TS-19 PART 1
One after another, the group of survivors ran into the mysterious white light that looked more welcoming than the grueling darkness of the outside. Natasha lingered behind though to make sure everyone got in safely and that no one was left behind. She kept her back towards everyone and stood ready with a knife in hand, holding up the rear as best as she could while picking off the walkers that got too close to her and everyone else.
Dale stopped by the door and called back urgently to her. "Natasha, hurry up!"
Natasha took a brief glance over her shoulder before snapping back to the horde in front of her. She started to back up quickly towards the door until she was eventually inside the CDC. Only then did they close the doors and locked it to keep the dead out.
They now stood inside a lobby that looked quite empty and dark, aside from a few lights that shined down on them from above. Natasha looked towards the ceiling and quickly figured out that it was the emergency lights that were on and not the main ones, which was strange in of itself. The whole building was eerily still and gave off an ominous feeling that left a cold chill on her skin. There wasn't even a cooling sensation from a working air conditioner either. It was all too quiet for a place like the CDC. She could clearly hear her own heartbeat and nothing else, pattering out of control like a hummingbird in her chest, only to settle a moment later when she figured they were out of danger...for the time being at least.
Natasha walked past the group and over towards the stairs, stopping abruptly when her ears met with the dreadful yet familiar sound of a cocking rifle. "Rick," she called to alarm him that they weren't alone, all the while reaching for her pistol and pointing it out in front of her. She could see now after her eyes adjusted to the darkness, a man hunched over by the stairs with an AR-15 in his hands. "I can see you. Mind coming out?" she spoke gently to him in a way to not scare anyone in her group, but also hoping to calm his itchy trigger finger.
"Anybody infected?" their mysterious man asked, still awkwardly pointing his weapon at them.
"One of our group was," Rick said. "He didn't make it."
The man slowly climbed up the stairs. "Why are you here? What do you want?"
"That's asking an awful lot these days."
Rick hesitated at first while clenching his jaw. "I know."
The man looked between everyone for a moment before shaking his head. "You all submit to a blood test. That's the price of admission," he ordered.
"We can do that." Rick lowered his weapon and motioned for Natasha to do the same, only then did their new host drop his.
"You got stuff to bring in, you do it now. Once this door closes it stays closed," the man said and gestured everyone to follow him towards the elevator when ready. "Vi, seal the main entrance. Kill the power up here." He called out to the unknown and the emergency lights immediately shut off.
Everyone swiftly grabbed their belongings and rushed over to the awaiting elevators as Rick stepped up to the man. "Rick Grimes," he introduced and shook his hand.
"Dr. Edwin Jenner."
"Doctors always go around packing heat like that?" Daryl eyed the rifle in Jenner's hand.
Jenner laughed a little in response but there was still an unsettling awkwardness inside the tight elevator. "There were plenty left lying around. I familiarized myself," he said.
Natasha's eyes glanced down to the rifle and noticed that he still had it on 'fire' with his finger resting on the trigger. She slowly reached over and guided his hand away so they wouldn't have a little accident in such a snug space. "Something tells me you're not used to holding one, huh," she regarded the cumbersome way he was holding his weapon. "Keep your finger off the trigger if you're not actually going to shoot us."
Jenner looked down and took her advice by adjusting his grip. "Thank you." He smiled at her, yet that part of him looked awkward too. "Don't worry though. You look harmless enough." Jenner glanced down at Carl who was still holding onto Lori's shirt. "Except you, I'll have to keep my eye on you." He managed to make the kid grin before looking away. Natasha noticed that once he did, the smile on his face immediately faded.
The elevator opened up and the survivors followed Jenner through a long hallway that felt a lot like upstairs. Not a soul to be seen and eerily quiet. You could only find silence like this inside a graveyard.
"Are we underground?" Carol asked.
"Are you claustrophobic?"
"A little," she muttered.
"Try not to think about it."
