AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written for Thursday Tales. I've embedded links to spoiler-free supplemental information, where applicable.
"There she is." Galahad pointed.
"How did she get all the way over here?"
Galahad was as mystified as David, but he had seen a lot of strange things since the pandemic. That a three year old should wander this far, successfully evading the dangers of the city was miraculous. "Let's just be glad she's okay. She could've gotten hurt or picked up."
"Would've suited me fine." David shoved his hands in his pockets and followed Galahad toward the swing set where the girl was singing about rainbows. "I don't mind foraging food for the older kids; they do chores, guard the hotel, and all that, so I get something in return for risking my ass. But these little ones don't do jack."
"They do what they can." Galahad glanced at David out of the corner of his eye. "It's not like there weren't people to do for us when we were that age."
"That was a different world."
They were almost to her now, and Bethany stopped singing and looked at them, first in alarm, then with a smile of recognition.
Galahad returned her smile and was about to say something, when David interrupted.
"Hey, you stupid brat. We're here to take you back to the hotel before the Obits get you."
"Don't talk like that." Galahad went up to her. "You're safe now, honey, but don't come out here alone again. If you want to play on the swings, ask someone to bring you, okay?"
Bethany nodded and David rolled his eyes. "Like any of us has time to take kids to a playground."
Galahad picked Bethany up and met David's eyes over her head. "Kids need to play. It's how they learn."
"Let her learn by playing with the other useless brats at the hotel." David jerked his chin, indicating they should return to the shuttle. "We're wasting gas and time."
Galahad followed, holding Bethany tightly in his arms.
"Am I in trouble?" she whispered.
"Why is David mad?"
"We were scared something happened to you."
They were at the shuttle now, and Galahad paused and looked around. The city was a wreck; dirty and dangerous since the die-off. If Bethany lived to grow up, she would have violence, sanitation, and basic survival to contend with. What could happen to her? Everything. This wasn't the day to tell her that, though. He and the others sheltering at the hotel could protect her for a little longer, help her preserve the luxury of innocence. "Nothing, sweetheart. Stick close to the bigger kids, and nothing bad will happen."
From inside the shuttle, David shouted, "Don't lie to her."
Galahad shook his head. "He's jealous."
"He has no one to take care of him," Bethany observed.
"Yes, that's it." Galahad held the girl close. "You're one of the lucky ones."
Pic by andrewf1