“Quick run,” Niall says, pulling open the door to the little black Audi. “Get the medicine, get out.”
Liam wants to protest. They need food. They can’t keep living on instant mashed potatoes and rice. He knows that no amount of arguing with Niall will change his mind, though. Not after last time. They’d do a real run another day, when Harry is back on his feet, because runs are Harry’s job. He was best at them. The quickest, sneakiest. Harry could get into a building and get out of it without anyone knowing he was ever there. Unfortunately for them, Harry is sick. Really, really sick.
“Got it,” Liam agrees, climbing into his side of the car.
It’s a nice car. Something he’d never of dreamed about owning before, but now that there’s no such thing as world order, having a nice car doesn’t really matter. Not when everyone you knew is dead.
Louis gets the gates for them, and Liam eyes him warily. He doesn’t like this. Doesn’t like leaving Louis alone, even if the prison is as safe as it gets anymore. Even if he’s not technically alone, because the prison is filled with others (he just considers the four of them their own group). Louis’ the worst shot of them all. If something were to happen… but no, it’s pointless to dwell on that. They all know that every time they separate could be the last time they see each other. You just get used to that. Or you’re supposed to, anyways. Liam’s never been good at the emotional separation thing. Niall has it down pat, though.
The drive into town isn’t a bad one. Niall can be a hardass a lot of the time, but he’s also just a twenty year old University student who can drink his weight in alcohol and knows the words to every Justin Bieber song. Liam doesn’t mind listening to the shitty Cds they’d scavenged a few weeks back, because it’s better than driving with Louis would have been. Louis’ been nothing but jumpy and bitchy since Harry got sick, and Liam knows he’ll continue to be like that until the other boy is better.
“Twenty points,” Niall says, fingers curling around the steering wheel hard enough that his knuckles turn white.
Liam snorts. “Oh, come on, he’s stumbling. Ten points.”
“Thirty if I don’t get and blood on the windshield,” Niall bargains.
Liam eyes the walker just down the road. He’s not moving fast, but he’s large, almost bloated. There’s no way he’ll manage it. “Deal.”
Niall presses down on the gas, and the sleek car speeds down the road. A moment later they hit the walker with a loud thump. Liam knows that they probably shouldn’t do this. That they could seriously damage the car, and it’s a little immature. But Niall whoops out a laugh, and Liam can’t see any reason to deny him this. Having fun isn’t exactly easy when you’re in the middle of an apocalypse.
“Fucking right!” Niall shouts, slowing down. “Thirty points.”
Liam leans forward, inspecting the windshield. “Thirty points,” he agrees. “Damn. How do you always manage to do that?”
Niall shrugs and gives Liam a bright grin. “I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto over the years.”
Liam shakes his head and looks out the window. He has no idea where they are. What city they’re in. Somewhere with a lot of trees. Definitely the kind of town that you’d stop into to get gas, but never to stay. A pit stop.
The shopping district is literally one short street, lined on every side with shops. The best thing about little towns, besides the small population, is the fact that the roads are always clearer. Not enough cars around to block the streets, which means getting in and out of places is a lot easier. Still not safe or simple, but easier.
Niall slows down near the pharmacy. They’d passed it on their way into town a few weeks ago, and Harry had drawn them a map to find it, not that they needed it. They don’t talk as Niall parks the car and hands Liam the pistol. Personally, Liam likes the shotgun better. The pistol with a silencer attached to it is just too awkward in his hands. But they ran out of ammo for the Model last week while cleaning out another part of the prison, so it can’t be helped.
Liam scans the area around the car. The only movement he can see is to his left, too far down the road for him to bother taking it out. It’d be a waste of a bullet, and they can’t afford it. Niall nods his agreement and Liam gets out, gun at the ready just in case.
He moves towards the building fast and flattens himself against the glass, trying to see inside. He can see the entire front room, mostly. There’s a few shelves, but they’re all short enough that if anything lethal was behind them, he’d probably see them. Probably, but not definitely. Crawlers (walkers without legs -- or with broken legs) are a different story. The back room, though, where they keep anything that he actually needs, is blocked off.
Liam lifts a hand to Niall, signalling that he’s going in, and Niall lifts up a thumb. Liam can see the tense set of his shoulders even through the slightly tinted windows of the car, but he’ll be fine. And if not, it’s not like he’s the most important one of them all. They could all move on if he was gone. They couldn’t if it were, say, Harry or Jen, both of whom are important members of the group.
Liam pulls open the door slowly, standing up on his toes to grab the bell hanging over the door. A quick yank and the bell comes off in his hand. He learned that trick from Harry. Almost all store doors have bells to signal to cashiers that someone is coming in. Now it signals to the dead that the living are coming, so you have to be careful and find a way to stop it when you open a door.
The front room has a set of freezers, each one filled with drinks that Liam’s itching to grab, but he can’t. No matter how refreshing a warm bottle of lemonade would be. Next time, maybe.
He heads for the counter that separates the front room from the actual pharmaceuticals. The behind the counter stuff. He can’t spare Niall another glance, just in case, and he lifts his gun to shoulder level, finger on the trigger. The door behind the counter is, thankfully, unlocked, and he turns it while holding the gun in his left hand.
The room is just a few sets of shelves. Liam takes a quick look around and then heads for one of them, shoving the gun back in his holster. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for, so he pulls his bag off his shoulders and starts filling it with one of everything. Best to be on the safe side.
He’s leaning up to reach for a bottle on the top shelf when the atmosphere in the room changes. It was something he wouldn’t have been able to pick up on before, when survival instincts weren’t needed to live. Now, he can feel the shift in the air, knows he’s not the only one breathing it in. He reaches for his knife in his belt (no need to grab for the gun when there’s only one), but before he can, the cold press of a blade digs into his throat, and a body presses against his from behind.
“One move,” the person holding the knife to his throat says, “and you die. Understood?”
He slept in the pharmacy for one reason: the dead are really fucking loud. It’s impossible for one of them to make it through the front room, and then into the back room where he sleeps, without making noise. And if one does make it into the back room, the way Zayn has the shelves set up (which didn’t take much rearranging, thankfully) assures that they’d have to knock into at least one to get to him, and the sound of the bottles moving or falling would wake him up.
Sure, it’s not foolproof. Sure, there’s too many variables, so many chances being taken. He can’t help it, though. There’s nowhere else. Not when he’d run out of ammo three days ago. Not when he has no idea what he’ll find when he leaves this building, because he’d stumbled into here days ago in the middle of the night after staying awake for three days straight and running non-stop for two of them without anything to drink.
He was dehydrated and starving, and a pharmacy is as good a place to die as any.
Obviously his muddled thoughts had been smart ones, because the sound of someone riffling through the shelves wakes him. It takes him all of about fifteen seconds to realize that, no, that is not one of the dead. The movements are too precise, the breathing too even and levelled. Whoever it is, they don’t know he’s here. Dumb, he thinks, or cocky. Didn’t check the whole room first.
Trying to make as little noise as possible, Zayn sits up. He’s already got his knife clutched in his hand (who doesn’t sleep with a weapon at the ready anymore?) and he crouches down to stay out of view as he moves towards the sound of his much too loud companion.
The first thing he sees is a wide set of shoulders stretching a too tight black t-shirt. The second thing he notices is the man’s short hair, and the fact that he looks not only well fed, but clean. And he’s instantly on alert. He can count on his left hand the amount of living people he’s come across in the last three months. He knows what people are like now. Knows that the only way to survive is to kill, and not just kill the dead, either.
Zayn sucks in a shallow, quiet breath, and then moves behind the man and, as carefully as he can, he presses the man into the shelf and levels his knife at the man’s throat.
“One move and you die,” Zayn says softly. “Understood?”
The man is frozen, hand halfway to his belt. Zayn sees a knife and a gun there, knows that he’s risking everything by even doing this, because he’s too weak right now to fight. One good elbow to the ribs and he figures he’d go down, if the man in front of him is willing to risk it.
“Understood,” he says softly.
Zayn sucks in another breath and tries to think. Tries to figure out a way out of this that doesn’t involve either of them dying, but he doubts there is one. He might have been prepared to die when he’d came into this place, but he’s not anymore. If it comes down to it, he’ll go out fighting, and he hopes that his companion is too concerned about that to try anything.
“I’m not alone,” the man says. Zayn winces. Of course he’s not. “I’ve got someone waiting just outside, and he’ll be in here soon if I don’t come out, and he’s not going to ask questions first.”
Zayn chews his lip. “So I’ve got no options, then,” Zayn says.
“You could kill me and take my gun,” the man suggests.
Zayn startles a bit at those words, and the knife digs into the man’s skin harder than he meant to. Zayn can see the drop of blood slide down his throat, over a dark birthmark that is really unimportant right now, but for someone sticks out in his mind anyways.
“Too late to decide,” a voice behind him says, and then pain explodes in the back of Zayn’s skull and his body crumples, vision going black.
He wakes up in a bed. He doesn’t have to open his eyes to know this. Months of sleeping on cement floors, in the backs of abandoned cars, or even in trees has taught him to treasure warm, soft beds. Sleeping in houses is too risky. It’s too hard to secure them. He hasn’t had the luxury of sleeping in a bed since October or December, and it’s now late into July.
His head aches. No, it fucking pounds. That’s really not important, though. What’s important is the cold water that seeps down his neck. He’s laying facedown without a pillow, and someone is cleaning the wound on the back of his neck. Someone male, he guesses, who doesn’t have any medical training, because the way he’s going about things is a bit too painful and fumbled.
