“Tired,” he said and yawned loudly.
“How is he doing?” I looked up at Blue, who was winding a cord up.
“I don’t know.” Blue shook his head. “I don’t know exactly what they’ve been doing to him. If I’d had more time, I could’ve found out more.”
“I don’t think we have more time,” I said quietly, looking at how frail Max looked.
“Do I know you?” Max squinted at Lazlo, who had been standing awkwardly behind me.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Lazlo shook his head.
“Okay.” Blue clicked something on the monitor by the cot and looked down at me. “He’s all ready to go. And I don’t mean to rush you, but we should probably get going while we can.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” I forced a smile at Max. “Listen. Blue is gonna take really good care of you, but you need to do what he says, okay? And you have to be really careful and really strong for me, okay?”
“Okay,” Max nodded, but he could barely keep his eyes open. Dark circles rested underneath them. “Are you gonna meet us there?”
“I don’t think so, buddy,” I brushed the hair from his forehead. “But I love you, okay? Don’t you ever forget that. I love you more than anything in the world.”
“I love you too.”
I hugged him tightly to me, hating how small and thin he felt, but loving holding him in my arms. Tears stung my eyes. This would be the last time I’d ever be able to hug him, and it broke my heart. Even though I was doing it for him, and it was the best thing I could do, it still killed.
“Can you stand up, Max?” I asked when I let go of him.
“I think so,” he nodded, but when he tried to get his feet, he almost fell over. I started to pick him up, but Blue reached for him.
“I got him,” Blue said, lifting him up. He was going to be the one carrying him out of here, the one taking care of him from now on. Max laid his head on his shoulder, looping his arms loosely around Blue’s neck.
“Um, so… Tatum has everything ready,” I said, fighting back tears. “And don’t forget to get Ripley. She’s invaluable, but Tatum is afraid of her.” Lazlo made a scoffing sound, but I ignored him. “He has guns and everything, but don’t stop unless you have to. Go straight to the compound with London. I know they have marauders there, but I think that’s the safest place.”
“I know,” Blue nodded.
“And you’ll take good of him, right?” I reached out and gently rubbed Max’s back. He was already asleep, and I tried not to let that scare me.
“Yes, I’ll take very good care of him,” Blue promised me. I looked up at him, and I knew he would. He was risking everything to take him out of here.
“Thank you,” I swallowed hard. “If I can ever repay you…”
“I think you already are,” he smiled sadly at me. “But we have to go.”
“Yeah, go,” I nodded towards the door.
“You coming, Lazlo?” Blue asked, walking towards the door.
“Yeah, you go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute,” Lazlo said. Blue waited a minute, looking uncertainly.
“I’ll tell him the codes. You go,” I told him.
Blue left, taking my little brother with him, and I let out a shaky breath. Everything I had done since the virus had broken out had been for Max. Before then, I had always kind of looked out for him, but I had my own life. But then when everyone started dying, and I saw our parents murdered by zombies, I just… my whole life became about protecting my brother.
But I couldn’t do that anymore. This was the last thing I could ever do for him, and I had to trust that he could be okay without me.
“We can go with them,” Lazlo said, watching me stare after Blue and Max. “We could go right now.”
“No, it’s too late,” I shook my head and looked at him. “You know I can’t.”
“I don’t want you die in here.” His dark eyes were begging me to leave with him.
“Maybe I won’t. I mean, if anybody can survive this, it’s me, right?” I smirked at him.
“I know you’re joking, but it’s also true.” He took my hands in his, squeezing them tightly. “I’ll be right outside. Okay? I’ll stay right here, in this quarantine, for as long as you do. And I promise you that when you’re ready, when you’ve had enough, when they’ve had enough, I’ll come and get you out.”
“Okay,” I nodded.
He put his hand on my cheek, using his thumb to brush away a tear, then he leaned in to kiss me. When he stopped, he closed his eyes and rested his forehead against mine. I put my hand on his chest, feeling his heart pound beneath it.
“You should go. I don’t want you getting caught.” I swallowed hard. “It’d make it harder for you to break in to see me again.”
“I will be back,” Lazlo promised.
“I know,” I smiled.
When he left, I leaned back against the door, gasping for breath. This hurt so much more than I thought it would. I was so much more afraid too. I stared at the small white room, knowing this might be my home for the rest of my life.
Unless they found a cure first. Or I just got too fed up, and took Tatum and Lazlo up on their offers. As much as this sucked, maybe it didn’t have to be forever.
I waited a half hour, hoping that gave Blue enough time to get out of here. Then I pushed the button by the door, the one that would summon soldiers and doctors. I went over and sat in the dentist chair in the middle of the room, and I waited to see how the rest of my life would begin.