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She tried not to gasp as realization struck her.

“What the hell should I do then?” Nathan asked from the other side of the door. If she tilted her head at just the right angle, pain shot through her neck but she could just make out part of his profile in the crack between the door and the door frame.

Daniel’s fingers tapped on the door where he held it from squeezing her any tighter against the wall. “I wish I could tell you the answer, but I think you already know. If you don’t take care of it - and soon - it is going to get taken care of by someone else. And if that happens you won’t have any control over the situation at all anymore.”

Taken care of by someone else? He couldn’t possibly mean what she thought he meant, for how could he say such a thing to someone so clearly stricken with grief?

“But what if-” Nathan tried again, but Daniel didn’t let him get as far this time.

“There is no what if. If she is,” he lowered his voice until it was barely audible, “infected,” the word sounded horrible coming from his lips, “then there’s nothing any of us can do for her. You know that.” His voice increased once more, but stayed below its normal volume, “It simply becomes a matter of when, not if.”

Simply. What a cruel word to describe what Nathan must be feeling. There was nothing simple about that decision. In the first month, Lenore had wondered if their parents would find their way to the building to check on her and Sebastian or, if not both, at least one of them. She still had not forgiven them for the huge falling out they had a year ago, but the fact that she may never see them again still devastated her. Her mind had spent weeks teasing itself with the What If game, until she realized no good would come of it and tried to put the subject on the back burner of her mind.

“She’s all I have left.” Lenore didn’t need to be able to see Nathan to tell that his composure was crumbling. No one wanted to make the inevitable decision he faced, and she had the feeling he had come to Daniel today looking for a Hail Mary, someway out of the only solution that he wasn’t brave enough to face.

“I understand. I really do.” The way he said it made it sound like a story hid behind the words, but she knew he certainly wasn’t going to share it now. “Sleep on it, man. But realize that this decision isn’t one you can just keep putting off. At some point, and some point soon, the others have to know. They have the right to know.”

“I know.”

Daniel released his hold on the door, and it sounded as if he clasped Nathan’s shoulder with a reassuring grip in the way that men seemed to hug. She stood deadly still, knowing that making her presence known now was the absolute worst thing that could happen, apart from yet someone else overhearing their entire conversation.

When Daniel finally shut the door, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from atop her chest. “So Hayley, do you think she’s really-” before she could even finish posing her question, he stepped toward her and covered her mouth forcefully with his hand. “Infmatd?” Her last word was smothered by his rough palm.

“Can you at least wait until he has had the chance to clear out of the hall before you start talking about it?” he whispered.

She didn’t know if she should take offense to his tone but she certainly did. She had never been a gossip, and had resented the girls she had grown up with who had nothing better in their lives to do than to sit around and talk about others.

But this. This bombshell wasn’t gossiping. If he was right about Hayley, then it wasn’t just a concern for Nathan. It put every single one of them in danger. She had a hard enough time sleeping as it was, and now she would feel compelled to sleep with one eye open at all times if she ever did manage to doze off. She almost wished she hadn’t been privy to the conversation, but she knew better. Knowledge was all they had left in the world, and it was power now.

Daniel stood there, his 5’11” frame angled over her 5’5” height. The seconds continued to clicked by, and she doubted that even the most distraught man would still be lingering. But Daniel continued to stand there, and she continued to stare back at him. After what felt like ages, he slowly pulled his hand away from her mouth. “You cannot speak a word of this to anyone else.”

She wondered what gave him the right to suddenly demand things of her. She was just about to open her mouth and voice this objection, but something held her back. Perhaps it was the dark circles around his eyes that matched her own. Or the way his hand against her mouth had felt like a pile of bones held together only by the stretch of skin. They were all in the same boat, and that boat was slowly taking on water.

“Someone has to deal with the situation.” She couldn’t bring herself to say Hayley’s name then, knowing exactly what she implied. “We both know Nathan won’t do anything about it. Until it’s too late.”

“Of course he won’t. Would you?”

She hadn’t expected this conversation to lead to a personal debate. In all honestly, when she paused to think about it, she had no idea what she would do in Nathan’s shoes. She had never loved someone that fiercely, never felt truly connected to a single person in her entire life. If she finally had the opportunity and found that kind of love and compassion, would she be strong enough to be the one to end it? Or would she sink like the captain with his ship?

“I wouldn’t,” Daniel continued when she stood silent. Of course he wouldn’t, she thought to herself. He wasn’t a romantic, but he had that air of quality about him, as if he would be a great protector. No one wanted to be the protector that had to switch sides.

“Can we agree that if Nathan can’t, or doesn’t soon, that we will bring it to the group and let the group decide what needs to be done?”

She watched and waited as he bit the corner of his lower lip in thought. Neither one of them wanted to be the one to say what the group consensus would be, but they both knew the answer.

“Yes,” he finally decided. “But we have to at least give the guy a chance to cope and find peace.”

Find peace. She doubted anyone would ever be able to find peace with such a thing, but she hoped for Nathan’s sake she was wrong. “Agreed.”

With a hesitant agreement made between them, awkwardness descended upon them once more. She made this departure quick, afraid if she stood any longer staring at him, someone else would come knocking at the door, and there was no telling the things she might hear then. “I should go,” she said, not just to propel him away to give her space to escape, but to kick start her own legs which were rooted in place.

He stepped back, seemingly bent on getting her out of his apartment as quickly as possible this time as well. Stepping back to give her space, he moved to open the door. As she passed through the doorway, she felt his hand grab her wrist, and she turned back to face him.

“Give him time.” It sounded half a command and half a plea. Her only response was a quick nod before her feet kicked into gear. He released her wrist, and she hurried down the hall to seek solace in the apartment.

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