IX: By Your Side

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The Wolves Den
Whitetail Mountains
Present Day

"Give me one good reason why I can't just shoot 'em both dead!"

"Tammy, we've been over this." Eli groaned.

"She fucking lured Walker out there. James, Richard, Farrah—all of our people got lured up to Jacob's fucking traps and you're gonna give them rooms, food, clothes... and talk to her?!"

"Wheaty, just take a fucking seat over there will you? And both of you quit your God damn yammering, it's giving me headache."

Diana could hear the conversation heating up between Eli Palmer and his second-in-command, with the young Wheaty adding his two cents. The door to the commons had been left ajar, enough to let their quarrel echo inside. They'd been tag-teaming the scolding they'd been working on Eli for at least five minutes straight, all because he decided to bring her and John to the bunker. Even after his request to stop, they threw insults out left and right, slurs and vulgar terms (mostly from Tammy) about the Seed family. Like a good man, Eli let them have it out before shutting it down. She was surprised he let them stop there, since they were already airing out every bad deed her family committed against the county.

John was doubled over on the couch, his head cradled in his bandaged hands, his elbows propped up on his knees. Diana heard him sigh loudly as they listened in.

"Such a loving, welcoming bunch." John quipped.

Peering across the small coffee table between her chair and the couch, Diana shrugged. "We know the family—our family—doesn't have the best rep out here."

He chuckled through his nose, more in defeat than amusement. "Tell me something I don't know."

She pulled her legs up and hugged them to her chest, curling up as tight as she could on the old, worn chair she claimed as her perch. Her shoulder still ached from the cut of Jess' arrow, freshly cleaned and bandaged up by Eli's medic, but most of all she thanked the heavens that the Bliss had worn off. "Hard parts over."

"Is it?" John snorted, "Look around, Di. We're prisoners here. You think it's gonna get easier?"

"I meant for this... goal. We found Eli, I just gotta get to him. Talk to him."

"That's the trick. But it sounds like you have to get through his people first. Pfft. You think they're gonna let you get a word in edge wise?" John raised his head to face her, his bright blues looked a hazy green in the yellow hue of the commons' lighting. "You really think he's going to help Jacob? You could fill a fucking laundromat with all the dirty laundry they got on Jake alone, and no one of the Forsaken are as quick as Joseph to forgive anything. If they're even capable of forgiving us."

She shook her head. "I'm not asking for that. I'm just hoping he will help me. We get Jacob back, we'll find a way out of the county—"

"You're dreaming big, sis." John glared.

"Well someone has to. Can't all give up like Joseph every time something goes wrong." She replied.

John waved his hand at her, turning away again. He was exhausted, overwhelmed, and she couldn't blame him for his shift in demeanor given they were trapped behind enemy lines.

When the militia entered the common room, both Diana and John rose to their feet. Tammy's ever-scrutinizing glare struck the two of them like bullets. She didn't hide how put off she was at their presence in the base. Behind her was Jess Black, whose hair flowed free of her hood that was pulled down to her shoulders. She was on-edge, that was a given, a hardened glare shot at both of the Seeds in the room. Eli was the last to enter, stripped down of his usual carry: his coat, his large weaponry, survival pack, but the holster on his hip and the knife on his belt meant he still saw them as a threat in his home. With Jess and Tammy at his sides, Eli stood like a king in his domain. He clasped his hands behind his back, waiting for Jess to close the door behind them. For someone she hadn't seen in some time, Eli sure hadn't changed, at least not to her. The same kind face behind a thick beard and a mane of glorious mahogany.

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