The Starving Animal

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We all stand in awkward silence, waiting for Joe to arrive. Tommy continues to stand there with his arms folded across his chest looking anxious, and for the first time in my life, it appears that Will is utterly speechless. Barely an hour ago my little brother somehow managed to survive Infection and now seems to have new superhuman abilities as a result of it. Amazingly, and rather worryingly, he believes that he can both hear and smell Joe approaching through the forest, despite the fact that Joe is nowhere to be seen.

Thinking ahead, I didn't want to overwhelm Joe too much, therefore I quickly asked Tommy to stay hidden before he arrives. A part of me hopes that Tommy is wrong, that he imagined these new abilities and that maybe he was never Infected in the first place. But as I stare at his perfect complexion and muscular form, I know deep down that it is probably true. Either way, all I can hope is that we find some answers soon.

To my relief Joe suddenly appears and almost stumbles through the underbrush. Despite the fact that he looks a little dishevelled with a torn shirt and mud on his knees, Joe is otherwise completely unharmed. He pauses at a nearby tree and leans heavily against it with flushed cheeks, wiping the back of his hand across his brow. Swallowing back my own fear, I try to focus on breaking the news rather than processing the implications of Tommy's new abilities.

As Joe continues to catch his breath, I race over and place my hand on the small of his back. "Are you, okay?"

Straightening his stance, he nods his head. "I'm fine, kiddo... Seems I ain't as fit as I used to be."

Will takes a step towards us. "Glad you got out in one piece."

Joe smiles and raises his eyebrows. "Can't say the same about those assholes that broke my windows!"

Will and I exchange a glance, uncertain of how to present the now-cured Tommy.

Immediately spotting the exchange, Joe is instantly on guard. "What's going on, kid? Where's Tommy?"

You can't get anything past him. Without saying a word, I simply turn around and beckon for Tommy to join us. Hesitating at first, he tentatively steps out from behind a large tree and slowly walks towards us.

At the sight of him, Joe's face completely drains of colour, almost as though he has seen a ghost. He whispers under his breath, "Tommy? How can this be?"

Tommy laughs nervously. "Hey, Joe...guess I'm back from the dead?"

Joe quickly reaches forward, pulls him in for a long hug and slaps him on the back. He grabs Tommy's face with his huge, rough hands and speaks in a wavering voice, "I'm so sorry, kid. I damn well thought you were Infected. If it weren't for Alyx..." He bows his head shamefully and sighs heavily. "It doesn't matter. You're here now, and that's all that matters."

Joe smiles with watery eyes and wraps his arm around Tommy's shoulder, looking the happiest I have ever seen him in my life. "We don't wanna linger here for too long, kids, but we have enough time for a little celebration. I think we all deserve it, huh?"

As I stare at them both, my heart swells with love. My little family is back together again with my best friend at my side. In this moment I feel like I could be the luckiest girl in the world.

Joe winks at me with glistening eyes. "So, Ally, crack open the champagne!"

I roll my eyes at him. "No champagne I'm afraid, but I may have something we can eat?"

I reach down into my rucksack and start to pull out the food that Joe packed from the cupboards – cheese, bread, dried beef, apples and a bag of homemade sweet biscuits. Considering the situation, and the fact we were run out of town, I think we did okay.

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