the parting glass
Title: the parting glass
Word Count: 1700
Prompt: #347 – sister
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters are copyright of Joss Whedon and ME. The Walking Dead and all related characters are copyright of Robert Kirkman, Image Comics and AMC. No infringement intended.
Synopsis: He’d seen her use that crowbar with an accuracy that bordered on frightening, well, frightening if it had been another time, another place, but in the here and now Grayson found it comforting.
Flames licked the sky and brought with them the scent of sulfur as another biter was added to the pyre and the fire his sister had failed to bank last night grew brighter as morning slipped into afternoon and body after body was burned to bone and ash. Rebecca had never been fond of the dark, a childhood fear that had followed her well into adulthood and when civilization crumbled so had her courage. That fear had crippled her when the sun set and forced Grayson to build a fire each night to placate his sister, but after the loss of Peter, her husband, the fear sharpened into something very near a phobia and left her unable to function at times.
The flames reached what was left of the biter’s fatty tissue and the scent that reminded him, unpleasantly, of burnt bacon grease tightened his stomach and the little he’d eaten, forced on him by Sarah, turned acidic. Blue eyes closed and he quelled the nausea with a few shallow breaths through his mouth and then he exhaled slowly. Grayson lifted his left hand and scratched absently at the back of his head before his eyes opened to take in the sight of the grave at his feet. The small hand wrapped within his right wiggled reminding him of the presence of his niece. Emma stood beside him, silent and staring at the marker that carried his sister’s name and the date of her birth and, his best guess at, the date of her death.
The sight of the letters and numbers written in his hasty scrawl left him dissatisfied and hollow, but he pushed past his own failings and came to a knee so that he was at eyelevel with the four year old. Emma continued to stare at the marker made from a hunk of asphalt and he wasn’t entirely sure how the petite teenager, whose name eluded him, had scavenged it for them. He’d also been unable to turn aside the teenager’s offer for help and she’d dug most of the grave while he attempted to explain everything to Emma. She’d shrugged off his thanks without really accepting it and helped him bury his sister before excusing herself and leaving them to their mourning.
Grayson drew Emma’s attention by asking, “What else should it say?”
Blue eyes—just like his own, just like Rebecca’s—blinked owlishly at him before she frowned and inquired, “What it say now?”
“Rebecca Duncan,” He motioned to the dates, “That’s her birthday and that’s today.”
“Oh.” Her head inclined, the ponytail Rebecca had pulled her blonde hair into before bedtime the previous night was now a snarled mess, but Grayson hadn’t felt the need to force a brush on Emma just yet. “Momma liked elephants,” she looked back to him, “can we put that?”
His mouth curved inward and the movement felt foreign until he realized that he was smiling and Grayson’s hand tightened around Emma’s before he nodded. “We can,” and set about doing exactly as she’d asked.
The fire grew hotter at his back as he allowed Emma to direct the Sharpie he’d located in the glove box of his ambulance. They added a list of his sister’s likes to the makeshift tombstone until it didn’t look so bare and Grayson didn’t feel so hollow. Emma had demanded the Sharpie towards the end and was now drawing, the best she could, a ladybug next to Rebecca’s name and Grayson stood; giving her some space and himself a chance to stretch after being crouched over for so long.
He scanned the immediate area, suddenly aware of the fact that he’d allowed himself to be distracted for far longer than a moment and, he’d learned, even a moment’s distraction could get someone killed. He found Sarah Miller, the owner of the truck and an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force, and the man that had helped save them hefting what looked to be the last body into the fire. They were lost to their task and in the same position as himself and he looked past them to find the man’s daughter, her name might be Bunny, standing on the roof of his ambulance with a bow in her hand and quiver of arrows on her back.
She stood tall, for such a petite frame, with her shoulders rolled back and gaze sweeping the valley they occupied with a precision he’d only seen Sarah use and he found it comforting to know someone had their backs while they regrouped. Though, he supposed, it was a bit odd that it was the teenager guarding them instead of an adult, but he’d seen her use that crowbar with an accuracy that bordered on frightening, well, frightening if it had been another time, another place, but in the here and now Grayson found it comforting.
