Setup: This is about 2/3 of the way through the main story (although in the main story, this scene is written from Rafe's point of view instead of Hollis's). Rafe and Hollis kill zombies as a sort of hobby. And this is where the odd semi-telepathy thing comes from.
Summary: Some impossible things are easier to believe than others.
Summary: Some impossible things are easier to believe than others.
He can feel the egg timer on his own life running out, teeth in his arm and his leg and somewhere in his side and the blood spraying like a macabre fountain, and more than anything he wants to not see Rafe torn apart. Rafe needs to be alive, after all: He is going to save the world.
Hollis is beginning to realize that this may be an impossible wish. The realization should make him sick, should hurt like the futility of crushed dreams, but he’s found something right now that hurts worse than crushed dreams and that’s zombie teeth in the arm. Despair and futility can come later, after he’s managed to beat this one off with a field hockey stick.
He is badly outnumbered and outflanked, and the adrenaline that has been shoring him up is now dropping out from under him. His vision seems to be doing strange things, but that could be pain or trauma or blood in his eyes or maybe someone just messed up the color settings in his brain when he wasn’t looking.
He’ll be unconscious while he’s being eaten, at least. The thought is slightly comforting. Slightly.
But now there’s a hand on the back of his collar, pulling him away, and an aluminum baseball bat that he recognizes although it wasn’t quite so bloody the last time he saw it. He grins suddenly, the blood on his face making it ghoulish. It feels like an impossible wish coming true.
Rafe is running now, pulling him along, and Hollis isn’t quite up to running but he is managing a jagged stumble, arm clamped down on his side where it feels like it may be on fire.
They somehow make it to the motorbike and Rafe gets it started and, from the smell of it, he has it running on oil-based paint this week. The engine growls, and they are flying away from the furious horde behind them.
Hollis would feel elated at their escape if his limbs weren’t rapidly turning to water, and he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to hold on. He tries to get an arm around Rafe and lock it in place, but his muscles aren’t listening.
The wetness from his side has migrated, a feeling like warm rain running down his hip and thigh. There’s no way he’s going to be able to stay conscious. There’s no way he’s going to be able to stay upright.
It is a losing battle, he knows, which makes it feel less like defeat when he inevitably loses.
He surfaces again, wakes up panicked and terrified, and then realizes that Rafe has done the impossible and gotten them to the townhouse, their base of operations. The panic and terror remain, however, floating high in his system, because he remembers being bitten by a zombie and, no matter how much time he has left, it isn’t enough.
He should be dead, and Rafe should be dead, and as soon as the engineer dies the city will start to die too, although it may not realize for a while, and the death-throes could go on for years. Without him, there will be no saving the world.
But neither of them are dead, an idea that he is still struggling to get his head around. He was supposed to die, but he missed that stop on the bus and now instead he’s heading for the stop where he mauls his best friend, the stop where he turns into a vicious killer.
Well. An undead vicious killer, that is.
He lurches up from the couch, a sack of bones and misfiring neurons and limbs that don’t want to hold him, and he knows he has to get to Rafe, whatever else happens.
No. That’s not right. He has to get away from Rafe, before he turns into one of them.
His balance shifts with his indecision, and he sways unsteadily. Rafe is suddenly there, much too close, and from the sound of his voice he’s trying to be soothing, but Hollis can’t hear him over the rushing roar of infected blood in his ears.
“You have to get away from me,” he growls, pawing clumsily at the engineer in what could be an attempt to either push the man away or grab him to use as a structural support. “I could turn, and you--” He manages to give Rafe a shove, but the other man isn’t injured and the equal-and-opposite-reaction sends Hollis staggering backwards.
There is a flinch from Rafe that shouldn’t be there: Hollis didn’t push him that hard. And now he blinks his eyes and squints and then his stomach clenches and falls down an elevator shaft, because Rafe has a mass of bandages wrapped tidily around his arm.
The engineer follows his gaze and smiles, although it doesn't reach his eyes and is just a twist of his lips, muscles pulling somewhere in his face in an imitation of an expression that could be reassuring. Could be, if this were any other situation. If it weren’t so hollow.
“So you see,” says Rafe neutrally, speaking the unspoken conclusion, the voice of logic and reason and calm and everything else that has no place here, “I really don’t have to leave. No point in it.”
Hollis has collapsed back onto the couch at some point, apparently, and now Rafe settles in beside him. “Now we wait, and see if the pills are going to do any good after all. See if the months of nosebleeds have been worth it.” There is an edge to his voice that could almost be very dry humor. Could almost be called biting humor, although Hollis is trying to avoid even thinking that word right now.
He is fading fast, rapidly going under, wounds burning and heart pounding in his ears, and he almost wishes for it to be over, but he doesn’t have the faith that Rafe has, he doesn't believe the months of nosebleeds have been worth it, and wishing for it to be over now means either he’s dead or he’s turned.
And Rafe is still beside him, he can tell, the engineer somehow more present than he has ever been, and he can almost (see/smell/hear/taste) him, his senses all breaking down in the face of the warm, blank body beside him.
There is wary anticipation rolling off the engineer in waves, and a fierce, angry protectiveness. He’s not sure how, exactly, he knows this. This isn’t one of the usual five sense, isn’t anything he has any experience with. He knows how the undead hordes hunt their prey, suddenly. He couldn’t not locate Rafe if he tried, right now.
Somewhere in the distance, the other man sighs. “Go to sleep,” he says, and it may or may not be spoken aloud. “It’ll all be over by morning.”
He opens his eyes. There is a face at the edge of his vision, looking horribly gray and injured and still impossibly, unthinkably alive.
“We didn’t die,” says Rafe, vibrating with residual exhaustion and nerves, “and we didn’t turn.” He grins, sharp-edged and full of teeth. “There’s nothing left to be afraid of, anymore.”
He has to turn away from the violent intensity of that stare, making his stomach twist with potential and anticipation and a surge of hot, painful hope. “Doesn’t make you immortal,” he grumbles, trying desperately to ground them both. “Lots of things can still kill you.”
Rafe just beams manically. “Yes. But now there’s one less.”
Hollis stares wordlessly. He is badly injured and in pain and they both nearly died and even now there are parasites launching a futile assault on their brains, but a tiny spark of optimism kindles somewhere inside him. Like a slow-motion bullet in reverse, the cracks are pulling together now, where before they could only splinter and spread further. They aren’t going to die, and they won’t die. They have to save the world.
The worry is gone from the engineer’s haggard face in an expression Hollis hasn’t seen in years, a stay of execution for a condemned man. The moment stretches, long enough for him to believe in impossible things.
Rafe smiles and gets up from the couch. “I’ll make us some breakfast,” he says.