VATOS PART 3
There was this unrivaled determination that kept her feet running at top speed despite the throbbing pain that was darting through her injured shoulder. Natasha didn't know if she was actually bitten or not but didn't stop to look even for one second with the growing number of gurgling and growls directly behind her. Her chest felt tight when her lungs expanded, burning after taking in the putrid smell of rot that permeated the air. Despite everything around her, her heart continued to pump blood through her veins and that was enough for her to run like a madwoman through the narrow roads between buildings.
Natasha ducked and weaved in and out of alleyways but none were leading her to a planned escape route. She knew Atlanta like the back of her own hand and had maps drawn out inside her head, making it a solid effort to memorize them before even taking a single step into the city. Nothing was able to generate into her mind though within her sheer blind focus to just run away. There was no road inside her mind that will lead her to escape.
The sounds of ghouls grew closer behind, looming like a giant shadow of death that Natasha couldn't allow herself to be caught in. It was unknown to her yet if she truly was a dead woman walking, though the truth didn't matter in the end. She didn't care. There was no way she would get herself killed by being ambushed and eaten alive by such mindless creatures. She would rather drench herself in gas and run through hell before a gruesome outcome like that could happen to her.
Natasha finally made a move to cut into an alleyway but her body was going way to fast for her to stop fully, slamming her whole weight into a wall upon impact. "Ah!" The blow made her gasp sharply, tremors vibrating throughout her whole body in a cold sweat. She looked over her shoulder for the first time since running away and saw a mass hoard of Walkers inching their way towards her. "Oh...God..."
It almost didn't feel real, like she was watching this whole thing play out through a narrow TV screen. The smell though was what snapped her back to reality. The crude, stomach-turning smell that overwhelmed all her senses and made her gag on the air. They growled at her, hissing with decaying death while trying to pick up their speed, all while pieces of meat slid right off their bones, black-colored blood oozing from their wounds and pours.
It was like they were Famine incarnated.
She tore her eyes away from the sight of waling and growling corpses to see what alleyway she was on now. Natasha sucked in a deep breath and felt her heart get crushed, seeing the grave error of the map inside her head. There were at least 3, maybe 4 Walkers wandering in the alleyway and a fire escape with a ladder that wasn't low enough to jump up from the ground and grab. At the very end of the alley though was what made her heart die. It was a barred fence that blocked off the other street.
Natasha hit a dead end. She was so caught up in running away that she didn't focus enough attention on where she had to go.
There were Walkers on both sides of her now, leaving no opportunity to backtrack and find a different way. Her eyes sharpened in on that fire escape though, tearing her own brain apart to find and think of a way to make it up there in time before she can get caught.
Natasha ran deep into the alleyway, using her whole body weight to shove the approaching corpses aside. She made a hard right towards a wall and planted her right foot against it, jumping up as high as possible to grab onto a small ledge. Her fingers rubbed against the rough cement blocks while using all her strength to scale the building at least a few feet up until she was out of harm's way. Natasha hung there for a moment and glanced to her right at the low hanging ladder that was at least five feet apart. Taking in a deep breath, she made the risky leap across the gap and grasped ahold of the ladder. Her fingers curled around the cold metal and with the strength of a thousand men, she pushed herself up until both feet were against the steps.
She looked down at long last at what was below her, gasping deeply as the hoard of Walkers conjured right below the ladder, growling with their rotten vocal cords and reaching their grimy hands up to try and pull her down. Luckily she was high up enough to not worry about that.
Natasha knew it would be better to not stick around any longer and started to ascend the fire escape all the way to the top, the feeling of her burning shoulder still pressing against her mind.
Never had she been so happy to reach the safety of the rooftop, practically throwing herself against the scorching hot gravel that burned her skin like bacon against a frying pan. Natasha just laid there for a minute or two, breathing heavily as though she had just run a marathon despite it only being a couple of blocks. She pushed herself onto her back and her face fell flat, dread striking her like lightning. Her body became rigid while pressing her cheek against the hot gravel until her skin turned red.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
She wasn't safe yet, not even close. She didn't know if she was actually bitten or not, having to have been too afraid to even take so much of a glance when she was back on the streets. But now things had calmed down and she had to face the fire alone.
Natasha, though reluctantly, had to pick herself up off the ground and walk over to the ledge. She took in small breaths of encouragement that was mixed in with fleeting hope, zipping down her coat slowly and letting it slide off her arms. "Please, please, please, please," she begged under her breath and closed her eyes tightly so she wouldn't have to look, voice breaking with every letter that spilled from her mouth. "Oh God, please..."
