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In My Blood

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Beca should’ve been hungry. They hadn’t eaten in two days, after all. But after finding no fucking game in the woods they’d been inhabiting for a week and a half, she had no choice but to take the bike and set off to find food. At the very least, she’d get a few hours’ reprieve from Amy’s bitching about starving to death or Jesse looking at her with those helplessly worried puppy eyes--the sort that always made her feel equal parts shitty and guilty and frustrated. She knew they both cared about her. She just wished they didn’t.

As she rode off on her black triumph motorcycle in search of rations at sunset, clad in her leather jacket and black v-neck t-shirt beneath, ripped jeans with her trusty combat boots laced up to her knees, she contemplated for the eight thousandth time leaving Amy and Jesse. They’d be pretty helpless without her hunting and fighting skills, but she’d been beyond shitty company for the past 6 months especially and besides, what the fuck was the point of staying alive anymore? Surviving wasn’t living. Beca couldn’t remember the last time she lived, and honestly? She was fucking tired.

But her companions needed food and she made them a promise to get some, so she followed a ways behind a pickup truck which led her to what looked like a warehouse not too far from the road. She parked her bike and ducked behind a dumpster to survey the scene. She crouched and moved behind a broken down Buick, quietly making her way closer to the warehouse until she found a window. Beca peered through and watched the scene unfold--a group of people running what appeared to be a pop-up mini-marketplace, clearly desperate to unload their goods. Beca knew well that these types of places were like ticking fucking time-bombs, but if she could get in and out quickly, that would be good enough. She watched as three men and a younger girl entered and spread out, shopping around in the bins of supplies and pilfered canned food. The rumbling of a truck engine had Beca ducking behind the car once more, peering up as she watched five guys with assault rifles pile out of an armored jeep. “Shit,” Beca hissed as the scavengers took out the guards with relative ease and raided the market, yelling commands and firing shots (and being way too fucking loud, the morons). It would only be a matter of minutes before--

The clickers staggered inside while the scavs filled sacks with stolen goods, nondiscriminatory in their quest for human flesh. Chaos ensued, and Beca turned to leave until the piercing shriek of the younger girl echoed through the warehouse and carried through the crack in the window. “Holy shit--” Before she hesitated again, Beca steeled herself, climbed up and used her boot to kick in the window, hopping into the fray. Armed to the teeth with both a hunting rifle and sheathed machete slung across her back, a pistol on one hip and a revolver on the other, and a switchblade tucked safely into her boot, Beca pumped her shotgun and fired at one of the clickers, the headshot dropping the diseased to the ground immediately. She fired another--this time at a scav who raised his gun to the girl, hitting him square in the back. When he dropped to the ground, Beca raced around and took the girl by the arm, pulling her behind a barrel. “Stay down, kid.” The fighting ensued, and Beca fought with her shotgun until she needed to reload, swapping for her revolver instead. Gritting her teeth, she dodged a flaming projectile and fired at a clicker from her knees.

She retreated back to the barrel and took the girl by the wrist, tugging her along. “Keep your head down. Jesus, you’re taller than I thought,” she mumbled, pulling her toward the temporary path she’d cleared en route to the warehouse doors. She turned her head just in time to watch a scav fire at them. Beca took the younger, taller girl around the middle and put her own body between the kid’s and the bullet, taking the hit instead. Adrenaline pumping, Beca pulled a knife from her belt and flung it true, the blade piercing the scav’s neck. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Still holding tight to the girl’s wrist, they raced outside toward Beca’s bike. “Get on,” Beca commanded, and the girl hurriedly obliged.

“Oh my god, thank you so much--my name’s Emily, and the guys I came with are dead and oh my god--”

Beca didn’t realize the bullet bit her side until she reached up to shove her spare helmet onto the girl’s--Emily’s--head. “Fuck,” she growled, glancing back to find two more clickers scrambling toward them. Beca made sure her weapons were in place as she mounted her bike in front of the kid, leaning to the side to fish a rag from her supply bag latched to her bike. “Wrap your arm around my waist and hold the fuck on. And--press here, hard.” She positioned the girl’s hand over the balled up rag just above her hip, pushing that hand against the wound she didn’t have time to inspect. “Don’t let go of that spot, you hear me?” Emily nodded and Beca revved her engine, leaning forward and shifting into gear, tearing up the road into the night.

