The bigger picture

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Joe chuckles to himself as he turns the figurine over and over between his fingers. Will and I, on the other hand, stare at him dumbfounded by his decision to trade his beloved sword. Joe's sword is truly one of a kind; the dark leather binding wrapped around the hilt of the sword is carved with intricate patterns that Joe painstakingly crafted himself.

When we first arrived at Merope, every night he would put Tommy and I in bed and then stay up into the early hours of the morning tapping away, carving the most beautifully detailed floral tribute. Once he had finished, he got blind drunk and admitted that each of the flower buds were in remembrance of the friends that he lost in his platoon during the first wave of Infection, and the two large roses intertwined at the top of the hilt were for his brother-in-law and his sister: my mum and dad.

At the time, I was too young to appreciate or even understand how awful that time must have been for Joe, and clearly carving this leather was an outlet for his grief. During the first few weeks in Merope, whenever I felt sad about my mum and dad, Joe would point at the roses on his sword and remind us that they would always be with us, fighting the war against the Infection.

A lump begins to rise in my throat as I shake my head in disbelief, feeling lost for words I mumble, "How could you, Joe? Your sword..."

Looking miserable, he holds up his hand to stifle me. "It's a small sacrifice to pay for the bigger picture. If she hadn't helped us, we could have been wandering around for days in search of this damn place. The quicker we get our provisions and get to Alhena, the quicker we can get help for Tommy." Swallowing hard, he stares at me defiantly. "It was the right thing to do."

Tommy crosses his arms over his chest at the mention of his name, and for the first time since the battle this morning, he looks almost remorseful.

Joe notices the small change in Tommy's body language and clears his throat. "Anyway it's done now, so there's no use mourning over it. Let's try and get into this damn village."

I bite my bottom lip. "Try and get into...?"

He nods his head. "Some places don't take too kindly to outsiders. No doubt they will want to search us for bites and question us on our intentions...pretty standard procedure for folks showing up unannounced."

My heart sinks at the thought of another night out here exposed to the elements and the Infected; I hope they let us in. Tommy stands behind Will, fidgeting with wide eyes. Exhaling, he starts to jog in the direction of the village.

Darting forward, Joe grabs Tommy's shirt and hisses, "Easy there, kid. We have to approach with caution, which means you guys stay here while I go and talk to them. Besides, we could all do with some food and water before we go in. We are gonna need to be at full strength today."

Sulking, Tommy joins us once more and slumps down onto the ground, leaning heavily against the base of a tree. Joe riffles through the rucksack and starts pulling out food and throwing it to Will and me.

He crouches down and hesitates before passing an apple to Tommy. "Let's not have a repeat of last time. If you start gnawing on this like an animal, it's the only thing you're eating...got it?"

Looking a little embarrassed, he takes the apple meekly, but his pupils dilate at the sight of food. Visibly straining, he slowly takes a bite from the apple, resisting the urge to scoff the whole thing in two seconds flat.

Joe watches him like a hawk as a bead of sweat forms on Tommy's brow. Once Tommy is finished, Joe is clearly satisfied with his level of restraint and passes him the last of the sweet biscuits before we all pack up to leave.

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