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11 September 2013 @ 04:28 pm
[fic: white collar] Hold With All You Have | 4/4  
Hold With All You Have | 4/4

Please see part 1 for header information and warnings.

On LJ: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 | On DW | On AO3

Spring

Diana yearned for spring with an intensity that caught her unawares. She had learnt indifference to seasons at a young age, when her home might uproot at any instant (or so it had seemed back then) and move from fall to summer, or from one winter to another with little pattern. Then she had spent much of her adult life in cities, with air conditioning keeping the insides of buildings at a constant temperature. The seasons were something she passed through, sometimes picking up a coat or a summer hat, but never something that intricately factored into her day-to-day life.

Winter this time (and for the rest of her life, maybe) was about hunkering down and surviving; about making repairs to clothing and equipment and tools that everyone had been too busy to get to in the preceding months. She finally learnt how to sew properly — she had expected some teasing for that, but then it turned out Neal had decided to start learning too, and had been expecting the same thing from her.

Meanwhile, she taught Elsa and some of the others how to shoot. She went out hunting several times with a couple of the farmhands who knew the area. Privately, she hoped to find wolves and kill as many of them as she could, but the expeditions only brought back deer. Which were useful, and a more-than-welcome addition to their food stores, but she was disappointed nonetheless.

The scars on Neal’s arm were dark and ugly. Peter’s were worse. It was already clear that Julie had been correct, and he would never have proper use of his leg again.

Diana and Neal were both there when he tried walking again for the first time. He sat on the edge of George’s bed for several minutes, looking down at his socked feet.

Neal nudged him gently with a shoulder. "Hey. You ready?"

"Yeah," Peter said, and made no further movement for a couple of seconds. Then he took a deep breath. "Yeah, ready." He lifted his arms so that Neal and Diana could slip into place, one on each side. They pulled him up, so that he could stand with all his weight on his good leg.

His breath caught as he put weight on his injured side, and his fingers dug into Diana’s shoulder. "Do you want to sit back down?" Neal asked, anxiously.

"No," Peter said, his voice tight. He moved his leg stiffly, sliding it forward, and took a step onto it with gritted teeth. He only allowed himself to rest for a second once his good leg had come forward too before he was moving again, forcing his body through another step. Then another, trying to let his bad leg take an equal share of weight each time. He kept his mouth clenched shut, but his breathing was ragged and harsh, and he was beginning to shake. Diana traded an alarmed look with Neal over Peter’s head. His face was already pale and clammy.

"Peter —" Neal began.

"No," Peter ground out. "No, not yet."

"We’re going to stop," Diana ordered.

"I’ve only just —"

"I don’t care! Lift your foot off the ground."

Between them, they got Peter back onto the bed. He slumped back against the pillows, his face grey and sweaty, eyes closed. "I’ll be okay — in a second —" he rasped.

Diana wanted to yell at him. He had been told that trying to push himself too fast could jeopardise the healing process... She breathed in, out. Calmed down. "I think you’ve done enough for now," she said, neutrally. "Julie told you to take it slow, remember?"

"I am!" Peter said, frustration spilling out of him. He finally opened his eyes, pleading her to understand.

She did. "Careful," she told him. "You’re sounding like Caffrey."

That got a laugh, from both of them. And the next day Peter went much more slowly, more patiently.

Day by day he got stronger, gradually adapting to a new way of walking. Neal made him a stout hazel cane for his birthday, which Peter looked at first like he wanted to reject, before he noticed the FBI badge carved on it. Then he laughed enough to chase away the shadows in his eyes.

Meanwhile, the shifting politics of living arrangements as friendships and relationships formed or were broken off meant that Diana ended up rooming with Elsa. She wasn’t entirely sure how good an idea that was, considering that she could recognise she was on the edge of developing an all-out crush on the other woman, but she was too pleased to be asked to feel that she could turn the offer down.

She came in one day, stamping snow from her boots, to find Elsa sitting on her bed with her arms wrapped around her knees. "It’s his birthday today," she said, quietly.

Diana left her outdoor gear in a pile in the middle of the floor (she could pick it up later) and went to sit beside her on the bed. "Liam?" she asked, gently.

Elsa nodded. She had hardly spoken about her husband in all the time since. "I didn't remember all morning. How awful is that?"

"It isn't awful," Diana said. She had never been all that good at softness and comfort, but she put her arm around the other woman, and Elsa leaned her head against it. "He'd understand. Anyone would."

"Tell me about Christie?" Elsa asked.

"You know about her already," Diana said.

Elsa twisted her head so that she could see Diana's face. "I know about how she died. But you never talk about who she was before that. If you tell me about her, I'll tell you about Liam."

Diana scooted back to lean against the wall, freeing her hair from the tight knot she usually wore it in these days. It gave her time to consider. Elsa uncurled and moved to join her. "Deal," she said, at last.

They held hands while they shared their memories.

- - -

The snows melted, but it was a little longer before bright green shoots and leaves began to appear. Diana felt her heart lift the first time she noticed them. They had survived the winter, and they were on the other side now. Not unscathed, but they had come through. And spring brought hope for more building, for planting crops, for their community to go on.

It also brought contact with the outside world.

The first time they heard the approaching drone of an engine that wasn’t theirs, almost everyone had gathered in a defensive group at the top of the farm road by the time the dirty pickup truck pulled up.

Diana had a gun shoved into her waistband. She was pretty sure several others did, too. She raised a hand to shade her eyes from the sun, watching the new arrivals closely.

The two men in the truck got out slowly, moving with exaggerated slowness, letting their empty hands swing at the side. "Heya, folks," the one who was white said, with a friendly smile. He didn’t look at all perturbed to be the subject of so many stares, ranging from curious to just-off hostile. It occurred to Diana that he had probably done this before. "We heard there was a group up here."

"Heard from who?" Elsa asked. She was one of the more hostile ones — Diana supposed that she herself was one of the others. Sometimes what had happened in Illinois felt so distant as to be from another time altogether, like the nebulous before, but she knew it still weighed on Elsa. Her failure to protect people she’d taken responsibility for.

The man focused on her as the leader. "There’s a couple families about ten miles west, said they reckoned you lot was out here somewhere from the way some of the towns’ve been emptied out. My name’s Larry, by the way. This is my partner, Kev."

"I thought this whole area was empty," Elsa said.

"Lots of people hiding from each other," Larry said. "Me, though, I just go talking to everyone. I’m not here to see what supplies you’ve got hidden, don’t worry."

"How do we know we can trust you?" Elsa asked.

Larry shrugged, looking untroubled. "I reckon trust’s gotta start somewhere if you want it to end up spreading. But we’ll go away again if you want."

Elsa hesitated, and glanced at Diana, who shrugged slightly. She didn’t get any sense of danger from either of them. And — there was something almost dizzying about the thought of other people, other communities after the fall and winter of isolation. Suddenly she was wildly eager to hear news from the outside world.

"Come into the farmhouse," Elsa said, and the atmosphere lightened instantly.

"Wait a moment," Larry said. "We’ve got something for you, if you’ll share in kind."

"What’s that?"

"Name lists," Kev said. His voice was much softer and shyer than his partner's. "If you’ll let us share the names of everyone here, we’ll show you who else is hereabouts."

