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survival of the fittest

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Luke has just collapsed on his bed, ready to nap, when an insistent knock comes at his bedroom door. 

He groans and sits up, heart thudding. It isn’t Helena. She wouldn’t knock. He hopes it isn’t Clark or Jason—in the days since the coup, they’ve annoyed him more than usual. Worse than Clark or Jason, though, would be Campbell, Harry, or Lexie. Mostly Campbell. He hates the fucker, he really does. He hates how he keeps an arm around Elle possessively, hates how he’s always smiling, even when nothing’s funny, but mostly, he hates how he jumped into bed with the guy without really thinking about the consequences. 

Another knock, even more aggressive. 

When Luke stands and opens the door, his stomach turns.

Grizz stares at him, features contorted with anger. 

In the time he’s known Grizz, Luke has never known him to be angry. Frustrated, yes, annoyed or aggravated, aggressive on the football field. 

“Hey, man,” Luke starts, but Grizz holds up a hand. 

“Stay quiet,” Grizz says. “What the hell? I leave for a week, and this happens?”

“I can explain—”

“Oh, can you? Because I’m pretty fucking interested in how you’ll explain locking Allie and Will away in—” Grizz stops. “Where are they?”

Luke considers lying. He’s already done it once—Allie and Will had no intention of stealing the election. He could say they were in his wine cellar. “I don’t know,” he admits instead.

“You don’t know,” Grizz repeats. 

“No.”

“No way they were plotting to steal the election, Luke. No fucking way.” Grizz glares. Luke tries not to wilt under the stare. “Why are you doing this?”

“You aren’t tired of the way things are? All this socialist shit, sharing and everyone working and doing the same thing every day?” The words leave a bitter taste in his mouth. He believes what he’s saying… somewhat. He’s never been sure of what he believed.

“No!” Grizz says. “We’re surviving. We all have to work if we want to live. Nobody here is special, especially with winter coming. We could die.”

“We won’t die.”

“Good to know you’re so confident. Who else is that confident? Jason? Clark?”

“They’re your friends, and—”

“You know they’re both stupid, Luke. I love them, but God, they can be complete morons. You’re better than this.”

“Maybe. But there’s still a place for you in the Guard.” There could be, at least. Clark and Jason said that Grizz hasn’t been with them, not for a long time. Luke has noticed Grizz pulling away—since he was inexplicably absent at Thanksgiving, hell, since prom—but mostly from Clark and Jason. Not him. Not really. 

“No.” Grizz shakes his head. “I don’t think there is.” 

Silence stretches between them.

“You’ll have to be careful,” Luke says. “If you’re not with the Guard…” He swallows hard. Grizz has a strong sense of right and wrong. He’s a protector. He’s friends with Allie and Will. Luke doesn’t think this can end well, but he doesn’t say so.

“Is that a threat?” Grizz asks coldly. 

Luke’s face burns. “No. Just… Campbell and Harry aren’t your biggest fans.”

Grizz quirks an eyebrow. “Good. See you around, Luke.”

Luke opens his mouth to say something else—he isn’t quite sure what—but Grizz strides from his room before he has the chance.

 

 

Two weeks pass. The power shift is rough. Harry and Lexie promised more freedom, but Luke comes to understand that they meant more freedom for them. They get the best food. The best houses. The best jobs. The Guard gets the second best, and everyone else is left striving for favors. There are fires and lootings. Guns appear holstered to peoples’ hips. Fistfights break out. Lexie grows paler every day, and Luke loses his appetite. Despite what Grizz said, Luke, in fact, does not see him around. It starts to worry him. He says so at breakfast with Helena. 

“He was close with Allie,” she says. “Did he like her?”

He furrows his brow. “Like… like her?” 

“God, are we in third grade? Yes, like wanted to make out with her.”

“I don’t think so.” Now that he thinks of it, Grizz always was friends with a lot of girls in high school—slept with a lot of them—but it never seemed like… that with Allie. Or with any of them, not like Clark and Jason chasing girl after girl, each with a bigger pair of tits than the last.

“Maybe he just doesn’t like what’s going on,” Helena says purposefully. 

Luke grimaces and finishes his coffee. 