They rode nine miles in the dark until they reached the fortified settlement, the kid directing her from behind the entire way. Beca grew more lightheaded as the minutes passed, but she managed to stay alert through the barricaded gate. She spotted the guards and relief washed over her. At least they weren’t military. Beca and her crew found similar fortified civilian-run communities, even passing through a few to barter or trade when they got desperate, but they never stayed longer than an hour. She didn’t trust them. She didn’t really trust anyone, not completely. She glared through her helmet at the guard who checked Emily’s identification, and she vaguely heard Emily’s pressured tone quickly explaining what happened on her supply run before they were let inside. Emily once again directed her to a row of houses, pointing to the one she called home.

“Here ya go, kid,” Beca grumbled, pulling up outside and putting the bike in park, nudging the kickstand with her toe. She leaned hard over her handlebars and her breathing came in shallow gasps. Motherfucking scavs. She’d have a hell of a patch job to work on herself once she got back to their camp. ...As soon as the kid got the fuck off her bike. “C’mon, off, I gotta get the fuck out of here. Don’t do anything stupid like that again.”

Emily carefully dismounted the bike, swinging her long leg off the back and pulling the helmet off. “Oh my god, sorry, okay, I’m off! Thank you so much though, I can’t even begin to--” She looked back to find her foul-mouthed savior slumped forward and clutching her side. The same side she’d told her to grip hard. Emily looked down and found her own hand covered in blood. The girl’s blood, clearly. “Shit.” She turned to face the house, spotting the windows half or fully open. “Stacie! Chloe! Aubrey! Someone--hurry!”

As soon as help in the form of her friends came, Emily braced her hand on her rescuer’s back and motioned to her, her voice and body still quaking with shock from the whole traumatic ordeal. “Please, oh-em-gee, you gotta help her--we got ambushed and the guys I was with died and there were armored men with guns and like, six clickers, and this girl, she’s like freakin’ Wonder Woman, okay? But with so many guns! She killed, like, three big guys and three clickers by herself and when she saw one shooting toward me she jumped in front of me and she got shot--”

“Dude, I’m fucking fine,” Beca croaked, muffled through her helmet as she struggled to sit upright.

“She’s lying, look at all the blood!” Emily held up her hand. “She drove me back here and I didn’t realize how badly she was bleeding! Don’t let her leave, okay?? Please help her!”

*

Chloe wasn't worrying. Really, she wasn't. It was just...there was always some level of worry when any of them had to venture out on a salvage run, and she couldn't help taking note of the passage of time with every minute that ticked by until Emily reappeared within the walls of their settlement. She didn't particularly like Emily going on supply runs outside of the settlement, but when everyone pulled their weight to survive, there were no exceptions. Besides, Emily had accompanied some of their very capable salvagers this time, so she reasoned with herself that there was no need for worry. (There was always reason to worry out there though.)

And while their small group within the larger community all stuck close and looked after one another, there was an unspoken agreement that they were all especially protective of Emily. She was the youngest of them all, and by some miracle, she'd managed to retain some measure of her innocence and optimism in the midst of this world they had to fight against tooth and nail every single day. Chloe couldn't help wanting to shelter her away from some of the worst that was out there to witness and experience--if that was even possible anymore--and she knew the girls all felt the same way. They might express it in different ways, but Emily had been taken under their wing and felt like an honorary kid sister to all of them.

In the meantime during Emily's absence, Chloe had been helping Stacie patch a leaky spot in the ceiling of their house. When there was a lull in tasks that needed to be done around the settlement, then it was better to take care of small nuisances like this before they became big problems. Besides, the menial task helped keep her mind off of worrying about Emily until she returned (okay, it didn't really work, but at least it kept her hands busy instead of leaving her to mindlessly fret). They'd managed to find the source of the leak and repair it a few days before, but tasks around the community had kept them busy enough that they were just now getting around to fixing the damage it had done to the ceiling in the living room.

