wound.

Argh!  They were supposed to fix him!  Can’t anyone around here do anything right?  Warren thought these morons were going to save the whole world, and they can’t even save one kid!

“Don’t just stand there.  Hurry up and help him!” he commanded Merch.

She kneeled down and examined 10k’s gunshot wound.  Her face looked grim, and she shook her head.  “He’s lost too much blood.  He’s not going to make it without more transfusions!”

“So we’ll give him one when we get back to shore!  Hey, meatbag.  Over here!”  Murphy mentally signaled for the captain to carry 10k.  The blend hoisted the young man over his shoulder, holding his legs in front while 10k’s head and arms dangled down his back.

 “Transfuse him with what, exactly?” Dr. Merch retorted.  “The blood is stored on the other side of the sub, which, by the way, you just rigged to explode, and we can’t donate any because you turned us all into blends!”  She glared back at Murphy, awaiting his next command. 

He rolled his eyes at her.  “Oh, for chrissakes.  I guess if I want something done right, I have to do it myself!”  Murphy stormed closer to 10k and turned his face, exposing his cheek.

“Whuz hap’ning, whaddya you…” 10k muttered weakly.  He looked clammy and pale and he could barely keep his eyes open.

Murphy hesitated, stroking his thumb across 10k’s cheek while thinking back to that horrible day with The Collector, and how terrified 10k had been when he thought he was going to be bitten.  He’d rather die than become like Cassandra, he’d said. 

Should I let him go?  No.  Fuck that!  If I’m going to rebuild the world, I need someone capable at my side.  I have a feeling these assholes aren’t going to cut it.

He may not want this, but I want him.

“Sorry about this, kid, but I don’t have a lot of time.”  Murphy yanked 10k’s collar aside and bit the back of his neck. 

“No!” 10k sobbed.   He struggled and kicked, mumbling incoherent curses while he tried to escape the captain’s grip, but he was so drained that his captor was able to contain his feeble resistance with ease.

As soon as the blood started flowing, Murphy experienced a tsunami of sensation.  Feelings, sounds and images of 10k’s life coursed through him like an electric shock. Piking a bound man…struggling with Cassandra…recoiling from Murphy...running after the girl in the scarlet shawl.  The fear and grief rolling off 10k was so intense that Murphy had to hold onto the captain’s arm to steady himself.  As soon as he withdrew his lips, the connection was severed.

Tommy. The people he loved called him Tommy. But they’re all gone.

“Shhh.  Forget!” Murphy commanded, and 10k stopped writhing and slumped against the captain, unconscious.  Murphy smiled sadly and smoothed 10k’s hair and readjusted his signature goggles so they wouldn’t fall off.

You don’t have to fear me, Thomas.  We’re going to save the world together.  You’ll see…

 “Sir, we are running out of time.  We have to move.  Now!”  Dr. Merch urged him.  She obviously wanted to flee but was frozen in place until her master commanded otherwise.

Murphy had completely forgotten about the explosives!  He straightened his tie and strode towards the exit ladder.  “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Don’t get your panties in a twist.” Murphy licked the last trace of 10k’s blood from his lips and mentally commanded everyone to exit the sub and board the raft they used to make their escape. 

Two years ago, and I still remember that day like it was yesterday.

Murphy scratched his goatee and watched Doc minister to 10k’s injuries.

Doc looked back at him.  “You were right, he has blood on him, but I can’t find a lump.  He doesn’t have a temperature, and he just started snoring, so I think he might be okay.   I just can’t seem to rouse him.  You sure you can’t get anything from that link of yours?”

Murphy closed his eyes and tried to see if he could sense anything.  And when he focused intently, he realized there was something there…not exactly an emotion, but there was something coalescing behind the bond that they shared.

“He’s there, but it is like he’s…I don’t know…rebooting?”  Murphy shrugged his shoulders.

Sarge looked at him funny.  “Rebooting?”

“Yeah, you know.  Like when your computer has to restart because of an error…and why am I bothering to explain pre-Z concepts to the likes of you?  Your generation doesn’t even remember online porn!” Murphy snorted.

“What…the…hell?” Doc leaned closer to 10k and pushed his round sunglasses up over his hair to get a better look.  “Am I really seeing this?”

Murphy and Sarge joined Doc at the side of the bed.  He peered down at 10k.  Doc gripped 10k’s chin and tilted it away from them.

Murphy gasped as the purplish contusions of Darla’s hickey gradually vanished from 10k’s neck right before their eyes.

“You saw that, right?” Doc asked.   Murphy nodded, incredulous.  “Okay, good, because I did the last of the peyote and thought it might be a flashback!”

Murphy punched him in the shoulder.  “Hey, you were supposed to save that for a special occasion!”

“Ow!”  Doc rubbed his shoulder.  “Well, excuse me for thinking the world ending was a special enough occasion!”

Sarge interjected.  “Since when does Ten Thousand have super healing, anyway?”

“Well, truth be told, 10k has almost died more times than I can count, but this is new.” Doc looked over at Murphy.  “You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”

“Black Rain,” they both said simultaneously.

“Who knows what kind of freaky mutations that shit causes!” Doc exclaimed.  “Murphy’s red, zombies are talking…man, I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow with a third eye or a tail.”

“I think you’re safe, old man.” Murphy clapped Doc on the back.  “Zona created those chemicals to target the Zs, not humans.  Lucky us, 10k and I just ain’t very human anymore.”

“Wow.  This is wild.  Do you think Warren is gonna be like Ten Thousand, too?” Sarge asked.

“I don’t know.  Maybe?  Who knows.  We better find her soon!” Doc motioned at all the gore plastered around the room.  “But until 10k wakes up, can we find a new place to crash?  This room is giving me the heebie jeebies!”

Chapter Text

10 blinked drowsily as the warm morning sun shone right in his eyes.  He realized he was on a bed again, but fortunately this one was not coated in gore and did not come with any restraints.  He had a comfy feather pillow and a patchwork quilt, and this time when he woke up in an unfamiliar place he was greeted by a friend.

“Well, well, well…look who finally decided to open his eyes!”   Doc smiled warmly while he ruffled 10k’s hair.  He was seated on a folding chair next to the bed.  “Rise and shine, kiddo.  It’s gonna be a beautiful day in the apocalypse!”

“Doc!” 10k grinned and pushed himself into a seated position.  “How long was I out?”  He accepted the glass of water Doc handed him and took a couple gulps.  He was in a bedroom, but it did not appear to be in Fred and Darla’s home.  His friends must have moved him while he was unconscious, and he was grateful to be away from their creepy kill room.

“Almost a day, but you needed the rest.  Truth be told, after that conk on the head you’re lucky to be alive, ya little cockroach! Here, try to eat some of this.”  Doc passed him a bowl filled with some kind of stew, which 10k happily wolfed down.  While he finished his food he noticed that Doc was watching him very, very carefully.

That’s weird.  Doc’s smile…it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.  There’s something he’s not saying.

“How are you feeling, exactly?” Doc asked, a nervous twinge in his voice.  “Anything…unusual you want to talk about?”

10k sighed and handed him the empty bowl.  “You mean the mental thing with Murphy?  No offense, but that is the LAST thing I want to talk about.  Like, ever.”

“Err, that is not exactly what I meant.”  Doc reached over and gently grasped his wrist and turned it over.  “Look.”

At first 10k wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be looking at.  It was just his wrist.  It looked perfectly normal.  Then he remembered what had happened to him the previous day.  When he’d been tied up, he had struggled so hard that he’d bruised his wrists and the cords had dug into them so deeply they’d drawn blood.

But less than 24 hours later, there were no bruises, no cuts, nothing.

10k stared incredulously at both of his wrists, looking for wounds that didn’t exist.  “I…I don’t understand.  How did they heal so quickly?”

“Or your head?”  Doc’s voice became even more solemn.  “We found a baseball bat with your blood all over it.  A blow like that probably would’ve killed anyone else.  But I couldn’t find any sign of physical trauma on that noggin of yours.   And then there’s your pulse.”  He guided 10k to put his fingers next to his carotid artery.  “It’s so slow, it’s almost like you don’t even have one!”

10k waited and waited for a heartbeat.  It must have been at least a minute until he felt even one.

“What are you?  Because you sure don’t taste or smell like other humans.” 

His eyes widened.  “What happened to me?  Am I dead?  Oh my God, am I one of those things?”

Doc put a reassuring hand on his soldier.  “I don’t think so.  Even though it is slow, your heart is still beating, and the Zs still want to eat you.  If you were dead, they’d leave you alone.  But I do think we gotta consider the possibility that the Black Rain caused some kind of change in you, just like it did with Murphy.”

“Murphy,” 10 scoffed, shaking his head.   “Everything always comes down to him, doesn’t it?  When the Hell am I ever gonna get away from that guy?”  Without thinking he rubbed the bite scar on the back of his neck. 

“I know you two have history.  Bad shit went down, and I can’t pretend to understand all of it.”  He patted 10k’s shoulder one more time before he withdrew.  “Murphy may be an asshole sometimes, but if it weren’t for him, both of us would have ended up as Darla Chow.  He saved our lives.”

“Maybe he did, but that doesn’t mean I want Murphy inside my head again,”  10k bristled.  He looked directly into Doc’s eyes.  “Promise me you’ll stop him if he ever controls me.”

“Now hold on.  I don’t think that’s gonna –“ Doc countered.

10k raised his voice, cutting him off.  “Promise me!” he implored.  The intensity of his words had an immediate effect on Doc, chastening him into silence.  10k softened his approach.  “I’m sorry.  But I can’t live like that.  I-I can’t lose myself again,” he said, choking off a sob.

Doc’s voice was flooded with emotion as he pulled the boy into a hug. “I promise you, son.  I will not let that happen.”  10k wrapped his arms tightly around the older man while he soothed him. “Please know that I will always have your back, from now until my last day.  You hear me?”

10k nodded against his shoulder.  He didn’t know what would happen next with all this Blend weirdness, but he was grateful at least Doc could help him figure things out.

“Hey, if you’re giving out hugs, think I could get one, too?” Sarge said, peeking in through the doorway.

10k looked over at her and wiped dampness from his eye while he smiled.  She leaned her rifle against the wall and rushed over to embrace him herself.  She kissed him on the forehead before she straightened up.

“I was so worried about you,” she admitted.  “I’m so glad you’re going to be okay!” 

But am I?  Not wanting to spoil the lighter mood, 10k kept that concern to himself.

She looked over at the empty bowl on the bedside table.  “Ah.  I see you liked my secret recipe.  Want me to rustle up some more grub?”

“Heck, yeah!” 10k responded.  He was still famished, and felt like he could finish off 10 bowls.  But he also felt like he hadn’t peed in a year.  After Sarge left to get more food he scrambled out of bed to find someplace he could go.

“Hold on.  You feeling stable enough to walk?” Doc asked, watching him for any sign of weakness.  “Maybe you should still take it easy.”

“Actually, I feel better than I have in a long time!  Except I really, really have to go.”  Everyone knew bathroom fixtures no longer functioned in the apocalypse, so he hurried across the hallway into what looked like a home office. He quickly opened the window so he could relieve himself into the alley outside.  10k let out a contented sigh as the flow arced out the window.

He startled and almost splashed urine onto his bare feet when he heard a deliberate cough behind him.  He looked over his shoulder to see Murphy splayed out casually on a small sofa in the corner, holding an old GQ magazine.  The cover headline read “HOW TO GIVE YOUR PARTNER MINDBLOWING ORAL SEX!”

“Welcome back to the land of the non-living!” Murphy put down his magazine and eyed 10k from head to toe, giving him an appreciative smirk.  "Where’s my hug?”

Shit.  How much did he hear?  Can he eavesdrop on my thoughts?

10k blushed furiously while he finished his business and tucked himself back in his shorts.  “Not gonna happen!”  

Murphy shrugged with a mischievous grin, giving him another lingering once over before going back to reading his magazine.

10k suddenly felt far too naked for comfort and awkwardly retreated back to the safety of his room to find his clothes, bumping into a standing lamp and nearly knocking it over in the process.

Why was he looking at me like that?

When Doc handed him his clothes, he couldn’t put them on fast enough.

Chapter Text

10k snuggled next to Sarge in their makeshift nest on the carpet.  Stroking her hair gently, he gazed at the pattern the moonlight splayed on the faux wood paneled wall of the abandoned mobile home in which they had taken refuge for the night.   She slumbered contentedly against his chest, her breathing barely audible until she shifted position and let out a funny little snore.  He had grown to love the sounds she made when they were alone.  She felt so tiny in his arms, and he thought back to the beloved stuffed tiger he’d treasured as a child.  Just like Stripes, she was a small but fierce protector who knew how to fend off all the monsters.  He always felt safer when she was close.

But despite their closeness, it troubled him that she had not wanted to make love lately.  Yesterday night she had begged off with an excuse that he’d been through a lot and still needed rest.  Perhaps he did.  Yet there was something about her hesitation, about the slight stammer in her speech when she asked if they could just cuddle instead…things had changed. 

He had changed.

10k looked down at his inner forearm.   Earlier that day, after he had finished his morning shave, he had surreptitiously sliced himself with his straight razor then hid the wound under his sleeve.  Not because he wanted to hurt himself, and indeed it had hurt just like every other time he’d ever suffered an injury.  It was a test to see if what they’d told him was true – could he really heal quickly now? 

Tonight he had confirmation – the two inch laceration from this morning was completely healed over, with no trace of a scab or scar.

I can’t blame Sarge.  I’m a freak now!  What if I turn Z and try to eat her? Am I gonna end up some kind of zombie messiah, like Murphy?  Oh shit…what if I turn into something even worse than Murphy? 

He looked down at his healed arm again, and rubbed the soft skin where the cut used to be.

Except Murphy never healed himself like this.  Half the time I’ve known him he looks like he’s rotting away!   Sun Mei said Murphy was dead, that he was more Z than human.  But I’m not like him.   If I was, the zombies would leave me alone.   If we could find Sun Mei, have her study my blood, maybe we could use it to heal others…maybe even find a cure for the Z virus!

10k nestled closer to Sarge and willed himself to calm down and stop worrying.  Although he couldn’t see Doc from his vantage point on the living room floor, he could smell the distinct waft of Z Weed coming from the front stoop of the trailer where Doc was acting as sentry for the next few hours.  Knowing Doc was looking out for him always brought 10k a lot of comfort.

