When he crouched down next to me, he leaned his arms on my bed so his face was right next to mine.
“You’re leaving by yourself?” Lazlo sounded a little hurt. Which was really stupid, since leaving by myself was in his best interest. He’d be safer here.
“It’s safe here. This is a nice place.” I motioned to the bunks. “It’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, for a night.” Lazlo backpedaled on his earlier proclamation.
“Oh, come on. You know you’re not gonna find a place much better than this. This is damn near paradise.”
“There’s a raving band of marauders who might gun us down,” he pointed out. “Most other places only have zombies. So that makes it a little worse.”
“Maybe. I just think that I should go by myself. After what happened today, I just…” I trailed off, unwilling to articulate exactly what I felt.
“This is about Lia?” Lazlo asked, much louder than I would’ve liked.
He wasn’t shouting by any means, but Harlow was right there. She twitched and moaned in her sleep, the way she usually did, and I looked over at her. I did not want to her to hear anything about Lia. It would only upset her more.
“Come on,” I sighed and got up.
I was in pajamas, and this place was a maze, so I didn’t go very far. On the other side of the room, close to where Vega slept, I stopped and leaned up against a wall between two bunks.
“So this is about Lia?” Lazlo put one of his hands on the top bunk, leaning on it, and watched me.
“She got killed today because of me.” My voice miraculously stayed even, but a pain grew in my chest. “I never should’ve let her leave Korech’s ranch.”
“Oh, come on,” Lazlo scoffed. “That guy was a total sicko, and you know it. Besides that, you didn’t ‘let’ her do anything. It was her choice.”
“No, you said it yourself. Survival has a different price. She was safe there! Maybe Korech was a perv. But if she had stayed there, she’d still be alive today.”
“Maybe,” he allowed. “But maybe she would’ve died anyway. Who knows? But it was her choice to leave. She didn’t want to be there, and you didn’t have any more right to force her to stay there than you do me.”
“I’m not gonna let you follow me around and get yourself killed.” Frustrated tears stung my eyes, and I hated it. “I got her killed today, and I won’t do that to you.”
“I liked Lia,” Lazlo said gently. “She was a really nice girl, and I am sad that she’s gone. But you can’t blame yourself for her death just because it hurts.”
“I blame myself because it’s my fault!” I insisted. “I never should’ve let her leave the ranch. And when she was dying, I didn’t even go out to her. I let her die alone.”
A tear rolled down my cheek, and I wiped it away as quickly as I could.
“Hey.” Lazlo reached out to touch my shoulder, and I pulled away, so he let his hand fall. “None of that is your fault. You risked your life to stay back and cover us so we could get away. And when she was dying, you were saving Harlow’s life.
“You saved Harlow’s life today, and mine, and Blue’s and Vega’s. You can’t forget that. But you can’t save everybody all the time.”
“I know that,” I nodded, swallowing hard. “That’s why I don’t want you to go with me.”
“Is everything okay?” Blue asked. I hadn’t noticed him walking over to us, and I rubbed my hands on my cheeks to dry them.
“Yeah, it’s great,” I replied quickly.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” Blue looked between Lazlo and I, both of us just in our pajamas.
“No, of course not,” I shook my head.
“I checked things out, and they have a doctor, a vet, and three nurses here,” Blue said. “So they’re pretty well staffed in that regard. I want to keep going with you to the quarantine. I know they have larger medical facilities, but they have a larger population too. I think I could really be of help there.”
“Yeah, okay.” I nodded. “I wanna leave tomorrow.”
“All right,” Blue gestured to his bed by Harlow’s. “I’m gonna go get some sleep. And I’ll leave you two… to it.” He offered a smile, then walked back over to his bed, with Lazlo staring after him.
“What was that?” Lazlo turned back to me.
“What?” I asked, confused by his shift in emotion.
“He asks to come with you, and you say ‘sure?’” Lazlo raised an eyebrow.
“He has a good reason,” I said. “And I don’t have to spend all my time worrying about him.”
“So…” Lazlo grinned, and I knew that I had said something wrong. “You worry about me?”
“Yeah, because you’re an idiot and you’re gonna get yourself killed.” I tried to put him back in his place, but his smile only faded a little. “Why do you even wanna come with me, anyway? This place has everything you need.”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. For a moment, he lowered his gaze, looking thoughtful. “I guess it just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t go with you.”
“That is not a good enough reason. It’s not even a reason at all.”
“You need me,” Lazlo said finally, his dark eyes meeting mine. “Yeah, I know you’ve saved my life and gotten my back before, but I’ve saved you, too. You can’t do this alone. And I’m going with you.”
“Lazlo…” I tried to think of an argument against that, and he leaned in closer to me. I wanted to back up and move away, but I was against the wall.
“You wanna get your kid brother? You’re gonna need back up. The way I see it, you don’t have a choice.” He looked at me so intently that it made me short of breath.
“We should get to bed,” I managed eventually, my voice sounding weaker than I liked. “If we’re gonna leave in the morning.”
“Right on,” Lazlo grinned broadly, as if he’d won something worth winning.
As I slid past him to walk back to bed, I glanced over to where Vega knelt next to her bed, praying. Her chant-like prayers didn’t sound so much like words as grunts. Her back was to me, but she appeared to be shaking. Lia’s death must’ve gotten to her more than I thought.