He can’t stop thinking about Helena’s unsatisfied expression as he goes throughout his tasks; he’s able to push the thoughts away during the day, but at night, when he’s taking his shift guarding the hardware store, they run rampant. He’s lying to Helena. He’s never done that before. They’ve always been truthful with each other, since freshmen when they were friends, since sophomore year when they began dating. He never lied to Grizz, either, and they’ve been best friends since Grizz moved to West Ham in eighth grade. He isn’t a liar.

Except… he is. 

He’s lying about something pretty damn big, and he doesn’t know what the fuck happened to Allie and Will. 

Laughter interrupts his thoughts. Two figures stumble from the darkness, into splashes of light from the streetlamps. Luke’s hand strays to his hip, but then his hand freezes. It’s Grizz, walking with… Sam Eliot. That doesn’t make sense. Luke doesn’t know much about Sam, except that the kid who came out as gay during Luke’s junior year apparently fathered a baby. As far as he knows, Grizz and Sam were friendly, but not friends during high school. Luke listens and watches. 

Grizz walks backwards, facing Sam. “Okay, so teaching me sign language.” 

“You’re hopeless,” Sam says. “A completely lost cause.”

“Shut up. I’m very smart.”

“Oh, yes, very smart.”

“One phrase. The one we talked about. Show me how to sign in.”

Sam shakes his head, grinning. “Like this.” He waves his hands in what Luke is pretty sure is a random assortment of motions, then raises his middle finger. Grizz honest-to-God giggles , a grin splitting across his face. The only time Luke has ever heard him do that is when he’s drunk, but Grizz doesn’t have the drunk wobble. 

“That’s not how you sign it,” Grizz says. 

“Oh, but it is,” Sam replies. 

“You’re being dumb.”

You’re being dumb, I’m very smart. BSL?”

“I didn’t think it was that different—” 

“Imagine that I spoke French, and you learned German.”

Grizz giggles again. “Okay, okay, I think I get it. Here’s how you sign it.” Grizz moves his hands in a rapid flurry, then flips Sam off with both hands. They dissolve into laughter. Luke has never seen him smile so wide, even when they won districts. He swallows hard, then with a quick whistle, waves. 

Grizz tenses, his smile falling. After looking at Grizz’s face, Sam’s expression changes as he takes in the surrounding area, including the hardware store. Sam’s gaze falls on Luke; he taps Grizz’s shoulder and points at Luke. 

“Hey,” Luke calls, approaching them.

Grizz scrunches his nose. “Hi.” 

“What are you guys up to?”

Sam narrows his eyes at Luke. 

“Just a walk,” Grizz says. 

“Unless my brother made that illegal,” Sam adds. Grizz glares at him. Sam shrugs. 

Luke exhales. “Campbell isn’t unreasonable…”

“Campbell is a psychopath ,” Sam says. “I said this before.”

“Okay,” Grizz interrupts. “We’re going home—to our respective homes, fuck. Sam, you have your child to take care of?” 

“I didn’t mean to…” Luke starts. “I mean, walking is just—”

“Goodnight, Luke,” Grizz says. As they walk away, Sam rests a hand on Grizz’s lower back, just for a moment. 

Huh , Luke thinks. That’s interesting.

He goes back to guarding the hardware store, thoughts racing.

 

#

 

Two months have passed with Harry and Lexie—and therefore Campbell—in charge. 

Luke has said nothing about his lie. He knows nothing of where Allie and Will are. He just… exists. Like now. He’s at a meeting with the Guard at the church, with Harry and Lexie and Campbell lurking in the corner. They’re talking about… something. Luke isn’t paying attention. It’s always about rules and power and order with them. Luke has always been very good at doing what he was told—his elementary school teachers always said that to his parents—but this feels different. Simply put, he doesn’t want to do what Campbell says. 

“Are we boring you, Luke?”

The question jolts Luke out of his haze. Campbell’s staring at him, a half-grin playing across his face. Luke’s jaw twitches.

“I’ll say it again.” Campbell leans his elbows on the podium. “Are we boring you?”

“No,” Luke forces himself to say. “No, I’m just tired.” 

“Well, wake up. We’re talking about curfews and food limits. Now, we need to decide who eats and who doesn’t.” His smile widens. “I think it’s simple.”

