A complete lack of understanding.
It’s one of the worst feelings Murphy has experienced in literal years. And yes, that includes being pumped full of fuck-knows-what and left to be eaten alive. So why, out of all the people wandering these Apocalyptic wastes, did it turn out to be him? Logically, he knows that there are better fits. More suitable candidates. But people aren’t always logical, are they? One of the greatest mistakes that can be made when dealing with people is to forget that they are ‘creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.’ Who was it that said that, again? Some head-up-his-own-ass motivational speaker, no doubt. Probably to con some suckers into buying a load of self-help books.
But the kid didn’t seem prideful. Or vain, for that matter, not with that appalling fashion sense. Seriously, those boot soles on his shoulders? As practical as they may be, visually they were almost as bad a faux pas as double denim!
Another soft bump sounded from over his head as 10k no doubt shifted his position again, trying to get more comfortable on the roof of their Bug. He had waited for Murphy to claim his own seat in the back before deciding which side of the roof to drape himself across. And he just had to go and pick the same one as Murphy. Garnett was already giving the man enough of a stink eye without the kid actively making it worse…
10k seems to like him. That in itself isn’t the problem here – the kid also likes Doc. Maybe even Cassandra. But he seems to like Murphy in a different way. A way that allows him to touch the kid, despite 10k flinching when others try to do the same. Sure, the kid still tenses under Murphy’s hands if he catches him unawares or fails to telegraph his intent clearly enough, but he quickly relaxes again. Melts into the contact. With the others, it appears more like he’s simply tolerating them. At other times, though, it can seem like 10k is purposefully seeking out the man’s touch. Little brushes here and there, a discreet squeeze of his elbow, pressing a knee against his leg… Not that Murphy is complaining – he hasn’t exactly been drowning in such pleasant physical contact recently. And if he’s completely honest, Warren would probably be doing everyone a favour if her tendency to grab him – to push and shove him around – wasn’t so… aggressive…
No, the problem was that he doesn’t understand why.
Why did the kid pick him of all people? Murphy isn’t exactly the easiest person to get along with, and many would have likely thrown his ass to the Zs by now if he wasn’t so important. Self-centred and arrogant to the point where his own family hadn’t wanted much to do with him, even pre-Z Murphy was far from surprised when those he thought were his friends had been so quick to throw him under the bus to save themselves. He had almost seen it coming. Which is why he had always made it a priority to cover his own ass. By hiding the full extent of their little money-making scheme from even his ‘friends’, Murphy had only been sentenced to three years. Such a tiny, insignificant drop in the ocean compared to the life sentence he should have been facing… Not that it had mattered, in the end. The world would have still gone all batshit Apocalyptical either way.
And he didn’t have anyone waiting for him outside, either. After his mother had passed, there wasn’t anyone permanent in his life. None of his relationships ever worked out long term… Murphy is an acquired taste, and no woman he has met has ever had the right palate.
All these thoughts swirling around in his head: people who were likely dead; things that he could never change; love he had failed to find… They were all suffocating Murphy. Stifling him. The air quickly growing stagnant. With lips curled in a frustrated snarl, he shoved the window open. Say what you want about this junky little Bug, but the old owner had had the right idea installing these pop windows in her. She opens up just enough for him to stick his hand outside, the fresh air blowing in passed it. Onto his face. It clears his head; cools him off.
His fingers stay warm, however, as fabric brushes up against them. 10k had shifted his foot, twisted his leg. Pressed his calf up against Murphy’s hand.
Okay, fine. Murphy can be stubborn. He freely admits that. But now, he can also – though rather begrudgingly – admit that some of the things that the kid does can be cute. In a weird, ‘mama-never-taught-him-proper’ kind of way. With how reverently 10k had been staring at that stale Oreo, there was just no way that Murphy couldn’t steal it! It was like the kid was gazing upon the face of God! And those socks? The bright pink ones with the little stars? They were a complete surprise. Murphy prides himself on his wit, his ability to clap back and talk shit, but his brain had just cut out. He had wanted to tease the damn kid, but his mind had gone blank. He couldn’t think of a single thing. As much as 10k tries to seem like a stoic, world weary zombie hunter, in that moment – with his eyes wide and cheeks coloured, just staring up at him… He had made Murphy think of a fairy-tale princess. An honest-to-goodness damsel in distress.