With a tarp spread across the floor beneath the leaky patch on the ceiling to catch any residual water, they'd spent the better part of the late afternoon cutting out the drywall that showed signs of water damage. Once they were both satisfied that they'd gotten rid of the damaged parts, they'd set to work cutting out wooden braces to fit the hole in the ceiling. Chloe was balanced on the ladder, screwing the last of the wooden braces into place, when the rumble of a motorcycle filled the air outside and filtered in through their open windows. Chloe didn't think anything of it at first, since several of the residents had working vehicles that they used to make supply runs and other necessary trips outside of their fortified walls. It wasn't the sound of the truck Emily had left in earlier, so she didn't take much note of it.

The sounds of a commotion outside, followed by Emily's frantic cries for their help, had them all running for the door, hands already straying to pistols and knives that were a constant presence in hip and thigh holsters by now. Chloe was a few steps behind Aubrey and Stacie by the time she scrambled down from the ladder, but adrenaline fueled her steps as she spilled out of the house into the rapidly dwindling last light of the day.

She spotted Stacie and Aubrey running towards Emily, who was standing next to an unfamiliar motorcycle and a more petite figure slumped over the handlebars. Her stomach lurched with worry and fear when she saw the fresh blood that coated Emily's hands, and Aubrey was already grabbing Emily and inspecting her for injuries or--god forbid, bites--by the time Chloe reached them.

Emily seemed almost unaware of their own worry, too fueled by adrenaline and panic and trauma from everything that had just occurred, and she gestured sharply and erratically several times as Aubrey tried to corral her into letting her look her over. The words tumbled out of the younger girl in an almost indiscernible rush, but the picture began to coalesce in Chloe's head as she looked back and forth between a babbling Emily and the slouched rider on the motorcycle.

“Em, we'll take care of it. Go wait inside." Aubrey's voice was sharp and authoritative, the tone that always emerged when she was going into crisis management mode.

"But Aub--"

"Emily." The younger girl wilted beneath Aubrey's tone that invited no further disagreement, but she lingered for a moment longer with worried eyes fixated on the stranger until she turned and trudged towards the front door of the house.

With Emily in the house, Chloe turned her attention back to their friend's mysterious savior. Now that she wasn't filled with panicked worry about Emily and the younger girl wasn't lingering there, she could focus on handling the situation. Aubrey's tone had been a little harsh, but Chloe thought she might have been right in getting Emily away from the bloodshed so they could deal with it.

Up close, it was easy to tell that the woman on the motorcycle was in bad shape. It was hard to discern the extent of her injuries thanks to her leather jacket and dark shirt that concealed some of the blood she'd lost, but it was clear from the way she carried herself that Emily's assessment that it was serious had been correct.

A glance over her shoulder revealing Emily hiding out around the doorway of the house, big, concerned brown eyes peeking around the door frame as she tried to keep an eye on the situation. Emily's concern sparked a similar twinge of sympathetic worry within Chloe. She stepped in closer, despite Aubrey's hand at her shoulder and a questioning look. She ducked her head slightly in an attempt to catch the woman's attention, even though she couldn't discern much through the face shield on her helmet.

"Emily's right, you can't drive like this." Chloe felt Stacie step in closer beside her, clearly trying to assess the woman's injuries as well. "If you'll come with us, we can help you."

*

The struggle to stay conscious had Beca fighting the pull harder with each passing minute. Fuck. “I’ve driven through worse,” she spat back through gritted teeth, left hand tightening on her handle until her knuckles whitened. Telling Beca she couldn’t do something only made her want to do it more. Her right hand remained clutching the bloodsoaked rag beneath her jacket--the one Emily had held while she’d driven here. In the next beat, a cold sweat blossomed from her heaving chest up to her head and she gave into the reflex to yank her damn helmet off so she could fucking breathe, reaching up with her left hand to push it up over her head, long brown waves tumbling from the loose ponytail that had been tucked up underneath. Beca didn’t realize she'd been cut on the side of her head during the warehouse tussle, right near her hairline--not deep, but head wounds were always bleeders, and the blood streaked down the side of her face near her ear and onto her neck, most of it dried by now. Steely grey-blue eyes looked around, assessing the scene without the filter of her helmet’s visor. They landed on the redhaired girl first, and she froze for a few seconds when she realized she was looking her over--probably checking for bites. Good. She wasn’t a complete idiot, then. And then she shifted her gaze toward the brunette who approached, and finally, the blonde. Three attractive young women, all around college age? Her unfocused eyes fluttered toward the window next, where she spotted two more girls looking out at her. It was so absurd that cross between a dry laugh and a scoff passed her lips, her voice more gravelly when she spoke again. “What the fuck is this, some sort of fucking sorority house? Are those seriously a thing in real life?” She barely considered the request to go with them, shaking her head. “Thanks for the offer, but I don’t need your help. I can take care of myself.” Only her body betrayed and she grimaced in pain, muttering a slew of colorful swears as she tried twisting away from the girls to assess the wound at her side that she could barely see based on her angle with no mirror, let alone with hardly any light.

