Deadlines

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After the incident, Stephen decides it is best to go back to the Al-Ma. I'm thankful, because I'm sore and tired. I have open wounds on my leg and neck. They aren't deep, but they burn when I walk or move my head. I'm also pretty sure there is a bruise the size of Texas on my forehead. Isaac is untouched, if not a little shaken.

Stephen doesn't ask any questions, but he looks me up and down carefully before leaving. It makes me wonder just how common this is around here.

The walk that took us thirty minutes before takes twice as long the second time. Most of it is my fault, because I'm limping. Some of it is Justin and Clare, though, now loaded down with food and medicine. Apparently, while I was being mauled, they finished raiding the house, roach infested bathroom and all.

Ollie opens the door for us, counting heads as we walk in. I wonder how common it is to lose someone on a supply mission. Inside, the sleeping bags are full, and there's a light snoring in the air. Belle and Mandy are sitting on the couch, both of them asleep.

"You all made it back," Ollie whispers, pulling the door shut as quietly as she can. "Get some sleep," she says, patting me gently on the arm, "You did well. Everyone came home; that's all I'm asking of you. Just to help me protect my people."

She has no clue that I would probably still be in one piece if I had done my job right. She will probably never know what demons Isaac and I conquered in that basement.

Ollie leaves, following Stephen to the sleeping area. I watch the older man walk to a tiny sleeping bag where black hair sticks up. He kneels, kissing the boy on the head before pulling his own sleeping bag up and over him.

"Let's go," Isaac says, grabbing my elbow and pulling me away. He's spread our sleeping bags in the only empty spot he could find by what looks like a shelf where they might have kept fruit. We are squeezed up against the metal surface, positioned so that our heads will almost be touching. Isaac walks me over, helping me sit down, and then, he returns to his own bed.

If Isaac hadn't been there tonight, those two infected would have devoured me. Apparently, he is capable of more than I  give him credit for. I learn something new about him every day, and it amazes me. Why in the world would he do that for me? To step over those fears that he has faced for years?

I guess he would do it for the same reason that I overstepped my own terrors. Yet, I don't know why I did it, either. The thought of losing Isaac sets off a pain in my chest that I can't explain.

"Sleep good, Isaac," I whisper, crawling into my sleeping bag.

"You, too, Jay."

The floor is hard; the metal beside me is cold. I can feel the blood pulsing in my leg, and there is an ache in my forehead. Two minutes later, Isaac is snoring. I glance up, seeing him with his mouth open a little.

What would Isaac do? He seems notorious for finding the positive in situations.

So, I close my eyes, trying to think of all the good things about sleeping on the hard concrete.

I'm surrounded by people who are generally happy. The cold metal beside me is like a permanent air conditioner; so, there is no way I will get hot. I've never gotten to actually use my sleeping bag. This is also the farthest I've ever been from the compound.

Somewhere between closing my eyes and making a list, sleep finds me. Peaceful, dreamless, cold sleep.

"Jay."

The soft voice in the darkness is one that I haven't heard in a long time. When I was little, it appeared often in my dreams, in the form of angels or fairies. In the cold darkness behind my eyes, I search for the source, some mystical creature that will make the emptiness brighter.

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