She felt around the fabric on her shoulder but still couldn't tell if she was bleeding or not, being hot and already drenched in sweat. Natasha opened a single eye and looked down, seeing not even a single bloodstain on her shoulder. She pulled the fabric back and saw that there were obvious bruising. No broken skin or anything like that though. The teeth didn't bite through the thick fabric of her coat. She wasn't bitten and she wasn't infected. Natasha was safe.
Gasping for air, she happily breathed in the rotten stench that made her eyes water. "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you..." Natasha closed her eyes by covering them with her hands and just sat there, sliding down the wall as the last of her strength left her body, leaving nothing but endless shakes as the hot Georgia sun baked her skin. She pulled her hand away from her eyes and stared down at it, seeing it shake despite the blistering hot weather she was facing.
She reached for her satchel and rummaged through the front pocket, pulling out a lighter and a half-empty pack of cigarettes with only 3 left inside. It was a full case when she found it two days ago. The flick and clicking sound of the lighter filled her ears as grayness engulfed her lungs, taking in the smoke and just wishing that the familiar aroma would transport her to a different world. A world that wasn't her own. A place before hell opened up and spread its pestilence like wildfire.
How do you fight a wildfire? How do you fight hell? How do you defeat pestilence? How do you get back to your old world?
The world was burning, heaven had locked its gates for good, and the new reanimation gospel took a twisted turn by taking a swan-dive right into hell.
She watched the city and could hear the growls of the dead right below her as gray smoke filled her vision, very slowly making the trembling stop.
"Maybe it's a good thing Ben's no longer here. He would hate to see Atlanta like this." Her voice was flat while fiddling around with her engagement ring that hung from her neck. It glimmered under the sun: the last fragment of a silver lining.
"If you'll be my bodyguard. I can be your long lost pal. I can call you Betty And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al," a voice said like a ghostly whisper...but it was actually a real voice that came from behind the door leading into a stairwell.
The new voice stunned Natasha into muteness, feeling her blood run cold and turn to ice. She cranked her head to the side and narrowed in on the door from where it came from. It was a female's voice that continued to sing.
"A man walks down the street. He says, 'Why am I short of attention? Got a short little span of attention And, whoa, my nights are so long. Where's my wife and family? What if I die here? Who'll be my role model Now that my role model is gone, gone?'"
It seemed quite mocking actually and Natasha didn't like hearing it.
Cautiously, she got up from the ground and inched over to the door, one hand on the knob and the other on her knife. She could hear the voice and it sounded like it came directly behind the other side of the door, going up the stairwell actually. She could make out the distinct sound of footsteps against the ground.
In one swing while biting down hard on her cigarette, she busted open the door and came face to face with nothing but musty air and her own echos from opening the door so fast. Nothing was there despite being so sure she heard a singing voice just a moment ago, which happened to stop the second she opened the door.
The crushed cigarette dropped from her lips when she parted them. "Anyone here?" she called out, her voice echoing off the walls. "Hello?" Natasha waited for a moment, ears honed in to see if she could hear anything aside from her own voice.
Silence only followed when not a single soul answered her back.
Natasha felt grim.
Rick and T-Dog were still trying to wrap their minds around what occurred back in the alley. Everything happened way to fast and they weren't exactly sure of what transpired. The kid from the other group got abandoned, Glenn was kidnapped, and Natasha was bitten and ran off with a mass hoard of Walkers behind her. There was nothing no one could've done though and ended up taking the kid back to the temporary safety of the building they originally met Natasha in, now two members short.
The kid was quiet while being stared down by everyone, head to the floor. He wasn't beaten because Rick didn't want to hurt him. The only injury he really had on him was a cut across his lip. Courtesy from Daryl cold-cocking him across the face with his crossbow. It would've ended a lot worse for him if Rick and T-Dog didn't run into the alleyway when they did.
Rick approached the kid slowly and was very calm when he spoke. "Those men you were with, we need to know where they went."
The young man's jaw tightened and he avoided everyone's heavy gazes. "I ain't telling you nothing."
"Jesus, man." T-Dog groaned and ran his hands over his bald head. "What the hell happened back there? You sure Natasha got taken down?" He eyed Daryl from across the room, the man marching back and forth with his face twisted into anger.
"Hell yeah, I am! No one can come back from a bite." Daryl was still seething with the fact that he got jumped out of nowhere, and it was because of that other group that they lost Glenn and Natasha. "This little turd and his douche bag friends came out of nowhere and jumped me."
