Chapter 16: A Chance

The following two days were spent rebuilding after the damage the Hunters had done to the Depot. While Lex had been away, Lydia and her hunting party had been hard at work trying to kill every last one of Alpha's people. They had failed, obviously, though there had been a few casualties. While Lex hadn't known them well enough to feel any significant grief, Alpha was noticeably more subdued than normal. He had never opened up about how close he actually was to his people, but considering how hurt he was about the Hunters trifling with him, it was safe to assume his fallen comrades were like family to him. That very same sentiment was shared by Lex with her own friends. As Lex woke the third morning, only one thought was in her mind: Lydia. Bruno's former enforcer had always been somewhat of an unknown, even during the short time she had been involved in this conflict. Back when she first showed herself to Lex and Roger, she did not seem like she belonged. Despite the fact that she clearly had no qualms about her lifestyle or the man she chose to follow, there was still something about her that set off alarms in Lex's mind. Those suspicions had apparently been realised, if not entirely. The cannibalistic woman had simply surrendered after expressing her desire to speak rather than fight, not desires one would associate with the Hunters. Now, she was their prisoner. Lex still wanted to kill her. That would not change anytime soon, if at all. But she would not go against the democratic consensus of her people and most trusted advisors. For that reason, she wanted to speak to Lydia. It wasn't clear to her why exactly, but considering their former aggressor would not be going anywhere, it seemed prudent to clear the air as best they could. No good could come of any conversation that might play out, but Lex did not have many options. She couldn't just ignore the situation and leave Lydia in the care of Jake or the Tribals. No, she needed to see to this herself. She pulled on her tank top and jeans before slipping on her boots and leaving her office. As she descended, she could spot Linus and Jake speaking over by one of their trucks. The weapons and vehicles that had once belonged to the Hunters had been retrieved since the fighting ceased. They had been added to the Depot's supplies, significantly strengthening their situation. That pleased Lex greatly. The added security would help to calm her nerves, given the stress and constant feeling of dread that had accompanied her during the conflict. She assumed Linus was preparing to head to Dean's bunker and break the news that they had won before taking everyone back. While it might have made sense to send for the others right after Bruno was killed, but Lex wanted to make sure they would be completely safe. Now, though, it seemed that they were only inconveniencing Dean. Lex's people were overstaying their welcome. That, and it couldn't have been too encouraging for the others to stay in the bunker without word about what was happening. It was time for them to come back home. Linus spotted Lex and saluted her with a smile. It was nice to see everyone's moods lightened after everything. Since Bruno had been killed, it was uncertain whether some of the remnants of his people would emerge to exact revenge. But it seemed those fears were unwarranted. Either the Hunters had all been killed aside from Lydia, or any that survived had fled. They would not return. Lex showed them who was boss when she killed their leader. She had proven her dominance and implied the superior combat prowess of her community in one swift motion. It was safe to assume that any aggressive groups in the area would give the Depot a wide berth for a while for fear of being annihilated in a similar fashion. That gave Lex hope like she had never felt before. To think that their safety would be assured, that potential enemies may choose not to engage them simply out of fear of being beaten, was truly something. Lex made her way over to Linus and Jake, coming to a stop just before them.

"You ain't getting up too early these past couple days," Jake joked with that roguish smile of his as he shifted the weight of the shotgun in his hands.

"Having a well-needed rest," she told him, rubbing her eyes with one hand.

"A well-earned rest," Jake corrected her. "You more than any of us, after what you've been through. You need all the sleep you can get."

"Not sure about that. If I sleep any more, I might fall into a coma. I take it you're heading to Dean's?" The question was directed at Linus, who had his crossbow slung around his shoulder.

"Yeah, thought it was about time," he told her. "The others should know what happened here. They must be worried sick. The hell would they have done if Bruno won?"

"Not sure I want to think about that," Jake weighed in light-heartedly, though there was far more truth to that than he let on.

"Anyway, I was just going to bring a few back for now," Linus went on, gesturing to the truck. "Just so they all know we won. Dean's place is a hell of a fortress. I figure it's no harm to leave some of our people there for the meantime."

"Dean might think differently about that," Lex suggested. "Still, makes sense. If we can keep Dean as an ally, it'd be very beneficial if he let us use that bunker as a safehouse."

"Let's hope he doesn't decide to shut himself away after this, then," Jake responded calmly. "He seems like he might want to cut ties for his own safety."

"I'd like to think he won't see fit to do that," Lex said mournfully. She had high hopes for Dean and his warehouse. He could be a valuable ally if he chose to maintain contact with the Depot after today. "I want to see Lydia." Jake and Linus exchanged a concerned look. Lex sighed despite the smirk she wore. "Relax. I'm not going to try anything. I just want to talk to her. If she really is willing to cooperate like it seems, she likely won't have any problem telling us if any of her friends will be coming for this place."