Doc promised me everything would be okay.  If I don’t have hope, what else is there?

And things did seem a lot better.  It had been very quiet and uneventful since they’d left Fred and Darla’s town behind.  10k was immensely relieved to be far away from that place!  Murphy claimed he had a much better read on Warren, so the group struck out towards the farmlands hoping to reconnect.

Good, he’d thought when Murphy turned his attention back towards the mission.  Focus on Warren and stay the hell out of my head.

But Murphy was acting stranger than usual.  Usually when Murphy said he’d found Warren’s trail he was excited, but recently he was somewhat sullen, almost morose.  For the first time he was acting like finding Warren wasn’t a top priority…until Doc smacked him on the back of the head and demanded he show them the way.

Although they lacked a vehicle, the group had made pretty good time, and was lucky enough to avoid any bad encounters.  When they found this place to rest for the evening, a dilapidated little trailer just off the highway, Murphy had retired to the only bedroom.  Unlike Sarge, he was not a quiet snorer and at times it sounded like a chainsaw was trying to hack through the back wall of the trailer.  Fortunately 10k could sleep through anything, but it had gotten suspiciously quiet in the last half hour or so. 

Actually, it was the sudden absence of sound that had awoken 10k and alerted him to a potential problem.  10k hoped he wasn’t being spied upon, but he was afraid to reach out with his mind to test the boundaries of their connection.  As of late he felt like he was hiding in his own skin to avoid Murphy’s radar.  He did not like their shared bond, not one bit. 

10k perked up when he heard a faint sound emanate from Murphy’s room.  Not quite a snore…more like a grunt.  It was hard to tell from this far away, so he concentrated harder.

He detected another grunt.  And in short succession, another grunt followed by a soft whine, and then something that sounded like a scrape against the wall.  10k startled when he heard something thud onto the floor, like a book had fallen off a shelf or a lamp had been knocked over.

Sarge was still in a deep, oblivious sleep so he carefully peeled himself out from under her to go investigate the sound.  He crept down the hallway and listened outside Murphy’s door. 

“Oh…oh…Ro…berta!” Murphy moaned from inside the bedroom, and 10k could hear the faint sound of limbs thrashing against sheets, of skin slapping against skin.  “There…there…yes…oh god!”

10k jaw dropped when he realized what he was hearing.  Murphy was jerking off!  10k grimaced and turned to head back to Sarge, hopeful that if he moved quietly enough Murphy would not realize he had stumbled upon his private moment.

A few steps away from the door, 10k stopped in his tracks as another thought occurred to him.

Hold on, he’s been concentrating on his bond with Warren all day.  Is he connected to her right now?  Oh crap, of course he is.  He feels exactly what she feels!

10k then remembered how awkward Sarge had been around Murphy ever since they’d rescued him.  Almost bashful, and that was the last adjective he would ever apply to Sarge.  

When they’d settled into the trailer for the night, Murphy called dibs on the back bedroom.  Then he apologized and pointedly offered to switch with Sarge if she wanted to “rendezvous” tonight.  Sarge had blushed, glared, and told him to shut up and mind his own business.

Murphy had grinned and winked at 10k as he sauntered down the hallway to his room.  “Aw.  Looks like you aren’t getting any tonight, kid.  What a shame.”

Oh my God.  He feels what WE feel, and he gets off on it.  Does that mean he…oh no…was he jerking off when I was with Sarge?  He was, wasn’t he! 

His fury mounting, 10k whirled around and threw open the bedroom door.

“Leave Warren alone, you monster!” 10K shouted at Murphy as he barreled towards the bed.  Covered only by a thin sheet, Murphy did not acknowledge the intrusion, even though his eyes were open.  Murphy’s ministrations continued unabated, soft moans slipping from his lips while he touched himself under the sheet.

It wasn’t until 10k got closer that he noticed that Murphy’s eyes were completely white, like he was caught up in some kind of trance.  “Did you hear me?  Get out of her head!”   10k smacked Murphy across the face as hard as he could.

Before he could draw his arm back, Murphy swiftly grabbed 10k’s wrist.

10k gasped as if all the air had been sucked out of his lungs.  In an instant, the whole world withdrew in an exhilarating rush.  The trailer, the bedroom, Murphy, Sarge and Doc – everything physical was left behind while 10k’s consciousness hurtled into the void. 

But void wasn’t the right word, was it?  Because the strange space 10k now occupied wasn’t empty.  He didn’t understand how he knew he was immersed within Roberta Warren, but there she was.  Warren was everywhere, and yet nowhere. 

He couldn’t see Warren so much as he could sense her, like 10k was enveloped in a cocoon of her unmistakable essence.  Her determination, her courage, her sense of loss, all those fragments of her being swirled around him like colors he couldn’t quite see, like scents he couldn’t fully distinguish.  10k had a hard time telling where his soul ended and where Warren’s began.  He felt what she felt.

And right now, he felt awash in pleasure.  Contentment.  And perhaps even…love?   Yes, he recognized that emotion.  10k smiled, basking in these luxurious feelings like he was floating along a warm current, unsure where it would lead next.

Wow.  Warren has fallen in love with someone…but who?

When 10k was rocked by another wave of intense, shuddering pleasure he stopped wondering and surrendered.  All semblance of thought washed away while he was swept up in the powerful current of Warren’s desire.  He allowed himself to be emptied and filled, caressed and kissed, as every new touch mounted into a dizzying crescendo of sensation.

When Warren finally came, 10k mirrored her climax with his own thunderous release. Tears of ecstasy rolled down his cheeks as he tumbled out of Warren’s mind and collapsed, exhausted, against a sweaty tangle of limbs that he was only dimly aware were not his own.

What just happened?  Was that a dream?

His head was still swimming, scrambling for purchase as he tried and failed to parse out what was real, and what was not.

So weird…I haven’t had a sex dream about Warren since I was sixteen…where did that come from?

His spent body and mind fought against consciousness, demanding sleep.  He gave up trying to make sense of things and wrapped himself around Sarge so he could drift fully back into slumber.

Just a dream…wait.  When did she get so tall…and hairy?

“Unhhh…Sarge?” 10k murmured amid his haze of confusion.

“Nope.”  Murphy placed a kiss on 10k’s wrist and slapped his bare ass.  “Guess again, gorgeous!”

Chapter Text

Murphy squinted and stared off into the distance, but he still couldn’t see anything but desolate farmland for as far as the eye could see.  The land had not been tended in many years and was covered with dried out weeds, not crops.  He and the team had been walking along this lonely highway for hours.   They’d found the site of Warren’s crashed drone that morning, and Murphy had learned from a zombie a few miles back that she’d definitely been through this way.

“What’s the sitch on your Warren radar?” Doc asked.  “Please tell me we’re getting close.”

“She’s around, alright.  Not sure how close, but she’s coming through clear as a bell.”  Murphy grumbled.  “Unfortunately.”

Doc’s voice rose.  “What do you mean?  She’s not hurt or in trouble is she?  That crash looked terrible!”

“No, no…nothing like that.”  Murphy rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck.  “She’s…well, she’s horny.”  He scowled at the thought of it.

“Seriously?”  Doc laughed heartily.  “If that don’t beat all!  That gal never ceases to amaze me.  Here we are all worried about her, and she’s off looking to scratch an itch!  Can you sense anything else?”

“There was some general anxiety and alarm earlier, but that went away pretty quickly and she’s been feeling super flirty all freaking afternoon.”

Aargh.  This empathy thing officially sucks.  What am I, chopped liver?  Why the hell can’t Roberta or 10k see that I could use some loving attention?

“Sounds like somebody’s jealous,” Doc sing-songed.

Murphy cleared his throat and stepped up his walking pace.  “I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Doc matched his speed.  “Please.  I may be old, but I’m not senile!  You’ve had a thing for Warren for almost as long as I’ve known you.”  Doc snorted.   He looked warily over his shoulders at Sarge and 10k walking almost a quarter mile behind them.   “And don’t try to deny it, but I’ve seen you check out 10k’s ass more than once!” he said in a conspiratorial whisper.

 “What can I say?  It gets lonely in the apocalypse.  You gotta keep all your options open!” Murphy said with a shrug and a sly grin.  He straightened out the collar of his jacket.   “But don’t worry, that ain’t gonna happen.  Even if he miraculously stopped hating my guts, the kid already has a full dance card.”  He jerked his thumb back towards Sarge.  “Loverboy has been trying to fight it because he misses whats-her-face, but he’s nuts about the little redhead.”

“Yep.  That’s obvious even without a mental link,” Doc chuckled.  “Ah, young love.  Thank God I found ear plugs so I can get some blasted sleep!”  He straightened the brim of his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes.  “But seriously, you have got to figure out how to give them some privacy.  They don’t need you mentally peeping at them!”

Murphy pulled his sunglasses out of his jacket pocket and donned them.  “Sheesh.  You make me sound like a pervert.  You forget that I didn’t ask for this stupid bond!  I don’t know how to control it!”

“Well try harder!” Doc prodded him in the shoulder.  “Unless, of course, you want one of them kids to use you for target practice!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…I am trying, okay?” Murphy fumed.   He kicked a rock off the roadway.  “I’ve been tuning in to Warren all day to cut him some slack.  One thing I can’t figure out though…how come I can communicate with 10k, but not her?  It would make things so much easier if she could just tell us exactly where the hell she is!”

“Huh.”  Doc scratched his beard thoughtfully.  “Hard to say.  None of your blends have been the same, really.  Cassandra acted way more Z than human, but I couldn’t even tell 10k was Blendified until I saw the scar.”  He scowled at Murphy.  “Which by the way…when I saw the bite, I really wanted to kick your teeth in!”  He wagged his finger accusatorily at the red man.  “You’re damn lucky I had time to calm down before I saw you again.”

Murphy batted aside Doc’s hand, slightly irked.  “Hey!  He was bleeding out, what else was I supposed to do?  Would you rather I had let him die?”

“Of course not!  But I know you, brother.  Sometimes you do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.”  Doc peeked behind his shoulder again to make sure the others were still out of earshot, and turned back to Murphy, his face suddenly hardened.  “Look me in the eye, and swear to me you will never, ever use 10k again.”

Incredulous, Murphy stopped in his tracks.  “What?  Where is this coming from –“

Doc raised his clenched fist.  “I mean it! You promise me.  Never make him do anything he doesn’t want to, or I will do more than knock your lights out, so help me God.” 

Murphy glanced back and watched as 10k and Sarge marched closer.  They were engaged in their own conversation and showed no interest in this quiet altercation.

Murphy turned to look Doc steadily in the eye, and there was a dead seriousness there that he’d never seen in the usually genial older man.  Murphy gulped and lowered his sunglasses.

I forgot.  Doc may have a kid out there somewhere, but 10k is the son he raised.  Fathers are supposed to protect their young.  I sure wish I’d done a better job protecting mine.

“Doc, I swear, I won’t.”  He solemnly spit in his hand and offered it to Doc to shake.

Clearly relieved, Doc smiled, spit in his own hand and shook.  “Alrighty, then.  That’s settled.  Don’t let me down, man.”  They started walking again.

You, my friend, are the last person in this damned Apocalypse that I ever want to let down.

Murphy breathed easier and nudged his sunglasses back up the bridge of his nose.  “You have to understand, though.  I don’t understand how any of this –“ Murphy waved his hands around his head. “-stuff works.  I wish the kid would stop being pissed off and start helping me figure out how to contact Roberta.  Like I said, I have had zero luck trying to talk to her like I can talk to him.” 

“Hmmm.  Maybe that’s because you never bit Warren,” Doc offered.  “She accidentally got Blendified from that gunshot.  But 10k, you bit him TWICE.” He held up his fingers in a peace sign gesture.

Murphy’s eyes widened.  “Now that...that makes a weird kind of sense.”  He rubbed his chin and thought back on his experiences.  “Back in Murphytown, I did feel like I had stronger connections with the Blends I bit than the ones I vaccinated.  But I always figured it was because I knew them better.”

“Murphytown.  I still can’t believe you named a freaking town after yourself!” Doc scoffed and rolled his eyes.

Murphy clapped him on the back.  “If it makes you happy, I promise that I’ll let you name the next one.  Doccywood?  Docbeckistan?  Go nuts.”

The group trudged along the desolate rural highway for five or six more miles.  They passed by several rusted out cars and rotted corpses, but luckily there was nothing dangerous lurking around, and no structures in the immediate area, either.  Just acres and acres of dried out farm land.

Murphy got several flashes of Warren that felt stronger than before, so he assumed they were on the right track.  While he couldn’t help his own pangs of jealousy that she was clearly very attracted to someone in her midst, he tried to take comfort in the fact that for the time being, she felt safe and sound, and that was hard to come by in their Z infested wasteland.

Sarge trotted up to join the duo.  “Hey, see that cluster of homes a couple klicks up the road?  I think we should call it a day and set up camp there.   We don’t know when we’ll see another building.”

 “Fantastic idea,” Doc agreed.  He rubbed his shoulders and stretched his legs.  “My dogs are more than a bit tired.”  He nodded at 10k as he silently caught up with the group.

10k glowered at Murphy while he slung his rifle over his shoulder, but said nothing.  Murphy was halfway tempted to say something snarky to him via their mental link, but knew it would just tick him off.  Sullen 10k was much easier for him to deal with than furious 10k, and right now all Murphy wanted to do was avoid drama, find something to eat and then get some sleep.

But he did allow himself to enjoy the view when 10k jogged ahead to join Sarge on point when they got closer to the dwellings.

I do love it when he turns his back on me.  I mean, just look at him!  Could that ass be any more perfect?  And when his shirt rides up, those delicious little dimples on his lower back just drive me crazy. 

Murphy sighed.  Unlike his time back on Zona, it was hard to find an easy hook up!  He had long resigned himself to the fact that 10k was too straight to succumb to his considerable charms, but it saddened him to see his chances with Warren begin to wither.  He had hoped things might be different now, especially after everything they both went through with Lucy. 

This past year he’d felt closer to her, probably closer than he’d ever felt with a woman, and even thought she might be warming to him, too.  But the timing was just never quite right when it came to her…either she was involved with another man, or they were too busy trying to kill each other.  Although he knew nothing about him, Murphy already resented this mystery man who had captured Warren’s heart.