The kid rolled his eyes. "You're the one who jumped me, puto, screaming about trying to find his brother like it's my damn fault."
"They took Glenn. Could have taken Merle too," he argued, his voice vibrating and bouncing off the walls.
"Merle?" the kid scoffed. "What kind of hick name is that? I wouldn't name my dog Merle."
Daryl saw red and immediately tried to kick the kid's teeth in, getting only inches from his face before Rick yanked him back.
"Damnit, Daryl. Back off." Rick kept his hand out in front of him to make sure Daryl wouldn't do anything. Luckily he just went back to pacing angrily around the room like a wild animal.
Daryl walked over to Glenn's backpack and pulled out the do-rag that was covering Merle's severed hand. "Want to see what happened to the last guy who pissed me off?" He unwrapped it and turned around, slapping it right on top of the kid's lap.
"Ugh!" He jumped up and immediately started to freak out, throwing the severed gray hand right off. He tripped over his own feet and fell against the wall.
Daryl grabbed him by the front of the shirt. "Start with the feet this time."
Once again, Rick had to step in and pull him off the terrified kid.
Everyone was soon drawn to attention and jumped, these sudden three loud knocks coming from the window to their left. They sounded sharp and consistent, so it wasn't a Walker, but also considering the fact that they were at least on the fourth floor. It had to be a normal human.
Someone began to fiddle with the window like trying to undo the lock from the outside. It made a clicking noise and it rose all the way up. Natasha poked her head through the window and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw everyone. "I figured you guys would come back here," she said and wiggled her petite body through the narrow space into the room. "Daryl was yelling loud enough so that's how I figured you guys would be here."
Rick fell into a state of shock when he saw her, as well as everyone else. "Nat-" He saw her began to lose her balance and rushed to stop her from falling, easing her to the ground. "I got you, I got you."
T-Dog was obviously on edge since he couldn't tell if she was out of breath or in change to becoming a Walker. "How in the hell did you get out of there alive?"
Her whole body was quivering from exhaustion and she was breathing heavily, a thin layer of sweat on her forehead with the color drained from her face. Her gun-metal eyes were still shimmering calmly though, like streaming river water. "I scaled a building to get to the fire escape a couple of blocks from here. After that I went back to traveling by rooftop," she said through small gasps of air, coughing with a dry voice. She, unfortunately, had to drink the rest of her water.
Rick looked down at her fingers and saw that they were bruised and had dried blood on them, so her story did check out. He looked around the room and saw that Daryl was itching over to his crossbow. "Daryl, hold on for a minute."
He rolled his eyes. "You can't be serious. She got bit!" he exclaimed.
"Let me at least look." Rick hissed and looked back to Natasha. He pulled back the fabric on her shoulder to see if he could spot a bite wound or anything. There was only a bruise though. "There's no bite. She's clean." He looked back at Daryl and T-Dog who were understandably concerned, but as soon as he said that they relaxed. "Natasha, your coat's military-grade, ain't it." His eyes trailed down to the coat she was wearing and finally got a good look at it. The fabric was thick and heavy, specially designed to be durable and long-lasting.
T-Dog's mouth fell open. "So the fabric's too thick for Walkers to bite through it?"
Natasha nodded her head.
Daryl scoffed and glanced over it. It looked quite big on her so he figured it had to have been someone else's at one point. "What poor bastard did you pull that off of?"
Natasha took in a deep breath to steady herself before locking her eyes with his, speaking calmly with her smooth water-like voice. "No one. It was in my closet in my apartment." She bit down on her lips and looked away. "It was Ben's...my, uh, fiancé. He was military. This was his coat." Sadness lingered in her voice, traces of old wounds that haven't had the time to heal properly and were still new.
Rick sighed softly and patted her good shoulder. "It's a good thing that you're alright."
"Ah, just curious but...what did you do before, uh, you know...all of this?" T-Dog asked.
She cocked a brow and stared at him. "I was a gymnastics instructor for kids 10 and up." She looked down at herself and laughed a bit, no longer looking the part of someone who taught kids things like backflips. "Probably saved my life too, to be honest."
Rick smiled a bit, never thinking the profession would be helpful in today's new day and age. It really did save her.
Natasha glanced over to the quiet kid. "Who's he? Does he have anything to do with Glenn being kidnapped?" She screwed the cap back on her water bottle.
"He's the little prick that started all this!" Daryl explained through fits of yelling. "Screaming his damn head off before his friends jumped me."
"I was wondering what the screaming was about. If he didn't do that then none of this would've happened." Natasha frowned and tilted her head, staring at the kid with suspicious eyes. "He's not talking?"
