Lindsey was on her way home, navigating the cracked highway with a familiar ease, when suddenly she spotted a familiar, stomach-turning sight. On the distant horizon she saw Draculoids huddled around a lone, slumped figure on the ground.
The hot desert sun beat down on her leather jacket as she picked up speed, eyes narrowed and focused on the scene. She pulled the pink bandana around her neck up to cover her nose and mouth. As soon as she was in range, she pulled her laser gun from the holster at her waist. She took a deep, steadying breath, and before they had time to notice her she sent a few shots through the center of the group, scattering them in surprise.
Four of them were still standing, and as she got closer she saw just as many motionless on the ground. Eight against one were not good odds—she hoped the person on the ground wasn’t dead yet. Lindsey annihilated the closest one in a single shot—the Drac toppled backwards and landed in a sickening heap. The other three were in between panicking and taking aim, and she dodged their first few shots easily. Then, as she hopped over a big crack in the highway, she felt a searing heat shoot past her bicep, but luckily it was just a graze. She took aim and hit the shooter square in the face. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Zonerunner move. Just a little, but it was a good sign. Relief flooded through her.
“Skate Witch!” She heard one of the last of the Dracs scream behind its mask; muffled, garbled, and awful sounding as always. She had to try hard not to roll her eyes as she sent a beam through the eye of that Drac’s mask. They always talked about her like she was an urban legend. Really she was just a pissed off girl with a pair of beaten-up roller skates and enough luck to live this long.
Just as she was taking aim at the last one, it dropped dead in front of her. Confused, she looked over her shoulder. The Zonerunner was propped up on one elbow, smoking laser gun in hand. Lindsey took a last survey around to make sure there were no more, but the coast was clear. She kept her gun out though, just in case. The Zonerunner pushed up into a sitting position, long legs bent in front of them. She couldn’t see their face because of their motorcycle helmet—a red anatomical skull painted on the side of it—but she could see long brown hair spilling over their shoulders. Over the mouth of the helmet was painted “DEVOUR” in the same bright red. Lindsey felt goosebumps rise along her spine.
She kept her distance, watching to see what they were going to do. She pulled down her bandana so she could talk. “You okay?” She called, eyes scanning over them. She wanted to make sure she could book it out of there without worrying that they might bleed to death.
“Yeah. I’ll be okay.” The Zonerunner responded, voice gravelly and exhausted sounding. “They chased me for miles. Bike broke down on Route Lola, but it’s not too far.” They got to their feet and seemed stable enough.
“Okay, well, good luck.” Lindsey nodded, satisfied.
“Thanks. See you around.” They said, giving their shoulders a roll.
Lindsey gave a little salute and continued down the long expanse of highway. Just before she was out of sight, Lindsey skated backwards for a moment, looking at the tall silhouette on the horizon. She felt that same shiver all the way home.
It didn’t take long before she arrived at the collection of old commercial trucks and beat up van that she called home. Currently they were hidden beneath an outcrop of rocks—within sight of the highway, but far enough away to avoid detection. She banged on the side of Dr. D’s van before throwing a sack of food unceremoniously through the broken window. He called a gruff “thanks,” and Lindsey went to her home: an old ice cream truck painted pink and blue with some of her own creations on the walls, black lizards and venomous cacti.
She was glad to be out of the sun, and it was a bit cooler inside the truck. God, she wished the freezer still worked. It would be amazing to have ice again. Ice cream, even, fuck. Her mouth watered at the thought. The best she could do was pull a clean bottle of water out of the old freezer. It wasn’t exactly cold, but it was soothing enough against her parched tongue.
Lindsey dropped her things on the dusty floor and sat on the mattress on the ground. She started working on the laces of her skates, still thinking over the scene from earlier. She wasn’t surprised that their interaction was so short, that was the norm out here if you didn’t know someone. But she couldn’t help feeling an inkling of curiosity. She felt…magnetism from the Zonerunner. She wanted to know more, but she doubted she’d see them again. She briefly thought about asking Dr. D if he knew of them before she brushed that thought away.
Realistically, she had bigger things to worry about, like the fact that these were the last sacks of food from a source they had relied on for months. Her next several days (or weeks, god forbid) would be dedicated to finding another. She didn’t feel panicked yet—they always found something. It would be okay.
And if things weren’t okay, worrying would do her no good.
But by the end of day 4, Lindsey and her crew started to get worried. They had enough food and water to last maybe another two weeks, which wasn’t a comfortable buffer. If one thing went wrong, they would really be fucked.
Chantal and Jimmy took their truck since it ran the best and headed to Devil’s Gullet, the closest tent city at the bottom of a cavern. It was mostly good for drugs and shitty weapons, but standard supplies could still be found there in small amounts. They didn’t have enough credits or goods to trade for much—their currency was mostly in information, which wasn’t that useful in a place concerned almost exclusively with material goods, but it was better than nothing.
Lindsey spent the afternoon in the shade of her truck, doors open and her maps spread out in front of her. She hadn’t had a chance to update them in a few weeks and she was hoping to find somewhere to scavenge that they had missed.
Just a few hours after Chantal and Jimmy left, when Lindsey was deep in concentration, the fucking cherry on top of an already desperate situation stumbled into camp—Kitty came back from trading some goods with no supplies and a bleeding arm, clutching her ribs. Lindsey’s eyes widened and she scattered her tin of drawing charcoal as she scrambled to Kitty’s side.
“Shit, what happened?” Lindsey asked, helping Kitty ease herself onto the mail truck mattress. Lindsey got her water and gathered the first aid supplies while Kitty tried to soothe her breathing.
“Marcus is dead. Jacobstown is over.” Kitty’s voice was weak and pained. Lindsey felt her heart pound. Marcus and his crew had been at the Jacobs’ Gas Station for almost a fucking year. They sometimes sold off extra supplies, and their trades were fair. Jacobstown was pretty much as close as it got to an institution in the Zones, aside from the few tent cities.
“Fuck.” Lindsey breathed, her hands stilling where she had started peeling away Kitty’s bloodied black shirt.