At least, I assume it’s a guy.  Hmmm.  How interesting would that be if it’s not?

But the thing that struck him the most was that Warren now felt happy.  Content, even.  The years had been really rough on everyone.  Now that they all pretty much knew Murphy was never going to be the messiah who saved the world, why were they acting like they still have a mission?

“Everything I’ve been sensing from Roberta is that she’s got a really good thing going right now.  You ever think maybe we should just give up the search and let her live her life?  She deserves something better than wandering around the apocalypse nearly getting killed every day,” Murphy wondered aloud.  “She’s lost a lot.  I mean, we all have, but she’s been busting her ass leading this stupid mission.  And for what?  We are still no closer to finding a cure than we were five years ago!”

“What?  Are you crazy?”  Doc smacked Murphy on the back of the head so hard he winced.  “Screw the mission.  It doesn’t matter why we are together.  We.  Are.  Family.  And you don’t give up on family!  So don’t let me hear you talk like that again.”

Murphy rubbed the back of his head while Sarge and 10k giggled in the background like they were watching a cartoon.  “Jesus, Doc.  That stung!  What has gotten into you today?”

“Sorry.  I just been missing Warren so much, it’s getting to me.  You know how much I hate it when we get separated!”  Doc sighed, his voice filled with woe.  “I still can’t get over Addy.  Or Red and Sun Mei…we have no idea if any of them are even alive!  I’m not going through that again, especially not when we are so close.” 

10k’s grin evaporated.  Although he’d been focused on Warren all day, Murphy couldn’t miss the sharp pang of loss emanating from 10k at the mention of his lost love.  Sarge also noticed the shift in tone, and gave 10k’s shoulder a brief squeeze.

Obviously wanting to change the subject, Sarge tugged at Doc’s shirt.  “Okay, let it go, you two.   Nobody is giving up on anybody tonight.“  She motioned at the mobile homes next to what looked like a destroyed structure.   “C’mon.  Let’s move!”

As they got closer, they could see that it had once been a gas station.  Charred fuel tanks were still there, as was a toppled sign displaying the prices for gasoline that had not been available for years.   Some jokester had spray painted FREE across the sign.  Scorched lifeless husks were scattered here and there, but Murphy wasn’t getting a Z vibe from any of them.  Based on the way the debris was spread out around the station, Murphy guessed it had exploded some time ago.

Too bad!   We could really use some gas and a car after all this walking!

Two of the nearby trailers looked too fire damaged to be habitable, but the third one was promising.  “Ten Thousand and I will scout around the right, you two take the left and we’ll see if we can make this place safe for the night.”

Banging on the windows and doors elicited no response, so Doc used his crowbar to jimmy the front entrance of the old trailer.  The décor inside screamed redneck chic, with nudie posters on the walls, empty beer cans strewn across the floor, and threadbare furniture that belonged in a dump.  It was no Ritz Carlton, but it was better than sleeping in a field again!

“Dibs on the bed!” Murphy called as they filed into their temporary abode.  “Sorry.  Where are my manners?  Ladies first, especially if madame here would like to ‘rendevouz’ tonight…”  He bowed dramatically and raised his eyebrow at Sarge while flashing his most lascivious smile.

Sarge blushed furiously.  “Shut up and mind your own beeswax.  The living room will be just fine, thank you very much!”  She awkwardly shuttled 10k inside, who seemed perplexed by their whole exchange. 

Double entendres were never the lad’s strong suit.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was still a virgin.

Murphy grinned and winked at 10k as he sauntered down the hallway.  “Aw.  Looks like you aren’t getting any tonight, kid.  What a shame.”

After Doc prepared their evening repast, if two cans of corn mixed with beans could be considered a repast, Murphy checked out his room more closely.  The bedsheets were a little dusty, but cleaner than most places they crashed, so he wasn’t going to be too picky.

He dropped down onto the bed with a tired groan.   Rifling through the drawers of the bureau next to the bed he found some leopard print briefs he could make work, but not anything else that looked fashionable enough for his tastes, so it looks like he was stuck wearing the same red ZONA shirt tomorrow.  He peeled off his clothes, boots and jacket and tossed them onto the end of the bed and swapped out his overly ripe tighty whitie with the underwear he’d just found.

As per his custom, he fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, but he tossed and turned in the night as his subconscious continued to be battered with empathic hits of Warren, who was in an even more amorous state than she was earlier.  He awoke with a start as he could sense her desire moving into high gear.

Oh boy, here we go…

The moonlight partially illuminated a torn Playboy pin-up on the wall.  It didn’t look anything like Warren, although she was also a blonde now, but Murphy focused on the nude playmate and pretended that she was in the room with him as he began to touch himself.  And in a way, thanks to their bond, Warren was in the same room with him.   If he was going to endure his crush getting it on with someone besides him, he might as well make the most of it!

Feeling constricted, he shoved the blankets off of him, causing his boot to tumble to the floor with an audible thump.

“Oh…oh…Ro…berta.”  Murphy stroked himself, deeply immersed in her sensations.  He writhed under the sheet.  “There…there…yes…oh god!”

It came as a complete shock to his system when seemingly out of nowhere, something struck him very hard across the face.  Instinctually, he raised his arm to fend off the attack.

If vicariously experiencing Warren’s love life wasn’t strange enough, things got even weirder. 

As soon as he made direct contact with 10k, he pulled his other blend into his empathic link.  Instead of feeling just Warren, he now felt both of them at the same time.   

Oh my god, it’s like a mental group sext!

Standing next to the bed while Murphy grasped his wrist, 10k seized like he’d just been hit with an electric shock.  His eyes rolled back, exposing the whites of his eyes, as if he were now in some trance-like state. 

Steeped in the emotional impressions of both of his sexual fantasies at the same time, Murphy’s pulse raced, all his blood surged into his cock, and he didn’t think he could possibly get any harder.  Especially since the primary emotion he was currently sensing was sheer, unadulterated lust.

Then 10k smiled seductively, shimmied out of his red undershorts, and straddled him.  Murphy’s jaw dropped as his brain struggled to process this surprising turn of events. 

10k. Naked.  In my bed.  Is this even real?  Did Doc accidentally slip me some peyote?

Murphy marveled at the sight of him, like this gorgeous creature was a gift sent down from the heavens.  But oddly, 10k had his hands cupped to his chest like he was fondling imaginary breasts, and the ecstatic moan that slipped out of his lips sounded distinctly…feminine?

“Cooper, I want you inside of me…” 10k cooed as he coyly arched his back and jerked his head like he was shaking out long locks of hair.   He swooped down and kissed Murphy hungrily.   “Yeah, baby, it’s okay,” he murmured into his ear.

Murphy’s blood froze and his eyes widened in horror as he was struck with a troubling realization.

This isn’t 10k.  It’s Roberta!  Somehow she hijacked him!

After that kiss, it took every ounce of self-control Murphy had not to fuck 10k into oblivion as the young man bounced up and down on him, like he was Warren riding her newfound paramour.  Despite his head spinning from all the erotic possibilities, Murphy couldn’t stop thinking about the promise he’d made to Doc earlier that day.

“Never make him do anything he doesn’t want to…”

Murphy groaned, his body begging to have its way with the delicious morsel astride him.  But he’d promised not to use 10k, so he did not allow himself to enter him. The amalgam of his two blends, oblivious to his internal conflict, continued to grind against him, completely consumed by the desire they felt for Warren’s lover.

Murphy closed his eyes and bit his lip to keep himself focused.  The kid obviously had no idea what he was doing, or he would have hightailed it out of here by now.   He turned his head to avoid Warren/10k’s kisses and moaned every time his/their ass brushed against his impossibly hard cock.

 He tried to roll over to eject his transfixed blend off his lap, but 10k was too heavy to shift easily and Murphy’s effort was only half-hearted.  As much as he knew he should stop this, it felt too good to be this close to both of them, and he might never have this kind of chance again!

The tandem surges of pleasure made Murphy feel like he was melting right into the bed.   This edging was a thousand times more incredible than that time he drank a whole bottle of champagne during a VIP lap dance at the Boom Boom Room.  He wanted to erupt as soon as possible, and yet also have the teasing go on forever and ever and ever.  Instead of Kiki from the Boom Boom Room, he couldn’t help imagining 10k, then Warren, then both of them teasing him mercilessly while he stuffed money into their waistbands.

Overcome with joy, he surfed their rippling waves of passion until he experienced the glorious wipeout of their mutual climax.  10k ejaculated so forcefully that it splashed against Murphy’s cheek.   Unable to contain himself, Murphy crashed right after them, coming in powerful, spasmodic jerks as 10k collapsed languidly against him in a sweaty heap. 

With a pang of regret, Murphy felt both of their mental essences slip away.  He’d never been that intimately connected to anyone, and yet he recognized that he had been more of a voyeur than actual participant.  They gave no indication that they even knew he was present.  He wished that they wanted to feel all of that with him, for real. Still panting, Murphy grabbed the pillow off the bed and used it to wipe 10k’s come off his face.

Yeah, just like I thought.  It does taste even better than his blood!

10k yawned and drowsily curled his lanky limbs around Murphy like he was cuddling a giant stuffed animal, then he abruptly stopped.  “Unhhh…Sarge?” he murmured confusedly against Murphy’s chest.

Murphy chuckled and ruffled the kid’s hair.   He knew very soon there would be hell to pay, but for the moment he decided to savor the afterglow with this beautiful boy in his arms.

“Nope.”  He gently kissed 10k’s wrist and playfully slapped his bare ass.  “Guess again, gorgeous!”

Chapter Text

As soon as Murphy smacked him, 10k shrieked and frantically shoved himself away from him.  He crashed onto the floor and scuttled backwards until he thudded into a closet door.    With horror, he saw his undershorts on the floor next to the bed.  With another panicked shriek, he grabbed a blanket that had slipped off the bed, and used it to cover himself.  His heart pounded even harder than the other day, when they’d had to run away from two dozen dead Girl Scouts. 

If he had to choose between death by Girl Scout troop or Murphy grinning cannily at him like he was right now, 10k was positive he’d rather take his chances with the zombies.

“What the hell did you do to me?!?” 10k yelled at him.

“I should be asking YOU that,” Murphy huffed.  “You’re the one who barged into my room and forced his way into MY bed!”  With mock concern, Murphy put the back of his hand to his forehead like a disapproving Southern belle.  “I say, I feel positively violated!”  He fluttered his eyelashes.

10k was dumbfounded.  “You…huh?  What?”  His recent memory was very spotty.  He shook his head, trying to think.  With supreme effort, he recalled waking up, punching Murphy, and then…then he had sex with Warren?

No.  I was having sex AS Warren!

10k’s stomach curdled as he connected the dots.  “Oh, God.  I think I’m going to be sick,” he groaned.  He pulled his knees close to his chest and put his head down, pulling in deep and slow breaths and wrapping his arms around his legs to try to calm himself down.   He had never felt this embarrassed in his entire life.  Where were those Girl Scout zombies when he really needed them?

Murphy rolled his eyes and pulled up his leopard print underwear.  “Don’t be such a drama queen.  You were certainly enjoying yourself a few minutes ago!”  He looked over at the open doorway.  “Oh, hey, Sarge.  What’s up?” he asked with a feigned nonchalance.

10k felt like every ounce of blood had leached out of his body when Sarge padded slowly into the room.  She had their blanket wrapped around her shoulders like a cape.  Her jaw dropped and she did a double take when she saw 10k huddled by the foot of the bed.

10k held up his hand, beseeching.  “Wait!  This isn’t what you think!”

Sarge looked at Murphy, then back at 10k, taking in their states of undress with befuddlement.  “I have no freaking idea what to think,” she muttered.  “But if he’s involved,” she nodded her head at Murphy, “then it can’t be good.”

“I resent that!” Murphy retorted.  “Why don’t you ask your boyfriend here why he decided to jump me in the middle of the night?  Hmmm?”  He pulled up the bedsheet in a protective gesture. 

Now defensive, 10k’s pulled himself to his feet, careful to wrap the blanket around his waist.  “I did NOT jump you, asshole!” he seethed.  “You’re the one who takes advantage of people.  Admit it!  You figured out how to use your powers to get off on me and Warren at the same time!”

Doc stood in the hallway outside the bedroom.  “What in tarnation is going on in here?”

Sarge responded like an accident victim still in a deep state of shock.  “Um.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think Murphy kinda fucked Lieutenant Warren...and Ten Thousand.”  Her lip trembling, she shook her head sadly, then nudged her way past Doc to exit the bedroom.

10k’s heart dropped.  “No…no, please don’t…” Still clinging to the blanket, he hurriedly followed Sarge back to their bed rolls in the living room.  He reached towards her.  “Sarge…I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

Tears rolled down Sarge’s cheeks.  She pulled 10k into a hug, and pressed her cheek against his chest.  “You big dummy.  You don’t have anything to apologize for.  I’ve seen the way Murphy looks at you.”

Confused, 10k grasped her shoulders and backed a step away.  “Huh?”

Sarge looked up at him.  “Tommy, you don’t have to explain.  It’s okay if you want to be with him.  I don’t want to hold you back.”  She wiped the tears off her cheek.  “I knew all this time that I’m just…you know…temporary.”

10k let his arms drop, stunned and unsure how to respond.  Part of him wanted to kiss all of Sarge’s doubts away, assure her that she wasn’t some casual fling.  The truth was, he cared about her, maybe even loved her. 

But he was also reeling over what had just happened with Murphy and Warren.  He didn’t fully understand what he was feeling at the moment, because there was far too much he was still processing. 

For a long time, 10k had tried to deny that Murphy desired him.  Back when Murphy kept him captive, that awareness would have added too much scary subtext to the hold he had over him.  So for his own sanity, he simply pretended there was nothing there.

Everyone thought 10k was such an innocent, but it would be wrong to say Murphy was the first man to ever want him in that way.  It didn't matter that he liked girls. 10k had grown up in a world where the mask of civility had long since dropped, and plenty of survivors learned to take what they wanted by force, or demand sex as some form of trade.  Being a good looking boy was just as perilous as being a beautiful girl, and over the years 10k had fielded more than his fair share of advances.

Although their relationship had eroded, there once was a time when 10k trusted Murphy.  He thought they’d had each other’s backs, that they were part of the same team.  Despite his flaws, 10k never thought Murphy would be one of those types who saw people as objects to be used and discarded.   Especially not a friend.