A moment later the water is replaced by something that fucking stings, but Zayn holds in the hiss of pain, because he’s in trouble here. He can tell that he doesn’t have his knife. It’s not in his hands, and he can’t feel the hilt of it digging into his hip, which it would be doing if it was in his belt.
Zayn’s good at hand to hand combat, though. He’s weak and hurt and thin, but he’s quick and smart. As subtly as he can, he shifts his position a bit, putting a bit more pressure on his left leg, splaying the fingers of his left hand flat against the mattress. Then, in one swift, fast move, he’s twisting out of bed, grabbing the man by the throat, and pushing him against the opposite wall.
He takes a few seconds (not many, because time is a luxury and ten seconds could bet he difference between life and death) to figure out where he is. When he does, he finds panic bubbling up inside of him, because he’s in a fucking cell. Complete with a barred door.
“Where’s my knife?” Zayn hisses into the ear of the man he’s got pressed against the wall. It’s the same one from earlier, though he’s wearing different clothes now. He doesn’t know if the guy just changed, or if it’s actually been over a day since he was knocked out. It could be either.
“Not in here,” the guy grinds out. It must be a little difficult, given the way his face is pressed against the cement wall, but Zayn doesn’t let up because one wrong move and this guy will be able to overpower him easily. “There’s no weapons in here. Strict rules. A precaution.”
“And where the fuck is here, exactly?” Zayn demands, eyes scanning the man’s body. He can’t pat him down, can’t take the hand off his neck or from between his shoulder blades, but from what he can see, this guy really is unarmed.
The man ignores the question and says, “Remember yesterday how I gave you an out? Told you to take my gun? This time there isn’t an out. You kill me, it won’t make a difference. That door’s locked, and only one person has the key, and I can guarantee you that you’d be dead before you even asked him to open the door.”
Zayn makes a frustrated noise and steps back, releasing the man at once. He moves across the cell, trying to put as much distance between them as possible, but there’s not a lot of room in the small space. There’s the bunk bed that Zayn had been sleeping on, stripped bare, and then a sink against the wall he’d just pushed the man into. Nothing else.
Zayn’s back hits the barred door and he winces in pain when his elbow hits the metal too hard. The man turns, and Zayn takes in a wide pair of brown eyes, pink lips stretches into a thin line, and the cut on his throat from Zayn’s blade. It must have slipped against his neck when Zayn fell, but the cut looks days old, at least.
“How long was I out for?” Zayn demands. His voice is rough, throat dry. He doesn’t just feel like a caged animal. He is one.
“Two and a half days,” the man answers. He busies himself with grabbing the cloth from Zayn’s bed and wets it in the sink.
Zayn reaches up a hand to the cut on the back of his neck, which he assumes to be from the butt of a gun. “You drugged me,” Zayn realizes, because there’s no way that wound knocked him out for days.
“Again, a precaution,” the man says. “Had to make sure you were unconscious long enough to get you into the cell, and Niall went a little overboard with the sleeping pills.”
Zayn lifts his chin defiantly, trying to make it look like he’s calm and in control, though he has no doubt that they both know who’s really in control here. “What do you plan on doing with me?”
“That’s not up to him to decide,” a voice behind him says.
Zayn whirls and backs up, putting distance between himself and the door. He ends up having the other man stepping in front of him, shielding Zayn’s whole body with his bigger one. “Louis,” the man in front of him says.
The one at the door is smaller than the one in his cell. Shorter, thin, wiry arms, but a slightly curvy sort of body. They’re both well fed, Zayn notes. Not starving, not dirty. Wherever he is right now (which is obviously a prison, but for some reason that doesn’t make sense in Zayn’s mind), they’re living a cushy life here.
“Liam,” the other man counters, and the four letters are laced with everything from warning and annoyance, to concern and exhaustion.
“What do you want me to do?” Liam demands. “I told you, we couldn’t have left him, he was unconscious! I don’t want his death on my hands.”
Louis sighs deeply and says, “That doesn’t mean you have to lick his fucking wounds, now does it? And he didn’t seem to have an qualms about killing you, or so I’d assume, given the cut on your throat.”
I should have, Zayn thinks. Should have killed him, grabbed his gun, got out of there. He’d be long gone by now, and he’d be better off than he was before, because he’d have a gun. Hesitation will be the death of him, he figures. If he had of just went through with it, he wouldn’t be here right now. And here? Here is probably where he dies, he knows. Groups don’t just expand to allow in outsiders. And Zayn doesn’t like people very much. They’ll probably kill him just to get rid of the inconvenience, and Zayn can’t see any way to escape.
“He wasn’t going to kill me,” Liam says quietly. Zayn doesn’t add anything, because he’s right. Zayn wouldn’t have went through with it, and he knows it, as pathetic and stupid as that is.
“Louis!” someone yells, and Louis tenses. The man in front of him grins, though, and Zayn feels himself relax a little. Liam had been tense when Louis came into the picture, but that rigid set to his shoulders relaxes a bit as another person comes into view.
This one is younger than the others. He’s tall and thin with wild hair and a bright grin. He looks sick, though. Skin ashen, cheekbones too sharp, not as healthy as Liam and Louis.
“What are you doing?” Louis asks quietly, concern etched in every part of his face. “You should be in bed.”
The curly haired boy shrugs and says, “I wanted to see what everyone’s going on about. Jen said Liam brought home another stray.”
Louis sighs loudly and wraps an arm around the other boy. “You’re not allowed in the cell, though,” he says. “And don’t you dare let him out, Harry, you hear me?”
Curly-- Harry-- rolls his eyes. “Do I look like an idiot?” he asks, and then turns to Zayn. “So what’s your name, anyways?”
Zayn feels like a lab experiment, and he takes a step backwards and keeps going until he hits the wall. He feels safer against a wall, knowing that nothing could come up behind him, even if it would be impossible for anything to get to him from behind because, you know, he’s in a fucking cell.
“Does he speak English?” Harry asks Liam.
“Yes,” Liam says, turning to Zayn. “He was just talking to me.”
Zayn has no idea why he doesn’t tell them that Zayn had attacked him. There’s something far too kind in those brown eyes, and it makes Zayn feel guilty.
“Whatever,” Louis says suddenly. “You’re going back to bed.”
“Oh, come on, Lou!” Harry whines. “I don’t want to be in bed. I’ve been in bed for almost two fucking weeks.”
“And you’re still running a fever, so you’re going back to bed,” Louis says firmly. “And Liam?”
“What?” Liam asks, stepping towards the door.
“Here,” Louis says, handing him a set of keys, as well as a set of handcuffs that Zayn hadn’t seen before. “Anything he eats comes out of your rations. You keep him away from our cellblock. And if you take him out of the cell, he’s handcuffed at all times. Understood?”
“Wait, I’ll come with you,” Liam says, using the keys to unlock the cell door. “I’m getting us lunch. And then I’m going to take him to the showers. I don’t think he’s had a proper wash in weeks. I’ll let Jen know to keep everyone out of that side of the prison while we’re there, and I’ll take Niall with us.”
Louis nods and fixes Zayn with a hard look. “You can try all you want, but there’s no way to get out of the cell. And when he takes you out, if you try anything, we shoot first and ask questions second, and there’s way too many of us for you to even think of getting out of here alive, so I wouldn’t try anything.”
Zayn doesn’t answer. He doesn’t really see what he can say, because it’s not like he’s not going to at least try to get out of here. He has to. If he dies, at least he’ll do it knowing he tried his best to keep himself alive.
The three of them leave and Zayn waits until he can no longer hear the sounds of their footsteps to move. He looks over the cell slowly, and then tries the door just to see. Liam had locked it behind him, but Zayn tries pushing on it, tries pulling on it, tries kicking it and everything, but there’s no point in even trying, because Louis was right. He can’t get out.
Next he heads for the bed. He lifts both mattresses, finds nothing underneath. He tries the sink next, attempts to rip the pipe from the wall, because that could be a fairly useful weapon. He doesn’t have the energy to do it, though. His body is too weak, and the pipe doesn’t budge.
Eventually he sighs and sits down on the bottom bunk and tries to think. There’s got to be a way to get out of this alive. Liam’s coming back with food, he said. Food has to come on a plate, right? He could wait until Liam is inside, break the plate over his head, or break it on the wall and stab him with one of the shards, and then take the keys from his pockets. And then he could… what? How many people are here, exactly? Louis had said a lot, but a lot, in this world, could mean five.
So he won’t try anything right away. He’ll wait until Liam takes him to the showers, wherever they are. Maybe he’ll get to see the others, figure out what he’s up against, and come up with the best way to go about this. Reconnaissance. Get a weapon. Get out.
When Liam comes back he politely asks Zayn to stay sitting while he opens the door, which Zayn does. He carefully locks the two of them in, and then hands Zayn a bowl of rice and a spoon.
“Do you mind if I sit?” he asks, gesturing to the bed.
Zayn shrugs and Liam sinks into the space beside him, the bed dipping down under his weight in a way that it doesn’t with Zayn’s. He starts eating right away, like he’s completely comfortable to sit here with Zayn, locked in a prison cell.
After a few moments Zayn lifts his spoon to his mouth and swallows. It hurts, and he coughs.
