RP [Miro] You and Me


New member
[High School]

The sun’s light cascaded down onto the earth below and shone through the various cracks in the orange and red leaves of the trees. The leaves had only just begun to fall, and nearly all of the trees were bare due to the oncoming cold weather. Winter was coming, and probably relatively quicker than Arthur had anticipated. Even though it was in the late afternoon, it still felt to be in the lower fifties outside. A puff of white air faded into the world around as Arthur exhaled out with each breath he took. He had been able to find himself a long-sleeved button-up shirt, and beneath it was a long-sleeved white shirt. Covering his button-up shirt was a heavy, dark brown overcoat. He had been forced to change his old blue jeans for some newer ones due to the old ones having numerous holes in them. Underneath his usual worn brown boots were a pair of thick grey wool socks.

The old man glanced up at the blue sky above him and wiped a band across his brow. Was it strange for a man like him to actually sweat in cold weather? Probably. However, even before the outbreak Arthur had found ways to sweat even in the coldest of weather conditions. When he was younger, his mother would often scold him for taking his warm coat off during the day, and for good reason - he would catch a cold almost every time he did. Now, being older, he had learned how to deal and cope with his unrelenting bodily heat, and he never took his coat off because of those old memories. It had saved his life in the past from being bitten by the Ophies. A deep sigh came from his lips as he blinked and looked back down the direction in front of him.

He hadn’t ridden a horse for quite some time and his ass was way past being sore. Though he felt relatively comfortable and the muscle memory aided him when they were being attacked. Arthur had been able to steal at least one horse from some small group of scavengers and he made sure to pull Addison onto the horse along for the ride to escape. That had been two days ago. Arthur glanced backward to check and see if she had fallen asleep or if she was actually still awake. He had made sure to ride nonstop and had decided to finally come to a stop once they reached a nearby house or city.

Arthur thought about the first time he had even met Addison, the young woman who had snuck into a place where he had taken refuge for the night and attempted to steal his shit. He had caught her by gripping her wrist tightly, and he had aimed his spare handgun upwards to shoot and kill the unknown thief, pausing to pull the trigger once he realized it was a young girl. He had been both pissed and shocked. If she had been any older, he would have followed through with his attack. However, Arthur doesn’t kill kids. He could never bring himself to and broke down in tears when he shot one a few years back. He had made sure not to lose his grip on her as he stood from his knelt position, stuffed his handgun in the back of his pants, and tied her hands behind her back before she could do any damage to him. The next day he woke up and decided to let her go because he couldn’t deal with kids (well, at least he thought he couldn’t despite wanting some of his own). He had basically shoved her towards the door and just as he was about to push her out, a bullet whizzed past his head. In a rush, he had yanked her backward and knelt down near the back of the wall after having slammed the door shut. After the battle with their enemy, Arthur had decided that he would keep her around until he found a place to leave her. That had happened four months ago and he had found that the more time he spent with her, especially in the heat of battle, he needed to protect her. Even though he didn’t want to let her go, Arthur had still decided that he would leave the young girl with an old friend he knew had a place hidden out somewhere in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The old man knew that she would be safe there, so long as the place was still being held by that certain individual. Though, he hadn’t told Addison any of his plans to leave here. He kept it to himself in the back of his mind. It would still take them a long while until they reached Tennessee since they were on the furthest side of Georgia, even on horseback.

Another sigh came from the old man as he turned to look back toward their destination. There was a large high school made from red bricks and Arthur was honestly a bit surprised that they hadn’t been caught by bandits, or the infected yet. They were probably hidden inside…. Arthur knew that he and his young companion would handle whatever was inside...but that didn’t mean that he feared for her life whenever they killed unwanted guests. He blinked as he wondered how far they were from the city of Atlanta and Arthur glanced back at Addison. He had given her the map way before they stole the horse.

Addison had been tightly grasping the older man’s waist in her sleep as the horse trotted along. The right side of her face rested on his back and the hood of her dark green winter jacket was pulled around her head snugly enough to keep her warm, though her breath still escaped in small bursts. There wasn’t exactly a wide variety of clothes to wear, so Addison stuck with what she had: a pair of ripped jeans with her t-shirt and flannel over top. It wasn’t a lot, but it was good enough.

Addison opened and rubbed her eyes as she felt Arthur turn around, looking up at him after he turned back around. He was thinking about something, she could tell. She took a moment to look at their surroundings and see what was going on. It was getting colder outside, meaning winter would be coming soon. Addison gave a short, stifled yawn. “Are we stopping soon?” she asked in a groggy voice. “My ass hurts from sitting on this horse for so long.”

As Arthur turned back around, Addison suddenly wondered if they were lost. It wasn’t the worst thing to happen, but it would certainly suck like hell. She felt something crinkle and looked down, seeing the map crumpled up against her jacket. That was frustrating. Addison pulled it out and flattened it as best she could before reaching forward to pass it on to Arthur. “Here, I don’t wanna hold this. I can’t even read a map.” She looked at the high school up ahead and furrowed her brow. If all those movies were right, it was a good thing she wouldn’t have to experience high school. It seemed like hell.

Addison never had an easy time in school. She hated having class and was known for ditching as often as possible as well as for picking fights. Everyone was an idiot, an asshole, or both. Her mother came down often for Addison’s misconduct, which was probably one of the reasons why they fought so much. Addison’s only friend was her father, and it was more than likely that he was dead considering how long it had been since the outbreak.

While remembering school incidents, Addison cupped her hands together and blew her breath over her fingers to warm them. Her nose and cheeks were rosy from the cold already.

Arthur perked up a bit when he heard a soft yawn and a few groggy questions come from his sleeping companion. He glanced back at her a bit and nodded, mumbling “Yeah, I was thinking about checking out the high school for supplies and maybe staying the night there if we can’t find anywhere better.”

He turned and made a clicking noise from his mouth and their horse quickened its pace towards the school. After a few moments, once they were in the old parking lot, Arthur heard something like paper crinkle and suddenly he was being offered the crumpled map. He took it from Addison’s hand and muttered a low “thanks,” before he stopped the horse to spread the paper. It seemed like Addison had tried to straighten the large piece of paper out for him. It took him a moment, but the old man was finally able to find the spot they were at in Georgia. It would be at least a day or two before they even reached Atlanta. They might as well stock up on what they could. Slipping off the horse, the much older male lifted the reins over the horse’s head and held them close to him. A light breeze made him shudder a bit as he looked up at Addison, asking “You wanna ride him while I guide him to the flagpole. Do you want to get off and walk with me?”

Addison stared at the high school while Arthur looked at the map. She began to lose herself in old memories from before. Perhaps things would have still been shitty if the outbreak never happened, or maybe she would have lived with a family that reformed itself from terrible traditions of the past. It was one of those things that she would have to live with not knowing, and Addison was fine with that. Deep in her heart, she knew that things wouldn't have worked out in the end. Life isn't always shits and giggles.

Addison was ripped from her thoughts as Arthur got off the horse and held the reins tightly, asking if she wanted to ride him over. Her eyes wandered to the horse, looking at his dark black eyes and down the smooth snout, all the way down to a tender pink nose. It was such a magnificent beast to look at, but it also felt as though it was dangerous to sit on top of him without Arthur being there as well. Addison shook her head and slid off the back of the creature carefully, keeping her hand on his side and feeling him breathe as he waited to move forward again. She lifted her hand to pull her jacket tighter around herself as a breeze blew through. I'm already sick of being cold, Addison thought to herself bitterly as she walked alongside Arthur and the horse. Her gaze drifted over to the school, observing the area. It gave the appearance of being abandoned, but it was never safe to assume so. If that thought wasn't learned quickly, it either resulted in life or death. "Should I go in and start looking?" Addison asked, but she didn't really wait for a reply. She started walking towards the front door with her pistol in her hands and a sharp eye on the windows. Some of them were cracked or missing panes, but others were simply filthy with a lack of cleanliness.

As he looked at her, Arthur noticed that she must've been really cold. He decided to keep a mental note to find her a large, thick coat sometime. Arthur watched carefully as the young woman got off the horse, even lifted one of his hands to hover somewhat close to her in case she fell. When she didn't, he blinked and pulled the horse over next to the bent-over flagpole.

"Should I go in and start looking?" Her question and the sudden rush of her footsteps going closer to the large high school made Arthur flip his head to the side, making him do a double-take to see the young woman's back get further away from him.

He had started to reach for her, even though she was too far away from him, and let out an exasperated sigh of frustration as he called put to her, "Hold on a minute-- Addison, Wait--" When he saw that she was close to the set of different windows, he muttered out a, "Goddammit..."

Quickly tying the reins of the horse to the flagpole, Arthur jogged to her with a frown on his face. "What did I tell you about runnin' into places without me nearby?" He demanded as he pulled out his small revolver before he placed his free hand on the dark green window seal, careful not to cut his hand on the broken glass, and launched his feet onto the other side. The smells of decay from the wood and whatever dead bodies lay around filled Arthur's nose. He clicked his flashlight on and looked around as he walked further down the hallway, his boots squeaking against the dirty, tan tiled flooring below him. He stopped after a few steps to make sure the few dead bodies were truly dead and turned to Addison.

"Stay near me, alright? It looks like the ceiling and floor are going to fall through at some point..." He stated as he glanced further down the hallway, where a large pothole was located.

Addison stopped at the first school window as she heard Arthur telling her to wait. She peeked through the window and saw nothing but rotting bodies and some damage to the room from lack of care. There was debris scattered everywhere on the already filthy floor, whether it was broken wood or blood from the dead. Glass was all over the place. The smell was flat-out awful - it stung her nose. Though it was a stench she had smelled often over past years, it was a rancid odor that she would never get used to. Addison followed after Arthur, carefully mirroring what he did to avoid stepping on glass. Once she did make it through the window, there was a crunch as the glass was crunched. There was something oddly satisfying about it.

Addison pulled out her pistol and knife, grasping the knife in her left hand and holding it underneath the butt of the pistol. She glanced at Arthur as he spoke sharply to her, reminding her not to go without him, and merely gave a shrug in response. "I can handle myself," Addison muttered bitterly. "I'm not a dumb kid." She peered around a corner, examining a room carefully. It looked to be an old dusty science classroom, filled with cracked beakers and sinks. Textbooks lined the countertops, pages torn and some stuffed back inside. From what it seemed, the place was completely abandoned. There wasn't much evidence of anyone being there recently. "I don't see anything here."

Arthur glanced back at her as he walked a bit further down the seemingly empty hallway. He forced himself not to roll his eyes at her muttered words-- Arthur didn't think she was dumb. In fact, what he thought was the complete opposite. Addison was very smart and quick thinking. Arthur was just worried about her getting into a situation where he couldn't help her. Could he say all that to her now? No. Because he had no idea how he could possibly explain that to her. He wasn't sure if he was even communicating with her properly other than giving commands and scolding her in the form of a yell. Arthur shut his eyes and rubbed them with his thumb and forefinger. He really needed some sleep. Ever since they had taken that horse, the man hadn't gotten more than two hours of sleep and he had woken up to catch himself from falling to the ground a couple of times.

Just before he opened his eyes, sounds of strange, light groaning and whistle noises caught his ears, as well as approaching footsteps. "Shit," he whispered as he quickly backtracked himself into the same room as Addison. He only did a quick glance around, finding that they were in a science room, which had another open door at the end of the room, that connected with a smaller room that only had one long table inside it. He quickly turned to the young woman, starting to get into a crouched position. As he looked on top of the tables in the broom they were present in, he stuffed his revolver back in between his pants and brown belt before quickly grabbing a large, curved glass shard in his hand.

"Addison," he started as he pulled out some long piece of cloth, "We got company comin' down the hallway and--"

Sounds of long, slow scraping soon filled the empty room followed by heavy breathing. The old man looked towards the open door at the end of the room and his heart rate picked up when a larger infected slowly crawled into the room. It was hanging from the ceiling, its akin had been torn, or rotted off and its nose was very large. Its sockets were empty besides the twisted-up mixture of flesh, muscle, and fungus that had grown in them. Its mouth was large, wide open, and its teeth stuck outwards like a shark. It had a very long, thin tongue, slimy saliva poured out from its wide-open mouth as it began smelling around its spot. One its back were thousands of little fungus poking out from beneath the large layer of muscle and large, rounded green and yellow pockets pulsed from it. It had very long, large, and dull claws, which were alight, dirty grey color, protruding from where a person's fingernails would be.

Arthur knew this one was very bad news and they needed to get the hell out of that room. Even though it could not see, it could still smell with its tongue and if it felt like it was being attacked at close range, it would make the circular pockets explode, or pop, causing spores to fly everywhere. Then the two would be screwed and infected. He quickly turned back to her with a finger to his lips and he pointed the same finger towards the other exit, where the light groaning and footsteps were getting a bit louder every second that past.

Addison furrowed her brow as she approached the chalkboard, observing all of the faded writings on the board. Some handprints in the dust created odd and eerie patterns. Echoes from down the hall drew her attention away from the board, and she turned as Arthur came quickly into the room with a worried look and holding a sharp piece of glass in his hand. Knowing something wasn't right, Addison crouched down instinctively and stuffed her gun into her belt. Arthur began to say something about company coming down the hall but was interrupted by the large and ugly creature that came through the door. "Fuck," she muttered in both shock and disgust at the sight of it.

The creature itself was menacing enough, but the fact that it could crawl on the ceiling and had a rather intimidating appearance didn't help. It stuck its tongue out to smell the room, and just as it did she looked at Arthur. He held his finger to his lips and pointed to the exit. It was right where the other creatures were coming. Addison looked around for someplace else to go, but there wasn't much. Her heartbeat was fast and adrenaline ran through her veins just as quickly. Beakers still lined the place, showing good potential as a distraction. She gingerly held one in her hands. It was cracked, missing a shard from the edge. The infected had a keen sense of smell...perhaps blood would help.

Addison placed the palm of her hand against the edge of the beaker and slid it across. A cut formed and blood welled up through the broken skin. It stung against the exposure to sitting and fresh wound, but it didn't matter. She wiped the blood across the glass on the outside, creating a streak of crimson. Eat this, dickhead, Addison thought to herself as she hurled the glass at a corner of the room far away from her and her accomplice, creating a loud crash and shards flying out everywhere covered in fresh blood. Hopefully, it was a strong scent.

Addison turned to Arthur and motioned for the door, hoping the fungus creature would take the bait. If it didn't, they'd be stuck in a room full of hungry infected, and they definitely wouldn't survive that. She wanted to get out more than ever now. Her hand was clasped around her shirt to stop the blood flow, causing the edge to be soaked. Still, in a crouched position, Addison made her way toward Arthur.

Arthur watched what Addison did and both mentally scolded and praised her. He remembered doing something similar to her actions when he had been younger. His head snapped towards the infected as it let out a high-pitched screech, turned its head around, dropped itself to the ground, and quickly crawled to the corner of the room where the loud crash came from. The only problem was getting past the other OZs coming down the hallway. The man decided anything would be better than staying in the room with a larger infected, so he lightly grasped Addison's arm as she came close to him and quickly rushed out of the room. After having exited the room, Arthur quickly shut the door and grabbed a long piece of wood, and stabbed it through the handle and a large crack on the wall nearby. Not soon after he had turned around to find seven infected all rushing towards the two survivors and he began running down the hallway to their left, yelling a not so loud, "Come on, Addison!"

His breath came out from his mouth in quickened, heavy huffs and after a while, the familiar burn in his legs, sides, and lungs started. He glanced backward a few times to make sure his young companion was still with him and his eyes had widened a slight fraction as he found that quite a few more had added themselves to the group. Further down the hallway, another large pothole cut them off from the other side and the old man quickly turned to his right to find a set of double doors that led into a large gymnasium. He quickly ran to one of the doors and started pulling the handle and when that didn't work, he pushed it with all his might.

It didn't move much.

An exasperated sigh flew from his thin, chapped lips as he glanced over to see the infected gaining on them and he began to ram his shoulder into the door over and over again. When he got it opened enough for the two to at least slip inside, Arthur grabbed Addison by the arm and placed her next to the door.

"Get inside!" He commanded as he pulled his revolver from in between his belt and blue jeans. Clicking the safety off, he locked eyes with her, "I'll be right behind you..! Hurry-!" It was when one of the infected was too close for Arthur's comfort that he began to shoot the advancing infected in the head.

Four went down with one shot, while he was forced to shoot quite a few others times due to their heads having a type of hardened, fungi "helmets." Sweat poured down his reddened face and he muttered a "Shit!" when his finger had pulled the trigger and all he heard was a fast click. He was out of ammo and didn't have enough time to reload...! He stuffed the small gun back into its usual spot right before he was suddenly and roughly pushed against the wall by an infected much taller than he. Arthur growled with a killer's snarl on his face as he pushed back with all his might, all the while trying not to get bitten by the damned thing. It took him a few, agonizingly long moments, but he managed to shove the creature off of him and shoved it down into the sunken hole that had been a few feet from him. It fell backward, letting out screeches and strange grunts, its arms outstretched towards the man, as if thinking it would somehow get a grasp on him if it reached hard enough, before it eventually disappeared into the darkness.

Arthur continued to do the same with three other infected, each landing on the bottom with a sickening, loud crunch, and finally fell silent. The last enemy had gotten behind him and Arthur had quickly shoved it backward a few times against the wall. As soon as its grip had weakened on him, the man threw his own arm upwards to remove the infected's arm, turned around, gripped the creature's neck and head, and smashed it into the wall beside them. Huffing, Arthur gazed down at its slumped, dead body and he turned his attention to Addison.

Addison jumped as Arthur grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room. She followed him out, hearing the large infected screech as it realized nothing was there for it to devour. The teen turned to see if it had followed them out but was met with the door slamming shut and a broken board being shoved through the handle and a crack in the wall. The creature wailed from behind the door and clawed at the wood. Before she had time to process what had happened, Arthur took off down the hall and commanded her to follow. Addison saw the infected scampering towards them, some crawling over others in an attempt to catch their prey. She immediately turned and sprinted after Arthur with adrenaline coursing through her veins.

Arthur had been checking back a few times, and once his eyes widened. Addison knew it wasn't a good sign, and so she put a little more speed into her step. He went sharply around a corner, to which Addison followed. She stopped as Arthur did, seeing that they were trapped at double doors. Addison's hands went to her pistol and knife again as she waited for the infected while the sounds of Arthur ramming his shoulder into the door filled the halls. "They're getting closer," Addison told him in a panicked tone. Only a few moments after the words escaped her lips, Arthur took her arm and pulled her to the door. He locked eyes with her. "I'll be right behind you..! Hurry-!" Addison nodded and squeezed through the doors, pushing into the other side.

Upon stumbling to the other side, Addison was met with a recently infected woman that tackled her to the ground with a scream. There was a loud clatter as the knife skittered away from her hand. "Fuck-!" Addison grunted upon making an impact on the ground and put her hand to the woman's neck, feeling the dried blood and growing fungi on her withered skin. The yelling and groaning resonated loudly in the gym, meaning that others might follow if there were any more. Addison reached for her knife with her other hand, the handle barely brushing the hilt. The infected woman pushed downwards more, slipping out of Addison's grip just as she moved away. The woman's face thudded onto the gym floor and Addison reached for her knife. She whipped around to stab the infected creature and managed to land a stab right between the eyes as it tried to sneak a killing blow. The woman's face was already covered in blood due to what was probably a broken nose, but now it was nearly drenched.

It collapsed and Addison stood up while panting, looking at the door and seeing Arthur through the crack. He had just finished killing all of them - a feat she was rather impressed with. Addison wiped the blood off of her hands into her jeans and went to the door to grasp the handle. She held it firmly and started to yank on it. "C'mon Arthur, we gotta move! Some more of those things might be on their way." Seeing how she couldn't move the door in the slightest, Addison let go of the handle and took a step back, careful not to slip on the blood pooling around the corpse. She took a minute to examine the gymnasium.

Large bleachers were pushed against the walls with few blood stains on them. They were blue and silver, which were most likely the school colors. Cots, metal chairs, and tables were tossed around the floor. It looked as though the place was originally used as some sort of safe haven for people during the outbreak. It wasn't that safe, apparently. Some cots had dried blood, but other than that it was simply abandoned. On the opposite wall was a large picture of a cartoon raven dribbling a basketball with a grin on its face. There were rays of light coming from two sets of doors on the same wall, each on one side of the gym. Lights? Either somebody was here or it was the way out. "Arthur, hurry up," Addison said in a quieter voice - just in case.

He was still trying to catch his breath when Addison had told him to get inside the gym as well, he made his way to the set of doors and began to push one a bit more after she had tried to pull the same one open for him. When he eventually made it inside with a grunt, Arthur rushed towards her after having seen the dead infected on the floor. He took hold of her shoulders and did a once look over, and asked with a hint of a worried tone of voice, "You okay?"

Afterward, he took the chance to reload his revolver. Once he had the seven rounds loaded, he snapped the cylinder shut and decided to keep it out in case any more infected came about. He saw the lights coming from the sides of the large room they were in and began to look around. If somebody was living there, then he would have to be on high alert. Most of the living survivors were much worse than the infected-- Arthur knew because of his own personal experience, both being a victim and an assailant...

He shook the old memories away.

"Don't dwell on the past, Arthur. It'll eat and tear you apart from the inside." Sasha's words rang through his head and his heart suddenly felt like it was being clenched with sorrow. He couldn't have saved her even if he had tried; she had been bitten twice in their adventure after having met Addison.

Shit, the memories still flood my goddamn head... He thought to himself with a grimace and a frown.

He snapped out of his dreary thoughts and returned his attention to the present, which was to look into the side where the lights were coming from.

Addison nodded and glanced back at the body on the ground. It was gross to look at. "Yeah, I'm fine. It took me by surprise." She walked past Arthur as he checked his rounds and headed for one of the doors, wading through the sea of cots and tables. There were no bodies, no infected to worry about in the room. Addison went to the door with her pistol in hand and ready to use. She looked through the window of the door and saw that it was a locker room. It looked almost untouched. Addison looked back at Arthur and saw that he was lost in thought, something that bothered him. She didn't know what else to do, so she pressed her hand against the door and held her pistol up in case anything - or anyone - tried to jump her as the last infected did.

The locker room didn't have much in it. As she went deeper in, Addison saw that some people must have rummaged through the lockers, but there wasn't much else. It was a dead end. She walked out with a sigh, glancing at Arthur. He had snapped out of his thoughts by now. "This one's just some damn locker room," Addison said to her older companion with some minor disappointment. She had hoped for some loot at the least. Her attention went to the next door. As she got closer, it was evident that this was the way out. She could see a treeline through the window.

"Here's the way out. Are we gonna try clearing the place out and staying here?" Addison looked at Arthur as she stopped next to the door, grabbing the metal handlebar and light putting weight on it. Even with a gentle touch, it squeaked from rusty joints. The place was shit, but it was also shelter. Hopefully, they weren't anymore infected to worry about. With it getting colder outside, they wouldn't have much choice in where to sleep.

Arthur followed the young woman into the room and looked around once inside. It was just a locker room and Arthur wondered if the school could have been only girls, or guys, school. He remembered when he had gone to high school and chuckled under his breath. That had been so long ago, in another world. Shaking his head a bit, he began to look inside the lockers. To his annoyance, he couldn't get the ones with locks on them open and he mentally wished he had a pair of pliers. Unfortunately, Arthur didn't have that much room inside his very old, worn, dark green backpack. What he could make out inside them were either old, torn clothing, a stick of deodorant (God, he missed deodorant...), and a few cosmetics laying on the floor.

He made his way into the small office and only found a silver lighter hidden underneath a little caramel flower plot. The plant that had been planted inside it was dead and wilted. Exiting the room, he walked across the locker room and looked behind a section behind the wall. There were five sections of small showers, the rules on the floor had been cracked and when he pulled back one of the curtains, that was attached to the last shower space to his right, he grimaced and scowled in disgust. Not bothering to cover his nose, Arthur let out a breath as he turned his head away. Huddled near the far left corner, seated limply against the corner the small walls created, was a dead body. Flies buzzed around its form and Arthur decided to look inside the small black bag that the body still held. He didn't find anything.

The old man stood up just as he heard Addison's voice and called back to her, "Alright I'll come to have a look." He quickly walked back toward Addison and looked up at the window that led to the outside. As he thought about her question, he sighed, tilted his head a little, and itched the back of his neck. If they stayed in the gym for the night... That one large infected was still crawling around and Arthur was worried about it coming inside while they were defenseless... He had lowered his hand back to his side and crouched down to pull the folded map out. His grey-blue orbs quickly danced about the large piece of paper and it took him a little while to find which high school they were at. Once he found that, he traced his finger down the blue line that represented the road they were just on. Not too far down the road from them, there was a small town. They could probably rest in one of the houses for the night, scavenge in the morning, and then continue towards Atlanta.

He folded the map, put it back inside his backpack, and stood up. "I say let's go on down to the small town that's close by. We can stay there for the night, look for supplies in the mornin', and continue to Atlanta later on in the day." Looking at her, he adjusted his backpack's shoulder strap and placed a hand on his hip. "What do you think?"

Addison listened as Arthur laid out his plan and silently nodded, using her shoulder to push against the door while leaning down on the handlebar. "What about people being there," she asked as she analyzed the surrounding area. "If we think it's a safe spot, then some other asshole is gonna think the same thing." Outside the gym door, there was nothing but some old litter and weeds growing between cracks in the pavement. There was a lone white car that was dirtied with handprints and had a flat front left tire. Addison stepped outside and held the door open for Arthur as she continued looking around carefully.

As she looked around, Addison started thinking about people other than Arthur and herself. From her personal experience, everyone was an asshole except for a select few. A few nights before meeting Arthur, Addison had narrowly escaped the clutches of some drunk men after trying to get some sleep by a stream. They originally offered a safe haven, but they turned hostile as she denied them. Meeting Arthur so soon afterward, of course, she didn't like the looks of him. Good thing he wasn't as trigger happy as she was, or else things might have gone very differently.

Addison stepped onto the pavement and looked at where they were. She saw that they were at the back of the school now, and so she began heading around to the front towards the horse. Things seemed clear around the outside of the school.

Arthur listened to Addison carefully and a crinkle came to his brow as he mulled that information over. The sixteen-year-old was right. If they thought it might be a safe place, then others could very well think the same thing. However, that had never stopped Arthur from getting what he wanted, and needed, in the past. He followed her outside and spoke to her as he passed her smaller form, "Thanks. We will figure somethin' out. If they're hostile, just stick to me and I'll handle them. Even if they aren't hostile, still stick with me."

Arthur knew that Addison could handle herself, however, the many close calls they had over the past few months still made him worry for her. He wasn't sure how to express his worry other than yelling and using his anger-- taking out the frustration on her. Of course, nearly five or ten minutes later, the old man would be filled with guilt for yelling at her or possibly hurting her feelings. Arthur just didn't know how to express his emotions towards her, much less other people, and although he used to express family-related love with physical contact, he wasn't going to give her a hug. He never thought she would like it, nor did he ever ask her opinion.

As he yet again followed behind Addison toward the front of the school, Arthur made sure to keep an eye out for any infected or living enemies. Once they reached the front, he slowed his job down to a quickened walk and came to a stop at the flagpole the horse was tied to. Arthur untied it and waited for Addison to get onto the horse.

"You need any help up?" came his question as he spotted something moving from within the school.

Addison put her gun in her belt and sheathed her knife as they approached the horse, Arthur untying the beast from the pole. She put her hand against the horse's side, feeling it breathe and the strong hide under her palm. In her life, she had never seen anything larger than a cow in person. It felt comforting in a way to stroke such a magnificent creature. Addison took her hand off as Arthur spoke and gave a curt nod. "I can do it." She stepped onto the stirrup and started to lift herself up, but felt herself slipping at the same time. Addison gave up on the attempt and looked back at Arthur. "Actually..."

When she looked at Arthur, Addison noticed that he was looking at the building. Her hand went to the hilt of her knife, fingers grasping around the smooth handle. "What is it?"

Arthur returned his attention back to his young companion and shook his head. "It's nothing. Let's get you on the horse and start headin' towards the town," he spoke as he knelt down a bit and linked his fingers together for her to step on.

However soon after he had gotten into position, he hadn't noticed something the color of a dark pink wrap around his ankles, and both his feet were suddenly thrown out from beneath him. He landed on the concrete on his back with a short, loud yell of pain and he felt his stomach lift a bit (much like the feeling of when somebody rode a dollar coaster and their heart got stuck in their throat) as his entire body was being pulled back towards the right side of the school.

"Shit--! Addison, stay with the horse-!" He had yelled, knowing that she probably wouldn't.

When his head cleared of the initial pain, he finally lifted it, touching his chin to his throat, and noticed that a tongue had wrapped around both his ankles and was pulling him back within the school. He was soon pulled into a hole that was on the side of the school and muttered, "Shit!" as he hit his left, upper arm against some of the loose, red bricks of the wall. Reaching for his pocket, he took out a small knife he had snagged off a dead corpse of an infected and forced himself into a somewhat seated position. He would have thought he looked like some sort of cartoon character seated the way he did, his glaring face red, and his hands furiously trying to grasp at the piece of the tongue that had a good hold on his ankles. When one of his hands finally had a firm grip on the slimy appendage, Arthur leaned forward a bit more and began to furiously hack his knife into it. Something screeched in pain further down the hallway and as he was coming up to the familiar corner of one of the walls, the tongue began to whip side to side.

The creature's reaction to his cutting its tongue caused Arthur to suddenly slam his entire side near the corner of the wall with another yell of pain. It seemed like forever until his weapon was actually near the middle of the pink, slimy appendage--the damned thing was thick like a donkey's hide-- and Arthur finally looked up. His grey-blue eyes flew wide open as he saw he was headed for the same pothole he had used to his advantage, of killing some infected earlier, and he quickened his slashing, sports of blood flying nearly everywhere.

ShitShitShitShitShitDammitDammitShitDammitDammitShit--! Arthur's mind screamed at him in panic as he continued to glance between his busy hands and the fast-approaching hole that could certainly lead him to his death or break a lot of bones in his body.

At the last minute, the tongue finally snapped off and Arthur turned in time to grip some of the concrete slabs beneath the flooring. He had let out another yell just as his lower body literally flew itself off the side before he was able to miraculously grab the concrete slab. Sweat poured down his face as he glanced down and inhaled and exhaled heavily when he attempted to grip another piece of a concrete slab to start forcing himself up towards the close, open exit. One of his hands lost its grip and he panicked as he quickly gripped another piece, thanking God for his quick reflexes. His heart felt like it was tightly squeezing within his throat.


Addison nodded and sheathed her knife again, then proceeded to lift her foot to boost herself up onto the horse. As soon as she had, however, Arthur was yanked backward and sent to the ground. In surprise she yelped and slammed her foot back to the ground, watching as Arthur was dragged away. "What the fuck? Arthur!" His words had reached her ears as they rang out, but she didn't listen, of course. Instead, Addison abandoned the horse and took off after her captured companion, sprinting in the direction he went.

Addison stopped at a hole in the side of the school, placing her hand on the upper lip of it. She peered in and slowly crawled inside, pulling out her pistol while tightly grasping it. Echoes of Arthur's voice resonated deeper inside alongside a loud screech. She quickened her pace as best she could while also remaining cautious of what was happening up ahead. The sound of Arthur's yells of pain and the provoked creature worried her. It had taken him so quickly that she couldn't tell if he had fought back in time. The other half of her mind argued that it was Arthur - it was tough to kill that old bastard.

"Arthur," Addison called out wearily. "Are you dead?" She heard the sound of things sliding and then silence accompanied by heavy breathing. It didn't sound like it belonged to one of the infected. Addison noticed that there was a hole in the ground up ahead, squinting in an attempt to see better through the darkness. She suddenly realized that it was Arthur clinging to the edge for dear life. "Holy shit, you scared the hell out of me!" Addison grabbed the man's arm just before the armpit and started to pull him to safety. "Come on! Did you kill it?" She did her best to not look down past him and into the hole in fear of what she might see past the darkness.

"Yeah, me too...!" He growled back up at her as he continued to climb up a bit more. He gazed up at the young girl as he felt a pair of hands grip underneath his armpit and helped him out of the way. Once on the floor, he let out a deep breath of air and closed his eyes a moment, muttering, "No. The damn thing is still alive down there. Let's just get to the damn horse and the town. I'm done with this shit today..."

He stood up with a grunt, a few cuts and bruises showed through the torn parts of his coat and shirt underneath. Arthur rubbed the back of his hand on his runny nose and sniffed at the clear mucus that still dripped from the nostrils. Informing the uncomfortable feeling, he started walking toward the hole where they had both entered. When he got outside, he turned to her and looked her in the eye, stating a sincere, "Thanks...Addison." Arthur truly meant it. He wished he knew how to express how much he felt gratitude towards her and how much he probably owed her besides basically his life from the many times they'd had close calls. He really hated being awkward with those types of things...

He made it to the horse and, facing towards the school, knelt back down a little, intertwined his fingers together, and looked over at her with a quick smirk. He tilted his head to the side a bit as he said, "Let's try this again without anything grabbin' at our ankles. Come on."

Addison glanced down at the hole one more time to see if anything would come back, but nothing did. She breathed out a sigh of relief and wiped some sweat from her brow. The excitement by itself was enough for one day. The young woman looked at Arthur as he stood up and observed the cuts and tears on his clothes and skin. It didn't look like anything infected him. The last thing they needed was for someone to be infected. Her attention was brought back as Arthur began sniffing and wiping his nose with the back of his hand. Unconsciously, her hand rested on the hilt of her knife as they walked out of the tunnel, expecting something else to happen. Instead, Addison got an awkward "thanks" from Arthur.

"Don't mention it," Addison replied with a wave of her hand. "I know you'd do it for me." She could tell that he wasn't good at thanking people, it was rather obvious. Addison was the same way - and she also didn't like the feeling of having to repay people, of owing a debt. As Arthur knelt down and locked his fingers together, Addison chuckled and nodded her head. "Yeah, that sure as hell is easier." She placed her foot on his hands and pushed herself up, swinging her leg over the horse and sitting on its back. "Okay, old man. I'm up." With a mischievous glint in her eye, she extended a hand to Arthur to help pull him up if he needed it.

Arthur lifted a thick, grey brow as he listened to Addison speak and once her foot was in his hands, he lifted her up with a small grunt. He let out a breath of a chuckle and smirked a bit at her comment and he looked at her, then the horse, and he shook his head some when he got on top of the horse.

"I'm not that old, kid," he stated as he pulled the reins and the horse turned and began walking down the road they had just stepped off of.

After an hour or so, Arthur stopped the horse and said, "Alright. Quick break. Get a snack or somethin' out, cause I won't be stopping again after this."

He hopped off and reached down into his backpack for the map, as well as the old canteen he had found, and a small chewy bar he had started to eat for breakfast. The cold child forced his body to shiver a bit as he placed the rest of the chewy in his mouth, it only fitting halfway. As the crunching sounds echoed rather loudly down the empty road, Arthur gazed down at the map and nodded after a moment as he folded it back up and placed it in one of his shirt's pockets. After slipping his dark green backpack on, the older male waited a few moments to see if his younger companion had finished whatever she had been doing.

Addison chuckled as Arthur commented that he wasn't as old as she had implied. She held on to Arthur as they started off again on their journey.

Once they stopped after a while, Addison stretched her arms out and cracked her back some. It felt good to do that after a while of staying in the same position. She swung her backpack around and unzipped it, then reached inside. She pulled out a granola bar and unwrapped it, stuffing the wrapper back in her backpack as she munched on the snack. Addison zipped the bag back up and put it on her back once more.

"Hey, Arthur?" Addison asked. "Uh...do you think...do you think that I'll ever find my dad? It's been so long." She didn't like asking questions like that, but it was one that had been bugging her for a while. Her dad was all she had left before the apocalypse, and she didn't want to lose him. It just seemed so hopeless to keep holding on to the thought, but she subconsciously wanted some comfort from Arthur.

He had zoned out a few moments before he was brought back to the present by Addison's voice and he glanced back at her with a thoughtful, short, "Hm?" The question she had asked him made his blue-grey eyes shift to different places in thought and his lips pursed together real tight as he came up with a response. Arthur wasn't one for lying, nor did he like it. In fact, he hated it and anyone who lied to him. It had gotten the old man in plenty of horrid situations before and it was because other, old comrades of his had lied to buyers, sellers, possible allies, etc. He let out a slight, short huff of a sigh and began to speak:

"Well... I know you probably don't wanna hear this, but I personally don't think he made it. A lot of people died or got infected after the virus went worldwide... Then again," he paused a moment before shrugging his shoulders. "I may be wrong and he might have made it. You never know."

He glanced back at her to see if she would say anything to him and to see if she understood her response.

Addison listened as he gave his answer and gave a slow nod. She half-expected the answer to be something to make her feel a false hope, but Arthur wasn't one for bullshitting people like that. It gave her a better sense of trust in him like he wouldn't ever lie to her or keep secrets. Addison sighed and played with a piece of thread hanging off the edge of her shirt, taking a few seconds to cope with what she heard before responding.

"Thanks," she eventually replied. "I appreciate you not bullshitting anything. It helps." Addison looked back at the trees and rubbed the back of her neck in slight embarrassment. God, sappy stuff was so...sappy. She just hoped that they'd be at the town soon so that she could get off the damn horse for a while. Addison took a moment to fix her reddish-brown hair since it had gotten messy after their encounter at the school. She pulled it back into a ponytail once again. Fuck...I could really use a shower or something.

"Are we almost there?" Addison asked out of annoyance. She was getting tired.
[The House]
The old man blinked as he slightly turned his head to glance back at her. After a few seconds, he offered her a slight nod and mumbled as he turned to face the road in front of them, "I don't usually bullshit unless I have to. ...You're welcome."

It was quite some time until Arthur heard his younger companion speak and he glanced at the road sign that they passed. He didn't turn to face her the next time he spoke, "I think so... We should be gettin' near it pretty shortly."

Arthur knew that Addison was tired and she wanted to get into a comfy bed, or whatever the next house they chose to stay in had to offer them. Sleep sounded wonderful to him, also. Especially since he hadn't slept much the past few nights. The horse let out a short snort from its nostrils and Arthur looked around. His grey-blue orbs squinted a bit together as he could see the beginnings of the outlines of a house come into view. Then more and more began to take shape as they got further down the road.

He couldn't help the sigh of relief that slipped through his thin lips as he said, "We made it."

He lightly kicked his heels into the horse's sides to make it begin to jog towards the town. Its hooves hit against the road; cracks had formed on the black surface from unuse and the overthrowing vegetation. Arthur kept his eyes peeled for anything, or anyone, that decided to surprise attack them as they entered the small town. Quite a few of the houses were in pretty good shape, while others were halfway, or completely, broken and crumbled to bits of concrete, brick, and wood. He finally commanded the horse to come to a halt as they neared a house Arthur thought might be good enough to stay in for the night. Sliding off the tamed beast, he huffed a bit as he pulled out his handgun and felt his knees, ankles, and back pop after having been in the same position for a couple of hours.

"I don't see or hear anything," he stated as he looked about the surroundings, finally deciding it would be alright to enter the house.

Addy sighed in reply as they continued on their journey in silence, eyes set on the ground below that slowly trot past. There wasn't much else to do, anyways. A part of her longed for some safe haven to stay at, where they'd never have to worry as much about stupid shit. Not that basic survival was nothing; just that they could have a good night's sleep for more than one day in a row. It'd be nice to have that. Addy could feel herself beginning to get a little sore from sitting on the horse for so long, but decided not to complain. They had enough on their plate to worry about. But it really sucked.

Before Addy could give in to her temptation to whine about it, Arthur alerted her to the fact that they found a place. With almost too much enthusiasm in her smile, the young girl grabbed on tightly to the older man's waist to ensure that she wouldn't tumble off the beast, gazing at the house that came into view. The place didn't look too bad for what the world had to offer nowadays for shelter. It almost felt too good. But Addy's surprising amount of optimism overcame the thought as she hopped off of the horse, pausing only to adjust her backpack and stretch some. It felt good to finally move around. She slid the knife slid out of its sheath and held it so that it pointed outwards and followed Arthur to the house, not really bothering to double-check for anything this time around.

Immediately upon stepping over the threshold, Addy looked for a nice place to sleep. Things seemed rather intact, even if it was rather unkempt. It looked like the place had been ransacked before on more than one occasion. Rubbish was strewn about the place (not an unusual sight), and chairs were tossed on their side. Clearly in view was a comfy-looking green couch in the living room, practically begging to be used. Relaxation was like a package deal with the furniture. Right across from the living room was the kitchen, which was bound to bear no food. Addy looked straight ahead and saw stairs leading upwards.

"I'll go check upstairs real quick," she said as she headed for the stairs and climbed upwards. There weren't many rooms: only two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a closet. The first bedroom appeared to be a parent's room while the one to the right was a boy's room, probably not much older than she was. It was painted blue and was covered in posters, some faded, others torn beyond recognition. The kid appeared to be a baseball fan, seeing as there was a neat little stand with a dusty bat on it. A signature was scribbled on the side, though who it was couldn't be made out. Addy grasped the handle and carried it downstairs, twirling it about. "Arthur, check this fucker out! It looks sturdy."

The older male walked inside and gazed around. Every room was pretty close together, which was somewhat good, meaning that if anyone barged in, Arthur would know in an instant. He heard Addison speak as he headed for the kitchen and his head turned towards her with a nod.

"Okay. Yell at me if anything happens and I'll be right up," he stated as he continued into the kitchen.

He didn't find anything besides molded bread, which he was not going to even touch due to his allergy to penicillin (it didn't affect Arthur as bad as it had been when he was younger, but it still gave him a hell of a fever and upset stomach whenever he consumed it). Walking out of the kitchen and around the stairs, he found a bedroom. The bed was missing the mattress and the closet still had some clothes in it. The windows were boarded up and had a few, tiny holes that were possibly made by wood bees. His feet guided him to the door on the far right and when he tried to open it, he grunted a bit as he figured it was blocked on the other side. Arthur made his way back outside to check on the horse, feeling a bit relieved when it was still there.

Taking its reins, he walked around the small house, finding a wooden fence going into a large square in what he guessed was the backyard. Once he unlocked the gate, he guided the horse into the fence and closed the gate behind them. There wasn't much. Just a broken down, rusty set of swings, a tilted slide, and an abandoned treehouse. There was also a small sandbox still full of sand and Arthur smirked a bit at his childhood memories of playing in one of his friend's mini playgrounds when he was young. He would be allowed to play after she helped out with the chores at the barn, taking care of the animals, and helping with tending the crops. The older male blinked as he let the horse go while stroking its nose a bit, and he began climbing the small ladder to the treehouse. He was nearly at the top when a long, loud creak emitted from the wooden ladder beneath him and he gazed up with realization and muttered an, "Ah, fu--"

He fell to the ground with a cry of pain and a song of swear words flew from his mouth as he rolled over onto his stomach to push himself up. He rubbed his back a bit as just as he turned to look at the treehouse, finding most of the ladder broken off, he heard Addison's voice yell for him. Inhaling rapidly, with his face still red from pain and anger, he stomped back into the house and upstairs. It didn't take him long to find his young companion and he muttered a quick, "What did you find?"

Addy proudly took the handle of the bat, feeling the wood beneath her fingers. She lightly swung it around once to get a feel for it. Nice weight to it, I guess. Baseball bats weren't exactly her expertise, but it felt like they would have some power to it if she used them on someone. It would hurt like hell, that was for sure.

Addy stared at the base of the bat and imagined a situation where she would need to use the bat. Hopefully, it wouldn't come down to that. If somebody got that close, it wouldn't be for good reason. She hadn't needed to deal with that type of scenario so far, but...the thought was worrying. If somebody got that close, it would probably mean Arthur wasn't nearby to help.

The sound of footsteps interrupted her thoughts as she looked to where Arthur was with a smile that quickly disappeared, seeing that he wasn't happy and was obviously angry. She half-wondered if it was because of something she did, but the thought escaped her mind. "What did you do? You look pissed." The bat sunk down to her side as she leaned against it, the head of the bat to the floor.

Arthur huffed as he came to a stop and rolled his shoulder a bit. Grumbling, he answered her question quickly, "I was trying to get in the god damn tree house and the ladder broke and I fell to the f*cking ground...!"

Closing his eyes, he inhaled and calmed down more than he had. "I'm okay, though..."

He took a couple more steps into the room and his eyes gazed down at the bat she had found. He hummed some in approval as he observed it. "Baseball bat, huh? It looks in pretty good shape. Gonna be good for any close-range combat."

Addison's brow arched in question as she leaned forward a bit to peer out of the edge of a nearby window. Sure enough, beneath the treehouse was a mangled mess of wood. It didn't look like too bad of a drop, but certainly, one that would hurt at least a little bit. She looked back down at the bat and held it again in both hands as Arthur pointed out its good condition and nodded. It definitely was in really good shape for lasting so long into this shitty world. Some nails in the thicker end would make it a formidable weapon. The more thought that was put into the weapon, the better it seemed to get.

Addison turned her attention to Arthur again, this time seeing how tired he looked. The realization dawned on the girl that he had been up for far longer than she had, that he didn't get quite as much rest. At the moment, his rest was far more vital than hers - he knew how to control and ride the horse. The less sleep he got, the longer it would take to get to their destination in good time.

"You look like shit. Get some sleep, I'll keep watch."

She gave a stern look, one that indicated that she wouldn't let Arthur say no to the offer. The bat was set on the nearby counter and her backpack swung off of her shoulders, setting it down alongside the bat. It was zipped open, and Addison rummaged through some before leaving it alone and turning to face Arthur again, the palms of her hands resting behind her on the counter. She would need to find a comfortable spot to keep watch at, but not too comfortable. After all, it would be unfortunate if she fell asleep on the job. Arthur would never trust her again. At least, she thought so.

Arthur let out a sigh as he slowly walked to the bed, gazed around the room for a bit, and finally over to the window. Looking out, the sky began to turn darker as the minutes passed by.

"You look like shit."

His brows furrowed some as he glanced down at the floor and then turned to his young companion. A bit of offense was in his eyes and tone of voice when he asked, "Excuse me?"

When Addison continued her sentence, telling him to sleep while she go on watch duty, he scoffed. "Addison, I can stay up. You should--"

He began as he watched her expression change to complete determination. She obviously wasn't going to allow him to stay up, no matter how much he'd argue with her. Sometimes Arthur thought she got her stubbornness from him... After a few moments of staring and silence, the old man finally sighed and relaxed a little.

Looking over at the bed, he shook his head and said, "Fine. I'll get some shut-eye, but," He looked over at her, his tired eyes serious. "If anything happens, you wake me up. Understand?"

Addison smirked as Arthur gave in to her demands and nodded. She figured that he would say something along the lines of 'wake me up if something happens' and nodded it off as well, but she would definitely let him know if something was wrong. Her hand reached back and grabbed the strap of the backpack, yanking it along as she went to the window of the house that looked out onto the road barren of life, sitting on a rather ugly yellow armchair. After pulling out a ratty old comic book from her backpack Addison set the bag against the side of the armchair and started to thumb through the pages. It was pretty faded and water damaged, but it was okay. She enjoyed making up some of the words that would go in the once-white speech bubbles, having the heroes and villains say stupid things.

"Oh no, my clothes are straining underneath my giant muscles," she exclaimed softly in a deeper voice, mimicking what she thought the hero was saying on one page. Her voice changed to a higher pitch as she switched to the woman with jet black hair. "It's okay, your good looks will still save us all!"

It didn't make sense, but she had been doing it for so long that she was running out of ideas. A new comic was needed. Addison scoffed to herself as she flipped to the next page and glanced outside again. The sun was starting to sink behind the trees, turning the room darker by the minute. Soon it would be difficult to read the comic book. Bored, the teen rested her chin on the palm of her hand as she watched the outside world with a rather dull look on her face. As time sluggishly moved on, Addison's eyelids grew lower and lower with the weight of sleep on them.

Later, Addison woke with a jolt. It was now pitch black out, excluding the natural light from the stars and moon. Shit...looks like this chair was nicer than I thought. She glanced around to see if Arthur had taken notice when there was the sound of something snapping outside, immediately grabbing her attention as she froze. Leaning forward, Addison grabbed her switchblade from her pocket and opened it up as she stared at the window. It didn't look like there were any of the Infected outside. The horse was looking anxious, nodding its' head up and down and tapping its' hooves on the ground. Finally, she noticed it. A figure standing nearby, eerily gazing in her direction and seemingly waiting for something. Addison crouched down and slowly went back to where Arthur was sleeping. She grabbed his arm and shook.

"Arthur," she whispered. "Arthur, there's some dickhead waiting outside! Wake up!"

Once Arthur saw Addison get comfortable in an old, yellow chair, he finally allowed himself to take off his pack and placed it on the ground by the bed. Taking the dusted pillow, he padded it down a bit before laying on the bed. The mattress's springs creaked in various noises as he got comfortable and he let out a comfortable groaned sigh. Just to be safe, he placed his handgun on the side of the bed that was against the wall. Closing his eyes, he kept repeating in his head that Addison would be just fine and she would wake him if anything bad began to happen. After a few moments of silence, he heard Addison speak something in a deep tone and then a lighter tone. The sentences made him chuckle a bit and he let out another sigh. Soon after, he finally fell asleep.