The rest of the meeting passes in a blur. He tries to entertain himself by searching for any semblance of similarity between Campbell and Sam Eliot, but it’s sobering rather than fun. It’s dark outside once it ends, and after, a bunch of the guys from the Guard—including Clark and Jason—head toward Harry’s, but Luke tucks his hands in his pockets and walks in the opposite direction. He isn’t completely sure where he’s walking, but it isn’t home to Helena. He’s had a hard time looking her in the eye since this all began. He’s had a hard time in general, even if he doesn’t feel like he deserves to say so. Other people have certainly had it worse—because of his actions, though. He never really thought about consequences in high school. That was more Grizz’s department. He was a doer, not a thinker. Helena’s the same, really. He misses having someone to help him process his thoughts.

After walking for about half an hour, he finds himself outside a house.

Becca’s house, where he knows Sam Eliot is living. He has a theory.

He strides forward and knocks before he loses his courage. The porch light flips on as someone pulls the door open. 

“Thank God you’re back, Sam was trying to cook and the pan started—” Grizz’s smile falls. “You’re not Becca.”

“No.” Luke tucks his hands into his coat pockets. “I’m not.” 

Theory confirmed. 

“Hey, is that…” Sam stops smiling as he joins Grizz at the door. “Oh.”

Suddenly, Luke is very, very tired of people frowning when he appears. “I just… I just came to let you know that, uh, your name came up when we all met. They’re scared of people… rebelling and causing trouble.”

Sam scoffs. “What is this? Star Wars ?”

Grizz signs something. He’s gotten better since the last time Luke saw them, it seems.

“His name is literally Luke,” Sam says, signing rather petulantly. 

“Don’t bring Luke Skywalker into this,” Grizz mutters. Sam arches an eyebrow. He turns back to Luke. “What were you saying?”

“Something, uh, pretty serious. All this shit that you’re doing with Kelly and Gordie? Secret meetings, trying to find Allie, trying to find more land and a way to get out of here? People are noticing. Campbell is noticing. Campbell...” He glances at Sam. “He wants to do something. I’m not sure what.”

Grizz’s face contorts. “Do you think you’re helping us? Who’s side are you on, Luke? What the fuck? You go to their meetings, and then you come here? Are you going to run back to them and tell them what I say?”

Luke barely registers what he says. He does notice, though, that Grizz has gotten into the habit of signing as he speaks. 

Grizz is gearing up to keep talking—Luke recognizes that from English class—but Sam puts his hand on Grizz’s shoulder. 

“Thank you,” he says to Luke. “We’ll be more careful. For real. Good night.” 

Sam closes the door, leaving Luke in the dark and cold. 

Luke walks back to his car, lingering for a moment. Warm golden light pours from the window. Grizz appears in the glass, back to the street, and curves a hand over the back of his neck. Sam approaches him and touches Grizz’s cheek. Luke’s heart thuds as Sam’s fingers travel upward, as he brushes Grizz’s hair from his eyes. 

Oh , Luke thinks. 

He gets in his car and drives home. 

 

#

 

Luke can’t fall asleep that night. 

Helena snores lightly next to him, but he stares at the ceiling, thinking about Grizz and Sam in the window, Sam’s hand running through Grizz’s hair. That went beyond friendship. But Grizz wasn’t… he played football. He knew Grizz. He set Grizz up with girls, and Grizz went on dates with those girls. He slept with some of those girls. Yet he never seemed enthused about any of them, or about girls in general—like when Luke, Jason, and Clark compared actresses, he always seemed conveniently distracted. Luke just thought he was too smart for that… but he remembers Grizz’s eyes lingering on an opposing team’s quarterback for a moment longer, insisting they watched every movie Chris Hemsworth was ever in, or saying that he never saw himself marrying a woman. 

Oh.  

Grizz sees himself marrying a man. 

Luke sits bolt upright. 

“Babe,” he says. Helena groans and stirs in her sleep. “Babe, wake up.”

“What do you want?” she mumbles. 

“Grizz is gay.”

“Good for him.” She freezes for a moment. Then, she props herself onto one elbow and reaches to turn on the lamp. “Grizz? Like, your best friend Grizz?”