“Oh, right, shit,” Liam says, standing up. He pulls a water bottle out of his back pocket and hands it to Zayn. “Sorry, I forgot. You’re probably thirsty, right?”
Zayn ignores him and unscrews the lid before bringing the bottle to his lips. The water is warm and seems to only intensify the foul taste in his mouth, but it’s wet and it soothes his dry throat, so he keeps drinking, keeps guzzling it down until the bottle’s empty.
Liam watches him the whole time, eyes on Zayn while he shovels food into his mouth. Zayn tries another bite, finds it bland and a bit mushy, but it’s food. On his own he’d had barely anything to eat. He sticks to the woods, most of the time. It’s safer. The only reason he was even in town in the first place was because he was getting reckless, and he figured he was going to die soon on the road anyways. Might as well go out with a roof over his head.
He eats faster than Liam. The food settles in his stomach in a way that’s almost painful because he’s not used to it. When he’s done, Liam hands Zayn his bowl, too, even though it’s still half full.
“Go ahead,” Liam tells him. “You look like you need it a lot more than I do.”
It’s true. Zayn is all thin limbs and gaunt cheekbones, and Liam looks like a fucking athletic model. Strong arms, tanned skin, wide shoulders, full cheeks. Which is why Zayn takes the second helping of food, eating it quickly even if his stomach is starting to protest. Who knows where his next meal is going to come from. It’s best to get his fill while he can.
This time, when he finishes, Liam takes the bowl from him, adds the other one on top of it, and stands up. “I’m going to go get Niall,” he explains. “What size pants are you? I think something of Harry’s might fit. Be a bit long, but that’s because Harry’s sort of a mutant.”
Zayn frowns up at him. “What?”
“Clothes,” Liam repeats. He wrinkles his nose and gives Zayn an apologetic look. “No offence, but you smell rank. And those pants look plastered to your body, not to mention they’re ripped and covered in blood.”
Zayn looks down at himself. Liam’s got a point. His leather jacket no longer looks black, but is instead grey from dirt and brown and red in places from blood and… he doesn’t know what else. Doesn’t really want to think about it. And his jeans are even worse. Finding clothes, when he does bother to stop into a town or break into a house, was never a top priority.
“Why are you doing this?” Zayn asks, searching Liam’s eyes for something. Some hint of malice, something that betrays the open and friendly look on his face, that proves that Zayn’s guard is up for a reason. He doesn’t find anything.
“Doing what?” Liam asks, turning his keys in his hands.
“I did try to kill you,” Zayn says softly. “And now you’re-- feeding me, offering me clothes. Why?”
Liam shrugs and says, “Why not? Until everyone decides what to do with you, you’re stuck here anyways. And who knows, you might end up being useful.” He smiles a bit. “You were out there on your own, weren’t you? For how long?”
Zayn shifts uncomfortably. “Haven’t been with anyone else since October.”
“Fuck,” Liam breathes, eyes wide. “How’d you last so long?”
Zayn narrows his eyes. “I just did.”
“Right, well,” Liam grins again. “See what I mean? If you can last that long on your own, out there, then you might be a real help in here.”
“What if I don’t want to stay?” Zayn asks him.
Liam snorts. “You will,” he says with complete conviction. “You’ll see.”
Zayn severely doubts this, but Liam is too busy unlocking, and then relocking, the door for Zayn to bother mentioning it. Liam, he decides, is far too naive for his own good. He has no idea how Liam lasted this long in a world like this, but people like that are a hazard to themselves. Too willing to believe in the good in people, and too willing to take in a stranger that has considered killing you on multiple different occasions.
At least it’ll be easier for Zayn to escape if Liam is the one constantly watching him.
Louis wasn’t kidding about the handcuffs. Niall (the one who apparently hit him on the back of the head, and drugged him afterwards) waits outside with a gun hanging loosely in one hand, a bag in the other. Zayn thinks he might be a friendly enough looking guy, if you’re on his good side. Zayn apparently isn’t, though, and Niall’s blue eyes are cold and watchful as Liam comes into the cell and makes Zayn turn around so he can put the handcuffs on him.
Zayn hates it. He really fucking hates it. The metal is cold and it bites into his skin, and without control of his hands or arms, he’s even more defenceless than he already was. When Liam guides him out of the room, it’s with a gentle hand on his back. If he gets the chance, Zayn decides he will break that hand.
“Jen’s cleared out the way,” Niall says conversationally to Liam as they walk. “Louis’ right pissed at you though, eh? You’re lucky Harry’s sick and he’s too distracted.’
Liam shrugs. “Louis will get over it.”
“Think the others will, though?” Niall questions. “Jen’s pretty curious, wants to know what his deal is. Mary and Carson think we should kill him.”
Zayn stiffens but Liam rolls his eyes. “Mary’s reaction to everything is murder. Remember last week when Louis told her that her haircut looked stupid? Nearly sliced his head off.”
Niall chuckles. “It does look stupid though, doesn’t it?”
Liam shakes his head. “I’m not answering that.”
“So what’s his name, anyways?” Niall asks, pointing a thumb in Zayn’s direction.
“Don’t know,” Liam admits. “Said he was on his own since October.”
Niall raises his eyebrows, looking impressed. “October?” he asks Zayn. “How the fuck’d you manage that?”
Zayn glares at him and doesn’t answer.
They ignore him after that. Well, mostly. Liam’s still got a hand on him, whether to guide him or to keep him from running off, he has no idea. Zayn’s too busy taking in his surroundings to care.
He really is in a prison. His cell is in an abandoned cellblock. He’s the only one in there, from what he could tell. The rest of the prison is desolate looking, but Zayn can faintly hear people laughing and talking from far off, to the left. He figures that Liam and his group are staying in a different cellblock, one far from Zayn’s.
“That’s the kitchen,” Liam explains, pointing to a set of two doors on their left. “Jen handles all the food, so I wouldn’t go in there without her permission.”
Zayn turns to look at the door as they walk past, sees the indents in the metal that suggests bodies had been slammed into it. There’s no blood, though. In fact, there’s no blood anywhere.
“You cleared out the whole prison?” Zayn asks quietly.
Liam nods. “Most of it. Don’t go near the other cellblocks. There’s a wall of dead that keeps the others out, but the back wall’s been broken for who knows how long. That whole area isn’t safe. We don’t know if there’s a lot of them there, but none of us are willing to check. It’s too blocked off to be an issue, and too risky to try clearing it out.”
Zayn is more than a little impressed. At first, the idea of living in a prison seemed insane to him, but the more he thinks about it, the smarter it is. Everything is locked down, for one. You can lock down different sections of the jail, and different cellblocks, and then even specific cells, like his own. You could get a full nights sleep, knowing that nothing can get to you. And then on top of that there’s a kitchen and running water, apparently. And there’s so much space.
“Genius,” Zayn breathes.
Liam grins. “Thanks.”
“His idea,” Niall adds. “The prison, I mean. We were out on the run most of the winter, until we came by this place. Told him he was crazy to even consider clearing it out, but we did it.”
Liam flushes but says, “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“No, it really is,” Niall says sincerely. “Saved my life a million times, Liam. So you fuck with him and I’ll make sure that you wish we’d of just thrown you to the walkers.”
Zayn would snort a laugh if he wasn’t positive that Niall is 100% serious. Niall seems like the kind of person who is constantly teetering on the edge of good and bad. Will be kind and open to those he’s loyal to, and won’t hesitate to put a bullet in everyone else. At first glance, you might assume that Niall is more in charge than Liam, but that’s not true, Zayn thinks. Niall gravitates to Liam, changes his every move to match Liam’s, like he’s used to taking orders from the other man.
“Showers,” Liam says finally. They’re just down the hall from the kitchen, and Liam nods to Niall and says, “You keep watch. I’ll take him in.”
Niall nods and says to Zayn, “This is the only exit out of the bathroom. You come through that door before he does, I shoot you.”
Zayn nods, and Liam pulls out a set of keys and unlocks the door before grabbing the bag from Niall and letting Zayn walk in first. Once again, Zayn is taken aback by how clean it is. There’s windows high up, at least twice his own height, and they’re too small to get out through. They allow light to filter in, though, giving the room a bright, open look. There’s a shoulder height wall separating the actual showers from the rest of the room, too, and a small bench against the wall by the door.
“I’ll unlock those,” Liam says, gesturing to his cuffs. Zayn turns and the metal releases his hands. He flexes his fingers as Liam pockets the keys and handcuffs. “Here,” Liam says, handing Zayn the bag. “Clothes, soap, a towel.”
Zayn takes them, pulling the towel out and slinging it over his shoulder. He pulls out the clothes next, finding a pair of jeans that he can already tell, from one look, are going to be too long on him, and then a black t-shirt and a pair of black boxers that actually look new. There’s a brand new bar of soap inside, too, and Zayn pulls that out before hanging the clothes up on the wall beside him and adding the towel, too.
Liam sinks down onto the bench and fixes the wall across from him with an intense look, letting Zayn know that he’s safe to get undressed without being watched. That doesn’t make Zayn feel any more comfortable. Being naked isn’t something he’s used to anymore. It’s just not safe, not when you might have to be on the run at any second.
He really needs a shower, though, so he kicks off his shoes and pulls off his disgusting looking socks and then walks around the wall and strips off his t-shirt, too, which he hangs up beside the clean clothes. Next come his jeans, which, as Liam had pointed out earlier, really are plastered to his skin with blood and dirt, and he rips open a scab getting them off. He doesn’t react to it, though, because the mild pain is practically nothing to him.