No one has relied on Murphy for anything in years. No one has really trusted him enough to consider doing so. But if that is the expression someone can wear while looking up at him? Looking up to him? Well, Murphy certainly wouldn’t mind giving it a try…
Whether the kid had fully intended to or not, he had shown some of his softer, more vulnerable side to Murphy. And the man wanted to see it again. Wanted 10k to show it willingly next time. Intentionally. But only to Murphy. The man has had to give up all of the few things that he had had in life. Now he wants to have something he can keep all to himself for the first time in a long time. And if that thing is the side of 10k that the kid refuses to allow others to see? Well, Murphy is sure that that’ll be enough. That he’ll be content.
His fingers shift along the fabric, searching around. Seeking out a loose piece, a gentle fold, onto which he can grip. Hold on to. At a cursory glance, the trouser fabric is tough, hard wearing, made to take a beating and still hold strong. But now that he has spent the time to pay attention, to feel it out – to really look – he has found that it is much softer than it first appeared. Than one would immediately assume.
Pressing his fingers in, Murphy began gently digging into the soft flesh beneath. He feels the muscle tense and flex, like the kid was trying to reach back towards him…
Murphy doesn’t understand why the kid has chosen him over all the others, but he’s glad he did. Grateful, even. 10k has given him help that he himself wasn’t even aware that he needed. Taken his mind off the Zombie Apocalypse; Merch’s experiment; the fate that awaits him in California…
Murphy doesn’t understand why.
But he doesn’t have to.
“I think it’s sweet.” Cassandra’s voice was low, meant only for Murphy. He throws a questioning look at the woman sat beside him. A look she answers with an inconspicuous nod towards the open little window. “How much you think of him. And how much he thinks of you.”
The annoying twinkle in her eyes pissed Murphy off. Made him scowl. Yanking his hand inside, he slams the window shut.
Cassandra just laughs. “Very sweet.”
The laugh caused Garnett to turn his head. To look back at them. Seeing 10k’s leg pull back from the window, the soldier resumes his little vendetta against Murphy. A stern look. A clear warning. Did he overhear Cassandra spewing her fanciful tales? Murphy is unsure how Garnett seems to be reading the kid and his… attachment. But from how the soldier has been overly protective, Murphy wouldn’t put it passed the man to have completely misconstrued the situation and incorrectly assumed the kid had a crush. If that was how Garnett sees it, Murphy would be deeply offended: he’s an asshole, sure, but he isn’t a monster! Taking advantage of the kid would never even cross his mind! And anyway, he’s pretty certain that if he tried to do anything that 10k didn’t like, the kid could more than look after himself. Plus, even if the kid did have a crush and had the balls to make the first move, Murphy would turn him down without a second thought. He doesn’t have any interest in men. Well, no real interest, anyway. He’s secure enough in himself to admit that there has been the occasional guy that had turned his head – some people were just too pretty for him to care that they were men, even if he had never felt like he should act upon the desire. But 10k? The kid was too aggressive, too rough around the edges, to qualify for that rare exception.
Who knows how the kid would react to his advances, anyway? Even if 10k was into men, Murphy had already made him snap once with his teasing. His sexual innuendo. If he was to say or do the wrong thing without Warren there to intervene this time, then ‘Goodbye Saviour of Humanity – there isn’t enough left of you to make a cure!’
As cute as kittens can be, Murphy knows that he’ll do well to remember that they still have claws.
“Y’all see that?”
At Addy’s words, Garnett finally – though likely reluctantly – tore his attention away from Murphy. With one last stern look, he turns to the front and out of the windscreen. Glaring again, of course. At least now he has another target on which practice mimicking the Warren Glare™… The soldier almost growls. “That’s them, alright.”