Rick shook his head. "He won't say a word and all we want to do is talk."
Her lips thinned out, contemplating something while scanning through the Atlanta map in her head. Suddenly her lips parted as though she had just realized something. "I think I know where he's from." She saw the young man's eye glance up at her, totally puzzled. "You're from the nursing home, aren't you." His eyes grew wide and she immediately knew she was right.
"Wait, what?" T-Dog said. "How do you know that?"
"I've been in the city for at least 3 days trying to find supplies. I noticed that there was a group of survivors hauled up in the nursing home a couple of miles from here," Natasha said and crossed her arms over her chest. "I stayed out of there way but also kept a close eye on them just to be sure."
The kid's jaw clenched and he quickly looked down, still refusing to say anything but his resolve had definitely shrunk a bit.
"I know the way," Natasha stated with little to no hesitation at all or concern. "I can take you there."
Rick glanced around the room to both Daryl and T-Dog before all nodding in agreement, the kid soon shrinking down into himself with defeat.
The nursing home that Natasha led them too was in sight, located in the rough part of town with more abandoned buildings around than actual ones in use. She knew the area quite well so it wasn't hard to find cover behind the torn down stone walls, giving Rick and them a moment to come up with a short plan of action.
Rick glanced down to Natasha who was loading up one of the shotguns that were in the bag. She worked consistently so it gave him the idea that she knew her way around a weapon even before the world went to hell. If he could take a guess on how she learned all this, then it might've been from her fiancé, Ben. "Is this the place?" he asked.
"Yeah. They always come out through the door behind us. Nowhere else." Natasha racked the shotgun and handed it over for Rick to use, taking a rifle for herself.
Daryl glanced down at the kid and narrowed his eyes. "One wrong move, you get an arrow in the ass. Just so you know."
The kid rolled his eyes. "G's gonna take the arrow out of my ass and shove it up yours. Just so you know," he mocked.
Rick stared at him. "G?"
"Guillermo," he explained, looking away. "He's the man here."
"Okay then." Rick shortly nodded, grasping the shotgun tightly. "Let's go see Guillermo."
Rick, Daryl, and Natasha loaded up their weapons and pushed the kid on forth through the small window leading up to the front door. They didn't see anyone around and the place was oddly quiet, setting everyone's nerves on fire with uneasiness.
They got close enough to the door and heard the sound of a lock being detached, slowly pulling it open to let an unarmed man walk through. It was obvious to everyone that this was their man, Guillermo. The way he walked and carried himself with the confidence of all his men behind him, watching with intense eyes at the three intruders holding guns to the kid.
"You okay, little man?" Guillermo asked sternly.
"They're gonna cut off my feet, carnal." the kid said in a weak voice.
Guillermo glanced at Rick and noticed his sheriff attire. "Cops do that?"
"Not him," the kid clarified and gestured to Daryl behind him. "This redneck puto here. He cut off some dude's hand, man. He showed it to me."
"Shut up." Daryl hissed and watched everyone down the long barrel of his gun.
Natasha glanced past Guillermo at all the men looming in the shadows of the hideout, most of them carrying things like crowbars, pipes, and bats. They did have guns with them but nearly all of them were snubnosed revolvers. Firearms that carried at least 4 to 5 rounds in the cylinder. Rick's group was outmatched when it came to manpower, but it was their win when it came to firepower.
"Hey, that's the Vato right there!" Just then a familiar face rushed out of the compound, howling and pointing a pistol right at Natasha. She recognized the man and realized that it was the guy she threw a knife at. "She's the girl that threw a knife at me. What's up, homes, huh?" his voice was seething, pointless against Natasha's calm exterior though
Guillermo held his hand up and lowered the gun. "Chill, ese, chill. Chill. This true?" He looked back to the three. "He wants Miguelito's feet? That's pretty sick, man."
"We were hoping more for a calm discussion," Rick said.
"That hillbilly jumps Felipe's little cousin, beats on him, threatens to cut off his feet, Felipe gets a knife in the shoulder and you want a calm discussion? You fascinate me."
"Heat of the moment. Mistakes were made on both sides."
"Who's that dude to you anyway? You don't look related."
"He's one of our group, more or less. I'm sure you have a few like him." Rick says.
"You got my brother in there?" Daryl asked.
"Sorry, fresh out of white boys." Guillermo shook his head. "But I've got Asian. You interested?"
Rick was steady with his words and didn't back down or hesitate. "I have one of yours, you have one of mine. Sounds like an even trade."
"Don't sound even to me."