Zayn takes one look down at his boxers and sucks in a breath before pulling them off. He doesn’t want to look at himself, but he can’t help it. His legs are so thin, the knobs of his knees sticking out sickeningly. His skin is dirty, too-- disgustingly so.
There’s six shower heads against the wall, and Zayn throws a look over his shoulder at Liam before walking towards them. He turns the first dial and steps out of the way as a stream of freezing water splashes around him. He can’t help but reach for the other dial, even though he knows it’s impossible. There’s no electricity anywhere anymore. The last time he’d washed in warm water was almost a year ago.
And yet, when he turns the dial, warm water comes out. He can’t help the gasp that escapes from his lips, or the way he cups the water in his hands just to make sure that this is real.
“You’ve got two minutes,” Liam says loudly. “Can’t waste hot water. You only get a hot shower once a week.”
“How is this even possible?” Zayn asks, stepping under the spray. The warmth washes over him, and he feels like crying, for some absurd reason.
The water turns a gross, muddy brown as it washes away his dirt, and Zayn rips open the soap box and lathers up his hands. It smells like citrus, and he scrubs his skin vigorously.
“Generator,” Liam explains. “Louis’ looking into solar power. There’s a farm not too far from here, and there’s panels on the roof. We’ve been waiting for Harry to get better to go check it out.”
Zayn sighs and continues to clean himself. The soap bar is half gone by the time he’s got the dirt from every inch of his body, and he can’t remember the last time he was this clean. He feels brand new, and it’s… it’s enough to distract him, for the time being, from his situation.
“Time’s up,” Liam tells him, and Zayn reluctantly turns of the water and pads over to the wall to grab his towel.
He dries his hair first, and then his body. When he’s done, he throws the towel back over the wall and reaches for the clothes. He hopes the boxers are new, but then he takes a look at the state of his old ones and decides that he really can’t afford to give a shit. They’re clean, and that’s all that he can focus on.
The pants are too big, as he knew they’d be. That can’t be helped, though, so he cuffs them up around the ankles and then pulls on the shirt, which smells distinctly of lavender.
“Jen’s cleaning your jacket,” Liam tells him as he heads around to the other side of the wall.
“Thank you,” Zayn says, the word feeling foreign on his tongue.
Liam shrugs. “Didn’t do it for you,” Liam tells him. “Did it for me. I’m stuck watching you until we’ve all decided what to do with you, and I’m going to have a much better time doing that if you don’t smell like the dead.”
Zayn nods and Liam grabs Zayn’s towel off the wall and slings it over his shoulder, and then stuffs the bag with Zayn’s dirty clothes. “What are you going to do with those?” Zayn asks.
Liam looks down at the bag. “Throw them out, unless you want to keep them.”
“No,” Zayn says after a moment of debating. He doesn’t ever want to put those jeans on again. In fact, he’d burn them if he could.
Liam pulls the handcuffs out of his pocket and Zayn obediently turns around, knowing there’s no way to fight him on this one. Plus, now that he’s clean and fed, he feels tired again. The prospect of falling asleep in a bed, knowing that the dead can’t get to him, is too amazing to even comprehend, and he just wants to sleep. If someone shoots or stabs him in his sleep, so be it. He doesn’t care right now.
The walk back to his cellblock is mostly quiet. Niall and Liam chat, but Zayn silently walks beside Liam, following the same path they’d taken on the way to the showers. When they get to his cellblock, Niall waits outside and then locks the two of them in.
“I’ll come check on you in two hours,” Niall says, pocketing the keys.
Zayn frowns but waits for him to go before asking. He notes the fact that someone came in and made both of the beds, because there’s a blanket and pillow on the top and bottom bunk.
“Why’d he lock you in with me?” Zayn asks Liam.
Liam yawns and stretches. “So I can take a nap,” he explains. “This way, I don’t have the key on me so I don’t have to worry about you killing me in my sleep to take them.”
Zayn’s frown deepens and he tugs at the collar of his shirt. Liam looks like he’s waiting for Zayn to say that he wouldn’t do that, but he can’t. Not because he actually would, but because he can’t have Liam thinking that he’s some passive person who’s just going to allow them to take him prisoner (literally).
Zayn pulls back the blanket on the bed and crawls onto it, too tired to talk anymore. Too tired to think, really, because he’s only been up for a few hours, but today has just been too much for him.
He hears Liam climb into the bunk above him, hears him shift around. There’s a moment of panic where Zayn wonders if the bunk will cave in on him and he’ll end up dead, sandwiched between two mattresses. That’d be a pretty embarrassing way to go.
“I still don’t know your name,” Liam says quietly as Zayn tries to get comfortable.
Zayn closes his eyes and pulls the blankets up over his shoulders. “It’s Zayn,” he says, and he’s not sure why. He just does. And then he falls asleep, for the first time in so long, to the sound of someone else breathing around him.
Liam wakes up when Niall comes back, carrying a tray of food with him. Maybe to an outsider, Niall would seem calm and relaxed, but Liam knows he’s on edge. He knows that the boy -- Zayn-- is making them all anxious, except maybe Liam and Harry. Harry is far too eager at the prospect of someone else being able to help take care of everyone, and Liam can’t deny that Zayn is probably capable.
Eight months. He’s been on his own for over eight months, and he’s lasted this long. He’s doing something right, apparently. Liam needs to know what it is. And Liam thinks that he could be an asset, if they could get him to relax, and get everyone else to accept him.
Except Zayn is skittish and terrified. He can see it in the other man’s eyes, in the way he holds himself. He’s looking for a way out, though he and Niall and Louis had explained to him that there isn’t one. And there’s not. Unless he wants to go on a rampage and kill everyone, he’s stuck here. And Liam really, really hopes that Zayn is better than that. If someone got hurt because Liam was too kind to let this guy die, he’d never forgive himself. And as much as he wants to make Zayn comfortable, if it came down to Zayn or any of the others, Liam would kill him.
Zayn is still asleep when Niall comes into the cell. He places the tray on the sink as Liam jumps down from the bunk. “Like a sack of fucking potatoes,” Niall comments, eying Zayn warily. “Bet he hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in months.”
Liam nods his agreement and reaches for the bowl of instant mashed potatoes. They taste too watery and gross, but it’s warm, at least. “I think you’re right,” Liam agrees. “You should have seen him in the shower. I think he was about to cry because we actually have hot water.”
Niall’s lips quirk up. “You watched him in the shower?”
Liam feels heat rise to his cheeks. “No, I just--,”
“Sure,” Niall says, grinning. “So the fact that he’s hot as fuck had no effect on your decision to save him.”
No, it hadn’t. Liam hadn’t even know what he looked like when he’d picked up the body to carry him out to the car. The way Niall had hit him made Zayn collapse on himself, face pressed into the ground. All he had seen was a skinny boy with dirt and blood stained clothes, and blood dripping down his neck. He looked helpless, and Liam couldn’t leave him.
Zayn is attractive, though. Now that he’s showered, it’s even more obvious. Smooth skin a few shades darker than Liam’s is naturally. Dark hair that hangs over his eyes a bit, probably in need of a good cut. Wide eyes that look brown sometimes, and hazel others, framed by dark lashes. But beauty isn’t really important anymore.
“It didn’t,” Liam denies honestly. “I would have saved him no matter what he looked like.”
Niall laughs, but it’s a fond sound, not mocking. “I know,” he admits. “That’s what makes you Liam.”
Liam snorts and shovels more food into his mouth while Niall leans against the wall. “Harry’s feeling better,” he says. “We’re going on a run tomorrow. Louis said it was fine.”
Liam swallows and nods. “Good. I have a list of things we need.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Niall says, pulling at a string on his shirt. “There’s a mall not far from here, you know. Next town over.”
Liam shakes his head quickly. “No way.”
“No way,” he repeats.
“Liam, come on. Think about it, okay. It’s stocked with clothes, and food, and blankets and supplies. And not just that, but we can get seeds and start growing food. Imagine how fucking great it would be to eat real vegetables again.”
“Niall,” Liam says slowly, because it’s too risky. A store that big is too much of a chance. It’s just not safe.
“Just think about it,” Niall replies. “Okay?”
Liam sighs and nods, but he knows he’s not going to change his mind. “I’ll think about it, but don’t get your hopes up.”
“Don’t count on it, boss,” Niall says, grinning. “I’ve got watch duty. You’re off for the night. You can stay here with your pet.”
Liam frowns at him. “Don’t call him that.”
“You feed him, clean him, and keep him behind bars.” Niall raises his eyebrows. “That sounds like a pet to me.”
Liam sighs. “Tell Louis I want us all to have a meeting tomorrow, okay? I want to decide what to do with him.”
Niall groans. “We should blindfold him and drop him off in the woods too far for him to find his way back, is what we should do,” he says passionately. “We can’t trust him, Liam. He tried to kill you, don’t forget that.”
Liam stands up and crosses his arms over his chest. “Louis said the exact same thing about you, but who was the one that vouched for your ass?”
Niall glares. “That was different.”
“Because-- I--,” Niall waves a hand. “Come on, Liam, you can’t deny that there’s something wrong with him. Eight or nine months on his own? Living like that without someone else? Something like that fucks you up beyond repair. Even if he isn’t going to hurt us, you really think he’ll want to stay?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Liam demands. “We’re safe here.”