"You son of a bitch!! How could you?!" A voice screamed at Arthur in the darkness.

Soon, the darkness faded into the familiar house the man had grown up in. Around it was the large mountains a long way off, the fences covering the fields to keep the livestock in, and far away was a large revenue where a large river was. Down the road to the left was a barn as well as the neighbor's, house. Arthur was soon inside the small house, in the living room, and everything was where it had been how he'd remembered it. The sand-colored carpet beneath his boots, a small couch next to the front door, windows behind it. Next to the couch, to the right, on the other wall was the fireplace, next to the was a rectangle wooden table, which had a table cloth on top, and had various, glass statues of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, as well as a large Bible in the middle of them. Across from the table was an old piano, and on the wall opposite the couch was a large painting of a deer next to a large tree stump.

Arthur was suddenly in a scene he'd tried to forget. He had the shotgun aimed downwards, towards the floor, and smoke was floating from the barrel. A man was breathing near him as hard as he was and Arthur finally gazed down at the dead body on the floor. Blood poured from the two gunshot wounds, one in the leg and the other in the head. The white nightgown was being stained by the horrible, red liquid. Arthur's young, shaking form was suddenly grabbed by the man close to him, who began yelling with anger and shock, "You son of a bitch!! How could you?! That was your mother!!"

He snapped out of his shock and shoved the fat man off of him. "I-I... She was gonna kill you, Bill! What did you expect me to do?! Let you die?!" He screamed back, his anger made his face red and soon he began to break down in tears.

"She was sick... Have you ever seen a sickness that makes people try to kill others?!" Arthur demanded, wiping his eyes before aiming a finger at his deceased mother. "It sure as hell ain't rabies! She had somethin' growing on her body! Her hair and-and skin started to fall off a week ago. I thought she was asleep an hour ago... I thought she was asleep..." He repeated as he took a seat on the bench in front of the piano, placing his head in his hands.

His mother had been asleep only an hour ago and Bill, their neighbor, had come to visit to check on her. Arthur had been in the kitchen putting away dishes when he heard Bill talking to someone. Arthur had walked in and his eyes filled with hope seeing his mother up and walking. It was a hell of a lot better than seeing her ill in bed all damn day. However, his hope soon turned into confusion when Bill started to ask what was wrong with her when she didn't stop to talk to him. Then it turned into some kind of nightmare. Arthur's mother latched onto Bill and began trying to bite him, doing anything she could to do damage to him. Bill had cursed and shoved her off of him, shocked at what she had been doing. His mother had been turned around in the push, her head hit the corner of a wall and she got right back up. Arthur was just as shocked as Bill was, his mother would have been knocked out by a hit to the head like that. She soon ran towards Arthur and attempted to bite him and it was then he noticed her eyes were a very light grey, bloodshot, and devoid of any emotion. He shoved her off and ran to the front door, where he grabbed the shotgun, which had been hidden behind the door, and he shot her leg. Despite being shot, she continued to go after Bill. After much hesitation, Arthur finally shot her in the head, causing her to fall limp, off of Bill, and onto the floor.

After having calmed down, the home phone rang and Arthur answered it. A panicked voice of his other neighbor, Darlene, was saying her husband was trying to kill her and that she needed help. The young man's eyes had widened as the woman screamed and the sounds of flesh being torn off soon filled his ear. Arthur hung up afterward ad looked over at Bill with terror.

"Bill... Darlene was just killed by Jack..." He spoke barely above a whisper.

Bill took a few steps forward and demanded, "What?"

"What the hell is going on...?!" Arthur asked as he made his way into the room connected to the kitchen.

He switched on the TV, thinking the news might know something about the strange sickness. Immediately the news was on, telling people to stay in their homes and that an outbreak was occurring. They weren't sure what the sickness was, but it makes people turn to cannibalism and was very aggressive. It was after the message had finished when somebody suddenly burst through the back door and came running after the two men. Arthur was knocked over, the gun fell from his hands and the man was soon on top of him, desperately trying to bite him. The constant chomp noise that came from him made Arthur panic and he glanced over at Bill for help. The man had already grabbed the shotgun and hesitated before shooting the intruder in the head. Arthur shoved the man off and stood up, his body shaking.

Looking over at Bill, he said, "We gotta get out of here. Maybe it's safer out of state?"

Bill stayed silent, his eyes trained on the dead body on the wooden floor.

Arthur spoke a little louder, "Bill!"

The man jolted and looked over at the young man with a new understanding. The two spoke as they headed to the front door. Bill's truck was already out front and the two hopped in and sped down the street towards one of the highways.

"..thur..!" A feminine voice spoke in urgency. "Arthur....ake...up..!"

Arthur awoke with a start, his grey-blue orbs darted around the darkness for a moment before settling on the familiar face of Addison. He sat up, grabbed his gun, and slipped on his backpack before standing. "What's wrong?" He asked with haste, his voice serious and lined with a hint of worry.

As she shook Arthur awake, Addison could tell that he was in the midst of a dream. She glanced over her shoulder towards the living room, seeing if the man got any closer, but he disappeared from view. It was actually pretty creepy, let alone dangerous. Addison looked back at Arthur and took a step back to allow him some space to move around, waiting for him to get up.

"There's some guy outside, but he's gone. I didn't see where he went."

Addison went back towards the living room and peeked around the corner to the window. Still, there was nothing outside. He was out there though... Addison crept in the direction of the window when someone bashed something against the front door. The wood, which was already aged, cracked under the pressure, already starting to give in to the brute force. Addison's eyes widened in surprise as she lunged for the armchair she resided in before and pushed it towards the door to stall the break-in. "Shit! Arthur!"

As the chair was pushed into place, the man on the other side continued his attempt to bash the door in. Addison remained on the opposite side of the chair, pressing herself against it to provide support. It shook as the man kept at it. Within a few more hits, bits of wood flew out and an ax chopped through the center. Addison looked over towards her backpack. The gun was still inside. She leaned over as far as she could manage and felt the strap brush her fingertips. Stretching a little more, her fingers finally wrapped around it and she pulled it to her person, reaching inside and pulling it out.

The man chopped at the door again with strained grunts and paused as he saw that the chair was pushed against the door. He growled and turned to look over his shoulder. Addison could hear him talking to someone, though it was muffled. She turned back to Arthur. "There's more," she mouthed.

At the news of a possible intruder, Arthur's entire demeanor changed. His brows knitted together as he crouched down, readied his weapon, and he asked her in a hushed tone, "Where?"

Peeking out the window in the bedroom, he could not make out anything besides the darker silhouette of the trees and fence. He turned towards the door as soon as he heard Addison's panicked voice and he helped her push the chair in front of the old door. Hiding on the other side of the bed, he stayed crouched down as pieces of the door suddenly fell to the floor. He heard a man growl and strained his ears to listen to any sound man was making. Arthur's eyes met Addison's and he saw her mouth to him that there was more than just one.

His jaw clenched as he peeked past the wooden surface of the bed and saw the man had his head turned. Arthur wracked his brain for an escape. He didn't have much ammo left from having to deal with the orphie zombies earlier that day... The brief thought of tying the bed's covers and sheets together crossed his mind, but they probably wouldn't have time to do that. His cold gaze fixed onto the man's form flicked over to Addison, and he quickly sneaked to be on one of the sides of the door, where hopefully the man wouldn't be able to see him due to the dark shadows the chair cast over his form.

Addison looked to Arthur to see what to do next, seeing that he was formulating a plan. There wasn't much time, which became evident as the door finally collapsed to the point where it would be easy to push through. God, why was everything structural so weak now? In a panic, the teen scrambled to the side that was opposite Arthur and pushed herself against the wall to conceal herself from view should the man manage to break in. The knife was put into the space between her belt and jeans, and the only thing she held was her pistol. Addison's eyes concentrated on the door as it was broken down entirely and left hanging on its hinges.

The man walked through cautiously. The ax now hung loosely from his belt and a sawed-off shotgun was in his hands as he glanced around the room before him with a nasty glare. He was a younger guy that towered over everything and had a strong look about him. The intruder slowly walked into the room with the gun ready to fire if needed, his dirtied boots leaving tracks on the carpet. Addison held up her pistol and aimed it at the guy's head when she decided that it would only alarm whoever else was there. Instead, she pulled the knife back out with her left hand and carefully got up from her concealed spot, trailing behind the man in a crouched position for a few steps to stay quiet. However, the floorboard decided to creak just as she got close enough. The man started to turn, but Addison jumped up and grabbed onto his shoulders, sinking the knife into the left shoulder as she did.

"Ah, son of a bitch," the man cried out as he backed up, slamming into the nearby wall with Addison still hanging on. She grunted from the impact, then felt the man grasp her arm tightly as he pulled her over his shoulder and onto the ground. Addison landed with a yelp and immediately began retreating to the corner of the room to recover, holding her gun tightly in her hand. The man pulled the knife out and tossed it to the side with a spurt of blood coming out of the wound, glaring down at the girl as he held the shotgun in her direction.

"Hey, Melissa," he called out to his companion, "I got her! Feisty one."

"I can shoot that fucking smile off of your face," Addison snarled back at him.

He laughed maniacally as he stepped closer, making sure not to take his eyes off of her. The woman he referred to shouted something back at him to indicate that she was coming, and the sound of the back door opening was heard. It became clear that neither of them knew that Arthur was there at all. The woman walked into the room with amusement in her eyes and a rifle in her hands. Unlike the man, she was older, smaller, and looked rather frail. Her teeth were horribly yellow and crooked.

"Tommy, it looks like someone busted their ass tryin' ta get somethin'..." Melissa trailed off as she saw Tommy, then Addison, then Arthur hiding by the door. Her bloodshot eyes widened in surprise as she brought up her rifle to fire at him. "Dammit Tommy, look!

Arthur had made it to his hiding spot just as the man burst through the door and the scuffle between him and Addison happened very quickly. Arthur was about to attack when he saw the man aim the shotgun in Addison's direction, but he stopped hearing the man say he had her.

What the hell did they want with Addison?

Arthur stayed put when he heard approaching footsteps and a woman rushed into the room. He listened to the older woman speak, her head turned in his direction, and Arthur knew he his spot was compromised. He shot up with a yell, gripped a spot near her top of the rifle, and harshly bashed the gun onto her face. Shoving her to the ground, he spun around and shot the man in the thigh. Once the man fell to the ground, Arthur stepped on his hand, causing him to let go of the weapon, and Arthur used his foot to kick it behind him in Addison's direction. Taking quick steps backward, the older male made sure to be in front of his young companion and aimed the gun at the two intruders, his aim consistently moving between the two.

His voice and expression were merciless, "Why are you after the girl? If you don't answer me, I will kill you."

His threat was a promise. Even after they answered his questions, Arthur was gonna kill the two anyway and be done with it.

The woman screamed as the gun was smashed into her face with a gush of blood coming from her nose and mouth along with a jagged tooth. She covered her face and fell backward with a loud thud. Obscenities poured out of her mouth almost as much as the blood did, coming down to a whimper as she clutched her face and lay on the ground. The man's mouth opened in the shape of a small "o" as he watched Arthur unleash his wrath in silent horror. Addison snatched up the shotgun as it was kicked towards her and got to her feet, relishing the fact that the guy got what he deserved. She looked at Arthur as he angrily demanded to know what they wanted to do with her.

"I...ach, back off, back off man!" The man put his hands out to beg Arthur to stop. "We-We didn't know that you were with her, I swear to God! Kids are just easier to deal with, I fucking swear!"

Addison shook her head as she concentrated her new shotgun on the woman, who was now sitting up and giving her a rather nasty expression behind the blood on her face. The grip on the shotgun tightened when Addison told herself to be cautious about the older woman's demeanor. She had a crazy look about her as if she would just jump up at any given moment regardless of the danger. Addison scoffed at the man's explanation.

"Are you really that fucking pathetic," she asked the two with disgust. "Not even that, just stupid."

"We have a group," the man blurted out. "They'll...they'll get worried if we don't get back. You've got to let us go, man. They'll come after you and fuck both of you up real bad. You don't want that for her, right?"

Arthur kept his eyes trained on the man cowering before him after seeing Addison had the shotgun aimed at the old woman. He stayed silent as the man begged and Addison insulted the two intruders. Arthur muttered in agreement, "Yeah, they are pretty stupid. ...Should've brought more people if you wanted to kill us."

His lips rose up in a hint of a snarl as the man threatened that they had more people. Arthur let out a humorless chuckle, "That's what you hunters always say, and sometimes it's true," he said, tilting his head to the side a second with a shrug. He readjusted his aim so the rifle was aimed at the man's head. "Now, you are gonna tell me where this group of yours is-- if you even have one. If not, she dies first."

"No," the man protested hysterically. "I swear, I fucking swear they're real. The giant ranch - it's got a lot of lands, a lot of people. You-you can't miss it! I swear on my life..." The man then dissolved into a pile of tears and snot as he sobbed, even more, giving in to his fear of an untimely demise. He didn't want to die, not now. It also didn't appear as though he particularly cared if his partner survived the encounter. His sobs filled the room as the woman watched, rolling her eyes at his weakness.

"Shut the fuck up and grow a pair," she barked at him bitterly. "If you're gonna kill us just do it, asshole! Don't waste my time."

Addison raised her brow at the woman's demands. "There's nothing to waste, what are you talking about?"

"Don't test me, girl," the woman snarled back. "I could rip you and your dad apart as painfully as possible, and you'd be begging me for death."

Addison gritted her teeth as the woman gave her reply and let go of the handle of the shotgun, forming a fist and bringing it across her face. The blood made the impact slide off, making bit quite as effective as she had hoped. Still, the woman fell backward with some more blood spilling from her mouth. "Don't you fucking even try to threaten us! I'll blast your face off."

Watching the man cry like a god damn baby didn't even bother Arthur. His gaze was cold and his grey brows stayed knitted together. The woman snapped at the sobbing man as well as Arthur and he glanced over at her.

"Fine. Thanks for the information," he stated simply before pulling the trigger.

The bullet whizzed into the man's head, causing a small platter of blood and brain matter to fly onto the wooden flooring below. Arthur quickly reloaded and turned to the older woman before firing another bullet into her forehead. The two dead bodies began to leak blood from their wounds and Arthur found that he couldn't calm down and quickly hung the rifle on his back. Kneeling down by the man who's attacked Addison, he began searching the corpse's body for any supplies or ammo. After finding a box of shotgun shells, another pocket knife, and a small canteen, Arthur turned to his young companion.

"We gotta move. If there really is a group, they may come looking for these two in the morning. By that time we have gotta be out of this area."

He stood up and handed the box of shotgun shells and the pocket knife to Addison before asking, "Are you okay? He didn't hurt ya too bad did he?"

Addison glanced at the man as Arthur shot him through the head and began examining the shotgun as he killed the woman as well. There were small scratches and dents in the stock and barrel, but other than that, the weapon appeared to be in okay condition. She saw Arthur looting the man's body, and so she did the same with the woman's. There were a few bullets for the rifle, but nothing much besides that. The young girl reached over for the woman's rifle and snatched it up. Some blood was on it, but that could be cleaned off. Addison got back up with both weapons in her hands.

"Yeah," she replied, "that sounds like a plan." She held up her arm so that she could examine it for injuries, but there was only a small mark from where the man grabbed her. Other than that, there was probably just a bruise on her shoulder from landing on the ground. "No, I'm fine. Asshole got what he deserved. Do you want one of these guns?"

Addison extended both guns towards Arthur with the barrels pointed upwards. Usually, people didn't trust her to have guns larger than a pistol, much to her dismay. Arthur seemed to trust her more than anyone else ever did - actually, she knew that for a fact. Of all the people she had traveled with, which wasn't exactly a large number anyways, he was the only one that actually let her hold a pistol when there wasn't any danger. Anyways, Addison examined the rifle up and down, seeing that it would need a good cleaning besides the blood. The former owner obviously didn't care for it much, unsurprisingly. She didn't seem to be the type when she was still alive.

Arthur took his flashlight out from his pocket, turned it on by pressing the black button on the bottom of it, and he inspected her arm. "Yeah, that's already bruisin'... Lemme see..." He muttered as he lifted the small light to her face and his free hand firmly, yet gently, tilted her chin in different directions. He finally let her go once he was convinced that she only had bruising.

Switching off the small flashlight, he shoved it back into his pocket and turned his attention to the guns Addison presented to her. He thought a few moments, trying to decide whether or not he should let her keep the rifle or the smaller shotgun. He took the shotgun from her and looked it over before returning his attention to her. "...Do you want the rifle or this one?" He asked, slightly lifting the gun up.

As Arthur turned on the flashlight and shone it on her arm, she also took a look. Some bruises were already looking as though they would be ugly, but others were smaller. She squinted as he held her chin and place the light upon her face to inspect further. Considering how there wasn't anything aching to the point where she felt like she was dying, Addison assumed that she was okay despite all of the minor bruising and marks. Things could have ended worse for them, but thank God they didn't. Once he finished everything and turned off the flashlight, Addison turned her attention to the guns. He asked her which gun she preferred.

Addison handed her older companion the rifle and proceeded to reach into her pocket to give him the ammunition she found. "This shotgun is fucking awesome! I'm gonna give it a shot." Quietly dismissing her unintentional pun, Addison smirked and analyzed the weapon even more. She loved the power of it, though she wasn't one hundred percent sure that she could handle all of it. Still, it was so cool! It would blast a guy's head off if she was able to aim it correctly. There probably wasn't too much ammunition for it, especially if what the people said was true about the group. It would probably be stored with their people if that was the case.

"We should go, right? If there's a group, they'll find their people soon." She turned on her heel and headed for the door to go back to the horse, stepping over scattered pieces of wood and metal as she exited the house. Addison headed for the horse, who seemed to be calming down after hearing the gunshots and yelling from the house. She walked over rather hesitantly with the shotgun hanging loosely from her hand as she slowly reached up for the beast's nose with her free hand, inching closer and closer before stopping only a few centimeters away. The horse was a large animal that Addison wasn't too fond of due to the size alone, but she suddenly found herself wanting to help it calm down. The horse's giant dark eyes stared down at her as she timidly rested her fingertips on its' pink nose, only then realizing that there was some of the woman's blood soaked on her fingers and the bandages on her hand from the incident at the high school. It left a small blood trail, nothing more.

Feeling the warmth of the horse's breath and knowing that it was still scared, Addison found herself stepping back and looking at Arthur with a shrug. "Ah well, I tried. Fucking horse doesn't like me, I swear..." She exhaled roughly and shoved her bloodied hand into her pocket.

When she had basically shoved the rifle into one of his hands and yanked the shotgun out of the other, his brows had lifted and furrowed a bit. The frown was soon replaced with an amused looked and he let out a short chuckle at her joke. He let out a sigh as he shook his head a little and put the bullets into his own pocket before strapping the rifle to his back.

"You're a funny kid, you know that?" He asked as he followed her out of the room. "It is pretty awesome, though... I'll teach you how to use it sometime. Get some practice in..."

He had pulled out what was left of his old, peanut butter protein bar and looked up at her as he slipped his backpack on. Nodding, he stood and a semi-old crunch came from him as he bit into the peanut-infested bar. Arthur remembered how much he loved peanut butter... His mama would make him peanut butter sandwiches nearly every day for lunch and her peanut butter cookies were the damned best. His silver-blue orbs gazed over at Addison as she had walked over to the horse and he finished his early morning breakfast, watching her attempt to pet the large animal.

I wonder if Addison has ever had a peanut butter sandwich or warm, peanut butter cookies... He thought to himself as he tossed the plastic wrapper to the ground.

I hope I can make her somethin' like that someday... When we don't have to fend for our lives and live in the shit hole of a world.

Arthur's expression turned sour at the stupid, hopeful thought.

That'll never happen... This is the way the world is now and I've accepted that. No more daydreamin' about unrealistic shit.

The older male walked over to his younger companion, hearing her cussing at herself and the horse in frustration. He placed a hand on his hip as he looked down at her and shook his head.

"Don't blame the horse. He won't hurt you unless you give him a reason to," he stated as he lifted his hands to roughly stroke the horse's nose and up to the hair between its tall, thin ears. "Ain't that right, pal?" He asked before roughly patting its side and he walked over to its left.

Kneeling down on one knee, he intertwined his large fingers and cupped his hands together, waiting for Addison to hop onto the horse.

"Ready?" He asked as he looked up at her from his spot.

Addison watched as Arthur explained that the horse wouldn't hurt her unless she gave him a reason and proceeded to stroke the horse and pat his side. She chewed on her bottom lip as he did so. There was a small twinge of disappointment running through her mind for not being able to face the horse quite as readily as Arthur did. There was something about the beast that made her want to be able to be as comfortable around him as Arthur was, but he was so big that she wasn't sure if she could do it. She pulled her backpack around and hooked the shotgun onto the strap so that it wouldn't fall off. Addison looked down at Arthur getting on his knees and cupping his hands together and gave a nod. "Yeah, I'm ready."

She stepped on his hand carefully to be sure that she wouldn't hurt him on the way up and pulled herself onto the horse's back, freezing a few seconds to make sure that she was on comfortably. Well, to make sure that she wouldn't slip and fall. Addison looked down at the back of the horse's neck and then down at Arthur. She felt pretty high off the ground, and the little girl inside her was absolutely charmed by the sight, seeing how she had never ridden a horse before all this shit went down. On the other hand, Addison was kind of scared of falling still, so she turned her attention to the back of the horse's head again. "He's still a big horse," Addison said to Arthur. "He could trample people to death. That would be awesome if he was trampling some asshole, but...y'know?"

Once she had placed her foot into his hands, Arthur grunted a bit as he lifted her upwards and kept his hands held up some as she climbed onto the horse. When he was sure Addison was in a good seated position, so much so that she wouldn't fall off immediately, he gripped the saddle. Pulling himself up with another deep grunt, the older man took a seat behind her and grasped the reigns, his arms on both sides of her. He had started to look around the darkened scenery, but stopped, taking notice of his young companion's stiff stature. His right hand let go of the reigns to lightly pat her thigh a few times in hopes of calming her down some.

As he gripped the reigns again, he said to her, his breath causing a small breeze against the hair on the top of her head, "Don't worry. I won't let you fall."

He adjusted himself in a more comfortable position and clicked his tongue twice as he lightly tapped the sides of the horse with both his feet. The sound and soft gesture caused the horse to huff out its nose and it began to trot in the direction of the gate.

Clearing his throat some, Arthur's left hand let go of the leather strap to securely wrap around Addison's waist. He said with a bit of mischief in his tone, "You'd better hold on... We gotta jump over the gate."

Without really letting her answer, he made sure his grip was tight, keeping her in place, as he roughly whipped the reigns of the horse, causing the large animal to run and jump over the short, iron gate. He let out a low chuckle as he leaned towards the side to see Addison's reaction. Gripping the leather strap again, he had the horse slow down to a jog and they traveled down the street.

He answered her question from before, "Yeah, they can cause some serious damage. Especially if someone gets a blow to the head. That can cause brain damage. It's not fun getting kicked by one...or a cow. I always got into trouble messin' with the cows and bulls at my house." He shook his head a little and chuckled again. "My daddy would get pissed at me and made me clean the house and gather up more tobacco from the farm."

It was in these rare moments that Arthur would share a few memories with Addison when he felt like chatting a bit. "You know what I'd do to the cows? I'd climb up into the top of the barn and take a slingshot or Beebee gun and shoot them in the nuts. Then they'd go crazy. A few times I fell down in the hay, or my brother would push me off. I was always causin' trouble for my mama and dad," he stated with a cough of a laugh and a small, goofy grin was on his face.

After Arthur got onto the saddle and patted her leg to comfort her, Addison allowed herself to relax and sink into the saddle. She could feel his breath move across her hair and flattened the loose strands again with a small grin on her lips. Her hands grasped onto the front of the saddle with a white-knuckled grip as she barely caught wind of what Arthur said as he grabbed her waist. Arthur snapped the reins and the horse soared over the gate, landing with a jolt. Addison could hear Arthur giving a chuckle as he turned to look at her, to which she responded with a small thumbs-up before grasping the saddle again. It was actually kind of cool...but it was still just as scary.

Addison listened quietly as Arthur answered her question, which quickly led to him speaking of his childhood. She laughed as he explained what he would do to the cows with his brother. Addison had never been around cows like that before, and now there was nothing more that she wanted to do than shoot a cow in the nuts. But Arthur talked about his childhood with such joy that she almost wished that she could be there too. Then again, there would probably be too many horses for her to handle. Addison soon forgot about her fear of riding the horse as she was enveloped in Arthur's stories. Her brow knit in thought as yet another few questions arose from the depths of her young mind. "What the fuck is a Beebee gun? And I didn't know you had a brother. I didn't have any brothers or sisters."

He blinked as he glanced at Addison a few times before answering her question, his attitude returning to its serious nature, "A nerf gun is basically the same as a real gun, but it doesn't have bullets. It's got these tiny, plastic balls that are used to shoot at other people. You do it for fun. If you got shot with one, you were out of the game. They hurt like a son of a bitch, though. One time I got shot in the eye. Lucky I didn't go blind because of it."

"If we happen to find two Beebee guns and some bee bees, I might be tempted to play with ya...or shoot some cows..." He muttered as an afterthought.

He let out a small sigh and was silent for a while, just listening to the noise of the horse's feet and the rustling of the leaves on the trees from the cold breeze that blew at them. Arthur shivered a bit as they exited the small town and continued down to the highway. He knew they had a long way to go before they even remotely reached Tennessee and they would have a hard journey ahead of them. He felt refreshed having been able to sleep for a couple of hours and he wondered if Addison was doing okay; if she was tired at all.

"Hey... Just lettin' you know, if you're tired and you wanna sleep, now would be a good time," Arthur said as he noticed the sun's light begin to barely shine above the trees far to their right.

Addison made a face as Arthur explained what a Beebee gun was. It didn't sound like they would be that useful besides leaving a bad mark. They sounded kind of like safe guns, which seemed stupid to her. She shrugged in response, then realized that he never answered her comment about having siblings. Touchy subject...got it. Addison never had any siblings, but she could imagine why he didn't want to talk about it.

A gust of wind blew through and she felt Arthur shiver. Lucky for her his body kept her warm, but the cold still bit through. Addison pulled her jacket tighter around her person to block out the cold. God, they were going to have a long journey ahead of them. In the cold, too. Good thing the morning light was starting to break through the trees. The temperature would get worse at night, but she didn't want to think about that at the moment.

As Arthur pointed out that she could get some sleep if she wanted, Addison's mind pinged in alarm. Did he know that she fell asleep during her shift? He didn't sound angry or anything, so maybe he didn't. She hoped he didn't. Playing it safe, she decided to do her best to guide the conversation away from sleep. "Uh...I'm a little tired, but I'll be fine. Have you ever fired a shotgun? I'm not really sure I know how to actually use the thing."

Addison gestured to the weapon hanging from her bag, tapping the barrel twice with her finger. The metal was cold to the touch from the temperature. She brought her hands to her mouth and blew warm air on them. It didn't help much.

Arthur looked ahead of them, seeing only the long road and a few trees, some of which were losing leaves from the cold weather. He inhaled through his mouth and exhaled deeply through his nose, almost enjoying the cold down his throat. It made him a little thirsty, but he could live without a drink until their next stop.

He answered Addison's question as he steered the horse forward, "I have, but not one like that. I'm used to a longer shotgun. It might be the same, though. I'll try to practice with it sometime and I'll show ya how to use it."

After an hour or so, the sun had risen up behind the trees, warmth coming along with its light rays. Arthur had thought a few moments after seeing an old, rusted, green sign that read, "ATLANTA 230 MILES."

They really had a long way to go...

The next stop was about two hours away and they'd have stopped to get more food, water, and other supplies. He knew in Atlanta there'd be plenty of places to search and he had a bad feeling in his gut about stopping there. The man had no doubt that there would be a hell of a lot of Ophie zombies lurking in the city. He frowned deeply at the thought. If they didn't have to stop there, he wouldn't.
[Gas Station]
Addison sat up after some time, realizing that she had happened to drift off to sleep despite her saying that she didn't need to. She rubbed her tired eyes, and it occurred to her that maybe it would be more believable in her case to 'prove' that she wasn't sleeping on the job. The teen was admittedly very guilty about that, and the last thing she wanted was for Arthur to know about it.

With a bit of a sniff, Addison brushed her arm under her nose, which was still slightly pink from the cold earlier. Even though it was warmer than it was previously, she shivered in her spot. A giant, rusted green sign caught her attention, declaring that Atlanta was still 230 miles away. That sounded really far away. Farther away than she would have liked, anyway. Too bad cars weren't something that they could just steal or something. Addison took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, wisps of air appearing at her lips and rising a little bit above her head.

"Arthur," she said quietly, having just woken up, "How long are we gonna keep going for? I'm getting kinda hungry." As if to prove her point, her belly growled loudly. She frowned and tried to suppress the sound by wrapping her arms around her torso, but that sure as hell didn't help. Addison turned her head to see Arthur and gave a look that had 'I told you so' written all over it. She gave a small chuckle at the timing of it.

As she turned to look at him, she noticed that he was frowning at something. Having been with him for this long, she knew he was thinking about something they were going to do. What it was, she had no idea. But Addison knew that he had a way of figuring things out, so she normally left him to it unless she had something important she wanted to tell him...like that she was hungry.

Arthur was a little relieved that Addison had gone to sleep. He replied with a hum when she said his name and he thought a few moments once she asked how much longer they would be. To be honest, the old man was hungry himself...
He turned a bit, and one of his brows rose, to look at her when her stomach growled loudly. His stomach let out a growl as if to communicate with hers and Arthur chuckled some also.

"Let's see where the next exit is... We'll get something soon," He muttered as he turned back towards the front and looked around for the next green sign.

It was thirty minutes before the next exit popped up and Arthur led the horse down the long, curving road. It wasn't long before they came to a small town where various, old gas stations, fast food places, and small gift shops were abundant on either side of the road. He stopped the horse as he looked around and suddenly had a flashback of when he was younger. He had been with his mother, father, and older brother when they had gone on a trip and they'd stopped at this location to take a potty break. The cars and people were driving and walking every which way and he could almost smell the food wafting from each fast-food restaurant. The man blinked and led the horse to the first gas station. There were two cars parked by the gas pumps, one still actually had a gas pump in it.

Hopping off the horse, Arthur gazed at the car with the gas pump and said, "Guess this place hasn't been visited since the outbreak. People left in such a hurry to get away from the infected..."

Once they came to a stop, Addison carefully slid off of the horse and landed a bit clumsily on her feet, taking a moment to balance herself. One look at the area and she immediately assumed that there would be nothing there. She could see that it would look like a goldmine to any passersby, and there most likely were more than a few. If the place was picked clean she wouldn't be too surprised. After all, this would be a place she would ransack too at first sight. But Arthur's words contradicted what she thought, and the girl saw that he was right.

As the duo approached the gas pumps with the horse, Addison looked inside the car. The windows were dusty, making it awfully hard to see through. She tried opening the door and found that it was locked. Go figure. Carefully she unhooked a hatchet from her backpack (a tool she forgot she owned) and held the blade to the window. Hopefully, years of deterioration would work in her favor and break the glass quickly. Her arm swung back and cracked against the window.

The hatchet bounced off.

One more try. Addison reared back again and swung harder. With an even louder crack and the sound of shattering glass, she saw that she was successful. With great caution, she reached her hand in, avoiding the few shards of glass clinging on for dear life, and opened up the door. There was a soft ring to signal that the door had indeed been opened and Addison looked inside. There wasn't much to see in the front seat, but in the backseat, there were some cases of beer and boxes of cigarettes. Her eyes lit up as she reached for one of the cans and snatched it up. The tin was only slightly, but she wanted to try the alcohol.

Addison pulled back out of the car with the can looking huge in her hands. She peeled back the piece of metal and felt the air rush out along with the bitter smell. The scent caught her off-guard, but it certainly didn't stop her desire to try the drink. Addison started to put the can to her lips as she watched Arthur with cool blue eyes, only half waiting to see his reaction to her trying to take a sip from the lukewarm beverage. She knew that alcohol was against the law back when the laws mattered, but those days were over with. If she wanted to drink a beer at the meager age of sixteen, then dammit she was gonna drink a beer at sixteen!

Arthur had led the horse towards one of the old, rusted poles where people would have chained their bicycles to back before the outbreak. He tied the reins to the pole and then patted and rubbed the large beast's side a bit before turning his attention to the car closest to him. Walking to it, he found the car was in pretty good shape and wasn't really surprised when he opened the door with ease. Most likely the owners had run out in a rush, presumably trying to escape some of the infected people. A small grunt came from him as he ducked down into the car, peering at the back seat to see if he could find anything useful.

He finally slid into the old, dusted, leather seat and he sighed in some form of comfort. He remembered when he used to have to drive a car to and from work. He chuckled a bit as his hands lifted to lightly brush against the wheel and he could almost imagine the many noises of the wind flying against the metal, the air conditioner or wind from the window brushing against his face, and a few songs from one of his favorite bands would be playing from the speakers. He closed his eyes a few moments and opened them again to peer at the review mirror, finding Addison had broken into the car behind him. Deciding to get back on track, the old man started looking through whatever pockets and crevices he could. Stepping out of the vehicle, he only had a half-empty bag of beef jerky and a silver lighter in his hands.

Stuffing his findings into his backpack, he returned his attention to his young companion.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!"

The man was on high alert when he saw a can of beer in her hand and he stopped her from taking a drink.

Trying to take it from her, he demanded, "What do you think you're doin'? If you think I'm gonna let you drink that, you're mistaken..."

He was silent a moment before he reached into the car and got himself a can and continued, "Unless you share some with me."

He smirked a bit before he inspected the small can. It had faded blue and silver colors, but Arthur knew exactly what brand of beer it was.

"Well, I'll be damned..."

Curling a finger in the tab and the top of the can, he lifted it and enjoyed the old, yet familiar hissing sound. He lifted it to his nose and sniffed before moving the edge to his lips and he took a gulp from it. A grunt came from him as he turned to Addison, looking at the can and then the young woman.

"It's old, but still good. This used to be my favorite drink besides sweet tea... Anyway, go ahead and try some if you want."

Arthur waited for her to try it, looking at Addison expectantly. He was kinda intrigued to see what her reaction would be to drinking an alcoholic drink.

The sudden outburst from Arthur took Addison by surprise. She nearly dropped the can she held in her hands at the shock. Her brow wrinkled in opposition and her mouth opened in protest. Arthur reached over to grab the drink from her hand, but she pulled it away quickly in response. There was no way she was going to let this opportunity slip from her fingers - literally and figuratively.

"Fuck you, I wanna try..." Addison trailed off once the older man stopped reaching for her can and took a beer from the car instead. With a perplexed expression, she watched the man click open the tin. The befuddlement turned to delight as he allowed her to have the drink. A buzz ran through her veins - before she even tried the drink - just at the smell of the beverage.

Arthur took a swig from the can and waited for Addison to try. Eagerly, she put the can to her lips and tilted her head back. The warm liquid washed over her tongue and gave off a strange sensation. It was definitely different from what she ever had before. A spark came from the back of her mind as she swallowed and paused to judge the liquid.

"Well shit, that's actually not as bad as I thought it would be. I can see why you like it." Addison's nose wrinkled, however. "It's kinda strong...fuck."

She began to cough some into her arm from the bitterness of the drink, but it passed as quickly as it came. Her eyes drifted over to the can again, but she didn't take another sip. With her smaller size combined with her youth, her mind began to buzz a bit. She set the can down on the ground beside her. Despite the taste that she enjoyed, Addison couldn't understand why her mother drank so much before all of this. Maybe it was an adult thing.

She wiped her mouth on her sleeve and shook her head. "I like the taste, but holy shit that's strong! How do you guys drink so much?"

Arthur took another swig and allowed himself to grin in amusement at his young partner's reaction. He was a bit surprised that she liked it. The man thought she would have to spit it out and made a funny face just like... He blinked and pushed the rest of the thought away. Smirking a bit, he replied to her with a shrug, "I think it's just something you have to have a liking for."

Soon after, he finished off the rest of the drink and let out a slightly disappointed grunt when he found the can was completely empty. Sighing, he crushed the can and tossed it back into the car. Turning back to Addison, he said with a serious tone, "Though, you have to keep count of how many you drink. If you drink too much, it'll cause you to get intoxicated."

He glanced away as he added, "I know because I used to do it on purpose..."

Clearing his throat, he walked around the back of the car and headed towards the small gas station. "Anyway, let's keep lookin' for supplies. I think one drink is enough for now."

Addison tossed the can aside, though it was still filled with alcohol, and gave a nod in reply to Arthur's answer. The stale taste still hung heavily in her mouth, but it would be easy to get over. The backpack swung off of the teen's shoulders as she reached in the car when Arthur looked away, taking two cans from the back seat and placing them in the bag. Maybe there would be some use later for them. She zipped the bag back up and hooked it onto her back again as she trotted after the older man.

One of the restaurants had signs that were obviously brightly colored at one point in past history. It initially delighted Addison to see that it read "Dave and Fuckers", but upon further investigation, she found that it was called "Dave and Buster's" and was quite disappointed. She walked towards its grimy glass doors and cupped her hands over her eyes in order to look inside better. Lined against the walls and dotting the center of the room were old arcade games and other machines of the like. Addison's eyes lit up as she saw this and whipped around to look at Arthur.

"Do you think there's anything inside this Dave and Fucker's?" she asked while purposely messing up the name. She preferred to call it this now and refused to acknowledge the true name. Not having heard of this place in the pre-apocalypse, Addison was rather enthusiastic to go in and explore the area. Who knew, maybe there were supplies in there too. The place gave off the feeling of being safe, so she didn't feel any reason to not take time and sift through every little thing.

Arthur came to a stop by the doorway after having looked through the cupboards and shelves in the gas station. He had found quite a bit of snacks, including a lot of old chocolate bars, beef jerky, chips, and various little candies. He'd found a large duffle bag behind the cashier counter and put as much food, water bottles, and a few more lighters within it. The long strap was hanging on his right shoulder and he set it down by his feet with a small grunt. It was still more than half empty and the old man knew they'd have some food for the road and a lot of water bottles.

He saw Addison was standing by a large restaurant and he couldn't help the chuckle that came from him at her name for it.

He placed his hand on his hip as he came to a stop beside her and he looked at the large building with his head tilted to the side. "Dave and Fuckers, huh? Where'd you get that name from?" Arthur asked with a smirk and amusement twinkled in his eyes. "You know, that actually sounds like someplace I've eaten before... Heh." He shook his head as he looked back up.

"I dunno, maybe. I found a couple of snacks and water bottles in the gas station." He looked down at her, "Worth a shot. I'll bring the duffle bag with us."

He walked back to the bag and placed the strap over his chest before pulling out his handgun. He walked by his young companion and headed into the restaurant.

Her smile only grew as Arthur agreed to go inside. Like a loyal puppy, she trailed along inside after him, now holding her shotgun in her hands. Past the double doors opened up a wide room. On the immediate right was a bar that went the length of the entire wall, save for some room to enter into the kitchen. The barstools were partly toppled over while empty glasses rested on the ridiculously dusty table. Behind the bar rested rows of a surprisingly large amount of alcohol. Anyone sitting there probably wasn't too worried about finishing their drinks when the end came.

Looking out into the central floor of the restaurant, it was dotted with several different islands of seats and buffet tables. Elevated booths lined the rest of the left wall. A stage and large screen took up the entirety of the wall adjacent to the left side, and even more, booths took up most of the wall straight ahead of them. Between the large screen and the booths ahead of them was a small walkway that led to an arcade that was practically pitch black excluding the strands of light shimmering through holes in the roof. Through those holes hung ivy that clung to the ceiling for dear life. The visibility was extremely low and resonated with a foreboding atmosphere.

But of course, Addison saw this as her playground. She had never quite seen anything like this before. Slowly she took in the sight of it all, her eye lingering for a tad too long at the bar before heading over to the booths on the left. The girl climbed the three stairs to get there and carefully analyzed all of them. The sound of flies met her ears and soon she came across a moldy plate of food, something that wasn't uncommon. The smell was ungodly, however, and Addison shielded her face with the crook of her arm to block the smell. "God, that fucking reeks." She turned and clambered over a rusted railing on the edge of the platform, dropping down to the ground on her feet. The sound of her shoes hitting the ground echoed in the room.

"This place is weird," Addison murmured, "but it looks like it would have been the shit." She went around the seats and buffet tables and glanced over the surfaces, eager to go into the game room to explore. The place didn't look as though anyone was currently in it, and so she allowed herself to be a bit adventurous.

Arthur followed his young companion inside with caution and he walked towards the bar to inspect it. He had to step over a few of the toppled stools and he forced himself to climb over the bar itself before he actually got behind it. Grunting as his feet hit the broken, tiled flooring, he glanced over in Addison's direction before he began to rummage through the shelves hidden beneath the long, wooden table. Behind him, on the wall, was a shelf were plenty of bottles of wine and other alcoholic beverages were still somehow neatly stacked by one another. Each bottle even had tier own little, square cubby to keep it in place. He knelt down, opened another cupboard, and pulled a rather large bottle, one of which that look more like a jug. It was brown and dusty and Arthur blinked down at the large jug, trying to get his eyes to focus on the old, faded black and gold label.

"...Ginnate… Guinness..." He blinked in surprise before he reread it a few more times and let out a low, huff of an excited sigh. "Well, I'll be damned... These people sure knew how to drink."

As he stood from his spot, he forced the corkscrew out of the small opening on the top of the bottle and took a whiff of it. Placing the corkscrew down, he glanced over the bar, found a good-sized, glass mug, and poured himself a drink. Lifting the large mug to his lips, he took a large gulp of it and let the liquid settle in his mouth for a bit. The strong, bitter taste of the Guinness beer made Arthur sigh in contentment, so much so that he even closed his eyes.

"Oh yeah..." He breathed out as he looked down at the dark liquid settle within the mug, "I have missed drinking Guinness. Best beer that there ever was."

Memories of going to expensive bars and restaurants filled the old man's head and he remembered almost always buying the delicious, bitterness that was Guinness. People thought he was crazy for loving such an alcoholic drink, but Arthur loved it. Ever since he had gone to one of those Scotts Irish festivals with his parents, where he first tried it, he had fallen in love with it. It had been years since he'd had a drink thing strong and wonderful. 'Course, he wouldn't drink more than the amount the mug had because like hell was he going to get both himself and Addison killed for being drunk. Forcing the cork back into the bottle, he threw his legs over the bar, grabbed his mug, which was still mostly full of alcohol, and he then turned his attention back to where Addison had been standing. His content frown turned into an annoyed one as he started looking for her. However, he heard her speak from somewhere and saw that she was across the room, having gone upstairs.

"...I swear, I'm gonna need more to drink after dealing with her never-ending energy," he muttered quietly to himself as he walked towards the stage and focused his eyes on her.

Taking a drink from the glass, he called up to her, "Addison, don't...don't go up there. You can fall and break somethin'."

An exasperated sigh came from him when she did just that, having made it onto the railing above him. He shut his eyes a moment, looked around, and returned his attention to her. "Yeah, it was probably one of those expensive restaurants where the rich could only come and where they had to make reservations before they could eat. The stage was used for entertainment and movies while they ate," he answered her rather quickly before he motioned with his free hand towards himself in a repetitive motion. "Now, get back down here before you get hurt. I don't wanna hear your whining after you do fall and I will tell you that it was your own damn fault."

He took a few steps closer, even getting onto the stage, and stood by the tall railing so he could catch her. Just in case the stupid kid did fall. It was also in times like these that he prayed to his mama, asking her if this was what he had been like and what she had to deal with when he was a kid.

Addison could hear Arthur murmuring to himself in the background as he analyzed the old bar. She hadn't taken much notice of it at first, but the thought of yet another alcoholic beverage calling her name was nearly tempting. Maybe some other time. Right now, the young girl was far more interested in her current surroundings. Already she had dismissed Arthur's warnings against going onto the upper platform, still curiously exploring the area. Only the rich could come up here? Huh. Addison carefully pushed around some of the old plates so that they were on the other end of the table, her throat tightening up a little at the horrid aroma they gave.

On the table was a dusty old cellphone. With some hesitation, Addison picked up the device and looked it over. The screen was covered in a thick layer of dust, but other than that was in near-perfect condition. At least, she thought so. She was a lot younger when phones were a big deal, so her knowledge of them wasn't that extensive. I remember them being a huge deal. Dad wouldn't let me own one until I was older, though.

A memory of her dad played in the back of her mind. She was standing on a chair, hanging off of his shoulder while peering down at what he was doing. What was on the screen she had no idea, but little Addy could see how invested her dad was. He scrolled through the content slowly, scanning each word with a thick furrowed brow. "Dad," she asked as she rested her head on his shoulder, "when can I have a phone? There are already other kids who have them!"

He turned with a smile and messed her hair up a bit, but the girl didn't care. She didn't mind being messy - never has. "You kids are too invested in those damn devices," he replied in a cool voice. "Try expanding that imagination of yours. You can find some fun in something other than a little screen, right?"

"You're on your phone!" Little Addy remarked. "What about your imagination?"

"I'm an old fart. I don't have one like you. But..." He set his phone face down on the table and picked Addison up, playfully bouncing her in his arms a bit as she giggled crazily. "I guess you're right. Come on kiddo, let's go do something."

Addison stood in the rubble of destruction with an old phone in her hand. She was tempted to stick it into her pocket, but part of her refused to pick it back up. Instead, she stood there for a few moments in complete silence before finally setting it down on the table. Arthur's voice rang out as he advised her to get down. Addison cleared her throat and shouldered her backpack, proceeding to turn and find her way down. She found a break in the railing near Arthur and sat so that her legs hung over the edge. Carefully, she turned and lowered herself, dropping down into a crouch with the sound of her feet resonating on the stage and under the watchful eye of her companion. Addison stood back up and brushed her arm under her nose. "Let's keep looking," she told the older man as she looked around the room. "Unless we're gonna leave this shithole now."

The old man's grey-blue orbs followed her form as she moved about and finally jumped down on the stage. As she had jumped, an inner panic filled his gut and he hurriedly took a few, large strides towards where he thought she would land. Reaching one of his hands out, he gripped her as she landed on the wooden floor and let out a silent sigh of frustration. Giving her a look, she turned back around and hopped off the stage, and downed the rest of his drink. Placing the glass down on the floor he heard Addison speak and glanced around the room they were in. After a few seconds of silence, Arthur finally stated, "There could still be some food leftover in the kitchen or supply room. Let's go check there and then we can explore the other buildings a little more."

After he spoke, the survivor began to walk towards the double doors that led back into the kitchen. Inside there were rows upon rows of metal stoves, countertops, and sinks. On the far left, towards the back, there was a large, metallic door Arthur assumed was the freezer. He bet most of the meats inside would be covered in mold and way out of date since there was no more electricity in the world they lived in. Stopping short, his expression hardened and he lifted a hand in a motion for Addison to stop where she was. His eyes and head moved upwards to follow a smeared trail of dark red, almost black liquid and it disappeared into one of the vents. Although the blood was far from being fresh, he could never be too careful with the undead. If one happened to have still survived in the ventilation system, it could pop out from anywhere. He slowly reached back and pulled his handgun out from the area between his belt and jeans and switched the safety off as he took carefully slowed steps forward.

"Sounds like a plan." Addison hooked her thumbs underneath the worn straps of her backpack as she followed Arthur's lead. The mention of food caused her belly to quietly grumble in response. She hadn't realized how hungry she was. This place must have been bustling with all sorts of food and people back in the day, but Addison couldn't quite figure out how it would look. That number of people wasn't something she liked or was accustomed to, and certainly not for any good scenarios. Her hand stopped one of the double doors as Arthur passed through, gazing in disappointment at the long rows of shelves that bore little. The chance of finding food that hadn't grown old was most likely slim.

Addison took a deeper look into the kitchen. Some of the shelves reached above her head, and so she was forced to feel for anything. Her hand was covered in dust and was slightly sticky, though she didn't want to imagine what it was from. Down the line, some were several dented but otherwise okay cans. Taking two up, the labels revealed that they were corn and tomato sauce. With satisfaction, Addison turned and went back to Arthur, who held up his hand in warning as he pulled out his pistol. Immediately, she took notice of the dark stain on the floor. Fuck. Her hand went to the side of her backpack, carefully sliding out the hatchet from its place. With extreme alertness, Addison watched as Arthur cautiously approached the vent. Her grip tightened on her weapon in anticipation.

He quickly looked around for anything he could stand on and his grey-blue orbs landed on a metal stood tucked away beneath the sink. Walking to the sink and bending over to grab it, Arthur hurriedly placed it on the floor beneath the general area of the vent. Before he stepped on it, however, he glanced at Addison and mentally told himself that he was about to do something stupid. If there was in fact an infected in the vent, then he might as well be dead doing what he was about to do, but if it meant that he would get bitten instead of his young companion... Then, dammit, he was going to do it instead of making her. As he turned his head back up towards the vent, he muttered to himself, "I'm gettin' too old, anyway..."