"Yeah, was thinking that myself," Jake weighed in. "Like that biker on the road. We followed her for a ways, but after a couple minutes she wasn't even in sight anymore. I'm starting to think she slowed down to let us follow for a bit. Almost like she was fucking with us." It took Lex a moment to realise what Jake had said. In truth, she had forgotten about the mystery woman on the road. That was at least one of Bruno's spies that got away. If there were others, the biker would be along shortly with them in tow.

"She'll bide her time for a while," Lex surmised. "But eventually, she'll come for us. We should be ready when she does."

"Talking to Lydia would be a good start," Linus agreed. If there was even a chance the captured Hunter had useful information, they had to trust that Lex would not kill her. As much as she wanted to, she would not. Her desire to see every one of Bruno's people destroyed was not that strong. She could restrain herself for the sake of her people, her family. Lex made her way to the room Lydia was being kept in. Considering both Bruno and Natalie had escaped in the past, the Hunter had been restrained with chains instead of rope, large, heavy steel links that had been nailed to the walls. As well as that, three Tribals stood guard outside the door daily. Despite the fact that Lydia claimed she would make no attempt to escape, they could not just take her word for it, especially if she was still counting on the mystery biker for aid. Lex dismissed the guards and gently eased the door open. As she stepped inside and shut the door behind her, Lydia looked up from the ground. The expression on her face was one of surprise and fear. Clearly she assumed the Depot's leader had come to execute her. It almost pleased Lex to see that. She flirted with the idea of scaring her prisoner, of pacing up and down in an attempt to imply she would, indeed, kill her. But she decided against it. That would be trivial and senseless, not to mention a waste of time. Instead, she grabbed the stool from the corner and sat before the former Hunter.

"Wasn't expecting to see you," Lydia mumbled hoarsely before clearing her throat. "After you didn't show the first day, I assumed you were just gonna leave me in here to rot. I'll just be a drain on your resources, after all. It'd almost be smarter to just kill me."

"If you're pleading for your life, you aren't doing a great job," Lex told her brazenly. Lydia scoffed.

"I'm not sure what I'm doing, to be honest. Guess I'm just glad to see you haven't killed me yet."

"I just want to talk," Lex told her calmly in some uncharacteristic attempt to put her at ease. "I have a few questions I'd like you to answer. Honestly." Lydia sighed in relief and relaxed in her seat, as much as she could with two great chains connecting her linked arms to both walls either side of her.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad to hear that," she said gratefully. "Okay. Shoot. What do you want to know?"

"If your friends are going to come for us," Lex told her pointedly. "I assume there are a few left out there. They can't be too pleased about what I did. Chances are they'll retreat, regroup and lead an assault on this place after things have settled down. That'd be the smart thing to do. But assuming they aren't too smart after all, I imagine they'll attack the Depot in the next few days."

"You can save the lecture you have for me," Lydia cut her off. "There ain't nothing to worry about. Half of Bruno's people would be scared shitless without the numbers, the other half wouldn't be bothered wasting their energy fighting his war now that he's dead. Besides, if there even are any of us left, there won't be enough to do any damage to this place."

"So you're saying all of the Hunters are dead?" Lex asked, her gaze hard on her prisoner as she awaited a response. She knew well there was another one out there. The woman on the road had gotten away. If Lydia claimed there were no Hunters left, that was as good as confirmation that she was not as willing to cooperate as she seemed. As depraved and scattered as the Hunters were, they were exceptional at planting spies within rival groups.

"I'm saying it's more likely that most of them are dead, yes," Lydia responded almost angrily. "If there are any left, you're talking maybe four or five people. Not enough to be any threat to you. They'll be dead in days out there on their own." Lex didn't say anything, her eyes locked with her prisoner's. She tossed a few ideas around in her head, most of them involving exiling Lydia to the outside. It was tempting, but foolish.

"What about your spy on the road?" Lydia furrowed her brow in response.

"What spy?" she asked confusedly. "Anyone we had watching you either died out there before I surrendered or went back with Bruno."

"Is that so?" Lydia swallowed hard. Lex's manner and quiet voice were obviously putting her on edge. "When I went out there, a woman emerged from the woods. She was on a bike. Nice one, too. I never saw her face. But she had been watching us. That, or she had remarkable timing. She took off before we could stop her." Again, Lydia's face gave nothing away only her alleged lack of knowledge about this stranger. Her eyes averted from Lex's, though not in any attempt to hide what she knew. She was thinking hard. This knowledge was clearly news to her. Or she was an exceptional liar. Lex would have preferred to believe the latter.