“Can’t tame a wild thing, Li,” Niall says quietly. “And him? He’s a wild thing.”
Liam doesn’t say anything else, and Niall leaves, locking the door behind himself. Liam finishes eating and puts his bowl back on the tray just as Zayn says, “He’s right, you know.”
Liam nearly jumps, but his instincts are too good for that. His heart does race, though, as he turns to see Zayn, whose eyes are still closed, still laying with his head on the pillow.
“About what?” Liam asks, putting a hand on the ladder of the bunk bed.
“’m fucked up beyond repair,” Zayn says quietly.
Liam doesn’t argue with him because he doesn’t see any point. “There’s food for you on the sink for when you wake up.”
Zayn grunts his reply, and Liam climbs back onto the bunk to go back to sleep. He’s going to need to be well rested for tomorrow.
Zayn is still sleeping when Liam leaves the cell. He has Niall watch him while he showers and gets dressed and ready for the day, and then gets Jen to go and watch him while they have the meeting. Jen’s already put in her vote anyways. She’s for letting him stay, and Liam’s grateful to have her on his side, because Jen is possibly the most influential person in their group.
Jen is a sweet old woman of fifty-six who looks like she smells like cookies and probably used to carry around mints in her purse. She is also the most capable person with a gun in their entire group, being an even better shot that Liam or Niall, and her old wrinkled hands can reload a handgun at a speed that is astounding. When Liam first met her, he wondered how she was still alive. And then he got to know her, and he stopped wondering.
“I’ve got it,” she says, nodding towards the cell. Liam must still look hesitant because she adds, “Don’t you worry, I’ve got your boy.”
Liam nods and goes to head out of the cellblock, but Zayn sits up first and calls his name. Liam looks over to see him clutching at his blankets, eyes wide.
“Zayn,” Liam says lightly, “this is Jen. Jen, this is Zayn.”
“He’s a pretty little thing, isn’t he?” Jen asks. “Zayn, is it?” Zayn nods. “Nice to meet you, Zayn. I’m Jennison, but you can call me Jen.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Zayn says slowly. It’s the first words Liam’s heard him speak to anyone other than him, which in itself is surprising enough. The polite, open tone of voice is even more surprising, and it makes something weird twist in Liam’s gut, because Zayn doesn’t talk to him like that. Zayn talks to Liam likes he’s seconds away from attacking him again, or running.
“See?” Jen asks, turning to him. “We’re fine. You go talk to the others.”
Liam gives Zayn one last look, and Zayn nods his head subtly; Liam figures that means he’s okay being left alone. He doesn’t know why the thought of leaving him under someone else’s care bothers him so much, but it does.
He leaves the cellblock anyways, and heads for their own. Their cellblock is different than Zayn’s, in the sense that it looks almost homey. There’s colourful blankets hung up to cover the bars, and each room has some sort of decoration, from Harry’s ridiculous posters on his walls, to Niall’s snapbacks hanging off the corners of his bed.
It’s still such a shock, how well they’ve managed to carry on like this. How they’ve all come together and learned to just live with the way that things are. Found a way to bring back some normalcy to the insanity.
Liam pushes through the set of door into the common room area, which is really jut a room with a few circular tables. Everyone else is in here, except for Niall, who’s on watch. Louis is sitting with an arm around Harry, like he still doesn’t trust that the boy is safe and well. Liam doesn’t blame him. Harry being sick made him worry, too, but Harry is far too resilient to die from a fever. When he goes out, it’ll be in a blaze of fire with a mountain of dead walkers surrounding him, Liam knows.
Mary and Carson are sitting together, too, and Jen’s grandson Wyatt is sitting with Louis and Harry, talking in an animated way that only someone under the age of ten can manage (and Louis, because Louis is ten years old mentally, anyways). Wilson and Jordon are at the far corner, and they smile at him when he walks in. Sam and Lena are too busy eating to pay him any attention.
Liam coughs loudly until everyone stops talking and faces him. “I’d like to have a talk about what to do with our -- erm-- friend.”
“Prisoner,” Louis corrects.
“He’s not a prisoner,” Liam sighs.
“You have him locked in a cell. He is a prisoner.”
“Whatever,” Liam says, waving him off. “Before we throw around ideas, I want to talk about this first. Personally, I don’t think he’s a threat.”
“Not to you, maybe,” Mary points out. “No one’s a threat to you.”
Liam ignores her. “I can vouch for him. Niall can vouch for him. Jen can couch for him. We had him out in the halls yesterday, and he hasn’t tried anything.” Liam omits the part where Zayn woke up and attacked him, because Liam can understand where he was coming from with that. Liam would have reacted the exact same way if the roles had been reversed. “So I think we should give him a two week trial period.”
“Seconded,” Harry says immediately, raising his hand.
Harry elbows Louis in the ribs, and Louis raises his hand, too, and says, “Same here, but on one condition: he has a guard at all times. Handcuffs, too.”
Liam nods. “That’s reasonable.” Though he decides that, if in a few days things go well, they’ll have another discussion about removing them.
“I don’t like this,” Mary says loudly. “We’re happy with our group. We don’t need an outsider screwing that up.”
Liam raises his eyebrows. “What about an outsider that survived alone for eight months out there?” Liam asks. “Who did something that not a single person in this room could do?”
Mary sucks in a breath, but it’s Wyatt who speaks up. “Eight months?” he asks, blue eyes wide. “Alone?” Liam nods. “He must be lonely. I think he should stay. We have lots of room.”
“We don’t have lots of food,” Carson argues.
“If he stays, he’ll pull his weight around here just like everyone else,” Liam promises. “Everyone in favour of a trial period, raise your hand.”
Six hands go up, some only halfway, but still. That’s more than half, if you add in Niall and Jen, too, and Liam. Mary, Carson, and Sam are the only ones who don’t raise their hands.
“Then it’s decided,” Liam says. “Harry, if you want to start getting ready to head out.”
Harry nods and he and Sam gets up. Sam’s going to take Niall’s place on watch so he can come with them. They head for the next room over to get their gear and guns, grabbing bags, too. Wyatt joins them, because he thinks the guns are cool. Two years ago, Liam would be disturbed by the thought of a child even looking at a real gun. Now, Wyatt loads Niall’s for him and no one bats an eye.
“You remind me of my mum,” Zayn admits.
Jen laughs. “She old, too?”
Zayn shakes his head. “No, but she looks like the sweet, caring mother, but you touch anything on her stove and she’ll wack you with a wooden spoon.”
Jen laughs louder, and Zayn faintly smiles. He likes her. He likes her a lot, and he hasn’t liked anyone in… in so long. Hasn’t been around a single person that he’s wanted to smile with. He thinks it’d be pretty impossible not to with Jen, though. She’s old, but she’s feisty, and she’s funny.
He wonders where Liam’s going, though. Why he’s leaving Zayn alone with someone else. And he doesn’t like it. He might like Jen, but Liam is… Liam is safe, as weird as that is. It’s not that Zayn is deluded. He has no doubt that Liam could and would kill him, if Zayn gave him a reason. He just knows that, as long as he doesn’t give him that reason, he won’t.
It’s weird, though, being around people. Talking. He hasn’t talked to another person in so long, it’s a surprise his voice even works. It’s a surprise he even knows how to socialize still. He’s struggling a bit, though. More than a little agitated and restless. He doesn’t like being inside, for one. He prefers to be somewhere he can run. And he’s so used to attacking everything that moves that he feels like jumping every time Jen lifts a hand to tuck a strand of grey hair behind her ear, or to cover her mouth to hide a laugh.
“That’ll be them leaving,” Jen says suddenly. Zayn holds his breath, listens. He hears he sounds of cars running, and then the scrape of a gate opening.
“Who’s leaving?” Zayn asks.
“The men,” Jen says, shrugging. “Not all of them, in case you’re getting any ideas of escaping when it’s just a little old lady and a few other women. Not all of them go. Just Harry and Niall and Liam.”
Zayn swallows thickly and wonders why his gut is twisting in worry. “Where are they going?”
Jen shrugs a shoulder. “Food run, most likely. Needed to be done days ago, but Harry’s been sick. He’s our errand boy. Sneaky as a fox, that one.”
“Are they-- I mean, will he-- they--,”
“He’ll be fine,” Jen says. She’s been sitting on the other side of the bars, knitting this whole time. She really does look like the picture of the perfect, dotting grandmother. Zayn thinks that she’d stab anything that came in through those doors with one of those knitting needles, though.
“I wasn’t worrying,” Zayn lies.
Jen’s lips tilts up a bit. “Yes, you were. Can’t say I blame you. Liam’s like that, you know? He’s got a gravitational pull, that one. Sweet as a button, but lethal, too.”
Zayn nods. He can see that. He can definitely see that.
The sound of the cellblock door opening echoes loudly, and Jen sighs and folds up her yarn and says, “You coming to terrorize the boy, Tomlinson?”
“Coming to relieve you for a bit,” Louis says, coming into view. “I can’t just sit here and--,” He cuts himself off abruptly and jerkily runs a hand through his hair. “I need to do something.”
Jen nods and stands up. “You’ll be fine with ‘im,” she tells Zayn.
Zayn snaps his mouth closed loudly to stop the protest that bubbles up inside of him. He doesn’t want to be left alone with Louis. He wants to sit with Jen until Liam gets back. It’s not that Louis scares him. He just isn’t comforting in any way possible, and Zayn likes Jen. Louis, on the other hand…
But Jen walks off and Louis opens the cell door and leaves it wide open. “Cards?” he asks, holding out a deck.