Holding his breath, he lifted his gun and his free hand towards the vent in unison. The man's muscles tensed up as he gripped the latch of the vent and after a few, long seconds, he finally undid the latch and the hatch fell downwards. His breathing increased as he took out his flashlight, turned it on, and peered within the rest of the large, squared-shaped vent. As soon as he was able to get his eyes above the edge of the metal surface, the entire thing suddenly came crashing down on top of him. With a yell, Arthur fell backward off of the stool and landed on the tiled flooring with a harsh thud. Letting out a strew of curses, the old man let out pained noises and frustrated huffs of breath as he pushed the damned thing off of him. His entire lower area hurt, as well as most of his back, and entire right side. His brows knit together as he lay on the floor with his eyes closed and his thin lips were pressed together so firmly that it made his face look just like someone who was looking at somebody they were both pissed at, as well as disappointed in. Breathing in and out through his nostrils, Arthur just stayed where he was, and decided that it would be best not to move at all.

When he opened his eyes, he lifted a finger and looked towards the young woman, "Not a god damn word," he finally stood up and growled out with a frustrated attitude, "And no, I do not need help."

As soon as he stood up, he felt something else fall on top of him, and seeing it was a corpse, Arthur thoughtlessly shoved it off of him and aimed his gun at its head before it even hit the floor. After a few seconds, it dawned on him that it was a very old corpse and had was not alive in the slightest. Relaxing a bit, the man let out a long, exasperated sigh and he turned to Addison, "It's alright. It's already dead. We got nothin' to worry about."

Breathing heavily through his mouth, Arthur placed the handgun back in its spot and began to slowly stretch and rub the areas his hands could reach and breathed out a few more curses. "Let's get goin'. Did you find anything?" He asked as he began to exit the kitchen and eventually the building.

Several concerning thoughts zipped through Addison's mind as Arthur pulled a sheet of metal over towards the vent. She wasn't too sure of what he was planning, but she decided not to call him out on it. Sweaty fingers readjusted themselves on the wooden handle of the hatchet in anticipation of what her companion was doing and what hidden dangers may pop out from the vent. Her eyes hyper-focused on the vent as Arthur reached for the latch and pulled it open, the vent falling open with a loud metallic crash. Addison reared her arm up to swing her weapon at any danger, but none showed itself. She lowered her arm and pushed her tongue against the inside of her cheek as she looked around for any other signs of trouble.

A sudden yell and another loud crash took Addison by surprise. Arthur had fallen off of the stool and took some of the nearby items with him, and it was admittedly a funny sight to see. She bit her lower lip to suppress a smile, but a small chuckle found its way out. "Good job, old man. Are you...." Addison trailed off as a corpse slid out and fell on Arthur, pausing to see if it was alive. It collapsed to the ground in a heap of putrid smells and rotten flesh. The thing was gruesome. Addison put the back of her hand against her nose to block the scent while Arthur reassured her that it was long dead. "Fuck, that's gross."

Arthur began to walk out, and after looking at the body a few more moments in disgusting awe, the young girl trotted after him. The image was burned in her mind. Shaking her head some, she slid the hatchet back onto her backpack and grasped the straps tightly while picking up the pace to walk alongside Arthur. "I found some corn and tomato sauce," she replied to him, "but besides the beer, there wasn't shit. We should get out of here before something else falls on you." A mischievous grin grew on her face as she teased her older friend, unable to help herself to the golden opportunity. She sped up some to get to the horse, eager to start on their journey to Tennessee. The sooner they got there, the better. A good night's sleep would be much appreciated.

"How far until we get to Tennessee?" Addison asked, waiting by the horse to have Arthur help her up. "It can't be that much farther, right? I have no fuckin' idea where we are, though, so I don't know." Hesitantly, she looked to the horse's side and began to lightly stroke the short fur. It was bristly and stiff, but oddly comforting. Maybe this thing isn't as bad as I thought. It's kinda cute.

Arthur simply scoffed at her joking comment and watched as she jogged towards their ride. When he reached the horse, he waited until she had finished petting it before he knelt down on one knee. Arthur intertwined his fingers together and replied to her as he helped her up, "We are in Georgia right now and you have the map."

He hopped up on the horse, adjusted himself on the saddle, and continued as the beast began to go back onto the interstate, "If I remember correctly, we still have to pass a bunch of mountains before we reach Tennessee."

After a while on the road, he glanced back at her and asked, "So, you found the map yet?"

A soft groan escaped her lips as Arthur recalled having to pass through mountains to get to Tennessee. Addison was very much ready to get to where they were headed and get some well-earned rest, and maybe even eat without having to worry about rations for once. He mentioned the map, and so the girl pulled off her backpack, shuffling through the little supplies she had. Eventually, she pulled out a crumpled, rolled-up map. "Yep, I got it right here." Addison reached over to hand it to him, passing it over his right shoulder.
[The Boat]
The man turned his upper body a bit and took the crumpled map from his young companion. While their horse kept a steady pace, he unfolded it and pulled the ends far away from each other, so the entire map was on display. His eyes scanned the area they were in and Arthur muttered a few things to himself as he looked over the numbers and multicolored route lines. He folded it back up and stuffed it in his pocket.

"Alright, we still have a bit to go, but it should only take us about two weeks to get there by horseback."


After a while on the horse, he made it stop by pulling on the reins and giving it a command. There was a drop-off in the middle of the interstate and debris and cars were blocking off all the other exits-- except one to their far-right. It seemed like it had been nuked a couple of times in the beginning of the outbreak. The man's expression morphed into seriousness and he mulled over what they should do. Their quickest route had been cut off... They could turn back around and take a long way, but Arthur honestly didn't want to do that. They'd traveled so far already.

He glanced back at Addison and sighed, "Looks like we've gotta take a longer way. Might be more than two weeks before we get there."

Steering the dark-colored beast to the only exit, Arthur had it trot down the old, paved road. It wasn't long before they entered a small town and Arthur took notice of how everything was blocked off with cars and makeshift walls. After they made it a few more feet closer, past a large doorway if sorts, he made the horse abruptly stop. His eyes narrowed as realization set in. They had just walked through an entrance and were in a cage of sorts. There was no ceiling, just a large wall that encircled them. Clicking his tongue a bit, he turned the horse around and a large, metallic door was slid to one of the sides of the wall. It blocked their only way out and Arthur had realized too late just what was going on.

The loud noise made the horse panic and Arthur made it stop from throwing the two passengers off. At the same moment he had turned the horse around, a group of men stood at the top of the wall and others began to fill the large circle.

"Shit-! Addison, hold on to me!" Arthur yelled as he kicked the horse's sides and it took off in a run.

As the horse sped past approaching men, Arthur was looking for another possible exit.

Where the fuck is an exit?! There's gotta be a way out!

He knew he should have turned around.

He knew he should have turned around.

He knew he should have fucking turned around!

One second the horse was running, another the horse was shot in the head and they were all falling over and onto the hard pavement below. Arthur let out a pained noise as he hit the concrete and he quickly scrambled backward, roughly pulling the girl with him as their animal companion landed on the ground with a thump. Just as he started to stand, he felt hands grip the material of his coat and one of his shoulders and he was thrown to the side. On instinct, he had grabbed the back of the attacker's ankle and pulled it towards him, making the surprised man fall backward. Arthur crawled on top of him and rammed a punch to his throat. The man died with a few choking noises and Arthur stood up from on top of him.

Before he could look for Addison, he felt someone grab him from behind and he was in a struggle. It didn't last long, though, because the old man was able to send an elbow into the man's face, winded him, and Arthur grabbed him and punched him repeatedly in the face. The man fell to the ground, lifeless. The grey-haired man turned around and spotted two men dragging Addison away and he ran towards her as fast as he could. As he ran, he pulled out his knife, it gleamed in the sunlight. With a growled yell of, "Get the hell off of her!" he pulled one man off her and stabbed him in the throat more than enough times.

Just as he had started to touch her, and asked her if she was okay, he felt another pair of hands grab him.

Then another and another.

However much he struggled, his weapon was knocked from his hand and Arthur was eventually shoved and held onto the warm pavement. Although the air was chilly, Arthur still had sweat pouring down his face. His eyes landed on Addison, who was being forcefully taken in the opposite direction of where he was. A mixture of anger and panic boiled in his system and his eyes flicked over to the man who had knelt down in his range of sight, a leg that had partially blocked off where Addison was being taken.

Two heavy breaths came from Arthur as he snarled up at the man in the hood, "You do anything to her and I swear to God..."

The man only snickered and interrupted him, "Don't worry, old man. We'll take good care 'o her. As for you though..." The man stood up and smirked darkly, "You get to take a long nap in the dirt. Good night, jackass!"

Arthur had to turn his head to the side when the man had stood up and the next thing he saw was the bottom of a boot being sent towards his face.


Arthur was in and out of consciousness for an unknown amount of time. His eyes slowly opened and the first thing he noticed as his brain began to awaken was how much pain his body was in. He let out a pained sigh and a few quick breaths of air as he shut an eye for a moment. Next was how cold he was, goosebumps had formed all over his body, and then he realized one of his eyes was hurting like hell and he couldn't really open it all the way. He then realized that he was hanging upside-down. Blinking, he first looked down at himself and noticed he only had his pants on and nothing else.

No wonder I'm so goddamn cold...

He finally looked around and his heart skipped a beat. There were others hanging upside down around him, but they were already dead. Some had limbs missing. He looked to his left and beside the door of the metallic room, he saw a corpse had been cut and certain pieces were stowed away within boxes while the other, unwanted parts were thrown in a large bucket or trash bin. Arthur licked his chapped lips and was a little relieved when he didn't see any sign of Addison. Then the worry instantly kicked in. He remembered the words of the man who had kicked his face. He remembered the things some of the groups he had been with did to children and females of any age.

"I gotta get out of here," he hurriedly whispered to himself over and over again as he began to look around for something to cut himself loose.

He didn't see anything.

The teen frowned as Arthur estimated that it would take about two weeks by horseback to get to their destination. It felt as though it were so far away. It could be worse, though. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes to get a little bit of rest as they left the plaza.


Addison was lightly shaken awake by the horse coming to a sudden stop. It hadn't been too long since they started on their way again, but sleep still tugged at her eyes. Rubbing her eyes, she craned her neck from behind Arthur's back to see what had caused them to stop. Addison's brow furrowed in disappointment at the sight as she could already guess what that meant. Only one path was open for them to take, and it didn't look as though it was very safe. Still, they didn't really have too many options. Without even seeing his face, Addison could tell that Arthur was weighing the options carefully. Eventually, he turned around to deliver the verdict and confirm her suspicions. "It doesn't look like we have much of another option," Addison replied, turning to glance momentarily over her shoulder at the main road as Arthur guided the horse onto the trail.

They continued steadily down the road, and a heavy eeriness ran down her back once they'd entered a small town. It was heavily armored and blocked off. The quietness was surprisingly deafening, something that stuck to her. Even the most abandoned of places that she had experienced before had more movement and sound than this place did. Something was off. Arthur seemed to pick up on this too as he turned the horse around to leave, but the sound of a creaking metal door sliding shut stopped them. A knot tightened in the girl's stomach. The horse started to whine and trot around in worry a bit before Arthur calmed it. "Arthur...?"

Everything else happened in a blur. As soon as Arthur barked at Addison to hold on, she wrapped her arms around his torso and grasped tightly. The horse took off with lightning speed, but not for long. A loud shot rang out and the two were both tossed into the air. Addison tumbled onto the ground. In a daze, she felt Arthur grab her arm and let go almost immediately after. One of those assholes has him...where the fuck is my bag? Her backpack had managed to slip off when the horse fell, but it wasn't too far away. The shotgun was God knows where, though. On her hands and knees, Addison scrambled for the hatchet that was still hanging off of the side when one of their attackers reached down and harshly snatched up her wrist with one of the grossest laughs she'd ever heard. "Get the fuck off me, dickhead!"

Addison pulled her hand away as hard as she could and dove for the hatchet, successfully sliding it out of the backpack and turning as the man bore down on her once again. Without any thought, she swung the hatchet at his hand. It was by no means a clean cut, so his hand hung loosely by some strings of bone and sinew as he screamed in horror. Yet another man saw this and headed towards Addison with the glare of death in his eyes when Arthur turned him around and stabbed him in the throat too many times to count. "Jesus Christ, Arthur!" He crouched down to check on her, but Addison jabbed her finger in the air behind him in a warning. "Watch out!"

But it was too late. A mob swarmed them, tearing the two apart and taking them their separate ways. Arms and hands grasped her arms and waist, doing their best to hold her down without getting kicked. "Fuck you! Let me go!" One of them tried to place his hand around her mouth to get her to be quiet, but instead, she bit down hard on his hand, causing his metallic-tasting blood to spill into her mouth. She spat it out and looked around wildly for Arthur to help, but he was having troubles of his own. It didn't take them too long to bring him down to the pavement, knocking the knife out of his hand. Before she disappeared into whatever building they were taking her to, Addison saw one of them bring his boot down on Arthur.

“No!” She strained as hard as she could against the men. Something heavy hit the side of her head and Addison went limp.


A couple of hours had passed. Addison sat alone, hugging her knees in the darkness in the corner of a makeshift cell with nothing but the light of the setting sun. Several scrapes and bruises marked her arms as well as some cuts along her face. Dried blood was on the corner of her mouth and down the side of her temple, but no permanent physical damage had been done. Her clothes were tattered from them tearing at her like animals and so she shook from the cold breeze of an open window. Addison's fingers and palms were raw and red from shaking the bars and pounding at the walls for a long time in anger. She had given up her attempts when no one came and there was no sign of Arthur coming. Every bit of the room was analyzed for an escape route, but she saw none.

The door swung open and a man strutted in. He was tall and lanky, not really one that anyone would think to be as vicious as these men were. He had on a few layers that Addison found herself wanting badly as she tried to warm herself by rubbing her arms. The man crouched down in front of the door and gave a smile that sucked any warmth in the room out of it. They stayed in that position for a while.

"I'm Ian," he said eventually in a quiet, husky voice. "What's your name?"

She didn't answer. Instead, Addison glared at him from her sitting position with daggers in her eyes. Again, they stayed that way for a few moments before the man chuckled and shook his head, standing up with a shrug. "That's too bad. I thought we'd have a nicer start, but judging by you and your friend's...reaction to everything, I guess we might have some trouble after all." Ian began unlocking the door and opened it wide. He noticed her jolt some as the door was opened, but he shook his head and pointed at the gun and knife in his belt. It wouldn't be a good idea. Ian crouched down so that his face was only inches from hers, scratching his black beard in some thought. His hand suddenly shot out and tightly grabbed her jaw with malice in his gaze, forcing her to look at him.

"I'm your only way of knowing if your friend is alive and of keeping him alive. I don't have to do this, but I want to because I like your fighting spirit. I can still fuck you over at any point, but I won't. I'd appreciate it if you gave me some form of appreciation by answering me when I ask for your goddamn name. I'm asking one more time. What. Is. Your. Name?"

"Fuck you." Addison gathered as much saliva as she could and spat in his face. He used his free hand to wipe it off and gave a disappointing sigh. "Your choice, kiddo." Ian got up and exited the cage, leaving the door slightly ajar. He opened the door to the room and called the attention of someone outside.

"The new guy. Feisty one? Give his ass a beating, make him tender. Ask him some questions about where he's from too. See if anyone's looking for him. If not, then get him ready for chopping." Ian turned back around and closed the door, staring back at Addison. A smirk tugged at his lips as the guilt set in on the girl. "Y'know," he said as he loosely adjusted his belt, "it gets awfully lonely around here. And I would really like for you to show me some appreciation." Sensing the danger, Addison crawled over to the door and slammed it shut, holding it tightly to prevent Ian from opening it. He laughed as he grasped the bars and started yanking at them to frighten her. Addison closed her eyes, doing her best to wish him away as her sore fingers started to slip. "Stop!"

The blood had rushed to Arthur's head and it made him really lightheaded. However, just because he was getting dizzy, didn't mean he was going to hang there and do nothing. With a few grunts, he forced his upper body to swing a bit and as he was reaching his hand towards his feet, he stopped short when he felt the platform, which held the metal hook he was tied to, move. He breathed out heavily through his mouth and blinked up at it, the thought process already turned the gears within his head. Letting himself hang back down, he let out a painful huff and began to swing himself back and forth. Each time he moved, the more the metallic platform loosened. He moved himself back a forth a few more times and the platform fell from the ceiling with a clang. Arthur landed on the floor with a grunt and as he pushed himself up into a seated position, he ignored the freezing cold concrete against his warm skin. Sniffing, he hurriedly untied the rope around his ankles and kept it in his hands as he walked towards the table that had the human remains lay on it. The door swung open and a man walked inside and when he saw that the old man was not there anymore, he panicked and began to look around.

The grey-haired male kept himself low as he took silent steps toward the enemy and in a matter of seconds, he was standing up and had the rope around the man's neck. The man gripped at the rope, tried to pull it off, or pull on it to slacken the pressure so he could breathe, and just as Arthur was sure he was going to die of suffocation, he felt something hard hit the back of his head. With a cry of pain, he fell to the ground, rope loosely hung from his hands.

"How the hell did he get free?!" The first man asked as he coughed and gasped for air.

"The hell if I know, man! Let's just get the interrogation done with," the other said as he moved towards the unconscious Arthur.


The next time Arthur came to, he groaned a little and heard a single, blurred voice become clear, "Wakey wakey, asshole."

Arthur felt a hard slap hit across his face and his head was lifted up by someone gripping his grey locks harshly. He blinked at a bright light and the man in front of him became less blurry in a matter of seconds.

"So, you awake now, jackass?"

Arthur blinked as his upper body was shoved back into the chair. When he tried to move his hands, he found that they were tied down behind the wooden chair he sat in. The man in front of him was the one who had kicked him in the face when he and Addison were ambushed. He seemed to be in his early thirties, his dark brown hair was short and greasy, aside from the poor excuse of him brushing his bangs to the side with his fingers, and he had a stubble that had empty patches. He had a large scar underneath his left eye, another one that ran over the left side of his lips, his lips were a dark red, and his eyes were a light chocolate brown. His attire consisted of a dirty, white, long-sleeved shirt, black jean pants, brown boots, black finger-less gloves, and the dark grey jacket he wore before. He had his jacket tied around his waist. The other man, Arthur presumed he had been the one to almost die, was seated on a long, metal table. His black hair was very short, his eyes were brown, and his skin was a dark chocolate color. He had on dark blue jeans, black boots, a black turtleneck sweater, and, Arthur realized, he had on his god damn coat. The dark-skinned male was eating peanuts and tossing the shells on the paved ground below. Arthur also noted that he had a machete set right beside the leg that was on top of the table, while the other hung loosely off of it.

Arthur blinked and glared at the younger male, growling out, "That's my coat."

The male snickered as he ate another peanut and replied with a humored scoff, "Not anymore, it ain't."

Arthur stayed silent as the older male from before casually sat in a chair right across from him. "Alright, old man. So, our boss has told us to ask you some questions. IF you don't answer 'em, well, then you die. If ya piss me off, yer dead. In fact, if ya keep lookin' at me like that, I won't even ask you any god damn questions an' just kill ya right now."

Arthur's expression didn't change and the man rolled his eyes and sighed, "Fine. I only gotta ask you one question, then I can kill ya. Ain't tha' right, Red?"

He had turned around to get confirmation from the younger male, who had his mouth full of peanuts, and they nodded to one another.

"Alright. So, old man, where ya from? Ya got anyone, uh, lookin' for ya?" He asked as he turned back towards the forty-year-old strapped in a chair.


"Okay, ya don't wanna talk? Fine," he replied in an annoyed manner as he stood up and gripped Arthur by the back of his neck, and pulled him out of the chair.

When they were brought across the room, close to the dark-skinned male, Arthur was roughly shoved onto his knees. As he struggled, a breathless voice spoke into his ear, full of twisted delight, "I'll just make ya talk, then!"

Then his head was forcibly shoved into a large bucket of ice-cold water, the large hand on the back of his head gripped at his grey hair with no remorse. He could hear the muffled laughter and excited hollers coming from the two behind him as he held his breath. He felt the ice cubes hit against his face and neck and he wasn't entirely sure how these assholes had ice cubes to begin with. After five minutes, his head was yanked upwards and he opened his mouth, gasping for air in a coughing fit.

"You ready to talk now," sang the man who held onto him.

When Arthur gave no response, his head was dunked back into the freezing water. That time lasted for ten minutes and Arthur's brain had begun to become cloudy with confusion. He was then thrown across the room, his body landed on the pavement with a wet thump. Arthur tried to push himself up with his hands behind his back, but before he could even do anything, he felt something hit his back hard. Arthur shut his eyes as his enemy beat him with a pipe and threw kicks at him and he made himself keep breathing. Even through his clouded mind and weakened state, he still held on resolve; get to Addison.

Gotta find Addison.

Gotta get her out of here.

Gotta find Addison.

Gotta get her out of here.

Gotta find Addison.

Gotta get her out of here.

The two men laughed when the beating was over and they walked out of the, decided that they would save the old man for more beatings later. The room was dark aside from the two lamps that hung from the ceiling and heavy breathing and grunts filled the empty space as the person inside it forced himself to move. His nerves began to send signals of pain to his brain and it hurt for him to even breathe. Letting out labored breaths, the man forced himself to roll on his bloody back and he let out a long hiss of pain as the cold concrete met with opened wounds. With agonizingly painful, slow movements, Arthur was able to pull his tied hands out from underneath him by pulling his knees up to his chest and he brought his hands up from underneath them. Once done, he took a minute to catch his breath. Somewhere in his side hurt and Arthur guessed that he had a broken rib. His head lifted a bit to stare at the up-side-down door, making sure the men weren't coming back. If they caught him a second time, then he would be killed and Addison would be left alone and Arthur would not allow that shit to happen. He let out a mixed sigh and grunt as he forced himself to roll back over and stand on his feet. He stumbled a little, his body shook from the cold and trauma, and his mind began to clear a little from the little bit of warmth the body sent towards his brain.

He had been through worse and lived.

This was easier than the other shit he had been through.

Arthur leaned on the table for support and began to think of what his next move should be. His eye caught the sight of the machete the younger male had left on the table and he quickly grabbed it and hit behind the space the door would open. Holding his breath, he waited for what seemed like an eternity before the door was lightly pushed open. The two walked back inside, laughing a bit and talking about a girl and some man known as Ian. As soon as the door shut and the two looked at the empty space, Arthur lunged forward with a war cry. The younger man was killed first, and the machete was hacked relentlessly at the throat. After the body fell to the floor, Arthur was tackled to the ground and the weapon was knocked from his hand. Hands gripped around his throat and squeezed tightly, causing Arthur to see stars and his vision to blur. With more grunts, Arthur grabbed the hooded man's shoulders and forced the two to roll to his right. Soon, Arthur was on top of him and was ramming the back of the killer's head into the ground. Blood and pieces of skin, brain, and skull were soon splattered onto the ground. Arthur breathed heavily as he stood and turned to the first corpse. Kneeling down next to it, he ripped the worn, brown coat from the body and muttered breathlessly, "It's my god damn coat."

He quickly shrugged it on, picked up the machete, and opened the door. When he was sure nobody was outside, he began to walk out into the hallway.

That's when he smelled it; salt.

Arthur instantly knew what that smell meant.


Just where the hell had these people taken him and Addison?

Arthur took a sharp left down the carpeted hallway and the lights that weren't broken shown brightly down onto him, as did the sunlight that came through the circular windows. Still shivering, Arthur froze in place when he saw a pair of boots and the ends of pants walked down the stairs further down the hallway. Thinking quickly, he ducked into a room closest to him and shut the door. Keeping his body close to the wall, he stayed silent until he heard the footsteps move down the way he had just come from. He opened the door again and ran down the rest of the hallway and cautiously crept up the stairs, which led into another hallway. His heart was thumping loudly within his ears and his breath was quick as the adrenaline coursed through his entire body. He glanced around before going into another room, and shut the door behind him. As he turned around, he found a man was sleeping soundly on a bed. The room he had just walked into was large and had all kinds of things, including the rest of his clothes. Careful not to wake the man up, Arthur put the rest of his clothing on, stole the man's handgun, and peeked outside before he continued to sneak around.
When he was sure nobody was close enough to hear him move, he went back out into the hallway and continued to look around.

Addison leaned with her back to the freezing and damp metal walls, her forearms resting on her knees while she fiddled with a piece of torn fabric from her own clothes. A dirty tray of half-eaten food sat beside her, a meal that she only picked at. The taste was unfamiliar. A couple more bruises and cuts had appeared on her arms and body since her encounter with Ian, who was sitting lazily in the back corner of the room. His lips curled into a smug and proud expression, one that caused Addison's throat to tighten in disgust. He toyed with the knife and gun on the wooden table that sat across from the door of the cell, cleaning some old dust and gunk from inside the pistol. A tray sat by him too, only his was scraped clean. It was as if he had done nothing at all, as though he were simply bored. That pissed the girl off, but not enough to do anything about it. Not with the crazy asshole in the room with her. Ian gently set the handgun down in front of him, the knife in his belt, and leaned forward in his seat.

"We both know that I can do whatever the hell I want right now," Ian stated. "I could kill you. I could torture you. I could set you free. That's why I'm being as honest as I am with you. All I'm asking, kid, is that you show me that same kindness."

"It's not kindness," Addison growled, "it's being a fucking dick. Don't bullshit me like that."

"You feel that way because you're young. You don't understand what being a grown-up is like. But I like that youthful innocence." Ian scooted the chair backward, giving a little stretch, then walked back over to the cell door with his hands behind his back. "I find it enlightening and alluring. To a fault, I suppose." He unlocked the door and slowly opened it, walking to Addison once again. He stood above her with his hand extended out towards her, calloused fingers beckoning her to take it. The strands of greasy hair hung loosely over his face and the sweat dripped off of his beard. Surprisingly, he was probably one of the cleanest people in the place. "Let's go out there and show the fellas that you're strong and capable. You don't have to die. I can't guarantee the same for your partner, but I can find a way to save you. Trust me, kid."

Addison swallowed hard at the offer. He was such a sick man, so delusional. Did he really believe that she would take his offer that easily? After everything he did to her, what did his people do to her and Arthur? Her eyes darted to the knife hanging off of his belt with the keys and then back to his eyes, which were fully focused on her. Addison slowly took his hand, his sweaty, rough hand, and pulled herself up. Ian seemed quite pleased with himself until Addison gave an obviously fake smile. "You're a goddamn pig!" She darted forward, yanking the knife off of his belt and swinging at his person. With a yelp and a spurt of blood, she felt the knife sink into his bicep. Holding the weapon where it was, her fingers searched desperately for the keys. Instead, the girl was met with a harsh stinging sensation as Ian pulled her away and sent her crashing to the ground, harshly bouncing her head on the floor. He stared down hungrily, lowering himself down to her. "I own you. Everything you do is futile. I'm gonna personally see your friend be slaughtered. You can't do shit."

Now on the floor, Addison did her best to think fast despite the momentary confusion. Her mind was a blur but was quickly clearing up with her instinct to survive. In a burst of sudden adrenaline, she reared back her foot and sent it straight into Ian's ankle, causing the man to topple to the ground. He landed on his ass and immediately scrambled to leave the cell before something else was broken, but her nimble fingers had already found their way to the key chain. Addison tore them from his belt and held them tightly in her hands. "Fuck yeah!" She took a moment to celebrate the victory with a smirk that vanished with the sound of a click. Ian had crawled away fast enough to reach one lanky arm up to the table and snatch up the pistol, which now had the safety off. His deep laugh resonated in the room while he gestured for the keys, which she had no choice but to toss back to him.

"You think you're a smart little bitch, don't you?" Ian snarled as he leaned forward and picked up the keys, obviously pissed off now. "I gave you a way to survive and you attack me? Your savior?!" Addison retreated back to her corner as he carefully stood up and headed for the door, now mildly terrified of what he was doing and concerned that the gun was still trained on her. The man cracked open the door and yelled to the men outside once again. "Boys, I've got a treat for you! You wanted the fucking girl, you can have her and that old man!"

The sound of a couple of footsteps and gruff voices filled the room outside. Her heart rate went through the roof as Addison saw that she had no weapons and no way of fending off a bunch of hungry men. How the fuck am I gonna get out of this without Arthur? All she wanted now was to have him come in and beat the shit out of all of them, for everything to be normal. Without having him right now, Addison felt exposed and drained. The thought of these assholes taking Arthur away from her shook her to the core. Unimaginable anger set in as she slowly got up off of the ground, watching Ian like a hawk as he looked outside of the door for his men. His grip on the gun was lowered, and he wasn't paying attention as he told his men what they could do and where they could take their prize. I'm not gonna sit here and let them get me. I'm gonna fuck them up. Addison cautiously rose off of the ground and prowled towards Ian.

At the last possible second, he turned his head and saw her coming for him, stalking him with the intense gaze of a predator at work. He lifted the gun to retaliate, but Addison dove for it at the same time, swiping it out of his hands and landing at his feet. She turned as Ian tried to kick her off and quickly got to her feet and pulled the knife out of his arm, to which he let out a screech of pain. With no hesitation, Addison swung it across his face and sliced through his eye, causing him to fall to the ground in pain and confusion. It was the perfect distraction as she jumped on him and started stabbing at his face in horrible, jagged motions and lines. Ian screamed and kicked with every motion until his face was nothing but a pool of gore and blood. Addison couldn't stop. Sticky blood clung to her skin and ruined clothes, but she couldn't find it in her to stop stabbing the filth. Her pulse was the only thing she could hear as it thudded loudly in her ears. Every bit of energy she had was expended on Ian, but it didn't feel suitable for what he had done.

Hands began to roughly cling to her arms and torso, pulling her away from the mess and squeezing until the knife fell from her hands. Addison growled and fought back. "No! Get away from me!" Two of Ian's people had reached the room and saw the mess, immediately taking action. They ripped her away from the bloody corpse and gazed upon the scene in disbelief. The thicker of the two grabbed her by the neck and held her against the wall. "The fuck did you do," he exclaimed incredulously. "You're gonna fucking pay, you little shit!" Addison sent a kick to the balls, causing the man to crumple in pain. It quickly turned from pain to fury as he turned back to give her a beating, but the girl had managed to pull out of his grasp and stumble towards the exit. The other goon reached out and snagged the back of her shirt, yanking her back in and pulling her tightly to his body. He held an arm around her arms and torso and held a wickedly sharp knife to her face. A snicker escaped his lips as he pinned her to his body and held her tightly.

"This'll be fun, sweetheart," he whispered coolly into her ear. "Moreso for me, though."

"You're disgusting," Addison snarled through bared teeth.

"I'll get her warmed up, Saul. Get yourself together and clean up in here."

He took her away into the hallway while struggling to keep her still. She was exhausted, but the emotions were beginning to become overwhelming. Fear and despair resonated in her heart as she yelled at her loudest. "Get off of me!" Addison lifted her leg and sent a kick as hard as she could manage back into his knee, hearing a satisfying crack in response. She took the opportunity to twist in his grasp and wriggle her arm out just enough to push the knife away from her. Using the leverage, the girl turned with some struggle and was now face-to-face with the man as he did his best to take her down with the knife despite the busted knee. "God, you don't give up!" she snapped at him out of frustration. The knife gave an intimidating glint as it inched closer and closer to her face. This is gonna hurt. In a flash of desperation, Addison squeezed her eyes shut and headbutted the guy in his head as hard as she could. Stars spiraled in her vision, but she used the momentum of him falling on top of her to hold the knife to his body. The knife sunk into his throat and he choked for only a few moments before slumping.

Now she was drenched in blood. Laying there for a while, Addison stared up at the ceiling as she lay on the floor. Numbness and the biting cold were the only things she could feel. All she could do was hope that Arthur was at least alive and relatively okay. He had to be here somewhere, right? These guys didn't seem like the type to have a lot of places to take people, nor would they have a reason to as far as she knew. Panic struck as her mind took off, imagining him in the worst of scenarios. Addison grunted as she pushed the corpse off of herself, the body rolling to the side with a sickening and empty thud. She carefully got up on her feet, painfully aware of the sticky blood that now covered the soles of her shoes. Her eyes drifted over to the knife sticking out of the man's neck. The young teen took the bloodstained weapon by the handle and yanked it upwards, watching as blood seeped out of the wound. With a shuddering breath, Addison turned her attention to the hall leading away from the room she was kept in and went on her way to seek out her companion.

As he continued to move down the rest of the hallway, he stopped for a moment and held his side with pained breaths. He had closed his eyes as he leaned against the wall to catch his breath. He had already been up two other floors and looked in almost every room he could and still there was no sign of Addison. His mind reeled as thoughts of what sort of situations she could be in and what these men could be doing to her as he stood there taunted him. The pain was almost unbearable.


"Get off of me!"

Grey-blue orbs snapped open when the familiar voice of the girl resounded from somewhere above him. Heart thumping very fast, Arthur pushed himself off the wall and dashed for the nearest seat of stairs that led up to the next level of the ship. He stumbled a few times and the ship's rocking back and forth didn't exactly help, either, but he had to get to her. He had to save her and beat in the skulls of whoever had their dirty, fuckin' hands on her. He had to make sure she was okay, and he had to see her and touch her. Make sure she was okay. Make sure they hadn't done anything to her. Make sure--

The old male came to an abrupt stop when he saw the corpse on the ground. The man had been killed very recently and had been given a pretty quick death.

If I had been the one to kill this sack of shit, I would've made sure it was nice and god damn slow.

Pushing the thought away, he deduced it had been Addison's work since she had her knife all of the time. Hearing footsteps, Arthur spun around and his face was hit with a two-by-four block of wood. With a yell of pain, he fell to the ground and opened his eyes just in time to see a very large man already swinging the weapon down towards him. "You're gonna pay for killing him, asshole!" Ignoring the pain on his face and the blood that dripped from an area above one of his eyes, Arthur quickly rolled out of the way, aimed his gun upwards, and quick shot the man in the knees. The attacker fell to the carpeted floor in a screaming fit as he gripped his bleeding knee caps and Arthur stood up with a breathless grunt. He was just as tall as the crybaby and almost had as much muscles as him. Picking up the forgotten wooden weapon, the grey-haired man stared down at the other with cold, emotionless eyes.

When he spoke, Arthur had no sort of mercy whatsoever and his voice was low and ice-cold, "Where is she?"

The crying man looked up at him, confusion was written all over his face, "What?! What-What do you mean--?!"

Then realization dawned on him as he had just been in the room with the girl the old fart was talking about. "The-The girl?! The hell if I know! She-She--" He looked over frantically at the dead body further down the hallway, "She was with him! I don't know where she is, man! I swear to God, I don't know!!"

Arthur muttered out a "Fine," before he began to repeatedly bash the man's head with the weapon. Screams fell on deaf ears as he kept attacking him, not caring in the slightest if he got messy. From the amount of force, the wooden beam broke and Arthur tossed it to the side and continued down the hallway. At the end was an elevator, which shockingly still worked, and Arthur pressed the button and he walked inside and jabbed his finger against one of the buttons. The button on the sixth floor lit up after he pressed it and he glanced over at the map on the wall to his right. Turned out the sixth floor was the main area, which had two large staircases, a large, broken chandelier on the floor, and large rooms where guests would lounge about and eat. The seventh floor was a large room, which connected to the outside of the first deck, as well as the kitchen area, and the eighth floor led to the top deck and the controls of the ship. Grabbing the detailed map, he looked over the red ink scribbles of where other things were, such as rooms with food, loot, and other possible kidnapped people, before stuffing it in one of his back pockets.

Sniffing, he counted how many bullets he had left and aimed the gun upwards just as the doors opened to the sixth floor. He slowly walked out of the elevator and took a quick glance around. He was near the top of one set of stairs and at the area where the two stairs met, hung a large, old painting of who he presumed to be the captain. There were rips, scratches, and graffiti all over it, as well as some of the walls, and the chandelier was indeed broken and lay at the end of the set of stairs he was closest to. When he heard voices, Arthur hurriedly ducked down behind the thick railing of the floor and watched as a large group of men walked on the floor below him. They spoke about how the "work" was going and how some of them "couldn't wait to get their hands on the girl for some fun."

Just hearing that alone made Arthur's blood boil.

He had to stay calm, though, and tried not to panic. Addison was free and possibly looking for him as well. He just hoped they would run into one another so he could make sure she was alright.

Inhaling through his nose, the man crept further away from the staircase and ducked down into a hallway to his right. He had gone through five rooms before he pulled out the map and was very pleased when the next room, room 102, was the one where they kept the loot. Making sure nobody was around, he quickly got inside and shut the door behind him. To his luck, there was nobody to be seen and the room appeared to have been a large dining area, which led into another large dining area. It was packed with boxes and piles of various things. In one far corner was a large stack of charred bodies, in another were clothes, and in another there were backpacks. He immediately went it the backpacks and found Addison's almost immediately. It took him a while before he found his, however, and then he looked into both their bags.

Aside from the guns, everything was still there.

So, they must have been lazy and not looked through everything.


More for him and Addison.

Slinging his pack over his shoulders, he walked into the other dining room and found loads upon loads of guns, including his and Addison's old ones.

Addison had no idea where she was. With extreme caution she crept around the boat, holding her breath and remaining immobile as the occasional voice would ring out from God knows where. So far, she hasn't hit any issues. The ship was so big that coming across any unwanted guests could probably be managed with some ease. The place was grungy and all-around disgusting, a pigsty even by the standards of a dead and uncivilized world. There was a remarkable amount of unidentifiable splotches and splatters up the sides of the walls and across the carpeted floors. It wasn't well-kept by any means. Addison listened carefully for every room that she passed to hear if anyone would be exiting. It would be bad enough if these guys found her on her own, but with all of the wet blood still soaking her clothes and blanketing the weapon she stole, the kid could only imagine the horrid consequences of killing their friends. A shudder rippled through her body at the thought of it.

Metal groaned as the ship steadily bobbed up and down in the water, but it was enough to set Addison on edge. Oh shit... I really hope this thing doesn't decide to randomly capsize or something. Having never been on a boat, let alone one this large, she wasn't too keen on being thrust into a situation such as this one as her first experience with a ship. As she navigated the corridor, she spotted a large map of the boat. There were some directions on it about what rooms were where, but she was more awed at the size. It was ten times bigger than Addison could have ever imagined. Arthur would probably know something about these kinds of boats, but she'd need to find him first to ask.

Soon, she came across what looked to be the door of a stairwell meant for emergencies and maintenance. Bingo. Addison approached it quietly, listened for anyone who might have been nearby, and then pushed the metal bar slowly and carefully. It squeaked a little bit but luckily wasn't loud enough to raise any suspicion. The door closed behind Addison as she looked up and down the staircase. There were quite a few floors... Why couldn't these assholes get a smaller boat? With a small sigh of annoyance accompanied by growing despair, Addison began to descend the stairs without much of an idea as to where she was going. Maybe looking at the map would have been a good idea after all, but she didn't plan on turning back now. Instead, she went down only a few floors. She opened the door with caution once again and was met with a faint stench that was all too familiar. Rotting bodies. Arthur might be down there. It wasn't too far-fetched of a thought considering their situation. She figured that he could have escaped, possibly killing a few, hence the rotten smell. Addison carefully moved down the hallway again as the foul odor grew stronger until she came across the door to a large room. Hesitantly, she pushed the door open with her fingertips and laid her eyes on the grisly scene.

Mutilated corpses were on wooden tables and body parts were strewn into separate piles, some bodies hanging from the ceiling and left to bleed out. It didn't take much to figure out the horror of what had happened, especially with what might have happened to Arthur. "Goddamn...cannibals...." Alarm struck Addison's chest as she looked around the room with the horrid realization that Arthur might be one of them. Her stomach churned as she ventured deeper into the mess of bodies and limbs, searching for signs of her friend. But the smell and sight had become too strong, and without warning she found herself bending over and throwing up what little food she had in her onto the floor. The young girl stayed in that hunched-over position to make sure everything in her stomach was sorted out. Wiping away the bile with the back of her filthy sleeve, Addison covered her nose and backed out of the room slowly, taking in the sight. Eventually, she decided that she'd had enough, and so she turned, throwing the door open and sprinting back to the staircase. She yearned to get as far away from that room as possible, climbing up as many stairs as possible with a numb mind before getting a stitch in her side from exhaustion. The girl slowed down and gripped the railing.

With her other hand on the wall to balance herself, Addison looked up at a grey plastic sign that hung on the wall, donning the lettering "Floor 7" on it. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, sinking down to the ground with her back to the wall. The images of that room flashed through her mind and she tried to analyze each one mentally, searching for the chance of Arthur being among the dead. A small voice in the back of her mind told her he was certainly one of them, and the loneliness crushed her spirit. Another part of her insisted to turn and ask the old man himself what to do next, but she was on her own for this one. Addison gave a sniff as she brushed underneath her nose with the back of her hand and got up on her feet once she had regained her stamina. Again, the girl carefully opened the door and started to search the seventh floor of the giant boat, completely prepared to find a sight far worse than the last she had encountered. There were some voices outside -- more than before. Fuck...I'll have to be more careful.

She was in a large and lavish room with most of the walls being more of a bruised and weathered maroon than the bright crimson that it once was. There were dining tables and fluffy booths to dine at. Behind a large bar was a kitchen, but she couldn't see too far into it. Torn paintings clung to the walls and an old piano was surprisingly well-kept on the right side of the room, raised on a dusty stage. It reminded her of the restaurant that she and Arthur had only just visited, but far fancier. Only the richest. The doors to the kitchen suddenly swung open and Addison dove for one of the longer tables draped by a long and stained white cloth, hiding underneath. Two men's voices rang out, but they weren't saying anything important. She turned them out and waited for them to leave.

Arthur heard voices speaking from nearby and he ducked down behind one of the tables and began to creep towards the double doors that were left half-open. As he made his way towards them, he grabbed one of the blunt weapons, a bat with nails jutting out most of the top end and they ended halfway. Keeping it hidden behind him, he crouched by the wall of the new entrance and peeked past it, and immediately his eyes landed on the two men walking around. Sweat poured down his face as he hurriedly ducked into the second dining room and he came to a stop by one of the turned-over tables. Ignoring their conversation about what they were going to eat for dinner, Arthur continued to move about the room, his grip tightened on his weapon, and he waited for them to move apart. He didn't blink and his crystal, blue orbs had to constantly dance between the two moving men. He held his breath as the taller one, who had shaggy brown hair, casually walked towards Arthur's position and in a split second, Arthur was up and he had his hand covering the man's mouth and the bat was harshly lodged against the enemy's throat. It didn't the old man long to suffocate the younger one and once he was dead, Arthur left his corpse on the carpeted floor and began to slowly creep towards the other.

His heart beat frantically in his chest as he got closer to the man's back and as Arthur stood up to grab him, the other man had turned around. The man's eye's widened and Arthur's sudden appearance startled him. Before he could say anything, call for help, or react, Arthur was already throwing the weapon at the man's head. He let out a yell of pain and Arthur shoved him to the floor. As soon as his ass hit the ground, the blonde had removed his bloodied hand from the wound on his hand and looked up at the older male with a horrified expression. Not too long after, the bat was hit repeatedly into the young man's head with no mercy and it eventually turned into a heap of mush. Breathing heavily. Arthur sniffed and ignored the beads of sweat that poured down his face as he turned around. His face scowled in pain as he gripped his side, the broken ribs still protested his constant movement. Letting out a painful, deep sigh, he looked around the room and noticed something underneath one of the long tables with sheets. Autopilot kicked in and the man began to make his way towards it. His grey brows furrowed together when he thought about how a bastard could have possibly tried to hide from him during his attack on the others.

He was silent in his approach and Arthur began to think about the possible outcomes of his next attack. The enemy hiding underneath the table could very well be holding a gun and Arthur could get shot. Arthur getting shot versus the other man calling for help... Well, he'd rather get shot.

Inhaling through his mouth, he was barely able to see a hint of the bottom of a shoe and after he counted to three, his hand shot down, grabbed the ankle, and pulled the person out. He had a bloodied snarl on his face, his eyes cold with hatred, as he pulled his next victim out and he had to stop himself from letting the bloodied bat hit the familiar face. His eyes widened, all emotion from before replaced with shock and relief, and he breathed out, "Addison?"

Releasing her ankle and dropping the bat, Arthur knelt down by her and gripped her lightly by the shoulders, "Oh, God, I'm so sorry..! I thought you were one of them-- Are you alright? I didn't hurt your ankle too bad, did I?" He asked in a hurried tone as he turned his attention to the ankle he had been holding in a vice-like grip. When he found that he hadn't broken the bone, he returned his attention to her face and his arms rubbed her upper arms a little, "Did they do anything to you? You've got blood all over your face and... God, Addison, I'm so-so sorry."

Without really thinking, he pulled her into a slightly tightened hug, "Honey, I thought they..." His eyes were closed and his lips were pressed together as he tried to push the horrible thoughts away. One of his hands caressed her back while the other lightly stroked her hair. He ignored the pain in his body as he lightly squeezed her, afraid if he let go then she would disappear. As he released her, he realized that it was the first time he had ever shown any sort of emotion towards her as well as called her a name other than her own or "kid." His good eye blinked as he stood from his spot and he glanced around and said in a hushed tone, "Let's get our shit and get out of here."

Addison inhaled deeply and held her breath as the men made their way near her hiding spot, squeezing her eyes shut in the hope of not giving her position away. Though they had soon passed and were a fair distance from her, she couldn't find it in herself to leave from underneath the table. Where would she go anyway? It's not like there was anyone to run to. Even if Arthur wasn't cut up into a bunch of pieces by now, it felt damn near impossible to find him.

While getting buried deep in her own uncertainty, Addison took notice of the fact that the men weren't talking anymore. Her brow furrowed in question as she listened closely. There was the sound of shuffling movement on the carpet, but not much else. It wasn't sitting right with her, it appeared to be uncharacteristic of the bastards to shuffle the way they just did. She reached one hand forward to pull herself out, poking her head ever so slightly out from under the cloth to scan the room. Addison only got a few seconds to spot the crumpled form on the floor down the aisle from her when a loud thud and a cry of pain erupted nearby.

The girl pushed herself back underneath the table and buried her face in her hands, unable to discern whether the sounds of sickening squelches promised good things or meant that she was in even more danger. It took a considerable amount of time for it to stop, followed by some lumbering footsteps. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck... Addison really didn't want to deal with whatever massive force took out those two guys with such force and anger. Her mind was spinning with fear. Every single one of her instincts flared when she felt a hand firmly grasp her ankle and pull her out from her hiding spot.

"No!" she yelled as she turned to protect herself from whatever attack she imagined would be coming for her. Her hands curled into fists and she blindly threw a few punches upward. But instead of seeing some bucktoothed crony, Addison found herself staring into the hate-charged glare of Arthur, which quickly transitioned to a soft blue that she couldn't recall ever seeing from him before. The tension disappeared from Addison's body when she saw that she was reunited with her companion at long last, but she couldn't suppress the fear that had ensnared her for the past several hours. As Arthur pulled her into a hug she burst into tears, burying her face in his shoulder and wrapping her arms tightly around him. "I tried to find you... They...." She couldn't manage to finish a sentence without having the horrid thoughts flood into her mind once again, so she didn't bother to try. The comfort was much needed as Addison quietly sobbed into his shoulder for a couple of calm moments in the midst of wanton chaos.

After some time passed, Arthur pulled away and Addison wiped her nose with the back of her hand, then quickly brushed the tears out of her eyes. She nodded at his proposition and picked up the bat Arthur had previously dropped, offering it up to him. Addison was soaked in dried blood and Arthur didn't seem much better, so the sooner they got off the boat, the better. Of course, it's not like they had a horse to ride out on anymore. "Do you know where our stuff is?" she asked quietly.

After a few moments, Arthur released her and helped her to her feet as he stood. Still gripping the bat, he nodded in agreement, "Yeah..."

As he walked past her, his hand went to his side and he grimaced a bit in pain. Letting his hand fall back to his side, the old man stopped by the doorway he had come in through and peeked into the room with all the loot, and added, "I saw our backpacks when I came through here."

He crept inside, his eyes scanning the area for all entryways and exits in case any more enemies came in, as well as in case they needed to bolt out of there. He walked straight to Addison's bag first, lifted it up by one of the straps, and tossed it to her. "See if your things are still in there and pick up whatever ammo and other supplies you can. We're getting the hell out of here."

He grabbed his own pack, unzipped it, and rolled his eyes with an exasperated sigh. His shit was gone and he'd have to look for all of it in the piles of heaps of supplies. Well, he had to guess he'd rather be able to get new shit rather than whatever he had before. The old survivor dropped the bloodied baseball bat and got to work quickly spanning through the various guns and weapons. In a few minutes, he'd confiscated a steel hunting knife, which he had hosted to the back of his belt, a new handgun, a shotgun, which was hooked into the left side of his backpack, and a hunting rifle. As he stuffed as many boxes and bullets of ammunition as he could into the pocket he used as the ammo holder, his eyes caught sight of his old revolver and he scooped it up from the table. Checking how many bullets he had left, he stuffed it in the back of his jeans and turned to the table with spare clothing.

He only grabbed a few spare clothes that he thought would fit him and stuffed them into the bottom of his backpack. Throwing off his coat, he quickly pulled on an old T-shirt, a thick, black long-sleeved shirt, and then slipped on his coat. He put on a pair of wool socks and tossed an extra pair in his bag. Picking out an extra coat, gloves, and socks for Addison, he tossed them towards her and told her to put them in her bag. He also shoved a pair of dark brown gloves in his backpack and stood to move towards where the food would be. As his grey-blue orbs had flicked to the doors to check for anyone coming, he spotted the shorty shotgun he and Addison had taken off of a survivor they had killed days prior. He hurriedly walked towards it, picked it up, and turned to his young companion.