“Yeah. That one.” Shit, Luke thinks. “Sam,” he says aloud. “He’s sleeping with Sam Eliot.” He blinks. Campbell’s brother. Of all the people… 

“Sam’s the father of Becca’s baby,” Helena adds, interrupting his thoughts. 

“Shit.” Luke groans and runs a hand through his hair. “Babe, is Grizz a homewrecker?” 

“That doesn’t seem like him.” 

“He never told me.” Hurt twinges in Luke’s chest. “I thought we were close enough for him to tell me. Shit, but at prom, he said he never was gonna see any of us after graduation.” 

“Babe, I don’t know what to tell you. I think you need to talk to Grizz.”

“Right now?”

“No, not right now. It’s four in the morning.”

Luke holds his head in his hands. “I can’t talk to him. I can’t…” He exhales. He shouldn’t have lied all those months ago. If he were a good person, he’d come clean, but everything has gone so far. Harry, Lexie, and Campbell keep a tight hold on power. “I can’t, Helena. He’s still mad at me, he still thinks I’m lying, he’s still…” Right , his mind supplies. He’s still right. 

“You’ll figure it out.” Helena kisses his cheek and curls up at his side. 

Luke lays down again, closing his eyes.

He doesn’t sleep.

 

#

 

Luke hates town meetings.

They have them weekly, even when temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, first in lazy flurries and later with more vigor. Today, people stumble in, faces bright red from the cold, and shed layers before taking a place on the pew. Luke stands to the side, masking a yawn. He hasn’t been sleeping well. Nightmares. Nobody will tell him where Allie and Will are, and that manifests in dreams where he finds their frozen corpses or they scream terrible things at him. Those are better than the ones in which Helena says she hates him. They all suck, though. 

He looks up to find Helena staring at him. He offers her a small smile, then turns his gaze to the door. Grizz is walking in, Sam at his side. He wonders where Becca in, then realizes this is not the weather to take a baby for an excursion. Sam smiles as Grizz signs something almost confidently. Luke tries to catch Grizz’s eye, but he’s only looking at Sam. Instead, Luke looks to Campbell. His stomach sinks. Campbell, too, is watching Grizz and Sam, a predatory gleam in his dark eyes. His hand strays to a lump near his hip. The sensation in Luke’s stomach intensifies. Since when has Campbell carried so openly? What has changed?

“Okay, let’s get started,” Lexie says. Next to her, Harry nods. His pupils are dilated, eyes bloodshot. He’s high as a fucking kite— in a church. Luke’s never been religious, but he knows Helena adores the church and doesn’t appreciate Harry’s shit.

Topics comes and go. Luke’s gotten good at tuning Harry and Lexie out. When he tunes back in, though, it’s to Lexie’s voice. 

“With the, uh, snow getting worse, we’re, uh…” Lexie’s eyes flick to Harry. He’s staring into open space. “We…”

“Let me help. I know this is difficult.” Campbell grins and comes to Lexie’s side, putting a hand on her lower back. “We’re all freezing our asses off, and there isn’t enough food. So, we’ll have to prioritize and change rations. Guard members, Council, and our good co-mayors will be getting top priority. From there on, we’ll have to decide how to distribute food.”

Shouts instantly break out. Helena looks to Luke. Did you know? she mouths. He sets his jaw. No. He didn’t. Judging from the smug grins Clark and Jason wear, they did. 

Campbell whistles. “Hey! I didn’t fucking say that we’ll starve people. You do more work, you get more food. Simple and merit-based. You wanna eat? Earn it.”

How, Luke thinks, does one earn food humanely? He’s not a socialist, but it seems pretty shitty that they’re all in this winter together and some people get more because of a title. Kelly and Gordie aren’t Council or Guard, but they keep the town alive and will suffer because of this. Campbell’s friends will eat. Harry’s and Lexie’s will, too. 

“Does anyone have a problem with this?” Campbell asks, voice dangerous. 

At first, everyone is silent. Motionless.

Then, Sam Eliot stands. 

“Yeah,” he says. “This is bullshit.” 

“Wow.” Campbell smiles. “Bullshit? That’s strong language, little brother.” 