There was something like a collective intake of breath from all around, a sudden up-surge of hope. Everyone had people they desperately wanted to be alive.

They wrote the names on one wall of the main room in the farmhouse the next day, opposite the map Neal began carefully painting of the surrounding area. He had assistance from a road atlas and a few old terrain maps Franz had turned up from some cupboard, as well as notes taken from Larry. The locations of other communities were painted bright.

Diana didn’t think it was just her who now felt several times less alone — like part of the world which had been missing was beginning to slot into place.

- - -

It rained a lot during the next couple of months, interspersed with days of bright blue sky. Julie announced her pregnancy, and George couldn’t keep from beaming every time he looked at her.

("But who’s going to be your midwife?" Neal asked her.

"Ravi can do it," Julie replied, grinning. "He says he's good at birthing sheep."

Neal had assumed she was joking. Diana didn't.)

There were more visitors. They were firmly on the map now, and after a while it became a semi-regular occurrence for some vehicle or other to pull up with updated population lists and things that they wanted to trade, from gossip to engine parts. The lists were the subject of continuous scrutiny, so much so that sometimes it seemed like it had been less painful when they could imagine that they were the only survivors, and hope for others hadn’t seemed like something real.

Diana found herself out walking in comfortable silence with Peter one evening. They were doing a circle of the fields, checking that the fences had no holes that deer could squeeze through. She walked slowly to match Peter’s asymmetric steps as he leaned heavily on his FBI cane.

"Neal wants to go off searching," he said. He was looking at the line of trees on the other side of their land that formed the horizon. The sky was growing dusky above them.

She didn’t have to ask what he would be searching for. "Alone?" she asked, instead.

"I don’t know," Peter said, quietly. "We’ve got responsibilities here — although I’m not so useful now." He didn’t indicate the cane, but she knew that he was thinking about it. "But I’d give anything to find Elizabeth. Anything."

Diana touched his arm gently. "I understand," she said. "So would everyone else."

He glanced at her. "Would you go, if we di?"

She hesitated. "I... don’t know," she admitted. "If there was a lead, something solid..."

But she wasn’t sure even then. It seemed terrible to say as much to Peter, who had commanded her loyalties for years. A voice in her head prompted her, If it was Christie...

It wasn’t, though. Christie was dead, and lying unburied in a city full of corpses.

"It’s alright," Peter said, kindly. "You can be complete here. I'm glad."

She shook her head slightly, but didn’t disagree. "I’m sorry."

"You don't need to apologise for anything. That was the point of escaping New York, wasn’t it? To find somewhere we could make a new start?"

Had it been? At the time it had been pure survival, or so it had seemed to her. Survival, and a fragile, dream-like hope that they would find Elizabeth and Mozzie safe and well, and that that would somehow make up for all they had lost. She had tried to believe that for the sake of Neal and Peter, but she wasn’t sure now that she had ever really managed to at all.

"We should start getting back," she said, aware that she hadn’t answered Peter’s question. She was also aware that he was walking more slowly, his leg clearly aching in a way that he wouldn’t admit to.

"Yeah," Peter said. He craned his neck behind him, checking the stretch of fence he had been walking past without seeing.

Diana grinned. "The fence is fine, relax."

Peter laughed. "Well, I’m glad one of us was keeping an eye out."

They lapsed into a companionable silence, surrounded by bird calls and the sound of the breeze in the budding trees. The sound of an engine rumbled down the track, fading into the distance.

"Someone going out tonight?" Peter asked.

Diana shrugged. "I didn't think so. Maybe one of our neighbours dropped by."

She opened the gate for Peter to pass through, and then latched it firmly behind them. Oddly, there was a lot of noise coming from the main yard, and they turned between the buildings towards it.

They stepped into a group of people, but barely had a chance to look around before a white-faced Neal flung himself towards them, grabbing Peter’s arm.

"Peter!" he said, urgently, and then started pulling him towards an unsettled-looking George. "Tell him," Neal demanded.

George shrugged uneasily. "I had to turn away a car just now," he said. "The woman was sick. Beginning to cough blood already."

"Describe them," Neal insisted.

George looked even more unhappy. "She was short, with brown hair. The guy driving was really small, with a bald head and glasses."

"It was Mozzie!" Neal said. His voice was on the edge of frantic. "Mozzie and Elizabeth. I’m sure of it. Peter..."

Peter was digging into the pocket of his pants to find his wallet. Diana had a moment of surprise that he still even carried one — she hadn't bothered for months, and she was pretty sure most others didn’t, either. But she stopped being surprised when the first thing in its fold was a photograph of him and El.

Peter showed it to George, his hands noticeably shaking. He had let his cane fall; Diana bent automatically to pick it up. "Is this her?" he asked. His voice was shaking too.

George stared at it, and closed his eyes for a moment in what looked like a desperate wish not to have to answer. "Yeah," he said. "Oh, hell. That's definitely her."

"And she was sick?"

George nodded. "I’m sorry..."

"Do you know where they went?" Peter demanded. "Where they were heading?"

He shook his head. "I didn’t ask."

"Mozzie probably wouldn’t have told you anyway," Neal said. He touched Peter’s arm. "We’re going after them, right?"

"Of course we are," Peter said. He glanced around distractedly. "Elsa, I need to borrow the Ford." It was the oldest and the most battered of their vehicle collection. The one the farm needed the least.

"Are you going to be able to return it?" Elsa asked, seriously. "Peter, if she’s sick already..."

"I know," Peter said. His voice was desperate; desolate. "She’s my wife, Elsa."

"Fuck," Elsa muttered, but she didn’t attempt to dissuade him. Nor Neal — he was practically vibrating in place with the barely-contained urge to be away.

"Diana?" Peter asked, quietly.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, that question, and yet it was. She had to choose. Peter understood that; but she thought by Neal’s face that it hadn’t occurred to him until that moment.

Elsa grabbed her hand, all the protests she wasn’t making to the other two there in the tightness of her grip. "Stay," she said, and abruptly leaned forward to kiss her. Diana, shocked by the suddenness of it, took a second to react — but then her eyes closed and she was kissing Elsa back. Just like she had wished for.

And she pulled away. Because her first loyalty had been to Peter for so long that it was a part of her. Elsa needed her, and the farm needed her, but this was a prior claim. She blinked away a sudden stinging in her eyes. "I’m going as well," she said.

"You don’t have to," Peter told her, his eyes anxiously searching hers. "Elsa’s right. Elizabeth could —" be dead already, along with Mozzie. Be never found. Be beyond knowing them, even if they reached her in time.

But that was exactly why she needed to be there as well. For him and Neal.

"I wouldn’t ask you to," he finished.

She managed to smile, just a little. "I know, boss."

- - -

They took too long to leave. Neal knew that they left as fast as they could, hastily packing what each of them considered essential, but it still took too long.

A heartbeat would have taken too long.

Diana was driving as the car bumped down the track. Neal had tried to object, but she had blocked him with her body from getting into the driver’s seat. "You need to look out for any sign of where they are," she had said. Which was at kinder than I don’t trust you to drive right now, if less true. So he was riding shotgun, and Peter was in the back, leaning forward into the gap between the seats so that he could better see out of the windscreen.

"How far behind them do you think we are?" Diana asked, and Neal checked his watch and fought to pull his scattered thoughts together enough to make sense of it.

