The Love After
by Hecate


Jim survived by sheer luck, and he knows that. Sometimes he thinks it was more than that. That it was the world saying sorry for what had happened to them. Selena would laugh at him when he told her, but Hannah just smiled her own little smile, slightly crazy, slightly off-key, and Jim would leave them alone.



They have a garden behind their house, a small and silly thing. But there are flowers and an apple tree in it (Jim cuts the tree down after the summer and the smell of rotten apples) and green, green grass. There are graves in the garden. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.



The virus never got out of Great Britain. The planes full of refugees were shot down, and now the nations that watched them die, come to their aid. Selena curses them, but Jim shrugs and says he would have done the same. He tries not to think about what he would have said about this before he met West; before he started to understand what survival really means. Jim doesn't want to remember who he had been before; doesn't want to remember the weak boy he had been. The boy he was before death, and murder, and blood running down his skin.

Hannah just takes what the armies offer: food, water, and hope, and ignores both of them when they fight about it. Hannah ignores most things these days.



They have electricity and running water a month after the soldiers arrived. Jim reads through the night with the light on, and Selena showers way too long. Hannah turns on the stove and cooks, shouting that she's really happy they're back in London where the armies can actually reach them. But her voice is dead and Jim knows that she's lying. Hannah doesn't want to see the soldiers, but she knows what she needs. She's a survivor and Jim clings to the hope that she will keep on being one. He can't bear the idea that he might lose another person; that the family of three he has killed for could turn into a duo. Just two people with a lot of empty space and a past between them.



One of the two working radio stations is military based and it's full of requiems for fallen soldiers. The women glare at the radio but don't change the station, even when the DJ talks about Henry West. Jim gets up then and goes into his room, falling into his bed. He stares at the ceiling for a long time and he remembers the first time he saw West. He remembers how hope rose inside of him back then, and he remembers the first touch, shaking West's hand. He remembers and he traces the scar West has left on him, and he misses hope.



A virus can mutate; it can defend itself. Jim tells Selena and Selena glares at him and asks him what he wants to say with that. Nothing can defend itself from starvation, after all. Jim nods and leaves her starting to load their guns. She's right, of course. But the guns feel better this way. Heavier. Useful.



There is nobody lying in the graves: they are just mud and flowers and crosses. But they need them. Two for Jim's parents, two for Selena's, one for Hannah's father, one for Mitchell. And a seventh grave, a bit further away from the others, and Selena frowned at Jim when he put up the cross there. For all the others, he said; and she shrugged. For all the others, and Hannah nodded.



Jim and Selena are a couple for some weeks, but then they break it off, laughing about themselves. As if it could have been that easy. As if Selena wasn't scared to death to lose another loved one. As if Jim was actually in love with her.



There are stories of newly infected victims nine weeks after the army said they crushed the disease like the enemy it was. They try to ignore it as best they can. Just rumours, Selena says, just rumours - and she looks outside to the graves.



They are a family and he killed for them; and he starts to understand Henry West. He hates the man for that. But he can't forget that he felt almost safe with West in the beginning. Almost safe: protected by a man with fire in his eyes and warmth in his hands.



Jim remembers the slippery feel of blood on his skin, between his fingers, on his chest and back. The taste of it. He remembers, and he talks to himself about survival while the water is pounding on his skin and his fists pound the tiles. He turns the water cold because it feels too much like blood when it's warm, and he stays in the shower until his fingers turn a faint shimmer of blue. But the blood is still there; it found its way under his skin and mingled with his own. Death is a part of him now, and he tells himself that Selena is the same. She has killed for survival as well; has killed Mitchell and would have killed more. But he knows it's a lie. Selena is nothing like him.



Jim and Selena practise their shooting in the garden, and once a army patrol comes by, attracted by the gun shots. Selena wants to hide the guns, afraid to lose them to the soldiers, but they don't take them away from them. They only show them how to shoot, straight and efficient movements, and give them ammunition and advice before they go. Jim looks after them for a long time, their uniforms the only dots of colour in the grey of their almost dead city.



Jim says "Thank you" every time he passes Mitchell's grave. He tells his parents that he loves them, and he tells Hannah's father that his girl is as safe as she can ever be. He nods his greeting to Selena's parents. He keeps quiet when he passes the seventh grave.



He catches himself rubbing over his belly when he's nervous, digging into the fabric that separates his fingers from his skin with hard hands. It's always the same place he's rubbing and he doesn't need to pull up his clothes to see that it's the scar Henry left behind. Round and jagged, it dominates his upper body now; and when he wakes up, one of his hands covers it. As if to keep it from fading.



There are three cases of infections south of Cardiff, and the military dispatches them quickly. Quickly enough to stop a second wave, but Hannah cries herself into hysterics that night and goes out partying the whole day. Selena does her work but she keeps whispering to herself, and when Jim passes her he can hear the words: a prayer, a curse.