Zayn eyes him warily and shakes his head, no.
“Come on,” Louis says, sighing. “I’m not going to shoot you. Liam would have my head on a stick if I did.”
Zayn narrows his eyes a bit but doesn’t move from his spot, so Louis comes farther into the cell and sinks down on his bed, which Zayn had made twenty minutes ago when Jen told him to, with a snapped, “You’re a man not an animal. We sleep in beds, not pig pens. First rule around here is that you keep your space clean.”
Zayn leans again the opposite wall, beside the sink, while Louis starts shuffling the card deck. Zayn doesn’t miss the knife or the revolver in his belt, and he doesn’t really feel like being on the opposite end of either of those things.
Louis must realize that Zayn’s not going to move or respond to him, so he lays the desk of cards down on the bed. A few slide off the deck, but Louis’ too busy brushing a hand through his hair to notice or care apparently.
“I don’t like it when they go out,” Louis confesses, staring at the floor. “It freaks me out. Like, what if one of them doesn’t come back? And they never let me go with them, because I’m a terrible fucking shot and I once nearly got Liam in the head while trying to shoot a walker, and after that it was just mutually decided that I stay and hold down the fort while the others are out, you know?”
Zayn chews the inside of his lip while Louis talks. Zayn knows exactly what he means. Back when-- no, no, he’s not going to think about that. He’s not. And he doesn’t like Louis, he decides. Louis reminds him far too much of himself from before. Not from before everything started, but from before everything ended. Jumpy, skittish, worried. Left to stay behind while the others went out. Not because he wasn’t good at killing the dead. Because he had been hurt, so they’d left him behind and-- and they’d never come back. Not all of them, at least, and the ones that did--.
Zayn bites down hard on his lip, the metallic taste of blood flooding his mouth. The slight pain is enough of a distraction from thinking, though, so he welcomes it.
“Not that we have anything to worry about,” Louis says suddenly. “Harry’s good at what he does, and Liam will get the three of them back safe. He always does.”
Very slowly, Zayn pushes away from the wall and then sinks down on the bed, far enough from Louis that another person could easily sit between them. Louis grins, sort of. It’s too weak and sarcastic to really be considered a smile. He reaches for the cards again and starts dealing them out, and when he’s done Zayn picks up his cards.
“Rummy,” Louis tells him, flipping up one of the cards. Zayn sorts through his own and then lays down a six, seven, and eight of hearts. Louis does the same with a two, three, and four of spades. Zayn lays down his five of spades, too.
They play in silence for a few minutes, but Louis is obviously distracted. He keeps fidgeting, or running his hands through his hair.
“We took a vote,” he tells Zayn. “When Liam gets back, he’ll probably explain everything to you, but we’re giving you a two week trial period.”
“Trial period,” Zayn repeats. His voice cracks a bit from lack of usage.
Louis nods and lays down a pair of three aces. “To see how you work with the group, or if you can pull your own weight. And to make sure you’re not a psycho who’s going to kill us all in our sleep.”
Zayn snorts and takes a card from the deck. Queen Of Hearts. He can’t help but voice the two questions that have been running through his mind for the past couple hours.
“How many of you are there?” Zayn asks, eyes on his cards like he doesn’t really care about the answer. “And who’s in charge?”
“Twelve,” Louis answers, flipping down another card. Zayn makes a surprised sound. “There were more, but shit happens. Not for a few months, though. No one’s been hurt or-- lost in that long.”
“That’s not possible,” Zayn says softly.
Louis’ lips quirk up. “It is when you’ve got a good leader. Someone in charge who knows not only how to make snap decisions that are beneficial, but who’s also got enough heart to do everything in his power to keep everyone safe.”
Zayn frowns. “So who is he?”
Louis laughs. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find out when the time is right.”
Zayn narrows his eyes. He doesn’t like not knowing things. Louis’ obviously not going to tell him, though.
“Anyways,” Louis says abruptly. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Zayn,” Zayn answers, flipping down another card. “My name’s Zayn.”
“Zayn,” Louis repeats. He’s frowning at Zayn, head tilted. “Suits you.”
Zayn has no idea what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. Eventually they run out of cards, and Zayn wins. Louis sighs loudly and says, “Seriously? I was hoping you’d be shit at this game. Everyone always beats me. I was stuck covering Niall’s chores last week after betting that asshole I could beat him.”
Zayn tries not to smile, but he can’t help it. It’s not that Louis is at all the comforting presence that Jen is, or that he radiates safety the way that Liam does. There’s just something about Louis that makes it really, really easy to just… forget. Not just where he is, or the fact that he’d really, really rather not be here. Louis made him, for a few moments, forget it all. It was like hanging with friends after school again.
It has nothing to do with liking Louis, because Zayn actually thinks Louis is a bit overwhelming, and he doesn’t think he’d be able to spend extended periods of time with him. But at the same time, Zayn would give anything to slip out of the world again for a minute, and if chatting with Louis can do that, Zayn would talk to him for hours.
“One more game?” Louis asks. “Then I’ll get us something to eat and drink. I’m starving. I cannot eat instant mash again. They better get something with actual meat in it or I’m going to go crazy.”
“Sure,” Zayn says, answering the first question.
Louis picks up the deck and starts shuffling it again. As he’s dealing out the cards, the sound of tires coming up the drive reaches them, and then the scraping of the gate, and then someone starts shouting.
Louis is off the bed in seconds, eyes wide with panic. He gives Zayn one look as he’s heading out the door, and says, “Fuck it. Come with me. You run, I shoot. I don’t have time to lock you up.”
Zayn nods and follow Louis. Louis has a rough grip on his arm, and Zayn figures there will be finger shaped bruises there tomorrow. Louis doesn’t care, though. He just keeps dragging Zayn through a long hallway, and then fumbles with a set of keys on a door, and then they’re in a room with a lot of tables and three people who look alarmed.
“Get out the medical supplies,” Louis snaps at them. Zayn doesn’t have time to check out these new people, because Louis is tugging him towards another door, through a shorter hallway, and then they’re outside.
Zayn sucks in a deep breath of fresh air, feels the heat of the sun beating down on him. Louis still has a hold on him, but Zayn looks around, figuring out where he is. He sees fences everywhere. They’re in a courtyard, he realizes. This was probably where the inmates went when they were allowed outside. And then, just beyond the courtyard is a fence that leads to a large, wide open field, and then another fence and then he’d be free.
He can see, in the distance, that the gate to the second fence is closed. The first one is still wide open, though. He could make a run for it. If he had a knife, he could find a weak point in the fence and cut it. Or he could climb it. There’s barbed wire on top, but he could strip off his jacket and-- he doesn’t have his jacket.
And he’s not going to run right now anyways, because people are screaming and Niall and Harry are carrying Liam out of the car, and his left arm is stained red and dripping with blood.
“What happened?” Louis demands. Zayn doesn’t miss the way the panic in his features retreats a bit as he takes in the curly haired boy and his still alive, well state.
“Shot,” Niall grunts, shouldering most of Liam’s weight. Liam is blinking in and out of consciousness, eyelids heavy. “There was a walker behind him. I went to shoot it and--,”
“Not your fault,” Liam lets out. “Accident. ‘m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Louis hisses as someone Zayn doesn’t recognize gestures for them to get inside, shooting Zayn one short, distrustful look. “God, he’s losing blood fast. He looks pale. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
Louis is still holding on to Zayn, but he’s distracted enough that Zayn thinks he could steal the knife from Louis’ belt without him noticing. He doesn’t, though. He has no idea why, but maybe it’s got something to do with the boy bleeding out and being carried inside the building.
“I need to take you back to the cellblock,” Louis mutters, dragging Zayn inside.
The two boys drop Liam on one of the round tables in the room, and Jen is there instantly, a first aid kit in her hand. “I don’t know if I can help this,” she says quietly. “Bullet wounds aren’t my forte, but I’ll do my best. Just hang in there, sweetie,” she adds, petting Liam’s head.
Liam grins at her. “Not going anywhere any time soon,” Liam assures her. “You guys need me too much.”
Jen shoos everyone out after that. Well, mostly everyone. A few people go outside to get the stuff from the cars, others to close the gates. Eventually it’s just Niall, Harry, Jen, Liam, Louis, and Zayn.
“Shouldn’t he be handcuffed?” Niall asks Louis, gesturing to Zayn.
Louis frowns and says, “Didn’t have time.”
“You have time now.”
Zayn sighs and turns around and puts his wrists behind his back. Louis snaps on the handcuffs and then Zayn turns around, watching as Jen cuts off Liam’s blood stained shirt. His arm is still a sleeve of blood, though, and Harry moves in to dump a bottle of water on it and wipe off most of the blood with a cloth. He doesn’t wipe too close to the wound, though, because Jen’s got that covered.
“Get me something to numb the pain,” Jen snaps. “He’s going to pass out, too. I need to get the bullet out.”
Niall darts out of the room, returning moments later with a bottle of pills. Jen dumps one out onto her hand, digs into the medical kit, and then she’s crushing up the pill, and Harry’s grabbing a syringe from the medical kit, and Zayn looks away until the shot’s been administered. He hates watching people get shots.
Liam moans in pain, and Louis steps away from Zayn to grab his hand as Jen starts pulling out the bullet with a pair of tweezers. Zayn has to look away again as she finishes up and starts stitching the wound closed.