Sam signs something, moving from his seat. Campbell’s speaking and Sam’s moving his hands furiously, but Luke looks elsewhere. Grizz is pale, his eyes wide and terrified. 

“I know you don’t want to start something with me,” Campbell says smoothly. Luke thinks about stepping in. His feet stay where they are. “Your little baby mama wouldn’t want trouble, would she? Or your baby? Eden, right? I bet they need a lot of food. And it’s so kind of us not to force her to walk through the snow.”

Sam meets Campbell’s stare. “Is that a threat?” he asks. 

Campbell signs something, and Sam recoils. Grizz curses and stands. 

“That’s enough,” he says. Grizz stands and positions himself between Campbell and Sam. The church is silent. Like this, it’s impossible not to notice how big Grizz is. Usually, Grizz hunches or curls in on himself, but he has drawn himself to his full height, squared his shoulders, and lifted his chin. Defensive line, Luke remembers. 

“Wow, Visser, you’ve finally grown a pair.” Campbell reaches behind him and produces a gun. He aims it at Grizz, a smiling creeping across his lips. 

Luke flinches. Grizz doesn’t. Behind him, Sam tries to move in front of Grizz and pull him away, but Grizz stands steady. Luke creeps toward him; if Campbell fires, he can tackle one of them. Grizz, he thinks instinctually, but the smarter choice would be getting Sam out of the line of fire. He’s seen Grizz dodge hits and trusts his athleticism. But Campbell wouldn’t shoot him in church in front of everyone. Would he?

Moments pass.

Nobody breathes. 

Nobody speaks. 

“Not here,” Grizz says. “Don’t do this here.” 

Campbell’s grin widens. “It would be a nightmare to get the blood out, right?” 

“Campbell,” Sam says. His voice trembles. He holds Grizz’s shoulders, fingers digging what Luke would think to be painfully deep into his skin. “Please.” 

“What was that?”

Please. Stop. I’m sorry. Please put the gun away.”

“Okay, okay, you’ve convinced me. But I’ll remember this, and one day, we’ll settle the matter. Stay on your toes.” Campbell shoves the gun into his waistband. “Not today, then.” He raises his index finger and thumb in a mock gun, then mouths bang. Sam flinches and closes his eyes. “Meeting over!” Campbell shouts. 

People scramble from the pews faster than Luke has ever seen, but Grizz and Sam remain frozen. Nobody watches them—except Luke, that is—as they move to face each other. As a single tear slides down Grizz’s cheek. As Sam presses his hand to his mouth. As their eyes meet and they both nod slightly. 

Luke elbows through the crowd until he reaches them and lays a hand on Grizz’s shoulder. Grizz flinches and turns to look at him, but doesn’t move away. Sam’s gaze bores into Luke, but he pushes on.

“You okay?” he asks. 

“Fine,” Grizz says curtly. 

Neither one of them says anything. Luke thinks, rather desperately, that he misses Grizz. They were inseparable in high school, in the beginning of this. Grizz is his best friend. They don’t sit around and gossip like girls, but Grizz knows a lot about Luke, and Luke knows pretty much everything about Grizz—or so he thought. 

Someone snaps. “Luke!” Campbell’s voice. Luke’s stomach turns. 

“I…” Luke starts. 

“I understand,” Grizz says. “You’ve decided how you want to live.” 

No, he thinks, studying his feet. I don’t think I have. 

By the time he looks up with the courage to say as much, Grizz and Sam are gone, and Campbell is watching. Waiting.

“Careful,” Campbell says once Luke approaches him. “People may start to question whose side you’re on.”

“I’m here for the town,” Luke says. 

Campbell arches a brow. “Like I told Grizz—on your toes.”

 

#

 

Luke has a shit few days after the meeting. He doesn’t like taking food from people, but he has to do it (a small voice in his head reminds him that he doesn’t , that he could stand up to Lexie and Harry and Campbell like Grizz did). They shout. They swear and call him names. Helena, too, is in a bad mood. He doesn’t know why. There’s distance between them. She looks at him like she doesn’t know him, sometimes. She and Elle are spending the night with Gwen. 

That’s why he flinches when someone pounds on his front door. 

