The Last Bastion of the Living
Maria was dozing lightly when Dwayne crawled into bed with her. The fans around the bed hummed softly, and her body was cool beneath the thin sheets. As Dwayne’s naked body stretched out next to hers, she rolled over and kissed him.
“You’re awake,” he said, surprised, and wrapped his arms around her.
“You’re late,” Maria replied. She ran her fingers down over his face, feeling the light poke of his stubble against her skin.
“You got my message, didn’t you?” Dwayne asked worriedly.
“Uh huh. Dinner with the kids.”
“The twins wanted to see me.” Dwayne’s hands gently pushed her hair back from her face, his fingers gentle as always. “Even Caitlyn joined us.”
Maria knew that Dwayne’s eldest daughter was usually unavailable. She was an assistant to one of the president’s council members. “How was she?”
“Argumentative as always. I felt like I was on trial. She should have been a lawyer. It was exhausting. I just wanted to get back here and see you.”
“Just see me?” Climbing on top of him, she whispered softly to him in Spanish, knowing he loved it.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re saying, but it sounds great,” he said with a little moan as she rubbed her bare breasts over his chest and kissed his neck.
Soon he was hard and inside her and they gasped as their bodies rode together. Dwayne wrapped his fingers in her hair and kissed her deeply as they came together, perfectly matched as always.
“I like that greeting,” he finally whispered in a husky voice.
Resting her forehead against his, she smiled slightly. “Me too.”
“I should get delayed more often,” he teased as his hands slid over her hips.
Maria’s hands traced over his muscled chest lightly, the light smattering of hair tickling her palms. She could sense Dwayne tensing as his expression grew concerned.
“Maria, why are you awake?”
“I have something to tell you.”
“Okay,” he said cautiously.
Sliding off of him and tucking herself into his side, she drew a breath, then said, “I volunteered today for a new program with the Science Warfare Division.”
“What? With the SWD? Why?” Sitting up, Dwayne frowned. “Explain it to me.”
“Technically, I’m not supposed to,” Maria replied, pushing herself up to face him.
Dwayne narrowed his eyes, his gaze growing steely. It was a look she remembered from when he had once been her commanding officer. It used to terrify her, but now it just made her want to comfort him.
“Cut the bullshit, Maria. We both know the SWD hasn’t done anything effective in years. If they want you for some sort of special ops, I want to know what it is. Petra was busting her ass all day trying to find out what is up with the SWD and the secret meetings today, and she came up empty. If you know something, I want to know. Not just because it concerns you, but because upper echelon has a tendency to leave me out of the loop when it matters most to our people. We already break enough rules being together, so spill it.”
Maria shoved her hair back from her face and sat cross legged in front of him. Pulling the sheet over her legs, she took a deep breath. “Fine. Fine. It’s a big operation and it has the full support of the president. It’s huge, Dwayne. I think this is why the president is so optimistic about finally beating back the Scrags.”
“Tell me more.” His voice was like steel and his gaze was intense.
Maria hesitated, knowing that what she was about to relate would only antagonize him more. “They asked me to volunteer because I’m physically fit, unattached as far as they know, and I’m not ‘breeding stock’ and therefore, not important to maintaining our population.”
“That’s a shitty way to put it.”
“I didn’t care much for his wording either. But the really big news is this, Dwayne,” she said, reaching out to take his hand, “they think they found a way to fool the Scrags into not attacking the living. It’s like an antidote. They said even if the Scrags did bite me, I wouldn’t get infected.”
“If they swarm you, that won’t matter. You’ll die.” Dwayne’s voice was clipped, his expression concerned.
“But if they think I’m one of them...” She flicked her dark eyes up to meet his vivid blue ones. “...they won’t swarm me.”
“They never attack each other,” Dwayne admitted, realizing where the conversation was leading.
“I could walk among them, kill them, and walk away without being attacked.” Hearing the words coming from her own lips made her shiver, but the excitement of being able to fight the Inferi Scourge without fear was like electricity in her blood. “I’m going to help clear the valley and close the gate.”
“So they forcibly conscripted you into doing this.” Dwayne shook his head.
“No. It’s volunteer only. They didn’t tell me the mission until I volunteered.”
“I should have known.” He leaned back on the pillows, covering his face with one hand. “The canceled meetings, the aircraft, the SWD being involved, and you being late back from your patrol.”
Maria tenderly rested her hand his chest. “I have to do this. They’ll give me a plot of land once the valley is cleared and the gate is repaired and shut. I can pick anywhere I want. I’ll get a standard settlement deal - one prefab house and furniture.” She leaned her chin on his shoulder and stared at him. “I want out of this city, Dwayne. I want those fuckers gone. I want a life with you. Maybe we can’t have kids, but we could have a good life if those things aren’t out there.”
Lifting his hand, he settled it against her cheek. “How long?”
“The serum will give us four to six months to clear the valley. They think I’m unattached, so...”
Dwayne held her tenderly against him. “Other people will do it. You don’t have to go.”
She was silent, unsure of how to answer.
Dwayne chuckled, shaking his head. “What am I saying? Of course, you do. You’ve been going batshit crazy with the rolling blackouts and shortages just like the rest of us.” He kissed her brow, smoothing her hair back from her face. “The one thing you can’t stand is not being able to do anything.”
“Exactly. So now that I can do something...”
“Once you’re back, the divorce will be settled, the twins will have graduated from high school, and we can concentrate on us. We will get married.”
“And move out to a nice prefab house near the lake,” Maria added.
“Absolutely.” He swept her hair back from her face. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’m doing this for us.”
“I know, but I’ll still miss you and worry about you every second you’re gone.” He sighed, then asked, “When are you going to leave?”
“In forty-eight hours,” she answered, her voice catching. Rubbing her palm against his chest, she struggled not to cry. “I love you, Dwayne Reichardt.”
“I love you, Maria Martinez.” He slightly frowned. “Forty-eight hours, huh?”
“You won’t be doing much sleeping,” he decided and dragged her over on top of him.