"Heads up, kiddo," Arthur stated as he tossed the gun her way with one hand.

He went back to where the boxes of bullets were and then stood behind her to put the boxes of spare shotgun bullets in a random pocket. "Better check and see how much ammo is left in that," he muttered as he zipped the pocket up. Walking backward, he pulled out his handgun, pressed his back to the wall, and peeked by the door. "Lemme know when you're ready to go."

As Arthur walked past her to get to the doorway, Addison's eyes passed over the gore-splattered floor, bits and pieces of brain matter melded with blood, sinew, and a broken skull. A sudden urge fussed at the bottom of her stomach, part of her wanting to throw up food that was no longer in her belly, the other more than happy to see that these guys got what they deserved. She knew that Arthur was strong and determined, but the girl had no idea he was capable of this. He always made her feel safe...being without Arthur for that long was devastating.

I can't be alone. I can't do that again.

Arthur noted that he saw their things in another room. The strange cotton-like feeling wrapped around her mind caught any semblance of words she could manage as Addison's mind ran through what they had seen in a matter of hours. Giving a quiet shake of the head in response, she glanced down at her shirt whilst somberly lagging behind Arthur. Her moves were automatic and matched her partner's cautious ones.

I want a new shirt.

Her fingers narrowly hooked onto the strap of the backpack as Arthur tossed it to her. The bag was a lot lighter than before, to which Arthur told her to refill it with whatever they might need. Addison unzipped the bag and rummaged around inside. Her comic books were amazingly still inside, though the pages were now torn, bent, wet, or wrinkled. Her thumb paged through some of them hesitantly. Maybe they would still be readable...maybe.

Other than the comics, there was nothing left in her bag either. Addison scanned the room, taking in the vast selection of items at their disposal. Half of these guys were probably dead anyway - it wasn't like they would need these things anytime soon. Not that she would care either way about stealing from them.

A strange, distracted silence encased the young girl while she searched for supplies, fingers gently caressing some of the weapons in interest. Her movements were as sluggish as her mind. Normally the guns would set her mind sparkling with excitement, but now she was quieted by the recurring thoughts of both brutally murdering men and experiencing such a strong, lonesome terror for hours. Addison's bruised fingers paused after brushing over a gun whose metal surface was uneven - scratched on the handle. She picked up the pistol, carefully examining it as she checked that the safety was on, and looked at the handle. Whoever the previous owner was had carved a crude little skull encased in a circle into the metal and hastily applied splotches of what she assumed was dark red paint. The uniqueness intrigued her and tugged at her mind. Giving the hint of a smirk, Addison tucked the weapon into the back of her pants for safekeeping.

It didn't take long to find the rest of the supplies. Like Arthur, Addison stuffed boxes of ammunition into her backpack and collected a new grey hoodie to wear underneath the dark green hunter jacket she recovered thanks to Arthur finding it, which was then filled with extra ammunition. She found a wicked-looking crowbar with what looked to be a pair of scissors taped around the end and attached it to her backpack, which accompanied her not-so-brand-new hunting rifle.

As per Arthur's orders, Addison grabbed an extra pair of socks and gloves to put in the backpack. An attempt to find medical supplies was made, but the most she could grab were a couple of bottles of pills and some band-aids. She knelt on the floor, filling the bag up with items while encapsulated in thought. How were they gonna get off this boat? Where were the rest of these assholes?

...what are they gonna do if they find us?

Arthur gained her attention once more and tossed her the shotgun that she had gotten only a couple of days ago, which she caught in both arms as the weapon hit her chest. They had killed people just days ago for the same reasons that they were killing people today...what about it was so different to her? These deaths left a knot of fear in her belly.

Addison looked the weapon over a bit before checking to see how much ammunition it had inside. The thing couldn't hold much, to begin with, but after searching the room for another box of shotgun shells and loading the gun, Addison grabbed a couple more boxes to put in her bag and attached the gun to her backpack. It was pretty full, but a gut feeling told her that some of the ammunition would be gone by the time they made it out of there.

Addison pulled on her backpack and then closed her eyes. She took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled softly to calm herself, smelling the salty air and allowing the sounds of the creaking boat to soothe her aching mind as it floated in the water. Another chill scraped through her exposed skin, sending goosebumps down her body. Addison wiped some of the blood off of her face with the back of her hand. The most it did was smear on her skin, leaving red trails along her cheek. Her eyes turned up to Arthur with uncertainty.

Glassy blue eyes searched Arthur's form. He looked worse than she did, besides her being literally drenched in blood. The older man had taken a beating, one that she was glad she didn't have to witness. The sounds of the old boat were barely enough to cover up the sounds of pain he made. It took her a moment, but Addison approached the doorway he stood by while staring at the side he held. It looked terrible.

"Arthur?" she said in a small voice as she stood a couple of paces from where he was, arms crossed. Her shoulders were hunched forward, her eyes had that same glassy look. "I'm... These guys, they're… I-I-I thought they...." Addison's voice was notably darker and huskier than the slightly mischievous twinge of whatever goofiness she usually had going on in the back of her mind. The innocence had vanished altogether.


At the sound of her small voice, he turned from the doorway to look at her. When she spoke, a pang of guilt hit him for not being able to protect her as he should. He should have done better, should have turned their fucking horse around. She looked frightened and she couldn't even finish her sentences. Before she could even get another "I" out, he had taken two quick steps towards her, stuffed his weapon in the holster, and held her face in his hands. Rubbing his thumbs on her cheeks, he locked his eyes with hers and replied in a soft, warm tone, "I know. There are some messed-up people in the world now. People do things they never thought they would have ever done...and I'm sorry I wasn't there to protect you. I'm sorry for making a stupid decision and it...My decision made you have to go through..." Arthur shut his eyes and crinkled his brows together, "I'm sorry, Addison."

His lips pressed together and his eyes glanced down at a bloodied spot on his hand. "It's okay to be scared, but... don't let it dictate your means to survive." Blinking, he returned his gaze to hers and he pulled her in for another quick hug. "I'll be here. It's alright," he murmured words and phrases of comfort to the best of his ability, not entirely sure how to make her feel better.

Pulling away, he kept one hand on her cheek and flashed her a small, warm smile. "You're still good at kicking ass. Maybe even as good as me," he added with a breathy chuckle.

Glancing around to make sure nobody was coming, he snatched a rag from the floor nearby, looked around for a water bottle or something, and hesitated a split second before gathering as much saliva as he could in his mouth. Licking the rag till a spot got wet enough, he started to clean off her face.

"Let's see who's under there, huh?"

A new form of concentration etched his features as he wiped most of the blood off of his young companion's face, having to dab his tongue on the rag every so often. Once most of the red liquid was gone, he placed his hands on her upper arms and offered her a small grin. He spoke with a comforting, amused tone and let out a soft chuckle, "There she is... I wondered where you went."

Still keeping a loose hold on one of her shoulders with his left hand, Arthur blinked as he nodded and straightened his posture. Tossing the rag to the side, he pulled out his handgun and turned a bit to face her. "Let's get out of here. I would tell you to take time to get ready, but we may not have that chance with other enemies bein' nearby. I'm gonna need you to focus, okay? If you can't, then... Let me handle everything."

Completely unexpected on Addison's part, Arthur didn't hesitate to soothe her troubled mind. He walked over and held her face in his hands, looking into her eyes with his own being filled with immense regret, apologizing and comforting her as best he could. Rough thumbs gently brushed over her cheeks. Silently she watched him look down at the blood on his hand. The blood spilled onto Addison after that bastard tried to kill her. Hot, quiet tears rolled down her stained cheeks as Arthur pulled her into an almost fatherly embrace. She felt the warmth of his skin, the calmness of his breathing. Everything...everything was okay now.

Arthur complimented her fighting skills, making a joke that earned a sharp exhale of amusement from the girl. Addison gave a couple of sniffs as Arthur searched for a rag, once again wiping tears from her eyes. She nodded along quietly to his words, gazing towards the door as he wiped the excess blood off of her face. In the midst of the fighting, the loss, and the fear, a quiet moment to themselves to get clean was oddly cathartic. Her heart rate slowed and her breathing steadied; Addison didn't realize until now that both had been heightened from the long burst of adrenaline. Now she felt exhausted.

Everything could have been lost. Arthur could have been brutally killed by these bandits and Addison probably would have endured unspeakable things with those men, with Ian. The stench of the flesh and blood resurfaced for a moment, seeing all of the corpses, expecting her companion to be one of them. That moment of despair where she searched for his corpse among all the others the same way she searched for some form of salvation after being alone all those years before. For a moment, everything Addison had gained over the last months of her young life was torn away. But...it wasn't. Here she was with Arthur, alive, breathing, only mildly hurt. Despite the injuries he had and the risks he'd taken, Arthur was here.

"There she is...I wondered where you went."

Upon hearing Arthur's words, Addison's eyes refocused as though she had woken up from a long daydream, her eyes red and puffy from the tears. Cleaning off the blood didn't take long, but it was as though it had simultaneously taken hours. A smile barely tugged at the corner of her mouth as she wiped her cheek, seeing Arthur straighten up and pull out his pistol. They would need to work together to get out of this - things would be a lot harder on Arthur if Addison didn't focus and help where she needed to. They depended on each other. Anxiety still pounded in her chest, but it was far more subdued; after all, they'd made it through shit like this before...they could do it again. Addison pulled out her newly acquired pistol and clicked the safety off, running her thumb over the insignia carved into the metal.

"I can do this," Addison replied to the older man with some of the encouragement he had shed on her. "...thank you." She held her pistol up at the ready and waited for Arthur by the door to let him lead the way, though she stole a peek into the hallway. From what she could tell, things were still relatively clear for them, but there was no telling what would change. "There's a staircase that goes through all of the floors. Should we find them and get out of here?" The door couldn't be too far from here, but honestly? The rooms on this ship confused her. This was not the way she imagined her first time on one of these boats going.

As Addison spoke, the old survivor had looked back out into the hallway and mumbled back to her, "Yeah. Let's try that first and if we still can't find the exit..." He glanced back at her with half a shrug, "We'll figure somethin' out."

After counting to three in his head, Arthur moved out of the room and jogged down the hallway. Keeping his back towards the wall, he would stop and peek in each room to make sure there was nobody inside. The metal beneath his boots let out soft tapping noises as he kept running and he came to a stop by an open entrance to the atrium he had been in earlier. The floor he and Addison were on was much like a mini balcony, cut like a crescent moon, and the edges had short walls, which were partially made out of metal and broken glass. In the middle of the open space was the elevator, which was made of glass, and there was a long table in front of it. Below the floor they were on, there was one exit, with old silver dolphin statues on either side of the door. On the ground, there was an old mosaic art of a turtle with seaweed covering it and in the middle of the floor was a large, rounded table. Unbeknownst to Arthur, there was a group of men lounging on the table and in the red, comfy chairs, still chatting away.

He held his left hand up a bit to gesture to Addison to not move, the sounds of voices further in the lower room echoed off the walls. It was the group who was talking earlier, downstairs, and as Arthur glanced around for the staircase the girl was talking about, another one rushed into the room.

"We got a problem-!!"

"Hey, man, calm down. Catch your breath--"

"Ian and some others are dead!"


As they spoke, Arthur's eyes scanned the area and he noticed the staircase hidden behind a broken-down elevator. He glanced back at Addison and aimed a finger towards it, whispering out a "There." If that stairway wasn't the exit, then they could try to go to the main exit below them, but they'd have to move quickly since it seemed like the group of men below them were started to scatter.

"We gotta find that asshole! The girl escaped, too?"

"Yeah. Fucking sucks, too. I really wanted a go at her."

Arthur had begun to sneak towards the staircase and he had made it to where he was in front of the elevator, however, he came to an abrupt stop once he heard them talking about Addison and what they wanted to do to her. They didn't leave any details out and he felt his anger boiling over. He had the same cold, angered look from earlier, his blue orbs focused on every detail of the men's faces, and his body started to shake from the built-up rage he felt inside. It took everything he had not to jump over the low wall and bash every single of their skulls in. Glancing back at the girl, he kept himself from doing just that. He didn't want Addison to hear anything those disgusting fuckers were saying. In a matter of seconds, he grabbed her arm and pulled her along with him, trying to get her away from the conversation as quickly as possible.

Heading up the stairs, he stopped at the top to look past the wall to their left and ducked onto the second staircase. It seemed like hours before he finally came to a stop at the doorway that led to the deck and he paused, hearing more voices walk past the doorway. Waiting until they disappeared, he crouched down low and quickly crept towards an overturned boat. Waiting for Addison to catch up, Arthur headed towards the edge of the ship and glanced over the side. Below was a dock with a motorboat. If they could get down there then they could steal the boat and get the fuck out of there.

How to get down...?

Arthur looked around, made sure to keep the three men in his range of sight, and spotted a rope tied to a post. He made his way towards it, tugged on it a bit to see how sturdy it was, and he gathered as much of the rope as he could around his left forearm. He waited a moment before walking back to the edge and he tossed the rope over the side. Turning to Addison, he beckoned her with his left hand and said, "I need you to hold onto the rope tight when you go down. Make sure to keep your feet against the side of the boat and don't let go until you think you are close to the dock. Get in the boat when you get down there, okay?"

Addison followed closely behind Arthur like a puppy trailing its' father, cautiously mirroring Arthur's movements so as to not alert anyone that may be nearby. She stopped whenever he did to scan a room, gazing around the premises and listening for extra voices or footsteps. Luckily, no one seemed to be coming their way. Her own footsteps were much lighter than Arthur's with them being simple tennis shoes and not having much weight to them - she barely made a sound. To help her focus on the task at hand, Addison thought through what their plans were, searching through the stairs where the big map of the boat was. It didn't help her shaky, anxiety-ridden breath, however.

Arthur paused at a balcony overlooking an atrium, holding up his hand to stop her. Addison obeyed, staying crouched a couple of feet away with her eyes concentrated on him for his next move, glancing around every once in a while to stay alert. The sound of footsteps, anger and surprise resonated from below. Men down below started to get riled up, panicking about the pair being gone and having killed some of their men. This was gonna get really dangerous, really fast. Not only did these guys now have vengeance on their plate, but they had insatiable hunger and lust between the lot of them. If they fought that viciously before, now it was only gonna be multiplied.

Just as some of the footsteps and voices began to scatter in search of the fugitives, Arthur motioned for Addison to head over towards the elevator where a set of stairs were. She gave a sharp nod of understanding and followed him around to the staircase while keeping an eye and ear out for the men only to hear what they had to say about her specifically.

"I really wanted a go at her."

Addison's stomach crawled up to her throat and her mouth went dry.

Don't think about it, just ignore it. They're distracted by themselves. Even if they did try something...Arthur and I would fuck them up.

The surface of her skin grew hot, her blood boiling with dread, and she knew Arthur wanted to do something about it. He came to an abrupt stop. Even though he was facing the other way, Addison knew that he was absolutely furious - the back of his neck was getting red. They couldn't stop here though, they needed to keep going. The teen reached forward to usher him forward, but he had already grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the conversation...she couldn't have been more grateful.

The two silently dashed up a set of stairs, then another one until they came to the top just as a pair of these guys strolled by. As soon as they had passed, Arthur moved up towards an overturned boat. Addison waited in the doorway, listening and checking both ways to make sure no other guys would be coming around before mimicking the action verbatim. As soon as she came around, Addison saw Arthur peering over the edge. Looking over herself, she saw the motorboat just waiting to be snatched up. He stepped away and pulled out a thick rope, keeping an eye on three guys that stood nearby. Addison watched them cautiously as well, tensing when one seemed to look over for a moment.

Arthur tossed the rope over and turned to her, carefully explaining what she should do. It was a long way down...but they'd come too far to just not do this out of fear that she might slip and fall into some water. Addison tucked her new pistol into her jeans once again and took the rope, glancing at the three sentries still close by as she grasped the rope tightly. The fibers were coarse and already stabbed into her skin, but this discomfort was minor compared to everything else. Hesitantly, Addison held on tightly to the rope as she climbed onto the railing, carefully twisting herself around until she faced the boat. Converse didn't gain traction well against the metal wall, so she would have to be extra careful about making her way down to the motorboat.

"You're gonna be careful," Addison whispered back to him as she jerked her head in the direction of the men to indicate what she was talking about. It wasn't phrased as either an order or a question, more like a statement.

The cold bit at her now pink fingers as she carefully inched the rope away from her, allowing her body to become a couple of inches shy of parallel to balance herself against the boat. Her feet pressed against the metal hull tightly, slipping some from the coolness of the air mixed with a lack of traction from her shoes. Little by little, Addison lowered herself towards the boat. Her fingers burned with every movement, her brow furrowed in concentration, and her arms already were growing tired of this new kind of exercise. Addison turned a couple of times to see how far along she was and wasn't too fond of the answer. ...oh boy.

Once she was close to the ground, Addison made the move to stand on the dock, though as soon as one foot came off the other slid too, causing her to jolt enough to misstep and swing into the side of the boat. "Fuck!" she breathed in surprise, though she was able to keep her voice quiet. Addison let go of the rope and landed on the dock with a small thud. Her hands stung against the salty air with the blisters that would no doubt form. As she walked to the motorboat, Addison made sure it was clear, which luckily it was. Still, her pistol was pulled out once again and held tightly in her hands...just in case. She looked up to the top deck where Arthur was and anxiously awaited his arrival, searching for the other men along the railing. At her angle, though, the angle was pretty steep to look up. Come on...I just wanna leave this place. Please don't let anything bad happen. Addison climbed into the motorboat.

"I will. Now get goin'," he replied in a soft voice, nodding his head towards the dock.

Once she was over, the older man ducked behind a large cargo box and poked his head over the edge to see how she was doing. A feeling of dread filled his gut as he had to watch, desperately hoping that the girl would be alright and not fall. Hoped that she would make it down alright because if she did fall, then he wouldn't be able to catch her. That would not end well at all and he would surely jump down without a moment's hesitation to try to help her.

Hearing approaching footsteps, Arthur ducked down behind the box and pressed his body against the cool metal of the ship's wall. He watched as one of the men walked through the doorway and disappeared down the staircase he and Addison had just walked up from. He held his breath as he waited for the other two to turn back around so he could check on how his young companion was doing. A cool breeze hit him and caused his body to shiver violently and he suppressed the need to sniff. He wasn't about to let his runny nose give away his position.

He peeked over the edge again and felt a roundness swell up in his chest when he found Addison having made it on the dock. Silently praising her, he offered her a nod once she was in the boat and he waited a few moments before he crept towards the rope. His hands gripped around his means of escape and he hooked a leg over the edge. Arthur had turned halfway to place his other boot against the wall, but he froze for a split second when the man from earlier had walked through the doorway. Their eyes met and the guy yelled in alarm, which caused the other two men to spin on their heels to see what had happened. Arthur hurriedly swung his other leg over the edge of the wall and had started to descend when two of the men grabbed at hair, straps of his backpack, and fabric of his coat and began to pull him back up.

"We got ya now, asshole! John, go get the rest of the guys-!" One of the men grunted out and the other barked, "Fucking hurry-!!"

The third guy ran back down the staircase.

As a reflex, Arthur began struggling against their hands. One of his own had released the rope to claw the man to his right face and the guy cursed at him as he swatted his hand away. It didn't take them long to have the older man pulled back onto the deck he was thrown across the metal flooring. His side screamed at him and he ignored it as he pushed himself off the ground, pulled out his gun, and began firing at the two. One went down with a headshot and the other yelled out his name and dove behind the box Arthur had hidden behind moments prior. Without missing a beat, the old man ran straight towards the rope and he braced himself as he turned around to find the other man rushing at him with a pole.

Arthur's hands quickly lifted to grip the pole as it was pressed against his throat. He grunted at the impact his back made with the metal wall and the pain in his side doubled. The two were in a strong match and the older of the two was rather surprised by just how strong the other man was. In a matter of minutes, Arthur was leaning over the edge and he felt blood slowly run to his head. The attacker's eyes flicked from Arthur's to the redhead hidden away on the boat and a devilish smirk appeared.

"Oh-ho, you sneaky old man... You keepin' her for yerself?" He grunted out and his head jerked out of the way of a bullet that whizzed past his ear. "Nice try, sweetcheeks! You'll hafta aim a little better to hit me!" He yelled down to the girl with a breathy chuckle.

At the comment, Arthur's blue-gray orbs widened slightly, his grey brows furrowed together, and an angered snarl formed. He gritted his teeth together as he found a new determination and he began to push against the pole. The fucker was going to die and unfortunately, it was going to be pretty fast because he and Addison had to escape. With an animal-like growl, Arthur had regained balance on his two feet and he kicked the man in the balls. The guy doubled over in pain, released the pole, and Arthur's hand gripped fiercely around the back of the man's neck. He quickly pulled him against the overturned boat and slammed his head against the side. The guy lost a few teeth from the blow. He wouldn't be needing them anytime soon. After he fell to the floor, Arthur's boot slammed against the man's head too many times, each kick got more powerful with the more anger he felt.

Once the piece of shit was dead, he rushed back over to the edge, grabbed the rope, and hopped over. Three more men had rushed up the stairs, one being from the previous group, and all of them had looks of horror on their faces seeing the state of the man with his head bashed in. Arthur didn't wait and began to slide down the rope. It stung at his hands, but he didn't give a damn. Hearing voices to his right, his head snapped towards the main entrance and more men had piled out of the ship.

"Shit-!" He yelled out under his breath as he hurriedly descended down the side.

Once he landed on the dock, he ran straight towards the boat, yelled out a, "Cover me!" and began to try to start the engine. The engine roared to life after a third try and he quickly started it and the boat jolted forward, leaving the men on the dock yelling and shooting at the two who had stolen their ride.

After what seemed like an eternity, he slowed the boat down and the waves around them settled a little. Rubbing a hand down his face, he let out a long sigh and felt the adrenaline from earlier die down significantly. Lifting his gaze to Addison, he asked, "You doing okay?"

Addison anxiously stood by as she watched Arthur start to climb over the edge, but it didn't stay quiet for long. A set of arms reached over and grabbed him roughly before he could make it all the way over and out of reach. "Arthur!" Addison yelped as she aimed the pistol up at the boat. The sounds of scuffling were loud - while she couldn't see a lot of it, Addison could hear the yelling, then the throwing of fists, then the gunshots.

"Oh...fuck! Come on...." Without much else to do, the girl could only watch and wait as her friend battled his way out. Her arms were pointed upwards at the men, finger lightly touching the trigger of the pistol in wait. Gusts of cold wind burned her eyes and numbed her exposed hands. Shivers ran down her spine and her skin reddened with prolonged exposure, but still, she waited. A couple of heads popped over the railing that wasn't discernible in the way of identity, and not wanting to shoot her friend, Addison hesitated to pull the trigger.

A man with a taunting expression peered over the edge and looked directly at her just waiting to be picked off. Addison held her breath to steady her aim, but with the biting cold, it didn't help much. The gun kicked as she fired at him, hearing him taunt her in response to the bad aim. He disappeared behind the railing once more as Arthur dealt with him swiftly, the guttural sound of choking and death erupting from the deck. The fighting stopped for a moment as Arthur appeared over the exit point looking beaten and worried. He slid down the rope at an alarming rate - Addison opened her mouth to tell him to be careful when the boat guys started yelling again. That makes sense.

Their heads leaned over to see Arthur scaling down, shouting orders at each other to fucking shoot him already, but they quickly retracted when three bullets slammed into the metal body of the boat. Addison knew her aim was shit, especially right now, but all she needed to worry about was making sure they didn't get the chance to kill Arthur. He made it to the boat and yelled at her to cover him, which she gladly obliged. Addison truly tried to aim directly at them, even scoring a shot on two of them, but it wasn't easy with a pistol at that range. Once the clip was out, she let it clatter to the floor of the boat and pulled out the hunting rifle she'd picked up minutes ago, and took aim. "Come and get it motherfuckers!" Addison yelled, sniping one of the guys through the base of his throat.

The motorboat rumbled hopelessly behind her as Arthur tried to yank it to life. She turned to her backpack to get some more ammunition for her rifle and the men saw their chance; they started to scale down the side of the boat, dropping to the wooden floor with a loud thud as they moved forward. "They're coming!" Addison shouted in alarm, hands haphazardly fumbling around the bag for some ammunition. Just as the man in front got close enough to reach the edge of Addison's shirt, the motorboat jolted forward and the two escaped into the open waters.

She stayed put in that position, watching the boat grow smaller and smaller in the distance as they sailed over choppy black waters. The rifle clung tightly in her grasp. A bit of snow drifted from the skies, circling around the wisps of Addison's breath that was visualized in the air. A good chunk of time passed before Addison finally shifted around on the bench of the boat so that she now faced Arthur. She bent over and reached into her backpack to find her gloves and pull them on. To keep herself a little busy in the bouncing boat, Addison reloaded the weapons she used and safely tucked away her pistol. Eventually, Arthur stopped the boat.

"You doing okay?"

There wasn't an answer for a couple of moments...just the calm sloshing of the water moving against the boat. Truthfully, after everything, they both had just been through? Being okay was something she didn't think she'd ever feel again, not like before. But now that they were gone from those horrible, horrible people... The world really was a terrible place. Addison took a couple of deep breaths to steady her heart rate before looking back up at Arthur.

"Honestly? ...it's going to take some time to recover from something like that." She moved forward over the benches so that she was face-to-face with him, scanning over his injuries. With a lack of light, it was hard to tell where blood was coming from or if it was his. "I...things would be a lot worse if you weren't there." Without much warning, Addison leaned forward and gave him a long, warming hug of thanks and comfort. He had sacrificed so much to keep her safe all this time without getting much in return. A big hug for someone like Arthur was something Addison thought would say more than any words could.

"And thank you for not dying." Addison once again rummaged through her bag and this time pulled out a couple of meager medical supplies - the band-aids and painkillers she had stolen. "I've got some cuts and bruises, but I think you need a lot more than that. I grabbed some painkillers and band-aids...not like they'll do anything though. Here." She handed over a bottle of medicine and pulled a band-aid out of the box, searching his form for any cuts to be tended to. His side was what worried her, however. Painkillers might help, but to what extent?

Snowflakes lazily drifted down from the sky and disappeared into the waves and the ones that landed on him melted from his body heat. As the silence set in, one of Arthur's thumbs grazed over his hand in discomfort. He glanced out to the vast ocean, white puffs of air wafted from his nose, and he fidgeted a bit in his seat. That had been a stupid question. He shouldn't have asked it because he knew she was not okay. Hell, she was far from it. She had cried her eyes out and that empty look she had earlier really fucking worried him.

His eyes examined her form and he swallowed. When he had found her, she was covered in blood and no doubt she had to do what she needed to escape and survive. He had been in that situation himself and had remembered feeling empty afterward. Then he'd felt disgusted with himself for killing anyone, but that was how the world was now. Without any order, people were going to forget morality. If he was honest, Arthur had done just that, not caring who or what he killed because it had all been for his survival. Things had slowly changed for him when he first met Addison, though. He hadn't liked it when he finally noticed that he had begun to open up to her and after the second month, he'd finally accepted with that was how it was going to be.

It seemed like an eternity before the girl spoke up and his eyes flicked up from the metal floor of the boat to hers. She had looked up at him and he stayed silent to let her say what she needed to. His hands barely lifted from their clasped position in the open area between his knees when she started to climb over to him. Arthur didn't want her to fall in the water-- that would make things worse. She was careful in her movements, though, and he started to let his hands lay back down on his knees. That is until she suddenly hugged him. Even though he had given her two hugs minutes prior, his still body tensed at the contact, his brain still not used to receiving hugs. The old man blinked and let out a long, silent breath as he wrapped his arms around her small frame. His left hand slid up to cradle the back of her head and he gently lay her face against his chest. They stayed like that for a while and Arthur felt something tighten in his chest as he slowly rocked her back and forth. He hadn't felt that type of twinge in a long, long time.

"I'm not gonna let anything happen to you, Addison," he murmured in her hair and a few of the loose strands swayed as he breathed in and out. That was a promise. He was going to die first before he would let anything or anyone take her from him. When they finally pulled away, he watched her as she pulled out the first aid box and began to address his wounds. He would flinch every so often when she fixed a cut, but it wasn't the worst thing he had.

Then the thought of her father being alive suddenly emerged. His blue-gray orbs flicked downwards to focus on his hands and a small crease formed on his brow as he thought. It was only a matter of time before she would be taken from him. That was part of the reason why he never wanted to get close to people. To never let people in.

What if the man was still alive?

What if they found him?

What would happen then?

Arthur would have to let her go back with her father because it was the right thing to do. He would have to forget her entirely. Force the memories with her away and become like he was before he met her. He had done it before. He could sure as hell do it again. Until that time came, though, he was going to let himself stay open up for a little while longer.

For Addison.

He was pulled from his dark thoughts as Addison gave him a pill bottle. He took the bottle from her slowly, his eyes danced between it and her face before he gave her a curt nod. Twisting the cap off, he pulled out two, white pills and tilted his head backward to help him swallow them. One good thing about the new world was that he had learned how to take pills without the need for refreshment. Putting the cap back on, he handed the bottle back to her and muttered a "Thanks."

The old man blinked again as he took the box from her and placed it in his lap. He used his left fingers to beckon her towards him and he scooted a bit more towards her, "C'mere." Taking her chin in his right hand, he carefully tilted it in different directions to inspect where any cuts would be. He released it and did the same with her arms and legs, after pulling up the fabric of her shirt and jeans, careful not to squeeze and turn them too much so as not to hurt her any more than she already was. He placed some bandaids on a few cuts and after he was finished, he unraveled the sleeves and pants and softly patted one of her knees. "There you go," he added as he closed the container and handed it back to her.

As he sniffed, Arthur rubbed one of his hands against his nose and his eyes looked to their right. There was a faint outline of civilization and Arthur knew that they needed to restock on supplies and they would need food. Looking back at the young woman, he finally spoke up, "We need to get food and supplies if we even think about making it to Tenessee."

He turned his upper body towards the motor and his hand gripped the handle of the pull rope but stopped. Turning back to Addison, he added, "Here," he leaned forward to pull off his coat and he tossed it to her. "Use that to cover yourself with and get some rest. I'll wake you up when we reach wherever we're goin'."

Without waiting for her response, or the possibility to protest, he returned his attention to the pulley and started the motor again. It came to life with another roar and Arthur steered the boat towards the outline of broken skyscrapers.
[Boat continued]
Neither of them said much as they tended to each others' wounds - neither of them probably even wanted to talk. The gentle lapping of the waters that had calmed since their daring escape was all they needed besides the company. Moonlight shone in bits through broken parts of the clouds above, casting a silvery glow every once in a while. The two were beaten, bruised, and scarred, both carrying the burden of the individual battles they endured separately and together. The biting cold was starting to feel numb.

Addison placed the bottle of medicine back in her bag and zipped it up tight before moving forward as Arthur asked. Her motions lazily followed his hand as he moved her head around to look at the small injuries she had acquired. The worst of the bunch was a nasty gash on her temple and an ugly bruise on her forehead from headbutting the man whose blood had covered her body. She didn't even feel them anymore and had honestly forgotten they were even there. Fighting all of those guys by herself was the most terrifying thing she could have ever done and all she wanted to do was forget about them, forget about Ian and the gory remains of him that she left behind. By the time she had been through with him, his face was a hack job, a pile of chopped skin and mush. The knife...

While Arthur examined one of her legs for wounds, Addison reached into her back pocket. Sure enough, there was the switchblade, as bloodied and ugly as it was when the other man wielded it against her. The blade flicked open with the click of a button to reveal the scratches along with the dirty metal. A bad taste spread in her mouth, and with no hesitation, Addison closed it against her thigh and tossed the weapon out into the watery blackness of the night, gone forever to the depths of the body of water. That was that.

Arthur gave her knee a pat and helped roll her pant leg back down before handing the container back over to her. Addison took it and placed it in the bag alongside the bottle for safekeeping. She gave a nod in response to his plan, wanting more than ever to just get to Tennessee. It felt like ages ago when they had even first started on their journey. Now their horse was gone. I already miss him. He was a good horse. Her gaze stayed glued to the floor of the boat as Arthur shifted around to adjust the boat in the direction of land but paused to give her his coat and coax her to sleep. Again, Addison nodded and gladly took the jacket, wrapping it around her shoulders before sinking into the floor of the boat.

Exhaustion was setting in terribly fast now - before, she had no idea how tired she really was. For as tired as she was, though, Arthur had to have been even more exhausted. But she knew he would want her to sleep anyway and she didn't have the energy to argue with him about it. Addison set her backpack up carefully to rest her head on and settled in as comfortably as she could manage, curling up into a ball along the edge of the boat. The dark of night mixed with the rocking boat was enough to put her to sleep in seconds.

Back in the boat? What the hell was she doing back in the boat? They just left...

The halls of the boat were long and dark, a lot scarier from what Addison remembered. There were lights along the edges before, weren't there? They were there for hours...maybe it was a figment of her imagination. The wind howled against the boat, pushing it harder from side to side. The ground was barely stable enough to walk on. What floor is this? The doors all look the same. There was no time - those bastards were thudding down the hallways in search of her, yelling obscenities about what they would do to her when they got her. Alarm filled Addison's chest as she searched desperately for Arthur, but there were no staircases.

A rancid scent hit her nose. It was a vaguely familiar one, one from when she was alone on the boat, just like now. Fresh blood. Oh god. Addison turned the corner of a hallway to find one door at the end, a couple of others lining the sides with little circular windows to peer through. There wasn't much time. The men were catching up quickly. With reluctance and a dry throat, Addison moved forward to open the door up ahead. Faces began to smash themselves against the glass windows of the doors on the sides, faces that she recognized as the people Addison had killed or helped kill in the past. Blood gushing down their faces, some decomposed and malformed. They clawed through the windows as she ran past, twisting the handle of the door on the end quickly and throwing it open.

Cold flooded the hallways, sending the people around her into an uproar. Addison's stomach lurched as the smell hit her in full force. Mutilated bodies, some piled, others hanging from the ceiling, filled the entire room. Some meat and blood squelched underfoot. Raspy breathing caught Addison's attention as she looked straight ahead once again only to see a bloodied Arthur hanging upside down from the ceiling and in the form of one of the undead. His skin was rotting and fungus grew from his face and shoulders, crawling up and down his neck. His mouth opened and closed mindlessly. Words were lodged in Addison's throat in fear, but not for long.

Sweaty hands grasped her from behind and pulled her out of the room, letting the metal door slam shut and tighten as Addison was dragged away. Ian and the other men, despite all presenting their dead and maimed selves, bore down on her greedily as they grasped her, one holding his hand around her mouth so as to cover up the screams of terror she tried to let loose...

Addison's eyes flew open with a sharp inhale of surprise, jolted awake by the brutality of her nightmare and her racing heart. The sky was a bit brighter now, albeit cloudy from still-snowy skies. The coat was wrapped tightly around her shoulders, her hood now pulled around her head so as to not let her ears and face get as cold. Though it very clearly was freezing out, Addison could feel sweat around her forehead. She quickly took her hand and wiped the beads of sweat away, then sat up to look at Arthur. She rubbed one of her eyes, deciding not to mention her dream at all so that he wouldn't worry, and gave a small yawn as her belly was accompanied by a rumble. "D...Arthur, did we make it to shore yet?" The boat wasn't rocking so much, so she safely assumed that they had at least hit a river or something smaller than before.

As Arthur steered the boat, he increased its speed and it tilted on different sides as it moved across the unsettled waters. Saltwater splashed against his face and he had to wipe his sleeve against it to relieve himself of the droplets. The only reason he slowed was to make sure Addison could sleep as much as she could. It was going to be a long road ahead of them and he wasn't entirely sure when they would get to rest. He turned to the left and slowed the boat down even more as they entered the ravine. On either side of him were marshlands and tall grass would be able to hide any alligators that were not lurking in the water. Arthur blinked as he glanced down at his sleeping companion. She was passed out, stuck in some dream. He hoped that it was a peaceful one. One that made her forget about the world they were forced to live in. One where she could be happy and safe for a few hours. His eyes then focused on a moon, which would be covered every so often by the thick, grey clouds that lazily floated to the side.

The boat moved down the river, which thinned out as he made it to the docks, and it widened into a larger river. There were large lakes that had flooded large potholes that had been formed in the ground and built by bombs the military had used to limit the casualties. They didn't do much, though. People still got infected and died. Only a select few survived and were forced to live in the new hell, ruled by the infected. So many people blamed God, or scientists, or whoever they could, all scared and angry because the end of the world had finally come. It was far from the end, though. It was more like a new beginning. One that was very hard to live in.

The old man breathed out through his mouth, and a white puff of air swirled past his thin lips. Blinking, he looked around the new surroundings and his body tensed up as the boat moved through a large gaping hole in the side of a house. Bending forward a little, Arthur saved himself from bumping his head against an old, broken beam. The boat went right through the house and he made his way further into the flooded city. Every once in a while his grey-blue orbs would move to check on Addison and he got a little worried when he noticed her squirm in her sleep. She probably wasn't having a good dream, then.

Blinking, he focused his gaze on the three separate ways he could go. The pool to his right was blocked off by a sunken concrete, which had been part of the road at some point, and it had barnacles and moss growing from its sides. In front of him was a straight shot to a knocked-over skyscraper, and to his left was a sideways house. Deciding to check for supplies in the house to his left, he made the boat come to a stop towards it. There was a slab of mud beneath the broken doorway and he check on the girl before he stepped onto it with caution. He hoped it wouldn't be like the marshland, where he would just sink into the water if he put pressure on it.

Carefully stepping onto the mud pile, he let out a relieved sigh when his boot didn't sink too much and he placed his other foot in front of him. He stepped into the house, ducking underneath the molded, wooden doorframe, and the wooden door creaked in protest as he stepped onto it. It appeared to have been ripped off its hinges and had various cracks indented in the moss and barnacle-covered wood. The room he was currently inside was fairly large, with a painting that had been split in two on the wall to his right, to his left was what appeared to be a kitchen. Pots, pans, and other various cooking utensils were spread throughout the floor. Straight in front of him was the lopsided living room, which had a broken television lying face down on the wall, which served as the floor, and various old DVDs and furniture were left in there as well. He turned his attention to the sideways cupboards and began to look inside them. He let out a frustrated huff when he didn't find anything. Shouldn't have surprised him. The place was still breaking down and was relatively empty. The glass of an old framed photo cracked beneath his boot as he made his way back out to hop in the boat.

Arthur glanced at the slumbering girl and noticed her shiver quite a bit. With quickened, swift movements, he knelt beside her and he pulled her hood up to help keep her head a little warmer. He also dusted off the small amount of snow that had gathered on her small form. Taking a seat back in his spot in the back of their transportation, he started the boat up again and traveled further down the river.

In the span of a couple of hours, Arthur had managed to lot a few old houses, even had to silently take out a few infected that resided in those them. He was back on the boat and his side had begun to ache something terrible. The pain pills must've started to wear off. The cool breeze helped cool him down some since he had worked up a sweat from having to move around so much, and a tickle formed on the inside of his nostrils. His eyes watered a bit and he inhaled four, quick breaths through his mouth and then let out a rather loud, obnoxious sneeze. He mumbled a curse under his breath as he sniffed and wiped his nose and eyes with his fingers. Heaving out a heavy breath, Arthur blinked and growled out a thoughtful hum as he was forced to come to a stop at a makeshift wall that had been formed by an eroded road. A small, concrete fence was on either side of the broken road, and damn, it was pretty tall. His eyes caught sight of the large, rusted, green sign that read "Atlanta" in large, white letters.

So they were on what used to be the highway. He remembered when he had been forced to go to Atlanta for some doctor's appointment. In the old world, the traffic had been an absolute bitch to deal with. Rows upon rows of cars were lined up in every lane, with each stuck against each other bumper to bumper. So many people had almost gotten hit, even Arthur himself, and he remembered passing by a hit and run car accident. It had been bad. He wondered what it must have been like for these poor souls during their escape from the outbreak. Well, no doubt a ton of people died.

Arthur had been scanning the wall and any means to climb it when he noticed Addison had finally stirred awake. She had sat up and his eyes were focused on her shaking form. Turning off the motor as she spoke up, he had made his way to sit beside her and replied, "Yeah, we made it."

Placing his backpack on the floor of the boat, he hesitated a moment before taking his coat from her and he shrugged it back on. Then he opened his pack open, pulled out some stale beef jerky, and handed it to her. "Go ahead and eat. ...I already ate somethin'."

It was a lie.

He hadn't eaten anything yet because he wanted to make sure the girl got to first. She needed to keep her strength up. Fixing the collar some, he zipped his bag closed, slipped the straps of his pack back onto his shoulders, and nodded his head up towards the cliff. "We gotta get up there. It's the highway. Should help us get back on track."

He scratched at his unkempt beard and looked around again. His eyes locked onto a few wrecked cars, quite a few stuck halfway out of the large pool of water and one to their right had slabs of broken concrete and dirt close behind it. He was sure they could climb from the boat, onto the cars, and jump onto the closest concrete slab with ease. The mini cliffs served as a type of large, set of steps. Once they reached the second to the top, he might have to boost Addison up onto the road and find himself another way up. Since the water had no current, it would be easy for him to get Addison out if she happened to fall in.

"We can try to climb up that way," he stated finally, aiming a finger towards one of the many obstacle courses the world had to offer them.

Addison gave another yawn and slid Arthur's jacket off of her shoulders as his hand moved towards it, shaking off some of the little bit of snow that had piled on before handing it over to the older man. She pulled her jacket tighter around her to keep some of the warmth encased from having the extra layer on for a little while. The surrounding area was about as ruined as could be and flooded to hell. Vehicles rusted with age rested on a broken road, crumbling buildings off in the distance, the large grey and muted colors of the land; the world truly gave off the appearance of a wasteland more than Addison had ever seen before. It was a dire atmosphere, almost hopeless.

The atmosphere gave her the creeps. She noticed the glaringly large green and white sign for Atlanta towering before them. That was in Georgia if she remembered correctly - geography wasn't her strongest suit. The most she had done was wander from place to place with no clue as to where she was at. Hopefully, things would be better the closer they got to Tennessee.

The air was peaceful. It wasn't at all like those few moments of deathly silence before that group of men had attacked the pair, where even the earth around them held its' breath. Despite the monochromatic colors the land gave off, Addison could still hear the buzzing of bugs and the twittering of little critters nearby. It was as if nothing had happened at all...and maybe that was for the best. She wanted to move on from the whole incident, though it lingered heavily in her mind. She gratefully took the food from Arthur without so much as a second thought as he offered it to her, her mouth filling with saltiness as she bit into the crunchy meat. It wasn't much, but the girl already knew that she wouldn't be able to stomach much more than that.

Once she had wolfed down the bit of food, Addison sucked some of the salt off of her fingers and pulled the straps of her backpack over her shoulders, glancing in the direction Arthur pointed as he suggested climbing over the rubble and debris that happened to form a makeshift bridge. "Okay," the girl responded as she gave her pistol a look-over before tucking it in the back of her pants, "let's give it a shot." The boat wobbled some when Addison stood up, so she paused for a moment and watched the ripples send out into the water while it settled. Falling into freezing water was the very last thing that she would be able to handle. All she could think of was when they finally got to Tennessee, how they could curl up by a warm fire with a warm drink and finally feel safe without having to worry about much. It had been years since she felt that level of comfort.

The boat finally settled and Addison cautiously climbed onto the first car, feeling the metal creak underneath her weight. The combination of the cold and the water made the surface slippery, her shoes giving a clear indicator as the rubber sole squeaked against the surface. Maybe it would be a good idea to invest in some shoes with better traction soon. These shoes had given service since she was around fourteen years old - they had done their part. She glanced at Arthur over her shoulder. "Everything's really wet. Be careful."

Addison locked onto her next target and crossed the hood of the car she was on, stretching a little bit as she reached for the trunk of the next car. It took some time and concentration, but the cars were close enough to make it relatively easy. Upon reaching the edge of the last car, she readied herself to jump to the concrete slab just a short distance away. It didn't take much - Addison was able to hop over with ease, her foot slipping just a little bit at the slick surface. She was able to balance herself and not tumble into the water, though her heart did beat a little faster from the near splash. Splashes would more than likely attract nearby predators.

The young girl scaled over the first couple of "steps" before her, struggling some with the mud and the height, but she definitely wouldn't be able to make it past the third step herself. Waiting for Arthur, Addison turned to see him climb across. "So Atlanta...how close is that to Tennessee? Do you think we'll get there soon?"

Arthur kept his gaze on the girl as she stood and braced his feet against the sides of the boat so he wouldn't fall in. Puffs of white air came from his lips and he blinked his good eye at Addison as she readied herself to jump. He'd bent over a tad, and lifted his hands up some to catch her in case she fell.

"Careful now."

He readjusted the straps of his backpack and nodded while responding to her with an, "Mmhm." When Addison moved, he jumped from the boat and landed on the car with a pained grunt. He barked out in a bit of surprise when his foot slipped out from beneath him and he had to catch himself from falling into the water. A hiss of discomfort slipped past his lips as said foot ducked into the freezing water and it soaked up to the middle of his calf on his pants. It took him a minute to pull himself up onto the hood of the car and he growled out a curse under his breath as the nerves from his wounds flared up. Instantly his hand went to his side and he let out three, long gasps as a way to help him mentally with the pain his ribs caused him.

It was times like that where Arthur had really started to feel his age. Though right then, it was probably due to the fact the adrenaline had disappeared from his person and his body was exhausted from all the shit it had been through just hours prior.

He forced himself to straighten out his back, lifted his head some, and let out another sigh as he readied himself to jump to the truck once Addison had jumped again. It didn't take him long to reach the same concrete slab his young partner, answered her as he hopped over, "...It's gonna take us a while since we don't have a car or a horse."

Once he was on the slab, he sniffed and glared down at his wet pants leg, and boot in annoyance. His toes had gone numb. Thank god he'd grabbed another pair of socks earlier. Arthur decided that had changed it later, once they found someplace else to stay.

"I'd say maybe about three or four days at the least. We'll need to find more supplies and food before we leave, though."

As he spoke, the old man had walked past her and knelt down with a grimace to intertwine his fingers for her to use. "Alright. Come on. Find somethin' I can use to get up there with you." He paused a moment and begrudgingly added with a frown, "...I hate to admit it, but I don't think I'm in shape enough to jump up there and climb after you."

Once she placed her foot on his hands, Arthur tried to lift her up but had to stop midway because his nerves jolted in pain. It caused him to become a little breathless and a muscle bounced in his jaw as he clenched his teeth beneath his lips. Without giving Addison a heads up, Arthur growled a bit and held his breath as he lifted her up onto the road. After gripping his side again, the old survivor watched her disappear and waited patiently for her to throw something over the edge for him to use to climb up.

Addison noticed the wincing and the struggle that Arthur was going through, but she didn't say anything about it. He never usually admitted when he was in pain or was struggling and she didn't think he would appreciate it being pointed out, so all the girl figured she could do now was try to pick up some slack on her own. Trouble was that Arthur would probably take notice. She could talk him out of it, though, one way or another. Concerned young eyes flitted over to him, patiently standing by. Addison gave a silent nod in response as he crouched down to lift her up.

For a moment she hesitated, unsure if she should oblige in putting her weight on him. But what choice did they have? Resting here for a while was definitely not a good idea. She took a few strides forward and firmly planted her foot in his hand, her own fingertips sifting through the cold, the wet and gravelly ground above them for a ledge to hold on to. Fingertips rolled over some loose rocks and pebbles on the ground. A small bit of force came from below so that Addison could barely see above the road, but it quickly fell away. She looked down at him from underneath her arm. "Do you need me to -!"

Arthur didn't give her a chance to finish the sentence as he hoisted her upwards with such intensity that Addison was nearly tossed onto the upper floor, catching the lip of the broken road with her knee and pulling herself the rest of the way with a soft grunt. The young survivalist got on her knees to brush away some of the grime on her palms, then turned to look down at Arthur for a moment.

"Okay, just...rest for a second. I'll find something."

The road housed scattered rusty cars and bits of grass peeking up through cracks of pavement where water didn't drown the vegetation. Addison's mind began to drift off as she peered through each car, moving off of the road a bit to investigate vehicles that had rolled off at some point. They were getting so close to their goal that it formed a weird knot in her stomach. If Chris' place was still safe and homely...that would be some unfamiliar territory, a whole new challenge for her to face. It had been a while since she saw any semblance of a community. Not since before. At least Arthur would be there to suffer through it with her. A friendly, familiar face was all the girl would need to feel truly at home. Just the two of them sitting in a house - a house of all things - and watching a movie together, a sense of normalcy that she desired. And they were so close!

A faint smile formed as she dreamed up some of the things they would be able to do, all while searching through the remnants of a dead world. A strange trio of cars was piled before her, two leaning against a faded blue truck. Having a gut instinct, Addison got on the floor and crawled through a little space the two cars had formed. Her hands pried around a bit before landing on a cable attached to the front. Bingo. She tugged on it and, with some dedicated effort, the cable surprisingly began to creak to life as it was unspooled, and so she dragged it over to where Arthur was so that they could continue on.
[Chris's Settlement]
That had been seven days ago.