“New crew moved in. They are not our friends.” Kitty said through sharp breaths. Lindsey figured this was probably an understatement. Kitty clenched her fists as Lindsey started to disinfect the wound.
Then something occurred to Lindsey. “How did you know about Marcus? Were some of his crew left there?” Kitty closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Lindsey suddenly knew that she wasn’t going to like the answer. Quietly, she admitted, “They hung his body up like a trophy.” Lindsey gasped and almost put a hand over her mouth before she remembered that she was holding a bloody rag. Hot anger surged through her, followed almost immediately by bitter sadness.
“Fuck. That’s so awful.” She said in a small, choked voice. Their crews hadn’t exactly been friends, but this cut deeper. How terrible for someone good to meet a fate like that.
This development kept Lindsey awake late into the night, tossing and turning. One moment she felt hot with anger, the next listless with hopelessness. For hours she was full of desperate, racing thoughts. She finally gave up on sleep in the early hours of the morning. She crawled on top of her truck to stare at the night sky and listen to the quiet rustling of the desert. She eventually passed out on top of the truck, curled into an uncomfortable position. She was woken barely two hours later by the blazing sun in the empty sky.
The moment she awoke, she had an idea.
A bad, bad idea.
At the intersection of Route Lola and Route Zero, Lindsey made a quick stop. There stood one of the adorned mailboxes for the dead. She kissed the envelope, leaving a red stain, and dropped it into the mailbox. Just in case. If she didn’t come back, her crew would know to check here first. It wasn’t exactly how the boxes were meant to be used, but she figured it was just as fitting to deliver a letter from the dead as it was to deliver to them.
None of her crew would approve, but she was desperate—she was going to raid the motel that had been the Killjoys’ base before Korse and dozens of Dracs had pushed them out. She knew for a fact that there was a monumental stash of supplies in the basement. It was untouched because only the Killjoys had the combination of the lock to the bomb shelter—the Killjoys and, as it happened, Dr. D. The only reason she knew this was from eavesdropping on Dr. D one night, unintentionally, when she had heard Party Poison’s voice on the radio. Curiosity had gotten the best of her then. She hoped it paid off now.
The downside was that BLI knew the stash was there even if they couldn’t get to it. Lindsey had never seen the place with less than ten Dracs patrolling the outsides and who knew how many more there might be inside.
But desperate times and all that, so there she was, a lone figure with just the essentials for a confrontation—a backup gun, first aid, water, and a little food. The motel was just an hour’s travel. Lindsey’s stomach was in knots the whole way. She tried really hard not to think about how if she died, her crew would be shattered. She wondered how long they’d survive after she was gone.
She had to push those thoughts away. She wasn’t dead yet, and she had no intention of going down easily.
It could have been off to a worse start. Lindsey managed to sneak around and take out two Dracs before any of the others even realized she was there.
Unfortunately, on the outside alone she counted eight, and she had no idea how many more were inside. As she ghosted a third Drac, shooting them right in the back of the dead, the others finally realized what was going on. It took them a few minutes to find where she was shooting from, but they did. Then, she had to do her best to move between points of cover to avoid getting swarmed. More Dracs started to appear from inside—they were up to a dozen still alive when Lindsey had to stop counting.
She thought to herself that she can do this, the odds weren’t so bad. But then a blast hit her skate straight on and suddenly she was thrown off her feet, landing in a painful heap. When she looked down there were no wheels on her left foot, and she had fallen painfully on her ankle. Adrenaline kept the worst pain at bay and she quickly scrambled behind a burned-out pickup truck.
Now that she was less mobile, she was too easy of a target. She managed to take out a few more, but there were more coming. Lindsey realized with a panic that they had managed to get on all sides of her. At this point, she was just shooting wildly, which was never ideal, but she managed to hit one in the leg and another in the eye.
The following moments were a blur—Dracs on all side, a laser catching her arm, one searing her hair, the screaming engine of a motorcycle in the distance. The last thing she was aware of was a sudden realization that there was a Drac right behind her—and then everything went black as something collided with her head.
The next thing she knew, she was waking up to a pounding headache and a roar in her ears. She felt so disoriented that it took a good few minutes to understand what was happening. She was pressed against something warm. The roar was a bike and the wind was whipping around her.
Fuck. They hadn’t killed her, undoubtedly because they wanted Dr. D.
Lindsey’s body immediately went rigid and she tried to struggle backwards, but her head swam dangerously and something was keeping her in place. Her hands found a rope around her body, and her arms were pinned with it. Lindsey was just starting to panic, which was the only thing keeping her from passing out again, when she noticed that she was attached to someone.
She looked upwards and saw a blazing red skull on a motorcycle helmet.
Not a Drac. Not BLI. That was all she needed to see before she could pass out again, slightly reassured, even though she didn’t know if she was safe or not. Within seconds she was out again, the wind and the engine fading away.
The next time Lindsey came to, she was laying on something cool and hard. Her head still fucking pounded. She couldn’t tell if she was going to stay awake this time, so she tried to ground herself by focusing on small things. After a moment she could feel soft fabric beneath her, touching her skin. It was dark—but not like it was night. Maybe she was inside a building or something. She was vaguely aware of feeling pain in parts of her body aside from her head, but it took a while to sort out where. Her ankle was the first pain that she became aware of. Ah, fuck.
She could hear scraping sounds—like metal against metal, but not loud. And crackling; a fire. Lindsey slowly eased her eyes open. She was in….a cave? What the fuck? She was too overwhelmed to look around much, so her eyes focused on the fire. She realized with a start that across the fire was a person, their back to her as they looked at something on a makeshift table propped up by shipping crates.
Dread and fear (and just a hint of curiosity) seeped through her veins. She stayed very still as she took in more of the area—she couldn’t see the fucking way out, or her gun, or her skates. Also, one of her skates was ruined. God dammit. On top of the fear, she was also furious. Fuck this. She wasn’t fucking helpless.