"Less than an hour," he said, but found himself unable to be more precise than that. Night was coming down fast; it was well into twilight already. "They’ll go somewhere sheltered. Probably in one of the towns. Not right on the outskirts, because light would show too easily, but not far in."

Diana nodded. They were on the actual road now, and she would be breaking the speed limit if anyone had been enforcing it. "Do you think Mozzie knew to look for you around here?"

"He would have said something to George about me if he'd known that," Neal said. It could be hard to trace Mozzie’s thought processes at the best of times, and he’d gotten out of the habit. Added to that over half a year of what must have been even more sharpened paranoia... but he would have said something, for Elizabeth’s sake.

Likely, he and Elizabeth had been avoiding the settlements. They would never have seen the community lists. Neal blinked, hard, as he was assaulted by the memories he had been almost-successfully keeping at bay, all the people he couldn’t bear to think about too often for fear that dwelling on them too much would sap the hope that they were alive. And now they were too late anyway, and Elizabeth was dying...

Diana turned on the headlights, which made the evening instantly seem darker. Neal wound down his window. The draught was chilly, but he wanted as many senses as possible.

The nearest small town was only a few minutes’ tense drive away. Diana dropped the speed back down and cruised slowly along the roads as Neal and Peter stared out of opposite windows.

"Something's there!" Peter exclaimed, and Diana slammed down the brakes. "Down that street."

She turned down it. Neal drew in a sharp breath. There were thin lines of light along the the edges of the curtained windows of one house. "That’s got to be them," Neal said. He was opening the door almost before the engine stopped. "Mozzie!" he shouted. "Moz!"

"Aren’t we knocking?" Diana asked.

Neal shook his head. "If he doesn’t know who we are, he won’t answer." He turned back to the nearest window. "Mozzie!" he shouted, again.

And the front door opened in response, just a fraction at first, and then it was thrown open the rest of the way. "Neal?" Mozzie exclaimed. "That’s seriously you?"

Mozzie didn’t like to be touched, usually, but Neal started hesitantly towards him and it was Mozzie who grabbed him and pulled him into a hug. Neal squeezed him with what was probably bone-crushing tightness, but Mozzie was reciprocating and, oh god, he was alive.

"Neal, oh my god, I thought you were dead for sure," Mozzie was babbling, and then he finally looked over Neal’s shoulder and let go of him abruptly. "Suit! Oh no, no —"

"Is Elizabeth —" Neal began.

"She’s really sick," Mozzie said, desperately. "You know, though — how do you know?"

"We’ve been living at the farm up the hill," Neal said. "Where you were earlier."

"Elizabeth," Peter interrupted. "I need to see her."

"We brought first-aid supplies," Diana said. "How much do you have in there?"

There was naked relief on Mozzie's face. "Come on, come on!" he ordered, gesturing impatiently.

"Neal, help me," Diana said, and Neal hurried back to the car to grab their bags from the trunk. Peter had gone ahead with Mozzie and Neal didn't blame him one bit — he just wanted to join him as fast as possible.

Elizabeth's hair was cut short, cropped just below her ears. It was the first thing Neal noticed about her, because it was the easiest thing to notice. But then he had to see the soft restraints Mozzie had made from what looked like bathrobe belts, securing her arms to the sides of the bed-frame. She was tossing feverishly, her eyes glazed and unfocused, and there was blood around her mouth, flecks of it on her shirt where she had coughed it up.

"Elizabeth..." Peter was whispering, but she couldn't hear him.

She's going to die. The knowledge rang in Neal's head like a bell, and there was no way he could displace it. Like Ellen, like June, like Kate. She was going to die and they couldn't do anything to prevent it.

Diana pushed forwards. "We need to get her sitting up," she said.

"What?" Mozzie asked.

"She'll be able to breathe more easily. There's blood in her lungs; she can't get enough air."

Peter started towards Elizabeth. Neal stopped him with a touch on his arm. "Let me do it," he said, with a glance at the hand Peter had to keep on his cane.

Peter frowned, and then nodded reluctantly.

There was a box of latex-free gloves on a chair, and Neal pulled on a pair, and a surgical mask which Peter passed him. "Elizabeth?" he said, quietly. "I'm going to help you get more comfortable, okay?"

She was moaning softly. Diana flinched at the sound.

"Moz, I need your help," Neal said. He had expected for a second that Mozzie would need persuading to go near someone so ill, but he’d forgotten, again, the months which Mozzie and El had experienced, about which he knew nothing. Mozzie just nodded grimly, put on a mask and gloves, and went round the other side of the bed. "Can someone get more pillows? To support her?"

"There’s another bedroom next door," Mozzie said, and Diana went to fetch some. The ones she returned with were pink, with a child-like pattern of princesses on. (It was little things like that which still caught you, made your stomach twist even after all this time.)

Neal took a careful but tight hold of El’s forearm, unwinding the belt as Mozzie did the same on her other side. She made a noise of protest, beginning to struggle, but she was too worn out already to do much. He put his arm around her and pulled her up against the pile of pillows Diana was sliding into place as she began coughing violently again, shuddering against him, more blood dappling her shirt. "It’s okay," he could hear Peter murmuring. "It’s okay, El, it’s okay."

He hated re-securing her arms, but he had to. He tried to again make the restraints gentle but secure, and he couldn’t bring himself to look up at Peter until it was done and he could step away.

Elizabeth had her eyes closed now, still moving restlessly. It was hard to tell whether they’d done her any good or not. Her face was starkly pale, the flecks of blood standing out vividly.

"I just need to —" Neal said, gesturing vaguely towards the door and already moving through it.

He leaned against the wall in the hallway, pulling the mask down to take deep breaths, his hands clenched into fists until he could be sure that when he unfolded them they wouldn’t be shaking. Elizabeth's blood was on the gloves, and on noticing that he stripped them off with sickened haste.

After a minute or so he managed to go back inside, and received a small smile of solidarity from Diana, who was also very pale and leaning against the wall closest to the door.

Peter was sitting in a chair pulled up to the side of the bed — Neal thought it had probably been there before their arrival. He was also wearing gloves now, and was using a damp cloth to wipe the blood from El’s face.

"I got her to drink a bit, before," Mozzie said. "I guess we just keep trying..."

"There are some of those rehydration powders in one of the bags," Peter said. "They might help."

"Good idea." Mozzie dug around until he found them, and added one to a plastic tumbler of water. His fear was showing much less now. He’d always been far more capable under pressure than he pretended.

"Diana, do you know anything else we can do?" Peter asked.

Diana shook her head. "I’m sorry, I don’t..."

Neal took her hand, squeezing it. Maybe he had been lucky. People he loved had died, but he hadn’t had to watch it happen slowly before.

Minutes ticked past slowly, turning into hours. Neal passed out food to everyone at one point, but then hadn’t felt like he could eat any himself. It was very late, but going to sleep wasn’t an option either. Mozzie and Peter remained in chairs on either side of El, and he switched with them occasionally, taking a turn to dab a cloth against El’s lips as she coughed, or trying to get her to drink.

She was dying. Neal knew she was dying. The horror, the inevitability of it kept making him feel like there wasn’t enough air in the room, and he found himself pacing restlessly up and down the hall, and then, when the rest of the house too felt too cramped and stifling, up and down the driveway where he could at least breathe.

