The pounding of his feet against the dried mud filled his ears. His breathing was heavy as he panted, not daring to stop or slow down. Every muscle ached. His chest felt like it was tightening every second, and his legs ached like hell. But he wasn't going to stop.
"Come back, baby."
He didn't know if it was her, or just his imagination. Either one didn't really matter. It would be weeks, maybe even months, before he would get her sugary sweet, cooing voice out of his head.
"I love you, baby."
His foot caught on a long dead tree root, and he fell forward, flailing through the air before his face hit the ground with a whack. Groaning, he pushed himself up, wiping mud from his face as he glanced over his shoulder.
No sign of her.
Snake climbed to his feet, running a hand through his hair before touching his face lightly. Even the soft touch was enough to send pain shooting through.
He was going to have one hell of a bruise.
Liquid tickled his skin, and he wiped his hand just under his nose. Drawing it back, he glanced at it to see blood.
He told himself that it didn't matter. He just had to keep going. Snake took a deep breath, ignoring the ache in his chest and the dryness of his mouth. He began to walk, focusing hard on putting one foot in front of the other.
From far behind, he heard the kind of boom that came only with an explosion.
Snake jumped, cringing as he landed and looking behind. The town he had come from had been abandoned, but that didn't make the sight any easier to bear. Where the hell had she got the explosives from? She had rigged something up and just like that, the town was gone, replaced by a thick black cloud.
Bile rose in his throat as he thought of the men lying dead in the middle of streets. Some had more than deserved their untimely end, others had been innocent pawns she had drawn into her fucked up web.
She told him their deaths proved how much she loved him.
He ran his fingers over the back of his neck, feeling the start of the scar. It ran down his back, following the trace of his spine, a lump above his skin. There were more, criss-crossing his back and making strange patterns, but the one he could feel now was the longest.
"You're alive, aren't you? You should be grateful to me. You should be happy for my love."
He had been, sometime long ago. Deliriously happy. So much so that he left his family and went with her, leaving behind everything he had ever known. She told him they were going to find the light.
From far behind, he thought he heard the roar of an engine.
The sweat still hadn't dried on his head, but he began to run once more. The pain flared, and Snake forced himself to ignore it, keeping his gaze ahead as he tried to ignore the engine behind.
Any kind of working motorised vehicle was rare, but there were some who had worked at ways to restore them, and there had been a man like that in Snake's village. Under the guidance of the councillors, he had taught some of the boys how to fix, care and treat an engine. There were only a few things the boys could work on, and Snake had always liked the bikes.
His teacher said he had a knack for it, but he had only ever fixed the one, the one they had taken with them when they left the village. He had taught her to drive it, and near the end she had locked it up away from him.
"Everything I do is for you, baby. I do it because I love you."
Once upon a time, he had believed her. Once upon a time, he honestly thought that love drove her. After all, what else could have created the passionate fire that flared between them?
The first few weeks had been amazing. He had been like a lost lamb finally home. They had explored the town together, crawling in and out of ruins, making love in derelict buildings. They hadn't been able to keep their hands off each other.
"I want to try something different."
He shuddered at the memory, reaching out and putting his hand against a tree before he fell again. The bark came away under his fingers, crumpling. Some fell to the floor. Lighter pieces were carried away on the wind.
And again came the roar of an engine.
Snake ducked into the trees, hoping he could lose her if he got off the road. What the hell had he done to deserve this, to deserve her?
"My, my, my, aren't you a clever boy."
She had taken them all by surprise when she arrived in the village. They rarely had visitors, and usually visitors meant trouble. Wandering gangs, men who tried to rob and kill only to be beaten back by the villagers. They were a strong, sturdy lot, and fiercely protective of their own. But she had arrived alone, and they hadn't seen her as a threat.
Everything seemed to stop as she arrived. Teachers couldn't keep their students under control, and the children and teenagers spilled out onto the street to see the girl. Snake could remember it clearly. She had been limping, and using a long stick to help her walk. But she was smiling. Dirty blonde hair fell around her face, the fringe almost covering a pair of green eyes.
Snake had broken away from the crowd as she stumbled.
"Here," he'd said. "Let me help you." He'd put an arm around her waist and she had smiled at him, a dazzling, radiant smile that made his heart thump.
The councillors had arrived, and waited down the other end of the street for her. He took her to them, both of them moving slow, him paying extra attention when she winced.
"What happened to your leg?"
"Just a cut. It'll be fine."
But nothing was just a cut anymore.