The room starts filling up again. People are carrying in bags filled with supplies, and every single one of them takes a moment to give Liam a concerned look. Zayn tries to take inventory of everyone he sees. There’s three women, including Jen. The rest are men. And there’s one child, he can’t be any older than ten, who has tears streaming down his face and tries to move towards Liam until one of them men scoops him up in his arms and takes him away.
In all the commotion, Zayn sees so many chances to escape. So many perfect opportunities. He doesn’t take any of them.
Eventually things calm down and Louis brings Zayn back to his cell. “He’ll probably be here as soon as he wakes up,” Louis tells him. “I’ve got to move his stuff around, so I’ll be in and out of here for a bit. I can leave the door open, but the cuffs have to stay on.”
“Just lock me in,” Zayn says, wanting the handcuffs off him. He hates them more than he hates being locked up.
Louis nods and takes the handcuffs off before locking Zayn back in. Zayn sinks onto his bed and wipes a hand over his face, trying to figure out what the fuck he’s feeling. Annoyed at himself, first and foremost. He could be out of here right now. So, so many perfect opportunities. And he’d let them all go by. Why? It doesn’t make any sense.
And then, after the annoyance, is the anger. Anger at even being in this fucking situation in the first place. Anger at everyone around him for keeping him here without his consent. Anger at the world for being the way it is.
And then there’s that feeling that he’s not used to. That he’s avoided for so long. It wasn’t like he hadn’t come across a single decent person in the time he’s been alone. Zayn’s just never stopped long enough to talk to any of them, to ask them to let him come along with them, because he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to feel for people anymore, because it’s just too damn easy to lose everyone, and he can’t go through that again. Can’t go through the loss, or the constant worrying and concern. And that’s what he feels. Concern, for the boy with the large brown eyes and the bullet wound on his shoulder.
Zayn hears someone moving around the cell across from his. He stands up and curls his hands around the bars to see Louis making the bed on the top bunk. “What’re you doing?” Zayn questions.
Louis looks up and frowns at him. “What’s it look like?” he scoffs. “I’m making a bed, obviously.”
“Liam’s,” Louis says, tucking in the corner of a sheet. “He’s moving in here with you, for the time being. Makes everyone feel safer or something, because half of them are still convinced you’re, you know, psychotic.”
“Maybe I am,” Zayn finds himself saying.
Louis straightens and gives Zayn a blinding grin. “Yeah, but so am I.”
Zayn’s fingers tighten around the bars as he watches Louis finish making the bed and then leave the cell again with a quick wave for Zayn on his way out. Minutes later he returns, and this time he’s struggling to carry a shelf, a picture frame, and a few candles, and another blanket. Zayn watches as he put the shelf beside the sink and then tops it with the picture frame and the candles, and then hangs up the blanket in front of the door and tucks it back a bit so Zayn can still see inside. Louis takes a look at his handiwork and grins at Zayn.
“Not too bad, eh?” he asks. “I mean, it’s not perfect but it’s home. Pain in the ass to make the top bunk, but Liam refuses to sleep on the bottom one.”
Not for the first time, Zayn has no idea how to respond to Louis, so he doesn’t. Louis comes over to him and unlocks his cell door and then leans in the doorway.
“You’re not so bad, are you?” Louis asks.
Zayn shrugs. “Kind of up to you to decide, isn’t it?”
Louis cocks his head to the side. “You could have run earlier, you know. The gate was open. I gave you several opportunities to take my weapon. You could have.”
Zayn sinks down on his bed. “I could have,” he agrees.
“So then why didn’t you?”
Zayn shrugs. “Still trying to figure that out, mate.”
“Mm, I don’t think you are,” Louis tells him. “I think you know exactly why you’re still here.”
Zayn narrows his eyes defensively. “Really.”
Louis grins and nods. “Same reason we’re all here,” he says. “Liam. I’ve watched that boy talk his way out of a fight with the barrel of a gun pressed to his temple. Takes a really fucked up person to hurt someone like Liam.”
Again, Zayn doesn’t answer. Mostly because he thinks Louis sort of has a point. It’s not so much any feelings of attachment towards the man. He barely knows Liam. It’s more that Liam had taken him in. Had put himself out there, all for the sake of saving Zayn’s life, even though Zayn had done not a single thing to deserve it.
Zayn still plans on leaving. If Louis’ being honest about this two week trial period, Zayn will behave for the time being, and then he’ll ask Liam to let him leave at the end of it. But until then, he sort of owes Liam a lot, and Zayn doesn’t like that. Doesn’t like being indebted. So he’ll make up for it and then go on the run on his own again.
“Gotta run,” Louis says, pushing off the doorframe. “Liam’ll bring you dinner. And um, if you need to, like, bathroom. Now would be the time to tell me.”
Zayn shakes his head, no, and Louis nods before leaving. He leaves the door to the cell open, but locks the cellblock. When Zayn can no longer hear his footsteps, he slowly moves out of the cell.
The cellblock isn’t very big. There’s ten cells on each floor, five on each side. There’s a set of stairs on the left that lead to the second floor, and Zayn climbs them, finding all of the cells up there completely bare. When he’s done inspecting that, he goes back downstairs and, after a quick look around, ducks into Liam’s cell.
He can’t help it. He picks up the framed picture and frowns down at it. It’s a picture of five people. Obviously it’s Liam’s family. His father on the right, with his mother on the left. Liam and two girls who look slightly older than him in front of them, with Liam in the middle. He’s much younger, probably sixteen, maybe seventeen, Zayn guesses. His hair is straight and longer, and he’s so much thinner and smaller. It almost doesn’t look like him at all, except the eyes are the same, and so are the nose and the lips.
Before Zayn can put down the picture, it’s taken from his hands. Zayn turns, eyes wide, but Liam is too busy staring down at the picture to yell at him for the invasion of privacy.
“I was sixteen,” Liam says, smiling fondly at the picture. “I thought I was cool. Justin Bieber had just come out, and my sister, Ruth, she was taking hairdressing in school, and she convinced me it would look good. Bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”
“Sorry,” Zayn blurts. He wants to get out of the cell. It feels far too small all of a sudden, filled with him, Liam, the picture, and Zayn’s guilt at butting into something that he had no right to. Liam’s blocking his path, though, and the only way to get out is to wait for Liam to move, or ask him to.
Liam shrug and puts the picture down. “Don’t worry about it. I was coming to ask you if you wanted to eat in here or with everyone else anyways.”
Zayn frowns at him. “Bit hard to eat with handcuffs on, don’t you think?”
Liam opens his mouth and then closes it. “Right. I forgot about the handcuff rule. Sorry.”
Zayn shrugs. “Just a precaution, right?”
“Right,” Liam sighs. “I’ll be back.”
Zayn nods and exits Liam’s cell with him. He goes back to his own and sits on the bed, playing around with the deck of cards Louis had left behind. He flips through them, shuffling them for something to do, until Liam comes back. He’s carrying a large metal tray and he’s grinning so widely it almost looks painful. When he gets closer, Zayn can understand why.
The smell is amazing. He keeps inhaling, unable to stop, as Liam plunks himself down on the bed. The tray is filled with two plates. The first thing on the plates is some pasta dish that Zayn can’t name, but that smells like tomato sauce and spices and has his mouth watering. The second thing is bread. Warm, soft looking bread with a little bowl of what Zayn guesses to be olive oil beside it for dipping.
“Found a cast iron skillet a few weeks ago,” Liam explains. “We don’t run the ovens ever, since we need to save the electricity for hot water and heat during the cold months. Harry’s brilliant with the skillet, though. He can cook anything over a fire.”
Zayn can’t talk. He’s too busy reaching for one of the plates of food, biting into the soft bread soaked with the lightly flavoured oil. It’s possibly the greatest thing he’s ever eaten in his entire fucking life, and he can’t help the soft sound that escapes him.
“Right?” Liam says, reaching for his own food. “Told you.”
There are two bottles of Pepsi on the tray, too, and Zayn reaches for one and uncaps the lid, taking a long sip of the too warm liquid, only so that he doesn’t keep eating. He could clear the entire tray (including Liam’s helping) in a minute, if he didn’t stop himself. And he wants to savour this. Wants to remember the flavours and the way the bread is soft and fluffy and just the right amount of chewy in his mouth, because he doubts he’ll eat anything this good ever again.
Liam is a very neat eater, Zayn thinks. He’s almost OCD about it. He spears exactly two pieces of the pasta with his fork and brings it to his mouth, chews with his mouth closed, swallows, and then spears another two pieces and repeats. Every four bites he’ll stop, take a bite of bread, follow it with a sip of his drink, and then, yet again, repeats the cycle. Not that Zayn’s, like, staring or anything. He just doesn’t know what else to do with himself. Just like when he was with Louis, or Jen, Zayn can’t seem to remember exactly how to socialize properly, how to react to having another person so close to him. Another living person.
When they’re done Liam piles the tray with their plates and stands up, and then says, “Oh, shit, I forgot.” He digs into his pocket and pulls out a toothbrush and a new tube of toothpaste. “Your sink works, so… you know. Here.”
Zayn takes the items and holds them tightly in his hands. “Thanks,” he says quietly. Liam just keeps giving him more and more things that he’s going to have to pay him back for. Zayn wishes his kindness had an end, but he has a feeling it doesn’t.