Miguel, the kid gave a small and weak laugh. "G. Come on, man," his voice croaked
"My people got attacked. Where's the compensation for their pain and suffering? More to the point, where's my bag of guns?" Guillermo demanded.
Rick cocked a brow. "Guns?"
"The bag Miguel saw in the street. The bag Felipe and Jorge were going back to get. That bag of guns."
"Your mistaken." Rick's jaw tightened.
"I don't think so."
"About it being yours. It's my bag of guns," he stated firmly.
"The bag was in the street. Anybody could come around and say it was theirs. I'm supposed to take your word? What's to stop my people from unloading on you right here and now and I take what's mine?"
Natasha tilted her head to the side. "Your right, but it's first come first serve now in this world. We got the guns first. We grabbed them before your people came by and messed everything up...and I nearly got eaten alive because of that. Where's the compensation for that?" Her voice may be smooth but it was like the flat side of a knife 'smooth'.
She gestured her head up to the rooftop to their left and saw T-Dog up top with the sniper's rifle.
Guillermo took a breath and saw the position they had placed him in. "Oye!" he called out.
On top of the compound walked out three men. Glenn was one of them, tied up with ducktape over his mouth.
"I see two options. You come back with Miguel and my bag of guns, everybody walks. Or you come back locked and loaded, we'll see which side spills more blood." He set his words straight and headed back inside the compound with the rest of the Vatos, closing the door behind them.
Natasha was quiet after following the guys back to the office building, letting them just talk amongst themselves on what they were going to do, knowing she had no say in the matter, much less on what she was going to do now. She wasn't part of Rick's group and she wasn't sure anymore about what to do. It truly did amaze her though on how easily plans can fall through, going from bad to worse in just a split second and giving no opportunity to even think of a backup.
"Them guns are worth more than gold," Daryl said, reminding Rick while he sorted through the bag. "Gold won't protect your family or put food on the table. You're giving that up for that kid?"
"If I knew we'd get Glenn back, I might agree with you." T-Dog couldn't help but feel uneasy about the whole thing. "But you think that the Vato across the way is just gonna hand him over?"
"You calling G a liar?" Miguel spoke up but was immediately shot down by Daryl.
"Are you apart of this? You want to hold onto your teeth?" He slapped him across the head.
Natasha sat still on the table and just watched as Rick sorted through all the guns. "To be honest though...I don't think they have very many guns themselves. Probably why they're so desperate to get these. With that in mind...can you even trust what he says?"
"No, question is what are you willing to bet on it?" Daryl chimed in. "Could be more than them guns. Could be your life. Glenn worth that to you?"
It sounded cruel but Daryl made a strong point, Natasha noticed. If it was any other situation then it would be different, but so much more was on the table now that the world ended up the way it did. Money is worthless and guns had become priceless. Even she would have been hard press to hand her own weapons over, believing she could find a different way. The Vatos were desperate though, so that changes everything. When people become desperate then things start to become scary.
"What life I have I owe to him," Rick stated. "I was nobody to Glenn, just some idiot stuck in a tank. He could have walked away, but he didn't. Neither will I."
"So you're gonna hand the guns over?"
Rick looked up. "I didn't say that." He took up a shotgun then began to load it up with shells, soon stopping though when his eyes landed on Natasha. He bit down on his lips and lowered the weapon. "Natasha...I think it would be best for you to leave now. I appreciate everything you have done for us until now...but this is our fight. You've done more than enough."
Natasha's brain stuttered a bit while she blinked her eyes. She stared at Rick as everything went on pause, not thinking that he would actually say that to her, despite thinking about it herself. He understood that her life was on the line and it didn't have to be. She didn't know them. She didn't owe them anything. Natasha only briefly helped them out of the goodness of her heart because they didn't seem that bad, just desperate to find someone.
Rick was giving her an out and she would be wise to follow it. This was not her fight.
Natasha didn't move from her spot and felt her body cemented in place, reluctantly to pull away. She had to make sure though and ask with her own words if it would be alright to leave. "You sure? Things just went from bad to worse and you're low on manpower too."
He lowered his head and nodded very slowly, thinking over it for a moment before talking. "Yeah, I understand that, but I can't ask you to stay and risk yourself for us anymore."
She instinctively reached her hand up to her engagement ring and jostled it across her fingers for a bit, thinking. Her face soon fell and she hopped off the table.
Truth be told, Natasha honestly didn't want to stay in the city any more after almost being killed on the streets. She didn't think Atlanta would be this bad, and here she thought the firebombing was the worse thing she had witnessed...how wrong she was though.