As he leans forward between the front seats, attempting to get a good look at the scene before him, Murphy hears 10k begin to shift on the roof above him. It was the bandits. The ones that had ambushed them and taken their truck. They were once more standing in the middle of the road, though this time their guns were levelled at a family. A family with two small children, no less!
Warren stops the car, the handbrake squeaking. “Bastards.”
Rifle in hand, 10k hops down from his perch on the top of the car roof. At least he had the sense to let their damn ride come to a full stop first, this time. The kid doesn’t look inside the car, instead opting to keep his eyes focused on the bandits, simply tapping his fingers on the little pop window to draw Murphy’s attention. Crooking his fingers, 10k motions for the man to follow him. If it had been him on the roof with the kid, Murphy had no doubts in his mind that he would have been brusquely dragged off and then up into the trees again. Thank fuck Garnett had insisted he ride inside!
Without waiting for any orders, Warren pulls herself out of the empty doorway. “Looks like they’re trying to rob some poor family this time.”
Yes, very astute observation there, Warren. Oh, how lucky we are to have you and your insurmountable skills in deductive reasoning, lest we misread another situation and walk headlong into another fucking ambush…
“Not if I have anything to say about it. Come on.” Garnett’s words came out almost as a snarl. Which made Murphy glad that he hasn’t actually managed to piss the man off. Yet. Would probably do well to be more mindful of him in the future…
The only one left in the kitschy car, Murphy could only watch as the others made their way towards the bandits, weapons firmly in hand. Only 10k had hung back, hand still lingering on the window even as his eyes stayed resolutely pointed forwards. The kid was tense, more so than Murphy had seen so far. The knuckles on the hand holding his rifle had gone a deathly white.
The kid has been more reliable than the others…
Sticking his head out of the empty doorway, Murphy calls to Garnett and Warren, hoping they would listen to him just this once. “Would it matter at all if we said this was a bad idea?” He was ignored, of course. Typical. For a Saviour, he gets such little respect…
Beside him, 10k shifts. Pulls his hand from the window. Gently places it on Murphy’s shoulder instead. Even gives it a light squeeze. The kid’s brows were drawn low again, his lips tight. 10k is worried. “Bad Idea.” With a soft tug at Murphy’s jacket collar – barely more than a caress of the leather – he nods towards the embankment along the side of the road. “With me. Hurry.” And with that, he stalked off.
Garnett and Warren may be the soldiers – well, the ones formally trained by the US military, anyway – but that training has let them waltz right into one ambush already, today. An ambush that the kid saw coming. And pulled Murphy out of. So, he knows exactly who he’s going to trust more. With an exasperated sigh, he pulls himself out of the Bug and takes off after 10k, his longer strides allowing him to swiftly catch up. He walks a step or so behind the kid up to the top of the embankment, to just before the treeline, before they walk along the road until they are almost level with their stolen truck. Murphy kept his attention on Garnett, who had his gun drawn on the bandits. This, of course, meant that he took his eye off 10k. So, when the kid suddenly stopped, Murphy’s momentum almost knocked the slender guy over.
The only acknowledgement of Murphy’s little blunder was the quiet, disgruntled sound that escaped 10k’s throat as the kid manoeuvred himself around him, placing himself firmly between the man and the people on the road. 10k keeps his eyes forward, diligently playing his expected role of bodyguard. What surprised Murphy, however, was when the kid swung his rifle back, pressing it between them.
“Stay behind me. Hold this and help hide it.” The kid never fully handed over his gun, however, the knuckles of the hand still grasping it pressing into the man’s abdomen.
To say that Murphy is confused would be a serious understatement. Why would the kid be relinquishing his rifle? And in the middle of a possible engagement, no less. He loves that damn thing! Probably worships it as he would a second cock! Almost as if sensing his confusion, 10k speaks once more. “Less intimidating. They don’t need two cars.”