But then he witnessed what Murphy had done to Cassandra.

Murphy knew how Cassandra suffered back in Philadelphia.  But when given the chance, he made her a plaything, just like Tobias.  Murphy dressed her up like Sunshine, and forced her to relive her worst nightmare.  When I gave her mercy, I saw the relief in her eyes.   She was finally free.

Crestfallen, 10k realized with mounting horror that Cassandra’s nightmare had now become his reality.  He was the new plaything, and Murphy could do anything he wanted to him.  10k had no power to keep Murphy out of his head, or out of his bed. 

But unlike Cassandra, there will never be any mercy for me.  Not if I can heal every wound…

Overwhelmed with this new insight, he couldn’t speak.  He couldn’t move.  He had no idea what to do.  He kept thinking about all the things Murphy must have done to him while he was enmeshed with Warren.  He stood there shaking with his eyes closed, digging his fingers into the blanket wrapped around his waist, and blinking back tears while he tried with every fiber of his being to avoid breaking down into terrified sobs. 

Amid the awkward silence, Sarge fumbled into her clothes, grabbed her rifle, and told him she’d take her place outside to relieve Doc as sentry for the rest of the night.  He nodded dumbly.

When the front door closed, 10k sucked in huge gasps of air, backed against the faux wood paneled wall and slowly collapsed down into a seated position.  He thumped the back of his head against the wall a few times.   The tears stubbornly pushed through his lashes and rolled freely down his cheeks.

How could she ever think that I would want HIM?

Feeling like his whole life had been stripped away from him, 10k ripped opened the doorway to his mental link with Murphy and silently screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Chapter Text

Doc stood in the hallway outside the bedroom.  “What in tarnation is going on in here?”

Sarge responded like an accident victim still in a deep state of shock.  “Um.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think Murphy kinda fucked Lieutenant Warren...and Ten Thousand.”  Her lip trembling, she shook her head sadly, and then nudged her way past Doc to exit the bedroom.

Doc frowned at Murphy as 10k rushed past him to follow Sarge into the living room. “You lying son of a bitch!  You couldn’t even keep your promise for one day,” he said coldly, shaking his head. 

Murphy scooped himself up to sit on the edge of the bed.   He held his hands up in front of him.  “Doc, wait a second…I know how this seems, but you gotta listen to me…”

“One.  Day.  Hell, you couldn’t even hold out for twelve hours!” he yelled, lunging at Murphy with his fist raised.

“…it was Roberta!” Murphy cried, raising his hands higher and cringing in anticipation of a black eye or bloody nose.   Whether the spike in anxiety he was experiencing was his or 10k’s, it was too hard to tell.  “She controlled him, not me!”

Doc pulled his punch at the last second, but he did not look entirely convinced.  “Bullshit,” he said warily.  His fist remained in front of Murphy’s face.

“It’s true!”  Murphy meekly pushed Doc’s fist to the side.  “Remember what I told you?  The woman has been horny all day long! Tonight, she got lucky with some guy named Cooper, and well…” He swayed his head back and forth.  “10k and I both got pulled into it. Like, mentally, you know?”   He waved his hands around his head.

Doc gawked at him with a disgusted grimace on his face, but at least he was listening instead of punching, so Murphy continued.

“Look.  It happened when I was bonding with Roberta.  As soon as 10k touched me, it was like he channeled her!  Total Freaky Friday shit!”  Murphy gesticulated wildly.  “All of a sudden, 10k started acting like Warren!  Moving like her, saying her words…”

…giving me the most amazing orgasm of my life! 

Doc’s fist unclenched and he slowly loosened his posture.  “Warren spoke to you?”

Murphy inhaled and tried to comport himself more calmly.  He brushed the sweaty bangs out of his eyes.  “Not exactly.  She was talking to Cooper, and 10k just relayed everything.”  Relieved Doc was no longer going to beat the crap out of him, Murphy stood up, grabbed his jeans off the edge of the bed, and swiftly donned them. 

“Bonding, huh?  Is that what you’re calling it now?” scoffed Doc, crossing his arms.

Murphy pulled his shirt over his head and shrugged it on.  “Well, it sounds a helluva lot less sleazy than ‘peeping,’” he grumbled after smoothing down his shirt.

“Oh yeah, because psychically eavesdropping on people while they’re having sex isn’t remotely sleazy,” Doc snorted with a disapproving head shake.  “Jesus, Murphy.  What a shit show.  10k is freaking out. You gotta figure out some way to make this right!”

Murphy had no chance to respond, because he suddenly seized like his brain had been stabbed with an ice pick.  He collapsed back onto the bed as he was besieged by the sudden onset of anguish and terror…and the sound of 10k’s screams, reverberating over and over.  He cried out in pain, curled into a fetal position and smashed his hands against his ears, vainly trying to keep out a sound that was audible in his mind alone.

Shit.  What have I done?  Stupid, stupid, stupid.   I just had to get my nut, and now look what happened!   Of course the whole psychic foursome thing was going to push 10k over the edge.  I never should have let things go so far!   

He knew Doc was calling out to him, but it took all his energy to withstand the onslaught of 10k’s trauma.  Leave it to the guy who killed a zombie with a paper clip and a rubber band to figure out how to use his own pain as a weapon!

Please…please stop, Murphy begged as 10k’s feelings assaulted every corner of his consciousness.  His powerful emotions were all enveloping, inescapable.

This is what you wanted, isn’t it?  To feel everything I feel?  10k shouted back. Is this turning you on? 

Murphy wept as every word drove a knife into his soul.  Interspersed with the sensory attacks were rapid fire bursts of 10k’s memories:

Watching Cassandra die...

...Begging Murphy not to bite him...

......Resisting Murphy’s command to kill an unarmed man.....

...Jumping off a bridge...

Pressing his head against the barrel of a gun.

...Drawing blood during the knife game...

......Aiming his rifle at Warren......

...Gasping for breath while being strangled...

Coming to in Murphy’s arms after sex.

Murphy tried to shield himself by mashing a pillow over his head, but it was useless to block the waves of naked, raw pain emanating from his young blend, as well as his own increasing shame. 

Murphy could no longer pretend he’d done nothing wrong, not after the emotional consequences of his actions were reflected back at him.   It was a humbling realization that all those horrifying memories looped back to Murphy in some way.  He never wanted to hurt the kid, but intention doesn’t matter when someone is violated so intimately, something he was only now beginning to comprehend.

The miasma of torment finally subsided.   Murphy stopped sobbing and opened his eyes, and he saw that Doc was no longer hovering over him.  Still shaking, he wiped the tears off his face and could hear the muffled rumble of a conversation in the living room. 

I can’t go out there!  How can I face him?  I should jump out the window and run as fast and as far as I can.  Maybe this damn bond won’t be so strong if I’m thousands of miles away.  Maybe exile is what I deserve.

“No,” he told himself softly.  “You can’t be a coward forever.”  Murphy slowly dragged himself off the bed.  He moaned and rubbed the bridge of his nose as his head throbbed like a hangover from 100 bottles of tequila.  He squared his shoulders, smoothed his hair back, and made his way to the living room to face the music.  His steps were a little shaky, so he held onto the wall for support.

He entered to find Doc crouched with his hand on 10k’s shoulder.  The still undressed young man was seated on the floor with his back to the wall, the stolen blanket pooled around him.  10k wouldn’t look his way, but Murphy felt the revulsion and fear eking out of his every pore. 

He tries so hard to hide it, but I know how much I terrify him.  How can I convince him that I don’t want to hurt him?  We can’t live like this anymore.  It is going to get someone killed, and since he’s turned into the new Wolverine, that someone is most likely going to be me!

Doc pointed at the hideous mustard colored Lay-Z-Boy recliner in the corner.  “Sit.  Down.”

Murphy obeyed without hesitation, dropping into the creaky old chair.  It was wobbly,  so he had to stop it from rocking.  One of the armrests was covered in frayed silver duct tape, which he picked at nervously.   He felt the same sense of anxious anticipation he’d had the last time he waited for a judge to hand down his sentence.

“This bond you two share?” Doc motioned at each of them.  He fished around in the kitchenette cabinet and drawers while he talked.  “It has gotten waaaaay out of hand.  We need to figure out a lot of shit.  And we have to do it together, because you guys refusing to talk to each other…news flash!  It ain’t working!”  Doc found a couple of emergency candles in a drawer and lit them.

“Fine,” Murphy agreed quietly.  “Whatever you want.”

10k clenched his jaw, but said nothing, steadfastly refusing to look over at Murphy.  He self-consciously adjusted his blanket for better coverage, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but there.  In the moonlight, his creamy bare skin looked almost blue.  Murphy couldn’t believe how quickly the tides had turned.   Just moments before, the two of them were enjoying the intimacy of their flesh on flesh.  Now they could barely stand to be in the same room together.

Doc cleared his throat and stepped into the center of the room.  “Okay.  Let’s do this.  As your counselor, I will mediate this discussion…”

“You were a DRUG counselor,” 10k muttered, his eyes still downcast.  “How is that supposed to help us?”

Well, getting you some Zoloft might be a good start, Murphy mused inwardly.  Hell, give me a handful.  Scratch that, make it a truck full!

“….hey, a counselor is a counselor!” Doc continued.  “So let me try to help.  First off, things are really tense.  We may not always get along, but I need you guys to remember that we’re all family here.  I think we need to clear the air, bury the hatchet.”  He rubbed his hands together.

“Oh, believe me, I know exactly where to bury it,” 10k grumbled darkly, turning to stare daggers at Murphy. 

Murphy gulped.  I don’t think he’s kidding.  The kid is a walking arsenal.  He probably has an actual hatchet stashed somewhere!

“C’mon, 10k.  Remember what we talked about…” Doc asked.

“I remember you telling me that you’d always have my back!” snapped 10k.  He waved his arm towards Murphy.   “But now I’m supposed to be polite to the guy who…”

“- hold up.  Please, let me say something,” Murphy raised his hand and interjected.  10k glared at him, but he stopped talking.  Murphy cleared his throat and continued.  He was afraid to look 10k in the eyes, so he focused his attention on the taped up arm rest.

“I’m an asshole, okay?” he said gently, enunciating very carefully so as not to let his words sound flip or sarcastic.  Sincerity was not something that came easy to him.

“Always have been, and probably always will be.   I’m self-serving, opportunistic, and when things get too serious, I tend to turn things into a big joke.”  He risked a glance over at 10k, who was still clearly angry, but he was paying attention.  “I’m not good at admitting when I’m wrong, or saying I’m sorry…but I want to try.”  

10k looked awfully skeptical, but he held Murphy’s gaze.  Murphy took a deep breath and continued, this time looking at the younger man directly.

“I apologize.  I should not have taken advantage of you, or Roberta, like I did tonight.  You both deserve your privacy and I violated that, and then I tried to act like none of it was a big deal.  I was wrong…I get that now.  Message received, loud and clear!  It still feels like a nuclear bomb exploded in my brain.  But please know, that possession thing…I did NOT know that would happen.  That was not planned, not at all.”

“You’re lying,” 10k hissed.

“…no, I’m not.  I swear!”  Murphy knew he needed to hold onto control of the conversation, so he steeled himself and tried a new tactic.  “I don’t understand all this bonding crap!  I have no clue if that was a you thing, a me thing, or a Roberta thing.  Because I didn’t know how to stop it, all I could do was ride it out it until it was over.   Other than you crawling all over my lap, I assure you, nothing…ahem, physical happened between us!”

“Liar, I’m not an idiot…” 10k yelled.  “You were…”

“ - you’ve seen me naked!” Murphy interrupted.  “Think about it.  If Big Red down there -” Murphy nodded down at his crotch, “- had in any way gotten up into your business…trust me… you’d be feeling it until next week.”

Once 10k understood what Murphy was implying, he blushed, his eyes became huge and he looked over at Doc for validation.

“Um.  He’s kinda got a point there, kid,” Doc agreed with an apologetic little shrug.

Damn straight.  They didn’t call me “Beer Can” back in the joint because I liked a good six pack!

“I’m not gonna lie and say I’m not attracted to you.  I am.  I can’t help it, you’re young and hot!   But the thing with me, kid, is that when I make love with someone, person to person, I want it to be a two way street.  I would never force you to do something you’re not into!”

10k glowered at him.  “Oh, just like you never forced me to be your slave.”

“Th-that was different!”  Murphy sputtered.  “You weren’t a slave, you were a blend…”

“Not a slave?  WHEN I ESCAPED, YOU HUNTED ME DOWN LIKE AN ANIMAL!  YOU LOCKED ME IN A GOD DAMNED CAGE!” 10K shouted, his muscles so tense that Murphy could practically see the veins popping under his skin.

Taken aback by 10k’s vehemence, Murphy wasn’t sure how to respond.  He looked to Doc for help, to get him to stop things from getting even more heated.

“Let him say his piece,” Doc told him.  “He needs to talk this out…and frankly, so do you.”

“Admit it,” 10k gritted out, furious tears welling up in his eyes.  “Biting me.  Controlling me.  Forcing me to be with you.  All of it is your way of punishing me.  You WANT me to suffer!” 

“Suffer?   For what?” Murphy asked, incredulous about the ugly tack this conversation had taken.

“Because I mercied Cassandra!”  He pointed at Murphy.  “I took away your plaything.  You were pissed, and you wanted to teach me a lesson!”

 Murphy vehemently shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing.  “No, no, no, that is not what happened…”

“ – yes it is!” 10k insisted, angrily wiping the tears away.  “You love having the power to make your blends do whatever you want.  You wanted to use me just like you used her!  Because when we’re under your control, we have no way to say no!”

His words struck Murphy like a wrecking ball.  He thought back to his time with Cassandra.  He’d always convinced himself that their trysts were fun times, that she was grateful to him for saving her life, and that she enjoyed being his arm candy. 

But what if all that time, she was suffering, too? 

She was.   Deep down, you always knew it.  When she was my blend, there was something broken inside of her.  10k could see that.  He loved Cassandra, and he hated seeing her treated like one of those zombie strippers.  In his memory, the look on her face when she slipped away said it all.  She wanted it to be over.  She wanted his mercy.  No wonder he thought becoming a blend was a fate worse than death.