The city was dead, and anyone who lingered will soon be too.
Natasha took a breath and reached her hand back to pull her hood up, getting ready to leave. "Okay...I don't know what else to say to you guys but...good luck."
Rick reached out and shook her hand. "Thanks for everything. Hopefully, we can meet again on better terms."
"If you live that long." Natasha's words were flat, her expression dissolving within the shadows of her large hood and scarf.
She turned around to leave and glided her hand across the doorframe when she stopped still, hands balled up into tight fists. It felt like she was being pulled in two different directions, like an angel and a demon on each of her shoulders telling her what to do.
Stay and help them out.
You're only going to get yourself killed. Leave.
They need help. They seem like good people and it's been way too long since you've seen anyone like that.
They're only going to get you killed. Leave now.
Stay and help.
Flee and live!
Natasha felt like she was going insane with all the voices swarming around in her head, telling her to do this, telling her to do that. Stop doing this. Stop doing that.
She slapped her hand against the frame and took in a trembling breath. She yanked her hood back down and turned around to face everyone staring at her, puzzled. "I've come this far...might as well stay." She shrugged her shoulders half-heartedly.
Daryl didn't know if this woman was stupid or just way too kind for her own good. He sure wouldn't have done it if he was in her shoes, not to mention she just bearly shaved off being killed. The way she's acting kinda seemed odd to him now, like it didn't belong in the world anymore. "Why? You don't know us and you especially don't owe us anything too."
Natasha sucked in a deep breath, picking up her frown into a weak smile. "Yeah, well...I like to think that there's at least a couple of good people left in the world."
Everyone was armed with guns from the bag and marched with purpose through the maze of old stone structures and up to the hideouts double doors. They had Miguel tired up and gagged, leading the way until the doors finally opened to let them in.
The inside of the compound was full of anxious people waiting on the edge to strike if ordered, wielding more pipes and baseball bats then guns. It was more obvious than ever that they were outnumbered, but the one who had the most weapons was clearly Rick's group.
Guillermo marched up to them and eyed the bag of guns that was slung around Rick's shoulder. "I see my bag of guns but they're not all in the bag." Most of the weapons were being carried by Rick's group.
"That's because they're not yours. I thought I mentioned that." His eyes hardened, his trigger finger not easing up on the shotgun he had pointed at Guillermo.
"I don't think you fully understand the gravity of the situation."
"No, I'm pretty clear." Rick cut Miguel lose and shoved him over to his group. "You have your man. I want mine."
Guillermo's eyes narrowed and his voice became threatening. "I'm gonna chop up your boy. I'm gonna feed him to my dogs. They're the evilest, nastiest man-eating bitches you ever saw. I picked them up from Satan at a yard sale. I told you how it has to be. Are you woefully deaf?"
"No, my hearing's fine. You said come locked and loaded." His ears were filled with the sound of everyone cocking their weapons and pointing them at each other. "Okay then, we're here."
They stood against each other, seconds away from pulling the trigger and letting every Walker in the city know of their location. It all came to a halt though when this withered voice of an elderly woman came from behind the Vatos.
"Felipe! Felipe!" A short elderly woman dressed in her nightgown came waddling up between the group of armed and angry men.
"Abuela, go back with the others...now." Felipe urged the old woman who stood in the middle of everything.
"Get that old lady out of the line of fire!" Daryl barked.
"Abuela, listen to your mijo, okay? This is not the place for you right now." Guillermo pleated with the old woman, a barrel still pointed to his head.
The dear old lady then began to explain herself to Felipe through panic breaths. "Mr. Gilbert is having trouble breathing. He needs his asthma stuff. Carlitos didn't find it. He needs his medicine."
Guillermo pondered on it for a while before groaning. "Felipe, go take care of it, okay? And take your grandmother with you."
Felipe tried to pull his grandmother away from the line of fire. "Abuela! Ven conmigo por favor."
She then finally looked up to what was going on and saw Rick standing there, dressed in his sheriff uniform. "Who are these men?" she asked softly and marched up to him. "Don't you take him."
This threw Rick for a loop, looking back at everyone and seeing them just as confused as him. Natasha even lowered her weapon. "Ma'am?"
"Felipe's a good boy. He has his trouble but he pulls himself together. We need him here?" she spoke so very sincerely.
"Ma'am, I'm not here to arrest your grandson," Rick explained.
"Then what do you want from him?" Her innocence to what was happening around her made all the spiking tension slowly ease into nothing. There was no more fight left in anyone.
"He's..." Rick had to pause for a moment to think of a lie. "He's helping us find a missing person. Fella named Glenn."