Two cars? The bandits already had a damn car – theirs! And by the looks of it, the family don’t even have one of their own for the bandits to steal. Pulling his eyes from his enigma of a bodyguard, Murphy turns his attention back towards the road. The bandits were kneeling now, hands on their heads, surrounded on both sides. Just like they had done to Murphy’s group. The family’s father glanced up at him, then. Met Murphy’s eyes. Sizing him up. Judging him. And ignoring 10k completely. Finding him to not be a threat. ‘Less intimidating’, indeed. And as the father’s eyes slip away, fell back upon Garnett, that’s when Murphy sees them. The rest of the bandits. Kneeling by the roadside, the fear on their faces palpable even from such a distance.
Oh, sweet karma, the bandits weren’t the ones doing the high jacking this time! And now Garnett – their very own Good Samaritan of a leader – was aiding and abetting literal highway robbery! The look on his face when he finds out will be priceless! How Murphy wishes he could see it!
The kid had known something was up. That all wasn’t as it seemed. And only Murphy had been smart enough to take heed, to listen, to not blindly charge ahead…
Opening his mouth, ready to let the sass roll off his tongue, Murphy found himself quickly snapping it shut again. The family had drawn guns – even the little children. And they executed the bandits with no hesitation. The noise was sudden, loud, making Murphy flinch. He barely noticed 10k’s fingers sinking into his shirt. Holding him. Grounding him. They both just stood there, watching, as the family below climbed into the truck, claiming it as their own before using it to speed off down the road. At least Garnett and the others were just as dumbfounded…
Finally, the kid turns to him, the hand in Murphy’s shirt diffidently letting go. Smoothing out the fabric. Then gently pries his rifle back. As the man watches 10k sling it over his shoulder, he realises that, yeah, that thing does make him look dangerous. Certainly, it would have drawn more attention from the family of robbers.
“You knew that was going to happen, didn’t you? You knew that they were robbers, that they were gonna kill them. Fuck, you even knew how to make them overlook us!”
10k only shrugs, fiddling with his rifle strap. As if he was bored. “Better them than us.”
“That makes two in a row, now, kid. Either that’s a weird coincidence or some freaky shit is going on. And don’t go trying to tell me that you’re psychic or some other crap, ‘caus I ain’t buying it. Played that card too many times myself.”
The kid looks at him, then. Just looks, those grey eyes piercing. Boring deep. Searching. Murphy can never tell what is truly going on behind those eyes. He’s not sure he wants to know… With a lick of his lips, 10k’s eyes fall away, landing instead on his rifle as he resumes idly readjusting the strap. “Was alone. You get good at reading at people. Or you die.” Nodding down the road in the direction in which their little family of robbers had disappeared, the kid continued. “From what I see in them? Won’t make it far.”
Murphy’s laugh burst forth despite trying his damnedest to hold it back. This kid really was something. “Well, ain’t you a cocky one! If you’re so confident, oh wise prophet, you won’t mind backing up those words. Half a pack of smokes says we never see those bastards again.”
10k’s grin was crooked and familiar, lighting up his face while igniting a wicked gleam in his eyes. And a warmth in Murphy’s chest. “Deal.” And with that, the kid turns on his heel and begins a slow descent back to the road. Back to the others.
Back to reality.
Murphy stares after him, watching how calm – how casual – his gait is. As if they hadn’t just witnessed an execution. He doesn’t know whether to believe the kid or not, either. Reading people? Really? 10k’s social skills are piss poor at best – Murphy doesn’t even recall hearing the kid manage to string together a complete, complex sentence! And he had seemed somewhere between wary and downright hostile towards Doc the first day or so they travelled together. The old guy was like the group’s fun-loving grandpa. As an aged hippy, it was more probable that Doc would get stoned and eat all of their meagre food supplies than actively, intentionally harm anyone! If the kid was so good at sensing danger, why had he bared his fangs at the old man?
Then again, the kid had not only spotted two sticky situations with ease that the others had completely missed but had also stopped Murphy from waltzing straight into the danger zone with the rest of the group. 10k didn’t seem much of a braggart – Murphy had met enough of them to practically be able to smell them coming! – so… maybe there was some truth to his words.
