He’s not really sure when it starts. There’s no magical point where he notices that he can (sort of) think again. He doesn’t have an epiphany the first time he has an actual coherent thought. He just… sees the blond man, the one with the shoulders, and thinks, Huh.
As thoughts go, it’s not going to win a Pulitzer. But considering the fact that he’s spent the last… well, entirety of his existence (as far as he knows) slavering over human flesh, it’s enough of a cog in the wheels that eventually he does notice that things have changed. That he, as a being who exists with the ability to think (again?), has noticed another being. A being with an astounding shoulder-to-waist ratio.
It could possibly be the resemblance to a Dorito that caught his attention. He does have a thing for food these days, albeit food that’s a bit… warmer and bloodier. But hey, nobody knocks Doritos, right?
Once he has the thought, though, it’s like the floodgates have opened. He has so many thoughts. Did he always have this many? Is this a new thing? Or were they all just running under the surface, waiting for the human Dorito to jolt them back to the forefront of his dead brain?
These days, though, a lot of those thoughts are about Dorito, he’s not gonna lie.
It’s not creepy to sort of… wander around the post-apocalyptic landscape, hoping he’ll run into the guy, right? The other shufflers, they do it all the time. Granted, they do it with more of an intention of eating the people they follow, but he’s not really willing to think about whether he wants to eat Dorito. That’s a complicated sort of question, because he’s always hungry, so of course he does, but at the same time he sort of wants to… pet Dorito.
Not like that.
Jeez, get your mind out of the gutter.
Okay, maybe a little like that. But not in a creepy way. Only in a consensual way. Honestly, who do you think he is? He might be a flesh-eating undead revenant, but he’s not one hundred percent a dick.
Probably only ninety-seven percent. But that is an important three percent, okay?
Not long after the revelatory [i]huh[/i], he has another moment of self-realization. He’s wearing a business suit. He must have been important. Or possibly just an asshole in a nice suit, but he’s going to give himself the benefit of the doubt here… because obviously everyone who had been wearing a suit at the time of the apocalypse was vitally important to society. In his defense, it is a very nice suit. Possibly bespoke. He’s not even sure what that word means, but it pops into his mind in a reverent sort of tone, so he’ll go with it.
There are a lot of dudes wearing suits, though. It probably won’t impress Dorito. Also the tie gets caught on a lot of things, which is annoying, but his fingers don’t work well enough to loosen it and get it over his head.
So he’s going to be rocking the businessman chic for a while. That’s cool. It’s not like he moves much faster than a stumble, these days, so he doesn’t really need anything more sartorially appropriate for the apocalypse.
Of course, that all changes the day he sees Dorito about cornered by more fellow shufflers than any reasonable person could be expected to fight off or escape. The shufflers have a tendency to congregate in large groups, mostly brought on by a desire to go eat whatever everyone else seems to be eating, sort of like peer pressure. And right now, one of said herds seems to have caught the scent of a particular blond human (who probably doesn’t actually smell like a Dorito- if he did, they wouldn’t be so interested).
Dorito hasn’t noticed his danger yet. He’s too busy sorting through stuff in an abandoned store, tossing things into his backpack. And so of course our hero has to save him. Not that he’s really capable of fending off a horde of shufflers either, but he can at least act as a warning system.
"Mnuhhhn." He kicks the door frame, which falls inward partway.
Dorito jumps, spinning around, and then stares at him, eyes ticking in recognition. “Oh God.”
This is not the desired reaction. He kicks the door frame again and tries to jerk his head in the direction of the street. It… sort of moves the way he wants it to.
Dorito keeps staring, his face growing paler, but eventually his eyes do tick sideways, and then they widen. “Oh shoot. Tony, oh God, Tony, I gotta go- we gotta go-“
And then to his shock, Dorito reaches out and grabs his arm. And they’re suddenly… sort of running.
Well, Dorito’s running. He’s just sort of falling into things in a way that is generally aimed forward. This lasts for approximately half a block before they turn a corner (well, Dorito turns a corner, while he himself plows into a mailbox). On the other side, another group is stumbling around the street, too many of them to go around. Steve swallows audibly.
Wait. He turns, stares at the blond man.
Steve, he thinks, his blood singing. Steve.
Steve, who’s pulling out a baseball bat. This will not end well.
He, Tony, knows this will not end well. Not Tim, not Tom or Taylor. Tony.
"Nnnnn," he tries, and then screws up his face. Steve looks down at him, his expression sad, and then his hand tightens on the bat. Tony shakes his head, lifts a hand. Yep, still dead. But the gaping wounds on his arm… those will work.
"Nnnnnnn," he tries again, and then, "No."
Steve gapes at him. “Tony?”
But that’s all he manages before Tony reaches up and wipes a bloody hand on his face. “God, Tony, what-“
"Ffflluh-" Tony cuts himself off, shakes his head sharply. "Follow."
He grabs ineffectually at Steve’s sleeve and then hunches his shoulders, doing an exaggerated sort of moan-and-shuffle. And then he straightens, looking back at Steve, and does it again. “Follow.” He pauses, takes a breath, and then says it. On the first try. “Steve.”
Steve’s grin could restart the city power grid. It definitely does something to Tony’s heart.
No, it actually does. He feels sensation in the chest cavity area for the first time in months. He grins back.
And off they stumble, through the other shufflers, Steve making a valiant attempt to mimic Tony’s movements.
It’s surprisingly gratifying to have found, if rather belatedly, the one thing on Earth that Captain America is really bad at.