A thin blanket of snow covered the world below it, making everything have a white tint to them, and a pair of brown, leather boots came to a halt at a spot beside a river. It roared loudly beside the old man and the sides of it had the beginnings of a thin sheet of ice on its edges. The survivor wore a thick pair of blue jeans, which were held in place by a brown leather belt, and he had on an old T-shirt beneath a black turtleneck sweater. The sweater was also tucked under a dark red plaid, button-up shirt, and over it was a dark, forest green scarf. The scarf had been placed under the worn, brown coat as well. He had on a pair of black gloves and his fingers flexed on the straps of his backpack. Ice cycles had formed on various pine tree branches and on the undersides of different, old vehicles, and from the roofs of abandoned buildings. Most animals had gone into hiding or hibernation for the winter season and it seemed like the snow wouldn't stop any time soon.

Arthur breathed in deeply through his nose and let out a soft sigh as he turned a bit to see how Addison was holding up. They'd been following the road and eventually a trail that led up into the Smoky Mountains. Arthur's wounds had healed up a bit, his wounded eye had become less swollen and now had a yellow and hint of purple coloring on the skin around it. The only thing that really bothered him was his ribs and a few stitched cuts on his back and sides. Snow fluttered down lazily as he turned to face her fully and a hint of a smile formed when he saw her.

"Addison," he called back to her and he nodded his head towards a bridge that led further to their destination. "Come on. We're almost there. You can sightsee later."

Thank God they found her winter boots when they did.

Snow crunched underfoot as Addison trudged along behind Arthur, all swaddled up in her grey hoodie, the green hunter's jacket topping it off to make sure she would stay warm during the winter, and apparently the mountains as well. She admired her newly acquired footwear, which was a pair of nicely insulated hunting boots that belonged to a corpse that would no longer need them. They were a bit torn and filled with snow at first, but that was nothing new. She liked them a lot. Her hand went to the grey beanie resting on her head to hold it steady as she looked up the side of the mountain as a crystallized breath escaped her lips and swirled above her reddened nose.

The way the mountains brushed alongside it, the deep blues of the mountains leading away...it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. It was cold but peaceful, a place hidden in plain sight that could offer refuge from the harshness of the world. The water babbling by was so crystal clear that she could practically taste its freshness.

"Addison. Come on. We're almost there. You can sightsee later."

For the past seven days, Addison was doing her best to help Arthur in any way he needed. After coming off the boat, he was in far worse shape than she was, and the girl couldn't help but feel guilty for not helping out more. They both had endured a lot but he certainly took more of a beating than she did. Amazingly, he still steered the motorboat to land while she slept. He took good care of her. Hopefully, this place would finally provide a good night's sleep and some security for once. Addison picked up the pace some, the items hanging off her backpack clinging together as she caught up with him and gazed at the mountainside once again.

"I think I could live in the mountains one day," she said. "Like, somewhere on my own, y'know? With people I like. A nice house with a big porch that overlooks this place. Nobody I didn't want to talk to could go there, the ophies don't show up, and I'd have my own horse to go exploring with."

Addison went quiet for a moment. The horse they had was a good one. She felt silly for thinking he was such a scary beast. He didn't have to die the way he did. She was starting to grow used to being around him. She cleared her throat and brushed her hand underneath her nose, which had started to run a bit from the frosty air. Their boots thunked on the wooden floor of the bridge as they came across it. They couldn't be that far off. "I've always wanted to live in a spot that's away from other people. Somewhere safe where I could read in peace. But I guess that's kinda what Chris' place is like, right? How long did you know Chris for, anyway? And how will we know when we're there" She hooked her gloved thumbs around her backpack and glanced upwards at Arthur with a bit of a grin, awaiting the answer to her several questions.

Once she started walking towards him, Arthur turned back towards the bridge in front of him and took a few, slow steps onto it. There was ice in a few places and the old, wooden planks made a clacking noise as the bottoms of his boots hit against them. Flakes of snow stuck to strands of his grey hair, beard, and eyelashes from being out in the snow for so long. A small smile came to his lips as he listened to Addison speak about a place secluded to stay. "Yeah, I think that would be real nice. You won't have to worry too much about other people intruding on your place, but it's infected that might cause a problem. There should be plenty of horses here. Tennessee used to be a bunch of farmlands with a couple of small towns and cities spread out. I'm sure we can find you one sometime."

The river flowed far beneath the bridge and he blinked as he looked from the outline of the Smokey Mountains over to the girl who looked up at him. His smile had left his face and was replaced with a creased brow and a far-off look on his face. The end of his lips moved to the side as he thought about his answer while he continued forward and he scratched the back of his neck. Thinking about Chris always put Arthur on edge. They'd never gotten along, even as kids, and about killed each other on several occasions. Their mother, though small, had always beat the shit out of them with whatever she could get her hands on when they got in trouble. Whether it be the umbrella she kept right beside her in the car, a frying pan she was going to use to cook, or the broom she had while she would sweep the house; it didn't matter what it was so long as she got her point across. Chris had done so much shit against him and the rest of the family, Arthur never thought he'd be able to forgive him for any of it. In the old world, his little brother had been in and out of jail for various things, most of which were set against the older man.

Letting out a soft sigh, a white puff of air lazily drifted from his chapped lips as he did so, Arthur blinked and answered, "Let's hope it's still there... And I, uh... I've known him for a long time."

He paused for a beat as he stepped off of the wooden bridge and back onto the muddy trail. His hands lifted to tug the straps of his backpack up and he set his jaw.

"He's my little brother."

Damn, it felt weird having to say that.

Arthur never thought he would ever again since he had practically disowned the other man. However, despite all the shit Chris had made him go through, they had managed to meet one day after the outbreak had initially begun and they'd been forced to work together. Arthur still didn't acknowledge that he was his brother and didn't trust him at all for the first couple of months they'd been together. To the older brother's surprise, Chris had seemed to step up and he worked his ass off to keep the two of them alive by any means necessary. However, Arthur still wouldn't admit that he was still his brother. Maybe it was because of his pride, or because he had decided Chris could go to Hell so many years ago for the shit he'd done to the family.

"As for when we know we get there, we'll know," he continued as he increased his walk to a lazy jog. "We've got to pass a dam and it should be close by. Keep an eye out for any concrete wall or large body of water. Kind of like a man-made lake."

The snow crunched beneath his boots and Arthur's arms swung at his sides as he continued down the path. A mixture of mud and water covered most of his boots and Arthur gripped at his side after a little while with a frustrated, painful sigh. As he moved, he'd glanced back at Addison a couple of times to see how she was doing and then return his gaze back towards the beautiful scenery in front of him. As they came to a clearing, he decided to break the silence and answer any possible questions his young partner might have had swirling in that noggin of hers.

"...Chris and I never got along. Even when we were kids," he began in a soft voice as he adjusted the strap on his right shoulder. He looked at the seemingly empty space around them and blinked as he glanced up at the sky. The clouds were a lighter shade of grey with a bit of blue and white mixed in. "...I tried electrocuting him once when we were little because he'd pissed me off for telling off Mama. I grabbed a big battery, and car cables, and I attached them to the wires of his mattress. Hid everything under his bed so I wouldn't get into trouble. We both ended up getting zapped and Mama beat the hell out of us when she found out. My dad got mad, too, and we were forced to pick tobacco for the rest of the day." A soft, breathy chuckle came from him and he shook his head some at the memory.

"Anyway," Arthur sighed out as he turned to glance at her and he let go of his aching side once the pain died down. "After the outbreak, we had worked together for a while. Made a name for ourselves, believe it or not, for bein' real...uh... ruthless. We killed whatever and whoever got in our way, did some..." He blinked, pressed his lips together, and returned his gaze back to the pine and oak trees further ahead of him. "Let's just say we did what we had to back then."

After he remained silent for a bit, the old man spoke up again, his voice still serious, "Before we split ways, he told me about coming back home, or at least close to home, and making a refuge one day. ...I don't know if he's actually here, or managed to do it, but I guess we'll see."

Arthur stopped in his tracks when he heard something move in the woods and strained his ears for a noise. Grey-blue orbs narrowed and his right hand went straight to the revolver tucked in his pants. He had just been able to grab the handle when he heard a click resound from somewhere beside him. The barrel of a rifle was harshly pressed against his temple and Arthur's face had changed from the solemn, tired expression to his usual cold, serious glare when they were in trouble. His heart rate had picked up and his teeth clenched together as he glanced toward the other six people who came out from the hiding spots. Two had their guns aimed at Addison and Arthur's overprotectiveness kicked in and his hand tightened its hold on his weapon.

"Don't fucking move," The man's voice commanded from beside Arthur. "Move your hand away from your gun, otherwise I'll blow your brain to bits."

Arthur's eyes flicked over from the girl beside him to shoot a dirty look at the woman who stood in front of him. Her shotgun was aimed at him as well, but at his chest. Reluctantly, Arthur did as he was told, slowly moved his hand from the weapon and let it fall to the side of his hip. He'd been so distracted by the tranquil feeling of being home, of being able to just walk and talk with Addison that he'd let his guard down. He was a fucking dumbass for doing such a thing and now they were surrounded. The tense atmosphere was broken by another man's voice calling towards them somewhere far behind Arthur.

"Hey-! What the hell is going on here?"

The old man's eyes widened a bit and he felt a squeeze at his heart and gut as he instantly recognized the voice. Still, he didn't move as the rapid crunch of snow beneath approaching footsteps got closer and eventually, someone could be heard catching their breath. The woman in front of him frowned and spoke up, "Chris, we caught these two walking across the bridge."

"Really? Lemme take a look at them, then."

Chris' voice was still a tad higher than Arthur's and it still had the semi-prominent Southern accent.

The younger Wallace walked around them from Addison's side and his brows lifted some in surprise seeing a little girl. He had greying, chestnut brown hair that ended somewhere around his chin, the beginnings of facial hair scattered on his jaw and above his lower lip, and he had the same bushy eyebrows and bright blue eyes as Arthur did. They had the same jawline and nose, however, Chris' nose wasn't as crooked as Arthur's was. He had on a pair of cowboy steel-toed boots, blue jeans that were held in place by a brown, leather belt, and a sweater that was pulled over a dark green plaid, button-up shirt. Over the two shirts was a thick, dark blue scarf and a heavy, dark brown coat. He also wore a dark blue toboggan over his head. Chris' right ear was pierced and he had a small scar on the right side of his cleft chin.

When his blue gaze drifted from the little girl to the other man, his heart nearly stopped.

"Holy shit..." Chris breathed as he took a few, quickened steps to stand in front of Arthur. "You son of a bitch."

Arthur finally looked up from his boots to lock eyes with his younger brother.

"...Chris," he greeted, his voice sounding tight.

Arthur didn't expect himself to suddenly be pulled to Chris' chest in a bear hug. They were mostly the same size, with Chris being a few centimeters shorter than Arthur. The older of the two grunted some in surprise and pain as the younger one gave him a slight squeeze. Chris pulled away and placed the palm of his hand on Arthur's cheek, a bright smile on his face.

"Never thought I'd see you again, Arthur. I thought you were dead," he pulled away and gestured towards the group, who all relaxed.

Arthur blinked and offered him a small chuckle as he added with a bit of amusement, "I probably would have been if you hadn't shown up."

"Oh, yeah. That... That's true. Heh."

Once the guns were aimed someplace else or tucked away, the old man instantly got closer to Addison and his eyes scanned over her face, silently asking if she was okay. The younger Wallace sniffed, turned his attention to the redhead, and gestured with one of his hands with a finger aimed towards her, "Who's this pretty little thing?"
His tone didn't hold any sort of hostility or ulterior motives. It was more like an uncle at a family gathering who was curious about a new addition to the family. "What's your name, darlin'?"

Judging by the pregnant pause, Arthur didn't sound as though he and his brother were close in some respect. Obviously not in recent months anyway, seeing how it was just the two of them. Addison furrowed her brow some. The old man had mentioned having a brother before, specifically a couple of moments where they were having fun on the farm with each other. It wasn't until now that Arthur had mentioned him by name, let alone divulging in their history. The thudding of their boots on the wooden bridge and the distant babbling of the river lessened the silence until they moved back to the trails, where now mud squelched underneath the boots. She pushed her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket for some extra warmth and, as her companion had asked, she kept an eye out for any man-made structures nearby. Besides things like trails, roads, and bridges, she hadn't caught wind of much in the way of man-made things.

A little brother. I'd love to have a little brother. Addison's eyes drifted to Arthur as his arm moved to his injured side, but she didn't say anything about it. If they had the luxury of choice and shelter, Addison would have demanded that they rest awhile. But with them being so close anyway and Arthur pushing on with such determination...maybe, she wondered, somewhere deep down, if Arthur was even a little eager to see Chris. Then he continued on with the story. Something in Arthur's tale clicked in her young mind, something that made her think that maybe they weren't so different after all. Her own mother didn't beat her, but she wasn't exactly very nurturing. Her father didn't get to see her much anyway, but at least he was nicer to her than Arthur's dad was to him. In her younger years, her dad was the only thing she could hang on to, so when they were pulled apart... It's been too long since she's seen him.

Addison didn't give much of a physical reaction as Arthur explained that he and Chris had to do violent acts to survive...knowing how roughly he fought, and how strong he was, it all made sense. She didn't ask for details. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. Addison had to do a couple of unsavory things as well, but she was well aware that each act probably didn't have as much of an effect as Arthur did. Hell, if Arthur had known what the people she was with before she met him were like he would've understood that she knew exactly what he was talking about. But she didn't want him to know for a number of reasons.

"I get it," Addison replied as Arthur went silent. "You do what you need to survive. I think everyone has been in that shitty little boat at one point."

A small rush of wind made Addison realize that her woolen hat had slid off her pink ears at some point, so her fingers searched for the lip of it and tugged it downwards. The cold was far more desirable than being too hot, but man was she ready to get into a cozy room and just sleep for a while! A small shiver scuttled down her spine and caused her to give a little shiver, a small puff of white air swirling away from her mouth. If only they had warm food or drink. "I really hope it's close by, it's cold as balls out. What do you think the odds are of Chris having hot chocolate...."

Addison trailed off when she bumped into Arthur's firm arm and blinked a bit in confusion. His hand reached for his revolver just as some rustling and crunching of snow sounded next to them and a man placed his gun against Arthur's head before either of them could properly react. Addison instinctively reached for the pistol tucked away in her belt until she noted a couple of other strangers who presented themselves and their guns that aimed at the pair. "Arthur...?" she whispered questioningly under her breath as she moved to a defensive position. There were too many weapons trained on them to reach for her pistol in time.

Fuck. Not again.

Two of the newcomers approached them cautiously as though they were wild predators having cornered their prey that had frozen in place, and Addison watched them speak while standing her ground by Arthur, watching the man with the shotgun intently. Her heart pounded loudly against her chest while she mentally readied herself to lash out at the shotgun man should he think about firing. He must have sensed that she was thinking of doing something because the man gave her a bit of a funny look. She didn't want to deal with all of this, not so soon after their last encounter. Addison wasn't so sure that Arthur's body would be able to take another fight so soon. Anxiety squeezed her stomach as she looked around at each person, mapping out an idea of what to do. Another voice behind them suddenly rang out, this one being very disarming but causing Arthur to twinge in recognition. The curiosity and subsequent realization were too strong - Addison turned to look at who it was.

He looked remarkably like his older brother. She knew right away that it was Chris, there was no doubt about it, especially when the woman mentioned him by name. Chris' initial reaction made Addison's chest tighten with anxiety, but then the two men embraced each other, signaling that tensions didn't need to be so high. The estranged brothers didn't seem to have any qualms about seeing each other, which was just about the best reaction they could get. Without Chris, Addison wasn't so sure they would have anywhere else to go; and that was assuming that Chris even had a place for them to stay at. The people around them lowered their weapons and the man standing directly next to them specifically took a few steps away from them while giving as kind of a smile as he could manage for having just threatened to shoot them. That's totally not awkward at all.

The girl glanced around at all of them before turning back to Arthur, who didn't look to be worried about their safety as far as she could tell, so she tried to relax a bit as everyone else did. It didn't prove to be easy. For every moment that she tried to calm herself, Addison's mind switched to the moment they stepped foot in the weird arena cage before being forced onto the boat. A shaky breath escaped her for a moment. Something had to be off, right? It couldn't be this easy.

Chris pointed her out with a kind of warmth that she wouldn't expect from anyone nowadays, appearing as though he was genuinely happy to see his older brother and get to know who she was. Alarm didn't rack her body in the way it usually would when being pointed out...were they really finally safe? After all this time and everything, they had been through to get here? It couldn't be real. Her eyes darted over to Arthur for some encouragement, crossing her arms a bit awkwardly. Everything was too perfect. A small part of her was getting prepared for some kind of fight or escape attempt, but nobody showed signs of wanting to do anything of the sort.

"I'm Addison. I'm guessing that you're Chris, right? Arthur said you have a good place to stay at." Her tone wasn't quite hostile, but it was more along the lines of disbelief like she was expecting Chris to say that there wasn't really a safe haven to stay at or that there wasn't any room for them. She held her hopes at arm's length.

Sensing her discomfort, Arthur locked eyes with her and offered her a short nod in affirmation. It was alright for her to answer Chris and when she did speak up, the younger Wallace offered her a warm smile.

"That's a strong, pretty name." He held his free hand out, shook hers with a firm grip, and nodded, "Yep, that's me and," he glanced over at his older brother with a raised brow and offered him an amused grin, "Yeah, you've got that right. I do have a place to stay. Why do you guys want to join?"

Taking a step back from the two other survivors, Chris rubbed his hands together and sniffed. Arthur had started to say something, but the younger of the two just nodded and waved his hand dismissively, "Yeah, I know that's why you're here. Of course you can stay," he paused and glanced between the two with a small grin, "So long as you help out with things; pull your weight, earn your keep, whatever the proper term is."

Arthur nodded and replied, "Don't worry. We'll do what we can."

"Oh, I know. Follow me," Chris stated as he turned towards the group and he called over to them as the three walked away. "Hey! Finish up the patrol and head back home since it's getting late!" As Chris took a few steps backward, he aimed a finger towards the direction of the woods he'd come from. "And could you guys check the traps down that way? Make sure no more infected are sneakin' by them? I checked a few already and had to kill three. Didn't see anymore, but be careful!"

When a few of the patrolmen and women yelled back various "Okays" and "Yeah's" and waved their hands back at him, Chris turned back around and started walking away from the two partners. "I've got just the job for you," Chris stated as he glanced back at Addison. "I bet you can kick some serious ass- even better than Arthur."

He took in Arthur's appearance some more and blurted out, "You look like shit."

The only response Arthur gave him was a thin smile and a few nods of the head. He led them through the woods and they ended up walking onto another muddied trail. The young Wallace hooked a thumb around one of the straps of his pack and glanced behind him and gestured with his hand as he spoke, "So, how did you manage to get this far? Last I heard, you were still in Texas, Arthur."

"I was. Then I left because the group about killed me a couple of times. It was a pain to deal with..." He looked over at Addison, and made sure to walk slow enough for her to walk beside him. "I caught this one tryin' to steal my shit one day and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get rid of her." A soft smile formed and amusement twinkled in his grey-blue orbs as the old man glanced at her and then he focused them on the back of his brother's head.

Chris chuckled, nodded a couple of times, and moved a tree branch out of the way as he stated, "Yeah, I bet you did. You never were one to like the company of others... Always preferred to stay alone." Snow crunched beneath his cowboy boots as he glanced back at the girl and then up to his brother's face and a smirk emerged, "But, you always had a soft spot for kids."

"...no, I didn't."

"Yeah, you did."

"No, I... didn't."

"You did, too, and you better quit denyin' it."


"Quit arguing 'cause you know I'm right." He added with an amused chuckle, "Now shut the hell up before I cast you out for making me mad. You haven't even gotten to step foot in the place and you're already causing trouble." There was only humor in Chris' voice and he grinned back at them as he turned to the right and ducked beneath a branch with pine needles and a large amount of snow on top.

Puffs of white air floated from Chris' and Arthur's noses as they breathed and a comfortable silence passed by before they reached the dam. Chris jumped onto the concrete ledge and pulled himself up with a grunt. Spinning around to face the two below him, he held out his hand and Arthur stepped out of the way so he could help Addison up.

"We had to block off the other entranceways so raiders and the infected couldn't get in. We have patrols every day and people are posted at different stations. One being in that watchtower," Chris explained as he nodded his head towards the tower right behind them and Arthur turned his gaze towards it. It looked like it had been made pretty recently, too.

The younger brother gripped Addison's hand and pulled her up with a noise, making sure she was okay before he leaned back down for Arthur to take his turn. The old survivor hesitated a moment before he took the offered hand and he let out a series of pained grunts as he was pulled over the edge. Once he was up, he gripped at his side and let gasped for breath, and Chris, who had started to walk across another man-made bridge, turned and took quickened steps back to kneel by his side.

"Arthur, you alright?"

Arthur just nodded and growled out, a little breathless, "Yeah... Yeah, I'm fine."

"You don't look fuckin' fine. I know how you are," Chris let out an annoyed sigh and pulled the man to his feet. "We'll get you looked at when we get to town." Once they started moving again, Chris turned his attention to the girl, "How are you holding up, sweetpea? You hurt anywhere?"

"Thanks," Addison responded as she shook Chris's hand. It was warm and firm the same way Arthur's was, only Arthur's seemed to be a bit rougher. He didn't appear to be too different from his older brother at first sight. It was kind of comforting and a little funny to see - almost an Arthur doppelganger. Once Chris pulled away, Addison put her hands into the pockets of her jacket once more. The brothers chatted a little bit and the younger one called out to his crew, giving the girl a moment to observe the area a bit more. The mountains were the perfect place to hide out assuming that the cold wasn't too much of an issue - the trees had good coverage, the wildlife appeared to be abundant and it was relatively quiet. Well, except for being held up by Chris' crew. But that just meant that they would have some security.

Chris turned his attention towards her once more and reckoned that she could kick ass better than Arthur. A small smirk flashed onto her face as she straightened up some. "I don't like to brag," Addison joked, "but I did manage to bag a whole squirrel a couple of days ago without any help." She reverted back to her quiet state immediately after and gave Arthur a quick look as Chris mentioned how bad he looked. The man wasn't wrong. Addison did her best to make sure that he wouldn't get sick or hurt himself some more but it was a lot harder to manage something like that than it sounded. The whole squirrel thing was a lucky coincidence. God knows what would have happened if they had run into some more trouble.

What if things had gone even more south than they already had? Arthur is a grown-ass man. Addison wouldn't be able to carry him to safety or make sure that he was okay medically. Hell, all she had in the way of medical supplies were band-aids and painkillers. A couple of weeks ago, Addison would have been more concerned with taking care of herself. Now? Now she was stressed over her inability to take care of Arthur despite them having made their goal. They were here and she couldn't shake the anxiety away. Luckily, Arthur and Chris's conversation pulled her out of her own mind. A small smile made a reappearance as Arthur mentioned how they initially met.

"So what I'm hearin' is that you're a big ol' teddy bear, huh Arthur?" Addison teased. "I didn't think you liked kids that much. You definitely didn't want me around at first, but I guess I just got that...charm." She jokingly elbowed his arm and looked up to him with a goofy smile. "C'mon. Admit it. You may seem like a big grump, but you've got a big heart. Like a teddy bear!" She chuckled to herself and lagged behind a bit as the conversation lulled some. Her hand dragged along the bark of the pine trees, brushing off some loose snow and feeling the textures of each tree. There weren't many birds, but the occasional straggling songbird sang a bright tune that echoed down the mountainside. It was a really nice day.

They came to a momentary stop as they reached the dam and Chris climbed on top. He reached down to offer his hand to Addison and she took it, pulling herself onto the upper ledge with a grunt. As soon as she got herself situated and saw Chris lean down to help Arthur up, Addison knew exactly what was going to happen and stood close by Arthur, even as Chris started to walk by. She placed a hand on his back and shoulder to steady him a bit while he doubled over in pain, brow furrowed in concern. Addison offered her shoulder to use as support by sliding his arm around her shoulders questioningly, wondering if he even wanted the help. Probably not, knowing him.

"I'm okay," Addison replied to Chris. "Arthur has been like this for...what, a week now? I tried to do more stuff so he wouldn't have to, but you know how he is." She looked up and down the watchtower behind them for a moment, then at the dam that wasn't too far off now. It was a remarkable shelter to have in a time like this...one that people would definitely want if they had the chance to snatch it.

"You mentioned that there are raiders and infected around here," Addison mentioned. "How often do they come by? And how much of 'em?" She could see the dam looming in the distance as she spoke. It was large, and she could very clearly see from here how much of a beating the building took over the years of the apocalypse raining hell down on it. Even so, it had such a mighty stance to it that she was almost excited to explore the inside and see what Chris had to offer. Besides the inevitable wear and tear of the buildings and the dam, it was rather sturdy and well-kept. Addison could almost see the people moving around inside and going about their day. Maybe things will work out after all, Addison thought to herself as they walked over the bridge.

Chris looked at his older brother with worry and let out a sigh as he shook his head some, "Yeah, he's stubborn as a mule and won't let anyone do things for him. Isn't that right, Arthur? I still think you can be pretty stupid for not asking for help when you obviously need it."

Arthur just grunted out a frustrated, "Yeah," and inhaled deeply through his nose when he felt his arm being lifted and placed over Addison's shoulder. He blinked down at her and then his gaze refocused on the other Wallace, deciding not to remove his arm for once. He didn't lean hardly any of his either on her, afraid he'd topple them both to the side, with her underneath him, if he did so and he didn't want to injure her if he could help it.

Chris answered her question about the enemies as he took a step backward, "We don't get too many thanks to the traps we set up. Just a few stragglers. There's more infected than raiders, though."

As they walked across the bridge, they followed another trail, though it was broken up into two different sections, one that led to another patch of woods and the other led towards the sound of roaring water. Chris waved a hand and told them to follow him as he headed towards the water. Arthur gave Addison's shoulder a small squeeze and as much as he would've liked to stay in that comfortable position with his arm lazily draped over her shoulders, his side told him it was a good time to move his arm back to his side. As he slowly slipped his hand from her person, he glanced down at her and said in a soft tone, "I'll be okay. Chris will make sure I get looked at once we get into town."

He picked up his pace a tad once his hand was back to his side and he followed Chris up the small flight of metallic stairs. Once he was at the top, he turned and waited for his young companion to reach his side. When she did, he turned his attention to the large, concrete wall and the loud pool of water beside them. The younger of the brothers turned to them and had to speak a little louder due to the waterfall close by, "We've had electricity for a couple of months, and let me tell ya, one of the best things is being able to cook a meal on a working stove. Maybe get a few drinks with the boys at the bar and eat popcorn while watching movies with the kids. Mm-mm!"

Arthur followed Chris across another, recently man-made bridge and he gazed down at the water and then at the outline of trees further away. The snowfall had picked up a tad and the world grew colder as the sun was hidden halfway behind the mountains. Puffs of white air came from Arthur's slightly agape mouth and he hopped off the end of the bridge with a small grunt. He flexed his gloved fingers some as Chris kept talking about all the things the small community had done, what they were planning on adding to the town, including larger walls, and maybe even expanding the town some if they kept getting more people. They had to walk up a pretty steep hill and Arthur's foot slipped a bit at some point in the mud, but he caught himself from falling.

Finally, there was a large gate with a concrete wall, and lining the top was a line of barbed wire. There was the dam's company logo sprayed on the left of the wall, but the paint had begun to fade away after so many years of abandonment. Trails of smoke could barely be seen much further away from the top of the wall and the people patrolling it had aimed their weapons towards the three until they saw Chris.

"Hey, everyone," he called up to them as they opened the door. While the young Wallace led the two newcomers inside, he added, "You'll never guess who I brought home! Haha!"

Once the door was closed, Arthur glanced around and forced himself to not roll his eyes when he felt the gaze of everyone nearby stare at him and Addison. Instead, he focused his attention on the girl behind him and after a few moments, he felt a hand clasp his shoulder and an attempt to slightly rock him back and forth. His pale, grey-blue orbs returned their attention to Chris and he offered his younger brother a small smile.

"Let's get you two to the medical building and once we get you patched up, you guys can eat."

Chris released Arthur's shoulder and walked past another group of people, who were possibly getting ready to switch places with others who were stationed on the wall. They had to walk through another metallic gate and the town was revealed. On the side, they'd been in previously, it looked more like a military station with nothing other than soldiers, weapons, and a couple of cars. However, on the side, they stood in currently, there were busy streets, lit up by the various lights strung up from streetlights, which were also lit up, houses and a couple of tall buildings were scattered around the large premises, and some had smoke coming from their chimneys. Some were outlined by fences, while others weren't. A few people, who looked like regular citizens, walked across the roads. Some entered a house, others leaned their backs against a wall, and one guy peered in through a window and started laughing in amusement when he frightened a woman on the other side.

Arthur just stood frozen in place, honestly shocked with how everything seemed like the time before the outbreak. It was like the world they lived in didn't even exist anymore and he would have pinched himself any other time, thinking it was a dream. The place Chris had built wasn't even remotely close to the places or groups they'd stayed in the past. From the few people who were still out and not resting in their homes for the evening, they all looked... content. Arthur released the breath he was holding when he felt Chris drape his arm over his brother's shoulders and he pulled him in for a half-assed hug.

"I did it. Ya proud of me, older brother?"

Arthur had a blink a few times and he breathed out a chuckle as he nodded, "Y-Yeah. Yeah, you did... you did good."

Chris beamed at the agreement and he released him before he turned around to talk to Addison. "So, about what you said about you catching that squirrel earlier..." He began walking again and would turn his upper torso every so often to look at her as he led them to the medical building. "When you are feeling up to it and have settled in after a couple of days, how 'bout you come with me and some of the others on a hunting trip?"

They turned down to their left and walked down the street with a small sign labeled Old AJ and Arthur protested, "I don't really think that's a good idea. She might get hurt and--"

"Oh, quit worrying, Arthur. She'll be fine. She's lasted this long, ain't that right?" Chris scoffed and sent a wink back to her.

Arthur looked at his brother with a disapproving frown and spoke up again, "Yeah, but I don't want her... Addison, I said-"

"Sure, it's pretty cold right now, but there are still animals that are moving about. We try to get a buck or two every once and a while and I think I can teach you a thing or two about it. What'dya say, sweetpea?"

When it was obvious his protests were being ignored, Arthur's frown deepened and he just kept his mouth shut. They finally reached the medical building, which was literally a hotel connected to a doctor's office, and Chris held the door open for the two of them. They got checked up by the medics who were awake on their shifts and Arthur had three broken ribs. The medical personnel patched him up, told him not to do anything for two more weeks, and sent them on their way. They told Addison that she needed some rest and food and maybe a good movie to watch. Chris thanked them for looking the newcomers over and he led them out back onto the street.

"So," he began, "What kind of food do you like, Addison?"

Chris glanced behind him to look at her and they entered a clearing, which had most likely been a park at some point, and there was a small restaurant across the area where the middle of the pavement was.

"We've got barbeque sandwiches, hamburgers, steak... What would you like?"

Addison trailed along after Arthur moved his arm off her shoulder and reassured her that Chris would make sure he got proper treatment. It was quite remarkable how Chris made everything work out from all of this. The air was a bit chillier after ascending the stairs, and so Addison pulled her jacket tighter around herself to block out the cold. Even with the waterfall roaring beside the trio, everything was so much calmer. Being outside of safe walls for so long created an everlasting tension that was slowly being lifted from her shoulders. Her head tilted up the waterfall to examine the crystalline droplets cascading into the pool, but as soon as Chris mentioned having movie nights, her head whipped back around in sudden interest.

"Movie nights?" she echoed under her breath. "No fuckin' way...."

Only bits and pieces of Chris' monologue on the happenings of the community made it to her ears as Addison wondered what movies they would have. The last time she had watched a movie...gosh, that was all the way before the whole apocalypse stint happened. Back then, she wouldn't have been allowed to watch anything except for little kid movies. What a waste. Maybe Addison would finally be able to watch the movies that she always wanted to see, especially the ones her dad wanted to watch with her. She would always beg him to put on one of his favorites, but he would only chuckle and say she was too young, that it was against her mother's wishes to see them before she was old enough.

The end of the world has a funny way of ruining things, doesn't it?

Her boots sunk into the mud a little bit as they trudged uphill. Addison resorted to digging her hands in the freezing ground just to balance herself properly before going on. Dirt buried its way under her fingernails and covered the bottoms of her jeans and the entirety of her boots, but it wasn't anything she hadn't experienced before. The girl gave a cautious pause as Arthur slipped momentarily, but he handled himself just fine. The three approached the wall of the dam quickly and admittedly a little out of breath. With barbed wire and a solid guarded wall, it was definitely the real deal. Chris called on them to open the door and the door was open, then they all walked inside...just like that. There wasn't any prodding or confiscating of weapons as Addison had expected.

The staring was certainly expected. So many people are just going about their day like normal. It was strange that the arrival of two strangers was the most disruption they would probably get. Arthur looked over to her, to which Addison responded with a shrug. Would these people be so accepting of two strangers? They probably would have to be considering how Arthur is Chris' brother. It didn't mean they would be nice, necessarily, and Addison didn't expect them to. Then they stepped through the other side of the gate, brushing past a couple of armed people in the process.

"Ho...ly...shit," Addison breathed in awe. It was the biggest town she had ever laid eyes on! Chris had mentioned having electricity, but enough to power all of this and more? All of the people walking around without fear or hunger or something sinister in their eyes, the warmth irradiating from nearby homes as smoke curling out of the chimney tops, streets lined with living people and not littered with the undead creeping behind rusted cars; it was all something out of a distant memory she sometimes wasn't sure she ever truly had. For a moment Addison believed that everything might actually be okay for them. Maybe this wouldn't go away like everyone and everything else always does.

Addison's head swiveled back and forth to take in everything while the Wallace brothers chatted a little bit, pausing only a moment as Chris asked if she wanted to go hunting with him and a couple of others. She opened her mouth to eagerly accept the offer only to have Arthur say that he'd rather not have her go out. Chris insisted, resulting in Arthur keeping quiet. As much as she understood why Arthur wouldn't want her to go out, Addison also wanted to have a chance to hone her skills. She considered the offer for a moment and nudged Arthur's arm.

"I'll be careful, old man, I promise. I wanna help out. Besides, it's not like you'd be able to catch more squirrels than me anyways." A teasing grin appeared on her lips as she gave a chuckle. "But seriously, we need to have a contest or something to see who can bag more squirrels and I wanna practice for it."

Once they entered the medical ward, Addison felt a wave of discomfort wash over her. Hospitals always gave her the creeps after a little incident a couple of years ago involving a group of the undead and her not liking the dark as much because of the ordeal. The warmth of the medical building as soon as they stepped inside was tantalizing, warming her down to the bone in a matter of minutes. A little uncertain of herself, Addison went with a separate medic to get checked over. The woman was kind and gentle and asked her a couple of questions while not prodding too deeply into recent events. Addison was well aware that she had only some bruises and cuts, but it was certainly reassuring to hear it from someone who knew enough about medical shit.

They reunited a few minutes later and walked outside the building, and Chris asked her a question she wasn't expecting at all.

"What do I like to eat?" Addison echoed incredulously. "I...I don't know. Literally anything edible, honestly."

Her belly gave a rumble at the thought of a prepared meal inside of a warm building. Being able to eat a meal without having to worry about whether or not it was infected or if something would come along and fight for a bit was more than comforting. Everything that Chris and his people had to offer was so oddly unfamiliar, almost too good to be true! The scent coming from the restaurant of freshly cooked food made her taste buds tingle with anticipation.

"Y'know what...let's get a burger. I haven't had a goddamn burger since I was seven years old." Addison's smile only got wider as she turned to Arthur excitedly and eagerly motioned for him to hurry up towards the restaurant. Arthur always made sure she had enough to eat, Addison was well aware of that sacrifice he made, so if she was already starving then she couldn't begin to imagine how hungry he must've been.

"Do you guys make waffles for breakfast too? Oh! Do you have strawberry Pop-Tarts? They're my favorite. I love strawberry Pop-Tarts! Oh my God, this place smells amazing. I don't know if my body is ready to eat all of this food!"

Without much warning, Addison found herself opening up the floodgates to her excitement and rambling on and on about the plethora of food that just had to be packed inside, specifically the Pop-Tarts. Out of all the things she was happy to have, Addison didn't realize how much a steady source of food mattered to her. Was food always so prominent on her mind? She honestly couldn't tell.

At her answer, Chris nodded and started towards the restaurant, "Alright. Hamburgers it is, then."

Once Addison started talking their ears off about food, the two older men looked at each other with an amused expression. Chris had his brow rose and Arthur offered him a shrug. "We can make waffles, yeah, but I'm afraid we don't really have any pop tarts... They've not been made in years. Maybe there's a recipe or somethin' somewhere. If we can manage to find it, I'll be sure to have my people start makin' 'em for you." Chris glanced at his older brother as he chuckled again, "Maybe Arthur can make them for ya when he's feeling better. He's a better cook than me."

As soon as the redhead turned to him with that bright grin, her eyes sparkling with excitement, Arthur couldn't help the smile that formed on his own lips. An old feeling of happiness bubbled within his chest as he watched her take quickened steps towards the large building and he found his own walk turning into another lazy jog to catch up to her.

"Hold on. Hold on, I'm comin'," he stated with a soft, amused chuckle.

Ignoring the ebbing pain in his side, Arthur followed the girl into the building with Chris hot on his tail. The two walked inside, Chris' chuckle having turned into a soft, hillbilly-like laugh. Slapping his hand on Arthur's shoulder, he grinned over at him and said, "Boy, she must love food, huh? Reminds me of you when we were younger! Hell, I bet you still make a mess when you eat real food."

The grin didn't leave Arthur's face and he shook his head as they made their way toward the bar area. Chris told them to take a seat at one of the many barstools and yelled back in the kitchen. A young man with short, black hair, chocolate-colored skin, and bright hazel eyes walked to the front. He wore a black long-sleeved shirt, which had the sleeves rolled up past his elbows, blue jeans, and black boots. Over his attire was a white apron. He also had a scar above his right eyebrow. His raven-colored brows lifted some in surprise seeing some more newcomers seated at the bar.

"Guys," Chris began as he leaned his elbows on the bar table. "This is Phillip. He's one of the best chefs here in the town and has been with me since I first started makin' this place. Sixteen years old and he's already doin' an excellent job at running this restaurant. Ain't that right, Phillip?"

"Oh, uh, no, sir. I'm just trying to help out as best as I can." Phillip lifted his hand and greeted the two with a bashful smile. "Hi... So, uh... What can I get you guys? It's kinda late, but we can still make you whatever you want."

Chris aimed a finger at Addison and replied, "This fine, young lady would like a hamburger and fries. Maybe add a chocolate shake on that order, too." He sent a playful wink towards the girl and turned his attention to his brother, "And my brother will eat just 'bout anything you give him. What do you want, big brother?"

Arthur blinked and pressed his lips together as he stroked his chin some. Shrugging and shaking his head, the older Wallace replied, "I'll have the same as her--"

"Make his milkshake peanut butter."

Arthur lifted a hand and shook his head, "Uh, no, no. I don't need a milkshake. Just the food." He started to argue with Chris before a look of realization came across his face, "Wait, peanut butter..?"

If Chris remembered one thing about Arthur, it was that he absolutely loved peanut butter milkshakes. In the old world, just about every time they'd go out to eat and get dessert, he would always ask for a peanut butter milkshake.

Grey brows lifted and grey-blue orbs widened. "You seriously have the means to make milkshakes...?"

Phillip and Chris both nodded.

"Yessir, we do! It took us a couple of months to get the machine here and get it fixed up, but yeah. We now have a way to make ice cream and milkshakes. It's a rare thing to offer, but seeing my brother traveling with a little girl is a rare thing, too. Cause for a special occasion."

After a few minutes, Arthur nodded and muttered, "Alright, then," and Phillip disappeared back into the kitchen. Chris sat down beside Addison and started asking her all kinds of questions.

"So, why did you try to steal something from Arthur, of all people? Couldn't you see he was a dangerous individual?" He waited for her to answer before he asked another question, "Were you alone this entire time before you met him? If you were, you really are a strong girl, huh?" He glanced back at Arthur, who took a swig of water from the glass Phillip had brought him a few moments prior.

Both of Addison's hands grasped the brass handle of the door to the restaurant and yanked it open, and she was instantly hit with delicious aromas far more intense than before. Her heart melted and her belly rumbled at the sight and smells of plentiful food. There was no way she wasn't gonna pig out tonight! Chris laughed as he reminisced with Arthur about their younger years while showing them to the bar area and gesturing for them to take the bar stools there. Addison took the seat but could barely sit still as it was...until she saw Philip walk out. It came as a bit of a shock to her to see someone her age standing there. She hadn't seen another kid in years.

Philip asked what they wanted to eat and Chris gave him the order, throwing in some milkshakes as well. As if Addison's smile wasn't big enough already, it only seemed to grow at the sound of the delectable treat. She gave a chuckle as Chris cleverly revealed that peanut butter milkshakes were still around all these years later, delighted to have found out something new about Arthur.

"I didn't know you were such a big fan of peanut butter milkshakes!" Addison glanced back at Chris with a playful little nudge. "Dude, you have to tell me more stuff about him. Like, all of the really embarrassing stuff." Her eyes narrowed mischievously towards Arthur as she made the realization that his brother could give her a lot of ideas to tease him about. Things really couldn't have worked out more for them!

Addison looked back at Chris as he started asking her questions about how she and Arthur met. The questions caught her off guard for a moment. She exhaled deeply with a bit of an ashamed smile as she leaned forward in her seat, elbows resting on the countertop.

"I, uh...he caught me trying to steal food or something from him," she admitted as her cheeks reddened. Looking back on it, it wasn't the smartest move she had ever made. "I had been on my own for a couple of days and ran out of food. I think the only thing I had at the time was a pistol with a couple of rounds and my knife, so hunting wasn't an option. It was dark out and I thought Arthur was asleep and that I was quiet enough, but he wasn't asleep and I'd made too much noise. He caught me and I guess was gonna let me off with a warning but some assholes came up and tried to kill us, so here we are...fuck, that was four or five months ago."

Her eyes brightened as Philip brought out their food and set down the plate in front of her. There it was. A steaming plate of comfort and grease just begging to be devoured, all wrapped up in a glorious brown bun and complete with what looked like fresh tomatoes and lettuce. She snatched up the beast of a burger and bit into it ravenously while sinking into the counter with joy. "Oh fuck," Addison murmured with a full mouth. "This is so good." She allowed herself to get a couple more bits in before responding to Chris' second question.

"At the start of the outbreak, I was with my mom. I wish I wasn't, but she hated my dad and snuck us away, so I had to deal with her. She got sick and died after a little while, so I was alone. I did try looking for my dad for a while. But I managed to be with some people.... Nothing ever lasted; I guess I was by myself more than I was with people, but a lot of people are jerks anyways."

Addison grew quiet for a moment as she remembered the people she was with, for a moment wondering what would have been different if she was with her dad instead. Strangely enough, she was okay with how things were turning out for her. But not knowing what happened to him gnawed at her mind.

"That group that came after us that night, Arthur?" Addison said. "The night we met? They were a bunch of psychotic asses that I had been with for a couple of months before I accidentally pissed them off. They were not happy to see us there. They probably woulda killed me if we hadn't taken care of them together." She took a sip out of the chocolate milkshake and let the sweetness rush over her with glee. This had to have been one of the best days she had in a while, being able to feel safe with Arthur and have her belly be filled. The only other thing she could really be excited for today, however, was a good night's sleep without having to wake up several times to either keep an eye out or make sure Arthur was doing okay. And having a bed!

Arthur shook his head and waved his hand dismissively at the giddy girl beside him. "No, I... I don't like 'em that much."

"I call bullshit."

"No, really, I-"

"I. Call. Buuuuull. Shiiiiiit," Chris argued with a similar twinkle in his eyes as Addison had. He took a drink from his own glass of water and a devilish smirk found its way onto his thin lips. "Oh, don't you worry 'bout that. I have all sorts of stories to tell."

Arthur's grey-blue orbs danced between the two with a dubious look and he blinked and pressed his lips together. Looking away, he grumbled something under his breath about how the two were more trouble for him than it was worth and took another swig of water as the food was brought out. The mixture of wonderful aromas from their meals filled the room and it wafted into Arthur's nostrils. Saliva pooled under his tongue and his stomach made a series of small, growling noises. He offered Philip a grunt of a thank you as he put his plate and glass down and then the kid told them he had to close up shop soon, but they could stay until they finished their food while he cleaned the kitchen. Then he was gone.

He didn't start eating until he watched Addison take a bite from her burger. His fingers curled around the bun lifted it up to his lips and took a large bite. His eyes shut and an appreciative groan rose in his throat as he chewed, the delicious flavors exploded in his mouth. He swallowed his first bite then took another and slowly started to eat as he had before the outbreak. The older Wallace stuffed a few fries into his mouth, which caused one of his cheeks to puff outwards, much like a pufferfish. Swallowing some of the mashed food, he looked over at his young companion as she spoke, and a look of seriousness formed on his face when she mentioned her father. The old man felt a pang in his chest and he thought he felt something similar to jealousy arise. No, he couldn't be jealous of someone who might be dead. He pushed the thought away as a frown formed.

He finished off his burger in a matter of minutes and was left eating the fries. He'd put three in his mouth when Addison wanted his attention. Humming in response, he blinked and locked eyes with her as she explained that the men who'd attacked them the night they met had been after her.

Well, that made sense now.

He'd never understood how a group of people would randomly show up when there hadn't been anyone near the town he had been staying in. Arthur thought that Addison had led then there on purpose, but once the group had started shooting at her as well, that notion was thrown out the window. "Well," he began and spoke between chews, "I guess it's a good thing you came after my things, then. I dunno if you would've been able to kill 'em all by yourself."

He gripped the last few fries, dunked them into his milkshake, and hurriedly put them in his mouth. Some of the cold, thick liquid got on his beard and he heard Chris snicker and say in amusement, "I knew you were gonna make a mess. Too bad we don't have barbecue sauce, otherwise," Chris lightly tapped Addison's shoulder and aimed his finger at his older brother. "Arthur would've made a mess all over himself. Hell, even ketchup would be all over his face!"

Arthur couldn't help the small grin that formed and he muttered out, with Chris saying the same thing louder and a split second after each word that came from Arthur's lips, "I ain't done yet."

"Yeah, I know you aren't done yet. Just finish off your damn shake and when sweetpea is done, I'll take you guys home and tomorrow I'll give you a personal tour of the town, and then you can choose where you want to stay."

Arthur quite literally inhaled his shake and once he was done, he wiped the sleeve of his coat o his lips and beard, cleaning what bits of milkshake he got onto him. Letting out a content sigh, he looked towards Addison and asked, "How was yours, kiddo?"

Once Addison had finished hers, Chris escorted them out of the building, further down the street, and came to a large house on their right. He insisted that Arthur sleep on his bed and his younger partner on the bed in the spare room while he, himself, slept on the couch. Honestly, Arthur was too tired to argue, so he finally gave in and he was passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow. The next morning, Chris woke them both up pretty early, about an hour after the sun was rising and he cooked them a quick, simple breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast. After they ate, he escorted them throughout the town, introduced them to more than a couple of people, and finally showed them the areas where the available houses were. There were a few open near his own house, some by the west gate, and quite a few unclaimed in the northern part of the town.

The houses in the north were mostly secluded and had been built and added with some of the trees that surrounded them. Being in a house further away from people was right up Arthur's alley, so he thanked Chris, lightly bumped Addison's shoulder with his knuckles, and told her to come with him as he headed in that direction. It took them a while, and it would've been a lot quicker by horse, but they finally made it. The cabins were spread out far away from each other and there were some placed on hills as well. After having looked at a couple, Arthur's eyes landed on one beside a lake and he trudge down the muddy trail that led to it. It looked like it had an upstairs and a twinge of excitement filled his core.

"Let's take a look at this one," he called o her while he glanced over his shoulder.

He walked up onto the porch, opened the door, and stepped inside after he held it open for Addison. Once inside, the cold lingered and it made sense that it would still be the same temperature as it was outside, maybe even a few degrees warmer, because nobody had lived there yet. It was very spacious, with a large kitchen that connected to the living room, which had a large fireplace to its right. There was a staircase to their left and it led to the upstairs, where there were two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a long hallway that led from one bedroom to one of the bathrooms. Back downstairs were two slidings, glass doors that led to another porch, which appeared to be more of a balcony than a porch, and Arthur's boots came to a halt as he leaned against the wooden railing. His fingers laced together and he gazed out at the bustling town further away, behind the line of pine and oak trees, as well as the lake that was semi-close to the house.

Addison nodded in response to Arthur as she took another big bite of her burger. The meat tasted so good and fresh. It really was a delicacy and a great gift to have upon first entering the town. A part of her didn't fully believe that Philip, a kid her age, was one of the ones who prepared the amazing meal for them. She offered the boy a quiet smile as he passed a couple of times before digging back into her fries, then glanced over to Arthur as Chris teased him for making a mess. Addison laughed as Arthur joked that he wasn't done eating yet.