Starting his own way down the embankment to where Warren was sending him an impatient glare, Murphy quickly caught up to the kid. And when Garnett joined in with the whole ‘let’s glare at Murphy’ thing, he slung an arm around 10k’s shoulders. Because if he was going to get punished with the soldier’s glowering, he might as well get the enjoyment of actually committing the crime. “So… what do you see in me?”
10k laughed, leaning into Murphy’s side. The sound was light and airy, his body firm and warm.
“Been asking myself that all day.”
“Yo, can’t this thing go any faster? I’m gonna die of old age before we get to California.”
Warren watches as, beside her, Garnett’s fingers repeatedly flex and tighten on the steering wheel. It was a tick she had noticed a long time ago. One she knew well. He was getting angry, trying to hold back. So, when Garnett replied to Murphy, Warren wasn’t surprised at the harshness in his tone. “Long before 10k would, anyway.”
The topic he brought up, however, was. This had happened once or twice, now, and always seemingly out of the blue. Did Garnet have a problem with Murphy talking to 10k? Why? That boy had been a godsend these last few days – if he hadn’t been there to distract the annoying bastard, to keep his attention elsewhere when she was trying plan a route or dish out rations, Warren is sure she would have started looking for reasons to just pike Murphy and get this all over with.
Garnett wasn’t like her, though. The man was kind, caring. He liked to look after people, save as many as he could. A real gentle soul. While the Apocalypse had caused most – herself definitely included – to harden up, to cast sentimentality aside, to start looking out for number one first, Garnett had remained the same sweet, accepting guy she had met all those years ago. Back when this hellscape was still new and confusing, rather than the mundane and repetitive struggle for survival it had become.
But Murphy? Yeah, that guy was a total pain in the ass. And if she’s being honest, if it wasn’t for the mission, Warren would insist that they find a nice and secluded outpost or trading town to dump him in before heading for the hills. Just drive off, leaving him in the dust. Let him be someone else’s problem. Murphy probably wouldn’t last long on his own, though, not with the mouth he has on him. Likely only be a day or two before he pisses off the wrong person and gets a little dose of pre-emptive Mercy… Actually, no: Garnett would never agree to it. Wouldn’t let her leave Murphy to fend for himself. He’d insist that no one gets left behind. That as long as that irritating bastard wants to travel with them, he can, if he can pull his own weight.
Not that he’s pulling his weight now. Being the mission, the one person that they cannot afford to lose… Murphy has been more than happy to take as much advantage of that important little detail as he can. She can’t kick his egotistical ass to the curb, and he knows it. And that is the real reason she cannot stand him. What is pissing Warren off so much.
Bastards like the one they have ended up unfortunate enough to be transporting don’t get under Garnett’s skin. Not like they do Warren’s, anyway. So, what was the problem he has with Murphy? It was something to do with 10k, obviously, that much she knew, but any more than that? Totally in the dark. Garnett had confided in her a few nights ago while they kept watch as the others slept. Told her what he thinks about the kid’s possible past. He seems to be under the impression that their little Rambo might have traded his own body for supplies. It was a ridiculous theory, in her opinion. She’d been watching 10k, making sure he was doing his job. So, she’d witnessed how he reacts to Murphy’s crass jokes and Doc’s risqué tales. Even the confused curiosity when Addy and Mack get all cutesy and lovey-dovey. He knows about guns, about killing Zs, sure. But when it comes to romance? To sex? That boy likely couldn’t tell his own ass from his elbow. And with how 10k could probably kill a man twice his size four times over in the time to takes to blink, Warren is sure he’d be much more likely to just straight up kill for a meal rather than warm some sleazeball’s bedroll.
So, was that Charlie’s problem? He bristles whenever Murphy so much as squints in the kid’s direction. And when he gets close to 10k? Touches him? Even when tidies up that silken scarf like a doting mother hen… Does Garnett really believe that the bastard’s actions are solely sinister? A nefarious plot to, what? Seduce and blackmail the kid? Warren has known Garnett long enough to tell when the guy was holding back, trying not to snap; to punch an asshole out. Does he not realise that 10k was the one damn person that Murphy seemed to not be actively trying to alienate himself from, despite the frequent jokes at the kid’s expense? Can he seriously not see that that kid was likely the only one of them that Murphy might care about, other than himself? So, to what end would Garnett think that the obnoxious bastard was trying to manipulate 10k? To try and escape? Murphy wouldn’t survive a day out there on his own, and they all know it. Plus, 10k takes his job seriously enough that, should Murphy even think of trying to run, the kid would likely beat his craven ass halfway across the next state!