Sunlight glinted off the sunglasses she wore and her hair had been pulled back into a messy bun that somehow managed to look fashionable when he’d seen her tie it into a haphazard knot himself. It was odd, and a little calming, to see a teenager still caring about their appearance and Grayson inclined his head when her gaze came to their little section of the valley. Her chin dipped in acknowledgement of him and he watched as she made her way towards the back of the ambulance.
She paused, head swiveling once more—checking one last time for danger—before she slipped the bow over her shoulder and disappeared from Grayson’s sight. He turned, keeping an eye on the tall grass as Emma finished her drawing and came to stand beside him. The teenager appeared from behind the vehicle and Sarah and her father fell in step behind her and she led them forward.
Sarah tugged at the bandana that covered the lower half of her face and Grayson could see the line of soot it left behind to show where the makeshift mask had been. She untied the bit of cloth and used it to wipe at her brow, smearing the grey dust and Grayson found another smile threatening, but it was Emma’s quiet giggles, she was quiet in all things now, that allowed the smile to spill across his face.
He bent, capturing Emma in his arms and brought her up to rest on his hip, her head quickly found a place on his shoulder as he focused on their saviors for the first time. His smile fell as the moment of levity slipped away and he nodded to the older man before offering him his right hand, the left holding Emma up effortlessly. “Grayson Lewis.”
Blue eyes, darker than his or Emma’s, gathered at the corners and the man accepted the shake with his ash and grime covered hand. “Hank Summers.” He turned, pulling Grayson slightly forward and to the left so that he faced his daughter and Hank corrected his assumption of Bunny with, “And this is Buffy.”
His hand was dropped and was then accepted by a much smaller, but slightly more callused hand. Grayson felt a frown tugging at his brow with oddity of that, but he forced a wan smile and offered, “Glad to meet you.”
“Are you a Power Ranger?”
Grayson found his hand dropped and Buffy lifted her sunglasses up, pushing back the bangs that had settled across her forehead as she smiled at Emma and her question. “Alas no. Spandex and I are unmixy things,” the teenager admitted, but then added with a wink, “But I am rather fond of the color yellow so it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibilty.”
“Yellow is my fav-r-it
!” The last word was spaced out, Emma only hitting the main consonants, but her meaning came across just fine so Grayson suppressed the urge to correct her.
“Mine too,” Buffy agreed and her smile stretched wider.
Sarah gave up getting her face clean without the aid of a mirror and glanced around the valley before joining the idle chitchat with more pressing concerns. Grayson had learned in the few weeks he’d know her that she seemed to, at times, lack most social graces and tact, but Sarah more than made up for those shortcomings with her ability to keep a level head in a crisis. “I was telling Hank about our plans to head to Jacksonville.”
“What’s in Jacksonville?” Buffy inquired, setting her sunglasses back in place.
“Blount Island Command.” Sarah looked from face to face before continuing, “The Florida CDC has set up shop at their base and I’m hoping they’ll have some answers.”
“They moved to a military base?”
She nodded with Hank’s questions as if she agreed with it before stating, “They don’t have a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory, like Atlanta, but some of my buddies were being stationed there since it’s one of the few places left in the country still working towards a cure.”
“While I’m sure a cure is on all our minds,” Hank offered, “we’re heading towards California and Jacksonville is in the exact opposite direction.”
“You think you’ll make it that far?” Sarah countered.
“My mom is in California.” The teenager retorted.
“My question still stands.”
“Sarah!” Grayson admonished the brunette.
“What?” She frowned at him before she sighed and admitted, “We’d make it farther with you than without you.”
Emma squirmed in his arms and Grayson turned, looked behind them and searched the tall grass for possible threats. Hank excused himself and motioned Buffy to follow his lead and they moved back towards the fire to start up a whispered exchange that had the both of them gesturing mildly at one another.
Sarah stepped closer to him and offered a weak smile. “Think they’ll agree?”
“After that stellar argument you offered?”
Her mouth tightened and she sighed, “I suck with people.”
“Not all people,” Grayson offered before smirking, “Just most.”
A snort escaped Sarah and she stiffened, turning around to face the Hank and Buffy as they rejoined them and it was Buffy that offered, “We’re in.” She raised a hand, palm out as she cautioned, “We’ll get you there and then be on our merry way.”
“That’s all we ask.”