The only thing Lindsey could see near her were a couple cans of Power Pup. While she didn’t love the idea of relying on it as a weapon, it was better than nothing. She reached out, catching sight of her bruised, caked knuckles for the first time. The next few moments were almost comically difficult, driven only by her determination. God, she felt like shit. Her body and head screamed at her every movement, but eventually she made it to her feet and slowly started shuffling towards the fire, hoping a more central location would help her find the door.
She only made it about four steps before she was caught, though. The woman on the other side of the cave heard her and turned around quickly. For a moment, the two stared at each other in silence. Lindsey’s heart pounded in her ears.
The woman with the long brown hair spoke first. “You can leave right now if you want. Your gun and everything are by the door.” She gestured to the right, where Lindsey could see a small path leading through the rock. “But there’s food if you wanna eat first. Also, you may have trouble making it home like that.”
Lindsey bristled slightly, resenting that it was true. She gripped the can of PP in her hand. She must have looked pretty silly—wounded, hobbling, clutching a can of food as her only weapon. She dropped the can on the hard-packed dirt of the cave floor and shuffled a few more steps to sit down by the fire—a little too heavily, leaning too far to one side. She tried to compose herself, sitting up straighter, wanting to regain some dignity if she could.
Part of her was pissed that she had been so helpless, that she had gotten herself into something she couldn’t handle—and a smaller, more secret part felt relieved that someone had helped her, that complete self-sufficiency hadn’t been necessary. It was an old feeling, one that she missed sometimes. She had her crew, but it had been so long since she had connected with anyone aside from them.
The tall woman, dressed all in black save for the grey patches that held her pants together, sat down on the other side, placing two bowls in the trodden dirt.
For the first time, she wasn’t wearing the motorcycle helmet. Lindsey took a moment to study her face—long, high cheekbones, smeared black around the eyes, a scar on her chin, tattoos creeping up her neck. Her eyes were dark and intense in the firelight. She was beautiful, breathtaking, Lindsey realized with a start. Lindsey looked away into the flames, unable to process this information yet.
“What happened?” Lindsey tried to ask, but her voice was so hoarse it came out like a croak. The woman nodded to Lindsey’s right and she saw a canteen sitting on the ground. She gratefully picked it up and took a long drink of water.
“Was riding back here when I saw a dust cloud rising from the motel. I went over to check it out just as a Drac knocked you out. I could only get a few of them, and then I just got us out of there.” The woman responded while Lindsey was drinking, reaching out to stir a small pot on the fire that Lindsey hadn’t noticed before. Steam was rising from it and she smelled food.
Lindsey waited to be chastised for going into a situation like that alone—she probably deserved it. But it didn’t come. When she was done stirring, the woman looked up, her warm brown eyes locking on Lindsey’s.
“What’s your name?” Lindsey asked, holding the gaze.
“Laura.” She responded, folding her hands over her bent knees in front of her. Lindsey noticed ink on almost every part of skin she could see save for Laura’s face. What she had thought was a black shirt was actually black ink on Laura’s entire right arm. “How about you, Skate Witch?” Lindsey thought she could hear a hint of amusement.
Laura handed her a steaming cup from across the small fire. Lindsey brought it to her lap and saw dried cactus flowers floating in it, a pleasant earthy aroma rising and curling around her.
“The Dracs were excited about catching you, from what I could gather.” Laura said, the questions implied. Why do they know you? Who are you? Lindsey had questions of her own, but she didn’t know what they were yet.
“I have powerful friends.” There were few people BLI wanted more than Dr. D and anyone from his crew. Then, because she couldn’t help herself, “Also, I’ve taken out more of them than they’d care to admit.” Lindsey smiled and stuck her tongue out a little, pleased with herself over this fact.
“Fair enough.” Laura actually smiled, the amusement clear this time. Lindsey felt warm.
Within a few moments, Laura handed her a bowl of stew—mostly beans and potatoes, but there was at least one spice in there, and Lindsey was starving, so it tasted pretty good. They ate mostly in silence. Lindsey started out feeling hyper aware of Laura sitting across the fire from her, but by the time she was done eating, she was feeling exhausted and some serious levels of pain in her body. She had started the process of worrying about how she would get home. She couldn’t skate. Walking wasn’t an option. Maybe if Laura had a radio, she could reach Dr. D—shit, she hated that idea. She didn’t even know where she was.
As if reading her mind, or maybe the problem was just obvious, Laura spoke up before Lindsey could worry for long. “You should sleep here a while longer. I can take you where you need to go when you wake up. I assume it isn’t far.” Laura said, matter-of-fact and calm. Lindsey found her tone so reassuring, and her body was so spent, that she couldn’t even protest. It would just sound empty anyway.
So instead she said, “thank you,” and they looked at each other for a long moment. Laura got up and skirted around the fire and held out a hand. It felt rough and warm and strong when Lindsey took it. She helped Lindsey back to the blanket she had woken up on, and by the time Laura had crossed to the far side of the cave, Lindsey had already fallen back asleep.
She slept for what felt like forever. Her dreams were full of neon lights and unnaturally white walls and Dracs all around her. Still, it was better sleep than she’d had in weeks.
When finally she woke up, Laura wasn’t in the cave. She took the time alone to take stock of her body and her injuries again. Her head felt better, and she felt like she might be able to stay awake this time. She didn’t feel nauseous or like she was going to pass out. It just fucking hurt, but she could deal with that. For the first time, she realized her left bicep was wrapped in white bandages, and she could feel the sting of a laser burn underneath. That wasn’t too concerning, she’d had plenty of those. She had saved the worst for last, though—her ankle. Lindsey moved her foot tentatively, and was rewarded with searing pain. Fuck. But when she sat up and looked at it, it wasn’t as bruised and swollen as she expected. Maybe she had gotten away with just a sprain, maybe tore a muscle at worse, but that was definitely better than a break. A break could never be guaranteed to heal right out here, could trip her up for the rest of her life, however long it ended up being. When she got back to camp, Jimmy would help her sort it out, he was the best
Lindsey hauled herself into a sitting position, legs resting in front of her. The same canteen was sitting next to the blanket she was on. There was also another cup of tea with the flowers. It was still warm, but not hot. The gesture was so… nice. It made her chest ache.