He sighs. If it’s Harry or Lexie… he’ll deal with it. If it’s Campbell… God, he hopes it isn’t Campbell. He can’t deal with that. 

The knock comes again. Maybe it’s Grizz, or Helena home early. Luke stumbles from the kitchen table to the door and wrenches it open.

Sam Eliot’s on his front porch. Luke instantly notices three things. 

One. Tears stain his cheek, with more beaded around his red-rimmed eyes. His lower lip trembles like he’s about to start crying again. 

Two. He’s in constant motion. He’s rocking on his heels, stepping from foot to foot. 

Three. He’s covered in blood. It coats his fingers, his palms, his forearms. It’s splattered across his shirt and jeans and neck; there’s a faint streak across his jawline. 

“Are you okay?” Luke asks. Stupid question , he thinks. 

“I didn’t know who else I could come to,” Sam says. As he signs, his hands shake. “Grizz… Campbell… I need help.” 

“Wait…” Luke struggles to understand. “What?”

Sam closes his eyes and exhales. “Becca is getting Kelly. I’m getting you.”

“Why?”

“There’s… there’s…” Sam signs—maybe it’s just gesturing—anxiously. “There’s a bullet in his shoulder, one in his chest. Kelly can’t get anaesthetics, but she has to get them out.”

Comprehension washes over him. “You need me to hold him down.” 

“I don’t trust you…” Sam swallows hard. “But he does. He’s said that he trusts you. We could use a Guard member.” 

“Okay.” Luke dashes inside and grabs his keys off the table. “I’ll drive.”

He fumbles the keys once, twice, before getting them into the ignition and starting the car. Sam bounces his leg in the front seat. Luke speeds through the empty streets, trying not to think of bullets lodged in his best friend’s body. 

“Who shot him?” he asks, turning his head so Sam can read his lips. 

“I don’t know,” Sam says. “He went for a jog, and when he came back he just… collapsed. There were bruises on his face. His lip was split.” He looks out the window, tears pooling in his eyes. “I think it was Campbell.” 

Luke tightens his grip on the steering wheel and speeds up; the headlights spill over the road. They don’t speak for the rest of the drive. 

He brakes hard in Becca’s driveway, but the car is barely stopped when Sam leaps out. He sprints inside; Luke takes a deep breath before following him through the front door. Pained moans come from the kitchen. Luke freezes in the threshold. 

Red stains the kitchen tiles. A lot of red. Once, Jason got a nosebleed during a game and bled all over his jersey, but this is different. This is too much fucking blood. Becca and Kelly are kneeling in it, crouched over a body. Grizz, laid out on a towel. More blood puddles around Sam’s shoes as he stands by the window, hand curled over the back of his neck. Luke can’t look away from Grizz. His limbs jerk, and his breaths come in terrible, wet grunts. The worst part is that he’s still conscious. His eyes dart back and forth, lingering on Luke. 

“Grizz,” Luke manages. 

Grizz shudders. His eyes flutter closed. Sam’s face crumples. 

“Oh, fuck,” Luke says. “Will he… is he gonna…” 

“We can’t ask questions right now,” Kelly interrupts. “Luke, Sam, hold him.” 

Becca signs something to Sam, who looks about two second from breaking down. He shakes his head. She signs something more vigorously. 

“Hey, man,” Luke says. “Hold his head. He needs you right now.” 

All eyes turn to him. Luke looks at Grizz instead—his bruised and sweat-soaked face, his discarded shirt, the blood oozing sluggishly from the bullet wounds. Sam sits cross-legged next to him, pulling Grizz’s head onto his lap and pushing matted hair away from Grizz’s face.

  “This won’t be easy,” Kelly says. “Becca and I will be getting the bullets out. One went clean through, but the others are still lodged in there. You have to keep him still, Luke. Keep his arms down. Legs, too. Ready?”

Luke isn’t. He doesn’t say so. Sam moves to the side so Luke can pin Grizz’s arms to the ground Grizz’s chest heaves. 

“I’m sorry, bud,” Luke mutters. “I’m so sorry.” 

Kelly sterilizes these things that look like tweezers—although it feels wrong to call them tweezers. Helena uses tweezers to pluck her eyebrows. Kelly’s about to remove bullets. Luke holds Grizz’s arm’s down; Sam whispers something before holding Grizz’s legs. Kelly closes her eyes, then bends over Grizz, the tweezers raised. 