And then he came back inside, and she was dead.

Peter was leaning over her when Neal came into the room, tenderly stroking her cropped hair, and Neal’s chest locked up with the sudden realisation as he stared at her. Then the room blurred and spun, and he was stumbling back out again, unable to breathe, unable to do anything except obey the deep-rooted instinct shouting at him to run, run. Get out.

The night air outside was barely better, thick and hot and smothering, and he felt dizzy, his head pounding. He lurched to one side, only just catching himself against the car, and then he found himself walking, stumbling down the road. Run. Run.

His head felt worse and worse, like it was splitting open, and the tight, painful pressure in his chest became a coughing jag which he couldn’t stop. He slipped down to his knees, his face close to the ground as he kept coughing. By the time it was finally over his eyes were watering, and his vision was wavering badly. And on the pale paving stones there was blood.

I need help, he realised, but he had no idea where he was.

It was the last coherent thought he had.

- - -

There was an unreal feeling to the night. Diana had been shaken out of an uncomfortable sleep, sitting against the wall with a blanket around her shoulders, by Mozzie agitatedly telling her that Neal was missing.

It didn’t feel like she’d really woken up yet.

She still wasn’t sure they should be leaving Peter alone right now. But Peter had insisted on it; voice hoarse with exhaustion, eyes reddened. They needed to find Neal.

The blood on the sidewalk only confirmed what they had already been sure of.

"Why on earth did he wander off?" Mozzie demanded. "I mean, I know why, obviously, it’s because he’s Neal, but —"

Diana shook her head silently, swinging the beam of her flashlight to light up the fronts of the buildings, and the gaps between them. She had almost forgotten what Mozzie’s nervous babble was like, and at the same time it was so familiar that she might have last heard it yesterday.

"...he could just say something, if we find him and he’s — When we find him, I’m going to be so mad!"

"Neal!" Diana called. "Are you there?"

"We thought you were dead," Mozzie said, abruptly, and it took Diana a second to realise that he was speaking to her, rather than to himself or to an absent Neal. "If we’d tried looking harder for you..."

"You couldn’t have known we were out here," Diana said. "I mean, we didn’t know we’d end up here."

Mozzie shook his head angrily. He was too agitated to be mollified, even slightly. "We need to find him."

"We’re going to," Diana tried to promise, although she couldn’t convince herself of it. It was a night of disasters; this was simply the latest one, and they hadn’t been able to turn the previous ones aside. "How far could he have got, anyway?"

"It’s Neal," Mozzie said, as if that was enough of an answer. It probably was. And there were too many ways he could have branched off, or hidden. Maybe it would have been more sensible to have split up to search, but after everything that had happened she didn’t want to be by herself, and so she hadn’t suggested it.

"Neal!" she shouted, again, and swung her flashlight in a circle around them.

"Neal!" But the tone in Mozzie’s voice was different, and a second later he set off running. She jogged after him.

If she’d been by herself she might not even have spotted him, wedged into a tight space between a low-boughed tree and the wall it was growing towards. He flinched from the flashlight beam when it fell on his face, bleaching any remaining colour from it, but he didn’t otherwise react to their presence even as Mozzie crouched down in front of him.

"Careful," Diana said, quietly. She figured Mozzie must have also seen enough people infected by the virus to know what she was warning him of.

But Neal didn’t blindly attack in apparent panic or rage. His reaction was more muted, like Elizabeth’s. He was shivering, and moving restlessly in an almost constant motion, pressing himself further back between bark and stone.

"Neal?" Mozzie asked.

"He’s not seeing us," Diana said.

"He has to, though," Mozzie said, with muted desperation. "Neal, come on, I only just found you again. Don’t do this to me."

Diana felt overwhelmed with helplessness. What were they supposed to do? Drag him back to the appropriated house, to tie him down like Elizabeth? But equally they couldn’t leave him here, in the cold spring night.

And he was a biological hot zone right now. There was no doubt that he’d been passed the infection from Elizabeth, and he could easily pass it to one of them.

"Do you think he’d let us move him?" she asked Mozzie.

He shrugged, not turning his head.

Right. Time for her to take a turn at coming up with a reckless plan. "Stay here with him," she said, and Mozzie finally glanced round, to raise his eyebrows and give her an are you kidding? look. "I’ll be back in a minute."

She picked the third house down, not wanting to startle Neal with the noise of her smashing a window with a rock. If he noticed. She knocked the jagged shards of glass out of the frame before climbing carefully in. More glass crunched under her shoes.

This house had been occupied when the virus hit. She turned her eyes from the shape on the couch — once a corpse, before that a living person, now just desiccated clothes and bones. Another was slumped against the wall, amid a mess of things knocked from shelves.

Upstairs she quickly found what she was looking for, and climbed out again with the thick blanket.

"Do you have any spare masks with you?" she asked Mozzie, and he pulled one out of his pocket, still in its pack.

He saw what she wanted to do immediately. "Let me," he said, and she couldn’t not.

He shuffled forwards, slowly. "Hey, Neal," he said. "We need to put this on you, okay?"

Neal didn’t resist as Mozzie slipped the mask very slowly onto his face. He didn’t seem to notice it was there.

"You’re burning up," Mozzie said, touching the backs of his gloved fingers against Neal’s cheek for a moment. "Come on, let’s get you out of here."

Neal flinched away as Mozzie tried to pull him up, jerking frantically, but he had already pinned himself into the gap and couldn’t go anywhere.

"He can’t understand you," Diana said. She pushed herself in beside Mozzie. "Look, we have to pull him out of there anyway."

"I don’t want to hurt him."

"We’re not going to." She couldn’t really promise that, but they couldn’t just stay like this. And she was used to being the one pushing the course of action that other people were uncomfortable with. "I need you to help me, though."

He nodded reluctantly, and as she took hold of Neal at his arm and shoulder Mozzie did the same on his other side. Together they pulled Neal up out of the gap, and Diana held him upright as Mozzie wound the blanket tightly around him, pinning his arms and covering the drying blood on his clothes.

Neal was already swaying as Mozzie helped Diana support him. "Neal?" he said. "We’re going to walk just a little way now, okay? Back to Peter. Can you do that?"

He can’t hear you, Diana nearly said again, brusquely, but bit her lip in time. It wasn’t fair of her.

Neal managed to stay on his feet with the two of them on either side to propel him along, his steps small and shuffling. Heat was rolling off him alarmingly.

Diana still didn’t feel like she’d woken up.

- - -

Neal knew that he was underwater; he was drowning. Each breath filled his lungs with thick fluid, and when he coughed there was the warm taste of blood in his mouth.

He was frightened. His surroundings were dark and writhed like weeds.

Voices swelled in waves around him. Sometimes they were voices that he knew, and sometimes not, and sometime they were the sounds made by things out of nightmares. He flinched away from them but he couldn’t get up, he couldn’t run any further.

He was drowning.

There were shapes in front of him that might have been faces, and if he concentrated he thought that he would be able to tell for sure — but he was also afraid of what else they might be, so he didn’t. They could be the wrong faces, ones he’d run from before, greedy hands reaching out to grasp him and then becoming weeds again, white bone-fingers caught in them.