They followed him deeper into the CDC and right into a large pitch-black room.
"Vi, bring up the lights in the big room," he called out and the light instantly turned on one after another, unveiling that they were in a large computer room. "Welcome to zone 5."
"Where is everybody? The other doctors, the staff?" Rick asked since the odd silence was now getting to him. He would have expected it to be bustling with people hard at work. That wasn't the case though. By the looks of it, it was just Jenner here. Alone in the giant CDC.
"I'm it. It's just me here." Jenner said.
"What about the person you were speaking with? Vi?" Lori asked.
"Vi, say hello to our guests. Tell them...welcome."
Just on command, they heard an animatronic voice come over the loudspeaker saying, "Hello, guests. Welcome."
Jenner began to see the change in everyone's eyes as they all realized that he was telling the truth. "I'm all that's left. I'm sorry."
Their disappointment was immeasurable.
After giving a blood sample for Jenner to test out later, he and the rest of the survivors sat at a round table to have some well-deserved dinner. A simple pasta dish with drinking wine on the side. It was nothing special but it meant the world to everyone else since they haven't eaten in days. It lifted their spirits and laughter was shared around the room. Dale was even trying to convince Lori to let Carl have a taste of wine.
"You know, in Italy, children have a little bit of wine with dinner. And in France," said Dale.
"Well, when Carl is in Italy or France, he can have some then." Lori reached over and covered the top of Carl's glass with her hand.
"What's it gonna hurt?" Rick smiled and didn't see the harm in letting Carl having a small sip. "Come on. Come on." He shared a look with his wife for a moment and got her silent approval when she lifted her hand off his cup.
Dale grabbed Carl's cup and filled only half an inch before handing it back to him. "There you are, young lad."
Everyone watched with eager eyes as the young boy held up his cup and was about to have his first taste of wine. He brought it to his mouth and had the smallest sip imaginable before his face scrunched up with disgust and he stuck out his tongue.
"Eww!" he said while handing the wine cup to his mother.
Lori patted his back and poured the rest into her glass. "That's my boy. That's my boy. Good boy."
"Yuck." Carl shook his head to try and get the taste off his tongue. "That tastes nasty."
"Well, just stick to soda pop there, bud," Shane said while glancing over to Lori with an odd look hanging in his eyes. This didn't go unnoticed by Natasha though and she cocked a brow at what he was doing.
"Not you, Glenn." Daryl suddenly cut in while pouring a glass for Glenn
"What?" Glenn said.
"Keep drinking, little man. I want to see how red your face can get." His words were slightly slurred so it was clear at this point that he had a bit too much to drink. He was immensely enjoying the free wine.
Natasha smiled lightly at Daryl's drunken antics and Carl's innocent demeanor before reaching for her own glass of wine. She waited until no one was looking before leaning back and downing the rest of her drink at a record-breaking speed. She looked back and noticed that Carl accidentally saw her though and was staring with wondrous eyes at how she could stomach that disgusting drink. Natasha only smirked at him and held a finger to her lips for him to keep quiet, all the while reaching for a wine bottle to refill her glass. She wasn't aiming to get drunk, just a little tipsy so the edge of being alone for too long could wear off.
Rick looked over to Jenner and saw that he was the only one not enjoying himself. "It seems to me we haven't thanked our host properly," he spoke up and grabbed everyone's attention.
"He is more than just our host," T- Dog chimed in
Both Dale and Natasha raised their glasses to the man. "Hear hear!"
"Booyah!" Daryl said.
A round of thanks went to the silent doctor who only smiled a little in response.
Shane seemed a little reluctant to speak but he couldn't help the questions that were itching in the back of his mind. The reason they came all the way here was to get answers. Reassurance. Something. Anything. "So when are you gonna tell us what the Hell happened here, Doc? All the—the other doctors that were supposed to be figuring out what happened, where are they?" Shane finally spoke up and got the whole room to turn quiet.
