-- Henry David Thoreau
In this world, "civilization" is hardly considered civilized. Anarchy is too strong of a word. The Fireflies fight for supremacy. The strong exploit the weak. It's the same shit that everyone sees in the movies; it's almost everything that everyone sees in the movies. Except people die and there are no outtakes about how ridiculous the actor took the fall, or the bad angle he fell at, or the fact that he might have forgotten his lines and subbed them for some otherwise ungodly parody.
It doesn't take a genius to figure that out when you've got clickers around the next corner, clacking it's jaws and teeth together in some mangled, offbeat tune, a surefire indication of death. The infected scamper and the adrenaline rushing through them, the raw power behind their bites and their howls are nothing short of animalistic and predatory. There's nothing left in civilization today that carries an ounce of human quality.
Maybe that's what you miss most: human quality. When people didn't go around holding you at gunpoint to drop the fucking bag or I blow your fucking head off. When people had the courtesy to not steal the shit you had taken hours to scavenge, foraging through dumpsters and waste. There was once a time you had looked optimistically at humanity. But after the outbreak, after witnessing how easily it was for humanity to take a full turn you only had a few choice eloquent words to describe the human population.
Survival of the fucking fittest.
You understand desperation but you are clearly convinced that there is nothing lower than the state of living now. Rations, guns, and bullets becomes the currency of survival. Holding doors open is considered a life or death situation in the event a horde of runners are quickly closing the gap. While most had taken the opportunity to occupy the better parts of what was left of a crumbling metropolis, there is still the wasteland left to the fiends and the survivors.
Out there, out of jurisdictions and courtesy lies an indefinite no man's land. Anyone and anything was fair game. You don't need to be told that; none of the veteran survivors did, either.
Before it was considered a load of malarkey to think about survival that way. Now it was considered common sense.
A small shove to your shoulder startles you from your reverie. Your breath catches in your throat, the resilient, unconditioned response of fight-or-flight heaving through your lungs as your eyes shoot open, body lurching forward. Pale green eyes meet yours with a hint of bemusement flickering in them, yet you saw the sternness stirring in them clear as a day. Joel always makes it a habit of letting his facial muscles do the talking yet his eyes would convey an expression entirely different.
You were supposed to keep watch, yet here you were daydreaming about a fantasy that would never come to fruition.
"Keep your eyes peeled," his gruff voice orders, eyes scanning the expanse of the street that you were supposed to be watching. "God damn hunters could be scroungin' around at any time."
In your current placement you have a superior position over the neighborhood without attracting attention to yourselves. Hunting rifle propped up against the windowsill facing the street corner, you nod and raise your binoculars up to your eyes to scan the area for any irregularities. The worn, rickety dining chair creaks beneath your weight as you lean forward, faded torn curtains billowing against the breeze allowed by the cracked glass. It 's Joel's turn to rest so you might as well make sure you both could live to see another day without screwing your watch over.
When you think he leaves his voice returns, venturing curiously, "Somethin' on your mind?"
It's a question that you find unusually startling. You snap your gaze back over to him, to his worn olive eyes and the rather genuine look of empathy crossing them. Joel is a man of few words and even fewer explicit emotions other than anger, seriousness, and dry humor. In times like this it was better to keep them to yourself instead of out in the open. Implicit fear is already a given; spoken fear is a complete sign of weakness.
You turn your head back to the street, raising your binoculars again and ensuring that the lenses doesn't catch the sunlight peering over the setting horizon. "Nothing. Just thinking," you respond. When he doesn't say anything you reassure him, "I'm fine. Go get some sleep."
He doesn't make it a habit of lingering but you can still feel his body beside you. Thinking that the conversation should end there, you aren't aware of Joel's eyes examining the back of your head or the way his frown lines become prominent against his face. After another moment of silence he sighs, patting your shoulder then pivoting on his heel to head to the bedroom.
"I was just thinking." The sound of your voice suddenly halts him before he can get past the door frame. You draw your binoculars down but keep your gaze out on the street, continuing, "Thinking about home. And all the stuff I had. Probably looted by now but, y'know... it's not like we're any better."
You scoff and readjust your worn ball cap. "Didn't even get the chance to pack a damned suitcase."
His tired, gruff laugh echoes in the small, tattered space. You can already sense his laugh--eyes shut, teeth just slightly shown, gruff beard following the motion, the corners of his lips just barely moving. It's never a full smile but one that is worn and tired. An expression like that should have left you with apathy and depression. He is a hardened survivor and it says so by just a simple glance at him. But it's a face that you see often, that has your back, and you know that genuine from him is worth a hell of a lot more than the ration cards in your back pocket.
"Better get your ass some shut eye," you warn with a final tone, your own lips threatening to smile. "Or else I knock you out myself and leave you for the clickers."
"Ha. Whatever you say, boss."
His footsteps retreat into the bedroom, the worn springs groaning from his weight. After another solid few minutes you hear his soft, slow breathing and lean back into the chair yourself, exhaling quietly but your eyes never leave the street.
Home; you aren't just thinking about home. You're thinking about a time before the outbreak; before survival of the fittest became the unspoken law. When you could have easily cracked a laugh out of your companion sleeping a room from you without the pained, tired look in his face after doing so. You both know that beneath all of the "I'm fine" and "I'm okay" gestures, there is a misplaced happiness between it all.
You know that happiness is the last thing on Joel's mind. So you do whatever you can, in your power, to ensure that it comes to him after what he has been through.