This was useless. There was no way she could figure it out, find a reason in Garnett’s strange logic. She’ll just have to suck it up; ask him. While alone, of course. She doesn’t need this to escalate. For someone to get hurt. Should it come down to it, though – if push comes to shove – she’ll always side with Garnett over Murphy and the mission. And she knows that Garnett will always choose her, too.
His head sticking out from between the seats, Murphy just scoffs. “Old age? Please. That kid will live to be a thousand years old out of sheer spite, and you know it! He’ll see Death coming for him and take the bitch out, double tap right between the eyes. Ain’t no one gonna be making that little psycho their prey!” He shifts closer to Warren, now. Too close. “I, on the other hand, won’t be so lucky, you not letting me have a weapon and all. So, chop chop, tally ho, all that crap.”
The bastard. She wanted to smack him. She really did. He was too arrogant. Self-centred. Did he honestly think that they were purposefully taking their sweet-ass time? Why the fuck would they do that? For fun? This was not some saccharine road trip movie, ending in hugs all around and a plate of grandma’s cookies! For one, Murphy was far from good, wholesome company and the sooner Warren see’s the back of him, the better! When he’s not demanding extra rations or tormenting that poor boy, he’s bitching and moaning about the way that they are doing things. And not once has he volunteered to help. “You can always get out and push.”
But Murphy just laughs. For such a trivial sound, it was unbelievably condescending. Patronising. Haughty. “No, not me, sister. I’m special.”
“Talking to you makes me wonder about this whole ‘saving humanity’ thing…”
The delicate bubbling of a giggle causes Murphy to pull away from Warren, to turn to the back seat. Towards Cassandra. “Is Ten Thousand special, too?”
Garnett’s fingers gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles went white. Warren is justifiably surprised that the damn thing hadn’t been crushed. Or crumpled under the pressure. Torn straight off, even. But, Apocalypse or no, if this seemingly ‘innocent’ conversation begins to deteriorate in any way, shape, or form, she will make Garnett pull this damn piece of shit they call a car over – at gun point, if she must! – and smack those men’s heads together.
Oblivious to the fact that he was prodding at a bear with the mother of all headaches, Murphy just scratches at his scraggly beard with a snort. “Would I accept any less of my bodyguard? He’s a damn fine hunter, very efficient. Great intuition, too. Much better than you lot, anyway. Two ambushes…”
Garnett’s jaw clenched, and she swore she could hear his teeth grinding. His patience was wearing out, threadbare at best. Warren was fully prepared to stand by and watch if he wanted to knock a bit of respect into that bastard, though she knew that she’d have to reluctantly force herself to drag him off of Murphy before it goes too far… Charlie wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he snapped and accidentally killed the man, after all.
“Stop the car.”
Doc’s sudden call and short bang on the wheel arch had all eyes in the Beetle lift towards him. As Garnett slowly brings them to a stop, they all peer around their companions perched on the bonnet. There was a truck abandoned in the middle of the road. Their truck. The one that had been stolen… And beside it, scattered across the asphalt, was–
“Oh, it’s the family…” The old man’s voice was solemn. As it should be. Sure, they had robbed those bandits – executed them, even – but the little children… They were laying there, too, right alongside their parents. Zs were mindless animals, and don’t have any moral agency. They don’t care how old their victims are, only whether or not they could kill them. Eat them.
It was the one thing that still really got to her. Got to all of them. Children… Fuck, even Murphy had fallen silent.
