They watched the tiny baby boy squirm restlessly in Ted’s arms, its face screwed up as though it would begin crying any moment now. Ted looked tense and worried as he held the infant delicately in his arms like it was his own. This baby had been from the camp, they knew that much.
“Does he have a name?” Vick asked as the baby wiggled in Ted’s arms. Ted locked gazes with Vick for a moment before quietly shaking his head. The baby was swaddled in a baby blue blanket and wearing a Chicago Bears one-piece that covered his whole body. He didn't have much hair yet, save for a light brown tuft of fluff atop his small head. His eyes were a very bright sea-blue and Ted hummed something soothing and the infant seemed to calm.
“He’s hungry.” Ted said, pausing from his lullabylike hums to speak. Vick cursed low under his breath, having no idea where to find a woman willing to nurse him or a place to get formula. All they had up ahead was the gas station.
“We could try searching for something in there for him.” Adrian said. Vick nodded to confirm the idea while Ted frowned and headed towards the bathroom with his little bundle. The bathroom had already been checked and deemed clear by Adrian.
Ted propped his “shubby” (what he affectionately named his sniper rifle) up beside him and he sat down in the bathroom, holding the little baby that was now effectively his. After having lost everyone he had ever loved, after abandoning the state he’d lived in his whole life, Ted was full of fiery determination to protect this little baby from all harm in the screwy world he had been thrust into. He affectionately ran two of his fingers along the baby’s forehead, as though afraid he would hurt the baby. He felt so rough and raw that he didn't trust his strength fully, even though he was aware of it far more than he admitted to even himself.
“Colin.” Ted says as he looks down at the baby, finally deciding that since the infant’s parents were dead, it was his responsibility to name the baby.
He hears the cries of victory and immediately gets back up, holding the baby with one arm and his shubby with the other, pushing the bathroom door open as Adrian proudly brandishes a bottle of powdered baby formula. Such victories were rare in this life, and Ted can’t help but burst out with a grin.
They make a small fire and boil the water, filling a bottle they picked up along the way and properly cleaned with piping-hot formula before clambering into the black Mitsubishi Outlander. Ted sits in the back, holding Colin until the other two pause to wrench a baby seat out of a car and affix that to the backseat beside Ted, securing it so Ted can place the little one within. As they drive, Ted tests the milk on his arm continually, saving as much of it as he can for Colin to consume before deeming it the right temperature and doling it out to the baby, who stops nearly-crying at once. Colin’s small blue eyes fix themselves on Ted’s own set and Ted feels an incredible warmth spread through him.
“They say Australia’s safe.” Vick said as he drives down a backroad, far safer and easier to cross the country on than the highways. The beautiful Midwest, littered with a few moving corpses, rolls by their windows. Ted keeps his eyes fixed on his immediate area, always checking the baby to make sure he’s okay.
“So is that our objective?” Adrian asks from the passenger seat. Adrian has a map sprawled across his legs, clad in rough denim. His skin was darkened from sun exposure, as all of their skins had been the past few weeks from constant travel. Even though he is safe within a car, he is too jumpy from close encounters with the walking dead and twitches occasionally.
“Sure is.” Vick says as he continues to drive. Ted can tell Vick is comfortable with a vehicle, because the older man seems more relaxed behind the wheel than he had ever been outside of the Outlander. His driving skills are clearly an asset, proven by situations where he wove the Outlander through clusters of abandoned cars. Occasionally they would stop to raid these vehicles. There were no morals left in this world, and anything they could get proved essential to their survival.
“Hold up a second.” Adrian says, pointing at something ahead on the road. A smaller car blocks one lane, an ugly and thick gray billowing from under the hood as a man stands beside it, waving. Vick slows the car to a halt when he sees the man has a little girl in his arm and rolls his window down a bit.
“Please, help us.” the man says as some of the undead close in from four-hundred yards off. Ted immediately slides open the back door on his side and pops the seat back to allow the man to place his small golden-haired daughter in before sliding in himself. Ted slams the door shut behind him and Vick nails the gas pedal.
Ted carefully inspects both of them for bite wounds. The man seems a bit embarrassed at first but murmurs understanding words as he allows Ted to investigate them thoroughly enough before green-lighting the pair as safe.
“Is that a baby?” the little girl asks. She’s a perfect golden-haired cherub with bright green eyes and slight curl to her locks, wearing plenty of pink and Hello Kitty for a little girl her age of around eight or so. Her father is a tall and able-bodied man of thirty-something with thick brown hair and eyes somewhere between green and blue. He smiles at her voice, which is reminiscent of an angel to Ted.
“Yep, this is Colin.” Ted says as he speaks to the little girl. Somewhere deep in his heart, she reminds him of a loved one he can no longer name and this deals a terrible blow to his heart. His sister, perhaps. Though there is relief in him that he never got to see her stumbling around with rotting flesh and torn clothes, the tragedy having been the one to put her and the rest of his family down for good before turning is what causes a small tear to break free from its restraints and roll down a young and dirt-specked cheek. He reaches up and brushes it away in an almost offhand manner as he looks at Colin, who gurgles lightly at him. This was his family now, everyone in this car. This is who he would protect.
“He’s so cute.” the girl says delicately. Her father is bowing his head, having seen the look in Ted’s eyes and his tear. The little girl admires the small baby boy with bright and caring eyes, and the baby eyes her with an almost surprised look that makes Ted chuckle.
They stop on a clear road for only a few minutes to have a silent meal while Adrian sits atop the Outlander, serving as a lookout. Having become used to cooking in this kind of world, Ted easily prepares enough Spam and Egg Beaters to make a satisfactory meal for all of them, taking over lookout shift with conviction in his heart so Adrian can eat his own plate. After the meal they all load back up in the Outlander and head off. Ted was proud of his cooking now...not a single plate had food left on it this time around.
They talked on the road. The man was named John, and his daughter was named Julia. The pair of them had been barely surviving too, after their own camp was overrun. Ted shared his story of meeting Adrian in Wisconsin after traveling solo from California on his own, then the two of them finding Vick on the Wisconsin-Illinois border before locating the Chicago camp three weeks before it got overrun. That was something they all had in common; their camps had not lasted.
Ted left the backstory out of it. No stranger needed to see him break after just meeting him, nor accept the reality that someone as young as Ted had been forced to take out his family by their admission to end the horror of the zombie outbreak; to prevent them from turning into the monsters that roamed the country. No one needed to know he had to leave his only home. But keeping the goal of Australia in mind, Ted didn't worry. He leaned his face against the cold glass window as the occupants of the car lapsed into lethargy.
They would be home soon.
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