"We're celebrating, Shane. Don't need to do this now." Rick said.
"Whoa, wait a second. This is why we're here, right? This was your move—supposed to find all the answers. Instead we..." He chuckled awkwardly and gestured to Jenner. "We found him. Found one man, why?"
Jenner lowered his head and nodded slowly. "Well, when things got bad, a lot of people just left, went off to be with their families. And when things got worse, when the military cordon got overrun, the rest bolted."
"Every last one?"
"No, many couldn't face walking out the door. They... opted out. There was a rash of suicides. That was a bad time." His face turned pale, looking absolutely haunted by what he must've seen while being trapped inside this whole time.
"You didn't leave. Why?" Andrea asked him.
"I just kept working, hoping to do some good."
The warm and comforting mood died at that moment and not a single person smile or attempted to laugh anymore. In the end, they finished their food in morbid silence.
Glenn groaned and glanced at Shane. "Dude, you are such a buzzkill, man."
Jenner later showed them the rest of the living area. "Most of the facility is powered down, including housing, so you'll have to make do here. The couches are comfortable, but there are cots in storage if you like," he said while guiding them through the halls. "There's a rec room down the hall that you kids might enjoy. Just don't plug in the video games, okay?" He warned the kids with his usual awkward smile. "Or anything that draws power. The same applies—if you shower, go easy on the hot water."
Glenn's face brightened up at the mentioned of a hot shower. "Hot water?"
T-Dog smiled like a madman. "That's what the man said."
Everyone began to split up to find their own room, as well as Natasha. She drifted far away from the rest of the group and found a room a few doors down from Rick and Lori's. The way she could describe the inside was like a normal and modern hotel room. There was a large queen-sized bed, a dresser, and a desk and chair. The walls were a light gray, but of course, there weren't any windows. She wasn't complaining though. Being underground did feel a lot safer. Just one entrance and exit door.
Natasha undid the button's on her coat at supersonic speed and tossed it on the bed along with her satchel. She headed towards the bathroom door the next second and closed it behind her. She turned on the shower and waited for it to heat up, all the while stripping down to nothing but her skin. As soon as she saw the steam beginning to escape, she jumped inside and immediately felt the blissful and comforting heat of a normal shower.
Natasha drew her hand up and swept it across the fogged up mirror until she was able to see her reflection. She had on a stark white robe and her skin was flushed red from the steam. Her auburn hair was brushed out and detangled too but dripping wet and went past her shoulders.
She opened some of the drawers and scanned through them until she found a pair of decent looking scissors that looked sharp enough to challenge the thickness of her hair. She meant to cut it for a while now but never found the time until now.
Natasha brushed her hair out one last time before grabbing a long strip and making a blunt cut right at her shoulders. Her eyes grew wide at what she had just done but knew she couldn't stop now. One after another. Cut after Cut. She continued to snip her hair off until she managed to get it looking into a decent bob cut.
"Oh...what did I just do..." She muffled her giggles against her sealed lips while also trying to convince herself that it wasn't as bad as it looked. Her hair was naturally curly so it'll look a lot different once it dries.
Natasha continued to fiddle and style her hair to the best of her nonexistent abilities when she paused for a moment and turned around, furrowing her brows. There was an odd noise the sounded like something was shaking and echoing loudly through the room. Natasha peeked her head out and looked directly towards the front door...and saw that the knob was shaking violently as if someone was trying to get inside.
There was no initial shock factor with Natasha and she didn't wait around to see what would happen next. She walked straight out of the bathroom and went right towards the door, grabbing the handle and yanking it open a second later while the knob continued to shake. There was nothing outside though. Not a single soul, sound, or person. The halls were completely empty and the shaking knob had stopped the moment she opened the door.
Natasha completely turned ashen and her heart must've skipped a couple of beats at that moment. She didn't say anything and backed up against the wall, staring straight ahead at nothing, yet she was so sure someone was outside her door, shaking it as if they were desperate to get inside.