“I did not bite you for revenge, or because I wanted to get in your pants.  I bit you because you were dying!”  Murphy stood up from his recliner and shouted back at him, his voice rising to a desperate pitch.  “Is it so hard to believe that I didn’t want that to happen?  Huh?  That I actually love you?  Don’t you get it?  We may drive each other crazy, but you and Doc and this whole stupid group are the closest thing to friends that I have ever had!”

Now it was 10k’s turn to look shocked.  Murphy had even shocked himself.  He never thought he would let the “L” word slip.  But there it was, out in the open, and there would be no take backs now.

Hoping maybe he could finally get him to understand, Murphy calmed down and went on.  “I don’t regret biting you.  You may hate it, but you’re still alive!  I know I messed up when I forced you to stay with me.  I should have given you a choice.  You need to understand, though…I was sure my blend vaccine plan would save the whole damn world, and I thought that given enough time, you’d eventually see things my way.”  He sat back down in the recliner.

“Remember when I called you my Luke Skywalker?  I wasn’t joking.”  He pointed at himself.   “Me? I run from danger!  I never do the right thing, and I tend to screw up everything I touch.  But you…you’re like a true blue hero!  I mean, when you’re not being a stubborn little shithead, you are brave, resourceful, and you have a noble heart. “

Murphy looked down at his hand and picked at the taped up arm rest.  He shrugged his shoulder.   “I guess it sounds dumb now after my grand plan fell apart, but back then I hoped you would become the hero everyone in Murphytown could look up to.”  He reluctantly looked up to steal a peek of 10k’s face.

“If I was the king, then you were my knight in shining armor.”

10k’s features softened as he considered Murphy’s words.  Was it possible they were truly sinking in?

“Tommy, you understand now, right?” he asked calmly, trying to make his intentions clear.  “You chose the name Ten Thousand.  It meant something to you; it was a purpose, a reason.  When I brought you to Murphytown, it was because I wanted you to stop your damned folly of killing 10,000 zombies, and help me SAVE the lives of 10,000 people!”

Although he seemed somewhat receptive before, as soon as Murphy called him by his true name, 10k wilted.  He shook his head, and Murphy could feel the dark cloud of his emotions churning up again.

“No.  You don’t get to call me that!” 10 demanded.  But instead of angry, his voice now sounded vulnerable and unsure of himself.

“I’m sorry!” Murphy backtracked, holding up his hands to try to calm the young man.  “I know you only share your name with the ones you hold in your heart.  Like it or not, this bond we share means I know you better than anyone.  I feel your pain like it was my own, and I will carry it with me until I die.   I can’t change the past.  I can’t make you accept my apology.  But please know that when I say that I’m sorry, and that I want to make things right between us, it’s the truth.”

10k was silent, looking as if he was trying to dissect the words and make sense of them.  But Murphy was glad to feel like the young man wasn’t plotting ingenious ways to kill him with his mind, at least.

Doc peeked through the curtains of the front window.  “It will be dawn soon.  That was an awful lot to chew on.  Maybe we should table this discussion, reflect on what was said, and try to get a couple hours of sleep.”

“Is that what you want?” Murphy asked 10k.

“I don’t know what I want,” 10k responded, his voice tinged with exhaustion, like the fight was completely worn out of him.  He hugged his knees closer to his chest, laid his cheek against them, and closed his eyes.  “I just know I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

Chapter Text

It was the morning after 10k and Murphy’s big confrontation, and an awkward tension continued to cast a pall over their temporary residence.   10k hadn’t been able to get much sleep afterwards.   Sarge had remained outside to guard the trailer for the rest of the night.  Alone in his bed roll, 10k kept tossing and turning from unsettling dreams.

But unlike his usual nightmare, instead of Murphy biting him, he was holding 10k down and trying to kiss him.  Sarge was there in his dream, too, watching but doing nothing while 10k struggled atop the plastic wrapped mattress in Darla’s bedroom of horrors.  The walls were plastered with crazy blood-spattered seahorse and flamingo print shower curtains.

“Help me,” 10k had begged as he tried to push the blue man away, but he was too strong.  Murphy’s full weight pressed down upon him.

Murphy had succeeded in ripping open 10k’s shirt and managed to get 10k’s wrists pinioned.  He ignored the younger man’s desperate attempts to evade him and kept kissing every spot his lips landed on 10k’s face and neck.  Slowly, yet hungrily, as if savoring the taste of him.

“Do not fight him, Thomas.  He is The Murphy.  The Murphy always gets everything he wants,” Sarge replied, her voice an eerie robotic monotone.  She turned her back and slowly walked out of the room. 

“No!  Please don’t leave me!” 10k called after her.   The door shut and he heard the ominous sound of padlocks clicking.

When Murphy chuckled, it sounded like a predatory growl.  He deftly unbuttoned 10k’s pants after overwhelming him with a deep, full on the lips kiss.  10k bucked and shook his mouth free, letting out a panicked yelp.

“Shh, baby.  We don’t want anyone to ruin our fun.  We haven’t even gotten to the good part, yet!” Murphy whispered in his ear, his hand reaching down to tease open 10k’s zipper.  

“Leave him alone!” someone shouted.  Seemingly out of nowhere, a second Murphy appeared, except this one was red and he carried his walking cane with a hidden blade.  He yanked the blue Murphy off 10k and shoved him across the room, where he collided with the locked door.

“Hey!” yelled the blue Murphy angrily as he pulled himself up off the floor.  “I wasn’t finished!”  His rotting nose was separated from his face, hanging by a tiny flap of skin, presumably after his face bumped against the door.

Red Murphy unsheathed his blade and pointed it at the first Murphy to keep him from approaching.  “Don’t worry.  I won’t let him touch you, kid.”

10k startled awake.

The dream’s similarities to his terrifying encounter with Darla were too strong to ignore, and the intense nausea he felt then made a strong comeback.  He barely made it to the sink in the kitchenette to vomit.  After he finished, he shakily wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

I don’t understand.  Why were there two of him?

10k looked up to see Doc watching him from down the hall.  He immediately felt embarrassed to be caught in a moment of weakness.  Pretending nothing was wrong, 10k hurriedly wiped his mouth again and returned to his bedroll to find his clothes.

When he was closer, Doc handed him a bottle of water.  “Here.  Drink this,” he said kindly.

10k nodded in gratitude and took a swig of the water.  He quickly pulled on the rest of his clothes while Doc fiddled around with his gear in preparation for their departure.  Outside the trailer, he could hear the muffled voices of Sarge and Murphy. 

Is it bad that I wish we’d get attacked by Zs?   At least I know how to handle myself in combat!  But when it comes to sex or relating with other people, I never feel like I know what the heck I’m doing.

10k paused with his rifle and gear in hand, not wanting to go outside and deal with Murphy again so soon.   His apology and the weird dream had given 10k a lot to think about.  He’d held on to so much anger for so long, he wasn’t sure if he could just forgive and forget.  Maybe Murphy was telling the truth, and he actually did care about him.  But 10k couldn’t shake off what had just happened so easily.

He said that he…that he loves me.  But I love Sarge, and now thanks to all this crazy blend bullshit she wants nothing to do with me anymore.  What am I going to do?  Why can’t things just go back to normal?

Perhaps sensing his reluctance, Doc cracked open the trailer door and asked Sarge and Murphy to search for more food and water before they took off.

Relieved to get a brief reprieve, 10k put down his things and rubbed the back of his neck.  “Thanks for trying to sort things out.   I’m sorry I was short with you last night,” he said sheepishly.  “I know you’re always looking out for me.”

“No worries, kiddo.”  Doc smiled back at him.  “I understand.  You’ve had a really rough week.  Just so you know, I wanted to thrash the son of a gun.  What he did was all kinds of wrong.  But if we’re going to put a stop to it, you and Murphy have got to learn how to control your bond.  And that means working together.  Do you think you can do that?”

“I still don’t know if I can trust him.  But I know we have to do something.”  10k adjusted his bandana and goggles over his forehead.

“I’m glad to hear that.  Because I have an idea, but I wanted to talk to you about it first.”  Doc motioned him over to the eating counter in the kitchenette, and they both took a seat.

“How much do you remember about your, er…contact with Warren last night?” Doc asked cautiously, trying to tread lightly on a sensitive subject.

10k gulped.  “Uh…I remember she was really enjoying herself.”  He reddened, embarrassed to be talking about sex with the woman who was practically his adopted mother.

“Oh, I bet she was.  But do you recall anything she said?  Did you see anything?” Doc prodded.  “What was your contact like, exactly?”

10k tried to think back on the encounter.  “It was so confusing!  I couldn’t really concentrate.  It was like suddenly I was all tuned into all of her emotions and feelings.  I felt what she felt, but I had no control over anything.”

What he remembered most about their connection was how the pleasure was unlike anything he’d ever felt before.  He wasn’t a virgin.  He knew what it felt like to come.  But when he was bonded with Warren, it had been an all new kind of intimacy.  To experience someone inside of him.  To be held by stronger arms.  To feel so vulnerable and yet powerful at the same time. 

And the climax…it wasn’t like a male orgasm, which was over almost as soon as it began.  It was like rolling thunder, like an earthquake that kept shaking and shaking, the moments stretched out over a span of luxurious ebbs and flows.

While he felt that intense release, it freaked him out knowing Murphy was soaking it all in, too.  That he enjoyed feeding off 10k’s pleasure.  It felt so wrong.

“So…kinda like how Murphy gets sucked into your feelings?” Doc asked.

“What?  No!” 10k huffed, trying to shake off the memories of the sex.  “It isn’t the same!”

…or is it?  I have to admit, Warren’s sensations were incredible.  I didn’t even try to fight them.  I just let myself go.  It felt so good to forget all my troubles and experience her joy.  Oh God!  Does that make me a bad person?  Did I use her the same way Murphy uses me?

Doc backpedaled.  “Okay, take it easy.  I’m just trying to understand.  Murphy said when you were bonding with Warren, you spoke as her.  If we try to replicate the contact…minus the sex stuff, mind you…maybe we could actually use your connection to communicate with her.”

10k’s pulse quickened at the thought of bonding with Murphy again.  It was too intimate, too sensual, and he was still trying to wrap his head around everything that had happened.  “Look - I want to find her, too, but I don’t know if I can do that…” He started to shift away from the counter.

Doc reached out and gently put his hand over 10k’s forearm.  “Hey, I don’t blame you for being gun-shy!  You aren’t the only one here who wishes he could forget all about a creepy foursome.  But think of it this way.   The more you learn about how your bond works, the faster you can learn how to shut it down.  You can be in control again.”

10k considered Doc’s proposal for a moment.   He wanted nothing more than to be able to keep Murphy (and now Warren) out of his head.  But this was all very hard for him to deal with. 

He remembered back to many years ago when he was very small, and Pa had first taught him how to shoot.  After multiple attempts of completely missing his target, he’d become so frustrated that he cried.  He was so afraid that his failure had disappointed his father.  But Pa dried his tears, hugged him, and calmly told him to keep trying.

“Take it slow, Tommy.  I know it’s difficult, but you’ll get there.  Remember the three P’s:  practice, perseverance, and patience.  If you apply all three, you can do anything you set your mind to.”

And he was right.  It took years, but now I can shoot the wings off a mosquito from 50 paces, or kill three Zs with a single bullet.

So I can do this.  If I’m going to be stuck with Murphy, I have to put in the time to make things work.

He took a breath and looked into Doc’s eyes.  “If I agree to this, can you supervise?  Make sure he doesn’t…um, try anything?”

Doc grinned and patted his arm.  “I promise, there will be absolutely no funny business.   I realize Murphy can be a little shady sometimes…”

10k snorted and shook his head.

Doc shrugged.  “Okay, okay, he can be shady A LOT of the time…but when it comes to this, I think he truly wants to do right by you.  Remember, when you’re miserable, he’s miserable!  He has an incentive to shut down your bond, too.”

“Man, I hope you’re right.”  He and Doc shared a fist bump.  10k paused after he stood up from his chair.  He arched his eyebrow at Doc.  “Wait a second…when did YOU have a foursome?”

“Now that’s a story for another day!”  Doc laughed and pretended to zip his lips.   Off 10k’s disappointed look he added, “Trust me, son.  You’ve had more than enough disturbing hijinks to deal with in the last 24 hours.  I wouldn’t want to give you more nightmare fuel!  C’mon, let’s stop our lollygagging and get a move on.”  He grabbed the last of his belongings and ferried 10k out the door.

Chapter Text

After being overcome with the sudden onset of intense nausea, Murphy gripped the edges of the plastic garbage can until he was satisfied he had nothing left to vomit.  After the queasiness finally subsided, he spit one last time and wiped his mouth on his jacket sleeve. 

Well, I guess that answers the question of how 10k is feeling this morning!    Man, empathy sucks.

10k’s nausea wasn’t the only thing hitting him hard.  Murphy was still trying to cope with the intense emotional backlash he’d suffered last night.  He’d long known that 10k resented him, but he hadn’t understood where that antipathy had come from.

“You love having the power to make your blends do whatever you want.  You wanted to use me just like you used her!  Because when we’re under your control, we have no way to say no!”

It was a bitter pill to swallow when he realized 10k wasn’t wrong.  Indeed, as his abilities evolved over the years, Murphy had relished having the power to exert his will over others.  First the Zs, and then his blends.  After being down and out his entire life, Murphy liked finally being the one in charge.  And even though he knew it was an abuse of power, it was true that he had used his blends for his own pleasure.   

But Murphy finally understood that deep down, it was never really about what he’d done to 10k. 

No.  He hates me because of what I did to Cassandra.

Until I experienced his memories, I had no idea how he truly felt about her.  He was in love, probably for the first time in his life, and he saw Cassandra devolve into something unrecognizable.  Then he watched me treat her like a whore and there was nothing he could do to stop it…until he killed her.

I’m trying to make it up to him, but how the Hell can I make amends to someone who is long gone?

Murphy sighed and replaced the lid on the garbage can. 

Before his bout of puking, he’d scavenged around the carport next to the trailer, but hadn’t found anything useful.  Although he was impressed with the previous owner’s extensive porn collection stashed in a rusty old metal file cabinet.  The trailer owner had even gone through the trouble of storing his magazines in plastic sleeves and alphabetizing them, so all these years later they were remarkably well preserved. 

Sarge rounded the corner, rifle in hand.  Upon spotting the open file cabinet drawer, she peered inside, spotted the contents, and gave Murphy the side eye.