His arms were pinned. They had been for a while, maybe; he hadn’t noticed. He wriggled, and then flailed desperately like a stranded fish, but the air or water around him hot and thick as syrup, and he couldn’t break free. All he could do was drift.

Unfocused images burst like bubbles in front of him as a current dragged him along. Dark and light and then far too much light, stabbing and blinding. He cried out in pain and that made him choke again, tasting blood, and then he realised his hands were bound from wrist to forearm and that tipped him over into blind panic. He struggled desperately, and maybe he was screaming, but then there was pressure on him, hands holding him down and he couldn’t breathe...

- - -

Diana clenched her jaw against the desperate sounds Neal was making as Mozzie tied his arms methodically to the bedframe. There was naked terror on his face — she had never seen that expression on him before.

"There," Mozzie said, finally straightening up. He looked at Neal, and bit his lip.

"Can he get out of them?" Diana asked.

"Not in this state."

Diana nodded, but felt far from happy. It felt barbaric, tying him down. He wasn’t dangerous... except that he was, right now, no matter what his intent would be.

Neal began coughing again, blood from the lining of his lungs speckling his lips. Diana and Mozzie were both wearing masks again, but they still stayed well back. She could see Mozzie flinch at each cough — his germaphobe instincts were hating this. But he still stayed, as he had stayed with Elizabeth.

Once, she wouldn't have believed it of him.

Neal's coughing finished, and he slumped back against the pillows, shivering slightly and huddling into himself. His half-lidded eyes were glassy, and they occasionally flicked around without finding a focus.

Mozzie reached for a damp cloth, carefully wiping the blood from Neal's face. "Hold on, Neal," he murmured. "Keep fighting." But Neal gave no reaction to him.

"I’ll go check on Peter," Diana said. She patted the quilt over Neal’s leg, a gesture of comfort that did more for herself than for him.

Mozzie glanced round indecisively, like he thought he should be doing that too, but he wasn’t going to leave Neal. Not right now, when Neal was struggling weakly against his bonds and making little moaning noises filled with fear. She, too, left the room reluctantly.

But Peter needed her, too, and Elizabeth... Exhausted, Peter was leaning against the intersection of the chair back and the wall, a gloved hand carefully cradling the side of Elizabeth’s head. Diana kept her footsteps quiet as she approached, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Do you need anything?" she asked, softly.

He shook his head. "How’s Neal?"

"Not good," she said, and couldn’t elaborate further than that.

Peter nodded. There were deep-gouged lines of pain on his face. "I can’t leave El on her own," he said. "Would you —"

"Of course. I’ll sit with her." She stepped aside for Peter to stand stiffly, balancing his weight between his good leg and the support of the chair arm until he’d got his cane into place. He was in obvious pain, but she knew he wouldn’t admit to it even if she pressed him. He looked down at Elizabeth uncertainly. "Peter, go," Diana said.

"Thanks," he murmured, and she let herself drop into the seat he’d vacated. It felt like she hadn’t sat down for hours, and she realised that she actually hadn’t. Her legs hurt. Most of her hurt, in fact, but a lot of the pain stemmed from inside her; fear and grief and worry all churning inside her chest.

Elizabeth was very still, head tipped slightly to one side against the pillows, hair smoothed away from her pale face. It was all too easy to believe that she was dead, and Diana had to look for the slight motion of El’s ribcage rising and falling to reassure herself. She slipped her fingers into El’s.

They had unbound her. Her fever was falling. She was recovering. It still seemed like something Diana could barely allow herself to believe.

There was a faint twitch of movement through her hand. Diana drew in a sharp breath, and leaned urgently forward. "Elizabeth? Can you hear me?"

A minuscule flicker of her eyelids, and then the motion was gone. But it was enough to send Diana to her feet, and hurry into the other bedroom.

Peter looked up instantly from where he was sitting next to Neal, his eyes widening. "What is it? Is she okay?"

"I think she’s waking up," Diana told him, breathlessly.

Peter was moving without another word, as fast as his uneven steps could take him. Mozzie beamed, and then turned back to Neal. "You hear that?" he said, quietly. "Elizabeth’s beaten this thing, so you can too. You’d better." He glanced at Diana. "He’s tough, you know."

Diana felt an odd, out-of-place stab of jealousy. Of course I know, I’ve been with him these past months. She’d travelled with him, and laboured beside him, and stitched his skin together. She moved around to the other side of the bed, perching on the nightstand for want of a better seat. "He is."

Mozzie looked at her with an expression that she suddenly realised must mirror hers. Jealousy — he would have been missing Neal during those months every bit as fiercely as Neal had been missing him.

"Neal," she said, "You’ve got to get better, okay? Look how far Mozzie and El came to find us."

He still can’t hear you, a part of her brain reminded her, but she mentally told it to shut up. She couldn’t know that.

"He will," Mozzie said, and it was the same tone of voice that Neal had used every time he had talked about him and Elizabeth still being alive. "He has to."

She couldn’t argue with that.

- - -

He floated somewhere in the dark, underwater. Too warm, or maybe cold.

Something cool was pressing against his face. "Neal, can you hear me?"

-

"Neal?"

His eyelids were too heavy to lift. He remembered drowning, but couldn’t stay afloat.

-

Blurs of faces.

"Are you waking up?"

"Come on, show me that you’re in there."

-

He was shivering. Something heavy and warm was being tucked over him, by hands that suddenly stilled.

"Neal?"

Mozzie’s voice.

"...hi," he whispered, and then fell asleep again.

-

Faces. He blinked, and they swam into view.

"Hey. There you are." Peter’s hand was cool against his cheek.

He blinked again, and breathed. His lungs ached, and his head, and all the rest of him.

"How’re you feeling?" Peter asked.

"Tired," Neal whispered.

Peter smiled crookedly at him. He looked exhausted, eyes deeply shadowed. "You’ll feel better soon," he said. "Rest."

He didn’t have much of a choice.

- - -

Dreams of dark water receded but the sensation of drowning didn’t; the wrenching, choking coughing fit was all too real.

"Lean forward," Mozzie ordered, and held Neal’s shoulders as he coughed up mucus streaked with clots of dried blood, half-retching it into a plastic bowl which Mozzie had shoved into his lap. "You’re going to be okay."

Neal nodded weakly, struggling to catch his breath. "Moz?" he croaked.

Mozzie eased him back carefully against the pile of pillows. "Welcome back."

Neal closed his eyes, already tired. "What happened? I don’t remember..."

He trailed off, opening his eyes abruptly as his head spun.

"Neal?" Mozzie gripped his arm anxiously. "Neal, look at me. What is it?"

"Elizabeth," Neal whispered. There had been very little in him to begin with, but he could feel what was left draining away. His breathing was far too fast.

"Neal!" Mozzie’s voice was sharper, cutting through the vertigo. "She’s okay."

Neal gaped, staring at him stupidly. But she was dead...

"Come on, breathe," Mozzie ordered, and coaxed Neal through several deep breaths, and then the round of coughing that they generated. "Geez, Neal, you look awful."

Neal slumped heavily back, dizzy and spent. "She’s alive?" he asked. It was much harder to talk than it should have been.

"Very much so," Mozzie confirmed, as Neal desperately searched his face to see if he was telling the truth. But this wasn’t something Mozzie would be able to lie about, and certainly not well.