*

Chloe’s jaw tightened to bite back an observation that just because she had (allegedly) driven through worse before didn't mean that she had to now, especially when help was being offered to her. She flinched back from the sudden movement when the woman moved to jerk her helmet up over her head, her eyes widening slightly at the face that was revealed by the rapid motion. She was younger than Chloe would've expected--hell, she had to be younger than Chloe herself, if she had to guess--and she was pretty, even beneath the scowl that twisted her features and the blood that stood out starkly against her pale skin. The blood that streaked down the side of her face and neck was another cause of concern though. At first glance, the wound didn't seem very deep, but it was difficult to tell for sure if there were any other wounds to worry about until the blood was cleaned away. If she'd taken a blow to the head during the confrontation, there was also the chance of concussion too, which was even more reason for her not to be taking off on her motorcycle as night fell around them. Without the obstruction of the helmet, she could tell that the woman's eyes were just as wary as she surveyed all of them. The last thing she expected from her was a laugh, no matter how disdainful it managed to sound.

"Yeah, you're just in time for the sorority mixer," Stacie drawled with lazy sarcasm over Chloe's shoulder.

She twisted around to shoot a warning look at Stacie--not helping, Stace--but her head quickly whipped back around when the woman declined their offer but followed it with a wince and several mumbled curses. She glanced back at Aubrey, and she could tell from the way her lips pursed and the muscles in her jaw jumped that Aubrey was worrying at the inside of her cheek with her teeth. She suspected that Aubrey was having a crisis of conscience. As no-nonsense as she was, Aubrey likely would've cut someone loose without a second thought if they protested as vehemently as this woman was. But she'd also saved Emily's life, and that was an act that none of them could ever take lightly. Chloe, for her part, couldn't in good conscience just let this woman go without trying to attend to her wounds first. For one thing, Emily would probably never forgive them if they didn't try to do their best to help. Maybe Aubrey would give her hell for it later, but she'd deal with that if and when it came up. Turning back to the woman, she started to reach towards her before she thought better of it, holding her hand out, palm facing up, in what was meant to be a placating gesture. "Okay, why don't you come inside? You can use some of our stuff and get cleaned up, none of us will bother you if that's what you want," she ventured, hoping the offer would be enough to sway her. "The light's almost gone, you're not gonna be able to see much to take care of that out here." She nodded towards the wound in her side, as if to illustrate her point.

*

A flicker of confliction crossed Beca’s expression and she glanced around, hastily assessing her options. She hated that these girls were right--she’d probably fucking die if she tried taking the bike out of here in such a state. She also didn’t have any wound cleaning supplies with her--a big fucking mistake in leaving their camp in a rush. With a heavy sigh, Beca shakily swung her leg over the side of the bike and she steading herself on her feet, grabbing her patchwork satchel and staggering toward the door. Her weapons hung heavy around her, but she sure as shit wasn’t going to leave them with her bike (or let them out of her sight at all, for that matter). “Where should I--”

Emily met Beca at the door and ushered her into a living room. Only there did Beca drop her bag at her feet and begin peeling off her weapons one by one, laying them out on the coffee table. First her hunting rifle and machete, which relieved the weight from her shoulders, and then her handguns at her hips. Finally, she winced as she shrugged off her leather jacket, tossing it aside to reveal a shocking mix of tattoos and scars littering the exposed pale skin of her arms. Her left wrist sported a tattoo of a pair of headphones, and on that same forearm the words Luck Runs Out in script. She took a steadying breath before hitching up her side and pulling back the rag to reveal a chunk of skin missing from where the bullet bit her side. At least the bullet wasn’t lodged inside of her, but fuck. She’d already lost a lot of blood. “I need, uh… alcohol. And, um--duct tape, if you’ve got it?” Sure, Beca’s on-the-fly healing tactics weren’t always the smoothest, but they’d served her okay so far. She was also too damn stubborn and lightheaded to realize that wound was too deep for what she asked for.