Chris mentioned that they would be able to choose their own place, and it caused Addison to pause. It was a big town by the looks of it, but she really hadn't been expecting them to have their own place in the middle of it all. A house to themselves sounded like such a permanent set-up. A looming cloud in the back of the girl's mind continuously reminded her that it was impossible for things to last, especially a place to stay, but the thought was just quiet enough for her to ignore it for now. The buzz of having it all was far louder than her worries.

The burger and fries were reduced to crumbs in their place only a couple of minutes later and she was sucking up the remaining bit of milkshake in her cup when Arthur sighed and asked how her food was. Addison leaned back and looked down at her belly while giving it two pats. "Let's just say that I could die happy right now," she chuckled as she slipped off of the barstool and stretched, the food now feeling extremely heavy in her stomach. That much good food at once literally was a lot to take in.

Soon after that, the three made their way to Chris' house to stay the night. The spare room was a cozy little space. The girl gently set her backpack beside the bed, leaned her weapons against the wall, and let her coat hang over the top of the door that she left open - she didn't feel comfortable with keeping it closed tonight and blocking access to Arthur and Chris. Her boots, caked with mud, were kicked off and cluttered to the floor before the bed, leaving a couple of small spots of dirt and dust on the ground, but she didn't really care at that moment. Addison just about melted into the bed. The comforter was clean and the bed was fluffy. There weren't any signs of weird stains or bugs or anything, the mattress wasn't worn down and yellow, it was just perfect. And there were pillows.

So why did sleep elude her? Addison lay on top of the bed while staring up at the blank ceiling, eyes laden with sleep but refusing to close. Every creak the house gave made her jump, and every voice that passed by the house gave her anxiety that somebody dangerous was coming by. With a huff of frustration, she eventually decided to leave the lamp on and resort to reading one of her comic books. Addison curled up on the bed and indulged herself in the crumpled copies of literature. It seemed to be the best idea, though, because the next morning she awoke curled up on the bed with the book in her hands and the smell of bacon and eggs filling the house. She made quick work of breakfast and eagerly gathered up her things before following the Wallace boys out.

With each person that Chris introduced them to Addison could feel herself settling in a little more with the community. They really were nice people who wanted to get by and live a little in this world, not just survive. It was really quite endearing. There were even other kids that were running around, some of them older, others much younger. Some of the adults offered different activities for them to do, but only a couple actually grabbed her attention. It was strange to start thinking about activities she wanted to do that didn't involve her survival.

Then they got to choose their house. Arthur must have already known what they needed. He bumped her on the shoulder and motioned for her to follow him deeper into the foresty part of town. It took a while to get there, but as soon as she saw the options, Addison knew it was perfect. Her mouth dropped open in awe as Arthur led her through a couple of them. They were all absolutely gorgeous in their own right.

As soon as she saw the lake cabin, however, Addison knew that it was the one.

"Arthur...holy shit." Her voice echoed in the emptiness of the cabin.

As soon as Arthur held the door open, the girl dashed inside and took a look around the place. While he examined the balcony, Addison climbed the stairs two steps at a time to see the second floor. A bedroom and a bathroom for each of them, a big kitchen and living room with a fireplace... It was more than she could ever ask for! She walked inside the second bedroom that was a bit further away from the stairs and set her stuff down to claim it as her own. Well, it was more like letting everything clutter to the ground in a big pile. The walls held so much potential in terms of decoration. It was a room that would be hers and hers alone, not anyone else's. Addison turned and flew down the stairs once more, her boots thunking against the floor with each step as she went to get Arthur.

A bit breathless from the adventure of exploring a new house, she slid the glass door open and walked out next to Arthur, leaning against the railing of the balcony with her forearms as she looked out across the area. Everything was so vast and calm that it was as if they hadn't just braved the wild unknown of an apocalyptic wasteland. Addison smiled as she nodded her head and looked at Arthur, exhaling as a puff of white air drifted and disappeared into the sky.

"I don't think I say it enough," Addison eventually said, careful not to disturb the silence too much. "Thanks...for taking the chance on me. You didn't have to help me out that first night and make this whole fucking trip, but...." She paused, searching for what to say next. "I honestly don't think that I'd be the same if you didn't, let alone being alive. I definitely wouldn't be here of all places."

Addison turned and carefully wrapped her arms around his side to give him a bit of a half hug, leaning the side of her head against his shoulder as they looked out across the land and towards the town. "Oh, and I'm definitely gonna take advantage of Chris telling embarrassing stories about you. That's definitely gonna happen, mister." She chuckled and let go, pulling the hood of her hoodie around her neck some more to block the cold as they quietly listened to the peaceful sounds of nature envelope them.

When he heard the rush of footsteps and the door slide open, Arthur glanced behind him over his shoulder and saw Addison was beaming. As he looked away, a small smile spread on his lips and he refocused his gaze on the mountains far away. Snow fluttered down lazily from the grey clouds and the tops of the mountains were completely white. The white color faded to a dark brown, almost black, because of where the trees had lost their leaves due to the cold weather. A swirl of air floated from his nose as he breathed and Arthur had to admit that he hadn't been this relaxed in years. Sure, he'd stayed in different communities and groups, but he had never taken the time to truly let himself be at ease. Back then it was always working, killing, eating, and sleeping. That was it.

However, since he'd met Addison... Well, it changed some things in the old survivor. Somehow the little girl beside him had torn down the mental and emotional walls he'd had in place for so long. Somehow she'd managed to make him soft; made him remember what it was like to be human again. In a way, she was his light in the dark, cruel world. Arthur never had a chance to become a father in the time before the outbreak and he'd always prayed to God to let him have a child of his own one day. It was pretty funny how the universe worked because now he did have a kid and one who was smart, strong, and everything he could've wished for.

Addison's voice pulled Arthur from his inner musings and he turned his head to look at her. Deciding to remain silent as she thought up the words to say, he glanced back out to scan his eyes over the tops of the buildings in Chris' town. The old man's eyes widened a tad and his body tensed ever so slightly when he felt an arm slink around his back and tucked under his right arm, below the elbow. When Addison laid her head against his shoulder, he relaxed some and that old, wonderful feeling of warmth spread from his chest to the rest of his body. Pulling his left arm from beneath the young woman, Arthur he slowly wrapped it around her upper back, his fingers gripped an area below her shoulder, and his thumb gently rubbed the fabric of her coat.

After a few moments of comfortable silence, he replied in a soft tone, "...You're welcome." A grey brow rose and his eyes flashed with amusement at her next words and he, begrudgingly, released her as she pulled away. A hint of a smirk formed on the end of his chapped lips and he stepped away from the railing to cross his arms over his chest Arthur shook his head, "I swear, you and my brother are gonna be the death of me." Uncrossing them, the old survivor lightly flicked her in the forehead and jerked his head towards the glass entrance to the cabin. "C'mon. Let's get settled in. I'll let Chris know we found our spot. It might take me a while before I come back, but... You can do whatever you want."

Arthur walked back inside and told his young counterpart that she could stay there if she wanted to while he was away. Although he knew she wouldn't be in any trouble if she didn't, that didn't make him worry any less. At the same time, he wouldn't be allowed to get mad at her if she did leave for a while. With those thoughts in mind, he pushed open the main entrance and walked back out in the cold. He'd need to get some firewood, supplies, and clothes, and they'd have to have to move some more furniture in the building as well. It took a group a couple of days to do it, but they managed to bring a couch, a few chairs, and stools for both the table and counter and whatever else the two newcomers needed. The people there were eager to help out and greet the two fellow survivors as well.
That had been three months ago.

The cabin was much more comfortable and warmer thanks to the big fireplace. Arthur had chosen the room that Addison had left and it was pretty big. It had a large bed with blue sheets and a comfy, grey comforter. Settled against the wooden headrest were dozens of pillows, six to be exact, and a blue and grey blanket neatly draped across the foot of the bed. On the floor, in the end, was a plain, boxed chest that was made of some dark-colored leather and beneath both was a long, fluffy black carpet. Against the wall and to the right was the bedside table, which had a small lamp and a single book, American Sniper, lying on top of it. Placed on top of the book was a pair of reading glasses and barely sticking out of somewhere in the middle was a piece of paper serving as a bookmark. To the left of his bed was a large bookshelf with a couple of books Arthur had picked up from the library.

Beside it was a case for a guitar, which was leaned against the wall. Across from the foot of his bed was a large window and to the left of it and pressed against the wall was a large, rectangular table with a wooden chair, which had a red cushion on the seat. There were two notebooks on top of it, as well as a black container with clear shelves that had various office supplies placed inside. He also had one of Addison's drawings tucked away in one of his journals. Underneath each handle of the shelves were pieces of tape, which had labels for everything. Behind the wall with the small hallway within his room was a large walk-in closet. What few clothes he had were hung by makeshift, metallic hangers. Beneath them were shelves that, so far, only had three pairs of boots, one of which was a brown pair of cowboy boots. The door to the closet had been removed because Arthur thought it would just get in the way.

To the right of the closet was the master bathroom. It was a little too grand for Arthur's tastes, but he managed to make it look homier for himself. Immediately to the left of the doorway was the sink and across from it was a bathtub with a simple, faded blue shower curtain hanging from the pole he had installed the first month he and Addison had stayed there. Beside it was the toilet and in between the toilet and bathtub was a shelf, which had a few towels and washcloths neatly stacked on separate shelves. He also had a couple of glass jars with homemade soaps and other hygiene products placed inside them. They all had labels on them as well. There was a small window above the bathtub and Arthur had a piece of wood covering it for personal reasons. On the tiled floor were small, fluffy, dark blue-grey carpets, one in front of the bath and the other by the toilet.

Beside the entrance to Arthur's room was another shelf and it had a small jar of rocks and a couple of candles set on either side of the glass container. The place was still relatively empty, but if they stayed there long enough, which Arthur hoped they would, he was sure he'd have things added in no time.

Everything downstairs was just as homely. The living room was the second largest room in the entire building and it had two, comfortable chairs set near the fireplace. Against one of the walls was a low, dark brown coffee table with a long, large couch sent up in front of it. There was a smaller, empty shelf set up beside the coffee table and the rest of the room was basically empty. The dining area had a fairly big table with three chairs pushed up underneath it and the counter that was attached to the kitchen and living room had a couple of stools set beside it. There was a sink, stove, and dishwasher set up on the wall with a large window that looked out at the lake and mountains. On the counter was a black microwave and huddled in a corner of the counter were two, labeled, glass jars of peanut butter and three, labeled jars with different types of honey. Inside the drawers were various things one would find in the kitchen, a couple of silverware, plates, cups, mugs, and boxes filled with plastic bags and jars filled with foods and cleaning supplies.

The old man had healed from his injuries and looked as good as new. With it being almost the end of December, the snow had doubled and ice hung from the roof and whatever other places it could form. The lake was covered in three inches of ice. Every morning, if he didn't have to go on patrols, Arthur made sure to shovel snow from the stairs of the front porch and all the way down the trail to town. Chris and a couple of other townsfolk had built a large stable for him and Addison to have their own horses to stay in so it wouldn't take them as long to get to town; especially in the weather, they were having.

Arthur had woken up early to do just that and once he finished, he went into their personal stables to tend to the two horses. He wore his favorite coat, a white, long-sleeved shirt, which was tucked beneath a dark red plaid shirt, and a dark red scarf wrapped around his neck. He also had on a pair of black gloves and a pair of worn, dark blue jeans, which were held up by a brown leather belt with a large, silver belt buckle. As he pulled the door open, flakes of snow drifted into the building and the smell of horse, hay, and dung filled the man's nostrils. He didn't mind the mixture of smells, though. When he'd been younger, Arthur had worked on the farm with his family and pigs honestly smelled the worst out of all the farm animals. He quickly traded his good boots for his work boots and gazed at the two large beasts' heads, which had poked out from their stalls to look at him.

As he stepped inside, he grabbed the shovel from its place on the wall, pulled open one of the stall doors, and muttered a "Good mornin'," to Addison's horse. He scooped up the poop from both of the horses' stalls, walked back out and around to the far back of the building, and tossed it to the reserved spot he'd chosen to throw it in the woods. The cold chill from outside made his nose and cheeks burn and it subsided each time he walked back into the stables. He tossed clean hay into the floor and gave them some fresh feed and water into the respective buckets. Giving Addison's horse a few pats and rubs on his head and neck, Arthur grabbed a large brush and began to run the thick spindles against the creature's body. He wasn't entirely sure why he always went to Addison's horse first. Maybe it was so she could go out and do whatever she wanted once she was awake. She was a bundle of excitement all the time, so Arthur figured it was only natural for her to want to ride into town for whatever reason, whether it be to just look around again or hang out with Philip and other people her age. He didn't mind, either way, so long as she was safe.

Addison gave a bit of a chuckle as Arthur flicked her forehead and followed him back into the cabin as he said that he would let Chris know that they had made their choice. He gave her the option to stay, which she initially accepted so that she could explore the cabin a little more and brainstorm ideas on what they should put in there. But with the temptation to explore the surrounding area being far too alluring for her to ignore, Addison spent the time alone to venture into the area surrounding the lake, though not without first taking her backpack with her. To not have it with her made her feel exposed, even if they were in a safe place now. The water was not yet fully frozen despite the temperature making her fingers feel numb as she dipped them in at one point. The lake cabin offered the same comforting silence that encompassed the duo on their journey here.

Of course, three months after that moment, the two found themselves settled in and quite comfortable, to say the least.

When she had chosen her room all those weeks ago, Addison was well aware that its size being smaller than the one that she left for Arthur, but to her, it was perfect. Too much space would've felt too empty a room to deal with, and she knew that she wanted it to be decorated with things she liked. Her bed was full-sized and covered with a simple grey comforter and two fluffy white pillows that were propped up against a smooth dark wooden slat that acted as a headrest. On the left side of the bed closest to the door was a bedside table with a drawer that housed her few ratted comic books, the one on top having the front cover folded against the back cover so that the page she was on faced upwards. The comic books shared the space with a skinny white lamp and a somewhat blurry photo of her and Arthur, Addison smiling and Arthur doing that amused smirk as they gazed into the camera with the lake behind them. In the drawer was the pistol with the skull engraved on the handle.

On the opposite end of the room was where the rest of Addison's belongings resided. She kept her clean clothes inside of a large wooden dresser with hanging iron handles that often creaked when the drawers were pulled open, and that was kept directly across from her bed. Her Converse was tucked securely underneath since they weren't usually in use during the winter months. Though there was a basket in the right corner of the room for her dirty laundry, a bunch of crumpled clothes was lazily strewn across the floor. On the floor were a light blue rug that was large enough to be partially underneath the bed and the dresser. In the left corner of the room and facing the left wall was a simple oak desk and a black computer chair to roll around in with her coat hanging over top of it.

Littering the desk was a plethora of writing utensils, pieces of paper marked with scribbles and doodles, a couple of newer comic books, and more photographs that were either pinned to the big bulletin board on the wall or kept in a simple frame that sat on the edge of the desk. A lot of the photographs were of pretty things she saw while on patrol or exploring the forest, but a couple was either of her and Arthur or of one of her newly acquired friends, Philip, who looked more than happy to be with her in the pictures. On the left corner of the desk sat an old beat up the camera with a newer-looking leather strap.

The walls of the room were covered in posters, namely of the Eagles band and of her favorite comic book, The Cosmonaut Conflict, though a couple was of some movies she had seen at some point. Each one was wrinkled or torn at least a little bit, but Addison didn't care. The room was hers to decorate, and she was more than happy because of that. A fan with a light hung above the center of the room but remained still. On the right side of the room, parallel to the bed was a bookshelf that barely reached the blue curtains that hung in front of the window. It had a couple of keepsakes and other things were strewn around it, but not much besides that.

Morning light peeked through the curtains and struck Addison's eyes, causing her to stir from her slumber. The girl let out an annoyed groan as she pulled one of her pillows over her head and placed it on her face to block out the light, but it was too late. Much to her dismay, Addison was awake and couldn't get herself to go back to sleep. The pillow tumbled off of the bed as Addison sat up and rubbed her eyes some to get the sleep out of them, glancing over at her bedside table. "The fuck is my alarm clock...?" she mumbled questioningly as she twisted herself around to look off the side of the bed. Low and behold, an old-fashioned metal alarm clock lay on the ground face up. She scooped it up in her hand and placed it back on the table beside the picture of her and Arthur.

With that sorted out, Addison swung her legs off to the side and slid off, squirming a bit at the coolness of the floor until her toes hit the softness of the rug. She scratched the side of her head as she searched for some clean clothes to put on. After some rummaging around and unbalanced dancing around the floor, Addison stepped out wearing a black and grey baseball tee with a pair of jeans that were worn at the knees. She had a pair of comfortable white socks on that made her slide around a little on wooden floors, which usually made for an interesting challenge to get around the house. Addison made her way into her own bathroom, complete with a shower, sink, and toilet, but it didn't have much in the way of decoration. All it had was some of the usual essential items, and when she walked inside, all Addison did was take a few minutes to brush her teeth and freshen up. The toothbrush clattered on the side of the sink as she walked back out and searched for Arthur.

"Arthur?" Addison called as she walked towards his room. The door was open, so she figured he wasn't in there. "Arrrrthur...Philip said that they were doin' some Christmas stuff in town today. You interested?" She looked around as she waited for a reply and got none, then went down the stairs to see if he was there at all. The living room was untouched and the kitchen held no signs of him.

He must be with the horses then. She reached for a bowl on the counter and pulled out an apple as she went for the sliding door, pulling it open and stepping into the cold for a moment to see if her suspicions were correct...and that they were.

Addison took a bite of the apple and darted back inside while being sure that she closed the door behind her. With the apple in her mouth, Addison went up to her room and pulled on her boots and jacket, then grabbed her grey beanie and quickly left the cabin. She trudged through the snow, shivering some as she came up to the stables and looked in at the horses. "Well good morning," Addison said as she walked inside, making a bit of a face as the smells hit her all at once. Arthur was clearly been here for at least a little while, judging by how much work he'd gotten done. The girl gave a smile as she approached her horse, a speckled black and white mare, and gave her a couple of pats before starting to stroke her neck.

"And good morning, Trixie." The name admittedly wasn't all too original - it was one of the characters in a comic book that she thought the horse would be like, a name that was kind of spunky but confident. It made sense in her head, anyways. Addison looked over to Arthur as he tended to the stables.

"There's some fun Christmas-type stuff going on in town later today if you wanna go take a look and get involved," she said, taking a bite out of her apple and continuing with a full mouth. "Philip and I were planning to go, but I wanted to see if you wanted to come too. Oh, and I can help you out with this shit if you want." She gestured to the shovel before pausing to take another bite of the apple. "What do you say, old man - are you down for a little fun and games today?"

Arthur's horse was a thoroughbred breed and was the tallest of its two other siblings. Its fur was mostly a pretty chestnut brown, aside from the black color that faded to its snout and lower legs, closer to the hooves. Its mane and tail were black as well and its large eyes were a dark brown, almost black in color. Arthur hadn't named the horse and just stuck with the one the kid at the stables had given it; Clover. After he had finished brushing Trixie, Arthur wasn't surprised when he found his horse cribbing. The beast was biting the railing of its stall with its incisor teeth and arching its neck some and Arthur patted its nose as he had entered the stall. It was something all horses did when they were bored. The old man had just about finished brushing his own horse when the door to the small building opened.

Arthur paused in his action when heard an all too familiar voice speak up and he blinked and looked over his risen shoulder to look back at the girl who entered the stables. "Mornin'," he called back to Addison as he added a few more strokes to the creature's black mane. "No, I already did it. You don't have to worry 'bout it," he responded when Addison offered to help him. As he walked out, the old man had just about finished brushing his own horse. The old survivor put the brush back in its place and shut the stall door. Leaning his back against the wooden wall, he remained silent as the girl spoke and scratched at his beard in thought as the thought of Christmas filled his brain.

The townsfolk had already decorated the town with hanging, Christmas lights and had various, homemade decorations strewn on the buildings and light poles on the streets. After he had come back home from a patrol, a little girl gave Arthur a wreath to hang on the outside of their door. The holiday was literally a day away and memories of spending it with his family in the old world brought a pang to his heart. The old man already had what he wanted to give her hidden away where she wouldn't find it and Chris was in on half of the present, helped him pick out some of the items as well. The only thing Arthur was worried about was if the spunky kid would like what he'd gotten for her. He wasn't very keen on being around a bunch of people, even if he'd already met and worked with most of them, but since Addison was asking him.... Well, maybe he'd give the gathering a chance.

Clearing his throat, Arthur blinked and nodded finally. "Yeah, I... I'd like to do that," he replied as he pushed himself off the wall and he walked back into the stall to lift a dark brown saddle. The leather material felt coarse against his skin and he placed it on the animal's back with a grunt. Ducking down some to fasten it under the belly, he added, "I've gotta do a quick run before I do anything, though."

Arthur honestly wanted to go alone to see if he could find something else to get the girl for Christmas. Gripping the reins, he guided the beast out to the front porch and walked back inside their house, and came out after a few minutes. He had his pack on and all his weapons strapped to his person. As he pulled himself up onto the back of Clover, he readjusted his seated position on the saddle and looked back at Addison. "Hold the fort while I'm out. I won't be gone for too long. Maybe an hour or two at most." The horses took a few steps backward and Arthur had it turn around towards the trail to the town. "Why do you see what Philip is up to while I'm out? You can ride into town with me if ya want."

Addison smiled some as she turned and leaned against the wooden banister of the stall, resting her jaw on her forearm as she looked at her half-eaten apple. She knew that he didn't like being around people that much despite having known them for some time now, but this time of year felt so special - especially now that she got to spend it in such a normal way. Having a couple of friends and what she considered family was far more than she ever had before, and it meant a great deal. Addison watched as he strapped the saddle on Clover and guided her out while talking about going on a quick run.

She turned back to Trixie and rubbed her nose a little bit, thinking deeply about her gift to Arthur. Addison had managed to get her hands on a decent-looking toolbox, one that she trusted would be something that Arthur would really appreciate. It was sleek and cherry red, and when it opened up it had a couple of trays that would lift up with the lid and divide into smaller parts. It stayed over at Philip's place for safekeeping until she was done getting it all fixed up. The toolbox had been rusted and a little dented when it came into her possession, but over the course of a couple of weeks, Addison was able to get it looking pretty okay. The paint wasn't quite the same shade, meaning that it showed a couple of lighter red spots along the metal front, but it was the best she could manage. And the girl was very proud of it, to say the least.

Trixie let out a small huff as she shook her silky mane a couple of times and Addison took a final bite of her apple before carefully letting the horse take a bite out of the side. Trixie munched on it quietly when Addison stepped out of the stable to see Arthur getting ready to leave. She stood close by with her arms crossed over her chest to preserve some body heat. He asked if she wanted to go into town.

It wouldn't hurt to work a little more on the toolbox and then try to wrap it up or something... The girl gave a nod. "I'm gonna go grab my bag real quick." She hurried her way back into the house and zipped up the stairs, not really caring that she had tracked some bits of snow inside - a bad habit that wasn't going to die easily. Addison snatched up her backpack from the foot of her bed, all neatly packed away should she need to be ready to leave for whatever reason. That doubtful part of her mind never really did go away, wondering when they would have to pick up and move once again. It took a couple of weeks for Addison to stop sleeping with the door to her room open in fear of something happening.

Her hand hovered over the drawer of her nightstand, fingers barely brushing the handle. Today there wasn't that defensive desire to have some firearm on her person at all times. Everyone was happy and generous and so ready to care for one another... Usually, Addison resorted to at least having a pistol on her despite some people not liking the movie, but the precaution gave her a sense of security she needed whenever Arthur wasn't close by. Maybe today was the day to take the chance of not having the pistol on her. Addison swung the straps of the backpack over her shoulders as she went down the stairs once again and approached Arthur's horse, climbing onto the beast with much ease and giving a nod when she was ready to ride.

"The biggest thing happening tonight is a party going on in the restaurant," Addison told Arthur as they started riding towards town. "There's gonna be music and dancing and all that shit from what I know, maybe a couple of refreshments. Philip said it looks really pretty this time of year!" Her head turned to look around at all of the fallen snow glistening on the ground with bright sparkles of freshly packed snowflakes with only Clover's hooves to churn up some of the fine powder. She imagined that it was how the restaurant would look with all of the twinkling lights that were meant to mimic the falling snow at night. She imagined Christmas music playing softly over the speakers, a large but quiet fireplace crackling nearby, and people happy to hang out with each other on a night of peace and generosity. And speaking of generosity...

"I might just have the best Christmas gift for you, big guy," Addison blurted out without a second thought. She was far too excited to give him the gift she worked so hard to find for him. Without some much-needed help from Chris, she didn't think she would have gotten very far in the way of gift-giving, and that wouldn't have sat well with her. With all that Arthur did for her, Addison felt that it was only fair to get something he really wanted.

Once Addison climbed onto the horse, Arthur clicked his tongue and briefly hit the sides of its belly with the heels of his boots. The hooves thudded against the snow-covered ground as it galloped down the path from their house to the town below. Clumps of dead grass, snow, and mud flew behind them as they followed the short curve in the muddied line and Arthur ducked his head a little to avoid being hit by the tree branch that always seemed to smack him on his way to and from the building. He slowed the horse to a trot as Addison spoke and glanced behind him to look at her.

He chuckled a bit and answered her in a teasing manner, "I bet you'll enjoy bein' there, then. It'll just as noisy as you-- may be even louder."

Looking to their right, Arthur's blue orbs scanned over the frozen lake and the pine trees. Dead pine needles had gathered beneath the thick branches and somehow no snow had managed to get in the spot below them. It was like that with almost all of the pine trees, though. Maybe it was because the needles were packed so closely together on the branches that hardly any or no snow had managed to fall to the ground beneath them. As the snow lazily drifted down from the dark-colored clouds above, the old man blinked and returned his gaze to the path in front of him.

He decided to get him and Addison a television. Though, it was mostly for Addison since she was always talking about how she wanted to watch movies. The ones that played at the school were for a younger audience and Arthur had a feeling she got bored of watching childish movies and shows. He'd already picked out more than enough movies for the two of them to watch, some from his childhood and others he'd watched before the outbreak occurred. Plus, he wanted to be able to spend some more time with her while he was in the town.

At least until her birthday.

A slight frown formed on his face as he thought about him leaving the town. He'd already made the decision long after they arrived and Chris was adamant, telling Arthur that he didn't have to leave and he could stay there. Chris could tell that his older brother cared for Addison and he thought it was stupid that he was thinking of going off when he had finally found his happiness. Chris' voice echoed into Arthur's head as his mind brought forth images from their first talk about the issue.

"I've not seen you this happy since you got your own car."

Addison had been asleep while Arthur went into town to talk with Chris about what he was planning to do. The two of them stood in an old office building, where the generator was being kept and constantly worked on.

"Chris, it's not about me. It's about her. She's safe here and she can live a relatively normal life. If I'm here, then she'll just get hurt. That's how it always goes when I'm around."

"No," Chris' voice was stern and his expression serious. A frown had formed and he took a seat on the metallic table behind him. His finger pointed at the older brother, his head tilted to the side, and his eyes narrowed, "I know I did some shit in the past and nearly killed you, but listen to me for once." He intertwined his fingers, leaned forward, and his brown brows furrowed, "I know how you think. You're wantin' to leave so you don't get close to her, just like with everyone else you've met since the outbreak. You don't think you've formed a bond with her, but you are already wrapped 'round her little finger."

Arthur's lips tightened into a frown of his own.

"If you are actually gonna do this, you're being a dumbass," Chris continued. "You don't have to go away or leave her behind because you two are inseparable. If you can't see that, then... You really are a god damn idiot. Here I thought you I the one to pick up on these kinds of things."

Arthur blinked and glanced towards the door as he processed the known information. He already knew that he was close to her and that's what the problem was. "...It's only a matter of time before it'll end."

Chris looked at him with some confusion, "What do you mean?"

"I mean..." Arthur inhaled through his nose and locked his eyes with his younger brother's, "This won't last for long. This... Me being happy. It'll end. It can happen at any moment. Whether it be from being mauled or torn open to death by infected, a bullet or machete to the wrong artery, or by me leavin'. It won't matter in the end... I can't go through this shit a second time and if I happen to be the one alive when she's the one who dies, I..." Arthur cut himself off, closed his eyes, and clenched one of his hands into a fist. When he spoke, his voice was low, "I don't think I could ever live with myself, Chris."

There was a long pause of silence and Arthur opened his eyes just as Chris let out a sigh.



"That's part of life," Arthur's eyes flicked up to the brunette's face at that. "If you think about it, that has always been the same. Even in the old world, we never knew when life was gonna end or if we'd be able to stay in touch with other people. Nowadays the possibility of losing a loved one, or anyone, is just a lot higher. You can't let that fear of losing her drive you away." Chris blinked as he pushed himself off the desk and placed his hand on Arthur's shoulder. "If anything, that fear of losing her should make you want to stay even more. You really, really don't want to do this. You'll regret it. Trust me."

Chris' words faded from his mind only to be replaced by Addison speaking up from behind him about a gift she had gotten him. He blinked and forced his appearance to seem content, with his grey eyebrows risen some, and a small smile formed on his lips as he glanced back at her. "Is that so?"

His body bumped up and down with each step Clover took and as they walked past the large, iron gate and into the outskirts of town, he added, "You really don't need to get me anything, Addison..."

The horse's hooves made clopping noises against the snowy pavement of the street and Arthur nodded towards someone who said good morning to them as they passed by. The buildings and poles of the street lights were decorated with various ribbons and lights that were mostly green and red in color. On every door hung a wreath or some wooden carving of a reindeer. Some were painted, while others were not.

Arthur used the reins to turn the horse down another street and he waved at another few people who greeted them as they trotted past the children's playground. The laughter of kids could be heard as they played tag and others were having a snowball fight. Turning Clover to their left, they continued down the peaceful, yet busy street and he spoke up again, "I...uh... I got you something, too. ...I bet you'll really... really like it."

To be honest, Arthur was pretty excited about getting them a television with two boxes full of different movies. He still felt like he needed to get her something else, though, and he'd been trying to figure just what until he and the patrol group he was in had gone into a mall with a large comic book shop implanted within it. Once they'd cleared out the area of infected, Arthur had managed to get a peek into the room and it looked like there was still quite a bit of geeky stuff inside. Instantly his mind went to Addison and how she would react upon seeing something like it; especially with the possible comic books still stored away on the shelves.

After a little while, they finally came to a stop by the restaurant and the mixed smells of bacon, ham, and biscuits filled Arthur's nose. His stomach grumbled rather loudly and he turned some in his spot to look at Addison. "How about we grab some breakfast before I leave? I haven't eaten yet and you need to eat more than an apple."

As they passed through the black iron gate and deeper into the town Addison gave a quick nod. Her legs tightened around the saddle a bit as she gently stroked Clover's short soft fur, feeling the muscles move as she trotted along the path. Despite her initial fears of being around horses and missing their last one terribly, Addison had grown quite fond of the magnificent beasts and even started to enjoy taking them out on occasion. Chris had taken her out on some hunting trips that she really had fun being a part of, but sometimes she'd take Trixie out around beyond the lake and let the calm vibes of nature wash over her and her newfound friend.

"That's kinda the point, isn't it? I don't have to get you anything, but I really want to. I bet you'll be using the thing for years. Chris helped me out with it!"

She smiled and looked around the town. It was covered in more Christmas decorations than Addison had ever seen in her young life. Coming into town these past few weeks made her feel all warm and giddy inside, not to mention that it amped up the anticipation for the holidays. Addison waved back to people as they greeted her and Arthur. Meeting new people was one of the harder things for her to learn and cope with. So many people wanted to say hi those first few days and introduce her and Arthur to different things the town had to offer. All Addison wanted to do was settle into the cabin and do the patrols and hunting trips, to be honest, but she certainly didn't object to some of the gifts a couple of people decided to give - namely Philip. He and another girl that was a bit older than her, Sam, were her two closest friends.

Sam was the one to give her the camera she kept on her desk. Addison never had any kind of interest in photography in the slightest until the two girls ventured off into the woods together one night, straying further from the town's boundaries than they really should have. Sam pleaded with her to go on a little adventure, to live a little bit for once. Addison was wary to leave the cabin behind without anyone knowing of their whereabouts. To go without Arthur, especially, made her more than anxious. "Come on Addy, you'll love it! Don't worry about Arthur, it'll be worth it." And it was.

That night, Sam and Addison went to a clear spot deeper into the mountains to look up at the night sky. Some wispy clouds floated on by, barely obscuring the billions of stars glistening overhead and the moon hanging heavily above their heads. Nature around them was almost pitch-black, making it easier to see the night sky. It was so easy to get lost. The dark blues and purples of outer space swirled into the vast outreaches of space, holding secrets and wonders that she couldn't even begin to comprehend. Addison let out a breathy chuckle of awe.

"Sam...Sam, I-I've never seen anything like this before...." She felt Sam's finger gently tap her shoulders, and Addison looked down to see that she was holding the camera. It was a little beat up, but otherwise perfectly functioning. The other girl nudged her shoulder with her own as she pressed a button, watching Addison's face light up in curiosity and glee as a green ring appeared around the power button and the screen flickered on.

"Go on, Addy," Sam said quietly with a smile. "I think you'll wanna savor this moment."

The picture now sat in the forefront of her desk. It wasn't a perfect picture since Addison didn't know how to work the camera nearly as well a couple of weeks ago, but it was a nice moment between friends that she wanted to preserve. But she never told Arthur that she had gone alone on a dangerous mission to get the image. And what she didn't tell him was that she still went to that spot occasionally, sometimes with Sam and Philip too. The memory was wiped away from her mind as Arthur spoke up again. "Ah, see? That's another reason why I got you a gift. If I didn't, I'd look like the asshole that doesn't get people gifts."

She shifted in the saddle as she turned to look at the restaurant. Whenever she came to town alone, which was starting to become more often than not recently, the restaurant was the first place Addison went. Her mouth watered some as the smells of freshly-cooked breakfast filled her nose, her stomach rumbling in response as well despite already having had something to eat. "Oh, man... The answer to that question will always be yes."

Without much in the way of warning, the girl slipped off of Clover, boots sinking a little bit into some of the snow that hadn't been scooped up already. She adjusted her backpack over her shoulders and walked over to the window of the restaurant, cupping her hands over her eyes to look inside the frosted windows. As usual, people were gathered inside and enjoying their meals. Only now it was more festive! Addison waited for Arthur to get Clover settled in, bouncing a little bit in her boots to keep herself warm and gesturing wildly towards the door once he started heading over. She held the door open for him and slipped in behind him after while giving a small audible moan of relief as warmth washed over them. "Fuck, I'll never not love that feeling. I'm starving, let's go!"

Addison wormed her way between a couple of people to get to the spot at the bar where they usually sat, a spot that she preferred to sit at for three months in a row so far. She climbed onto the barstool and waited for Philip to come around so that she could greet her friend on this lovely Christmas morning. Her torso turned to watch Arthur come to sit as well as she asked him a question. "So are you going on a quick patrol or something? Sam says that her brother has been going on a couple of fast runs lately to help clear out some infected clumps that have been popping up lately."

Sam's whole family, which included two other sisters, her parents, and her uncle's family, consisted of notable precise shots. Their aim was absolutely impeccable and ran in the family. With a need to feel as though she was lending a hand, Addison asked if she could get some lessons. Over the course of their fresh friendship, Sam was proving to be just as good a teacher as she was a crack shot. Of course, that also meant that her family would usually be the ones out and about while tending to the more dangerous needs of the town. None of them seemed to mind, however. Addison leaned against the counter with her elbows resting against the freshly cleaned wood as she glanced around for Philip as well.

Arthur couldn't help the amused, short chuckle that came from him as Addison gave him an answer to his question. The girl absolutely loved food and she could eat quite a lot. That was something in common he and his young companion had; they'd eat a lot of food and not gain much weight. It had taken Arthur's stomach a while to get used to eating actual meals when it had been used to living off of canned goods and scraps. The first time he ate too much, he nearly lost the meal he'd scarfed down by it riding back up in his throat.

When the redhead got off the horse eagerly, he hopped off it with ease, and his boots sunk into the bit of snow that she and other townsfolk had left tracks in. The belts of the saddle made squeaking noises ad Arthur pulled the reins over their steed's ears and head and he took a couple of steps to guide it closer to one of the hand railings on the porch of the building. As he tied the reins to the railing, his gray-blue orbs flicked from his busy hands to Addison, who was looking inside the window like some kid looking at gifts a few days before Christmas. He blinked and a smile formed on his lips as he finished tying the leather straps once the horse was secure, he lightly patted it on the shoulder before turning around. Taking steady steps up the small staircase and onto the porch. He watched as Addison walked inside and trailed after her.

As he started to enter the with Addison holding one of the double doors open, he stopped short, took a step backward, and held the other door open for a pregnant mother, Sofia, who was trying to get outside with her two other young ones. She looked at him gratefully and as she passed by him, she thanked both he and Addison, and in turn, Arthur gave an awkward smile and nod of the head. As he walked inside, the rush of warm air came over his form and caused goosebumps to form on his skin, even making a warm shiver wrack over his body once. At Addison's quip, he simply hummed in response and nodded in silent agreement. He didn't think he'd get over that feeling, either.

He blinked and couldn't help the slight panicked feeling rise when she suddenly shot past him and in between a couple of people. The overprotectiveness certainly hadn't subsided since he'd first found her and he picked up his pace, mumbling, "'Scuse me," as he squeezed himself by the same people she'd weaseled herself in between to get to their usual spot by the bar. Once he reached his seat, which was the third stool from the right wall and right beside Addison, he grunted out, "Yeah," and lifted a leg up onto the metal bar that was welded all around the spineless chair. Sitting down, he placed his elbows on the end of the smooth table, intertwined his fingers, and looked at the girl seated beside him. "It's a small run. Chris needed some more batteries and there are some infected sneakin' around the trading post in the north. I might have to clear them out while I'm gone."

As they waited, Arthur glanced around the place and felt a tap on his shoulder. Looking to his left, he found an older man his age, who instantly greeted him with a big, bright smile and clasp his right hand on Arthur's right shoulder. Although the older of the two was awkward, he still managed to offer the other man a small smile and nodded his head as the two spoke about a movie night at the school, how the kids were enjoying it, and how the other man was still looking for a woman to marry, even at his old age. It had been a joke and it caused Arthur to snort some, amusement twinkling in his eyes. As the man laughed, he nodded his head and patted Arthur's shoulder a few times, and left him be.

That's when Philip showed up from behind the kitchen door and he grinned at them. "Good morning, you two!" He greeted as he leaned his weight onto the table. He'd grown much more comfortable with Addison over the past two months and his shy demeanor from when he first met them changed entirely. He was a very outgoing kid who loved to talk just as much as Addison did. Glancing between Addison and her older companion, he asked, "So what do you guys want for breakfast? We've got egg, ham, and cheese sandwiches with bacon and sausage, or we've got pancakes with eggs and the latter."

Arthur scratched his chin and hummed in thought, the hairs of his beard rubbed against his fingers as he did so. "I think I'll go with the egg sandwich and sausage since I have to leave pretty soon. That way I can take it with me."

Philip nodded and turned his entire attention onto the girl seated in front of him. Once she gave him her order, he disappeared behind the door and the sounds of people chattering, along with the occasional clink of metal hitting glass filled the building. Arthur blinked and turned in his seat to look at Addison again, "Addison, I've got a question for you." He tilted his head to the side some and asked, "When's your birthday?"

As Arthur and his friend chatted for a little bit, Addison drummed her fingers on the countertop in wait. With the festivities really kicking it up a notch today, she fully expected to see both of her close friends hanging around here. Philip didn't really have as much of a choice since he worked in the restaurant, but she had hoped Sam would be somewhere in the building. The other girl did have a bad habit of sleeping in longer than she should. The two got into their fair share of trouble, something that always tugged in the back of her mind. The nagging was starting to roll away these past couple of weeks as she grew closer to her friends - especially Sam. Something about her lack of caring for the consequences intrigued her greatly.

Their most recent caper involved sneaking into some stores and picking out some sweets to snack on about a week ago. In the dead of night, when most others were sleeping or trying to resist sleep, Sam convinced Addison to slip into some of the stores so that they could have their own little adventure later on. Initially, Addison disagreed with the idea, but the mixture of Sam calling her a wuss and her belly liking the sound of food proved to be enough motivation. They stole a couple of wrapped goodies and walked back under the guise of the night past the cabin and back to their place on the mountainside. Despite the distaste for theft, it was another good night. One that she wouldn't dare tell Philip or Arthur about.

"Good morning, Phil," Addison greeted as she gave her good friend a smile. "I'll take a big heaping plate of pancakes. Like, a lot of them. And don't go easy on the butter, give it all you got!" She gave a soft chuckle to herself as she glanced at Arthur from her peripheral vision. Her companion seemed to be deep in thought for a few moments, something that she'd grown accustomed to over the past half-year she'd gotten to know him. His quiet stature and warm, stoic presence were one of the big reasons why Addison liked being around him. Arthur was almost like a big security blanket; she felt so safe around him. She looked at him as he turned to face her with a question.

"My birthday?" she echoed in surprise. "It's kinda early to be thinking about birthdays. Mine's May 10th. Aaaaall the way back there. I'm a big ol' summer baby." Her brow raised in thought for a moment. "Or is that spring? It's hot enough to be summer, but like...spring, y'know?"

A series of memories came flooding back that her brain had to dust off from the back of her mind. It didn't occur to her until just then that she hadn't considered her birthday in a couple of years. Up until just before her seventh birthday they had all been strained with the appearance of a functioning family, her parents faking happiness for her on that one day. It felt like glass that was getting ready to shatter into a million pieces with the slightest ounce of pressure. After the outbreak, she never really cared to celebrate birthdays. Maybe that could be different this time around. Addison shook her head a bit in confusion and looked back at Arthur.

"Why do you ask? You lookin' for something else to get me?" A toothy lopsided grin appeared on her lips as she playfully socked his bicep, shaking her hand a bit afterward. His arm was a bit firmer than the girl had anticipated.

As Philip walked by, Addison waved her hand wildly to get his attention for a moment before she forgot the whole reason for coming into town. Besides the food, anyways. "Oh, Philip! Arthur's going out for a while, so I was wondering if I could chill at your place once I'm done eating?"

Arthur blinked and glanced toward Addison when she asked that question and he managed to keep his expression as it was. His brows were lifted slightly and a hint if a smile played on his lips and he chuckled at his young companion's eagerness and her neverending excitement. On the inside, however, the old man already felt the beginnings of regret fill his core because of what he was going to do after her birthday. Then he needed to think about just what he was going to do for her birthday. He was going to make it the best damn birthday she had ever had and Arthur was going to make her as happy as he could manage.

Five months of living and spending as much time with her as he could.

Five months of helping her grow stronger and learn more from him.

Five more months until he was going to leave her there, in the town.

Five more months until he would have to completely forget about her.

That thought alone made something cold pierce his heart and a slight furrow came to one of his grey, bushy brows. Addison would be safe within the town and she could live a relatively normal life. Without him. She didn't need him, anyway. She didn't need him to look after her and that night they met, he'd already told her that he was going to leave her as soon as he found a suitable place for her to stay. Arthur shouldn't worry about Addison as much as he did. After all, he wasn't her...

I'm not her dad...

Maybe she would find her father one day? Maybe he would come to the town and find her? Maybe they'd live happily together in Chris' town, doing patrols and having all kinds of bonding moments like Arthur had always wished for. Things he wanted to do with a little girl of his own but had never been allowed to have. Things he wanted to do with Addison while he still had time.

He leaned a bit away from the all too excited girl, and scratched his bearded chin as he responded in an amused tone, "That's for me to know and for you to find out."

Philip had stepped out, his eyes instantly went to Addison and he grinned as he walked over towards her. "Hey, Addy, Arthur. What do you need?" Hearing her request, his brows lifted and the boy glanced at the old man before quickly nodding, "Oh. Yeah. So long as it's alright with Arthur, though."

Arthur watched as the young man looked at him for permission and he simply nodded. "Yeah, that's fine. You two are friends- hang out whenever you want. Just make sure she doesn't get into any trouble, ya hear?"

"Oh, yes, sir. I always watch out for Addison," the fellow survivor grinned and nodded towards Addison, a similar sparkle of excitement twinkled in his eyes when he thought about the gift the girl got for the older man. "I, uh, I have to get things finished cooking, but I'll see ya in a bit, Addison. Stay safe, Arthur."

"Will do," Arthur muttered as he took a swig from the glass of water. He remained silent for a few minutes, tapped the pads of his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger on the smooth wood surface, and turned to Addison once more. "...So, what... what would you want for your birthday?"

A flash of momentary worry came across the girl as Arthur seemed to become enveloped in his thoughts. It wasn't uncommon for him to do that in the time they'd spent together - Addison always figured that he was either thinking about stuff or concerned about their well-being, something that she hadn't seen him do in a while. But the worry vanished as quickly as it had appeared when he scratched his beard and coyly gave her his response; Addy smirked and rested her elbows on the counter. "I see...playin' it cool, old man."

The girl nodded in response to Philip then stared down at the countertop while running her thumb over the wood, feeling the ridges underneath her skin. She always liked this restaurant. Not just because of the food either - the whole atmosphere was homely. Everyone was so kind here for the most part. Not that there weren't people on the outside that were nice. Addy ran into a fair amount of people in her time, and while the bad outweighed the few, those few would be hard to forget. Her nail dug into the wood a bit. I wonder how those guys are doing. They'd all like it here.

Christmas last year was vastly different from now. Instead of sitting in a warm spot with food and friends, there was only a meager tent in the middle of giant piles of snow, all by herself. A shiver snaked its way under her skin as she thought about the cold. Addy could hardly remember what it was like to be that alone since befriending Arthur. She could hardly remember what it felt like before meeting all of her friends. Her heels rolled back and forth on the stool as she lost herself in her mind for a few minutes before Arthur spoke again, asking what she would want for her birthday.

"Honestly?" Addy replied as she looked over at him. "I just want a birthday. If that makes sense. Like, with cake and shit. And just you, me, Sam, and Philip. And we can hang out and see if they'll let us watch movies by ourselves." She gave a bittersweet smile and looked back down at the counter, digging her thumbnail into the wood again. "It's gonna sound lame, but I realized a long time ago that stuff isn't always what I want. Besides, I think you got me a bunch of stuff that I wanted anyways, so I'm all out of ideas."

The girl gave a shrug. "I think also going out on a patrol would be nice, y'know? Just us two. There are usually other people around. I just wanna do a simple patrol on one of the back trails or something." One of the biggest similarities that Addy was sure they both had was that they enjoyed the outdoors by themselves; with nothing but the sounds of nature to soothe them. It was the reason why they both liked their cabin. It was also rather nostalgic. They used to trek the unknown with nothing but what they carried on them and each other, but now, whenever they left to patrol or hunt for their new home, they were commonly sent in small groups. Well, Addy was anyways. She was deemed too young to go out with anything less than a group, much to her dismay.

Arthur remained quiet as Addison spoke and a fash of warmth came to his features and filled his eyes. What she wanted was to spend time with people close to her and that was something Arthur didn't really expect to hear. Near the end of her suggesting they go on a patrol, he slowly nodded a few times and rubbed his fingers over his chapped lips. Humming, he responded, "I think we can do that. If you want the other two to come over, you might want to make sure it's okay with Sam's parents. As for Philip," Arthur blinked and glanced in the lad's direction, "He can come over whenever he wants. Since he... y'know."

Philip didn't have any parents. Like Addison, he'd gotten separated from them after the outbreak and he searched for them for a long time only to find that they had turned. He'd been the one to put them down with help of Chris. Speaking of the boy, he was rushing over with their food and placed the plates on the counter in front of them. Big smile on his face, Philip told them to enjoy their breakfast, refilled Arthur's cup of water, and gave Addison a cup of orange juice before walking away to attend to some other residents.

Saliva built up beneath Arthur's tongue as he picked up the sandwich and he took a big bite out of it. His eyes screwed shut for a moment and he let out an appreciative groan, obviously satisfied with the delicious mix of flavors. Opening his eyes, he glanced at Addison and returned his gaze to a large, welded sculpture that was placed on the table behind the bar. Swallowing what was in his mouth, he took another bite and lifted his glass to his lips before gulping down some more water. His grey-blue orbs kept finding their way to the girl who sat beside him as he ate and he really didn't want to leave her side. Arthur had to, though, in order to get the other gifts he'd found for her.

After finishing off another bite, the old man let out a long sigh, placed the bottoms of his palms against the edge of the bar, and he pushed himself from the stool he sat on. Downing the rest of the water, he wiped his thumb over his lips and picked up his egg sandwich before turning to Addison. "Well, I..." He hadn't realized it, but his hand had reached out towards her, brushed against her left shoulder, and it would have stretched out more had he not caught himself. He'd started to hug the redhead and Arthur quickly patted her shoulder as a means to cover for himself so he wouldn't be standing there awkwardly. Clearing his throat some, the grey-haired man flashed a forced, closed-mouth smile towards her and cleared his throat before he continued, "I better get goin'. I want to make sure I'm back here before it gets too late... Don't do anything too crazy while I'm away, okay?"

Addison gave a nod as Arthur confirmed the plans, a smile gently spreading on her face. She remembered when one of her biggest worries coming to this place was if people would even like her. Looks like that worked out for the better. The girl gave her friend a smile and nod of thanks as Philip came around and dropped off their order all while remembering when he told her about his parents. It was impressive how well he managed without them, even when she herself did the same thing. Their stories weren't so different. Maybe that's why they got along so well.