"But..."

"Neal!" Mozzie snapped. "Stop talking. Do you realise how close you were to dying yourself? You need to calm down!"

Neal opened his mouth, and shut it again at Mozzie’s renewed glare.

"Good," Mozzie said, more gently. He pushed his glasses up to rub his eyes with the back of his hand, and Neal suddenly realised how exhausted he looked.

"What day is it?" he asked.

Mozzie glanced over at the curtained window as if the answer would be written there. "One of them," he said. "You should probably try and go back to sleep. Your body’s got a lot of healing to do."

Neal nodded reluctantly, but he didn’t think he’d be able to keep his eyes open much longer in any case. "But everyone’s okay?" he mumbled.

Mozzie pressed his hand briefly. "Everyone’s okay. I promise." His voice had turned very gentle. "We’re all okay."

We’re all okay. We’re all together.

- - -

When Diana finally woke up from her first proper sleep in what felt like forever, it was to find that the last few days had all blended together into a haze of exhaustion and fear. She'd barely slept during them except for haphazardly-timed naps. Now they felt strangely distant, as if it had happened a long time ago.

She couldn't really be sorry for the way her brain was preventing her from dwelling on the details.

She was stiff as she swung her legs down off the couch, pushing away the blanket. Her stomach growled as she stretched, but she ignored it in favour of heading upstairs.

"In here," a low voice called as she reached the landing, and she turned into Neal's room to find Elizabeth sitting cross-legged on the quilt, wearing a sweater over pyjamas which had been looted from a wardrobe. Neal was also sitting upright, alert and animated.

"Hey," Diana said, and took the chair. "Plotting your escape already?"

"Peter's asleep," Elizabeth said, the corner of her mouth tilting up into a fond smile. "Hopefully for at least ten more hours."

"He needs it," Diana agreed. "I hope Mozzie's doing the same."

"I told him to," Neal said. "He was actually tired enough to listen. No idea where he went, though."

El laughed. "God, I can't believe we really found you," she said. "We didn't even know if you'd managed to leave the city." She sighed. "I didn't believe it, when I woke up with Peter there."

Neal reached for her hand. She gripped it tightly and then smiled at Diana, including her in their happiness at being reunited.

"What happened to Peter's leg?" El asked, after a moment.

Neal recounted the story, having to pause often to sip water or to cough. The insides of his lungs, and El's too, had been badly ripped up, and were still healing. Diana found herself thinking about lasting effects on breathing, and the increased potential for infections. They would both have to be so much more careful.

She came back to the present to realise that Neal had stopped talking, and El was pressing a sleeve against her eyes. "I'm not crying," she insisted. "I'm not."

There was a silvery scar running down one side of El's neck, visible beneath her short hair. She was leaner than Diana remembered; harder. They all were. (She had cried bitterly, though, when telling them that Satchmo had died during the winter.)

"We’re running a little low on food," Diana said, addressing Neal, giving El time to recover. "This house has got a pretty well-stocked pantry, but in a day or two we’ll either have to go scavenging or go back to the farm."

Neal looked up sharply. "You don’t think El and I would be dangerous there?"

She shook her head. "If you were still infectious we’d all be sick by now. I think we’re safe to go back. That is, I assume we’re all going back?"

She was looking at El now. She hadn’t asked, yet, if they had found themselves a community of their own to attach themselves to.

"We’ve been moving around, just the two of us," El said, recognising what Diana was asking. "Having somewhere to stay sounds... amazing."

"You’ll like it," Neal assured her. "It’s a great place. Nothing like the city, of course..."

He trailed away into silence, and swallowed.

This time it was El who reached for him in comfort. "I’m looking forward to seeing it," she said.

- - -

It was a day and a half before they headed out, piling into the two vehicles. Neal, Peter and Elizabeth were in one car, and Mozzie and Diana were in the other. This had the advantage of making sure each was driven by someone who knew the local roads, but did mean that Diana ended up hearing far more statistics about disaster response programs and the failure thereof than she had ever really wanted to know, particularly since the data was of such limited use in the current circumstances.

She let Mozzie talk, though. This was the first time while awake that he’d been far from both Elizabeth and Neal, and he clearly was unhappy and anxious about it. The least she could do was let him rattle off this information.

Neither he or El had talked much yet about what had happened during the past months. Diana had tried to imagine having just one other person to rely on, and no real goal to hope and aim for, and wasn’t surprised that it had taken its toll.

Like having the woman you loved die in your arms. Like having your tentatively-established home ripped away again. They were all scarred.

And in any case, news of the wider world was something she could never get enough of. Mozzie had plenty of rumours. More communities were connecting with each other, across greater distances, building a fragile web of communication that would stretch across the country again given time. The infrastructure still existed, in many cases relatively undamaged. They just needed to coordinate, and find enough people with training and skills that could be utilised and passed on.

"What about the virus, though?" Diana asked when Mozzie paused for breath. "People are really wary around here of mixing with strangers, in case they’re carrying it. Isn't it the same in other places?"

"The virus is evolving," Mozzie said, and at her sharp look he shrugged. "What? Why do you think Neal and Elizabeth aren’t both dead right now? The most virulent strain blasted right through its herd population, and now it needs to settle down if it doesn’t want to die along with all its carriers."

She raised an eyebrow at his apparent nonchalance. "You make it sound inevitable."

"Biologically, yes, or else it would just go extinct along with us." He looked sidelong at her. "It’s only statistically less virulent now, though. The people it kills are still dead; it’s just that they're a much lower proportion."

She nodded. "You’ve thought about this a lot."

He shrugged, and looked away from her out of the window. She didn’t press him.

In any case, there wasn’t time, because she was already turning up the well-worn track. An unfamiliar emotion was flooding through her as she recognised each rise and fall of the tree line, and the way the clump of buildings came into view one by one.

Home. I’m home.

"What do you think?" she asked Mozzie, knowing she was beaming.

"It’s very... rural..." he said, his tone doubtful, but his eyes were trying to take in everything at once like an excited child.

Diana laughed as she parked the car. "I’m sure you’ll get used to it."

A face appeared at one of the nearest windows, and the farmhouse door opened as Diana climbed out of the car, motioning Mozzie to stay put. Peter was just pulling into the yard.

"We’re safe," Diana called. They had thrown away everything that had been in contact with Neal and Elizabeth while they had been ill, and they’d all scrubbed down thoroughly before leaving the house.

Elsa moved forward at that. "How certain are you?"

Diana reported their self-imposed quarantine, and the additional measures they’d taken to avoid bringing infectious material back with them, and Elsa nodded warily. "If we put you all in one of the cabins for another two days, would that be okay?"

"Seems fair enough," Diana said. She certainly wasn’t sorry for the opportunity to force both Neal and Elizabeth to stay still and recuperate for a while longer, even if she was chafing at the thought of more isolation. But she could wait.

Elsa nodded, her face relaxing into the smile she'd forced herself to repress. "I guess you can let everyone out of the cars, then."

Mozzie slipped over to help Neal out of the backseat of Peter’s car without pausing for an introduction. Elsa studied Neal anxiously, only partly mollified by the reassuring smile he shot her — it was very tired around the edges.

"You must be Elsa," Elizabeth said. She was leaning on Peter, but still managed to show how delightedly she was drinking in her surroundings.