She plunges them into his shoulder. 

Grizz grunts and moves under Luke’s grasp. “Stay still, stay still, stay still,” Luke murmurs. Kelly grimaces and digs the tool in deeper. Grizz’s breaths grow ragged, and Sam scrunches his eyes shut. Her hand shaking, Kelly pulls a bullet from his body and deposits it into the small dish that Becca holds. 

“One down,” Becca says. She squeezes Sam’s knee. He doesn’t relax. 

Kelly exhales. “One to go.” 

She bends over his chest and sinks the tweezers in. Grizz trembles, but he doesn’t fight. Sam’s eyes are still closed. Slowly, Kelly extracts the second bullet. Something in Luke’s chest settles. Both bullets are out. Grizz will be okay. 

But Kelly isn’t smiling.

“Okay.” Kelly doesn’t move her mouth as she speaks. “I think the bullet was pressed against a damaged blood vessel.”

“Which means?” Luke says. 

“Blood.” A tear trickles down her cheek. “A lot of it. He’s, um, about to start bleeding.”

Grizz goes still. Too still.  

Sam opens his eyes.

Blood gushes from Grizz’s chest. 

“Sam, out of the room,” Kelly says. Becca signs it. Sam shakes his head. Kelly sighs. “Luke, get him out of here.”

“But—” Luke starts. 

“I don’t think he’ll move, and I need Becca. Please. Now . ” 

Luke grabs Sam’s shoulders and guides him out of the room, into the bathroom. He spares a glance at Grizz over his shoulder. Please be okay, dude. He flips on the sink and shoves Sam’s bloodied hands under the water. Sam’s crying silently. 

“He’ll be okay,” Luke says. He doesn’t know if he believes it. 

“He tried to call me,” Sam says. “I didn’t see the light flash or feel it vibrate. I just felt the cold air when the door opened. He stood there for a moment and we looked at each other. Then he collapsed. That’s when I saw that he’d been shot. I looked outside and saw a trail of blood. I realized… I realized that he walked the whole way home. After my brother shot him.”

Luke tries to push the terrible image of Grizz stumbling home through the snow out of his mind. “Are you sure it was Campbell?” Luke asks instead.

Sam nods. “The…” His voice breaks. He signs four letters—Luke knows the ASL alphabet, but not much more. B, I, R, D. “The bird,” Sam whispers. “It was Campbell.” 

Luke has no idea what that means. Sam sounds certain, though. 

They stand in the bathroom together, neither one speaking. Minutes pass. Sam is still crying, silent. Luke sits on the floor, head tipped back. Grizz could be dying. Grizz could be dead. And they’ve been fighting. Grizz could die while they were still mad at each other. 

Becca comes into the room, blood staining the front of her shirt. “Kelly stopped the bleeding and stitched him up,” she says, signing as she speaks. “He’ll be okay.”

Sam buries his face in his hands. His shoulders shake. Luke exhales. He’s not religious, no, but he thinks God was looking out for them tonight. Grizz will be okay, and now, he has Becca and Kelly. He has Sam. 

“I should go,” Luke says quietly.

Sam clears his throat. “You could…”

“Not tonight. I can move him to bed, but after that I should go. I should…” He looks at the faint traces of blood on his hands. Campbell made his best friend bleed. Things… things need to change. “I’ll visit tomorrow.” He looks to Sam. “Take care of him tonight. He needs you.”

 

#

 

But Luke doesn’t visit tomorrow. Or the day after. Or the day after that. Four days after he watched Kelly dig bullets out of his best friend’s torso, Helena snatches his phone out of his hand and says, “Go see him.” 

That’s how Luke finds himself trudging through the snow toward Becca’s house, thinking about how fucked up everything is. Campbell shot someone. Grizz could’ve died. He knew that Campbell was a psychopath… but he never admitted how true it was. Campbell will run New Ham to ruin. He knows that now, and he has to do something. 

He knocks on Becca’s front door.

Grizz answers it. 

Luke means to say hi or something similar. Instead, he says, “Why the fuck are you out of bed? You got shot!”