After she had drained both, Laura was still nowhere to be seen. She felt restless. It was weird looking too much at Laura’s stuff, even though curiosity picked at her. The cave was strange but also so familiar—a collection of random, half broken items that reminded her of her own home, and piles of supplies, neatly organized but they still made the cave feel like a hideout. She could see paint on the walls, but it was too dark to see most of them, and there was fabric hung over the largest stretch of wall. There were a few mats and a thin mattress that clearly made up Laura’s bed on the far side of the cave, the makeshift table, fire pit, and not much else.
She really, really wanted to know where she was—in general and so she could figure out how far it would be to get home. Lindsey hauled herself to her feet gingerly and slowly made her way to the path that Laura had gestured to the night before—or had it been the day before? She felt disoriented in the cave, unable to tell the time of day or how much time had passed. As she entered the path, the unmistakable glow of sunlight appeared ahead of her. The top of the path was just a few inches above her head—she imagined Laura probably had to bend over when she walked through here.
She realized the path was sloping upwards, and when Lindsey reached the mouth of the cave, she was surprised to find herself in a deep canyon. Striped rusty red and all shades of tan rocks rose asymmetrically on both sides of her. She could just barely see the tops. Lindsey imagined that it used to be a raging river, wearing a path through the rock over centuries, but had long dried up as it became wasteland.
Lindsey had been gazing around barely ten minutes when she heard Laura’s bike in the distance, the sound carrying through the crevice she was in. Feeling like she was a teen caught out of bed, she went back inside, gripping the rough sides of the cave to avoid putting too much weight on her bad ankle. Her heart beat confusingly quickly as she settled her back against the cool wall. She heard the bike engine cut off.
Moments later, Laura appeared at the mouth of the path, bent over to make it through the low tunnel. She straightened as she entered the main area and looked towards Lindsey immediately. Lindsey tried to look nonchalant even though she felt nervous again, too aware of her face and her hands and her breathing.
“Oh, hey.” Laura said, and Lindsey briefly wondered where the hint of surprise came from. “You slept so long I started to get worried.” Oh.
“Oops, uh, thanks for…letting me.” She felt annoyed that she wasn’t sure how to talk to Laura. She really wasn’t used to interacting with strangers in non-straight-forward, non-transactional ways.
“Are you hungry?” Laura asked, putting down a burlap bag on the table across the room.
She really was, she noticed for the first time. “Yeah, you?”
Laura made an affirmative sound, already pulling things out of boxes from under the table.
“Can I help?” Lindsey asked, hobbling up behind Laura, used to contributing her equal share.
Laura’s hands stilled and she turned to Lindsey, briefly making eye contact. “Uh, yeah, sure…” She said, but didn’t do anything else, just stared at the floor.
“Okay.” Lindsey said, but Laura didn’t say anything. “What can I do?” She eventually prompted to break the silence, and Laura quickly looked back up at her again.
“Um…” Laura cleared her throat and tucked some hair behind her ear, returning her attention to the supplies organized around the table. “Sorry, I just—needed to remember how this works. Here, sit down.” Laura grabbed a wooden crate from where it was leaning against the wall and positioned it near the table. Lindsey wasn’t entirely sure what Laura meant, but she took a seat all the same.
“Thanks.” Lindsey smiled. Laura didn’t really make eye contact but she smiled, too.
They had a simple meal, a stew again, but there was some meat in it (some kind of bird, Lindsey didn’t ask too many questions) with mushy BLI porridge probably stolen from a vending machine. Lindsey wondered if Laura always cooked like this. It was nothing fancy, but it was a lot more like cooking than anything she usually did. Lindsey and her crew mostly ate out of cans warmed up on the fire, and so did most Zonerunners, as far as she knew. Actually putting things in a pot and stirring and combining was just a memory to her now. There wasn’t really a need to do much else, but there was something nice about it.
They didn’t talk much, but Lindsey started to feel more at ease. As awkwardness subsided, curiosity bloomed in her chest about this woman who lived alone, cooked, and had a shot good enough to pierce a Drac dead in the eye.
She was also antsy as hell by the time they finished eating. Her crew was no doubt worried about her, might already think she was dead at this point. She hoped not. It was an awful fucking feeling. She wished Laura had a radio so she could listen to the waves, maybe catch Dr. D, read through his cryptic messages to decipher how they were doing, but there wasn’t one in the cave.
“I should get back.” Lindsey said after they had eaten. She was almost sad to go. It was a strange feeling.
“You have people waiting for you?” Laura asked, starting to clean up. Lindsey nodded, but they didn’t talk about it more. She was painfully aware how obvious it was that Laura’s home hadn’t housed anyone else in a long time, maybe never had.
They got ready to leave—Laura bustling around, Lindsey packing the few things like her busted skates and the gun that Laura returned to her. Then she just waited for Laura to be ready. She got lost in looking at the walls, trying to figure out what was on them. She thought she saw waves, and maybe something flying.
When Laura came back, she was holding a black bandana, worn soft and greying. “I have to ask you to do something. It's just…probably for the best.” She seemed sheepish about it, but not indecisive.
Lindsey didn’t blame Laura. It was logical. They had no reason to trust each other. She nodded and closed her eyes, waiting and ignoring her pounding heart as she felt Laura get closer to her. The soft fabric settled over her eyes and tightened as Laura tied it in the back. She sat stock still as she felt Laura’s breath on her cheek, leaning close to secure the bandana. Then Laura leaned back and Lindsey could no longer feel her in her space, no longer feel the heat radiating off her. Her skin prickled and her chest felt tight again.
Laura took her hand and gently led her through the tunnel to the outside, telling her when to look out for rocks and when to duck. She didn’t know Lindsey had already made this trip, and Lindsey decided to keep that to herself for the time being.