"And you’re Elizabeth," Elsa said, turning to her. "My god, I can’t believe they actually found you."

"Technically, we did the actual finding," Mozzie interjected.

"You did not! We found you," Neal retorted.

Diana rolled her eyes, and hoped this subject wouldn’t be a recurring theme over the next two days. She caught Elsa watching her, and smiled back. "So, I guess we need to talk," she said, quietly.

"Guess we do," Elsa said back, just as quietly. Diana had a strong urge to reach out and take her hand, but settled for beaming every time their eyes met.

She could wait.

- - -

Two nights later, the wind whispering in the trees outside, Diana lay in the dark with her body close against the warmth of Elsa’s and their breathing rising and falling together.

She didn’t realise that she was about to start crying until there were already too many tears for her to be able to stop.

"What is it?" Elsa asked. "What’s the matter?"

Diana shook her head against Elsa’s shoulder. "I don’t know," she whispered.

Elsa smoothed Diana’s tear-wet cheeks with her fingers, and stroked Diana’s hair gently. She didn’t tell her not to cry. There was too much to cry for. All the people who had died along the way, all the friends whose fate they would never know, all the times their loved ones had been close to death.

Diana thought maybe, too, she was crying for the final loss of her old self, her old life. A catharsis. Her tears were heavy, but with each one that rolled away she seemed to feel a little lighter.

Elsa held her until all of her tears were exhausted, making quiet sounds of sympathy. "It’s okay," she murmured. "It’s okay."

It was dark, and the wind in the trees was like a lullaby, wrapping softly around them.

Diana pressed a kiss to Elsa’s skin. "I know," she whispered. "We’re home now."

- - -

Epilogue — Summer

The days grew longer and warmer, sprinkled with the last of the spring rains. They were sowing the late crops between showers, which was the last thing Neal had ever imagined himself doing. He had tried to protest that he wasn’t any good at gardening, but Diana had rolled her eyes and said, You’re just throwing seeds at mud, Neal, how good do you need to be? and Pretend you’re Jackson Pollock, which was such an epic level of wrong that Neal couldn’t even think of a good retort.

("April is the cruellest month," Mozzie had quipped from a corner, where he was fiddling with some mess of electronics.

"It’s May."

"Time is an illusion. And besides, it’s only just May.")

Pausing at one end of the field for a breather, Neal recognised the clutching tightness in his chest that meant it was time to stop. (He’d tried to push through it, the first time, and shortly thereafter had blinked his eyes open dizzily to find he was lying in the mud with Peter kneeling over him, paper-white. It wasn’t an experience he cared to repeat.)

"You okay?" Julie called. She had a hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun, the other resting on the growing swell of her stomach.

Neal waved in affirmation. "Heading back," he called in reply.

She gestured him agreeably away.

Mozzie was trying to make a radio work, which seemed to have become his perennial project. There was a rumour that someone over west had set up a transmitter and was broadcasting regional updates; the fact that this was wholly unconfirmed and that therefore there was really no way to know whether Mozzie’s radio was working or not appeared to be an attraction of the project for him, rather than a drawback. It was a break from doing things with immediate, measurable results.

"Strip these for me," he said, as soon as Neal came in, shoving a tangle of wires his way.

Neal flicked open his pocket knife as he dropped into a cross-legged position on the floor, obediently beginning to work on the plastic tubing. "What are these for?"

"Annika found a building with solar panels. We can get ourselves a water-heating system set up here."

Mozzie was enjoying himself these days, and wasn’t even bothering to hide it. Neal nodded at the radio. "Any luck?"

"Not yet," Mozzie said, airily. "It’s just a matter of time, though." Reminded, he pulled it over to idly begin fiddling with it, frowning. "Neal, you’ve heard the rumours, haven’t you?"

Given the small size of their community, it was all but a given. "Which ones do you mean?"

"That there are more people than we thought still alive in the areas which were evacuated or locked-down early on. Some of them are beginning to trickle out."

"Mmm." Neal tried to concentrate on stripping the wires, rather than the flutter in his chest at the thought. "They’re unconfirmed rumours, don’t forget. And about fifth-hand." With spring had come far too many insubstantial whispers already, born of hope and wishful thinking.

Mozzie frowned at him, wanting a different reaction. "Neal —"

The apparatus in his hands suddenly squawked out a burst of static. Mozzie almost dropped it in his excitement. "It’s working!"

Neal was grinning delightedly. "Is there anything good on?"

There didn’t seem to be anyone broadcasting, even though they spent over an hour trying to tune it. Still, it was a start.

- - -

They had visitors every few days now, trading in goods (the jars of preserved fruit for hens was a particularly good deal, despite their uncanny knack for always getting underfoot in the yard) and swapping wild and unconfirmed rumours for payment in kind.

Neal listened to them all. Several large cities burned down over the winter, with no one to stop them... Colonies of zoo-escaped animals were establishing themselves... Some factories were beginning to churn again, slowly, machinery powered manually or by wind or water... What was left of the government had been ousted in hunger-fuelled riots... There were still people living in New York City, which everyone had assumed to be lost...

They had finished planting now. Harvest was months away, and there was an itch in Neal when he looked to the horizon. His lungs were gradually recovering; he and Elizabeth had taken to jogging together each morning, slowly, building back lost stamina.

She and Mozzie had still barely spoken about what they’d been through. But then, no one spoke about the past all that much. There was before, which was so distant and remote that it hardly felt real, and there was everything which had happened since the farm community had been established. But the time between, the transition, was a raw wound. A trauma shared and separate at the same time. Too much had been lost to really comprehend.

Still people living in New York City...

- - -

In the end, the discussion were more straightforward than Neal had expected. They were of one mind. Except for Diana.

And so now everyone they'd come to know was gathered in the yard in front of the farmhouse on a bright, sunny morning, while Peter slung the last bag into the trunk of the car they’d fought about taking from the small town in Connecticut a lifetime ago.

"Are you sure you’re not coming?" Mozzie asked Diana. A pleading note crept into his tone. "It’s not like this is a one-way trip."

Diana shook her head firmly. "I know, but I can’t go back there. I don’t want to go back." She reached for Elsa’s hand, standing next to her.

Mozzie looked like he was ready to keep arguing, but a frown from Peter stopped him. Diana had more than thought about her choice.

Elizabeth hugged Diana tightly. "We’ll miss you," she said. "But we’ll be back before you know it."

"You’d better be," Elsa said. "We’ll need all of you in the fall. And we'll happily take any extra hands you happen to pick up."

Diana laughed, dashing her sleeve across her eyes. "You'd better listen to her," she said. "Come back."

"We wouldn’t dare not to," Peter promised, and wrapped her in a one-armed hug, mindful of his cane.

"You take care, boss."

"I’m not that anymore," Peter protested, but she just laughed, still blinking tears back.

Mozzie’s goodbyes were given too quietly for anyone else to catch, and then Neal was the last person to hug Diana in farewell, trying not to let his eyes water too much himself. For once he couldn't find any words. They’d said everything to each other already, once he’d given up trying to convince her to join him.

"Stay safe," she ordered, her voice only wavering very slightly.

"We will," he promised. "And we'll be back before you know it, like El said."