The pancakes sitting before her beckoned her name. Heat rose off of the delectable breakfast warmly and warm butter oozed all down the top of the first golden brown pancake, all covered in a nice layer of syrup. Addy picked up her knife and fork and dug in, barely even cutting the food before shoveling it into her mouth. Most of it sat on the side of her cheek in a big ball before finally taking a moment to actually chew and swallow. It wasn't uncommon for her to plow right in as though it would be her last warm meal. A minuscule part of her was scared that it might be.

Arthur started getting up to go about his business and placed his hand on her shoulder, pausing awkwardly for a moment. She glanced up at him in question before he announced that he was taking his leave. He gave her shoulder a pat...which was a bit strange. Not the pat in and of itself, but the way he did it. The girl gave a nod as she swallowed. "Can't promise anything," she coyly replied as Arthur went on his way.

He left the restaurant and in turn, left Addy to her thoughts once again. It didn't take long to finish off the meal on her plate, meaning that it would still be a little while at least until Philip was finished up. The utensils clinked onto the plate as Addy set them down and pushed the plate a little closer to Philip's side of the bar, then got up from the stool. She figured she would meet Philip back at his place since there wasn't anything for her to do around here and he was busy with other residents, so she pulled her jacket tight around herself and walked back out of the restaurant and towards Philip's house, which wasn't far at all.

A couple of people greeted her, to which Addy responded with a simple little wave as she walked along the sidewalk. There were a lot more folks out and about, all happy and joyous with the holiday and the wonderful decorations that had been placed around the main square. It wasn't surprising why, either - the excitement was contagious. With people singing Christmas carols together and talking about later activities and gift-giving, it was all very comforting. Addy smiled to herself as she turned to Philip's house. She knew him well enough to let herself in, so she would just get started now. The girl was just about to reach the door when she was pushed into the wall, stopping her dead in her tracks while being stuck between the other person and the wall as they held their hands on either side of her.

"Addy!" A blonde girl with bright blue eyes beamed at her. "What're you up to? I haven't seen you in a little while, I feel like you've been avoiding little ol' me."

"Sam!" Addison breathed in response, holding her hand to her rapidly beating heart. "Jesus, you scared the hell out of me! Let me catch my breath...fuck...."

"C'mon," Sam scoffed as she stood straight, allowing the younger one to bend over with her hands on her knees to calm herself down. She ran her fingers through her short blonde curls. "You've been through worse shit than that. You mean to tell me that a little scare like that got you?" She gave a mischievous grin as she patted her friend on the back.

Addison looked up at her with some disbelief. "...really? I told you what it was like outside the walls - of course, someone jumping on me is gonna make my fucking heart explode."

Sam gave a shrug as Addison stood back up. "You never answered my question - what are you doing?"

"I was going to Philip's to finish prepping my gift to Arthur. Phil's still working, so I thought I'd meet him here when he's finished. If I'm not literally scared to death first."

"Sounds kinda boring, but I think I'll stick around. Did you finish painting it or whatever?"

"Yeah, the painting's pretty much done," Addison replied as she walked to Philip's door and let herself in. "I'm finishing polishing it, then I'm gonna try to wrap it. Gotta figure that out first, though." The two walked through Philip's place until they came across the room they kept the gift in. Addy opened the door and beheld the sight of the toolbox - mostly bright red with patches of painted spots where she tried to match the color. There were a couple of tools she tried to use to fix up the dents and other things, but now she needed to make it shine. There was no way it would be restored to its' full glory, but she sure as hell tried.

Sam pulled up a chair to sit on as Addison knelt down and got to work on the gift. She had already put so many hours into this thing that finally reaching the end was relieving. It would be even more satisfying to give the gift to Arthur. Now the question was how to get the thing back to the cabin to give to him... Maybe she would take it back quickly before Arthur got back. It was kind of heavy, but it wasn't the worst thing in the world to lug around. But would that mess up the paint? There were too many opportunities for everything to go wrong and have the toolbox to end up broken on the snowy ground. Addison nervously polished away at the metal exterior as she waited for Philip to come back. He would probably know what to do.

Arthur just nodded to Addison in response and headed towards the double doors. Before he pushed one of the doors open, he turned his upper torso some to look back at the girl still seated on the stool. There was that same look of regret that washed over his face as he took her appearance in, the warm glow of the lights that hung from the ceiling, eating away at the pancakes with her back to him. Before she, or anyone else could catch him staring, the old man hurriedly turned back around and walked outside. The frigid cold bit at Arthur's nose and ears and caused a small shiver to wrack over his body as he stepped down the small staircase.

Nodding his head towards a young man who walked by him, the older walked to his horse and untied the reins from the fence of the establishment. Pulling himself onto the beast with a soft grunt, the old survivor tugged on the leather strap with a click of his tongue and the horse turned to the left and started trotting down the street. Puffs of white air swirled from Arthur's chapped lips as he rode through the town, glancing at and offering small waves to people as he steered the horse around small groups of his fellow residents. It was still an odd thing for him to do, greeting people without having to worry about them turning on him, or killing him at some point. It was something he still struggled to make himself do. Something he'd have to get used to... even if it was for a couple more months.

As he neared the first metallic gate, he informed the woman standing as head watchman that he would be heading out for a bit. After some explaining, the blonde woman nodded, turned, and waved her hand at the two men who would open the gate. The large, metal doors creaked open and Arthur's horse hurriedly clopped down the large bridge, only to come to another stop at the outer gate. Having to repeat what hed done with the blonde woman, the second door was pushed open with a louder sound and the man on the horse kicked the sides of the steed and it took off in a run.

Meanwhile, Philip had finished up working and as soon as he got things cleaned up, he ran straight to his house. Knowing that Addy would already be there, hed snagged a few cookies from the restaurant as a means to apologize for him getting there later than he'd planned. His house was fairly close to the restaurant and was pretty small, with only one floor and a small workshop built close by. He also had a small fence built around his small slab of property and hoped he could get a dog to keep him company one say.

Breathing heavily and flushed from the cold and having to run, the young man slowed his steps as he pushed open the door. Tapping his boots against the wood floor of his porch outside, some snow fell off them as he called out into the small house, "Hey, Addy! I'm home!"

It felt kind of odd yelling that to someone, but the raven haired lad didn't really mind. Shutting the door behind him, Philip glanced down at his shoes as he continued, "I've, uh, got some cookies for you, if you want any. I thought they might be something you'd like since you..."

He looked up as he had walked further into the house and was a little surprised to see Sam there as well. Black eyebrows lifted some and he shot her a warm smile as he greeted her, "Hey, Sam." Glancing down at the plastic bag in his hand, he lifted it up and asked with a raised brow, "You want girls want some cookies while we work? I made them yesterday, so they aren't really freshly baked, but still..."

Taking a couple more steps into the room, he placed the bag on a nearby table and walked to his right, where he could stand beside Addison. One of his hands was placed on his hip as he bent over a little to inspect the work she'd done and a grin formed as he praised her, "Wow, Addy, this is turning out really good. I don't think you really need to do anything else to it once you get this coat finished." Straightening his posture some, he looked at her and asked, "So, what else are you planning to do with it?"

"Hey Philip," Addy greeted as he called from the entryway of the house. "We're back here!" She didn't look up from her work, gently applying the polish with her eyes focused on the metal box until the boy walked inside the room. He had her full attention once he mentioned that he had brought cookies in, her blue eyes lighting up in delight. Sam leaned back in her chair as she gave a casual two-fingered wave and set her book on her lap with her hands resting over the top of the cover.

"Hey Phil," Sam responded. "Your cookies are awesome, dude. You know we're gonna dig into those!"

"Fuck yeah," Addy chimed in as she leaned back from her work to allow Philip to look at it. She wiped her hands off with a nearby rag and got to her feet. The wonderful aroma of the cookies drifted over even from where she stood, practically begging her to take one. So she obliged. The girl picked up the bag and pulled one out, walking it over to Sam for her to take one as Philip sang his praises. Addy's cheeks reddened a little. She didn't think it was that good, but it was nice to hear that someone else thought so.

"Thanks. I've been working so hard on it, y'know? I just hope Arthur likes it." She bit into the cookie as she pondered what else she might add to it. The deliciousness of the cookie somewhat distracted her. Why is he so damn good at cooking? Holy shit. Addy gave a shrug.

"I was thinking of adding in a picture I took. Like sticking it inside for him to find. He likes my drawings too, but I think that a picture of us would be something he'd appreciate. I've been trying to think...."

An idea suddenly popped into her mind like a big light bulb. "I'm such an idiot - coffee! He would talk about having some while we were traveling together. He'd love to have a bag of it...or whatever it comes in. I don't know much about coffee." Excitement grew in her chest at the prospect of having another gift for Arthur to enjoy instead of just one thing. She took another couple of bites out of the cookie to finish it off and returned to her spot to finish polishing the toolbox.

"I could probably get some coffee from somewhere. I could ask Chris about it. But I'm really more worried about trying to get this thing back to the cabin. Do you think that Trixie would be able to carry it?"

Sam cleared her throat and shifted in her seat some. "I think it'd be awkward to hold on to, but if you held onto it while you rode to the cabin then it could probably work. But don't you want some help taking it down there? That thing's a bitch to carry. Also, I can just grab Sully if you don't wanna make the extra trip just to get Trixie."

"That's true. Maybe if one of you guys wants to ride on the back and help me carry it around? Or both of you, but I know you might be busy, Sam."

The older girl gave a shrug as she finished off the cookie. With the way her family was and considering the fact that she was a bit older than the other two, Sam usually had more dangerous duties to tend to. Those responsibilities certainly matched her recklessness, however. The blonde checked her watch. "I don't think I'll have time. I've got a patrol with my brothers in a little while and then it's family time for Christmas activities. It's kinda stupid, but whatever, I guess."

Addy's gut gave a little twinge. She hated when Sam took her family for granted, especially with a couple of people around who didn't have family or were missing a lot of family. But she wouldn't say it. Instead, she glanced over at Philip for a brief moment and bit her lower lip a little, staying silent as she finished polishing. The exterior shined brightly under the light, most likely because it was still a little wet, but it still made it appear ten times better than what it actually was. Arthur was definitely gonna like this. Addy patted her knees a couple of times to signify that she was done and got on her feet once more.

"This sucker's done. If you really wouldn't mind Sam, could we borrow Sully?"

"Yeah, I don't give a shit. He's a big horse anyways - he won't even feel it on his back."

"Thanks, I really appreciate it."

"No problem, Lockwood. I'll go get him. Don't you two do anything stupid." Sam gave a playful wink as she got up and walked out. She didn't live far from Philip, so it wouldn't take that long to get her horse. Addison interlaced her fingers and stretched her arms out in front of her to crack her knuckles as she looked back at Philip, suddenly remembering the small gift she had.

"Oh! Hang on Phil, I forgot I had a Christmas gift for you." Addy reached over to her backpack in the corner and carefully ruffled around inside for a couple of moments before pulling out a picture frame and handing it out to him. The picture inside was the three of them all smiling at the camera with Philip in between Sam and Addy. The background was dotted with gorgeous warm autumn colors. It was taken outside of the lake cabin before winter fully set in. "It's not much, but...I figured you might like to have it." She smiled at him and looked back and forth between him and the photograph, silently hoping he would like it.

When Addison spoke up with her worry about the old man liking the gift, Philip smiled at her and replied, "Hey, don't worry. He's going to love it." The young man took a smaller cookie from the bag, lifted it to his teeth, and bit into it. He was relatively surprised that it was still somewhat soft and not as hard as he was afraid it would be. He placed a hand lazily on his hip as he chewed, his eyes focused on the redhead speaking. Humming a bit in thought, he swallowed the rest of the small treat in his mouth and spoke up again, "Well, coffee is hard to come by these days... Maybe I can ask Antonio if he knows where any coffee beans might be."

He blinked and wiped the crumbs from around his mouth and added with a soft, breathy chuckle, "I can also look in the restaurant. The rest of the workers don't mind if I take a few ingredients since i work so much."

At the mention of Clover, Philip opened his mouth to remind his friend that Arthur had taken her to go out on the short patrol, but he shut it once the two girls began to speak amongst themselves. Instead, he remained silent and bit into another cookie, his eyes glanced between the two as they spoke. At the mention of family and Chridtmas activities, Philip glanced away and focused his attention on the polished box. Sure, he didn't have his family around more, but he'd made a new one and that's all that mattered to him. He got to spend time with all sorts of people everyday and Chris was kind of like the uncle he never really had. Feeling something looking at him, the boy looked back over towards Addison and noticed she had glanced at him. He just gave her an apologetic smile and shrugged slightly.

Then the two girls were discussing about Sam's horse and the other girl left the room with a playful warning. Philip, unfortunately, knew exactly what she meant by it. He cleared his throat, blinked, and averted his gaze for a breif moment. Turning back around to inspect the polished toolbox, he scratched the back of his head as he tried to come up with something to say. Anything to break the awkward silence. He straightened his posture some, turned on his heel, and opened his mouth, "Hey, Addison--" She spoke up at the same time and he quickly added with a gesture of his hand, "You go first."

At the mention of a Christmas gift, his brows lifted and Philip asked, a little surprised, "You do? Oh, Addison you really didn't have to..." Despite his weak protest, he took the picture frame from her and he blinked down at the photo. A small smile formed on his lips and a feeling of warmth and happiness bubbled within his chest as he ran a finger over a corner. "It... It's great, Addison. Thanks."

He looked up at her, his eyes locked with hers, and added, "I'm really happy with it. I don't get gifts very often. Hah." Clearing his throat, Philip blinked three times and glanced away after he noticed he'd been staring a little longer than neccessary. "So, uh, could you help me find a place to put this?" The young man turned and headed out of the room and began looking around his living room. There weren't many decorations because he hadn't had time to put anything up. His eyes went to the fireplace and he took a few steps towards it. Turning his upper torso towards her, he threw a thumb in the direction of the brick stand. "How about here?"

"Yeah, I'd really appreciate it if you could find some coffee," Addison had replied to Philip. "I'll find a way to repay you for it. I just want this to be perfect; Arthur deserves it more than anyone else I know." She was well aware of the shortage of supplies in recent years and that some luxuries were far more difficult to come by, but that's what made the gift all the better! Knowing that someone went out of their way to get such a gift meant more nowadays than it did before the outbreak.

Addy's cheeks transformed into a bright red as Philip voiced his appreciation for her gift, scratching just behind her ear a bit awkwardly while giving a smile and stammering out a response. "Well, I mean, it was something I'd like to have too if I didn't have a camera, y'know? And I thought your place could use some added color. No better way to do that than with pictures of your friends." The gift was something she had wanted to put together for a while, not necessarily for Christmas. The young woman was already blessed with so many things that it only felt right to thank everyone somehow. She looked back down at the bright red toolbox for a moment before following Philip out of the room and out into the living room where he intended to place the picture.

Addy couldn't imagine living in a place like this all by herself. And not just with the home, either - living in Chris's town in general. She found herself getting lonely being in the cabin by herself the very few times she'd had to do so, but coming home every day to nothing but four walls and a roof? The added decoration might make it feel a little more homey to her friend. Especially around Christmas... He picked a spot on the mantle and asked if she thought it was a good spot, to which she gave an affirmative nod. "Yeah, it's as good a spot as any." They stood there for a few moments in silence, nothing but the muffled sounds of festive people strolling around eagerly wafting in from outside. Addy's eyes fixated on the fireplace for a while, thinking of what next to say. She had been tossing the idea around in her head of inviting Philip to their place for Christmas morning, but she was unsure of where Arthur stood on the matter until this morning when he stated that the boy could come over whenever he wished. Then she remembered that he had wanted to say something. She'd offer the invitation later, once they were on the way to the cabin.

"So," she started as she gazed at the picture above the mantle, "you wanted to say something before, right? I kinda cut you off by giving you the gift. In my defense, though, it's a pretty sick gift." Addy grinned as she crossed her arms, giving him a sidelong glance as she waited to hear what he had to say. Sam would be back soon, but they still had some time to chat before she did. Her being gone for a moment was the perfect opportunity to give Philip the gift - their older companion usually made fun of more sentimental gifts like that. Well, she wasn't a huge fan of gifts in general. It was a strangely admirable trait that Sam didn't care for items that weren't of any use in a survival sense. It was the only reason why Addy didn't get her a gift as well. That, and it was difficult to know what to get her anyway.

Philip turned his head to look at the girl who addressed him and he seemed to be lost in thought as she spoke. He blinked as he seemed to be brought from his thoughts and a light pink hue dusted his cheeks in embarrassment as he mumbled, "Oh, uh, yeah... There was..." He glanced down at the floor and cleared his throat when he added, "I was just... wondering if you'd like to... go see the Christmas lights with me later tonight? The town always has this silly competition where everyone tries to light their shops up the most and people can walk around and see them, then we cast a vote. Whoever wins, gets a reward- it something different every year, but, uh, anyway..."

Philip started to walk away from the fireplace and knelt down to look at the stacked firewood beside it to preoccupy himself to keep his nerves down. "You saw how John and some other people were dragging the big Chrtismas tree to the middle of the road where the restaurant is, right?" Looking over his shoulder, he tilted his head to the side and continued, "That tree is gonna be decorated and everybody has the choice to put an ornament on it..." He picked up two small boxes that had been set on the bottom of the fireplace and stood before he walked to stand in front of Addison. One had "Addison" and the other had "Arthur" written on the lids. "Here. I thought you both might want to decorate the tree, too, since it's your first Chritsmas here. Call it an extra gift."

He sniffed and rubbed the back of his head, feeling his cheeks grow warmer, "...But I was mostly wanting to ask if you'd like to... take a stroll through the town with me... just to see all the lights. Maybe get something to eat before Arthur gets back... If you don't want to or already have plans, that's okay."

Snow and shattered glass crunched beneath a pair of worn, leather boots as a shadowed figure made their way down a long, wide hallway of an abandoned mall. The man came to a stop by one of the walls and peeked past it, narrowed eyes straining to find any hints of any possible infected being in the area nearby. Arthur couldn't hear or see any, so he crept further down the hallway, passing by an old board with a map of the place that had been implanted onto the floor, as well as two circular counters that had dusty phone cases and other things vendors used to sell. It brought back memories of the old world and Arthur's brow creased as he relaxed a little, readjusted his straps as he took a moment to take in the old shopping mall. There were holes of various sizes in the ceiling and snow lazily drifted down to settle on the heaps of the white matter that were on the cracked, tiled flooring.

Breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth, a white puff of air swirled from his chapped lips as he walked through one of the little hills of snow. His fingers flexed some as he continued down the hallway, his grey-blue orbs glancing at the broken signs that hung above the entrances of each store. On the opposite side of the glass for clothing stores were mannequins, some knocked over, leaning against said glass, or on the floor, or somehow still standing completely upright. Only a few had the attire they were modeling for still on and in tact. Most of the entrances to the stores had been blocked off, either by the heavy, metal door shutters or stacks of furniture, which made it nearly impossible for Arthur to get inside.

He came to a halt by a shoe store, knelt down, and curled his fingers beneath the small area between the heavy shutter and the old flooring. He grit his teeth and grunted as he tried to lift it, but it was honestly too much weight for him to handle. Releasing it with a frustrated sound, he stepped back and placed his hands on his hips and sighed.

"How am I gonna even get in there...?" Arthur mused quietly to himself as he took a few steps backwards, chin up in the air as he looked around. His eyes caught an opening above the shutter and a hunt of a smile formed. "Might be able to fit through there... Question is, how am I gonna get up there?"

He blinked as he began to looked around and his eyes spotted a turned over table. Without a second thought, he jogged over to it and lifted it up with a groan. He came to a stop in front of the show store again and set it down before crawling on top of it. The old man held his breath before he jumped and his hands gripped on the end of the hole and he grunted loudly as he pulled himself over. Landing on the floor with a huff, Arthur pushed himself up, turned on his flashlight, and pulled out one of his guns. He could never be too careful with how the world was and he wouldn't put it past him if there were any infected trapped inside.

Once he'd given the large room a once over and he'd found no enemies, he slipped the revolver in the back of his pants and started to look around the mini store properly. Like he'd knew, most of the shoes had been taken during and after the outbreak, so there wasn't much he could find... Cursing under his breath, he folded his arms over his chest and looked back up at the way he'd come, however, he did a double take when he saw an open box beneath a knocked over shelf. He hurriedly pushed the shelf into an upright position and bent over to grab the box and his heart fluttered with delight. Grey brows rose and a noise of pleasant surprise came from Arthur as he inspected the pair of white and grey-blue sneakers and be grinned when they were Addison's size.

"That'll do," he muttered as he grabbed the other sneaker from the box and he stuffed them in the bottom of his backpack. He crawled back out of the store and landed onto the floor of the hallway outside and got back into another shoe store. Arthur managed to find another pair of boots for both him, Addison, and Chris, as well as some extra attire in another store. As happy as he was to have found some more clothing, he still had one goal in mind; to find the comic book store.
[Christmas continued]
A cheeky grin spread on Addy's lips as Philip struggled to stammer out his answer with obvious anxiety, thinking about how cute she thought it was when he got nervous. It was a different amount of confidence than what he was like at the restaurant. As he explained one of the yuletide traditions, her grin faded into a softer, pleasant smile, her skin growing hot and warm around her cheeks and the back of her neck. It sounded like it would be a great time...and time alone with Philip didn't sound too bad either. She allowed him a chance to continue as he knelt down by the pile of firewood by the hearth and pulled out two boxes, each marked with her and Arthur's names.

She took the box with her name on it and opened the lid, cradling the box in her left arm so that it tumbled to the ground. "My God, Phil, this is..." Awe trapped her words as she pulled out one of the ornaments, a perfect red ball that was illuminated by the light shining through the window. The reflections of her and Philip and the entire room were warped within the shiny reflective exterior, but it was one of the most well-kept, fragile objects she'd laid her eyes on in a long time. Addy gingerly set the bauble back into the box with the other ornaments and slid the lid overtop, then looked back up at Philip. "I'll walk around town with you. I bet it's gonna be really nice and sparkly and shit!"

Addison gave a soft chuckle as Philip suggested getting something to eat before Arthur's return. "Actually, Arthur said that he wouldn't mind if you come over whenever you want if you feel up to it. He really likes you, if you didn't already know."

Knowing that Arthur approved of her friend made her feel relieved, though she couldn't figure out why. Perhaps it was because she saw him as her closest companion, and having him disagree with her about something like this would have been devastatingly awkward to sit in the same house with. She looked back down at the boxes, running her thumb back and forth over the top edge of the cover. It was kind of Philip to think of them; getting gifts from anyone besides Arthur was unexpected, seeing how it had only been a little while since their first arrival. It still felt so long ago... Addison stood silently for a few moments, glancing at Philip wordlessly, mentally toeing a couple of ideas on the list of possibilities of what may happen tonight.

Could we...? Nah, I don't think he's interested in a dumbass like me. But why else would he invite me to see the lights alone with him? It's something friends would do, right? He's a nice guy and a way better person than I am, there's no way. Addy didn't have any experience in this arena...maybe it was something she could talk to Arthur about. Man, if only I'd known about this sooner. I could've asked Arthur what Philip might be thinking. Her stomach entangled itself with anxiety and twisted her mind into a nervous knot when a loud rapping came at the door, causing Addy to nearly jump out of her skin.

"Hey kiddos," yelled Sam from outside. "I've got Sully out here. Just keep him at the cabin and I'll grab 'em later, I've gotta run!" The clunking of wet boots signified that Sam had hurriedly made her exit as she had promised, leaving a large, dark-colored draft horse on the front step with a makeshift wooden sled tied to the saddle. Addy looked at Philip once again and jerked her head towards the door. "Wanna help me get that toolbox back to my place? We can hang out there until it's time to see the lights. Maybe you could get food with me and Arthur afterward and have a Christmas Eve dinner, y'know?"

Philip held his breath and remained silent as a sudden nervousness took over, secretly at war with himself on whether or not he got Addison and the old man a good enough gift. He watched in a hopeful form of excitement as she the ornament up in front of her, feeling a little proud when she couldn't find the right words to say anything else. His hands slowly slid against each other as he took a few steps towards her to look at the orb as well, his hazel eyes danced back and further between the redhead and the gift. Butterflies suddenly swarmed within his stomach, making his heart pound a little faster in anticipation as she said that she would walk around with him in town later while they waited for Arthur to return.

A soft chuckle slipped past his lips, which had spread into a bashful smile, and a erted his gaze to his boots, replying, "I'm glad..!" His head lifted and he nodded a few times, softly clapping his hands and stuffing them in his back pockets, the smile widening as her words truly sunk in. Addison had agreed! "Alright, great! Yeah. This is great...! I'll show you around some of my other favorites places."

He looked off to the side when she spoke up again, gaining his attention once more, his raven colored brows rose and his eyes met hers. "Really? Part of me doesn't think so. Then again I don't think he likes a lot of people... but I believe you if you say he likes me." He pressed his lips together before adding, "But I can tell he loves you-- and not in the weird way. The way he looks at you- with so much adoration in his eyes... I don't think I've seen him look anybody the way he looks at you. It's..." He thought a moment, trying to think of the right way to say it. "It's refreshing in a world like this, you know?"

He rubbed his fingers with his others as he glanced towards a photo of Arthur and Addison that was set on the fireplace. "You don't see a lot of love most days. Anyone can take one look you two and they'd tell anybody that he would die for you." The lad blinked and nodded as he looked back towards Addison, a small smile taken form, "He loves you a lot."

He cleared his throat and shuffled his weight between his feet, hurriedly saying, "A-Anyway, I can't wait to hang out with you guys. It'll be nice to spend some time with other people on Christmas. So.. "

Hazel orbs found blue ones and another strange form of anticipation twisted his gut, caused his heart to race. It always happened when he saw Addy, the strange skipping of his heart and the way he'd instantly feel happy while being around her. She was really smart for her age, always put him in a good mood, and her smartass quips kept him on his toes. She was really strong in her own way, too. It was something he liked about her alot. Philip hadn't noticed how he felt his upper body start to lean towards hers, an odd magnetic force pulling him closer, his eyes half lidded as his nose nearly brushed hers.

The loud knock caused his eyes to widen, his throat and cheeks heated up, and he jumped a little and he hurriedly put space between them. He found his saving grace, another small box he'd been holding and he smiled shyly as he lifted it twice, saying, with another nervous laugh, "This- Uh- Is also for you. I was just putting it on the counter--" His eyes shut as he shook his head quickly, "I mean table."

He placed the larger box on the table, it had a smaller sketch pad inside, once that Addison could take around with her wherever she went. He turned towards the door, ignoring the heat in his face and throat, yelling back to the other girl, "Alright! Thanks for the help!"

When the redhead started talking, he looked back at her and nodded his head, "Of course. I'm not going to let you carry it out there all by yourself." Another warm smile formed, his lips slipped far enough apart so Addison could see his teeth, "Yeah, that would be great." Blinking, he puffed out his chest and wiggling his head side to side, "I am one of the best chefs in town, after all! It'll be pretty nice to be eating something instead of being the one cooking it. Haha."

Patting her shoulder lightly with his hand, he turned and said before he walked into the room to grab the tool box, "Just hold the door open for me and I'll bring it out."

Nodding a little, he walked back into the room and pressed his hands against his darkening cheeks. A nervous sweat suddenly came over him as he mentally screamed at himself for being so stupid. What had he been thinking?? What had he been doing?! Trying to kiss her without even realizing it-- that was embarrassing! Not to mention he was older than her by a few years. She might think it's weird, having a short age gap between them. Making a soft groan, Philip shook his head a little and breathed out as he focused his attention on the tool box. Without pause, he made his way towards it and began to pull it out into his living room. "Coming your way, Addy!" He called, rolling it out into her view.

A small, pleasantly surprised "huh" of acknowledgment squeezed out of Addy's throat as Philip described what he saw between her and Arthur. The older man was one of the few that she felt truly comfortable with, that wasn't at all a secret, but it never occurred to her how it might present to other people. The young girl wasn't even sure if she herself had realized that it was a loving bond that the pair held, not just a friendship. "That's...interesting. I haven't really thought about that - I-I mean, it's undeniable what we've done for each other, but....” She hesitated, scrounging in her mind for what the right words were. “I guess it's just nice to know I've got a couple of close bonds with certain people." She flashed a grin at Philip, whose demeanor had shifted to something else. Their eyes met. Philip held such kindness and understanding that came from a few people and she was drawn to it; it was a warmth that she wasn’t privy to in her previous life.

Addy could feel him drifting closer to her, and sensing the pull between the two in a quiet, electrified moment, her eyes went wide. A thrilling rush of excitement and a crashing wave of anxiety formed all at once in her stomach in a strange buzz. She knew full well what was happening...could she do it right? Was this the right moment? Oh god...how was her breath? A deep, dry swallow slowly inched its way down her throat in nervous anticipation. Out of all of the scary things Addy had faced in this world - a lot of them alone - why did this one cause her to sweat the most? It’s not like she was facing certain death or harm. Don’t fucking mess it up, Addy!

Salvation came in the form of Sam's disruptive knock at the door, to which Addy instinctively stepped back, cleared her throat, and rubbed the back of her hot neck embarrassingly. Philip had stepped back as well, waving another box in his hands that she hadn't noticed before, and set it on the table. "You really didn't have to get me anything," she replied as she walked over to the box and picked it up, tucking it gently under her arm as she asked Philip if he could help and if he wanted food. The gift could be opened once they reached her and Arthur's place, whom she hoped was doing alright outside of town. There was a strange air of happiness and generosity today that reignited old memories that had been buried deep in the mind of Addy's psyche.

Those memories were broken fragments of the past now. Addy approached the door and held it open while staring at the magnificent beast towering before them. The scene of a jovial and comforting town was neatly placed in front of her, where the only worries were if the gifts were good enough and if people would make it to the yuletide celebrations in time. She wondered if everything in this moment was a blessing, all of this joy wrapped up in the ruins of an old world. Would it be wrong to say that an apocalypse was a blessing in disguise? Without any of this, Addy would never have met these people or seen this town. A quiet realization herself set in that had brought about a soft smile, contemplations that she kept to herself. Her thumb rubbed unconsciously along the corner of the box Philip had handed to her as she eagerly wondered what was inside.

Addy’s head turned as Philip called out a warning of his arrival and she made sure the door was open by placing a small but heavy rock on the edge of the door to keep it still. After making sure it wouldn’t slide over, the young woman jogged to the other side of the toolbox and began to push it along so that her friend wouldn’t have to do it himself. “I really hope this doesn’t scratch up your floors,” she said as the toolbox scraped along. “If it does, I can help you make it look nice again.” A few grunts escaped her as she helped move Arthur’s gift out the door, but it was much easier to help Philip move the metal box outside and towards the sled sitting comfortably behind Sam’s horse. Once the toolbox was placed on the sled, Addy used the ropes already attached to the sled to firmly secure the cargo.

“Okay Philip,” Addison said as she brushed her pink hands together, “we’re good to go. Time to hike up your skirt and get on the big scary horse.” She patted the horse’s side as she walked around to the saddle, looking at the sheer height. He was a former draft horse by the looks of it, used mostly for lugging around large farming equipment. Addy figured she wouldn’t be able to get on by herself since she was barely able to look over the arch of his back if she stood on her toes, so she waited for Philip to get on first.

Philip shrugged with a grunt as he pushed the polished toolbox outside and he shook his head with a small wave of dismissal at Addison's comment. "Nah. A few scratches are the least of my worries for my place. If anything, it'll serve as a reminder that I was able to help a friend do something special for theirs," he offered the girl a small, warm smile and continued to push the box further outside and on the porch.

The cold air chilled his reddened nose and cheeks and a shudder wracked through him while he moved the box out of the way from one of the rocking chairs he had set out. It didn't take them very long to get towards the sled and Philip almost lost his balance from some black ice that had gathered on the steps and his heart nearly jumped out of his chest right before he caught his footing. He breathed out a quiet, relieved, "Woo," before he moved the box onto the sled.

"That was a close one," he giggled with a shake of his head. Crouching down, he clipped the toolbox into place and once he was sure it was secure, he stood up and rubbed the back of his head. When Addison spoke up again, he looked between her and the horse with a dubious look. "Right…"

The cook hadn't really been one to ride horses as he had a… healthy respect for them because they were huge and ten times bigger than him. Philip had no trouble killing infected and any opposing humans, but when it came to horses, he really didn't like being near or on them for longer than necessary. Inhaling a deep breath, he grinned at her and pretended to pull up an imaginary skirt up from his ankles and to his hips, "I've got my skirt hiked and I'm ready to get going..!"

Then he did a little pose to ease his growing tension and looked down at his buttocks, "You don't think this skirt makes my butt look big, do you?" A giggled scoff came from him as he waved his hand at her and he added shortly after, "I'm kidding. I know I look great. Haha."

Exhaling, he turned his attention back towards the beautiful beast and muttered a nervous, "Alright, here I go…"

He gripped the saddle and pulled himself up onto it before getting settled in. The young man's body was tense, he stayed still as a board, and his heart spiked from the growing nervousness. He really didn't like riding horses, but he knew they were their only source of transportation and that was the only reason why he put up with them. Turning towards Addy, he held out his shaking hand towards her and forced a small smile on his face, "Come on. I'll help you up if you need it. Let's get this toolbox to your place, yeah?"

A giggle escaped from Addy as Philip pretended to pull up a skirt and made a goofy little pose as she shook her head. "Weirdo," she chuckled as he readied himself to climb onto the horse. The stiffness in his movements was telltale - he was nervous around horses. Or at least Sully, who was a monster of a horse. Philip's actions mirrored her own from all those months ago when it was just Addison and Arthur braving the apocalypse, and she was too scared to stay by herself with the horse. It took a long time to get used to him, but she ended up caring for the creature far more than she realized. The corner of Addy's mouth creased for a moment. The horse was gone in an instant, brutally finished off as she had been starting to get used to him. The scene of him collapsing to the ground in a heap replayed in her mind behind weary eyes locked to the ground focused on another time as Philip clamored on to Sully. Addy couldn't help but realize that if it weren't for them, the horse would be roaming freely instead of becoming a rotting corpse on the ground hundreds of miles away.

Addy squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. Stop. We're having a good time, don't fucking ruin it! She let her smile return as Philip turned towards her from on top of Sully and offered to help her up. "I thought you'd never ask," she responded coyly. The young girl took his hand with her fingers, red from the cold, and hoisted herself up, one arm on Sully's back and the other clinging on to Philip. She tucked her foot into the stirrup gave herself one big push and slid her leg to the other side of the saddle, finally allowing her to sit in front of Philip. Addy's cheeks grew bright red, which she desperately hoped he wouldn't see from behind. She grabbed the reins tightly with both hands and gave a small snap on the base of Sully's neck. "You can hold on to me for support if you want, Phil. Let's go, pretty boy!" With a snort and a small burst of warm air from his pink snout, Sully was well on his way.

The sled slid neatly over the ground, leaving two thin trails in the snow as they trotted on. The toolbox wobbled some, but not enough to knock it over. They were going at just the right speed to make sure it would remain steady without toppling into the snow. People made sure to avoid the kids and the gigantic draft horse, each passing by with a grin from the festive celebrations. A small group of people passed by with big bags of supplies, which Addy assumed were for patrols or something of the like. Hopefully, Arthur would be out long enough for her to get everything ready. A part of her, however, always wanted him near her to make sure that they were safe. That nothing would happen. In these few months of living here, Addy never felt comfortable with Arthur being elsewhere - she just got used tension of him being gone. It was the people like Philip that made that tension easy enough for her to forget for a while. Today, though, she was more excited about her gift to her oldest friend.

"Y'know Philip," Addy said over her shoulder to the older boy, "I know horses are scary, but they're really not as bad as you think! I mean, Sully's a fucking beast, but look at how sweet he is!" She leaned forward and patted his neck, stroking the short hairs, then letting her fingers travel down his spiky black mane. "We can give him a snack once we've reached the cabin. And by we, I definitely mean you. I was scared of horses for a while too, but Arthur and I had this one horse that was nice. He didn't do much, but I got used to him after a while. Arthur showed me how to take care of them and ride them, I can show you, too!" Addy chuckled as Sully shook his head and gave another snort. His big brown eyes gazed at the people and lights around them and his ears rotated to capture every sound, but he was relaxed inside of the town. Which is fortunate, considering a horse of his size. Addy fiddled with the reins in her hands, occasionally giving Sully a few pats on the side of his neck.

"Ye-Yeah," the older boy said, mentally cursing at himself for the silly stutter. Philip sucked in a breath and his stomach did a flip once the horse started trotting down the road and he tightened his grip on Addison's middle. His hold never loosened, not even when he watched the scenery passing by or when he waved at a few of the residents they passed by, his nerves getting slowly getting the best of him. He rolled his eyes up at the grey sky, feeling his heart thump wildly in his chest and his cheekbones grew more red from the embarrassment of showing a weakness to a girl he had a teeny crush on.

When had that feeling grown, anyway?

Why had he just realized it even existed?

Philip could recount the first time they met when Addison and her older companion had come to town. Anytime they'd walked into the restaurant to get food, he'd always been the one to ask what they wanted. He'd always snuck little glanced towards Addison and quickly looked away when it seemed like she'd turn her attention towards him. Every time he saw her, the teen always thought about how she was pretty, loved seeing how her eyes sparkled up with excitement when she got to have food, or when she'd get fired up when someone said something to her friends.

His eyes had focused on the back of her head and he blinked, being pulled from his thoughts when Addison spoke up, "Hm-? I mean, yeah?" A look of uncertainty replaced his somewhat comfortable expression and his lips pressed together as a noise rose in his throat. "Uh… I don't know about that, Addison…"

He blinked a few times and tensed up more when she leaned down some to pat the beautiful horse. His raven colored brows rose as he asked in surprise, "M-Me? Why m-? I… I've fed horses before and, uhm, this is your horse and you should be the one to… to feed him." Philip glanced off to the side, puffs of white air floated and disappeared in the air. The snowflakes had lessened and the sun managed to filter through the grey clouds above them.

"...You were," he asked when the girl told him about how she had also been afraid of horses before Arthur came along. "Yeah, they are pretty scary. I don't know… I just always get nervous around them. Most days, I'd rather fight a bunch of infected than ride a horse." Addison told him that she would show him how to ride properly and a small smile graced his lips, green orbs softening. "Really? I… Well," his eyes flicked down to her coat as he rubbed the back of his neck. He leaned down a little so he could gently pat the massive beast, and his lips were unintentionally beside her ear, the warmth never leaving his tone, "I guess with you around, I'll have nothing to worry about."

Leaning back some, he shuddered from the cold and let out a small sigh, watching the scenery pass by as they rode towards her home. It didn't take much longer and once the horse stopped, the chef immediately slid off the horse, stumbling a little as he was on solid land again. Then he started fastening the sled, kneeling down to check on the condition of the tool box, and he asked, "Where do you want me to put this?"

Addison's back stiffened some as Philip wrapped his arms around her middle as she wasn't too used to feeling this type of touch, let alone from someone like him. A small smile folded in the corner of her lips as he meekly responded to her propositions. It was a sincere response, which she admired in him - he was a sincere person. The boy whispered in her ear with a warmth that ran down her spine, and she gave a quick exhale with a puff of white air escaping her mouth. Addison was utterly speechless, struggling in her mind to find a witty or heartfelt response, but none came to mind. There was nothing that could have prepared her for a moment like this, but with Philip's presence...he didn't pressure her at all. The best she could do was give a soft chuckle as she settled into his grip, allowing herself to loosen up some more.

For a while, she had forgotten what they were even doing. The gentle rocking as Sully's hooves crunched in the snow was the most sound they could hear besides the occasional chirp of a bird or rustle of pine trees with the occasional drift of wind. It was just them. She allowed herself to sink a little more into Philip's grasp when the wind would pick up. They soon approached the cabin and Addison pulled on the reins to bring Sully to a halt next to the staircase leading into the house. Philip got off first with a stumble (that Addison stifled a giggle at), and after a few comforting pats on the horse's neck, the girl did the same. With much more grace, of course. As Philip asked where the box should go, Addison wrapped the reins around one of the wooden posts of the porch to keep Sully steady. She took a moment to think of where it should go. Of course, she wanted it to be a surprise, but dragging it up the stairs and into her room would be a pain. "Uh...we could try putting it in the corner of the living room and throwing a blanket over it, maybe? I'm sure Arthur won't take a peek or anything if I ask him not to. And it shouldn't be obvious as to what it is...I think."

Her attention drifted over to the stable momentarily as Trixie let out a whinny from inside, shaking her head a bit as she heard the sounds of other people coming from outside. The uneasiness the young horse displayed reminded Addison of her own actions when she and Arthur first arrived. It wasn't easy to settle in. It took her a long time to be able to sleep through the night, to trust others, to even start speaking to them consistently. But Philip was the only one she was able to get along so easily with. He was patient and kind with her. The food he cooked definitely helped gain her trust, but it was the kindness in his eyes that drew her in. She remembered fondly the fun moments they had up to this point but then began to wonder what things would be like a year from now. Thinking even that far ahead was strange. But Philip was certainly in that future, she knew he would be.

Addison drew a deep, cold breath and ducked under Sully's head and reins as she headed for the front door, twisting the knob and pushing the door open. She rubbed her pink fingers together while stomping her boots on the porch outside a few times to shake some of the excess snow off of her feet, leaving a small pile of dusty white frost on the wood. I can't wait to get inside and get warm again. Her eyes turned to the sky for a moment to judge what time it was. They would need to finish before Arthur got back, but Addison could hardly wait to get the festivities started! It had been a lifetime since she celebrated any sort of holiday. Stepping inside, Addison gazed around for the best spot to place the toolbox. She switched on the light and gave a loud sigh. The corner was dark enough for the toolbox to be unnoticeable if she tossed a blanket on it. Hopefully. Arthur was perceptive, so Addison expected him to notice it pretty much anywhere she took it. "Yeah, I think the corner of the room should be alright. C'mon, I'll help you get it up!" Addison turned and stepped out of the cabin again with her boots clunking on the wooden porch. She approached the toolbox and rubbed her hands together comically, ready to help heave the giant metal tub up into the house with Philip.

Philip followed the girl around and rubbed his hands as they stepped into the house, trying to get some more circulation to his fingers before they had to go back outside. He sniffed and blinked as the light was turned on and he glanced around the large cabin from where he stood by the entrance. He’d visited them a few times and had only hung out with the redhead in her room twice because he felt like it was rude of him to stay alone in a room with a girl by himself. The young lad had also visited by delivering food up when the whether got especially harsh or when he found out of the two new residents were ill. Though, that didn’t happen much, so he’d deliver food when he wanted to see Addison- if she was home. Would he admit that aloud? Absolutely not. Just as he started to go a bit further into Addison’s home, he stopped short when she spoke up. Black brows rose and he nodded, “Okay,” and quickly turned and headed back outside, keeping the door open for her. Once she was out, he used a little, metallic lock that was between the door and wooden frame. The little contraption clicked in place and held the door open so they’d have an easier time to get the toolbox brought in and they wouldn’t have to worry about having someone keep track of the door.

He turned to Addison and jogged on the port he to catch up with her, laughing a little at her silly display. With an amused smirk, he rubbed his hands together again, flexed over dramatically with his arms bent inwards towards his stomach. “How you like these guns?” He teased before he shook his head and waved at her in dismissal. “Okay, I’m gonna quit. Let’s get this toolbox moved in.”

Sniffing again, he rubbed a finger against his nostrils and got to the opposite end of the toolbox,. Bending his knees, he grabbed the sides and peeled past one to check on Addison.

“Ready? One… Two… Three..!”

With a loud grunt, he lifted his side and carefully set it on the ground, pulling it towards himself as he walked backwards. Once they reached the stairs, he nearly tripped with a chuckled, “Whoops-! Be careful, okay?” Luckily, he caught his footing and lifted the toolbox up until it reached the porch, where he began to easily pull it towards the door. “So…What do you think Arthur got you for the holiday?”

He stopped short when he felt the heel of his boot hit the outline of the wood frame and he quickly stepped past it before lifting up the toolbox, making sure to give Addison a heads up beforehand. Making sure to glance behind him a few times, the toolbox was placed in the spot Addison wanted and Philip offered her a high-five. “We got it! Good teamwork!” Stretching his arms over his head, he let out a heavy sigh and then turned back to Addison with a grin. An awkward silence followed after and Philip cleared his throat and gestured towards the half empty shelf of firewood stacked beside the fireplace. “Looks like you guys need some more firewood brought in… I’ll, Uh, go grab some and you can do some finishing touches on the toolbox.”

He walked back out to the side of the house and shortly returned with some extra wood. Kneeling down, he placed the cut wood into any empty spaces and walked back out to repeat the action two more times. Rubbing the back of his head as he stepped towards the empty fireplace, he glanced outside and finally noticed how it had started to get dark outside. The third time he returned from outside, he knelt back down and started working on getting a fire to burn in the fireplace. He’d occasionally glance over at Addison with a small smile, spoke to her a few times to see how things were going with the old man’s gift and he went back to adjusting the fire that finally was lit. Once he finished setting up the metallic gate, he walked over towards the couch and sat down, pressed his lips together, and looked outside again.

“Let’s go grab something to eat at the restaurant. From the looks of it, we still have an hour or less to do whatever we want. …By the time we finish eating, the lights will be strung up and you’ll be able to see how pretty everything is when we have these sorts of celebrations.” A nervous chuckle came from him and his cheeks grew warm. “Then we can do whatever you want after. Maybe Arthur will be back by then and you guys can give each other the gifts.”

Snow crunched beneath a pair of boots and Arthur huffed as he finished tying the extra bag on the back of his horse. His eyes narrowed as he rubbed the soft fur on its backside and he turned to see that the last of the sun was starting to disappear behind the mountains further away. “Need to get goin’,” he muttered to himself before he pulled himself up onto his steed. “Alright, Clover, let’s head home.”

He kicked the sides of the horse with his heels and clicked his tongue and it began to lazily gallop down the street. It would take him about an hour and half, maybe longer to reach his brother’s safe haven because of how dark it was and horses weren’t like vehicles. They didn’t have any headlights to see in front of him. With darkness brought the cold and the temperature dropped, causing Arthur to shiver even with as much body heat as he created and as many layers he had on. He’d been traveling for close to half an hour when Clover’s ears perked up and her head swerved towards the right. Arthur felt his muscles bunch with a familiar dreaded anticipation. That meant something was nearby. A twig snapped and Clover started, causing the old survivor’s heart to jump. As soon as he got her to calm down, a loud, inhuman screech emitted from the patch of woods and something large skidded to a halt on the road.

“Hah-Shit-!” Arthur’s eyes widened and he hurriedly kicked his heels into Clover’s sides, making the horse run faster. “Go! Go!!!”

He shined the light on the creature and his heart nearly stopped when he saw the size of it. It was nearly the size of three Belgian Draft horses combined. It had patches of skin missing, as if other infected had tried to eat it. Fungi had grown and spread all along its massive body, and its mouth was big enough to swallow Arthur whole. Jagged teeth jutted in all directions, it’s gums and skin decayed from years of being undead. The large head seemed as if it had ten or eleven human heads merged into one, with way too many eyes to count, most of which were glazed over with white or a gray tint. It’s back was hunched and it had two sets of arms instead of one, and its legs and feet were bent like a bear’s. Its finger and toe nails had frown and hardened into makeshift, fungi claws and it opened its mouth with another screech. Arthur’s breath quickened as he urged Clover to go faster, heart racing just as fast as the horse’s, while he thought about alarming things. The first being that if he led this infected back to the camp, it might break through the defense. The second being he had to get the fuck away from it. The third was how he was going to make sure it didn’t go back towards the camp and how he would possibly escape it in one piece.

Turning back towards his front, his eyes moved about wildly, trying to pinpoint any exits. Unfortunately, there were only two solid pathways of the road, which split, and he took the one that led away from the camp. Flinching as another loud scream echoed in the night, Arthur felt his stomach leap as Clover jumped over a fallen tree and she weaved between various cars. He pulled the shotgun from his back, took aim as best as he could, and shot the hand that got too close to him and his ride. Four out of ten fingers flew off and blood splattered on the man’s cheek and jaw. Arthur only paused to shoot between movements so he could take aim and hit the infected’s head. If he knew anything, he knew the weak spot was always the head. It staggered backwards before letting out an angered yell and then it galloped faster towards them. The old Wallace gasped out a shocked, “Oh, fuck…!” and began to reload.

Glancing behind him, Arthur hurriedly pulled out a glass bottle from his pocket, lit a match, and threw the molotov at the monster. It flew through the air with a whoosh, hitting the monstrosity in the shoulder and side of the head. Immediately flames danced to life, spread over the head and shoulder and pectoral, making the creature stagger again and three of its arms clawed at the burning skin, ripping it off in an attempt to make the pain lessen. The smell of burning flesh hit his nose and Arthur’s eyes watered some. The creature writhed and bent its head forward and as it remained where it was, it rammed its elbows into a nearby car, Arthur swallowed and turned back towards the front. He entered another smaller town and sweat poured down his brow when he turned Clover around and back up another hill. Just as they passed by a library, an all too familiar screech made his heart skip a few beats and he looked behind him to see the infected knocking bricks out from the corner of the building with its shoulder as it galloped and dragged its body up the hill after them. He heard something flying through the air and he pulled on the reins harshly to get the horse to turn and run in a completely different direction.