They rode for a good twenty minutes before Laura told her she could take the bandana off. Lindsey had a feeling that Laura had tried to throw her off the trail, taking unnecessary turns and backtracking. The problem was, Lindsey’s most valuable skill was navigation. Once she had seen the canyon, it was all over, she could make it back there if she set her mind to it. She wouldn’t do anything to fuck Laura over, but Laura didn’t know that. Lindsey didn’t want to give her undue reason to worry.
The day was hot and dusty as usual, but Lindsey had kind of missed the desert. She watched the horizon as they passed by cacti, dilapidated buildings, and abandoned vehicles. Even with the sound of the bike and the wind in her hair, Lindsey felt drowsy. Luckily, it wasn’t too long before they reached the end of Lindsey’s directions and Laura parked the bike and silenced the motor.
“You okay the rest of the way?” Laura asked when they had dismounted, causing Lindsey to look up at her. Laura was holding her helmet on her shoulder.
Lindsey stared at the bright declaration again. Devour. She bit her bottom lip.
Almost forgetting Laura had spoken, Lindsey finally remembered to nod. The huddle of trucks was less than a five minute walk. Normally she would have been more careful, made them stop further away, but she was still exhausted and injured. And, honestly, part of her felt reckless, even debated bringing Laura to camp before she dismissed that thought. She wasn’t afraid of Laura, but it was too soon.
“See you next time one of us almost dies.” She smirked, folding her arms across her chest. Laura laughed, her hair falling in her face. Lindsey wanted to hear more of that, wanted to know how to get it. But Laura put on her helmet and waved goodbye.
Next thing Lindsey knew she was standing alone in the dust cloud left behind by the bike, black bandana still dangling from her fingers.
Being stuck at camp for the next two weeks was hell.
“I’m so fucking bored.” Lindsey complained, throwing a small rock at a larger rock a few yards away. When she looked over to where Kitty was repairing a cracked laser gun, all she got back was an unsympathetic, even judgmental, stare.
“Okay, Kitty, I get it. I’m a fucking dumbass.” Lindsey conceded, crossing her arms over her chest.
From under the truck where she was working on the brakes, Chantal laughed. In Lindsey’s absence, Jimmy and Chantel had returned with enough supplies for a few weeks. Unfortunately, they were still dangerously low on repair parts and meds. “Yeah, you are. You’re lucky you weren’t hurt worse.” Kitty scolded for the dozenth time.
“C’mon Kitty, we all know being camp-bound is the worst punishment for Linds.” Chantal chimed in, slightly muffled. “Can’t shoot Dracs, can’t scout for maps.”
“I like doing other things.” Lindsey said defensively, feeling a bit like a child in a way only her crew could cause.
“Name one thing.” Kitty deadpanned.
Lindsey unintentionally thought of Laura sitting across the fire from her, paint on the cave walls behind her.
“Painting.” She said, hoping they wouldn’t hear the lump in her throat.
“You haven’t painted anything since you decorated your truck.” Jimmy snorted. He was leaning against the hood of the truck, handing Chantal tools.
“Well, maybe I will now!” Lindsey threw her hands in the air and got up, trying not to limp too much out of spite.
When she got inside of her truck, she hesitated in front of her carton of paints. Instead, she pulled out her maps, covering the floor of her truck, and started planning a route.
In about a week, she would be back on her skates.
Good. She didn’t give up that easily.
Lindsey was not entirely sure if this was a better plan than her first one. It had to be, given that she wasn’t trying to clear out an entire motel of Dracs on her own. But, there were other risks involved. Sometimes working in a pair was more dangerous, especially if you didn’t know how to work together. Also, in the pit of her stomach, something about this plan made her nervous in a way unrelated to a firefight.
She was sitting on a rock near the path through the canyon that led to Laura’s cave, visible from the highway. Laura wasn’t home, but it was late afternoon and Lindsey figured she would be back soon. She had only been waiting about an hour in the shade of the cliffs when she heard the bike.
Laura saw her, of course, it was impossible to miss her, and shut down the bike on the stretch of highway closest to Lindsey. She took her helmet off, still straddling the bike. Lindsey had vaguely wondered if Laura would be angry to see her, since she wasn’t supposed to know where the cave was—but Laura’s eyes were shining, amused or happy or something in between, and Lindsey felt cool relief.
“Hey.” Lindsey said, smiling and running her fingers through a tangle in one of her long black pigtails. “You busy?”
Laura quirked a brow at her, the hint of a smile forming. “Let me guess—I should grab my extra gun?”
“Is this the last one?” Laura asked, voice straining as they threw the body on top of the others. Lindsey looked at the jumble of white, black, and dusty Dracs, and counted.
“Yeah. That’s it. Let’s do it.” She wiped some blood from her hands on the pants of a nearby Drac. Within a moment, Laura had spread the accelerant and Lindsey was striking a match. They stepped back, watching the flames spread like a gentle breeze. Lindsey felt sick and elated at the same time as she watched the bodies start to burn.
They watched long enough to make sure the fire was self-sustaining. Then, Laura touched Lindsey’s shoulder and nodded her head towards the direction of the back of the motel. Lindsey tore her eyes away from the flames and they walked back to the crumbling motel.
They were lucky that BLI had only sent a few extras to the motel, probably thinking no one would try to take it again so soon. Lindsey had been pleased to discover how well the two of them worked together. Laura was calculated and ruthless, noticing details that slipped Lindsey by. Combined with Lindsey’s agility and ability to use the terrain, it had been lightyears easier than her first attempt on the motel. They each had a handful of laser burns and Laura’s cheek had bled for a while, but all in all they made it through surprisingly intact.
After building their own fire and cleaning their wounds as best they could, Lindsey scrounged some cans of food from the old kitchen of the motel. Her crew was gonna love taking stock of this place, searching every nook and cranny for forgotten treasures and unique junk. She couldn’t wait to tell them, but it was getting late and she was exhausted, so it would have to wait until the next day.