“We gotta get off this road.” Garnett’s voice was hollow: seeing children like this always hit him the hardest. Made him think of his own family. Amy and the kids. And what has likely become of them…
Sliding from his perch on the bonnet and slinging his rifle across his back, 10k does the one thing that Warren would have never expected, even from Murphy. The kid laughs. Not the distraught type of laughter that can be used to hide pain, nor something cruel and indicative that pleasure is being taken from another’s suffering. No, it was a gentle one, barely audible. Light and innocent sounding. A laugh borne of simple joys and even amusement, despite the death all around them. In front of them.
And from how Doc’s eyes were wide when the old man glanced between 10k and those staring back dumbfoundedly from inside of the car, a very worrying one. Was the kid really that desensitised to what the world has become that even the death of children – and ones so young, at that – had no impact on him at all?
Stepping up to Warren’s rolled down window, the traces of a smile still tugged at his lips as 10k leans close. Leans in. Stretches his arm across her and between the front seats, reaching towards the back. Towards Murphy. The kid was too close for comfort, his elbow almost bumping into her chest. Not that he seems to notice. Instead, he just wiggles his fingers expectantly in Murphy’s direction.
“Yeah, yeah. Enough already, kid, geez.” Murphy huffs, a façade to hide his own amusement, as he burrows into his pockets, quickly pulling out a little box and shoving it into 10k’s waiting hand, before swatting the kid away. “You’ve proven you point, Princess, no need to rub it in.”
When he pulls back from the window, 10k openly smiles this time, flashing Warren a quick beam that she was unsure how to describe: satiated, or smug. Instead, she just watches him. As he turns the box in his hands, revealing it to be an opened packet of cigarettes. As he wanders back to the front of the car, sliding a single cigarette behind his ear. As he stashes the rest of the pack inside his bag, eyeing up the Zs as he rummages.
Garnett turns from the windscreen. Towards the back. His movements slow and deliberate. Presses his face between the head rests to stare at Murphy. Jaw tense, lips pulled back to bare his teeth in a vicious snarl. “What the fuck was that about, Murphy? What have you been saying to that kid?”
The man in question cowers, leans back, tries to sink further in the seats, phase through the window. Flinging his hands up in surrender, Murphy tries to appease the anger of the soldier baring down on him. “Whatever you’re thinking, that’s not it. We just made a bet, is all. One he clearly won!”
Wrong words. Garnett’s rage only grew, hands gripping at the seat back as if it was Murphy’s throat. “You made a bet about dead children?”
“What? No! I mean– Ten said that the family wouldn’t get very far. Thought it would be an easy bet, a quick way to get my hand on some more cigarettes! But the kid is better than I thought. The bandit’s ambush; the family; now this: he’s three for three. Called them all!” Murphy turns to Warren now, a plea in his eyes. Begging her to intervene. Calm Garnett down.
She doesn’t want to. She really doesn’t. That’s how much of a pain in all their asses Murphy was. But she also knows that Charlie would never forgive himself if someone got seriously hurt because of his anger. That he would quickly start regretting it if he truly hurts the bastard… “Garnett–”
“Kid, hold up!”
Doc’s low, harsh whisper cleaved its way through the tension and Warren looked up just in time to see 10k sharply bring his boot heel down hard on the head of the nearest Z. The one eating the little boy. His blow had enough force to split open its skull, smashing it to pieces like an overripe melon, the sound of splintering bone alerting the other undead. All six of them. Attention torn from their feasting, the Zs now focused on 10k, the kid twirling a knife in his hands.
Kicking open her door, Warren wrenches herself out of the Beetle as swiftly as possible, unholstering her gun and aiming at the approaching Zs. Addy had likewise leapt from her roost on the back, circling around the side of car. She held the Z-whacker firmly out in front of her, ready to back up the kid without hesitation.
Neither of them should have bothered. 10k clearly knew what he was doing, had been watching the Zs, reading the situation while she had been staring at those two idiots in the car. The Zs had been spread out enough along the road for the distance between them – as small as it had been – to stagger their arrival. As soon as one reached striking distance, the kid expertly piked it, yanking his knife out and shoving the corpse away just in time to greet the next. 10k held his ground, feet planted firmly between the Beetle and the Zs, one arm sweeping away grabbing hands while wielding the knife with the other, a mechanical proficiency.