Her old eyes lit up. "The Asian boy? He's with Mr. Gilbert. Come. Come, I'll show you." She took Rick by the hand and slowly led him through the Vatos as they parted a way for them.
Natasha's mouth hung open as she, Daryl and T-Dog followed behind Rick. "I am so confused right now..." she muttered while leaning her shotgun against her shoulder, not even sure if she'll have to use it anymore.
They all headed into the nursing home that was directly behind the compound from where they originally came from, but upon seeing what was inside, everything suddenly became clear. The outbreak happened months ago...but the elderly haven't left at all since then. They were still there, doing their normal everyday routine with what little they had left.
Natasha trailed behind Rick through the halls and peeked into the open rooms to see what was inside. She noticed immediately that the windows have all been boarded up and the doors were welded shut.
She realized that the Vatos were protecting the elderly.
They walked into a gymnasium where people crowded around Mr. Gilbert, including Glenn too. Felipe quickly assisted the man who was still actively having an asthma attack while Rick and the rest of the group stood around and watched.
"What the hell is this?" Rick asked while walking up to Glenn
"Asthma attack," Glenn explained. "Couldn't get his breath all of a sudden."
"I thought you were being eaten by dogs, man," T-Dog exclaimed in annoyance.
They all looked over their shoulder and saw three buggy-eyed Chihuahuas barking at them with their high pitched screech.
Natasha took a breath and felt like she might've shaved off 10 years of her life in that standoff that happened less than 10 minutes ago. She was still shaking with adrenaline. "You have got to be kidding me. That is the biggest bluff I have ever heard in all my life."
"Can I have a word with you?" Rick took Guillermo aside so no one would be able to hear them. "You are the dumbest son of a bitch I ever met, We walked in there ready to kill every last one of you," he hissed through his teeth.
Guillermo nodded his head. "Well, I'm glad it didn't go down that way."
"If it had, that blood would be on my hands."
"Mine too. We'd have fought back. Wouldn't be the first time we've had to." He then suddenly gestured to Natasha. "And we did notice your little friend had been spying on us for the last three days."
Natasha cocked a brow. "I wasn't spying on you. I was just making sure our paths didn't cross."
"And how was I supposed to know that? For all we've known, you could've been a scout for a group bigger than ours, planning on taking the food, the medicine...what's left of it. These people, the old ones... the staff took off, just left 'em here to die. Me and Felipe were the only ones who stayed."
Natasha bit down on her lips, glancing around the room at all the whithered faces. She honestly never took the elderly into consideration when the outbreak happened, what would become of them when the panic set in. "What are you? A doctor?"
He shook his head. "Felipe's a nurse...a special care provider. Me, I'm the custodian."
That left a bigger impact on her then she would've expected, feeling her heart tense up suddenly.
They walked out of the gym and into a room that was more private.
"What about your crew?" Rick asked.
"The Vatos trickle in to check on their parents, their grandparents. They see how things are and most decide to stay. It's a good thing too. We need the muscle. The people we're encountered since things fell apart, the worst kind...plunderers, the kind that take by force."
"That's not who we are."
"Again. How was I to know? My people got attacked and you show up with Miguel hostage...appearances."
T-Dog looked grim. "Guess the world changed."
"No. It's the same as it ever was. The weak get taken. So we do what we can here. The Vatos work on those cars, talk about getting the old people out of the city. But most can't even get to the bathroom by themselves, still, it keeps the crew busy, and that's worth something. So we barred all the windows, welded all the doors shut except for one entrance. The Vatos, they go out, scavenge what they can to keep us going. We watch the perimeter night and day and we wait. The people here, they all look to me now. I don't even know why." He shook his head, eyes filled heavy with exhaustion because of the duty that was shoved upon him.
Rick could sympathize with that. "Because they can." He looked down at the gun in his hand and handed it over to Guillermo. He soon divided the guns 50/50 between the two groups.
They only had a couple of hours of daylight left when they finally came out of the nursing home, 50% of their weapons now gone. The only thing they had left to do was get back to the van they initially came in and head back to the main group that was camped up in an abandoned rock quarry.
It somewhat felt weird to come out of a dire situation like that with no bloodshed. It was strange but it also left a good feeling in Natasha's chest, knowing that her naive way of thinking wasn't all for nothing. Good people still existed in the world, few and far between now, but still faintly present. She was wrong initially about one thing though...the world wasn't gone yet. It hasn't totally surrendered itself to the new reanimation gospel and its Walkers.
