A week passed before Sekani came up with a way of alerting the others, without giving himself away to Natch and the others. It’d been Robin’s idea, really, whether he knew it or not. Around the time all this had broken out, it was coming up to the Presidential election, and to try and restore some kind of normalcy to life, Robin had been discussing the candidates with some of the other survivors. So, with a little help from Sekani, we persuaded Natch to let everyone vote on who they’d like in charge. We’d promised him nothing would come of it, and that it wasn’t a cover for a coup, just something we thought the others would enjoy.
The real work was done behind Natch’s back. Sekani and I went to see each survivor one by one, excluding Natch and the others, and taught them a little trick. We told everyone to vote for Natch, so he’d think things were normal, but if they wanted to vote for someone else, to write it in lemon juice and let it dry before turning their vote in. It may sound odd, but lemon juice is great for secret messages, and there were several cartons of it in the fridge going to waste. We treated the voting day like it really mattered, throwing a small party at the end of it all, though no alcohol was involved this time. Since Sekani and I had suggested it, we were left to count the votes, and waited til it was dark.
“Are you sure it’ll have worked?” Sekani asked me as he tipped the shoe box of votes out onto the coffee table in my apartment.
“Yes, I’m sure. Mostly” I said, not looking at him, and holding the first vote up to the small lamp in the room.
A thick, black cross marked Natch’s name, showing their support, but once enough heat had been introduced to the paper a faint brown word appeared beneath it. The word was ‘Loco’, with Maria’s initials crudely scrawled next to it. Scott’s, Riley’s, Rae’s and Kat’s followed in a similar fashion, while Dante, Sam, Alice and Houston bore no secret message. Natch had refused to vote, and Joe had been too busy with his garden to bother, but something told me he’d stand with Riley. Robin, on the other hand, had ignored my instructions completely, scratching out Natch’s name and all but highlighting mine.
“I think Robin’s on your side” Sekani chuckled, making me laugh.
“Along with around half the others. It’s better than I thought”
“I’m just glad the lemon juice thing worked”
“Me too, buddy” I said, heaving a sigh of relief.
“Can we trust Maria, though? I mean, she is banging one of them”
“If there’s anyone we can trust, it’s Maria”
Sekani nodded, putting the votes back in the box. I’d taken care not to expose the juice to too much heat, so the messages were still hidden. Hopefully Natch wouldn’t get suspicious and want to check them himself. If he did, I just had to hope he didn’t know the lemon juice trick. I’d expected a greater sense of relief or victory to come from finding out whether we stood any chance of getting the tower back, but everything still felt the same. I still had no proof, aside from Sekani’s word, and as much as I liked the guy, we barely knew him. For all I knew, this was another part of their plan, divide and conquer and all that. Hell, for all I knew, Sekani wanted the place for himself. We had no battle strategy, we had no supplies, if we took supplies their absence would be reported, and Natch or one of the others would come sniffing at our doors. I didn’t want to put the others through that. Sekani, however, insisted it was necessary.
A couple days later, I was wandering around, trying to find Robin, figuring since we knew he was on our side, we could get the other military mind in on our plan of attack. I’d checked the first three floors, and was just on my way up to the fourth when I heard raised voices. I stayed in the stairwell, peering around the corner, seeing Riley and Joe. Joe had his arm around Riley’s waist.
“I can’t…” Riley said, shaking his head. “Not with all this going on”
“Never stopped you before” Joe frowned.
“What? Now it’s more serious; we’re running out of supplies and we’re low on fuel. I’m stressed”
While Riley had been the resident worrier, for once his concerns weren’t misplaced. Natch and the others were hesitant to send supply runs further than the edge of the town, and they’d clearly underestimated how bad a shape we’d been in when they showed up with their convoy.
“Why not relieve some of that stress?” Joe asked, tightening his grip of Riley’s waist.
I dashed out of my cover of the stairwell when Joe pushed Riley into the nearest apartment forcefully, but Robin seemed to appear out of nowhere, standing in the doorway of the apartment. I dashed into the nearest apartment, ready to jump in if things got messy.
“The man said no” I heard Robin say.
“Seriously? Get out!” Joe said, annoyed.
“Um… It’s fine, Robin… You can go, it’s fine” Riley said, laughing nervously.
“No, it’s not fine. Joe, I suggest you get your ass out of here”
“Are you threatening me? Why don’t you just leave and everything will be nice and clean. Our sex life is none of your business”
Robin chuckled. “As an actively serving officer, the welfare of those under my protection is my business”
“Riley doesn’t need protecting from his boyfriend. Now get out, you’re pissing me off!” Joe yelled.