Lindsey had to admit that she wasn’t in any hurry to go anywhere. She was content and full and so fucking pleased in the way that only came after a major accomplishment. Time passed less noticeably as she felt more at ease around Laura. They were laying on slabs of cardboard in the sand by the fire, heads pointing towards each other a few feet apart. They talked about other raids, swapping stories about the best odds they had beat in the past.
After a while of comfortable silence, Lindsey propped herself up on an elbow to look at Laura. “We make a good team.”
“We do.” Laura said, and Lindsey could see a small smile.
“Have you always been in these zones?”
“No. I just kind of got stuck here.” This came as no surprise to Lindsey. She could usually tell who was and wasn’t from around. “Have you?” Laura asked, shifting to her side to look at Lindsey better.
“Yeah. More or less.” Lindsey shrugged. “Home sweet home.” She rolled her eyes and winked, and Laura smiled. Then, before she could think it through, she was asking, “Did you have anyone before?”
“Yes.” Laura was no longer smiling, but she didn’t turn away.
Lindsey wanted to ask more questions, but her tongue felt like glue. She took a sip of water and swallowed hard. For some reason the only thing she could think of was I’m sorry but she bit it down.
“It was a long time ago.” Laura said, laying on her back again.
After a silence long enough that Lindsey couldn’t decide if it was still comfortable or not, Laura finally broke the silence by asking, “Know any good secrets around here?”
Lindsey beamed. “Oh yeah. Some shit you wouldn’t even believe.”
Lindsey couldn’t sleep. She was on a bare mattress in one of the least trashed rooms they could find, tossing and turning. Laura was in the room next door. Noise-based booby traps at each end of the hallway should help them get some sleep, but she always kept her gun close.
They had talked until late and Lindsey had been falling asleep, but now she felt wired with a frantic current under her skin. She couldn’t stop thinking about Laura—the way her eyes lit up when she saw Lindsey back at her door. Her long hair falling in her face, dark eyes gazing at Lindsey across the fire. Leaning close, breath against her cheek as she blind-folded her. Standing in the dust from the raid, a fucking force of nature. Smiling, listening to Lindsey describing her best secrets.
Lindsey’s body was crawling with it, like adrenaline had been shot into her veins. There was no way she could fall asleep now. She barely knew what she was doing when suddenly she was out of bed and leaving the room. She had faced a dozen Dracs alone and her heart hadn’t beat the way it did then as she approached Laura’s door. She steadied her hands and before she could change her mind, knocked on the peeling wood, softly but clearly—and waited.
It didn’t take long to hear movement on the other side. A second later, Laura opened the door. Her jacket was off and she was in a barely-there sleeveless shirt, barefoot, more inked skin than had been visible before, the dying fire flickering light across Laura’s face.
Laura didn’t speak, just stood there, looking at her silently. Lindsey stared back, feeling like she might choke on the weight in her throat. Just when she couldn’t stand it any longer, Laura reached forward and grazed her fingertips across Lindsey’s cheek, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Lindsey’s resolve finally arrived. She stepped forward and put a hand on the back of Laura’s neck, guiding her down, a shock going through her when their lips met.
It was softer than she expected, at least for a moment, and Laura tasted warm and dusty and a little bit sweet. Laura’s thumb traced her cheekbone and Lindsey’s heart stuttered in her chest.
Then, Lindsey curled her fingers firmly into Laura’s hair at the back of her neck, and something snapped, hesitancy and slowness dissipating. Lindsey surged forward, pushing into Laura, and Laura pushed back, turning them and pinning her against the peeling wallpaper of the motel room.
It felt like fighting, exhilarating and intense. Lindsey wanted more, hadn’t felt this kind of desire in a long fucking time. For a moment she felt like she was struggling to reach and wished she was taller, but then Laura picked her up by the hips. Her legs wrapped around Laura’s waist and they leaned heavily against the wall, pressing close to keep each other balanced. She could feel so much more of Laura like this. They broke apart for a moment, looking at each other on the same level. Laura’s eyes were dark. She looked hungry. Warmth curled in Lindsey’s stomach.
“You’re really fucking beautiful, you know that?” Lindsey breathed, just as Laura leaned in and bit down on the side of her neck. She heard Laura’s laugh in response, low and warm, felt it vibrate her skin. She wanted, wanted, wanted.
Lindsey’s hands tangled in Laura’s hair, fingers digging in, her brain short circuiting when Laura’s warm mouth traced down her neck. Then, Laura’s lips brushed her nipple through her thin shirt. “Oh, god…” Lindsey groaned at the ceiling, head falling back, encouraging Laura with hands gripping her shoulders. Laura’s lips teased softly and her breath sent a shudder through Lindsey’s body. She ground her hips down against Laura’s, gasping in the dusty darkness.
Too soon, Laura broke off from Lindsey’s chest, leaning heavily forward, biting her lip as their hips moved together again. Lindsey held the back of Laura’s head, fingers gripping the back of her neck.
“What do you want?” Laura asked, forehead against Lindsey’s, her breathing heavy.
"I wanna fuck you" Lindsey breathed, looking her in the eye, letting out the feeling she’d had for weeks now. Laura’s hands tightened on her sides, fingers against her bare skin under her shirt. In a voice barely above a hiss, she said, “yes .”
Laura rolled her hips hard up into Lindsey's, and, god, she gasped so sharply it surprised her. They pushed against each other in another bruising kiss, Lindsey’s tongue pushing roughly between Laura’s lips.
Lindsey felt ridiculous, on the verge of whimpering just from grinding against each other like this. When she could form words, Lindsey whispered, "on the bed,” halfway between a question and a demand. Laura nodded and kissed her again, before dropping her back to the ground. Lindsey leaned heavily against the wall, catching her breath as she watched Laura move towards the bed.
They undressed themselves, and something about standing apart watching each other made Lindsey feel even more turned on, heat flooding through her. Before she knew it, Laura was on her back on the bed, naked, and part of Lindsey wanted to burn this image into her memory like a brand—ink, scars, dirt, sweat, bits of blood, she wanted to explore all of it. She felt like she was just scraping the surface, and she wanted to dip into Laura and pull her apart.