“Four days ago,” Grizz says. “That’s ages ago.”

Luke glances over Grizz’s shoulder and sees Sam approaching, hands spread in the universal what the fuck? gesture. 

“I think your boyfriend disagrees,” Luke says. 

“My…” Grizz turns, eyes widening.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Sam says. “Bed!” 

“You know?” Grizz asks. “How the hell do you know?”

Luke sighs. “We need to talk.”

Grizz blinks, swaying on his feet. “Okay. Can we do that, like, on my bed?”

“I told you to rest. Kelly and Gordie told you to rest,” Sam says, guiding Grizz toward a bedroom. Luke lingers behind as Sam helps Grizz into bed. They’re sweet together, he thinks. Sam ducks his head, though, as he passes Luke, like he did when they were in high school. Like they didn’t spend the better part of a night in a bathroom worrying about Grizz. 

Luke catches Sam’s shoulder. “He’s high maintenance, right?”

Sam chuckles. “You can say that again.”

“I, uh… anything you need. I’ll keep Campbell away from you.” 

His eyes cloud, but he nods gratefully. “Thank you.”

He leaves. Luke shuffles into the room and sits on the edge of Grizz’s bed, the mattress dipping. Grizz doesn’t meet his eye.

“He’s a nice guy,” Luke says quietly. 

Grizz nods, gaze downcast.

“Do you love him?” Luke asks. 

Grizz nods again. 

Luke thinks of the baby, of Becca. Of Campbell. “Lots of strings attached.”

“Knots have a way of untangling themselves,” Grizz says.

Luke chuckles. “Dude, that’s fucking cryptic.”

Grizz shrugs, then winces. “Bullets hurt ,” he says.

“It was Campbell?”

“Yeah.” Grizz closes his eyes. “It was. I was just glad it wasn’t Sam. If I had to see him like that… I just…”

Luke puts himself and Helena into their shoes. He imagines bullets riddling her body. 

“I’m so sorry, man,” Luke blurts. “I was lying. Allie and Will were never planning to steal the election. I got scared, man, I don’t know. Clark and Jason were spouting this bullshit, and I was scared about losing power and not being able to make decisions, and I just… fuck, Grizz, I really fucked up. I really, really fucked up, and you got shot.”

Grizz exhales. “Yeah,” he says. “You fucked up.”

Luke snorts. “Thanks.”

“But I know you aren’t a bad guy, Luke. You want to do the right thing.”

“I…”

“You do. You’ve been trying to do the right thing, right?”

“Yes. Yes, absolutely.”

Grizz holds his gaze. “I don’t think it’s too late to fix this.”

“You don’t?”

“People have been… talking. Me, Sam, and Becca obviously. Kelly and Gordie. Gwen. A few others. We want to find Allie and Will and make things right. We could use someone on the inside, someone who knows what’s going on in the Guard. With Campbell.”

Luke considers saying no. It’s on the tip of his tongue. No. But when he thinks about everything that has happened over the past few weeks, about the nightmares and lies to Helena and blood. He knows there’s only one thing to say.

“Of course,” Luke says. “We need to fix this.”

They talk for a few minutes longer before Luke decides to go. He says his goodbye and heads for the door, but Grizz clears his throat. Luke turns around.

“I missed you, man,” Grizz says.

Impossibly, Luke smiles. “I missed you, too.”

#

 

There’s a meeting that afternoon at two. Luke shows up at two-thirty. 

“Where have you been?” Campbell asks once Luke walks into the church. “You’re late.”

“I had other commitments,” Luke says. 

Luke holds Campbell’s gaze for a moment. 

“Other commitments,” Campbell repeats. “Interesting.”

Luke doesn’t zone out during the meeting. He listens to every word, pinpoints every problem, and thinks of solutions and ways to counteract their shit policies. He mentally lists where Campbell could be keeping Allie and Will and makes a plan to find them. When Campbell speaks, Luke grinds his teeth to keep from speaking. You shot my best friend , he thinks. You shot him, and you’re going to pay for it. 

He’d always focused on survival, but the Guard wasn’t how he’d do it. Not anymore.  

For the first time in his life, perhaps, Luke was going to do things his way.