When the last Z went down, Warren finally lowered her gun, sending a quick glance Addy’s way. The young woman must have dropped her stance sooner than Warren had, as Addy was now next to Doc, leaning against the bonnet with her bat hanging loosely at her side. And she was smiling. Smiling over at 10k’s back as the kid sidestepped the dead and stalked towards the family, making a beeline for the furthest figure. For the father. He stooped over the dead man, but only just low enough to pike him, making sure that he wouldn’t turn. The mother was afforded the same treatment soon after.
But as he moved on from the parents, began approaching the nearest child – the little girl – the kid paused. Hesitated. Considered. With his head tilted to the side and brows furrowed low, he just stared down at her. Taking her in. The cogs behind his eyes were steadily turning, but about what he was pondering, Warren could not tell. Not sure she wanted to…
Wiping the blood off the blade, 10k finally sheathed his knife before raising his rifle instead. And pointing it towards the girl. As he fired a single round, one that was closely followed by a second shot aimed at the boy, the kid’s lip moved, forming a solitary word. A word spoken too softly to reach her ears. A word Warren herself had uttered too many times to count.
It didn’t take long to scavenge the dead. And to remove the group’s few possessions from the Beetle and back into their misappropriated truck. The ammo found on the family was handed over to 10k with little protest from the others: the kid was their best shot, after all. As such a limited resource, they’d be wise to make every last bullet count. And 10k has more than shown that he understands this need. He hasn’t wasted a single round yet. The kid had taken them gratefully and without question, stashing them away before hopping up to perch on the side of the truck bed. Next to where Murphy was leaning. The man had just been idly watching them all work. No change there, then. The lazy bastard.
As Garnett performed a final sweep of the old Beetle they were leaving behind, making sure not a single crumb nor half empty bottle of water was left behind, Warren saw her chance. “Charlie.”
He turned to her, then, his eyebrows raised, a familiar warm smile gracing his handsome face. “Roberta?”
“I have to ask. What is this problem you have with Murphy? And, no, don’t just tell me it’s because he’s an asshole. I’m meaning besides that. The one with Ten Thousand.”
His shoulders slumped lower as her words kept coming. Running a hand over his face, Garnett stole a glance over at the truck. At 10k. The kid had slid over, closer to Murphy now, his knee bumping arrhythmically against the man’s side as they passed a lit cigarette back and forth. Murphy was talking, too, which – knowing how much that bastard likes the sound of his own voice – wasn’t that surprising. They were too far away, however, for Warren to make out their conversation, though with the way 10k’s face held a small smile, it must have been innocuous enough.
“It’s, ah… 10k’s young, a bit naïve, really. He’s just a kid and Murphy is, well, he’s Murphy. A convict as well as an asshole. Don’t want him to be a bad influence on the kid.”
“Yeah, that’s all. Now, come on. It’s time to head on out. Need to find a way to contact that Citizen Z guy. Get off this darn road.” Final sweep of the Beetle complete, Garnett strode towards the truck. As he passed Murphy, he threw that uncharacteristically stern glance the man’s way. Maybe it wasn’t so uncharacteristic anymore. Not with how she had now come to expect it, anyway.
Warren had met Garnett early on. They had even helped found Camp Blue Sky together. Three years is a long time, especially in such dire circumstances as the ones that an Apocalypse regularly throws at you. When shit starts to get real, you tend to find out who people really are. What they actually think. What they are truly capable of, good and bad. She had worked with, lived with – survived with – this man long enough to know him inside and out. She knows his birthday, his favourite colour, even the name of his old childhood dog! She knows about his wife and kids, and how much seeing zombie children tears him apart inside, even if he refuses to show it. And she knows all about the early warning signs – the discreet little tells – that something has managed to worm its way under his skin.
She has survived with this man long enough to know him inside and out. Thanks to that, she knows him better than any other living being left on this forsaken planet.
And that includes knowing when he’s lying to her.