Laura's chest was heaving, the rest of her still, just watching as Lindsey dropped her underwear last and stood at the foot of the bed. Lindsey felt like she’d never forget the look in Laura’s eyes, the heat and intensity, just waiting for her.
“Fuck. Come here.” Laura whispered, sending shivers through Lindsey.
She crawled onto the bed, feeling momentarily less than graceful, but Laura met her with guiding hands and an eager kiss. She felt strangely and unexpectedly shy for a moment, the two of them now naked together on the motel bed. Pushing through, she lost herself in kissing Laura again, her fingers running across Laura’s bare chest and stomach. The hesitancy faded faster and faster as they pushed against each other, until Laura muttered, “hang on,” and Lindsey froze, resting her hands on either side of Laura’s head. Laura turned slightly, reaching to grab something from her jacket on the ground. She pulled out a BLI condom, black and white and smiling at them. Lindsey nodded and took it from her, the wrapper crinkling in her fingers. Laura watched as Lindsey rolled it down on her, her head falling back and groaning at the contact.
There was a moment of shifting, moving their bodies together just right. Lindsey searched Laura’s face, flicking one of her own long pigtails back over her bare shoulder. “Ready,” Laura muttered, propped up on her elbows, and Lindsey kissed her hard and guided their hips together.
They rocked together slowly at first, small movements sending sparks up Lindsey’s spine. God, the feeling, together with the way Laura looked, head thrown back, her throat long, ink all over her skin, Lindsey was so fucking turned on she could barely stand it. That was, until her body started to get impatient again, wanting more, harder, faster, and so she gave in, her head falling forward on Laura’s chest. She exhaled over one of Laura’s nipples, cupping her breast lightly. Taking Laura’s stuttering breath as encouragement, Lindsey flicked her tongue over the skin. Laura’s fingers dug red marks into her hips as they moved together, speed and force picking up.
Laura’s elbows slipped out from under her, and she was laying on her back, chest arcing up towards Lindsey as she continued to tease and mouth at the skin. Trailing back up to kiss Laura, Lindsey put her hands on either side for better balance, fucking her as Laura started shaking beneath her. Lindsey felt a whine raise in the back of her throat, and she bit down on Laura’s shoulder, exhaling it into the skin there. Laura snaked a hand between them, and Lindsey gasped when Laura’s fingers brushed over her. She nodded quickly, encouragingly, and Laura’s fingers found her clit, massaging lightly and Lindsey could feel tension building in the base of her spine, her body wound tight like a spring.
“Oh, fuck…” She breathed, and she could feel Laura coming apart beneath her, her body squirming and tense. A few more strokes over her clit, and Lindsey was coming, groaning loudly into the dark room, moving through the aftershocks. When it got too much, she grabbed Laura’s hand and pinned it above her head. She felt like Laura was close from the way she was moving and the sounds she was making. Lindsey kept the pace up until Laura broke a hand free, fingers gripping the back of her skull. Laura held her gaze until she was coming too. Lindsey could see the moment it hit her, felt her own whole body flush. Fuck, she had never wanted so badly for a moment to stretch on forever.
They panted together, skin slick and hot, kissing between their heavy breaths. Lindsey let some of the tension in her muscles seep away, one hand stroking Laura’s hair and holding her close. Laura ran her hands across Lindsey’s back and sides, touching her bare skin lightly and making her tingle. They kissed for a long time, until their breathing both slowed.
Laura cradled the back of her head as Lindsey settled to the side of her. “All good?” Laura asked, watching Lindsey and twirling a pigtail in her fingers. Lindsey nodded and kissed her again.
She was suddenly fucking exhausted again, and it wasn’t long before Laura’s eyelids were drooping as well. They fell asleep facing each other, Laura’s hand still tangled in Lindsey’s hair.
When Lindsey woke up, she was alone. She was slightly impressed that Laura had managed to leave so quietly that Lindsey hadn’t woken up. She didn’t know if she should feel relieved or disappointed. She hadn’t exactly had expectations, but being left the morning after was never all that pleasant. At the same time, thinking of seeing Laura made her stomach churn.
Lindsey sat up and gathered her scattered clothes, pulling them on so she would feel less exposed. She focused on getting ready and going home—they had a lot of work to do to clear out the motel before BLI sent reinforcements. She hoped Laura had taken what she needed, but there was nothing she could do about that now.
Lindsey went to her original room and pulled on her outerwear, securing her gun on her hip. She grabbed her skates by the laces and went to check the fire to make sure they didn’t forget anything. The fire from the night before wasn’t even smoking anymore. She tossed a few cans of food into her knapsack and grabbed the matches from where they were sitting on a rock.
Just as she was about to leave, something else caught her eye. In the sand by the fire was a thin piece of cardboard pinned down with a rock. Lindsey stared at it for a moment, trying to figure out if it was garbage, before she walked over and picked it up. Scrawled in coal from the fire was written:
had to go
And that was it. Lindsey felt a rush, allowing herself the first real moment to think about Laura. Even if she never saw Laura again, she was never going to forget the way Laura had gripped her by the skull and looked her in the eye when she came.
Fuck. Why did she fucking leave? Lindsey could have done that again this morning. And all day. Lindsey thought about tossing the note into the fire, but ended up putting it in her pocket. Even if the note was sincere, she couldn’t help but feel a little bit bitter, confused, and nervous. Whatever. She could worry about Laura later.
As she made her way down the highway towards home, she rounded a curve which brought into sight the pile from last night. It was still smoldering, the Dracs about half burnt. Better than nothing. She hoped at least the desert creatures would find some good meals. Worth more dead than alive, that was for sure.
“You did WHAT?” Kitty exclaimed, hands turning into fists in frustration. “Tell me you’re fucking joking.”
When she returned to camp, Lindsey had been both lucky and unlucky to find her crew already assembled around the fire pit. At least she could tell them all at the same time, but she knew they might not love her methods.
“I can’t believe you went AGAIN! You almost died the first time!” Kitty yelled.
