The young man turns around, a bright smile on his face when he sees the little boy running towards him. He picks him up and spins for a moment to not fall over while the boy laughs happily.
“I found you!” he squeals as Billy puts him down again.
“What are you doing here, Joey?” Billy asks and ruffles through the little ones hair. “Weren't you playing with Rose when I left?”
The boy pouts and grabs Billy's hand as he starts walking, without looking up. “I don't like her games…” he eventually mumbles. “I don't wanna play with her anymore.”
“She’s a handful, isn't she?” Billy laughs and Joey nods slowly. “Maybe Tommy can play with you later, he's coming back today.”
“Really?” Joey asks and looks up with sparkling eyes. The two boys are what Billy would call best friends, even if they're a few years apart, and Joey was very sad when Tommy left for a week with his mom.
“Harry told me this morning,” Billy says and winks at the boy. “He met Tommy and his mom in town yesterday.”
“Yippie!” Joey jumps up and down, making Billy laugh again at his cheerful joy. “No more dolls! No more mommy and daddy!”
Billy tries to hide his amusement, but it's almost impossible. Of course that was what Rose wanted to play and that Joey didn't like, it was never anything different. He can't blame the boy though, Rose can be very demanding and pushy when she wants to play, it's no wonder he doesn't like playing with her much.
They walk along the road in silence for a while, Joey running away and jumping every now and then, but always coming back to hold Billy's hand. It's a quiet day and Billy wonders if he should take the kids for a swim the following day - it's been warm for October and they love those trips.
Billy looks up to where Joey's hand points and frowns. A plane flies over their heads, another military one. They've been a common sight lately and he doesn't like to think about why.
“Where is it going?” Joey asks and Billy shakes his head.
“As long as it's up there I don't care,” he says and ushers the boy to keep going. For some reason he's bothered, but he can't tell if it's because of the plane or not. Something feels wrong, that's all he knows. And those feelings usually turn out to be true.
They are almost back at the colony when Billy hears the car approaching. He spins around and immediately knows that it's not one of their people, which is never a good sign. They're in the middle of the road and can only jump backwards into the field when the car comes closer, without slowing down.
“Ah!” Joey screams out and Billy quickly pushes himself up after the unfortunate fall. “Why did you do that?”
“Shh, be quiet!” Billy whispers and shoves Joey deeper into the field so they can get away from the road.
“Who is that?” Joey asks, but Billy shakes his head. He has a feeling who those guys are but it's not a good one. “Are they bad?”
“I think so,” Billy sighs. “Come, we need to get back.”
It's more difficult to walk through the field of wheat, but it's better than the road. They are at least somewhat hidden in here and if those guys mean as much trouble as Billy fears, it's better if they stay covered.
Joey lets out a screech when the gunshots start and Billy immediately pulls him closer, covering his mouth with a hand. The boy struggles at first, but when he looks at Billy's face he stops immediately. There is no happiness or smile anymore, Billy is terrified and that's something he has never seen before. And then the screaming starts.
Billy covers Joey's ears with his hands and cowers down to hide him under his body, but he still hears everything that happens. He can hear Marie, Rose's mother, scream and beg before her voice is suddenly cut off, he can hear Hank's dog bark before howling one last time. Joey screams too now, the sound muffled by Billy's hand, but he doesn't take it away, can't to not reveal their position and possibly put them in more danger.
The whole ordeal lasts for barely ten minutes, but it feels like hours before the silence returns. Joey is still sobbing and shaking and clings to Billy with trembling hands. The young man tries to calm him down, but it's useless and he knows it.
“I want my daddy!” Joey cries and Billy bites his lip painfully hard. “I wanna go home!”
“Joey, we can't go home,” Billy says as calm as he can, running a hand through the boys hair. “We have to wait.”
“No!” Joey yells suddenly and pushes Billy hard, who is so surprised he actually let's go of the boy and falls back. He still tries to get back up when Joey already started running, right towards the road.
“Joey, stop!” he shouts and starts running after the kid, heart pumping in his chest. No, this can't be happening, he has to catch him before he runs right into those guys. “Joey!”