“Seriously?  That’s what you’ve been looking at?” she snorted.  “Are you really that obsessed with sex?”

He reached over and slid the cabinet drawer shut.  “Says the woman who won’t go to sleep until after she’s had three orgasms,” he muttered.  Off her embarrassed look, he snarkily added “Oh yeah, I went there.”  He flippantly straightened his jacket collar and started toward the trailer entrance.

“You really are a piece of work,” Sarge said, shaking her head.  

Murphy noted that her voice was tinged more with sadness than aggravation, which wasn’t what he expected.  Disappointed that 10k was still rattled after his heartfelt apology last night, Murphy had wanted to take out his frustration, and Sarge was an easy target. 

I can’t do anything about Cassandra, but I don’t have to treat another woman he cares about like shit.

He let out a sigh, stopped in his tracks, and reluctantly turned to face her.

He cleared his throat and steeled himself.  “Look, I’m sorry.  That was out of line.  And last night, I was really out of line.”  Her eyes widened in response.  She shrugged the rifle off her shoulder and rested the butt end against the ground.

“I don’t know how much you heard,” Murphy continued.  “But I tried to smooth things over with your boyfriend.”

“You guys were so loud, I heard enough,” Sarge replied.  “Frankly, I’m surprised the place isn’t crawling with every Z in a five mile radius.”  She rubbed at an ache in her shoulder.  “And he’s NOT my boyfriend,” she said more quietly, averting her eyes.  “I mean, not really.”

“Not really?” Murphy prodded, trying to get a better read on her.  He knew exactly how 10k felt, but he didn’t have the benefit of a telepathic link with Sarge.

Interesting.  Maybe 10k really was just a friend with benefits?

Her posture stiffened, and she swept the bangs out of her eyes.  “I don’t own him.  If Ten Thousand wants to be with you now, that’s his choice.  I’m a big girl, I can handle it.”  While she was trying to put on a stoic front, Murphy could still hear the slight quiver in her voice.  She was not taking this as well as she pretended.

Murphy laughed.  “Sweet cheeks, you have nothing to worry about.”  Murphy jerked his thumb towards the trailer.  “I literally make the kid want to puke!”

She looked puzzled.  “But, I heard him last night…with you, enjoying himself…”

“Oh, for chrissakes.  Have you not been paying attention?” he interrupted, rolling his eyes.  “What he was enjoying was WARREN enjoying herself!  I was just an innocent bystander.”  Off her furrowed brow he added.  “Okay, maybe a not so innocent bystander.” 

He started again, this time with more gravity.  “What happened last night…none of it was his idea.  It was all a big freaking mistake.  We’re both even more miserable now than we were before!  The truth is, the only time he isn’t a total wreck these days is when he’s with you.”

“Really?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes, really, dumb ass!” he grumbled.  “Y’know, I don’t get why you’re jealous.  I’m the one who should be jealous!”  He jerked both his thumbs towards himself.  “Last night should have been the best night of my life.  I finally got to be with two of the hottest people I’ve ever met…but noooo.    Even though it was the most intimate I’ve ever been with anyone, he and Roberta didn’t even know I was there!”  He raised his arms over his head in exasperation.

“Jesus.  I’m like a ghost haunting my own life!  Do you have any idea how much it sucks sensing the ones you love falling in love with other people?”  Murphy yelled.

“No.  I’m not psychic.  But I do know exactly how it feels to make love to someone whose mind is elsewhere,” Sarge replied gently.    Surprising him, her soft tone and sad smile calmed Murphy down several notches.  He could see the sparkle of tears in her eyes.

“He called me Red.  Just once.”  She laughed gently, but it sounded more like a sob.  “He didn’t even realize he’d said it.  But I can’t forget.  I’m nothing but a placeholder to him.  I know that.”  She gazed off at something in the distance, suddenly bashful after sharing something personal.

“Huh.  You really don’t listen very well, do you?”  He watched her face slowly swing back to look directly at him.  He stepped forward and grasped her shoulders and looked down in her eyes.  She was so much smaller than him, it was almost like he was speaking to a young child.   And she was so young (they’re both so young) she might as well be.  With that in mind, he tried to speak with an air of paternal authority, as if he was giving advice to his own daughter.

I may not be able to do anything for Cassandra, but maybe I can make up for my actions with Sarge.

“You know I am in Tommy’s head.  I feel everything he feels.  So listen up, missy, when I tell you this, because we are only having this conversation once.  Does he miss his probably dead girlfriend?  Yeah, he does.  But love is a complicated bitch.  It does not play by any rules.  Amidst all this craziness, the little bastard also fell in love with you.”

“You shouldn’t have told me that.”  Sarge was so stunned, she looked like she wasn’t sure if she should hug Murphy, or slug him. 

He knew it wasn’t his place to share 10k’s private thoughts with anyone else.  But maybe setting things right between the two lovebirds would snap 10k out of his funk, and for Murphy’s own sanity he needed to get the kid back to a place of emotional stability.

“Yeah, I know, I’m an asshole.  But I told you, love is a complicated bitch.  When you care about someone, you want what’s best for him.  And right now, you my dear, are exactly what he needs. “

He let his hands drop and stepped back from her.  He rubbed a tear off his cheek that he hadn’t even realized was there.  “So, do me a huge favor, and go cheer him up so I don’t have to feel him moping around all fucking day, okay?”

Chapter Text

I hope I don’t regret this.

10k screwed up his courage and gingerly sat down on the edge of the messy bed next to Murphy.  He gulped when he breathed in the familiar musky smell of perspiration from the sheets and spotted what looked like dried cum on one of the pillow cases.  His mind immediately flashed back to his erotic encounter with Warren and Murphy, and how he’d experienced one of the most powerful orgasms of his entire life. 

While he was mingled with Warren, 10k felt for the first time what it was like to have someone deep inside of him.  He’d found the sensation of penetration profoundly intimate, and his surrender of control while being fucked by an unseen stranger had been as exhilarating as it was humbling.   Submission wasn’t something he’d consciously desired in his past sexual explorations, but now the memory of it was strangely arousing. 

No, no, no.  This is not happening.  I am not getting turned on.  What I felt was all from Warren, NOT sex with Murphy.  At least, that is what he promised!  But he was there when we came…and he does want to have sex with me.

Would it be like it was with Warren’s boyfriend?

Argh, what the hell is wrong with me?  Stop thinking of that!   I never asked for any of this weird psychic sex stuff!

Hoping no one noticed that he’d gotten hard, he blushed, shifted position and surreptitiously flipped the pillow over to hide the cum stain.

“Do we really have to do this here?” asked Murphy.  Surprisingly, he sounded almost as embarrassed as 10k felt at the moment.  10k had also noticed that Murphy avoided all eye contact and conversation with him since Doc rounded them up earlier to discuss his plan.

“We have no idea what triggered your contact with Warren.  So for this experiment, we gotta replicate the original conditions as much as possible.  So stop yapping, and start working that mental mojo of yours!” Doc commanded.  He pushed one of the kitchenette stools into the bedroom.

10k raised his hand.  “Does that mean I can smack him again?”

“What?  No!” Murphy responded vehemently, giving 10k an irked look.  He had been rubbing his temples with his fingers as he presumably tried to reach out to Warren with his mind. 

“Let’s try it without the slap first,” Doc said as he plopped down on the stool.  “Murphy needs to concentrate.”

10k lowered his hand and let out a disappointed sigh. 

Sarge stepped meekly into the bedroom doorway, clearly uncomfortable watching the whole scene unfolding before her.  10k had not had a chance to talk with her alone since their conversation last night.  He did his best to smile for her, and it lifted his spirits when she returned his smile with an awkward little wave and crooked grin.

“Okay, now remember the plan, kid,” Doc interjected.   “When Murphy establishes a bond, grab his arm.  Hopefully you can join them again.  If you can’t talk to Warren while you’re in there, at least try to determine where she is!”

But what if she’s having sex?  What if she takes over my body again?  I don’t want to start making out with Murphy in front of everyone!

10k pushed those thoughts from his mind and nodded, concentrating on staying calm and steadying his breathing.  He did not want to let his anxiety deter him from his goal.

Murphy closed his eyes and let himself go limp against the mattress.  10k watched him for the signs that he was in a trance.  When Murphy’s eyes eventually opened again, they were fully white.  10k hesitated for a brief moment, took a deep breath, and then reached down to grasp Murphy’s forearm.

This time when he was sucked into the vortex of Warren’s consciousness, he was more prepared.  It helped that her emotions were much milder this time around.

She’s…hungry.   She must not have had anything for breakfast yet.

“Warren?  Can you hear me?”  He called out with his mind.  He wasn’t sure where to direct his thoughts.

“I don’t know about her, but I can hear you loud and clear, kid.”  Murphy responded. 

10k couldn’t see him, but he concentrated on his mental link with Murphy.  Gradually he could physically feel the other man again, and he stroked his thumb across the hairs on the back of Murphy’s arm like a touchstone anchoring him to the physical plane.  10k felt Murphy shift to take his hand in his own, and they clasped them together tightly.

“What if we try calling for her together?”  Murphy asked. 

“Okay, let’s do it.” 10k replied.  “On the count of three.  One…two…”

“WARREN!”  they mentally shouted in unison.

Almost immediately, 10k felt like he was hit by a bus, and he was violently ejected from the psychic plane of Warren’s consciousness.  He gasped aloud while his whole body seized like he’d been shocked with a strong current.

He wasn’t sure, but he might have blacked out for a moment.  Lost in the void, he could no longer sense Murphy, or Warren for that matter, either.  He couldn’t feel ANYTHING, and it was a struggle to catch his breath.

This is like the day I died...

He knew he needed to quell his rising panic, so he cleared his mind like he did when he lined up a challenging sniper shot. 

“Concentrate, focus on the target, set aside everything else but the goal,” his Pa had taught him.

You can do this.  Believe in yourself.

Breathe…

When he was finally able to gather his wits, it was almost like he’d ascended through a deep, dark pool and broken the surface of the water to take huge gulps of air.  While he stabilized himself, sounds fuzzily coalesced around him into something he could understand.

“Wake up!  Wake up!  Can you hear me?” someone shouted.   

While most of his body was still numb, 10k could feel that someone was shaking him.  He groaned.  When he cracked his eyes open, he realized he wasn’t on Murphy’s bed anymore.  He was lying on a hardwood floor, not the grungy green carpet in the trailer bedroom.

When he turned his head, blinked his lashes and looked up, he saw a handsome bearded stranger in a cowboy hat hunched over him.

“Roberta, thank God.  Are you okay?” the man asked, clearly concerned.

10k’s blood froze.

Oh shit.  Oh shit.  Oh shit…

10k yelped after he raised his hand in front of his face, because what he saw was brown skin, slender fingers, and red lacquered nails.  Blinking his eyes rapidly did nothing to change his vision.

No no no no no…

With supreme effort, 10k jerked upright to sit on the floor, and looked down at himself.

Unlike a few minutes ago, he now wore an ivory negligee with a slinky skirt draped over smooth, shapely brown legs.  When he cupped his hands to his chest, he suddenly felt…boobs?!?

Murphy!  10k screamed into their mental link.  What in the goddamn Hell just happened?

Chapter Text

“Murphy?   Murphy!”  10k frantically called out with his mind while the man in the cowboy hat looked down at him with an increasingly concerned look on his face. 

But there was no response.

Figures.   When I actually WANT to talk to him, he’s nowhere to be found!  Oh, no…  I bet I can’t reach him because I’m not in my body anymore.  Dammit, this psychic stuff is just way too confusing!

Slumping back to the floor, 10k groaned and palmed his face.  He wasn’t sure what was weirder – that he missed Murphy, that he was now trapped in a woman’s body, or that he was face to face with the guy who’d given half his team a mind-blowing orgasm just a few short hours ago.

Probably shouldn’t lead off with that last part.  Especially since it might NOT be him!  Who knows how many people Warren has met since we last saw her?  Until I know who I can trust, I need to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.  I don’t want anyone to think Warren has gone insane!

The stranger held out his arm to help 10k off the floor, which he reluctantly took.   He wasn’t used to moving in this body - everything felt either too small, or too curvy!

“Um, thanks,” 10k replied sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck after regaining his footing.  His fingers swept through his long hair, which he was confused to see was black, not blonde.

Wait a minute…what if I’m not in Warren’s body?  No, he definitely called me Roberta. Was she changed because of the Black Rain, too?  I can heal, Murphy turned red and got ESP… I‘ve been blaming Murphy, but what if this body switch thing really is all Warren’s doing after all?

The man put his hand on 10k’s forehead.   “You don’t have a fever.  Have you ever fainted like that before?” he asked.  He tenderly smoothed 10k’s hair back before withdrawing his hand.

“I dunno.  Uh…maybe?” 10k shrugged, suddenly feeling very flustered being so close to this man while only wearing a slinky ivory nightgown.   10k felt a blush creep across his face when the man glanced down at Warren’s ample breasts.   Seeing a table a few feet away, 10k awkwardly pulled back from the stranger.  “I think I need to sit down!”

He planted himself in a wooden dining room chair.  10k’s mood instantly improved when he saw the table set with a breakfast feast – blueberry muffins, apples, oatmeal, home baked bread, jam…and were those actually scrambled eggs?  He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of all this scrumptious food.

Maybe this body switch thing isn’t so bad after all!

Before the man could even join him at the table, 10k had his plate piled up with food that he began shoveling into his mouth with ravenous gusto.   Hooper, or Trooper, or whatever the heck Murphy said his name was, gaped at him in amazement as 10k swiftly devoured everything on his plate, let out a hearty belch, and then immediately loaded up his plate with more food.

“Well, obviously whatever just happened had no impact on your appetite!” Hooper chuckled before taking a stab at his own breakfast. 

“Gueth it muth have been low blood thugar,” 10k mumbled , his mouth full of the most delicious bread he’d ever tasted. 

“I’m just glad it isn’t another one of those strange Z spells.  I barely survived the last one!”  Hooper winked back at him and took a bite out of his apple.

10k swallowed hard and tried not to choke.  “Huh?” he croaked, brushing a few crumbs off his chin.

Hooper put down his apple and eyed him warily.  “You know.  Those episodes you’ve had…with the Zs.”