*

Chloe stayed very still for the prolonged measure of time as the woman seemed to be debating the offer. Maybe it was ridiculous, but she didn't want to spook her in any way. When she finally seemed to concede and swung her leg over the side of her motorbike, Chloe let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. Aubrey looked like she wanted to protest when the girl carried all of her weapons towards the house with her, but Chloe laid a gentle hand on her arm and leveled her with an imploring look. The stranger looked like she could barely stay on her feet very steadily, so Chloe couldn't blame her for wanting to feel a little more secure.

Chloe wasn't even remotely surprised when Emily gave up any ruse of staying away as soon as Beca reached the door. Aubrey's features pinched into a scowl when she noticed, but she didn't say anything. Maybe she was too busy weighing whether she was more annoyed with Chloe or Emily at the moment. While the woman relieved herself of her weapons and shrugged out of her jacket, Chloe hurried to retrieve the first aid kit they kept in their home. The kit had been an amazing find for them, and they'd been able to supplement it over time with additional supplies that they found on scavenging runs or traded with people who passed through their settlement. By the time she returned to the living room, the girl had shed her jacket and Chloe found her eyes tracing the tattoos and scars that stood out on her fair skin. She shook it off after the small lapse in focus--most of them had their share of scars by now, whether physical or mental. Sometimes both. "Here's the first aid stuff we have." Her features twisted into a sympathetic wince when she stepped close enough to see her wound in sharper detail. It was better than the bullet still being in the wound--bullet removal was not exactly in her repertoire of skills--but it was still undeniably gory and the blood loss must have been pretty significant. "There's alcohol in there. But, um--not to like, intrude or anything, but...I don't think duct tape's gonna be enough for that." Chloe's medical knowledge was far from comprehensive, but between her and Stacie, they'd been able to patch up the minor injuries that had cropped up in the past, and that bullet had definitely caused a considerable wound.

*

Had she not just thrown her own ass on the line for their friend, Beca probably would've felt a twinge of guilt accepting the redhaired girl's offer of a first aid kit; she knew first hand how difficult those were to keep stocked nowadays, and she never accepted anything without offering something in return. Maybe that was fucked up logic or morals or whatever considering she just straight up murdered some dudes who weren't bitten, but survival of the fittest, right?

She shot a hard glare at her when she commented on her tried and true duct tape method. “What’re you, some sort of doctor or nurse or something? I told you I can… I can handle…” Nope. Beca swayed on the spot before everything went black, and she passed out before she hit the floor.

*

Her jaw tightened when the girl directed a glare at her. She knew she'd promised not to bother her, but judging from that wound, it would be counterproductive to try to patch it up that way, only for it to eventually come back to bite her in the ass. (Chloe wasn't always the best at minding her own business when she saw someone in need. Aubrey had cautioned her against it countless times by now.) "Oh, shit." Although she noticed the split second when color drained from the woman's face and she swayed on the spot, with her hands full with the first aid supplies, she fumbled with the kit and almost dropped it in her haste, but ultimately, there was nothing she could do to catch the woman in time.

Emily startled with a gasp and scrambled to drop to her knees next to the woman, while Chloe hurried to set the kit aside on the table before doing the same. She checked the woman's pulse, finding it a little weak but steady. It was no surprise that blood loss had caught up to her though.

"Well, ya had to see that one coming," Stacie observed dryly, having wandered into the house just in time to witness the rather anticlimactic crumple onto the floor.

"Stacie, shut up and help us move her."

Between Chloe, Emily, and Stacie, they were able to gingerly lift the unconscious woman from the floor and transfer her onto the couch. She was small and quite light, but all three of them wanted to be as careful as possible not to jostle her too much with her wound, so the extra hands were a huge help. With the woman stretched out on the couch, Chloe and Stacie knelt side by side in front of the couch to inspect the bullet wound. It was vastly easier without the stranger arguing with them at every turn, imagine that.