They'd already said their goodbyes to the others, but well-wishes were still being called out as Neal climbed into the passenger seat, rolling down the window so that he could wave out of it. Elsa, Julie, George, Matt, Ravi...

Friends. Family.

And New York was somewhere ahead, and even though he should probably have lost hope by now that anyone he knew there was still alive, he hadn’t. June could surely have made it, if anyone could. Hughes. Jones. Maybe someday they’d hear from Sara, too, and Alex.

He was racing ahead of himself, he knew. But after all, they had come through — battered, and scarred, but they had survived. Just then, anything seemed possible.

They drove east, towards the sun.

- - -
 
 
 
kanarek13kanarek13 on September 11th, 2013 07:59 pm (UTC)
Wow, wow, wow :D I just finished reading and realized I had completely lost track of time because of this amazing story \o/ Such a beautiful tale of surviving the unimaginable and not losing yourself, of love and friendship and family ♥

I do believe that if anything like that would ever happen, this is how they would survive it, how they would support each other and find a way to build a new life for them and the people they love ♥

And the artwork is LOVE, it's truly amazing, perfect companion to the story \o/

Thank you for writing this epic, I was so looking forward to reading it \o/ Yay :D
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on September 20th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)
Thank you SO much! ♥ ♥

I'm thrilled that you enjoyed this so much, and especially that you found the reactions realistic. I really love "what if" scenarios, and it was fascinating to try and work out everything that might happen.

And the art is fantastic! :D :D

Thank you again!
dennih23: Set matt fixing tims tiedennih23 on September 12th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
What an incredible story – this is just – wow, I have no words for it. It kept my on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

It was so sad when Peter was injured and ready to give up, good thing Neal was there to ‘kick’ him back to being himself, fighting again, and not giving up hope.

I was in tears when they found El and Neal thought she died, then Neal getting sick – what a rollercoaster – so glad they all were making a new start – especially Diana, it was good that she found someone new to share her life with.

Thank you for sharing this, both to the writer and artist (the art was perfect for the story)
Frith: Zundry - squidflailfrith_in_thorns on September 20th, 2013 12:52 am (UTC)
Thank you so very much! ♥ I really am delighted that you enjoyed this all the way through -- I'm very not used to writing things which are this long!

The two scenes you picked out were my favourite ones to write :) Especially the one with the wolves. And I'm glad that you liked Diana's new partner, too :) (That totally wasn't intentional -- I just realised after a while that I was shipping the two of them :P)
pipiljpipilj on September 12th, 2013 08:59 am (UTC)
a delightful story
Frith: White Collar - Diana - coatfrith_in_thorns on September 20th, 2013 12:52 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! :)
aqwt101aqwt101 on September 12th, 2013 10:27 am (UTC)
Wow, what a ride! Very gripping (in fact, I was nearly late to work reading it - just sucked me in:-D) and powerful story. Despite the horror and deaths, friendship and love between characters really shone through, and the adventures were great, as well - I adore wilderness survival stories, and Neal and Peter against the wolves was my favorite scene (great art for it, too!) Overall, nice feeling or their little family fighting for each other and not loosing hope. And I really loved how you end it, with them driving towards the sun.
Thank you for the wonderful read!
algeibanalgeiban on September 13th, 2013 12:29 am (UTC)
Beautiful. Just...wow. So much love. Everybody is so in character, but the circumstances have made them be the best versions of themselves. Wonderful.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on September 13th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
I don't even know where to start with this, except maybe to say I have so much love for this wonderful fic.

You've crafted a beautiful, rich and really emotionally wrenching story. After I read Fall two nights ago, I needed to stop and take it in and let the emotions it brought out mellow before I could go on.

All of the things that Peter, Diana and Neal were thinking and feeling so were real and powerful. When Diana lost Christie, when Neal had to leave June behind, Peter's grief for El I hurt with them and for them.

One of the things that made this so visceral is the realization that this scenario could happen one day and the way that you fleshed out both the initial outbreak and the events that followed was startling and kinda scary.

So, wow, just wow and thank you.
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Hard Sell Peter Nealsholio on September 13th, 2013 10:34 pm (UTC)
(I wish I had a Peter + Neal + Diana icon, which is what this fic really needs.)

I finally read the finished version from start to end, and ohhhhhhhh, them.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This is just so sharp and hurty and lovely, from the devastating descriptions of the outbreak and the chaotic world, to their love and care for each other that gets them through it. I adore this story and I can tell this is one I'll be revisiting many times to reread favorite parts.

EEEEEEEEEEEEE EVERYONE! ♥
Hanaalvahana on September 14th, 2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
OH MY GOD

This is EPIC - It's like watching an apocalyptic movie!! It is so different from the light, playful tone of the show, yet everyone and everything just fit perfectly right into the world you created.

Thank you for writing this, I really love it!
calis_1stcalis_1st on September 17th, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)
I wasn't sure what to expect,but this was amazing! Kind of like The Stand but without the whole good-vs-evil and who shall inherit the earth thing. I really appreciate how, even in such an AU, you kept everyone so true to character. I think my favorite part was Neal saving Peter, and how Peter realized that he did want to live. And as much as I would like to see them find June, Jones and Hughes healthy and well, I think you ended your story in a good place. Cheers!
leesa_perrie: Peter Promoleesa_perrie on September 24th, 2013 03:40 pm (UTC)
This was wonderful and very well thought out! Everything felt realistic, the plot was gripping and the ending leaves me wanting more, and yet is also a very good place to leave things. Excellent! :)
yvi_rossyvi_ross on April 6th, 2014 01:37 pm (UTC)
Hello you,

so, in the hope that you read this someday and I post in the right place, here comes my feed to your awesome great story.
Meanwhile, I've already - read a lot of your stories - by my standards. And I must say ... this has been the most violent of all.
Even the beginning of your story made me swallow several times violently.
Honestly? I do not know how much I have fully handkerchiefs cried until I read your FF to the end.
The madness per se.
How do you manage it just so damn good writing and realistic?
Not for a second I wanted to stop reading with. All four chapters were devoured right by me. Even if I "rest breaks" had to make. Because this story tugged pretty on my nerves.
All the emotion, the drama, the action, the love between El and Peter and the incredible friendship between Neal and Peter, and Mozzie and Diana not to forget. Unbelievable!
God, I was afraid that El and Mozzie would not survive the whole, after I had so long read anything from them. And yet you still so later bring a hammer.
Screaming! When Peter and Neal were then attacked by the wolves, the horror was really neat for me.
Handkerchief alarm ... the clash of Neal and Mozzie, Peter and El.
El is sick ... and Neal will also. Please, could yet not be true. And yet you do.
After this shock I had to take a break for now. A day later I was able to me to struggle through to read more.
What came after that, just NO everything in this story was only very large cinema and I bow in front of you And I'm so glad and thankful that this is all still had a happy ending for all involved. I also liked that Diana has found a new love.
I really have to confess that this is the best story I've read so far of White Collar.
Yes, and before I leave half a novel with more spelling errors, I would like now to finish my feedback.
At this point I would like to thank you for this wonderful, nerve-racking and full of emotion packed story.
If I needed a little longer to read them and understand / translate for me, I wanted to miss a single second of it. You did it to captivate me from the beginning.
Thank you that you have written this story and shared with us!

Kind regards Yvonne