The long night was finally over. Denise breathed a sigh of relief as the dark sky began to lighten in the early dawn. Her voice was tired, constantly talking to the little girl curled up in the blanket in front of her, trying to keep her awake. She listened and kept her body attuned to every slight breath, every cough, fearing each could be the last. But despite the shortness of breath, the energy-robbing coughing spells, the little girl stayed cheerful, speaking when she could, the head of a tiny rag doll poking out of the thick blankets next to her head. Once the sun finally began to peek over the desert sand, the convoy of bikes, trikes and jeeps pulled off the road into a tight huddle behind some tall rocks. They’d be safe and hidden there while they rested through the day. One of the party would go and fill up the group’s gas containers at the closest station that they had passed during the night, so they could continue the journey the next night. The remainder of them would eat and most would rest, a few taking turns as lookouts for trouble. They had to be watchful every moment. The Trade was never far away, and was on the lookout for anyone vulnerable, especially those who had escaped previously. Denise and her group refused to be part of the Taken again. Denise fed the weak girl, and they shared a few quiet moments together, their matching grey eyes and roped hair revealing how much they belonged to each other. “Momma, you look so tired. You don’t want to get sick too. You should sleep today…” she said softly, her own voice tired from coughing. She had to take turns to cough, breathe, talk and drink her meagre soup. It took a long time, but she valiantly drank it all down, knowing her mother would worry if she didn’t. And her body needed it in order to get strong again. She always believed she’d get better, so she never worried like her mother did. Her mother would take care of her, and she would get better just like last time. Fortunately, she couldn’t see the grey tinge around her lips, and the dark circles around her own eyes, and Denise didn’t tell her. “I just don’t want to miss a moment of seeing your face, Alena. My little angel…” she answered simply, smiling tiredly. She couldn’t remember when she’d last had a proper sleep, more than a few quick naps here and there, too worried about her daughter to sleep without fear. As it was, each nap ended with a panic as she awoke, checking to see the little girl was still breathing. But she was, oh so tired. Once the girl had finally finished eating, Denise gave her a tiny bit of the cough medicine they had been rationing for her, just enough to calm her coughing a bit so she could sleep. “Lay with me, Momma. Then you can rest too,” she begged her, leaning against the bedroll. It was too much work for her lungs for her to sleep laying down. She gave a small yawn and closed her eyes wearily, hugging her little doll to her. Denise finally relented. How could she say no to such a sweet face? She curled up with her and watched her sleep, eventually sinking into an exhausted sleep of her own. It was late in the day when Seb finally woke her. They needed to eat and get moving soon. Denise was slow to wake up, her body still craving rest. But Alena needed to eat. She gently shook her, but only the doll moved, falling from her limp hands. “Alena, wake up, baby…” she begged, the panic rising in her throat, suffocating her. “Alena, please. Open those beautiful eyes for Momma…” But they never would. She rode all night with the group. They couldn’t dare to stay in one place. They put her in the middle of the pack, keeping a careful eye on the distraught mother, talking to her child all night, the little girl wrapped in her blankets, the doll next to her. She could barely see the road. Her throat ached from crying. She promised the girl the running would stop. She’d never let running take the life of anyone, as much as she could help it. She blamed the Trade for taking her daughter. One way or another, they had managed to take her away. In the morning, they buried her by the side of the road. Denise lacked the strength to pick up a shovel. She lacked the strength to do any more than hold her baby and weep. When she saw Seb approaching her to take her precious bundle from her, Denise shied back, unable to face what was about to happen. "No, Seb, please don't..." she begged desperately.