A car landed somewhere behind him and then it tumbled and rolled back down the hill onto the creature. Had Arthur stayed on the path he had been, he and Clover would have been crushed. He wouldn’t be able to take this thing down on his own and with so little ammunition. The day had been going so well and then it just had to go to hell in a handbasket, didn’t it? Pulling the reins again, Arthur ignored the sound of the infected throwing off the car and he steered the horse in a random direction, now having to dodge trees, and the creature behind him. The old man let out a cry of pain as a thick branch was suddenly lodged into his shoulder and a loud crack came from the rest of it as it broke off the tree while he was riding. Tears stung at his eyes and he bared his clanged teeth while looking down at the wound, mentally screaming at himself for not paying attention to his surroundings better.

Another snowfall began and puffs of white air disappeared once they passed chapped lips as he ducked his head when one of the longer arms reached out to grab him. Clover’s nostrils flared and she whinnied in fright, picking up the pace to escape the immediate danger. Arthur shot at the massive infected a few more times and then they came out into another road, one that was often used for patrols. That’s when Arthur remembered a little area that Chris had showed him- a shortcut to a dirt pathway that the group would often use when a horde passed by. It was big enough for Arthur and the horse to squeeze through, but not for the monster that was on their heels. Reloading, he tugged on the reins and Clover moved in the direction, already familiar with the area.

As she ran, Arthur turned around, grabbed and lit another molotov, and chucked it at the monster. It wailed and flailed in anger and pain and the flames lit the area around, casting a soft orange and yellow hue in contrast with the dark blue, white, and black colors. By the time it recovered, he was already lighting up another, but he waited for a bit before he threw the bottle with a grunt. He felt Clover turn a little and he glanced behind him to see her moving around more trees. Turning back towards the burning creature, he took aim and shot at its head, relentless. “Just fuckin’… die already..!” He huffed out, moving the barrel of his weapon at the infected as it stumbled and galloped past the trees, its claws scratched off the bark and it sent clumps of snow behind its feet. It’s skin was charred and bloody and a few sockets were mashed or completely empty from the spray of bullets. Strands of silver and pepper colored hair flew all about from the rush of wind and Arthur ducked to the side with a yell as it reached for him again. He nearly fell off the saddle, but was quick to catch himself.

As he righted himself, he looked back in front of him and felt himself nearly choke with relief when he saw the gap. As he got closer, he kept praying to whatever god or entity that was still out there to help him get out of the situation and back to Addison. When he glanced back towards the creature, his brows crinkled in confusion when he saw it was suddenly gone. “What the hell-?”

He heard snow crunch from his left and his breath caught in his throat when he saw a boulder being thrown towards him. His attention turned back towards the gap. They were almost there. The boulder was right on them and the creature was closing in. A few more steps..!

“Go, Clover! Go!!”

Time seemed to slow as Arthur rode between the rock walls and all he could hear were his hefty breaths and the movement of snow. The infected had an arm stretched out, fingers in the process of wrapping around Arthur’s hunched middle, mouth wide open in an angered screech. Then the boulder landed on top of the infected, crushing its arm and pinning it to the snow covered ground, and the entrance was blocked off. Its painful wail was cut short and silence filled the wooded area. As Arthur stopped his horse, he turned her around a little, to which Clover furiously shook her head with a high pitched, worried noise. From where he was, Arthur took in the sight of its fingers and hand twitching, making sure it was dead. Arthur’s mouth was left open as he caught his breath, heart hammering in his chest as the alarm that danger was finally over. He winced as pain jolted from his shoulder and finally looked down at the wound. He was bleeding and a dark red began to bloom through his shirts and the thick material of his coat. Deciding it would be better to keep the broken branch in so he wouldn’t bleed as quickly, he huffed and made Clover start to follow the trail. This was going to be fun to explain to Addison and the others when he got back…

It took Arthur double the time to get back to camp because of that dangerous encounter and when he finally saw the first of four gates to the bridge, he lightly patted Clover on her neck. “Soon as we get back to the house, you are getting extra hay and sugar cubes.” A rasp of a pained groan. “Good girl. …Let’s go,” he stated softly, already feeling exhaustion tugging at his consciousness.

Once he was allowed in, Arthur gazed over at the frozen, dark lake as he rode across the long bridge and gave the patrol at the third and fourth gates a small wave. It seemed like Chris had gotten the news that Arthur was back because he was the first to greet him on the inside. His little brother’s excited grin soon turned into one of alarm and worry. “You’ve got blood on your face- Oh shit. Your shoulder! What the hell happened to you?”

Arthur just sighed and slowly slid down from the horse, feeling the warmth from the nearby stables. “Ran into an infected after an hour outside of the town I went to.” He rolled his shoulder and gave another grimace.

“Must’ve been one helluva infected.”

“You got no idea. It threw a car at m-“

“Jesus Christ, Arthur. This is why I said I should go with you, you fuckin’ idiot!”

“I made it back, didn’t I?”

That answer only made Chris more upset and he clenched his jaw. “Next time you’re takin’ someone with you on a run, whether it’s for a patrol or not.”

Arthur frowned. “Chris-“

“Don’t even bother arguin’ with me, Arthur. This is my camp and my fuckin’ rules.”

The two glared at each other with a silent argument and Chris finally looked away and pulled the older Wallace towards the medical building. “Let’s get you fixed up before you have to see Addison. She and Philip have been hangin’ out today while you went on your little expedition.” The dark haired man gestured towards someone in the stables. “Stella! Get Clover in there and clean her off and check for any bites or wounds. When you’re done, can you take her to Arthur’s?”

The woman called back, “Sure thing!”

They made it to the medical building and Arthur’s wound were treated while he informed Chris and the man addressing his shoulder about what he’d ran into. They both looked horrified and Chris crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. “I’ll get some guys to go back and take a look at it once daylight hits.” He paused and glanced up at Arthur’s eyes. “You’re sure you killed it?”

Arthur pressed his lips together. “…Not really,” he admitted, rolling his shoulder with another wince. “It threw the boulder at me and got trapped between it and the ground. I’m hopin’ it died. You’ll need more than four people to take it out and it seemed like it didn’t like fire very much.”

“Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. It’s crazy to think monsters like that are in the world nowadays.”

Arthur hummed and nodded his head in response. “Still not as bad as humans-“ He got a look from Chris and he glared over at the wall with a huff. “If I’m good to go, I’m gonna head home now. Don’t want Addison findin’ her Christmas presents before I can even give them to her.”

As he stood up, Chris spoke up, his tone softer, “Alright. You take it easy now and just rest for the next few days. You’re getting old, anyway.”

The two brothers shared an amused grin and smirk and Arthur shrugged on his coat as he exited the building. Bright, gold and red lights hung from the buildings and the lamp posts, and Arthur took a moment to look around. It was so strange how the world within the camp walls was so peaceful compared to what he’d just had to fight off outside. It served as a good reminder that he should never let his guard down, even if he was able to stay in a safer environment. Hugging his coat further around him, he trudged across the street and he stopped short when he thought he saw Philip holding Addison’s hand, showing her around the streets. Deciding it was just his imagination, he started back towards the house and then stopped when his stomach gave a loud growl. Right. Food. He needed food. He just didn’t need to eat around other people with bloodied clothes.

Arthur was back up at the cabin and he was a little surprised to see the fireplace still burning and added some more firewood to it since the house began to get a chill. He didn’t want Addison coming back feeling cold and not having any sort of warmth to return to. The older man then hurriedly got changed into something less bloody and muddy and he dropped the clothes in the corner of his room. He chose a dark green, flannel shirt, a pair of darker jeans with the same leather belt and boots. As much as he hated it, he switched from his favorite coat to another thick, brown one. He’d wear the new one till he was able to wash the other as well as he could. Once he was ready for the evening and he had Addison's presents put in a box, in front of the fireplace, including the television, he walked back outside. One his way to the restaurant, he passed by Stella, a woman with long blonde hair and pale skin and freckles, and he offered her a wave and took part in some friendly talk, then he went on his way. His stomach gave another tight squeeze and growl as he pushed the door open, moving out of someone’s way with a curt nod, and then he walked to his usual spot at the bar.

During the next two to three hours after Philip and Addison had left the house, the young man had taken her out to eat and he showed her around the camp. There were areas where there were games to play, kinda like a carnival, and people could win mini prizes, such as a pack of cover eyes or some type of neat tool. The best was a hunting rifle at a shooting range and nobody had won that yet. Philip made a comment about him wondering if Arthur could win it had he been around to play- if the old man would even play to begin with. He’d won a few things at a few different games, one being a dark green scarf and he gave that to Addison. It was nice hanging out with Addison and it being just the two of them and part of Philip kept thinking it could’ve been a date, but he’d brushed off the thought. Despite having his doubtful thoughts, he still was brave in the attempt at holding her hand gently in his, his cheeks darkened from the embarrassment… but it felt right to hold her hand. If she pulled away, then he knew she didn’t want him holding hers and he wouldn’t try again and let her have her space.

As they came to the middle of the town, where the large tree was decorated with lights and paper and plastic ornaments, he came to a stop by the tree and looked up at it. “Hey, Addison,” he began, watching as the snowflakes fell from the dark sky and the chatter of other residents filtered around them. A small grin graced his lips as he looked down at her and he said, “I had a lot of fun tonight. I… Uh…” He cleared his throat and averted his gaze, scratched the back of his head. “I hope we can do something like this again sometime. If you want. If you don’t want to, that’s-that’s fine. I just, Uh- Yeah. I enjoyed hanging out with you.”

His smile widened as he made eye contact with her and his hazel orbs flicked further behind her and a subtle excitement took over. “Hey, Addy, there’s Arthur. He’s walking out of the restaurant. Looks like he got something to eat and got changed, too, so maybe this is a big occasion. Even for him.” He thought for a moment and slowly released her hand. “You should go give him his gift or maybe try to convince him to get that rifle. I’d pay to see him get that,” he added with a chuckle. “We can talk some more later.”

As Philip jokingly flexed and quickly dismissed himself, Addison gave a giggle at the goofy notion. She went back to the end of the toolbox opposite of Philip and carefully hooked her fingers along the inner edge of the toolbox. Cold fingers quickly slid along the cool metal before finally landing on a good spot to grasp, and the girl gave a nod to indicate that she was ready. The two hoisted the toolbox up, a small grunt of effort escaping Addison's lips as she helped move it along. Her breath caught for a moment when Philip nearly slipped. "Jesus, that scared me," she breathed with a light chuckle. Once the gift was readily placed on the ground, Addison looked at both sides to make sure that it wasn't leaving any scratches on the wooden porch. Thankfully it didn't, so she pushed the toolbox towards the door with Philip pulling it along.

She blew a tuft of hair out of her face that had happened to slip down while they were carrying the box. "So... What do you think Arthur got you for the holiday?" Addison thought for a moment, pausing to lift the toolbox up and over the wooden slat in the doorway before giving her answer. "Ah...I have no idea. I'm sure whatever he'll get will be awesome though! He's pretty smart like that." Another soft grunt emitted as she helped push the toolbox into place in the corner of the room, giving Philip a high-five with an ecstatic look. She couldn't wait to see Arthur's face when he got it! Addison glanced over at the firewood as Philip pointed it out and gave a small nod. "Shit, I didn't even notice. You don't have to but go for it if you like!" She watched as he walked out the door to gather some wood, pausing in the quietness of the house for a moment before kneeling in front of the toolbox and looking it over. It didn't look like it took any damage in the trip over, though some mud and snow had dotted the outer edges of it. Addison looked around for a moment before giving up and using the hem of her shirt to wipe off the mud, and she easily wiped the melting snow off with her hand.

Once she had finished, Addison stood up and went to fetch a blanket to throw over the toolbox. She ended up grabbing one from her room. As she passed Arthur's room, Addison had half a mind to go poking around to see what her gifts were but shook the thought off. The blanket was tossed over the toolbox and the girl tugged on both sides until it looked nice and neat. With a satisfied "hm!", Addison picked her coat off of the ground, which she had taken off when Phil had started the fire, and pulled it back on as she looked over to Philip, nodding eagerly to his suggestion of food. "Yeah, let's go! I'm starving. And I can't wait to see the lights with you!" Addison pulled the coat firmly around her as she gestured to Sully to ride him back into town.

The next few hours were some of the best moments in a long, long time. Addison was taken through a whirlwind of savory foods and beautiful light displays. She eagerly vigorously bounced from one booth to the next, eyes wide with joy and wonder. Addison swapped jokes and laughter with Philip without a care in the world, just happy to be in the moment with someone she liked. It was a bit of a bummer that Arthur wasn't there, but the time with Philip was just as good. When he gifted her his prize, Addison proudly wore the green scarf around her neck and settled into it warmly. The fabric was soft and clean, almost as if it was brand new out of the shop. At one point she felt him grab her hand and the girl expected him to show her someplace else and turned to follow, only to come face-to-face. Addison's smile faded into furrowed brows and a confused expression before piecing together what he was doing. A softer smile returned, and Addison gave him a small nod to signify that she was okay with it before following him to the center of the town, weaving in and out of passersby, and eventually coming to a stop before the tree.

She listened quietly to Philip's little ramble about how he had fun and would like to do it again, and before he could go on aimlessly, Addison grabbed his other hand and squeezed them both. "Hey," she said with a light laugh, "don't worry! I had a really fuckin' good time too. Thanks for showing me around." There was a hesitant forward movement from her, a moment to think about what she was doing. Addison then reached up on her toes and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek, feeling her own grow bright red with embarrassment at the action. That wasn't something she'd ever done before, but it felt right. Her head turned as Philip spotted Arthur, eyes searching the crowd for a few moments before locking on to her companion. Addison let go of Philip's hand as he released hers and gave another nod. "Yeah! It's about time he came home." She looked back at Philip. "You can...you can come over if you start to feel lonely or anything, okay? It'd be shitty to spend tonight alone."

Addison gave a smile of encouragement before waving her goodbyes and headed straight for Arthur. She moved past a few people and was extra cautious about not bumping into them. "Arthur!" the young teen called from the crowd to get him to notice her. "Hey! Arthur! When did you get back?" A bit breathless from the whirlwind of excitement she had gone through, Addison began to restlessly talk about the winter festival taking place, going on about the different games and booths she and Philip went to, hardly giving space for Arthur to speak. She showed him the scarf that Philip had won for her, unwrapping it a little bit for him to observe the whole thing before tucking it back in. "Oh, there's also this game where you can win a hunting rifle! Philip and I both wanted to see you win it - that'd be pretty fucking rad! And after you win it, we can go home, and I can show you my awesome gift for you!" Her eyes scanned over his new outfit as she spoke, aware that something was off but not entirely sure of what. She chalked it up to him being tired from a long day - Addison hadn't seen him for hours, and she was acutely aware of how exhausting long trips were. Her cheeks grew warm as it dawned on her that he might be too tired to want to hear everything she wanted to talk about. "We can skip the games, though, if you want. You've been out for a long fuckin' time."

Philip blinked in surprise when Addison suddenly gave him a quick peck and his own cheeks heated up, darkening his chocolate colored skin. A goofy grin formed and he nodded, “Yeah. Alright- Now go get Arthur. He’s bound to have missed you today.” As Addy headed towards the old man, the chef survivor cupped a hand over his mouth and called out, “Tell him about the hunting rifle game, too!”

Arthur rubbed the back of his neck and let out a soft sigh of pain as he rolled his injured shoulder. It hurt like a bitch and it would continue to do so until he got some pain killers. He wouldn’t be able to get any until the next supply run, which he most likely wouldn’t be allowed to go to because his little brother was very adamant about not going alone. He rolled his eyes with a small shake of the head and started to walk back towards the cabin, thinking that’s where Addison might be. “Unless she’s still out here havin’ fun,” he muttered to himself, looking back at the tree.

That’s when he heard his name being called by the one person who had shown some light into the dark that was his life.


He blinked and his brows rose a little while he quickly turned his head in the direction of the young woman’s voice. A tired, yet surprised gaze fell on the redhead as she rushed over, having to bob and weave her way between the crowded residents.

“Hey! Arthur!”

He was only able to take a couple of steps from where he’d been standing originally before he met her. Addison was bright eyed and her face was flushed from what he presumed was the cold and he lifted his hands up a little to catch her in case she fell. The movement was stopped short because he knew she wouldn’t trip. It wasn’t like how they’d been back on the flooded street after the human encounter on the ship. She asked him when he returned and he blinked, retracting his hands back to his sides. “‘Bout ten minutes ago. Had to get the horse back up to the barn and I changed.” He lifted a brow and a small smirk tugged at his lips as he gazed down at his work boots. “I thought I’d better get into somethin’ more clean since it’s a big celebration…”

He opened his mouth to ask her if she had eaten yet and was bombarded with her excited story about what she had done the entire evening. Addison showed him the scarf and he barely got to run his fingers over the soft material before it was back around her neck. He nodded and attempted to butt in, “Well, that’s ni-“ However, she continued and he listened and then he tried once more, only able to get out an, “I-“ Yet again, she interrupted him, obviously much too excited. The old man blinked after his eyes had widened and he shut his trap to let her talk it all out. Nodding his head as she continued on and on, the surprised frown finally morphed into a smile, lifting his lips to show off his teeth, a soft chuckle coming from him for the first time. He placed his hand on her shoulder and bent down a little so he could look her in the eye.

“Alrigh-“ Another chuckle once she told him about the gun game and the rifle prize. He thought she was finished talking, but it seemed like that was all he was going to be able to say because off she went on another ramble. He just nodded his head, feeling such warmth and happiness bloomed his chest as Addison kept talking. Had they still been in the same type of relationship they’d had when they first met, Arthur would’ve brushed it off and ignored her, or told her to shut up flat out and to get a move on back to the cabin. Hell, they probably wouldn’t even have a cabin if he still acted so cold towards her.

He stood back to his full height and scratched a spot on the back of his head, glancing towards the large window of the restaurant while he thought. Arthur was exhausted, but like he had said earlier- it was a big celebration. Christmas was meant to be spent with people close to him and the only one he was close to besides his brother was Addison. He pressed his lips together. She may not live to have another Christmas because once she stepped out of the walls of the town, there was no telling if she would come back. Hell, nobody knew if they would return after going out on supply runs…

Blinking, he looked towards the little set up that he assumed was the shooting range game, watched as someone just barely missed. The woman made a loud sound of disappointment before she and her friend left and were replaced by what Arthur assumed was some other couple. A silver brow rose and Arthur looked back toward his young companion. Rubbing his thumbs on her forefingers, he nodded his head towards the shooting range and asked, “How ‘bout I gave this game a try? Won’t be able to sleep much anyway, so…”

He lightly tapped his hand against his thigh before nodding to himself and he gently placed a hand on Addison’s back to guide her in the direction he was headed in. After a few steps, he removed it and stood in line. He glanced over the soft fabric with some interest, brows slightly raised. A few moments of silence passed from him and he spoke up while they waited, “You must really like that scarf since you’re talkin’ about it a lot.” His eyes twinkled with the beginnings of amusement, a knowing look forming. “You two hang out a lot, too.” He looked back ahead of them as they stepped up. One more pair and it would be his turn to shoot. “…I’m glad you’re makin’ friends. You..” He paused in saying You won’t get to do it often, so keep the ones you have close to you because you never know when you’ll lose them. Instead he said, “Seem to be pretty close with Philip and- What was her name again? Sadie? Sam?”

The pair in front got a big box of rations and all that was left for prizes was a huge blanket, a rug, another box of rations, and the rifle. “Well well well, look who’s back! You gonna give this another go, Addy?” The red headed woman greeted, grinning at the two as they walked up. She placed a hand on her thigh and glanced over at Arthur, who simply offered her a tight nod. Just because they were in a town that was run by his brother didn’t mean Arthur was going to open up to, or trust, everybody.

An eager grin formed on Addison's lips as her older companion agreed to give the shooting game a try. The pair walked over together with Arthur's hand against her back to guide her to the booth. They waded between people and made sure to not trip or bump anyone as best they could as they moved. Addison's brow furrowed with a twinge of confusion as Arthur made a small comment about not getting much sleep, something that she found to be odd - wouldn't a long day of travel be exhausting enough? But she didn't question it, nor did she care to. It was turning out to be a wonderful night filled with warm memories, which no doubt would be improved when she would get to see Arthur beat the carnival game. Her normally pale cheeks were rosy with the cold (and the excitement of the night, no doubt), and Addison had her hands tucked away in her pockets in search of warmth as she impatiently waited for their turn. She leaned forward on her toes as she lightly bounced up and down to keep herself warm. A deep exhale escaped her lips, causing a wispy cloud of white to rise from the depths of her scarf and evaporate quickly. Arthur made a note about her newly acquired scarf, and she touched the edge of it lightly with her index finger and thumb, rubbing the material lightly as she nodded.

"I like it a lot," Addison confirmed in a quieter tone, subduing her eager anticipation for a couple of moments with less bouncing as the pink skin on her cheeks spread thinking of how she got it. The moment before she opened her mouth to tell him, she stopped herself unwittingly. Her heart gave a pang as she suddenly realized that she wasn't sure if Arthur would like the idea of them together. Why did it matter? It's not like...it's not like he's her dad... Addison sheepishly looked upwards at Arthur as he almost trailed off of his words for a moment, then finished his thought with Philip and Sam's names. It brought her thoughts back to the surface from the sea of uncertainty rolling around in her head, which also brought some relief.

"It's Sam," Addison corrected with a partially wavering chuckle as she resumed her light bouncing. Her shoes slid some on the snowy ground, but not enough to topple her. "They're great friends - good people. I'm glad that they took a chance on me. I know I wasn't the greatest person to be around when we first got here." Her brow lowered as her memory returned to that first couple of weeks of them being here. Addison had opted to keep her guard up and only come out for food and anything else she needed. She had quickly dodged conversation and scurried away from most people. Lucky for Philip, he was one of her only ways to access food. Pretty much every single time she and Arthur both went to the restaurant, which was often due to her appetite, Philip was there to cook. He was such an easy soul to open up to that it was inevitable that the two would grow close...a lot closer than Addison had anticipated, now that she thought about it. It was never really expected that she would have a person, but here she was. It took some time - was still taking time - for her to warm up to the whole experience of not surviving day-to-day. Hell, just this morning she had to make a conscious effort to not take her pistol with her since Arthur would be out. She had hidden it away in her drawer for protection. After today's experience with Philip, Addison had a feeling that her desire to keep the weapon by her side would change. No...it was more that she hoped that the feeling would change. Nobody knows what tomorrow might bring...or what it might take.

Living with Arthur helped her feel safe, though. Knowing that he was just down the hall if anything went wrong or if there was any sort of trouble. Some nights still left her wondering how long it would last. A shrewd, nagging voice in the back of her head preached that it can't last. Some nights took too much effort to find sleep. Addison still found herself waking in a cold sweat, thinking that somehow, they hadn't made it off of the boat, that they were still in danger. It was why she felt it was necessary to keep her gun beside her. But with the preparations for Christmas and the amount of bonding she was having with Arthur, Addison knew deep in her heart that she wouldn't wake up to him being gone one day. They were too close now to have something like that happen. When they first met, Addison had expected him to steal away in the night, but, in the back of her mind, she was always hopeful that it wasn't just a fluke. He was different than the other groups she had been with.

As for Sam...it almost felt like the older girl had taken Addison under her wing without warning. Sam was an eccentric type at best. Something about the way she carried herself made Addison think that Sam had always desired a friend to do crazy things with, and Addison was the answer. Or, at least, Sam's version of crazy, since she was pretty sheltered compared to the younger girl. Sam wasn't always one for pleasantries or closeness, which Addison appreciated to a degree, but Sam also made sure that Addison was able to feel like a kid again. With the past three months in mind, Addison was truly grateful to have all of them in her life. I hope they know that. Even if Sam is a little annoying with her prank scares sometimes.

It appeared as though Arthur liked Philip well enough. Another brief exhale of relief found its way out of her as the pair stepped up to the stand. That was a good thing, right? It would mean that Arthur wouldn't get upset if...if what? Her mind spun for a moment as she considered what she and Philip might become. Was she getting too far ahead of herself? The woman asked if Addy was going to have another shot at the game, and the girl shook her head lightly, gesturing to Arthur. "He's the one trying this time! I've already won enough tonight hanging out with Philip." Addy coyly held up the bit of scarf once again so that she could show it off, glancing a bit at Arthur through her peripheral vision to see if he would react to the statement. She let go and smoothed the scarf down, clearing her throat a bit. "Arthur's gonna win that rifle in the back." Addison leaned over the counter and pointed over at the rifle in question. "He needs something to help him out-hunt me next time we go out, huh?" Addison offered a cheeky smile accompanied by the everlasting gleam of mischief in her eye. She always enjoyed teasing him, especially if it was about something she thought she could have a chance at beating him with. And certainly, if she thought Chris would be in on it!

Addison cupped her hands over her mouth and blew warm air onto her fingers as she waited for Arthur to get ready for the game, looking over his new clothes. He must have gotten his other clothes filthy and sweaty to have to change out of them. Or maybe he just didn't want to wear the clothes he had been scavenging all day, which she could understand. But something was odd about the way he was moving that she couldn't quite put her finger on. A small bit of her conscience still wanted to ask about how his day went outside of the settlement, to see if he was okay, but she already knew that stubborn old Arthur would simply deny that anything had happened. Assuming something did, anyway. So she left it at that. Addison looked over at the shooting game, the buzz of competition welling up inside of her again. She took a small step away from the counter as Arthur got ready to fire. "I believe in you, old man!" Addison said as she tucked her freezing hands back into her pockets.

"Arthur's gonna win that rifle in the back."

The older man looked over at Addison with a raised brow and the other woman asked, “Really?”

There was a bashfulness to his expression as he made eye contact and he rubbed the back of his neck with a quiet chuckle. “I don’t know about that…” He wasn’t used to someone showing such confidence in him unless they were out scavenging and trouble reared its ugly head. For a moment, it was similar to the old days before the outbreak, when his brother would compliment him for his fair shooting when they’d go out hunting with friends. He took the rifle from the woman, adding, “I’ll try my best.”

Looking over at the various targets as the woman spoke up, telling him that he could do anything he put his mind to, he rubbed his beard. The targets were spread apart and he asked, “Which one do I need to hit for the rifle?”

“Well,” Stacy crossed her arms over her chest and grinned. “Since Addison is so confident in your skills, you have to shoot all of the targets.”

Arthur gave the weapon a quick once over, just to make sure everything worked correctly. He’d seen too many accidents and deaths occur because some idiot hadn’t double checked their gun before using it. Hell, he was guilty of that in particularly tight and chaotic gunfights. He didn’t want to shoot and cause an accidental injury to anybody here. Once he was sure it was deemed acceptable, he nodded his head to the side and lifted the butt of the rifle against his shoulder and pressed his cheek against the stock. As his finger slipped onto the trigger, Arthur felt his heart rate increase as a familiar wave of adrenaline hit him. Everything came to him naturally. The gun felt like another part of himself. An extra limb he’d learned to use after so many years. At Addison’s quip, he glanced in her direction with another breathy chuckle. His own eyes sparkled with a new mirthy amusement and he nodded his head once, moving it away from the gun for a moment to reply, “I could out-hunt you with my eyes closed, anklebiter.”

He readied the weapon and focused the sights on the first target and fired with a quick exhale. The can with a red dot painted on it fell over and the other three followed suit, each flying off the railing with a loud clang. Four of the metallic targets had dried paint on them with three circles and each were hit in the middle circle. Arthur’s brows furrowed as he aimed to the final target, a makeshift scarecrow, with six circles painted on it. Three were on its chest and three were on its head. A bullet hit the center of the chest and there was a pause before another hit the circle in the middle of the head. Someone let out a long whistle and Arthur looked behind him to find four or five others had stopped to watch him shoot. Another awkward expression appeared before he wiped it off with his usual neutral lok, silver brows furrowed. Well, that was a little weird… He was used to having people watch him shoot, but most of the time it was because he was shooting at them. Not for them. He hadn’t been running a show here, either, but… Well, it was weird.

His attention swiveled to the hunting rifle as Stacy handed it over to him, switching out the one he’d used for the own he’d won. His movements were a little stiff because a hot flash of pain hit, but he forced himself to act natural. Arthur could act like he was fine until Addison got to bed. He didn’t need her worrying over him. She was obviously impressed with his work. “Hot damn, Arthur! That was some really good shooting! You’ve got great aim and the way you handled the rifle was just… Wow! If you can teach Addison that skill, then you two will be the talk of the town!”

A nervous hum rumbled in Arthur’s throat as he averted his eyes, feeling a little better once the tiny crowd left. “It’s, uh, nothin’ too… I’ve just had a lot of practice.”

"Damn right, you will!" Addison replied encouragingly, resisting the urge to continue bouncing up and down. The last thing she wanted was to distract Arthur while he tried to shoot. The young girl eyed each target as Stacy pointed out the ones that Arthur would need to hit in order to win. It was a bit more than she anticipated - and clearly, her excitement got the better of her as Stacy also added that he would need to hit all of them. She gave a sheepish grin at first but quickly replaced it with a scoff and a wave of her hand. "Pfft. Arthur can do that easy." Once Arthur had stuck the rifle against his arm, Addison focused her attention on the targets, a small giggle escaping her as Arthur teased her.

Addison held her breath as he readied to shoot. She could see the familiar pattern of him preparing to shoot - she'd seen it a dozen times, after all. If anything, this would be easier to do than shooting ophies - these targets didn't move, and they didn't fight back.

Within two breaths, Arthur had taken down the targets in rapid succession. As the now-mangled scarecrow fell backward, Addison pumped both of her fists in the air and turned to Arthur. "Yes! I knew you could do it! I fucking told you!" After Arthur handed Stacy the rifle again and retrieved the new one, Addison gave him a light double punch on the bicep. "You're almost as good as me and Chris." Despite the teasing, she beamed as she looked up at him, taking note of the small crowd of whistles and praise coming from behind them. Addison turned and looked at all of them. It reminded her of when they first walked into the settlement. People looked and gawked with curiosity. Now they looked on with amazement and joy. Who knew things would ever turn out like this?

With cheeks red from the embarrassment of onlookers (which hopefully passed off as the cold), Addison turned her attention back on the hunting rifle and took in its form. "That's a nice-looking gun," she commented as she reached out towards the forestock. The surface was mostly smooth and didn't cause much damage to its exterior. Whoever had it before now took good care of it. The two of them had pooled a fine collection of weaponry together, that was for sure. "Where do you think it should go? I think we should make one of those badass gun rack things and stick it over the fireplace. We've gotta show it off to anyone who visits!" Her eyes gleamed with possibilities as she pulled her hand away. She shook her head for a moment, steamrolling over her own thoughts with a sudden realization.

"Where the fuck did 'anklebiter' come from?" She gave a belly laugh as the name sunk into her brain. After lightheartedly calling him 'old man' so often, it was surprising to hear him return the favor with a unique name of his own.

Seeing his little girl all excited and proud of him made happiness swell within Arthur’s chest. He raised a brow and offered her a small smile, chuckling when he felt two hits to his arm. The pain flared and Arthur winced, but played it off with a cough, rubbing his hand over his mouth as if he had something stuck in his throat instead. It was such an odd thing to experience in this new, cruel world. Happiness. Happiness was rare and could usually only be found in one’s next meal, but Addison. Addison brought Arthur so much happiness. She was the light in his never ending, grim, dark tunnel She had started to bring back his humanity and made the world worth living besides the constant means to survive. Although she annoyed the hell out of him, Addison was a firecracker and one that continuously drew him to her. The way she got overly excited over the smallest things, or how she would tease him, or playfully give him a hard time while he was in his usual, grumpy mood amused him. Amusement was another quality the redhead had that made him happy and he would listen to her bad jokes all of the time if they weren’t always being thrown or interrupted into bad situations. Well, since they were in Chris’s settlement, maybe now he would get the chance to listen more often. Maybe he would get to learn more qualities about her that made her so unique.


Since when had Arthur referred to her as his little girl– even in his head?

No, that was not allowed.

He couldn’t do that. Addison was not his family. Addison was not his daughter. Addison was not his anything. She had a real father who would weep and pull her into a big embrace when he finally sees her. A father who would keep her safe and would laugh outwardly at her jokes. A father who would make her feel whole and wanted and loved. Arthur couldn’t do that. Arthur couldn’t make her feel like she was home. Not like an actual father could. He had never had his own kids, so it was obvious that he wouldn’t be able to take care of her properly. Not when she had her biological father out there somewhere. Addison still had to find her real father and he still had to leave her here. Apparently, that was going to be something the old survivor would have to remind himself frequently for the next few months. Again, a hand gripped at his heart, an ache of pain spreading its way further throughout his chest like the virus that infected people. He cast his gaze down to his snow covered boots and swallowed, but immediately looked up with a forced twitch of a smile, nodding at what the redhead had told her. “That you did.”

When she joked that he would eventually be as good as her and his brother, he glanced off to the side with an eye roll, scoffing out another chuckle. “Oh, I have no doubt about that,” he stated, taking a few steps towards her, patting her shoulder before he let it fall back to his side. Another soft smile pulled at Arthur’s chapped lips and he blinked at Addison while she started prattling on about a gun rack. He scratched at his beard and shrugged, “We can make one. Just need some wood, the right tools, and a lot of space to work with. Though, I was thinkin’...” His eyes flicked down to her face as he looked past her at the giant tree further away. “...we would use this while we went out hunting sometime. Maybe tomorrow afternoon.”

Had Arthur changed his mind about taking Addison out to scavenge? No, but he had decided to give in and let her use the new gun they had acquired as another Christmas present. Arthur felt a little guilty for all the times he had lashed out at her for stupid mistakes and getting her another new gun was one of the ways he could think to make up for them. He didn’t think she held any of that against him, but still. It would make him feel better to know that she had another weapon when he wasn’t with her anymore, too. Heaving out a long sigh through his nose, a cloud of white mist dispersed into the crisp air and Arthur returned his attention to her when she asked him about her nickname. The old man nodded his head to the side and walked around her, placing his hand on the area between her shoulder blades. “I thought it suited you,” he hummed, guiding her back towards the restaurant. “You’re annoying and loud and don’t even get me started on you runnin’ that mouth of yours in the worst situations.” His tone was playful, gray-blue hues twinkling with mischief.

A new snowfall began to thicken, but the snowflakes were gentle in their descent and some got caught on Arthur’s silver lashes and hair. An icy cold breeze bit at his reddened cheeks and stung his eyes and he looked down at Addison with some worry. She was a lot smaller than he was, so he was positive that she might’ve been a lot colder than him. Even with the scarf on. He contemplated his next move with much hesitation, rubbing his fingers together in the palm that was on her back. Clenching his jaw, Arthur moved his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer, tucking her beneath his coat as best as he could given how short it was. “You’re freezing. Gotta keep you warm enough till we get home.” Tilting his chin away, he muttered, “Careful where you aim that end,” he offered her a smirk and added, leaning a little closer, “anklebiter.”

Arthur nodded his head towards the tree and said, “Let’s get back to the cabin.” He blinked and walked in a comfortable silence one their way back up to their cabin. He’d made sure that Addison didn’t slip on the mud or ice too much, keeping his grip on her gentle, but firm. There were a few lanterns lit on the trail, giving them just enough light so they wouldn’t trip over their own feet. Moving away from Addison, he walked up the stairs and opened the front door for her. “Let’s get in here and get warm. Maybe scrounge up some coffee if we have any left.”

Once she was in the house, he followed suit and shut the door behind her. It wasn’t as cold as it was inside, but fuck, it was still cold. Arthur rubbed his hands together for a moment before he locked the door and crossed the room into the living room. Leaning down with a breathy grunt, he started taking the pile of wood into the fireplace and he felt his wound flared once more with each movement. Pressing his lips together, he shut his eyes and stood from his spot, picking up the matches that had been placed on the surface of the fireplace. Striking one, he tossed it into the fire and waited for the flames to spread. Standing up once more with a pained sigh, the old man snatched up the box of matches, stuffed it into his back pocket, and grabbed four logs of wood, and headed up the stairs. On his way up, he yelled to Addison, voice getting more muffled the further up the staircase he went, “Can you see if we have any coffee or tea we can warm up? I’ve got the fire goin’ in the living room. Gonna start one in your room so you won’t turn into an ice cycle tonight.”

Arthur was already in Addison’s room, kneeling down by the mini stove he had placed in there for the frigid, snowy weather. Chris made sure Arthur had two of them, but Arthur rarely got cold, so he didn’t take the second stove offered to him. Once the fire was lit in the bedroom, Arthur rubbed his shoulder again and inhaled a deep breath when his nerves screamed at him, demanding him to stop with a sharp pain. Yeah. It was going to be a while before that healed. Rolling his eyes, he sighed and flared up at the ceiling. And you expect to go hunting tomorrow with this injury. He was planning on going despite the pain. Had they not been in a safe haven, then he would’ve made himself go hunt anyway. With another hefty, tired sigh, Arthur shut the door to the mini stove and walked out of the room and back downstairs to check and see how Addison was doing, his boots knocking against the wooden floor. “Any luck?”

“Don’t kid yourself -- you know I’m too irresistible to not charm you,” Addison snickered as Arthur joked about her newly minted nickname. She slid her hands back into her pockets to escape the chill of the wintry air piercing her exposed skin. The rumbling of voices began to gradually dissipate as they left the town center, leaving the pair to the sound of snow crunching underfoot and quiet conversation. Upon Arthur's suggestion to take her out hunting tomorrow afternoon, she turned to him dumbfoundedly. Was he serious? Did she hear him right? Her face initially dimmed with skepticism at first, but when the older man made no indication that he was anything but serious, she cracked a smile. Addison nodded eagerly as she looked ahead once more.

“Yeah…yeah, that’d be awesome! I can’t wait to blast away those fuckers. They’ll never know what hit them!” She held up her hand, pointing it ahead of her like it was a handgun as she held the side of it steady with her other hand, pretending like there was a squirrel in front of her as she “fired” it with a loud mimicked gunshot. “Boom! Headshot!” Her chuckles faded away into the night as she settled into a comfortable silence, replaying the game in her head with a cheeky grin. Addison hadn’t seen many instances where she could recall someone needing to shoot so quickly and accurately, and it was fun to watch. Maybe she should get Philip to help her set up a shooting range to practice on. That could be a fun project.

Addison looked at Arthur once again as he placed his hand on her back and tried to tuck her into his jacket as best he could. It was something else that was out of the ordinary for Arthur to do, to willingly be so physically close outside of combat. It didn’t stand out enough for her to ask about it, however, as she graciously accepted the extra bit of warmth. “Thanks,” the young girl breathed as she pressed into the best of her ability. Another smile crept up on her as Arthur whispered “ankle-biter” in her ear.

The moment pulled her away into a still memory for a split second. Her father had done the same thing one night as they rested in the bed of his truck under the stars, watching the skies in the cooler autumn months. They had been fortunate enough to live in a place far enough outside of any cities so that the stars wouldn’t be obscured by distant lights. He would tell her stories about the stars that ignited her imagination. They would sit, swaddled in the comfort of a pile of blankets while sharing a cup of hot chocolate. Dad sat her still one night as she shivered, pulling the blankets tighter around her small form while whispering something in her ear. It was so long ago that she had forgotten by now, but Addison could still feel a familiar tickle on her ear as the deepness of his voice rumbled into it. It brought her comfort that she had nearly buried under hard years of survival.

Trying to decipher when and where it happened took her long enough to easily pass the time it took to reach the front steps of the cabin, which were now laden with snow. She noticed that some of the wood was beginning to sag from the weight and dampness of the snow. With a shuddering breath, Addison gave a nod and stepped inside. Damnit. I forgot all about getting more coffee!

The warmth of the cabin hit like a wall, causing her to temporarily forget her plight. It wasn’t as cold as being outside by any means, but shelter from the exposure was enough to make her give a groan of relief. To think that she could have missed out on this opportunity all those months ago! It appeared as though hanging around with Arthur had its perks. Besides the companionship, of course. She watched Arthur for a few moments as she stood in the center of the room, watching his prolonged movements as he tried to get a fire going. Whatever it was she had noticed earlier had come back to gnaw at the back of her mind, something she couldn’t quite place her finger on. It was worrying, but Addison debated if she wanted to spoil the good mood they shared. Once the fire was set, Addison took off her coat and draped it over the armchair she stood beside. She slipped past Arthur and held her hands by the hearth, closing her eyes in satisfaction as the heat soothed her frozen palms. “Oh yeah…that’s the stuff.”

Addison’s head turned as Arthur shouted down to her, asking if she could start looking for coffee or tea to make. “Yep, I got it!” She lazily kicked her boots off next to the fireplace so that they could dry, then glanced over at the gift she had hidden in the corner. I hope he hasn’t seen that yet. Maybe he won’t peek. Addison had already attempted to find any gifts that Arthur had gotten her, but he had hidden them well enough that even she couldn’t find them. If he had gotten any at all, that is. There was a chance he had put it off, but she didn’t think that was the case. Arthur was old, in her mind, but certainly not forgetful. Maybe. Addison quickly checked under the sheet to see if the toolbox had dried since she last painted it. Almost looks brand-new! “Yes!” she whispered sharply to herself as she scampered over to the kitchen.

Long, slim fingers scoured over all of the surfaces and nooks of the cabinets and counters, scanning every inch of the space to the best of her ability. Addison found a couple of things that she had entirely forgotten existed, which is how she ended up with a near-empty package of stale crackers stuffed inside of her pocket. It left a noticeable bulge, but perhaps the darkness of the cabin would mask it until she snuck it into her room. My room. A flash of worry crossed her chest as she looked upstairs. Her pistol was tucked away in her bedside drawer for safekeeping, but a part of her realized that she didn’t know if Arthur knew she had it on her. Would he even care? If he didn’t want her to have it, she hoped that he wouldn’t go looking in her room for anything. Who knows, maybe he liked to search for gifts too. Addison gave a soft, nervous exhale as she returned her focus to scavenging for the coffee.

It didn’t take her long to find a tin of coffee tucked in the corner of the counter -- honestly, it’s where she should have looked first. Old habits die hard. Addison peeled open the lid and looked inside. There wasn’t much. It would be weak, but coffee was coffee. Especially in the apocalypse. She reached for a small pot and filled it with water, then set it on the stove to boil. Arthur called down as she put the lid on top, asking if she had found any. “Yeah, I found a little bit of coffee! It won’t be strong though.”

Her eyes searched the floor for something to preoccupy her mind while the water heated up, eventually settling on the rifle that was resting on the coffee table. An eager grin crossed her lips as she headed for it, sitting in front and admiring its looks. It was a handsome weapon for sure. Addison reached out carefully, gingerly running her fingers across the stock once again. The crackling of the fire soothed her mind as she closed her eyes, feeling the gun and imagining firing it. She loved the smell of the heated metal after a shot and the mastery of handling such a weapon in the first place. If only she had more opportunities to use it.

Not in terms of danger, of course.

Her smile drifted as she remembered the last rifle she held in her arms, carefully aiming up at the boat, adrenaline and fear pulsating through her veins. Addison feared losing him then, of witnessing another brutal death of someone she liked. The anxiety of not knowing, of potentially losing everything, haunted her almost daily. Her fingers lifted off of the rifle as she exhaled, calming herself.

“I’m not there anymore,” she whispered. “I’m here. I’m alive. Arthur’s here. He’s alive.” Still, she couldn’t seem to quiet the slight shake in her hand. The teenager gripped the hand, massaging it as she pulled back. Addison looked upwards again, desperate to be with someone. “Are you done yet, old man? The coffee will be cold at the rate you’re going!”

Addison stood to go check on the stove, peering over at it impatiently. “Oh,” she piped up quickly, “I just remembered! I invited Philip over if he needed company tonight, so don’t like…I dunno…fucking shoot him on accident if he comes in.” A small part of her always worried that something like that might happen, whether it be from her or Arthur. The odds were slim, but she was always extra careful about it.

Arthur had already started down the steps, pausing at the bottom when he saw the girl touch the rifle. He watched her silently and his brows furrowed in worry when her hand shook and the way she tried to calm her nerves. There were many things that could make her react in such a way and he didn’t think it was the cold. His eyes dipped to the floor as that guilt of leaving her nagged at him again. What if she was terrified without him near? There was no doubt about that. They’d grown closer the months they’d been traveling together and even Arthur hated the thought of not having someone to have his back in the future. Well. He didn’t like the thought of not having Addison have his back in the future. She, along with a very few handful of people, was the only one he trusted. She would have her father to keep her safe one day, though, once he showed up in Chris’s place safe haven. There would be nothing to worry about and Addison would be where she belonged, with her family. She and Arthur wouldn’t need to travel together anymore and she wouldn’t have some cold-hearted, old, grumpy bastard grumbling at her every two seconds. She’d have someone who would take better care of her than him…

When he heard her speak, he quickly took silent, rushed steps backwards and made an effort to put a little more umph in his footsteps as he walked back down the rest of the stairway, calling to her heartedly, “Yeah. I’m comin’ down right now.” There was a forced, breathy chuckle as he smiled softly as her, locking his eyes with Addison as he stepped further into the room. A bushy, silver brow rose and he added, “I’m not that old yet, anklebiter. If there’s one thing you should know about me, I love coffee.” He made his way to where the coffee was being brewed and ran his fingers through his hair while placing his hand on his hip. “I missed coffee… The good kind.” Arthur checked on how it was going and nodded to himself before he poured Addison a mug. The dark liquid smelled and looked delicious and for a bit, he was taken back to the days before the outbreak. Her words brought him out of it as he mindlessly poured himself a mug, glancing over his shoulder at her with a smirk. “Really? I don’t see a problem with him comin’ by. I won’t shoot him. I promise.” While turning in a saunter, he placed Addison’s half empty mug on the counter close to her and lifted his own mug to his lips. Before taking a sip, he locked eyes with her and teased, “So long as he behaves.” Shaking his head, he said, “I’m kidding. I know he’s a good kid.”

That first sip was like heaven. Better than the guinness they found in that one town. Arthur closed his eyes as a rush of warmth formed in his gut and chest and he hummed in appreciation. Another nod and soft sigh. “Mm. Now this, this right here is a good cup of coffee. Tastes great. Makes ya warm on cold days. …You did good.” Leaning back against the counter more, he took another long sip and his eyes shut. “Mm mm.” He opened his eyes and nodded his head towards Addison, gesturing with his mug towards her, “Go on. Try a sip. See if you like it.”

“Only old people love coffee,” Addy grinned, moving to the side and leaning her elbow against the counter while Arthur served the coffee. The aroma was tantalizing, drawing her in with a warm scent. Arthur slid a mug over and she took it up in her hands. A small hiss escaped her lips as the mug burned against her skin. Shaking her hand to wave off the burn, Addy gingerly grabbed the handle with her other, non-injured hand and looked in. The drink bobbed back and forth, darkly swirling around in its ceramic enclosure. Wisps of heat curled upwards. Its scent was much stronger now that it was in her hands.

Arthur’s opinion of Philip caused her eyes to latch onto the older man. Again, relief surged through Addy’s chest when he said he thought positively of him. Questions followed suit, pressuring her to pry into Arthur’s thoughts on the boy. He had already given several indications that he liked Philip, but Addy needed to be certain that he approved of the young chef. She knew well enough from some of the movies from movie night that fathers tended to like boys, but not with their daughters. Hopefully, that was that classic Hollywood exaggeration she’d heard disapproving remarks sometimes from the adults. Addy held off the questions when Arthur asked her to try the coffee. A short, grateful huff blew back some of the trailing steam of coffee, whisking it away. .

Addy brought the cup to her lips, hesitating over the sloshing liquid. She looked down, watching for a few moments. Finally, she tipped it back and let some of it in. A splash of coffee poured over her teeth and tongue, the warmth providing a slight burn to match the bitter taste. Her face scrunched without meaning to, her taste buds determining if the bitterness was welcome or not. "Eugh… Don't you put shit in this to make it taste better? It's a strong taste." Addy set it down and pushed it about an inch away with her fingers. She didn’t hate it, but the coffee took up everything in her senses now.

Sooo…you do like Philip?

The question teetered behind her teeth, balancing on the tip of her tongue. Addy's brain panicked, sharply barring her from asking. Perhaps it would be better to ask after gift-giving when Arthur was in high spirits. Yes. Good. That plan sounded fine. She pushed herself off of the counter, whipping around to face him fully with a wide smile. The smile was plastered on at first, stretched over her cheeks to cover up the underlying anxiety of his opinion of Philip. But the spirit of the holidays returned in full force to reignite her excitement, reinforcing the smile with sincerity and a change in subject.

“We need to give each other our gifts now!” Addy insisted, reaching over to give him a firm slack on the bicep. “I’ve been waiting ages to give it to you. Can’t let all my hard work go to waste. It’s gonna knock your fuckin’ socks off!” She grabbed his wrist only for a moment to direct him towards the living room, then practically bounced back in and hopped onto the couch. In careful (and somewhat hesitant) movements, Addy took the rifle and set it safely to the side so that it wouldn’t get in the way. She gave a glance to the corner of the room that housed her gift to Arthur.

“Do you want mine first? Please say yes.” Her eyes lit up, and she looked back over at Arthur expectantly. She kinda figured that he would let her, but she still wanted to ask.