"Admit it, you came back to Atlanta for the hat," Glenn said while grinning, overjoyed that everything turned out alright.
"Don't tell anybody," Rick asked.
Daryl seemed to be the only one who wasn't completely pleased with the way things came out. "You've given away half our guns and ammo."
"Not nearly half."
"For what? Bunch of old farts who are gonna die off momentarily anyhow. Seriously, how long do you think they got?"
Natasha chimed in before Rick could say anything. "As long as the rest of us have. We're all on borrowed time now." There was lingering grief in her voice but it was all painfully true. A solid point that no one could say differently about.
"Natasha. Are you planning on leaving the city after this?" Rick asked.
"Yeah," she nodded, glancing over her shoulder at the tall buildings of Atlanta, now far behind them. "I don't think it's a good idea to stick around anymore. Pretty sure it would be better to go look for supplies elsewhere, far away from Atlanta.
Daryl scoffed. "For all I care...they can keep the damn city."
"I'm with you on that one." Originally, it was a good idea to go to Atlanta to look for supplies, but she later regretted it. She was sure there was still good stuff inside but it really wasn't worth the risk.
"Hey, Natasha?" Rick's voice changed a bit, a bit serious now. "If you don't have anywhere else to go after this. Then what would you say about coming back with us?
The sudden question made Natasha's feet stick to the floor like glue, her face twisting with deep confusion. "You serious? You don't even know me."
"I think I know enough." He glanced down to the rifle in his hand and held it out in front of him for her to take. "And I don't think anyone here would disagree."
Natasha took the gun from his hand and felt a bit of weight in it for some reason, like something was suddenly placed upon her. A duty of some kind. "I don't know. I really don't." For once she was hesitating. "I've been on my own for a long time and it just feels comfortable for me. I'll go with you for now but you're gonna have to give me some time to think it over when we get there." She sounded more unsure of herself more than ever, like something was holding her back or tying her down.
Rick had no choice but to wait for her reply later. "That's fine."
They head to where they parked their van but saw that it was now gone.
"Oh my god." Glenn's jaw dropped.
"Where the hell's our van?" Daryl said.
"Merle..." Rick's jaw tightened as the name fell from his mouth.
Daryl looked between everyone, turning grim. "He's gonna be taking some vengeance back to camp."
The frantic and frightened screams were now prominent, echoing out from the darkened woods as Rick and the rest tried to navigate their way through as fast as they could. It was the sound of Walker growls and shotgun ricochets that made it a little easier to find the rock quarry once again
All the color evaporated from Rick's face when he began to hear the cries, not knowing if they were his own wife or son being devoured. "Oh my God." He suddenly felt Natasha give him a harsh shove that told him to keep moving.
"Go! Go now!" she urged him and they took off in a dead sprint in search of the source of the outcries.
They all rushed through the woods and into the campsite, the bright flashes of their weapons illuminating the horror show in front of them. There were hoards of Walkers ripping into the living bodies of the hysterical survivors with women and children being backed up against an RV.
Some Walkers were either distracted by the blinding white blasts of the guns or didn't care enough to pull away from their meal, getting their heads blown away when they weren't looking. Brain matter splattered out onto the floor with rotten flesh being thrown everywhere like a nasty spray.
The smell made Natasha's stomach cringe and she really couldn't see what was going on through the constant flashes of blinding light. She could easily make out sounds though. There was the sound of a man shouting at the survivors to get to the RV, followed by a loud shotgun blast, and Walkers trying to come up behind her before she turned around and pulled the trigger on them. Her rifle vibrated with every pull and her body jolted from the kick.
The screams soon died down and were replaced with the sounds of crying and mourning. The hoard had perished but leaving behind a trail of death and chewed-up flesh. The people who were left fell to their knees and cried over the blood on the ground, hovering over lost family members and hugging the ones who somehow survived.
"Baby! Carl!" Rick cried out desperately.
His son Carl ran from his mother's side and straight into Rick's open arms, hugging the life out of him and thankful that he was still alive. He walked up to his shellshocked wife who was gasping and trying not to cry, pulled her close into an embrace.
Natasha pulled her hood and scarf down while waving away the thick veil of gun smoke in the air. She said nothing and just looked around at the carnage that was before her, utterly speechless and feeling sick to her stomach. She had to put down her rifle and sit for a moment, dry heaving and stomach turning in all sorts of directions.
Daryl walked over to her and leaned his rifle against his shoulder. "You alright?" he asked.
Natasha bit down on her lips and narrowed her eyes upon the spilled blood that was slowly turning black. "No. No, I'm not."