"I don't know anyone like that," she said finally. "None of our people even own a fucking bike. Too damn loud. What'd she look like?"

"Brown leather jacket, dark green combats…she really isn't ringing any bells?" Lydia shook her head adamantly.

"Really," she pleaded. "I've never seen her. Honest." Lex nodded as she rose from her stool.

"I suppose it doesn't matter now," she admitted. As possible as it was that the stranger meant them harm, she clearly saw fit to avoid them on the road when she fled. To Lex, that meant she could be ignored. For now. But if she actually was one of the Hunters, that posed a bigger problem. Lex would keep an interest in this situation in case any more information arose. Until then, it seemed Lydia was in her care. It was true, it would be an awful waste of resources to keep her alive. But despite Lex's previously expressed desire to kill her, she would not just let her die now. She couldn't do that. So she would keep her alive for as long as she would remain cooperative.

"Really?" Lydia asked, presumably calling her on what seemed to be a dangerous ignorance of the situation. If this stranger was indeed an enemy, it seemed foolish to ignore her. But one woman on a bike, with no ties to the Hunters, did not seem like that big of a deal. They could handle her. "Sounds to me like you got some nosy bitch out there watching you and your people. That's not something to just forget about. What if she comes knocking with a kill squad of her own?"

"Then we'll handle it," Lex told her firmly. She had no interest in having this conversation, especially not with Lydia.

"Like you handled Bruno?!" That was an outburst fuelled purely by emotion, one Lydia instantly regretted when she noticed Lex's expression. She immediately averted her eyes and sighed. "Look, I…I get it. You've been through enough shit, due in no small part to me and my friends. You don't want to have to worry about more dangers right now. But if I'm going to be here for a while, I might as well help you keep this place safe, especially if my own life depends on those walls straying up." Lex's face did not change. "Just think about it, okay?"

"I'll see," Lex told her before turning and leaving the room. She whistled and the three Tribals instantly returned to their post. Despite the obvious animosity that existed between Lex and Lydia, the cannibal had made a good point. The security of the Depot had always been one of Lex's top priorities. It was incredibly idiotic and undeniably selfish to ignore a potential enemy that might do them harm just because she was tired of fighting. For now, she would not worry too much about the biker. There was no need to put everyone on alert just after the conflict with the Hunters had ended. But she would have the guards on constant watch day and night for any sign. That was a given, seeing as how there might still be Hunters out there somewhere. Nevertheless, for the immediate future, it seemed like the Depot could finally relax. They needed this reprieve. Ever since the walls went up, they had seen nothing but bloodshed. Bruno had been a threat before Lex and her people even found this place and he continued to be throughout his short, pathetic life. Now that he was dead along with most of his subordinates, Lex's community could actually begin to thrive. The future was uncertain, but hopeful. This place could really be a home worth fighting for one day. All they had to do was work hard and believe that there was more to life than just surviving. The world may have ended long ago, but Lex's life was only just beginning to take shape. As she made her way out into the square, she spotted Alpha with the woman he had described as his 'mate.' Lex decided for her own peace of mind just to use the term 'partner.' It certainly humanised the otherwise animalistic Tribals. Lex made her way over to them cautiously. It seemed plausible that they would rather be left alone right now given the losses they sustained, but Lex decided to take that risk. She was grateful for Alpha's help and he deserved to know that. It was his partner that noticed Lex first, a small, pretty woman whose name was still unknown. It was almost laughable how much Alpha dwarfed her in size.

"Alexis," the woman said softly. She reached out an arm. Lex took it politely in both hands. "The fighting is done, at last."

"Due in no small part to you and your people."

"You are too kind," the woman insisted modestly. "Without you, none of us would be standing here right now. The Hunters plagued us and many others for a long time until you put a stop to their aggression. This place was a result of you and your vision. Because of that, we are all alive." That was a bit grandiose for Lex's liking, but she accepted the praise nonetheless.

"What will we do now?" Alpha asked after an extended silence. "It looks like we're safe, after everything."

"For now," Lex warned cryptically. She had no intention of resting on her laurels, despite the victory they had won days ago. "We can't get complacent. The Hunters are gone, yes. They may never come back, the few of them that might be left. But we still have a lot of work to do. If the dangers out there don't come for us, bandits or plunderers will. There will always be some obstacle, some danger for us to face. But we'll do it. Together. That's what keeps us alive. Not our strength, our weapons, not even the walls around us. It's the numbers. The unity. As long as we stick together and watch each other's backs, we can do anything. That's why we're alive. That's how we stay alive."