"What in the... What?" Natasha whispered under her breath. She closed her door but stayed outside in the hallway a bit longer, pushing the towel around her neck to dry her hair off.
Dale strolled around the corner at that time, dressed in the same white robe that Natasha was wearing. He looked up and smiled when he saw her. "You cut your hair," he said in a chipper voice and walked up to her. He did notice that she looked a bit pale. She quickly covered it up though by draping her towel over her head.
"Yeah. I haven't had it cut in a year," she said. "Thought it would be a safer idea to try and keep it short for a while."
"Have you ever done it yourself before?"
"No, first time." Natasha paused and pulled her towel down, smiling awkwardly since she knew where this was going. "Is it obvious?"
He shrugged. "A little."
Natasha snorted and dropped her head, trying in vain to style it to look even a little bit presentable. "I tried to get it as even as possible. I guess it doesn't matter though. It'll kink up when it dries, so you'll never notice." Her smile fell shortly after that. "Dale...have you seen anyone walking around the hallway a minute ago. Like, have you heard footsteps?" she asked, still staring ahead and expecting to see someone come around the corner.
Dale frowned. "No, can't say I have. Why? Did you hear something?"
Natasha hesitated before shrugging lightheartedly. "Nah. Just wanted to be sure we were really alone." She breathed in deeply and patted Dale's back. "I'll talk to you later, Dale." She gave him a small wave before walking down the halls and disappearing after taking a left.
She wanted to be sure that no one else was here, but after roaming the long and quiet halls for a couple of minutes, it quickly dawned on her that Jenner wasn't lying when he said he was the only one inside the CDC...which made her feel a bit unsettled.
The front door for the big room opened up and Natasha walked in, looking around briefly before spotting Jenner at his desk. He only looked up quickly to acknowledge her.
"Guess you didn't find anything weird with the blood." She asked and strolled up behind him.
"Nothing," Jenner said.
"No surprises there," she muttered. "We haven't talked at all so I thought I'd come and thank you myself." Natasha went to lean against the console beside his desk but ended up in a sitting position on the ground instead. She breathed in sharply and buried her face into her hands that were rough and scuffed up. She hadn't slept in days and the exhaustion was now beginning to take over.
Jenner was at a loss for words on how to handle this but tried his best to reassure her. "You all-you all right?
Natasha's voice was trembling a bit but her face remained firm and strong. "I'm fine. I just...been hard-balling it for a while." She pulled her robe across her knees and tucked them close. "You know...I wasn't surprised to hear that there was nothing left. Call it an educated guess. You...you haven't seen it like I have. Not even Rick and his people have seen the full picture of what our world has turned into, and it's not just that... It's the people too." Her voice suddenly turned grim and there was a hint of a growl underneath too. "I actually wasn't always alone...when this started. I was with my best friend for less than a month before we went our separate ways."
Jenner had an idea of what she was talking about and decided to follow along. He was a little curious though, to be honest. "Did you prefer being alone?"
She denied that quickly by shaking her head. "That's not it. People...can't stay alone forever. You mentally wouldn't be able to handle the silence. You have to be around others...to keep yourself sane. I just couldn't do it with him. You really...you really don't know a person until they're backed up into a corner, no matter how long you've known them. People snap, and when they do...it's the ugliest thing you'll ever see." Her tone shifted somewhat and became steady and smooth, a lot different from when she first started to speak. Right now felt more like an acceptance of what must've happened.
"What about you? You're holding it together pretty well," he said but Natasha only boldly scoffed at him.
"I think I snapped a long time ago, even before all this happened. What more can the world throw at me, honestly."
Jenner saw Natasha slowly sink into herself and drop her head into her knees. "It'll all be okay." He leaned down and tapped her shoulder. "It'll be okay." He spoke almost robotically.