Stacie gave a low, impressed whistle as she studied the chunk of skin that had been gouged out by the path of the bullet. "They got her pretty good."

"Yeah, they did." Chloe's voice was quiet and thoughtful as she looked back and forth between the wound and the first aid kit. "You think it needs stitches?"

Stacie's momentary silence spoke volumes. In fact, it told Chloe all she needed to know. When Stacie finally turned to her, she arched a wry eyebrow before she spoke. "Think she's gonna be pissed at us when she wakes up?"

Chloe worried at her bottom lip with her teeth before offering a shrug. "I mean...probably, but it's better than bleeding out."

With that decided, Chloe and Stacie jumped into action like a well-oiled machine. Chloe went to go sterilize the first aid equipment they'd managed to salvage, while Stacie cleaned and irrigated the wound as best she could with the improvised equipment they did have at their disposal. The two of them had become somewhat the de facto medics of the group over time. While neither of them had been old enough at the time of the outbreak to have much in the way of medical training--the occasional first aid class in school and summer internships at vet offices probably didn't count for much--they were both the most medically-minded out of the group, and between the two of them, they'd managed to handle the minor injuries that had befallen their group so far. They'd only had to do stitches once or twice before though, and those had been on smaller injuries than a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Today was just full of the unexpected, it seemed. None of it was ideal, but wasn't that just the way of life now?

Once they had both cleaned their hands as well, they set to work cleaning the edges of the wound and suturing it. As they worked, Chloe was one again reminded of how surreal their lives could be from day to day. In a perfect world (or hell, even just a somewhat normal world), she would've been in school learning how to do this in a professional medical setting. Instead, she was trying to keep a perfect stranger from bleeding out on their couch.

“You know Aubrey's pissed about this," Stacie said in a low undertone as they were suturing the wound closed. (Single loop stitches, rather than a running stitch, just like a former nurse in the settlement had showed them before. God, her life was weird sometimes.)

"I know," Chloe admitted. She used the task before them as an excuse not to look over and meet Stacie's eyes. "I'll deal with her later, take the heat. None of you guys have to worry about anything."

Stacie made a noncommittal, unconvinced sound at her side, but otherwise said nothing. Once they were finished, they covered the wound with gauze and secured it in place with some tape (there, the girl had gotten her wish for some duct tape in a slightly different way, since they had to work with what they had). While Chloe and Stacie moved to gather up the mess they'd made around the couch, Emily appeared timidly around the corner that led down the hallway.

"How is she? Is she gonna be okay?" Her eyes were wide and her voice was soft as she surveyed the woman on the couch. Emily had always had a soft heart, and Chloe knew she must be feeling the effects even more so since the woman had been injured while protecting her.

"She's gonna be fine, Em. She should be all patched up now," Chloe assured her as she moved past her to the kitchen, offering a small smile to the younger girl.

Once Stacie had helped clean up, she headed for the door and tossed a quick parting remark over her shoulder. "I'm gonna go update Aubrey and see what's going on outside."

With Stacie gone, Emily turned to Chloe, although Chloe noticed that she didn't quite meet Chloe's eyes. Instead, her gaze was lowered and the toe of her worn sneaker scuffed against the floor beneath her. "I can sit with her, if you want."

Chloe gave her shoulder a squeeze as she passed her, and when the gesture finally pulled Emily's gaze up to meet hers, she offered a smile and a nod. "Sure. Just let one of us know when she wakes up, okay?"

Emily nodded much more vigorously then, seemingly buoyed by Chloe's agreement, and she scrambled to retrieve a book from her things before settling down on the floor with her back against the couch. Chloe recognized the book as one they'd stumbled across before ending up at their current settlement. The book had definitely seen better days, and Emily had probably read it a dozen times by now, but it seemed to be a source of comfort to her. Who was Chloe to deny her something like that?

With Emily sitting watch over their peculiar guest, Chloe moved around the house, cleaning up the mess that she and Stacie had left from their efforts to patch up the ceiling earlier when Emily had returned so abruptly. There was no telling how long the woman would be out for anyway, so Chloe figured she might as well get things back into some semblance of order, since Emily seemed content to keep an eye on her in the meantime.