10k faked a smile.  “Oh, yeah…THOSE spells.  I guess I was so hungry, I forgot!”  He took a gulp of water and cleared his throat.  10k was the first to admit he was horrible at lying, but Hooper seemed not to see through his bluff, and they continued their meal in peace.

Wow.  Has Warren switched bodies before?  With zombies?

The table had only been set for two, and there hadn’t been any interruptions, so 10k felt reasonably confident that Warren and Hooper were alone.  Based on the bounty of food and the old barn visible outside the window, he surmised they must be at a family farm.  

He wiped his mouth with a red and white checkered cloth napkin.  “Thanks, Hooper, for that fantastic meal!  So…what’s the plan for today?” 10k asked, hoping to tease out more helpful information. 

Hooper’s eyebrows crinkled a bit, but his gentle smile never wavered.  He gathered their dirty plates and walked them back into the kitchen.  “Well, I was thinking I could really use more fuel,” he called out from the kitchen.  “There is a place not far from here that might have a stockpile, but it is usually mobbed by Zs.  The two of us should be able to handle it.  Feel up for a supply run?”

Facing a mob of Zs?  Finally, something that didn’t freak him out.  “Oh, hell yeah!”

Operation Bitemark hadn’t passed by any working farms yet, and while the sight of freshly tended crops would probably compel his team to investigate, he couldn’t rely on his friends finding this farm on their own.   10k quickly realized this supply run could be the perfect excuse to hit the interstate and reconnect with his friends.

And then what?  What if Warren isn’t in my body?  Or if she is, what if we can’t figure out how to switch places again?  Oh God.  Am I going to be like this forever?  Calm down.   I can’t worry about that yet.  I just need to stay cool and find the others and hope everything works itself out.

He looked down at himself and couldn’t resist cupping his “new” breasts.  He grinned and gave them an experimental bounce.

Oh, my.

He blushed furiously and dropped his hands when Hooper re-entered the dining room and gave him a funny look.

“Err…I guess I better go get dressed!”  He awkwardly pushed himself away from the table, and realized he had no idea where he was supposed to go.  He opened the closest door, hoping it was the bedroom…but it turned out to be a closet.

He shut the door and looked back at Hooper.  Hooper, with a confused look on his face, slowly pointed over at the hallway, and 10k realized there was a stairwell landing around the corner.  He let out an embarrassed little laugh, and made his way upstairs.

Fortunately, he spied a set of women’s clothes laid out on top of a dresser in the large bedroom upstairs.  While Hooper prepared for their mission downstairs, he closed his eyes and fumbled out of his nightgown into a pair of panties and jeans. 

Don’t look down, don’t look down…

Although he had seen Warren naked before, he was not mentally prepared to see this suddenly penis-free version of himself.  He hoped to avoid that mind boggling reality as long as he could.  But while he had no problems with the pants, when it came to putting on Warren’s brassiere, 10k realized he had no clue how to put it on.  He fumbled with the tiny metal clasps in the back, to no avail.

Aaargh.  This is impossible.  How do women wear these stupid things?

He was still cursing under his breath and struggling to hook the bra clasps behind his back when Hooper entered the room.

“Whoa, can I get a little privacy!” 10k squawked, turning around and covering his bare breasts with his arms.

Hooper raised his hands.  “Sorry, sorry.”  He backed out of the bedroom and shut the door behind him.

10k took a deep breath, twisted the bra around, hooked the bra clasps together in front of him, then with some shifting and twisting managed to turn the bra around and maneuver the straps over his arms.

He looked at himself in the dresser mirror, pleased to see it was indeed Warren’s face looking back at him, and shifted his wayward bosoms around until they finally fit behind the bra cups.

Even if we face down thirty Zs, I guarantee they will be much easier to deal with than this crazy contraption!

Relieved to get the bra ordeal out of the way, 10k donned a red blouse and pulled on some socks and boots that were tucked in a corner.

He found a brush on top of the dresser and used it to smooth out the tangles in his long, black hair.  While admittedly it was very disconcerting seeing Warren’s face looking back at him from the mirror, he was comforted by the fact that he’d finally found his friend, and that she seemed to be okay.  

He put his hand on the mirror.  “Hey.  I don’t know if you can hear me, but no matter where you are, I’ll put you back where you belong.  I promise!”  10k whispered at his reflection.   Satisfied that he was now dressed appropriately, 10k made his way back downstairs to find Hooper waiting for him.

“Weapons?” he asked Hooper.

“Already stashed in the back of my truck,” Hooper responded while he dug around for more gear in a backpack on the floor.  He motioned towards the front door.  “Ladies first.”

10k looked out the window for potential threats, and upon seeing none outside he opened the door and walked towards the pick-up truck.

Before he got twenty paces outside the farm house, something whipped around him, trapped his arms and torso, and yanked him backwards, pulling him off his feet and causing him to slam down onto the ground.  The impact knocked the wind out of him, and it took him a second to realize it was a very strong rope pinning his arms to his sides.

Before he could free himself, Hooper sprung at him from behind and wrestled him to the ground, and 10k next felt the rope rapidly encircling his wrists.

“Hey!  Stop!” he grunted, pinned down and unable to move.  “Hooper, what the hell are you doing?”  He moaned when the sturdy rope tightened around his wrists behind his back.  He felt a confusing rush of heat and excitement when he bucked against the large man immobilizing him.

“I may be a little rusty, but I was the junior rodeo calf roping champion three years in a row,” Hooper responded as he efficiently tightened the rope around 10k’s ankles to fully restrain him. 

“What?” 10k sputtered as he struggled angrily against his bonds.  They weren’t budging.   “Let me go!” 

Why do I always run into the crazy people?

Hooper swiftly finished up the last knot around his hogtied ankles.   He was breathing a little heavy from the exertion.  “I apologize, Roberta, if you’re in there,” he said, wiping some sweat from his brow.  He stood up. “Given what happened the last time you had a spell, I hope you’ll forgive me for exercising some caution.” 

If you’re in there…uh oh.

“Wait.  How did you know I’m not really her?” 10k asked, wriggling around trying to find a more comfortable position because everything was already starting to cramp.

“Well, it was a lot of things, but I’d have to say calling me by the wrong name all morning was a mighty big clue,” Cooper replied, giving him the side eye.

10k let out an embarrassed groan.  10k spit dust out of his mouth and rolled over onto his side.  He felt an unfamiliar throb down there as his jeans rubbed in all new places, and the excited rush of heat continued to spread through his body.  Looking down at his cleavage, pushed out because of his pinned arms, he was suddenly very conscious of his breasts heaving with every breath, and then his nipples began to tighten into hard little nubs.

This is insane.  Am I seriously getting turned on by myself?  Or by Warren…whatever!  This is just all too weird!

It was a dangerous world, and this certainly wasn’t the first time 10k had been tied up, but this was the only time he’d ever felt this strange tension while bound.   It seemed like the friction of the bonds felt painful and pleasurable at the same time, and he had first become aroused after being rendered helpless.

Oh my God.  Is this coming from me, or from Warren?  I can’t even tell anymore.  There have been too many damn people in my head!

“Look, I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you from the start, but this really isn’t necessary! “ 10k pleaded, trying to ignore these confusing new feelings.  “I’m no threat.  Warren is my friend, too!” 

“Maybe she is, maybe she ain’t.  But I’m not taking any chances.  I don’t want you running off somewhere with her body!   So, settle down and relax while we both wait for her to come back.”  Cooper leaned against a fence post, took out a tobacco pouch and started to roll himself a cigarette.

“So this has happened before?” 10k asked, trying to remain as still as possible.  Avoiding any kind of friction at this point felt less…dangerous.

Cooper took a puff of his cigarette and blew a smoke ring, but said nothing.

“C’mon, don’t be like that.   Can we start over?” begged 10k, trying to catch his eye.  Cooper stared back at him with steely resolve.  “My name is Ten Thousand.   I’ve been traveling with Lt. Warren for years, along with Doc and Murphy, and now Sarge.  I’m sure she told you about all of us?”

“Nope.”  Cooper tipped his cowboy hat back a bit and squinted to look at something in the distance behind 10k. 

“Seriously?  Nothing?”  Dejected, 10k slumped in his bonds.  It was impossible to get fully comfortable in this position, and every time he shifted he had to stop himself from moaning.  He felt like all the blood in his body had engorged in his mysterious nether regions, where it slowly throbbed and ebbed with annoying frequency.  He kept wishing he could touch himself to rub that excruciatingly persistent pulse away, and yet also felt incredibly grateful that at the moment, he could not.

Why am I so horny?

Cooper took a final drag off his cigarette, and then stubbed it out on the fence post.  He blew on it to remove the ash, and then carefully tucked it behind his ear.  He walked back to the farm house and opened the front door.   10k perked back up when he approached him again.

“Storm’s coming,” Cooper drawled.  “Better get inside.”  He leaned down and raised a warning finger at 10k.  “Do not try anything, or I’ll lock you in the root cellar.  Got it?”

10k nodded, his heart suddenly thumping even faster as Cooper drew closer.  When Cooper grabbed his ass while hefting him into his arms, 10k let out an involuntary sigh of pleasure.  Self-conscious, he clamped his lips together tightly and prayed he would not make another sound like that again.   

Cooper was so strong that he was able to cradle Warren’s body with ease.  As Cooper trundled his trussed captive back into the farm house, 10k’s mind raced, remembering last night and how he and Warren felt as they made vigorous love to this man.  Every nudge of his body against Cooper’s set off a wave of delicious throbbing down there. 

Was it some kind of muscle memory?  Or was Warren somehow still inside of him?  Because 10k wasn’t particularly attracted to this man…or any man, really.  And yet he couldn’t deny this intense sexual tension.  He squirmed against the tightness of his jeans, craving every rub from the crease of stiff denim.

Oh, Cooper…I want you inside of me…

10k instantly blushed, trying to hide his face in the folds of Cooper’s shirt while he was carried into the living room.

Shit.  I didn’t just say that out loud, did I?

Cooper dumped 10k on top of a rag rug in the middle of the room.  When Cooper withdrew his arms, his fingers skipped lazily across 10k’s thighs and buttocks.  10k hitched in his breath, his body arching to savor the contact before it disappeared.

But it didn’t.

Cooper paused, looking down at 10k who was now biting his lip and breathing slowly and deeply, his eyes dilated until his eyes looked almost black.  He was trapped on his side with his breasts pushed forward, his body writhing in his bonds with every breath.

Cautiously, Cooper massaged 10k’s bottom, his fingers brushing against bound hands, and this time 10k didn’t even try to hide his deep moan as he sought more contact.  He licked his lips and twisted himself to look directly into Cooper’s eyes.

“You’re not her,” Cooper mumbled softly, not breaking eye contact, and not taking his hand away either.    Thunder rumbled off in the distance as the rising storm edged closer.

“I don’t know who I am anymore,” 10k breathed, straining to maneuver his body in the hope that Cooper would stroke him down there to relieve the maddening itch.   When Cooper rubbed against him with more pressure, 10k body seized and he whimpered.  “Please…” 

Any reluctance abandoned, Cooper leaned in, grabbed 10k’s face and pulled him into a passionate, hungry kiss.  Tied up as he was, it was difficult for 10k to reciprocate, and part of him knew he shouldn’t be doing this, but every pleasure center in his body was firing on high cylinders overriding any sound judgment.  10k surrendered all control over to this man as he twisted in his restraints and melted into the kiss.   The clouds brewed even darker, and a brief flash of lightning illuminated the room just as they parted lips. 

Cooper growled as the thunder crashed, tossing his cowboy hat aside and shoving 10k roughly back down to the floor.  With his cheek pressed into the rug, 10k felt Cooper tugging frantically at the knots that secured his ankles.   It felt glorious when 10k was finally freed from that cramped position, but his wrists remained tightly bound.  Before 10k could question why, Cooper lifted him into his lap, then pulled him into another gruff kiss that left 10k gasping for air.

10k groaned and tried with all his might to break his wrists free from the ropes, but they held.

Cooper grabbed 10k’s throat and squeezed.  “No.  They stay,” he demanded with an angry frown.  10k nodded vigorously, and was relieved when Cooper released his hand and he could breathe freely again.  He cried out when Cooper cuffed him across the face.  Not as hard as he could have; 10k understood instinctually that it was merely a warning to remain compliant. 

He didn’t protest when Cooper ripped open Warren’s blouse.  He closed his eyes and listened to the rain pelt against the roof while Cooper ravished his neck with kisses, grinding eagerly against the other man’s thigh.  He wiggled his fingers to keep them from falling asleep as the rope chafed against his wrists, a constant reminder of his helplessness, which only served to heighten 10k’s arousal.

I don’t understand this…I usually hate feeling out of control…

His head spinning, 10k moaned and arched his back when Cooper slipped his hand under the bra to cup his breast and tease it free.   He whined when the other man slipped the nipple into his mouth and bit down – hard at first, then Cooper eased up and lapped at it hungrily. 

He eased his hand down the back of 10k’s jeans to cup his ass and draw him closer.  With a guttural cry, Cooper claimed 10k’s lips again with bruising intensity, one hand trapping long black locks of hair to keep 10k from pulling away until he was satisfied.  A strong peal of thunder seemed to rock the farm house down to its foundation.

Cooper slammed his prisoner back onto the rug so hard that 10k’s head landed with an audible thud, making him dizzy.  All this rough handling increased 10k’s excitement, much like the adrenaline rush he felt during combat.  He tasted blood in his mouth, probably from that earlier smack and he found himself grinning wildly when Cooper yanked off Warren’s boots and jeans and tossed them across the room.

When Cooper grabbed 10k’s thighs and dragged him closer, his wrists scraped against the rug fibers, and he struggled to find a comfortable position so his arms wouldn’t feel so squished underneath him.  The coarse rope pinned beneath him was also digging into his back. 

10k stopped caring about the rope when Cooper plunged his face right into Warren’s silky panties.  10k moaned loudly and lifted his hips while Cooper chewed and worried at the sheer fabric, his tongue stoking the embers that had been smoldering since 10k had been overpowered.   Cooper seemed to really enjoy sniffing and tasting the panties, but eventually tired of the barrier and his tongue sidestepped the obstruction to get to the heart of the matter.  He growled like an animal as he tore the panties to tatters and pushed 10k’s legs over his shoulders to gain better access.