Natasha dipped her head low and made slow strides back to her room after talking with Jenner. The day had dragged on for far too long and the constant spikes of adrenaline she had worn her body out to its limits. She felt tense for the longest time but now that they were legitimately out of danger it gave her the opportunity to calm down and not be on guard so much. When she was still on her own, waking up was exhausting but going to bed was always nerve-racking. Natasha felt like she didn't have to worry about that anymore though.
"Just—Okay, Stop. Listen. You love me."
Natasha stopped mid-stride a few feet away from the kitchen when she heard a distressing voice. Lori's voice, actually. And what followed was a low whisper that sounded a lot like Shane, yet his words appeared drawn out and almost incohesive, speaking absolute nonsense like he was drunk.
"Get your hands off me. Get your hands off me!"
Natasha's eyes went wide when she heard struggling and bolted around the corner and into the kitchen to see what was going on. She saw Shane's tall and muscular figure first, pushing Lori against the counter and forcefully moving his hands all around her while she struggled to break free.
Natasha only needed a fraction of a second to understand what was going on before rushing up to them. She moved swiftly and slammed her elbow right into his ribs as hard as she could to make him loosen his grip on her. She then grabbed him by the back of the shirt and ripped him off before stepping between them, holding her arm up like a barrier.
Shane stumbled back a bit and groaned. He was obviously in pain and began to hold his throbbing and bruised side. He now sported a few scratches on his neck that must've come from Lori when Natasha forcefully pulled him off. "Nat...?" he said and squinted his eyes, trying to recognize her through his drunken stooper.
Lori was shaking like mad but was too stunned to say anything and didn't move from behind Natasha. She held on tightly to the back of her robe and didn't dare say anything just yet, afraid of what Shane might do next. Natasha was naturally calm though, but her eyes had never looked so dangerous until this moment. They weren't burning with anger or anything like that. They were just steely cold and unyielding, prepared, and silently threatening Shane to try something else.
"Nat-" Shane tried again but Natasha cut him off with a cool and stern demand.
"No. You're not going to say anything. You're not even going to finish that sentence." She kept her hand up and pointed it towards the door behind him. "You're drunk. I think you need to go to bed. Right now, actually. " Natasha wasn't asking this of him. She was ordering him to do it.
Shane backed away a few steps from them before turning around and walking off. He angrily slammed his fist against the wall before disappearing around the corner. They waited a couple more minutes to make sure he was gone until Lori slowly slid down to the floor. She was still holding on to Natasha though and dragged her down too.
"How much...how much did you hear?" Lori said with a low and trembling voice, not even looking her in the eyes when she spoke
Natasha had a sympathetic look adorned to her face but her frown was deep and confused. "Enough to fill in the blanks," she said gently. "Does Rick know?
Lori shook her head. "No. He doesn't..."
Natasha only nodded once before proceeding to her second question. "Ok... Are you and Shane...still..."
"No..." Lori moved her hand from Natasha's robe to her arm before squeezing it. "Please don't tell him. Natasha, please," she pleaded and was close to tears as all the stress from the last few months finally began to slip from her clutches. The emotion. The struggle. Everything. She wasn't expecting Shane to pull a stunt like that, but she was thankful that Natasha stepped in when she did. Lori was left absolutely dumbfounded though and didn't know what to do anymore.
Natasha tried to calm her down. "I'm not going to say anything. Don't worry, but only because it's not my place. " She groaned and sat down. "Lori...you know you can't keep this secret up. Because it's Shane of all people, you're gonna have to tell Rick eventually," she warned her.
"I know, I know. Just...not now."
Natasha blinked slowly and just looked at her. She didn't press for any more answers but only for the sake of her own guilt of knowing too much. She didn't want to be the one to say anything. She knew that if Rick found out about his wife's infidelity through the grapevine then it would only make him feel worse. The truth had to come out through Lori's mouth and no one else's.
Natasha took in an exhausted breath before standing and pulling Lori up with her. She supported her weak legs while guiding her out of the kitchen and towards the direction of her room.