Mike ducked at the last minute and Joe’s hands hit the tiles, shattering them. Mike picked up the log, rolled behind Joe and locked the door. He meant to butt Joe in the back of the head but Joe turned too quickly and took the blow on the side of his face. One of Joe’s teeth flew across the public bathroom.

Joe still couldn’t believe he’d been tricked like this just as  Mike kicked him hard, sending Joe sprawling into the bathroom stall.

Jesus, Mike thought as he brought the log down again, this would have killed anyone else. But Joe uttered a low growl so Mike hit him again, this time drawing serious blood from the back of Joe’s head.

Mike didn’t let himself even think as he brought Joe’s hands up above the toilet handle and shoved Joe’s head into the bowl. The lid came crashing down. Mike instantly sat on it and began flushing.

Again, the element of surprise helped more than anything else. Joe hadn’t been expecting this. He used all his strength to get his face out of the water, but Mike managed to hold him down.

Christ, he’s drowning me! Joe panicked. He could only hold his breath so long. A wave of fear filled him. He struggled...but he was losing strength fast. Joe couldn’t think of anything else as the first dose of water filled his lungs.

And still Mike kept flushing. He was sweating, scared. What the fucking hell am I doing? I’m killing my best friend. He fought for reason as well as strength. No. I’m saving him. This will cure him. It has to, because if it doesn’t I’m totally fucked. We all are.

So, he kept flushing.

The sensation of drowning swept all logic from Joe’s mind. Nothing mattered but getting air. He forgot all about feeding, about his strength, even that this was Mike Mendoza doing this.

His lungs flooded with every desperate effort to inhale, and whatever thoughts he did have faded—his heart slowly stopped beating and Joe Carter finally stopped struggling.

Chapter Twelve

It wasn’t until Joe Carter’s body convulsed a final time, and his twitching arms and legs finally went limp that Mike stopped flushing. Now, Mike was dripping with sweat. It wasn’t easy to drown someone he knew, not even a zombie, or whatever the hell Joe had become...or was about to become.

Now, the only sound in the bathroom was the magnified echo of his own panting.

Mike’s own body was shaking as he climbed off the toilet seat that held Joe’s body. Jesus fucking Christ. Mike backed away and stared at Joe’s lifeless body. He wiped sweat from his face with his sleeve. He realized he was bleeding from the stitches he’d received.

Least of your worries. Get a hold of yourself, Mendoza.

Carefully, he removed Joe’s hands from the top of the toilet and pulled his head out of the bowl. Joe lay still, in a heap on the dirty, smelly floor. Maybe I drowned him too much, he thought to himself and let out a hysterical laugh. It was too much for him. Yes, he’d been trained to kill, but never had he dreamed that he would do something like this.

Joe’s eyes were still open, which was creepy. Mike turned him on his side. Nothing.

Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. Now what am I going to do?

He was furious with himself, with Joe for not breathing, with the whole goddamned situation. He wiped his face again and kicked his friend in the back.

The restroom door jiggled. Someone was trying to get in.

“Use the women’s,” he called out, hoping he sounded a lot more calm than he felt.

“Is everything okay in there?” a concerned voice called. “We heard some commotion.”

“My friend here is just a little sick.” The understatement of the year. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. Just give us a moment, okay?”

Whoever it was apparently didn’t buy it. “How come I don’t hear anyone but you?”

It was then that Joe started coughing. Mike was so relieved he actually let out a laugh—this time, a normal one. Joe was spurting and coughing and making such a ruckus that Mike raised his voice. “Hear that? That’s my friend. He’s going to be okay. All right?”

“Well, all right,” the voice answered back. “Maybe we’ll check on you in a few. Just in case you need some help.”

“Fine,” Mike answered. He wasn’t paying attention anymore. He clapped Joe on the back as Joe coughed and then vomited.

“Easy, bro,” Mike soothed as he grabbed some paper towels. “You’re going to be okay now.” God, he hoped he was right.

Joe finished puking...not a pretty sight. He was still hand-cuffed. He was scared, he’d pissed his pants, and he was angry. He glanced from his chained hands to the toilet and then up to Mike. “Just what the fuck was all that about?”

Joe was ready to fight again. His anger turned to confusion as Mike laughed once more.

“What’s so funny? You’re fucking crazy, dude. You tried to kill me and you’re laughing?” Joe looked uneasily around the bathroom. Shattered tiles. He’d done that. Because he was strong...wasn’t he?

“I didn’t kill you. I cured you, Lieutenant Carter.”

“How the hell does flushing my face in a toilet cure me?” Joe asked. But a realization was coming to him. He felt different.

“That’s the cure,” Mike explained. “Look at me. Let me see your eyes.” Joe never withheld his eyes from anyone’s gaze and he didn’t do so now. He looked Mike straight in the eye. And when he did, he realized Mike’s eyes didn’t have those red streaks in them.

Neither did Joe’s, Mike realized. What a relief.

It was a lot to take in. Joe did feel different. He felt normal. He hadn’t anticipated it, and welcomed it like a fresh spring shower, which is exactly what he wished he had. Maybe he would take a dip in the ocean to get the piss, filth and toilet water off him. “But...how did you...?”

“Anna figured it out.”

“Anna? My niece?” and then a horrible thought occurred to him. “Is she all right?”

Mike sighed. This would be hard. “She’s fine. But Joe, your brother is infected now. And when I was cured, I was pretty far gone. Almost...terminal.” It was the most accurate description he could come up with.

Mike explained everything, from Jack’s slow-moving infection from the cut he’d gotten days before to his handcuffing in the basement. Mike confessed that he himself had been crazy for flesh, but still coherent enough to want revenge on Jack for locking him up. He even told Joe how he craved Anna most of all. To eat her flesh.

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