Jimmy, to his credit, was just laughing in the background. At least not everyone disapproved of her.
“She’s not wrong.” Chantal shrugged, nodding towards Kitty, but she didn’t look angry.
“You didn’t go alone.” Dr. D said, staring her down. It wasn’t a question. Lindsey shrugged.
“Well? Who did you go with?” Kitty sounded surprised, a twinkle appearing in her eye. She wasn’t over being disapproving, though—Lindsey was sure she would hear more of it later.
“Uh—Laura.” Lindsey admitted reluctantly, crossing her arms over her chest.
“That Zonerunner with the cave and the bike who saved you?” Chantel asked, smirk growing.
“I saved her first.” Lindsey protested. Jimmy just laughed harder and Lindsey wanted this conversation to end immediately.
“Well, are we gonna go pack up this shit before someone else swoops in? Come the fuck on.” Lindsey deflected, rolling her eyes.
“Oh no, we are so far from done. But get in the fucking truck, we can talk on the way.” Jimmy smiled and clapped a hand on her shoulder. Lindsey sighed but didn’t protest, feeling a secret burst of warmth for her crew as they made their way across the yard.
With the supplies from the hotel all safely relocated to their best hiding spots, they could sleep easy for a little while. They took a few very needed days off, catching up on sleep and hanging around the fire talking late into the night.
One night after they had spent most of the evening debating what they would do if they could do anything at all, Lindsey and Dr. D were the last two up. Lindsey was sprawled on her back staring at the sky and Dr. D was watching the dying coals.
Out of nowhere, Lindsey blurted, “What next?”
“What?” Dr. D asked, clearly having been lost in another thought.
“We have more supplies than we’ve ever had. I feel like that’s all I’ve been thinking about for…” Lindsey trailed off. Thinking too much about the passing of time in the zones felt weird. Sometimes it felt like time changed after the bombs dropped—everything slowed down to a crawl and blurred out what came before, so all she could remember clearly was the desert and the scorching sun.
“A long time.” She rubbed her eyes, pushing the thought away. “So what do we do next?”
“We figure out how to do more than just survive.” Dr. D said it like it was the most simple thing in the world.
“You still think that’s possible?” Lindsey asked. She knew this was an old conversation, but they hadn’t visited it in a long time.
“I’m gonna die before I stop believing that.” He was smiling. Lindsey knew he meant it and felt a pang of jealousy at his easy conviction. “I just hope it’s not too soon.” He said with a chuckle.
“I’m not always so sure.” She confessed, running her fingers through the sand next to her.
“I know.” He said.
They were silent for a while. Lindsey started to zone out, watching a bat on the moonlight.
Just as Lindsey was about to change the subject, Dr. D spoke again. “You keep me updated on that. And maybe stop going off and giving the odds the finger. Gonna catch up to you one day.”
Lindsey bit her lip, thinking about this. She knew this. She defended it most times. But she didn't feel judged by him, which helped her guard stay down. “I don’t know what else to do.”
They fell quiet again. The bat was gone, so Lindsey focused on a buzzing in the distance. While she was lost in thought, Dr. D said good night and left the pit, rolling his chair up the slope into the van and closing it up.
Suddenly, Lindsey sat bolt upright, realizing what the sound was.
She could hear the engine from a long way off, but her heart was still beating too hard when it finally got unmistakably close. When the engine cut off, she got up and went to the back of her truck, which faced the direction of the highway. She leaned on the bumper to wait.
It was only a few moments before Laura came around the bend of the rocks and stopped short when she saw Lindsey. She pulled off her helmet before approaching, pushing her hair out of her face.
“Hey.” She said as she came closer. She was looking at Lindsey, but still she was hard to read.
“Hey.” Lindsey replied, feeling hesitant. Maybe just a little bit bitter still. And truth be told, she had no idea why Laura was here.
But then Laura reached out and brushed Lindsey’s cheek with her fingers, the same gesture from days before. Her hand came to rest on the back of Lindsey’s neck, and Lindsey couldn’t help but feel a thrill spark through her.
“Sorry I had to leave.” Laura said. Lindsey waited to see if there was more explanation, but nothing came. Still, it eased some of the tension in her chest, and that's all she needed for now.
“Just wake me up next time.” Lindsey quirked a smile and put a hand on Laura’s waist to pull her closer.
“Okay.” Laura smiled, wide and unguarded, stepping forward to stand between Lindsey’s legs.
“Would you like to come inside?” Lindsey asked, running her fingers through Laura’s hair. Laura leaned in closer to her.
“I really would.” Laura breathed against Lindsey’s neck before placing a kiss on her bare skin.
Some hours after they fell asleep, Lindsey was woken up by Laura shaking her shoulder gently. Lindsey realized pretty quickly that they were both still naked under Lindsey's thin sheet together, Laura against her back.
“Hey.” Laura said, kissing her bare shoulderblade. “I gotta go soon.”
“Hmm.” Lindsey mumbled, leaning into the touch. She felt sleepy but was quickly waking up. Laura’s hand was traveling up and down her bare stomach, brushing the bottom of her breasts—it felt so nice. “Okay.” She breathed, although she kind of wished Laura would either stop touching her or stay. It was going to be hard to let her go as it was.
For a while Laura didn’t say anything, her chin resting on Lindsey’s shoulder and her fingers stroking her skin. “Maybe I can stay a bit longer.” Laura said finally, and Lindsey laughed.
“Not a bad idea.” She said, turning to face Laura.
For a moment they just looked at each other, a few dawn sunbeams shining through the rips in Lindsey’s makeshift curtain over the windshield. Lindsey felt her heart hammer again as she took in the sight of Laura in a strip of sunlight, a bruise from the night before blossoming on her collarbone. She wondered if this would be the last time. She wondered if she should be scared. She wondered if she could trust this.
But there was no way to know any of that now. She leaned in and kissed Laura, wanting to dive in and get lost again. The way Laura rose to meet her—wrapping her arms around Lindsey, a warm hand on the small of her back—made it easy.