Conor slumps back towards me as Max walks in. I turn the small body in my arms so I can see his face. His eyes are half closed.
“What’s the bite look like?” Max asks.
I look at his arm. Before there was no sign of infection but now I can see red threads expanding out from it. They are raised and the whole arm looks swollen.
“We need to hurry,” Max says. He hands me a glass that is filled with a red liquid. I can smell blood. I look at him.
“I have no serum left,” he says. “So we are going to have to go traditional.”
Slowly I start to tip the liquid into Conor. It only takes a minute and then the kid takes the glass and is guzzling it down. He finishes and smiles. I know he is still the little boy I knew but his teeth are ringed in red and I feel queasy. Max is watching me.
“If you want me to stop I will,” he says.
The problem is that if he does then Conor dies. He won’t grow and he won’t love. “He will grow normally?” I ask.
“I think so,” Max says. “The scientists made it safe for the leaders’ families.”
“Do it.” I close my eyes as I say it, but open them as I feel Max lift Conor from my lap.
“Will it hurt,” Conor asks in a small voice.
“Only for a minute,” Max says. Carefully he picks up the arm that has been bitten and places the bite wound in his mouth. He then bites down.
Conor takes a sharp breath in but doesn’t move. I can tell that he is bleeding. Max then releases him and puts him back on my lap. He reaches into his pocket and takes a sharp paring knife from his pocket. I’m about to protest when he cuts his own palm. He then places the open wound onto the open bite mark.
Conor relaxes. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
I look at Max. He must see the question, because he gives a small smile.
“If we turn people this way they don’t feel any pain.”
“So why did I have to take the serum?” I ask, remembering the pain and the fear.
“This way will take a week for him to turn completely whereas the serum is instant.”
I can see the logic, but still, I’m annoyed that I could have had an easier time. “Okay,” I say. “Are you feeling okay?” I ask Connor.
He nods. I can also tell that his fever is gone.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on you, but otherwise you are now officially the first child… one of us,” Max finishes lamely.
“We must come up with a name,” I mutter.
Conor frowns. “What will happen?”
“You will become fast and strong,” Max says. “And you will be able to kill the bad guys.”
“Like what my dad became?”
“Yes,” I say.
“So we are heroes?”
“I guess we are,” Max says.
I notice that he hasn’t moved and seems to be monitoring what Conor is doing. I guess that there is a possibility it won’t work. I tighten my arm around Conor and breathe in his scent. At the back I can detect that spikey smell of one of us.
“It’s worked,” I say.
Max leans forward and takes a sniff. He smiles.
“So what do you think we ought to be called?” he asks Conor.
“No heroes,” he says. “What about the Cavalry?”
“How did you come up with that one?” I ask.
Conor looks sad. “Mum always said that the cavalry was the best. They always turn up and save everyone.”
He is crying.
“I’m so sorry,” I say through my own tears. “We should have been faster.”
Conor hugs me close and after a moment I feel Max’s arms surrounding us both. “I’ll keep you both safe,” he rumbles.
We sit there for a while, each of us crying and taking comfort. Outside there is a loud bang and then silence. Max slowly moves and glances at the window. There isn’t a lot to see thanks to Mel’s hedges but I can hear movement outside.
“I think it’s time to leave,” Max says.
I nod and Conor scrubs at his eyes with a hand. “We’ll go pack a few things.”
Max nods. “Grab something for yourself.”
I feel my throat close but I nod. Mel and I were the same size. We used to borrow each other’s clothes a lot.
Conor gets off my lap but he walks reluctantly to the stairs. “Do you want me to go pack?” I ask.
He nods. I start up the stairs. “Go stay with Max.”
Conor nods and then he walks back into the living room. I carry on up the stairs. All I can smell is blood and fear. I ignore Philip and walk into Conor’s room. The bright yellow walls are normally so cheerful, but right now they seem sickly and depressing. I move quickly to the wardrobe and reach for his bag. Mel and Philip had always insisted on taking Conor everywhere, which meant that he has a variety of cases. The one I grab can be carried or used as a rucksack. Quickly I start to fill it with clothes. Next to his bed is a photograph of the three of them, and surprisingly, one of me. I grab them all and the moth-eaten koala bear that is partially under the covers. K has been Conor’s bear since he was born and I know he will miss it if I don’t grab it.
Moving to the main bedroom I stop. I just can’t do it. I can’t see getting adult clothes being a problem and the prone figure of Mel dissuades me from going in.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. Then moving fast I am down the stairs and in the living room. Max and Conor are standing at the window. Twilight has fallen and I stand next to them.
“What are you watching?” I ask.
“The gone,” Conor says.