Billy hears the screeching tires before he can even see the road and his stomach tightens when he runs even faster.
“Let me go!” Joey cries out suddenly, followed by a salve of laughter. Billy breaks through the field and onto the road, finding the little boy in the air, help up by a man that comes straight out of his worst nightmares.
No, this can’t be. This man… he never wanted to see him again, not in this life or any other. Ryder, the bastard that almost killed Adam six years ago and beat Billy himself near-comatose. But he can’t be here, he’s supposed to be in jail for about ten more years!
“What do we have here?” Ryder asks, showing his teeth. “Looks just like his daddy, doesn't he? How cute.”
“Let the boy go!” Billy shouts, clenching his hands to fists. His chest is heaving, he's completely out of breath and scared like never before, but he can't just watch Joey get hurt.
“Billy!” Joey cries and throws useless out chest at the huge man holding him, who just laughs cruelly at his attempts to fight. “Help me, please!”
“Let him go!” Billy shouts again, even louder this time. “He didn't do anything to you!”
“Well, well, look what the cat dragged in,” Ryder snarls and glares at Billy with a devious grin. “Last time I saw you, you were a lot shorter, Billy.”
Billy doesn't say anything, he just glares back at Ryder the same way. Yes, he remembers that day too, all too well. Six years is not enough time to forget an ugly face like that. Especially not after he stared into it for minutes while being beaten up, praying to every God he could think of that they would strike this bastard with lightning.
“What do you want here?” Billy eventually asks, earning a sharp laugh.
“Me? Nothing,” Ryder grins. “I got what I wanted already, but I might take a souvenir…”
“Don't you dare!”
Joey looks back and forth between Billy and Ryder for a moment before he understands too and starts to fight again.
“Let me go! Let me go you big monster!” Joey yells and fights, throws punches and kicks, but he can barely even reach the man at all.
“Leave the boy alone, I'll come with you!” Billy says, but the laugh he gets in return shows clearly that Ryder isn't going to fall for that. “He's just a kid!”
“Is that what you told Adam too? ‘I'm just a kid'?” Ryder asks with a smirk and Billy squints. “I remember you didn’t caring about those things in the past.”
“Billy, please!” Joey whines, his struggle slowly becoming less determined and focused.
Suddenly, Ryder growls and hauls Joey at Billy with full force. Billy tries to catch the boy, but it's too surprising and fast, so they both crash to the ground harshly. There is no time to get up anymore before Ryder is suddenly above them, so Billy does the first thing that comes to his mind and pushes Joey to the side to shield him with his arm the best he can.
“You thought they got me, didn't you, boy?” Ryder grins, his eyes piercing through Billy like ice. “Thought you could forget about me, about what you did to me, but I didn't forget.”
“You did this to yourself!” Billy says angrily. “You betrayed him, you asked for it!”
“Did I? Or did he betray me?” Ryder reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gun before tilting his head. “The way I remember it, he took something from me that wasn't his. And I don’t like it when people take my stuff.”
Billy doesn't answer, he just looks at the man above him without blinking.
“You know what he took, don't you, Billy ?”
“He didn't take me,” Billy finally says, way quieter and more ashamed than he wants to. “I left and you know damn well why!”
“Oh yes, I know why.” Without another word, Ryder lifts his arm and shoots. For a second, Billy wonders why Joey is screaming and why Ryder grins like a maniac. Then, the pain hits him and he rolls to the side, growling and clutching his shoulder.
“You bastard!” Billy snarls, but it's weak, deprived of all sharpness.
“I hope you understand that you shouldn't mess with me now,” Ryder says cruelly cold and locks eyes with Billy. Without looking away or even blinking he fires another shot. There's a small yell, but that's all. If Joey wanted to scream he wasn't fast enough and the thought hits Billy like a truck. “I always keep my promises and I promised you I'd come back.”
“Go to hell!” Billy spits a mouthful of blood and bile at Ryder's feet, glaring at him.
Ryder walks away, back to the car. Billy pushes himself up the best he can, despite the overwhelming pain that makes his head dizzy.
“I should have killed you when I had the chance!” Billy shouts, tears of anger and grief rolling down his cheeks. Ryder starts the car before finally answering and when he does, his words are like knives in Billy's chest.