“Frankly, I think he does” Robin said. It didn’t take a genius to know he’d be squaring up to Joe that second.
While Joe was shorter than Robin, working in the garden had left him more muscular than Robin. “Well, if this is going to be such a massive problem, why don’t we just ask Riley himself? Seeing as you’re determined to interrupt one of the few moments we get alone”
I listened, waiting for Riley’s response.
“Um… I’m going to go talk to Colligan about the vegetables!” he announced eventually, scurrying out of the apartment.
“I think that says enough, really” Robin said.
“Well, if we're going to be honest about this he is the sort of kid who won’t take sides. So he ran away from both of us and I'll sure as hell be the one he comes back to”
Robin didn’t respond to that, going after Riley. I know it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I followed them from a safe distance. I wanted to know what was going on. After all, Robin and Riley were the closest friends I had now.
“You okay?” Robin asked Riley, who was sat on the roof.
“Yep, just about to water some plants” Riley said brightly.
Joe had spoken to me about finding something suitable to turn the roof into a greenhouse, so we could try to grow things through the fast approaching winter, as well. We’d only managed to use cling film so far, but it seemed to be doing the job. Maria was working on finding something better in a hardware store.
"You know you can come to me if he ever gives you trouble, right?" Robin asked.
“Well... No'' Riley laughed. “It’s not really in your forte, right?”
"I know how to listen" Robin shrugged.
“But, still, it's okay. He's just been have a tough time lately and I was the only person there for him to take it out on...”
"You sound like my mom"
“Jack used to tell me that all the time'' Riley said sadly, going quiet.
"You must miss him"
“I do, he was all I had, I didn't even have any friends other than him” he laughed shyly. "But now I have you, Colligan, Rae, Joe and Alice... I'm not used to worrying about that many people at once!”
Robin chuckled softly. "Well I'll tell you what, I'll make sure we've all got each other's backs, then you don't need to worry so much"
“Haha, thanks Robin”
"Don't mention it" Robin smiled.
“Anyway, these plants aren’t going to water themselves. Mind giving me a hand?” Riley asked, gesturing at the watering can.
“Sure” Robin replied, picking up the watering can and helping out.
“These cucumbers are growing too fast, we’ll be living off them there are so many!” he laughed.
“We can always freeze some, right?” Robin questioned.
“Not if we keep using fuel at the rate we are… You know, I’ve been thinking – it may be months, even years from now, but we will have to move someplace else once everything runs out”
“We’ll just have to move around the State, I guess. Col’s on top of it, I’m sure”
“Not if everyone else has their way, though. How could everyone kick him aside so easily? He was the best thing that ever happened to any of us in these fucked up times. Sorry. I’m a little stressed”
“I can tell” Robin chuckled. “I trust Col, he’s got something up his sleeve”
“I hope so…” Riley said, and the two of them went back to watering the plants.
“Mhm?” Riley said, not looking up from what he was doing.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you”
“What’s wrong?” he asked, looking up.
“Nothing’s wrong. I… I like you, Riley”
The two of them stood in an awkward silence for a while. I’ll admit, I was shocked myself. As far as any of us were aware, Robin was straight as a rod. Hell, he’d even jokingly hit on Maria, and complemented her on her, as he’d phrased it, ‘assets.’
“Well I wasn’t expecting that…” Riley said after a while. “Um… But I’m a guy… I thought you were…?”
“I don’t know how to explain it” Robin shrugged.
“Um… Then you’re bisexual, right? It’s nothing to be ashamed of”
“Is it… um… just me, then, or other guys too?”
“Just you” Robin said bluntly.
“I don’t know what to say now” Riley let out an awkward laugh.
“It’s fine, forget I said anything” Robin said, and I saw him flash Riley a faint smile.
“Hey now,” Riley said, stopping what he was doing, putting a hand on Robin’s shoulder. “Just because I didn’t throw myself at you doesn’t mean I’m pushing you aside. I’m not going to ignore what you said” he said softly, and Robin looked at him. “I’m not sure what’s going on between Joe and me, but I know it sure as hell isn’t working out too well. So, when the time is right and I’ve had some time to think, we can talk”
Robin nodded, looking eager to drop the subject, and hurried to get his share of the plants watered. He bolted out of there once he was done, mumbling something along the lines of “You know where to find me” as he went. Needless to say, he tumbled straight into me, since I’d been hiding in the stairwell.
“How long have you been standing there?” he asked, somewhere between angry and shocked.
“Long enough. C’mon, I need your advice”