Liam leaves the cellblock and Zayn finishes his drink of Pepsi before craning his neck to see the windows that are just above the second floor cells. Just like the ones in the shower room, they’re too small for anyone to fit through, but they show him that it’s late. He doesn’t know the exact time, but he’d guess somewhere around nine. Not late enough for him to want to sleep yet, but he’s got nothing else to do.
If he were out on his own, he’d be finding a tree to sleep in right about now. He’d kill one of the dead first, lay it at the bottom of the tree just to be sure that his scent is masked. Then he’d climb up as high as he can go without the branches giving way, and he’d tie the rope from his bag around his stomach. He remembers Jake laughing at him for watching the Hunger Games movie four times, but Zayn doesn’t regret it. Not when the whole tying the rope around him while he sleeps thing had saved his life on two separate occasions. Zayn is a fitful sleeper. He tosses and turns and twice he woke up to his stomach dropping and his body falling off the branch he’d passed out on.
Zayn stands up and turns on the sink. It takes a moment for the water to flow through the tap, and it makes a loud, slightly alarming sound, but then cool, clean water comes out, and Zayn splashes some onto his face before opening the packaging of his new toothbrush. Had Liam specifically grabbed a toothbrush when they were on the run, just for him? Or did they have extras lying around? He sincerely hopes it’s the second one, because the thought of Liam going out of his way while in a situation that was extremely risky, just so Zayn could brush his teeth, makes his stomach churn uncomfortably.
He hears Liam come back as he brushes the taste of tomato sauce out of his mouth, unable to meet the other boys eyes as he enters his own cell. When he’s done, Zayn runs his tongue over his teeth, revelling in the clean, smooth feeling and the minty taste in his mouth. God how he missed that.
“You heading to bed?” Liam asks, appearing in Zayn’s doorway.
Zayn turns to him and shrugs. “Probably.”
Liam nods. “Good idea. I have some things we have to do tomorrow.”
“We,” Zayn repeats.
Liam nods. “People to introduce you to. Other things.”
Zayn sighs because he has a feeling that Liam will make him even if he doesn’t want to meet other people. He really doesn’t. The people he’s already met have overwhelmed him. Liam just doesn’t get that Zayn hasn’t spent time with people in months, and now Liam is pushing him into a situation where there’s people everywhere.
“Okay,” Zayn agrees reluctantly. He rubs the back of his neck, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. “Um, I sort of need to….”
“Oh!” Liam says, eyes wide. “Um. Yeah. We can. Yeah.” He digs into his pocket and pulls out the handcuffs. Zayn feels slightly annoyed at how easily he just turns around and allows Liam to cuff him, but there’s no point in fighting it.
They run into something on the way to the bathroom. It is not a person. Zayn knows it’s not a person because the sound reaches his ears first. It’s nearly impossible to mistake the sounds of the dead for the sounds of the living, and the low, hollow sound makes Zayn’s blood run cold, and for some reason, despite the handcuffs, despite the fact that he’s unarmed, he shoulders Liam out of the way.
Liam’s a lot smarter than him, though, because Liam grabs Zayn roughly by the arm and pushes him back, and then he’s pulling a knife from his belt, moving forward, and plunging it into the eye socket of the dead man.
It’s the first time Zayn’s seen Liam in action. Up until now, Liam has been some muscular but soft person with warm eyes and a gentle smile. Right then, he wasn’t. Right then, Zayn could almost feel the air in the room getting colder as Liam’s natural warmth seemed to completely disappear. The dead man falls to the ground and Liam steps on his chest, pulling the knife out of its skull. The muscles of his biceps bulge as he does so, and Zayn takes back any thoughts of Liam being far too soft.
“You good?” Liam asks, pulling a cloth out of his pocket. He wipes down the blade and returns it to his pocket.
Zayn nods. “I’m fine.”
Liam nods, too, and then puts a hand on Zayn’s back the rest of the way to the bathroom. Liam is calm and seemingly unaffected, but Zayn thinks that there’s a tightness to Liam’s mouth, and his eyes are still cold. “I’ll be out here,” he says when they get to a door that Liam has to unlock.
Zayn nods and disappears inside. He shuts the door quietly behind himself and then sucks in a breath and bumps his shoulder into the door. “Liam,” he calls.
The door opens and Liam’s eyes dart around the room. When he doesn’t see any immediate danger, he frowns at Zayn. “What?”
Zayn wiggles his arms helplessly. “Handcuffs,” he says heavily.
Liam looks sheepish and gestures for him to turn around. Once the cuffs are unlocked, the door closes between them again and Zayn does his business in the cold, small bathroom. It’s nearly pitch dark in the room, only the faint light from the moon illuminating the space feebly. When he’s done he goes back out into the hall to find Liam chatting with someone.
The man -- tall, brown eyes that seem dull compared to Liam’s, longish brown hair-- cuts off abruptly at the sight of Zayn and says, “Isn’t he supposed to be cuffed at all times?”
Liam sighs. “Zayn, this is Sam. Sam, this is Zayn.”
“He might be lenient on you,” Sam says to Zayn, “but if I catch you in the halls uncuffed, I won’t hesitate to take you out.”
Zayn narrows his eyes and doesn’t respond to that threat. Liam does, though, and that coolness is back in him. It makes Zayn want to shiver.
“Deal with the door by his block,” Liam says. “I don’t know how it got unlocked, because I know for a fact it wasn’t authorized. If I wasn’t with him--,”
“If you weren’t with him, he’d be dead,” Sam says. “Which is probably what whoever unlocked that door was trying to accomplish. Thank goodness you were there to save the day, Liam.”
“We were very lucky,” Zayn says in a clipped tone. Zayn doesn’t like Sam at all. Louis set him on edge at first, definitely, and Niall was more than a little prickly towards him, but Sam is different. Sometimes people adapt to this world, Zayn thinks. Other times, they were already tainted to begin with, and this world only made that worse. He has a feeling he knows what kind of person Sam is.
“Door,” Liam grunts Sam. “Zayn, cuffs.”
Zayn turns around, a defiant tilt to his chin. He feels more than a little humiliated, being locked up in front of this other man. He can tell that this isn’t precautionary at the moment. This is Liam asserting his dominance, and it pisses Zayn off to no fucking end.
Sam nods and moves on down the hall, and Liam guides Zayn in the opposite direction again. When they turn a corner, Liam releases his arm and says, “I’m sorry.”
“You should be,” Zayn tells him. He feels on edge, and he doesn’t like this sudden change in Liam’s character.
“Just-- be careful around Sam, okay?” Liam tells him as he unlocks the cellblock door.
Zayn snorts and stays silent.
Liam turns to him suddenly, and he puts a hand on Zayn’s arm. He has a feeling it’s supposed to be as much of a threat as it is a comfort. “I’m serious, Zayn,” Liam says slowly. “Alright?”
“Alright,” Zayn repeats, tugging his arm out of Liam’s grip.
In the cellblock, Liam lights his candle, illuminating his cell. Zayn watches him for a moment as Liam pulls a book out from between the bottom mattress and then climbs up to the top bunk and lays down. He climbs into bed, still in the jeans and t-shirt that Liam had given him yesterday. He’s got nothing else to sleep in, and he likes sleeping fully dressed.
When Liam’s candle goes out, Zayn is still awake. He doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s because his door isn’t locked like it had been last night. Or maybe it’s something else.
An hour later he decides it’s something else. He doesn’t even think it through, really. He just grabs his pillow and blankets and silently moves towards Liam’s room.
Liam is off the bunk in seconds, and Zayn’s body crumples under his weight when Liam lands on him. His head hits the ground painfully, and Liam is fucking heavy. Zayn is seeing stars, he thinks. His vision is suddenly a swirl of dizzying, painful colours, and then random intervals of pure, astonishing blackness that is void of any light.
He can’t breath because of the weight on his chest, and he can’t think through the blinding, searing pain. He thinks he might throw up, actually. It’s a definite possibility. The swirling colours are making him nauseous.
And then the weight on his chest is gone. Zayn takes a ragged, quick breath, and blinks open his eyes. He can’t see anything in the darkness, but a moment later he hears a lighter being flicked, and then the room fills with a warm, flickering light, and Liam is staring down at him, looking like a kicked puppy, which is sort of ridiculous because Zayn’s the one on the fucking floor.
“I’m sorry,” Liam says quickly. “I thought--,”
“You thought what?” Zayn demands.
“I don’t know,” Liam admits. “I heard something coming into my room, and I reacted. Why do you have your blankets and pillow?”
Zayn pushes himself up off the ground. It’s hard. His head is still spinning, and he feels off balance. Liam grabs his arm to steady him, but just like earlier, Zayn shrugs him off. “I just--,” he pauses and busies himself with bending down to grab his bedding (which makes the spinning even worse, but it’s better than looking at Liam). “I didn’t want to sleep alone in my cell, okay?”
The kicked puppy look gets worse. “I’m sorry,” Liam repeats. “Fuck-- Zayn, I--,”
“Forget about it,” Zayn tells him. He turns, ready to leave the cell, but Liam doesn’t let him.
“Stay,” Liam says. “Okay?”
Zayn doesn’t really want to anymore, not with the throbbing pain in his head. He nods anyways and throws his pillow on the bottom bunk, and then climbs in and tugs his blanket around his shoulders. Liam blows out the candle and climbs into his own bunk.
Five minutes later, when the even sound of Liam’s breathing fills the room, Zayn finally falls asleep.