“You should have, now you've got their blood on your hands.”
And with this, Ryder and his men drive away, leaving Billy on the dirt road, next to the little boy that had always looked up to him and had begged for help. Billy tries to get up, but he can't move, can barely breathe through the pain. So he just sits there for a long time, holding his shoulder and cursing himself. At one point, Billy gets out of his shirt and ties it around his shoulder as tight as he can, even if it hurts more like this at first.
When he can finally move again he just drags himself away, without looking back. One glance at Joey was enough to know he is as dead as could be and he can't stand seeing him, not now, not yet. It takes him almost twenty minutes to make it to the colony and he immediately wishes he would've just left altogether.
Marie isn't the only one they murdered brutally. Four more people Billy can see right away, as well as Hank's dog Sadie. There is blood, so much blood… the ground is drenched with it and he can feel the tears sting in his eyes. But, as much as it hurts to see his friends like this, it's Adam he wants to see. There is no hope left for him to be alive, Billy knows that, but he has to see him.
The door to the house they live in is broken, kicked out of the frame, and there is blood already on the floor when he steps in. The hot knot in his stomach tightens painfully.
“Adam?” Billy shouts, for some reason begging for an answer that doesn't come. He drags himself further, but he doesn't have to go far. Adam is there, in the living room, but he's not going to greet Billy with a smile anymore or watch him and Joey play cards. Adam won't do anything anymore and yet, Billy drops to his knees next to him, shaking and begging him to wake up, to talk to him, to do something.
But Adam doesn't. He doesn't, because six years ago, Billy has signed his death papers without knowing it. He doesn't, because Billy's wish to escape the claws of Ryder pulled him into this mess. He doesn't, because Billy couldn't just run away, but instead came to him, the one man he knew he could trust and who wouldn't turn him away.
Billy's head jerks up at the horrified scream and he actually forgets his own pain for a moment. There's only one who screams like that and Billy knows exactly why. He forces himself back on his feet and makes his way back outside. And just as he expected, Rose sits next to her mother, crying and screaming and pulling on her helplessly.
“Rose,” Billy's voice is weak, quiet, and the little girl doesn't hear him, she just keeps crying and sobbing. So he walks over to her and kneels down, laying a hand on her shoulder and speaks again. “Rose, honey, you have to stop crying.”
“B-b-billy!” Rose throws herself around and buries her face against Billy's chest, who wraps an arm around her tightly. “M-mommy won't… won't wake up!”
“I know,” Billy sighs and stands up, holding the little girl against his hip. “We gotta leave, sweetie. Now.”
“The bad man did it!” Rose sniffs and wraps her arms around Billy's neck. “Mommy told me to hide and then… then…”
“Shh, I know. It's okay, honey,” Billy presses a kiss against her head because he can't do anything else and shifts her slightly so he can walk. “They're gone, but we need to leave now.”
Rose nods and just holds onto Billy as he carries her away. As much as Billy wants to stay, to tell Adam goodbye, he knows it's too dangerous. If everyone were dead, he might've done it, but he can't take Rose with him and he can't leave her alone. She's shaking and scared, she clings to him so much he can barely breathe, there's just no way. So they leave the place they called home, lone survivors of an attack that Billy knows only happened because of him.
When they reach the part of the road where Joey lays, Billy covers Rose's eyes and walks faster. She asks what's wrong, but Billy just shakes his head and tells her it's nothing. He doesn't want to think about it or talk about it, not yet.
“We'll go to town,” he says instead, trying to think rational to not break down. “Tommy and his mom are still there, they can help us. We will find a new place, Rose. You and me, we’ll make it somehow.”
“Don't go away, Billy,” Rose sniffs and holds onto him even tighter. “Don't leave me alone, please…”
“I won't, I promise,” Billy says and presses his face against her head. “I'll protect you now.”
If Tommy's mother will turn them away, which Billy expects, he will find another way, but he won't break this promise. Whether it's only them or if they find others, he's not going to let anyone else die because of him. Even if he has to become like the monster that caused all of this, he will not let this happen again.