It's not over, it's not over, it's not over.

Jim himself repeats his own mantra in front of the seventh grave, curled together to a ball of muscles and blood, his fingers digging into the soil. He whispers "I'm sorry" and it means more and more every time he says it. When he's leaving in the morning he's afraid it will stop meaning something if he says it too often. But he can't stop.



His hands smells of earth and blood, and his knee hurts, but Jim stays at the grave that night. He remembers another night, when he himself turned into a zombie made of rage. He tells himself that Henry had understood why he had to do this. Survival, Henry had called it, and Jim starts to understand now why survival sounded like doubt and hell coming from Henry's mouth. Doubt and hell, and Henry had understood.



Sometimes he dreams of another life now. A life in which he chose Henry over the girls, a life in which he joined Henry's group of half-crazed soldiers instead of his new family. And Henry welcomes him in these dreams, and Jim feels his hands again, rough and warm. He wakes up gasping and he's half hard and he tells himself that it was only a nightmare. But it wasn't a nightmare. It was a dream.



Jim doesn't know what's more pathetic. Being in love with a dead man or being in love with an image of someone who never lived at all.



He has real nightmares as well and he wakes up clutching his belly, keeping blood from flowing out of an imaginary wound. Jim knows he should have died. He should have given this to Henry. After all, he hadn't given himself.



London feels empty and it's almost empty. So many dead people, so few newcomers, no one really wants to come to Great Britain now. Jim doesn't mind it, he likes the quiet; the way people smile at each other on the street. Grim and determined, all of them survivors, and they know what the other has gone through. But they don't talk about it. They never talk.

Jim has a hard time finding a birthday present for Hannah in the few open shops, and when he brings home a red dress, Hannah throws a cup at him and storms out of the room. Selena follows her and neither of them talks to him for days. Jim shrugs it off. It's not like it really matters.



His memories of Henry and the soldiers have changed so much and he feels like he's talking about a complete different time when he talks with Selena and Hannah about it. Like they experienced different events, met different people. Jim remembers a time when their memories were the same. But they aren't anymore, and he doesn't want to talk about it with the girls. They could only taint what he has now.



He wants to put a name on the seventh cross sometimes. Henry's name. So Henry finally has a place to rest. But he doesn't because it would make his death much more real, and Jim isn't sure if he knows how to deal with it.

Besides, Selena and Hannah would probably rip the cross out and that's something he knows he couldn't deal with.


Twenty-three, Twenty-four

Some days Henry slips out of his mind. Some days Jim is almost normal again. He feels lonely then, and he spends these days counting minutes and the freckles on Hannah's face. He doesn't talk and he knows he creeps her out, staring at her like this. But he has to count something; he has to count down until Henry is back in his mind, until he can remember Henry's face again, his voice and his eyes. He's scared that one day he won't remember anymore, that he will count down to nothing.



Sometimes things are too quiet. Too peaceful. Too much like they have been before the sickness covered Great Britain like a winter coat. It's too much for Jim then, and he wishes the times of terror back. Because having this and knowing that his parents are rotting away somewhere; having this and Henry being dead, little pieces of flesh and bones discarded at a far away's not right; and Selena's laughter and Hannah's smile can't tell him otherwise.



One day in September people start to vanish, and the seventh grave makes him shudder and tremble and he vomits bitter acid on the soil. Jim doesn't understand it; he just feels that the earth spits his apologies back at him and he feels eyes on him. When he turns, no one is there, and he tries to forget.

He doesn't say "Sorry" when the next rumours of newly infected stain the newspapers, and he passes Selena without a word as she cries. It seems meaningless to him now. It seems like Henry wouldn't accept the apology and the word has lost all its power. Maybe he said it to often. Maybe it never meant anything at all. He remembers Henry's last words more often now: You killed all my boys, and he remembers the tone of his voice, the way Henry looked at him. As if Jim destroyed everything Henry cared about. As if Henry would hate him. Jim tries not to think about it and dreams himself another Henry instead.



It takes Jim twenty-seven weeks (twenty-nine since Henry died but Jim doesn't really count those weeks) until he let some soldier pick him up in a bar. Jim calls out Henry's name when he comes, but it's hardly a surprise anymore now.



Twenty-eight weeks later Henry West stands in front of their door with crazy eyes and a smile of blood. West doesn't shake like all the other infected did; he doesn't attack Jim at sight: he just grins and watches. There is intelligence left in his eyes and he looks at Jim between rage and hunger. There is something else in these eyes, too: something Jim has seen when they first met. When things were still all right.

Jim can't turn around and run as long as it's in Henry's eyes, can't move, can only stare. The smile stretches into a grin and there is so much blood on his teeth, and Jim hasn't heard Selena move around in the last hours. And he feels like prey then, and thinks of viruses and mutations and how to make monsters.

When West jumps, Jim says "sorry" as if it would still mean anything, and he hears Hannah scream behind him.


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