10k’s heart pounded and he felt like he was racing up a mountain, getting closer and closer to the peak with every flick of the tongue.  He sighed and squirmed, feeling somehow like it was too much and yet not enough pleasure.  It was such exquisite torture!

Holy shit…this is amazing.  Is this how Sarge feels when I go down on her?

Sarge.  The woman he loved, who he’d already hurt.

That thought felt like a punch to his heart. In the blink of an eye, 10k went from relishing the experience to wanting it to stop.

What the hell am I doing?  I don’t want to betray Sarge, and what about Warren?  I’m fucking the guy she just fell in love with! 

“Ungh…” 10k tried to push Cooper away with his thighs, but the man was too strong.  He grunted and pressed 10k harder against the rug as he continued his oral assault with lusty vigor.

10k moaned between intense flashes of pleasure.  He struggled against the bindings trying to pull free, but remained trapped, unable to push himself away while clutched in Cooper’s iron grip.  He couldn’t stop shuddering and arching with every nibble and jab of the tongue.

“Please…please, stop…” he begged.

Panting, Cooper abruptly released his thighs and pushed himself up on his arms, looking down at him.  “What?”

10k shook his head, profoundly embarrassed.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t do this.  I’m not her!”  He shrunk back against the rug, fearing what might happen next.

Cooper slowly sat back on his haunches and considered his words.  An array of emotions seemed to cloud Cooper’s face:  disappointment, confusion, and perhaps even the same guilt 10k was also feeling at the moment.  He shook his head and stood up.

“No, I’m sorry.  You’re right…we should not be doing this.”  He pulled a crocheted afghan off the back of a couch and gently draped it over 10k on the floor.  “Please forgive me.”

Tears welled up in 10k’s eyes, and he didn’t know how to respond.

What is wrong with me?  How could I be so disloyal? What have I become?

Chapter Text

“Warren?  Can you hear me?”  10k called out with his mind.

“I don’t know about her, but I can hear you loud and clear, kid.”  Murphy responded.  

Murphy was surprised that Doc’s crazy plan worked!  They were now bonding with Warren, but this time 10k was far more cognizant.  He couldn’t see anything in this strange plane of consciousness, but Murphy felt it when the boy stroked the back of his arm.  They joined hands, which seemed to help Murphy focus even better on their shared link.

Concentrating his efforts on Warren, Murphy could tell she wasn’t in any kind of heightened emotional state – which was probably a good thing considering the last time they were in this situation.

“What if we try calling for her together?”  Murphy asked after receiving no response from their friend.

“Okay, let’s do it.” 10k replied.  “On the count of three.  One…two…”

“WARREN!” they mentally shouted in unison.

In an instant, Warren’s emotions ramped up from calm to intensely freaked out.  She definitely heard them that time!  But before he could cheer their success, Murphy felt a barrage of mental energy unmoor his link with 10k and send their consciousnesses reeling, like a powerful sneaker wave crashing down on unsuspecting surfers.  It took him a moment to regain his bearings after the wipeout.

Kid?  Are you okay?” he called into their mental link.

No response.

10k!” he shouted again.  He gripped 10k’s hand tighter, trying to rouse the boy.

Murphy felt 10k jerk his hand away, which prompted him to withdraw from the bond and open his eyes.

“RAHR!” 10k growled as he launched off the bed to attack Sarge, who was standing in the bedroom doorway.

Sarge gasped sharply as 10k grabbed her shoulders, and the two tumbled to the ground.  10k gnashed his teeth and snapped at her throat.  Even though she was caught by surprise, during the scuffle she was able to react quickly.  She pulled his goggles and bandanna down, which got tangled around his chin.  10k growled furiously, scratching at Sarge while he tried to bite through the leather strap. 

“That isn’t 10k!” Doc shouted, nearly falling off his stool.

“No shit,” Sarge grumbled.  To her credit, she did not panic.  Although 10k was much taller and outweighed her by at least 30 pounds, she was able to force him backward and roll out from underneath him.  She kicked him hard in the groin, which did not produce the desired effect, but did deflect his next lunging attack.  “Little help here?”

Sorry, Doc, but I have to break my promise…

Murphy held up his hand and concentrated.  “Stop!” he commanded.  

10k immediately ceased growling and biting, and hovered dumbly on his hands and knees, his goggle strap still stuck in his teeth.  A frothy string of drool dribbled off his lip and stretched slowly to the floor.  His eyes were lifeless and glazed, and if Murphy didn’t know better, he would swear this was a newly turned zombie.

But through their shared bonds, he was relieved to discover that he could still sense Warren and 10k off in the distance, and they were both feeling just as gob smacked as Murphy. 

Thank God they’re not dead.  But what the cluster fuck just happened?

Sarge panted and pulled herself back to her feet, keeping a wary eye on her immobilized attacker.  “What do we do?   I do NOT want to mercy him!”

“Nobody is mercying anybody until we figure this shit out.”  Doc opened the closet door.  “Quick.  Throw him in here!”   Murphy and Sarge dragged the unresisting boy to the closet and trapped him inside.  He scraped lightly at the door, but while under Murphy’s thrall he did not try to escape.

Outside the bedroom window, Murphy saw a humongous white male Z shambling its way to the trailer’s front doorstep.  It must have weighed at least 350 pounds, and looked like a Hee Haw character from Hell, with its straw hat, checkered shirt and tattered overalls.  It was having a hard time walking because its intestines were spilling out of its abdominal cavity and dragging along the ground.

“Ah, just great!  We’ve got more company,” he muttered to Sarge next to him.

Doc peered out the window to see what they were looking at while Sarge ran to the living room to retrieve her rifle.

The monstrous Z fumbled with the doorknob, and when it found it locked, it pounded on the door.  “Help?  Is there anyone in there?” it groaned.

Doc and Murphy turned to each other and raised their eyebrows.

“Whoa.  Another talking zombie?”  Doc asked. 

“I guess Darla isn’t the only one out there!” Murphy replied.

Sarge trained her weapon on the front door, intent on shooting anything that entered.  “Move along, buster, unless you want me to put another hole in you!” she shouted.

From his vantage point, Murphy could see the zombie pause at the door.

“Sarge?  Is that you in there?  Urk!” it grunted.  Talking seemed to have displaced its jaw, and it had to hold it in place to keep it from falling off its face.  “Ith me!  Woburda Warhwen!”

Holy shit.

Murphy rushed into the living room and planted himself between the door and Sarge’s rifle.  “Don’t shoot!  Don’t shoot!” he panted, waving his arms in front of him.

“How the heck does that thing know my name?” Sarge asked, motioning her rifle at the door, her eyes as big as saucers.  The Z continued to pound on the door.

Murphy unlocked the door and threw it open.

“What are you doing?  Don’t let it in!” Sarge shouted, lunging for the door.  Before she could slam the door shut, Murphy had his arms wrapped around the humongous zombie, and he gave it an enthusiastic hug.

“Roberta!  We finally found you!”

Warren Zombie couldn’t really smile with a dislocated jaw, but by manually manipulating her mouth with one hand,she was able to sputter out a muddled sentence.

“Murwwy, why in da Hell are you wed?” she asked, giving him a curious once over.

“Why in the Hell are you…undead?” he replied, giving her a closer look.  He stepped back a few paces when he realized he was standing directly on one of her entrails, and wiped the bottom of his shoe back and forth on the carpet to remove any disgusting residue.

“Murphy!  Get back in here, pronto!” Doc called from the bedroom.

“Hold that thought,” Murphy said, raising a finger.  In his excitement over finding Warren, Murphy had completely forgotten about controlling the 10k Zombie back in the bedroom.  When he rounded the corner into the bedroom, he saw Doc propping himself against the closet door to keep the growling Z trapped inside.

“Do your zombie whisperer thing again!” Doc begged while 10k repeatedly threw himself against the door.  It was so flimsy, it would surely break soon.

This time when Murphy enthralled the 10k Zombie, he did a deeper dive into its mind and was able to retrieve its recent memories.  Up until a few minutes ago, it had been stumbling along the interstate next to the gas station.  His name was Otis, and he had been working on a nearby farm up until a few months ago when he’d been shot in the gut by a band of brigands who stole his truck and all the vegetables he had planned to sell at a nearby settlement called Altura.

Otis was 59 years old when he died…and he looked exactly like the huge disemboweled zombie Roberta currently inhabited, who was now standing in the bedroom doorway.

“Warren?  Geez Louise…is that really you in there?” Doc asked, scratching his beard.

“Yeah, ith me,” Warren said with an embarrassed looking shrug of the shoulders.  “Wong time no thee!”

“Damn girl, you put on weight!” Doc chuckled.  He walked over to give her a delicate hug, careful not to get any slimy entrails on his clothes.

“Haha, vewwy funny. Whereth 10k?” Roberta asked, looking around. 

Murphy jerked his thumb at the closet door.  “In there.  Kind of.  Something tells me this is not the first time you accidentally hijacked another body…is it?”

“Oh, no!”  Warren shook her head.  “You mean that ithn’t my body in the clothet?”

“Nope!  I think you jumped into poor Otis the Enormous,” Murphy said, motioning emphatically at Warren’s host body, “…and he jumped into 10k, and now the kid is trapped somewhere in YOUR body!” Murphy said with huge grin.  “Oh, Lordy, I wish I could have seen the look on his face when he woke up inside of you!”

Sheesh.  That kid gets all the luck.  Why didn’t I get to play musical chairs?  I would have killed to take a spin in her rockin’ bod!

“What?” Sarge yelped, all the color drained from her face.  “If that’s all true, how are we supposed to put them back?”

Warren put her finger up to tell everyone to wait a second.  Spying a roll of duct tape on top of the dresser, she grabbed it and looped a length over her head and under her chin to keep her dislocated jaw from falling off her skull. 

“Better?” she asked.  Everyone nodded.  “Okay.  You’re right - this has happened before! Ever since the Black Rain, I’ve been having crazy crap happening between me and the Zs. I can try to fix this, but if it works, you gotta be ready to mercy ol’ Otis here –“ she motioned at herself – “or he can put us all in a world of hurt.  The last time a switch happened, my new friend almost got bit!”

Friend?  That’s rich.  I know exactly how she feels, and this Mr. Cooper is way more than just a friend, Murphy seethed with a twinge of jealousy, but he bit his tongue.

“Fine,” he replied, trying to hide his annoyance.  “I’ll make sure 10k doesn’t bite anyone.  With all this weird Black Rain shit changing everyone, who knows what that would do to a person, even if he isn’t technically a zombie!”  Murphy took the roll of duct tape from Warren.  “In the meantime, you guys figure out how to deal with Otis.  I don’t think this dinky closet is going to hold him!”

“I think I have an idea,” Sarge offered.  “Follow me!”  They left Murphy alone in the room.

Using his powers to keep the zombie submissive, Murphy began binding 10k’s arms, wrists and ankles with the duct tape.  He tried to tell himself this WASN’T really 10k, but his dick had other ideas, and during the process he found himself getting very, very turned on.  Bondage had always been one of his favorite kinks, and here he was tying up the object of many of his fantasies!  He worked slowly, drawing out the experience, telling himself he had to be thorough.

When he finished securing him, Murphy removed the goggles and gently wiped the drool off his young blend’s chin.  He tilted his jaw to get a closer look at his face.  10k’s beautiful blue eyes looked blankly up at Murphy, unresisting and completely trusting.   He looked so serene, with absolutely no hint of anger or resentment that usually plagued their interactions.

Murphy gulped.  He rubbed his thumb gently across 10k’s lower lip.

I could kiss him right now.  Make him do anything I wanted.  The others are gone!  Nobody would ever know…

Murphy stopped himself.  He would not violate 10k’s trust ever again.  He sighed and ripped off a section of the duct tape and smoothed it carefully over 10k’s lips, as much to keep himself from succumbing to his desires as it was to prevent 10k from biting anyone, lest he slip out from under Murphy’s thrall again.

Now that he didn’t have to focus his concentration on keeping Otis docile, he shifted his attention to sensing the real 10k again.  Murphy covered the wriggling and lightly moaning body on the floor with a blanket, hoping that if he wasn’t distracted by 10k’s deliciously bound form anymore, his sizable erection would subside before the others returned. 

But strangely enough, re-establishing his mental connection with 10k only served to heighten, not dampen his arousal. 

No, no, that can’t be right. Am I going completely crazy, or is the kid getting turned on right now? 

As a peal of thunder sounded in the background, Murphy tried to sort out his emotions, wondering if he was mistaking 10k’s emotions for his own.  He closed his eyes and dove deeper into the bond he shared with his blend, trying to push his own feelings of desire aside, and it was then that he felt the sensation of a hard smack across the face.

Murphy’s eyes jolted open and he rubbed his cheek, positive that what he just felt was coming from 10k and not himself.

Who hit 10k?  I swear to God, If Cooper hurts the kid, I will fucking kill him!

But despite the physical assault, Murphy wasn’t feeling any fear emanating from his blend.  Quite the opposite, in fact. 

Murphy felt an intense surge of arousal, and he let out a moan.  He was now so maddeningly hard, it was all he could do to keep from masturbating.  The urge to jerk off was just as uncontrollable as all those times he’d bonded with 10k while he made love to Sarge.  Listening to 10k’s body moan and writhe on the floor next to him was also compounding the problem.

Murphy smashed his hands over his ears, muted his bond with 10k, and rushed into the living room, hoping that putting some distance between himself and the moaning zombie would help.  Fortunately, the others were still gone.  He spotted Sarge’s canteen on the kitchenette counter.

He grabbed it, unscrewed the top, and desperately doused his crotch with the water.  It wasn’t a cold shower, but it would have to do!

Think of Otis, think of Otis, think of Otis!

The image of the zombie’s bloated, rotting face and the smell of the intestines spilling out of its body snapped Murphy back to reality.  The decidedly unsexy memories seemed to do the trick, and his hard on finally wilted.

Hearing another crash of thunder, he glanced out the window.  The dark storm clouds moving in matched his mood.  Frowning, Murphy grabbed a dish towel from a rack by the fridge and mopped angrily at the drenched front of his jeans. 

He couldn’t deny the truth.  Somewhere out there, 10k was currently getting it on in Warren’s body, which meant it was probably with her new “friend,” Cooper.

I can’t believe it.  This is completely unfair!  First Roberta, now 10k?  That son of a bitch has stolen everyone from me!