Michael Williams stepped forward from the line of men, eyeing her carefully. His face quickly lost the suspicion carried there, and he broke into a smile, holding a hand out to her. Snake had let her go.
She shook it.
"Welcome," he said. "What's your name, darling?"
Michael nodded, glancing over his shoulder to scan the crowd gathering behind them. He turned back to look at Snake and the girl. "Snake, take this young woman to the infirmary. Tessa can take a look at that leg."
Snake nodded and put his arm once more around her waist. She leant on him, her smile gentle. The crowd parted before them, staring and whispering.
She was with Tessa for a few days, while the older woman kept an eye on the leg, dressing and redressing it, giving the girl a few antibiotics a day to fight off any infection that tried to take hold.
Snake visited her every day, telling her about the town and its people. He told her how they were trying to rebuild cars and bikes, how they sent out groups every so often to scout nearby towns and bring back anything they could.
"Is that how you have medicine?" she asked, and he nodded.
"Yeah. The scout groups sometimes meet traders on the road. We give them what we can, and they give us whatever they have at the time."
She always acted interested. Looking back, she was too interested. But hindsight was a wonderful thing.
He skidded to a stop, falling against a tree and sinking down, panting heavily as he rolled his eyes back to stare at the sky above. A few leaves covered patches of the sky, but between them he could see stars. After a few moments, his eyes began to sting and he closed them, wishing the ground wasn't so damn comfortable.
"So you made this work?"
"Aren't you a clever boy."
Her praise and flattery had made him think she really liked him.
"Come on, let's go find the sun!"
Perhaps he had been reckless in following her, but everything she did and said made him smile. He hadn't felt as alive, ever, as he did when he was with her.
The sound of the engine was closer, and he began to laugh. There was no reason for it. His situation was far from funny, but his head and chest and legs all ached, and he just hoped she'd let him go. She didn't need him around, not anymore.
He could hear her calling now, stretching the syllables of the word out, calling loud enough for her voice to rise above the sound of the engine. He closed his eyes, still feeling blood dripping from his nose. Sleep sounded like a brilliant idea.
"Baby, where are you?"
The engine drew closer, and he heard the tires screech on the other side of the trees. The bike's engine stopped, and seconds later he heard a thud.
Body shuddering, he drew himself as close to the tree as possible, knees against his chest, trying to make himself as small as possible.
"Aw, baby. You ran into the forest to try to get away from me?" She laughed, and the sound sent bugs crawling up his spine. Every inch of him was covered in goose bumps. Her feet crunched along the dry, dead forest floor.
He had wanted it to end for so long, but she had never let him.
Snake pulled himself to his feet, using the bark to steady himself, before he began to run, darting between the trees.
She'd stopped calling, and he couldn't hear her footsteps, not above the sound of his own. Not above the sound of his panting or his heartbeat and he knew he was being loud. He knew he was going to be easy to follow.
He just hoped the effort of running killed him before she found him.
He moved between the trees, eyes scanning the floor directly in front of him, watching out for roots. He jumped over any, and ducked under branches that seemed determined to stop him. Eventually, worn out, Snake stopped, falling forward and smacking his knees on the floor.
"Tired you out, baby?"
He lifted his head to see her standing directly in front of him, wearing that beautiful, radiant smile. In her hand, she held a knife, tapping it against her leg as she stared down at him.
"Look at my poor baby."
She stepped forward, reached down and grasped his hair, pulling his head back so his neck was on full view.
"Didn't you appreciate what I did for you? For us?"
She frowned. "Aw, but they weren't innocent. They would have destroyed us."
He tried to shake his head, but she held it in place. Somehow, he managed to keep his gaze focused on her eyes. "You didn't have to torture them."
She got to her knees, right in front of him.
"I thought it made you happy."
"But it made me horny," she said, her smile stretching into a grin. She let go of his head. He fell forward, hitting the ground, as she got to her feet. She held the knife up. "And me horny equals you happy, right, baby?"
She laughed, and brought the knife down.
He winced as it hit her leg.
"Twisted," he said.
He remembered, back in the village, her story.
"How did you get the cut?"
"I got chased," she had told him. "By a…a bad man. He treated me badly and I tried to escape. I did escape!"
She laughed again as she fell down, reached forward and grasped his hair again.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"Go find another boy," she said. "Go find someone to help me walk through their village."
Her eyes were full of life, shining and happy.
She sliced his neck open, the laughter continuing as the blood splattered across her.
A/N: As always, reviews are very much appreciated and returned. Would love to know what people think. And please have a look at the poll on my profile page. It'll really help me decide what to work on next. Thanks very much.