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In the Clear

Chapter Text

He sat alone in an empty apartment, sniffling and feeling sorry for himself. It had been a few days since an argument with his travel companions caused him to storm off petulantly like a child, clueless as to where to go next. He did not know who once occupied this space nor did he particularly care, having quietly slipped in from an unlocked window after navigating an accessible fire escape. He was leaning against a well-worn sofa, opting to sit on the floor with his back resting against the furniture, which was in turn pushed to block the closed and locked front door. He knew it would not be enough if they found him, so he made sure to be as silent as possible.

He glanced around at the mess littered around haphazardly, indicating whomever was here probably left in a rush. He knows this is exactly the case. There was random clothing strewn on the floor, as well as overturned chairs and broken glass. The kitchen cupboards were all opened, as if the occupant had rifled through them all to grab what was necessary for survival. He did not wander down the small corridor that led to what he assumed was the single bedroom and bathroom of this tiny dwelling, surmising that it was also in the same state of disarray as the living area.

He noticed that most of the pictures hanging on the walls were also missing, seeing the faint outlines of squares and rectangles indicating that they had hung there for a long time. People take the strangest things when facing the apocalypse, he thought to himself. He picked at the clothes he was wearing, someone else’s from an apartment he had raided a few days back. It was nothing but some simple black t-shirt and grey sweatpants, normally an outfit he would not be caught dead in, but considering he had been ducking and dodging death for weeks now, he simply could not be bothered by his appearance.

He was exhausted and even though he knew he would have to eventually move to another location in his quest to find one of the safe havens he had heard about, he took the time to rest and close his eyes. His mind began to drift back to when this this nightmare began, and little pricks of tears invaded the corners of his closed lids as he did so. It had been three weeks since everything he knew and loved had gone to complete hell.

One moment he had been celebrating his girlfriend’s birthday in a fancy restaurant, basking in the warmth of her radiant smile as she opened her gifts, surrounded by her family. It was the type of establishment that required reservations and that did not offer plates of food for under one hundred dollars, but it was a special occasion and he was real smart with his money. The next moment they could hear commotion coming from outside.

Through the massive glass windows that dominated the front of the restaurant and which gave an unobstructed view of the sidewalk, they could see several people running away from something unknown. Cars were also traveling in the same direction, at unsafe speeds, weaving and dodging people crossing the road and neighboring vehicles alike. There were other people milling around outside enjoying their evening who were perplexed, watching person after person dart by. No one seemed to slow enough to let others know what they were running from, seemingly too panicked to speak.

There were cars stopped in the opposite lane of travel, the lane going towards what a now steady flow of people and cars were desperately scurrying away from, that were also flabbergasted. The sounds of distant car horns and more stampeding hordes caused every patron within the restaurant to murmur. Something was happening further down the boulevard and whatever it was, there were people dramatically trying to run away from it. The problem was it was after 5pm on a busy Friday in downtown Los Angeles and getting anywhere fast was a near impossibility.

As more and more citizens were seen fleeing, several people from neighboring tables decided to stand up and make their way to the front exit to investigate. A man, probably in his mid-40’s, walked out onto the sidewalk, nearly getting trampled by a half dozen terrified people. He grabbed hold of a lady running by to try to ask her what was going on and the look of terror was etched all over her face. She cried hysterically and pushed him out of the way, continuing without explanation. “Zayn, what’s going on?”

Zayn turned away from his observations of the outside world to look down at his girlfriend. At what point he decided to stand up he could not remember, but he was out of his seat, drawn to the mass exodus. “I have no idea Gigi. The boulevard has gone bonkers from what I can gather.”

He heard cars honking and saw that the street was now completely at a standstill, as traffic was bumper to bumper. Suddenly he could hear the screech of tires and from the corner of his viewpoint, a car had jumped onto the sidewalk and barreled onward, running over at least a dozen people, including the guy that went to investigate. Several patrons screamed inside the restaurant witnessing the carnage, including a woman that Zayn assumed was his wife.

“Holy fuck!”

“Did you see that!?”

“What the hell is going on out there!?”

“Oh my god, Jim! Someone call 911! He’s hurt!”

“Lady, I think he’s more than that!”

Zayn could hear many cries of distress, but soon the voices were becoming jumbled as his own head began to throb from the sensory overload. Gigi grabbed hold of his wrist as she continued to stare outside. “Zayn, I’m scared. Do we, do we need to leave?”

He could not answer because he had no idea what was painting such a chaotic scene amongst what was once a normal backdrop. He was shaken from his thoughts at the sound of more metal scraping against pavement. Other cars soon followed suit and were driving up the sidewalks, running over the already hurt folks and injuring other scared pedestrians. To everyone’s horror there were several children amongst those fleeing, some gathered in the arms of their parents, while a few seemed to be separated and trying to keep up with the human flow of traffic. More cries could be heard from those still in the restaurant, and Zayn was on the verge himself, watching innocent blood being spilled while they helplessly were glued to their spots.

The cars in the opposing lanes began reversing as well, being forced to by cars further up the road backtracking and away from the source of the panic. Eventually cars began to run into each other and create roadblocks, with many of them becoming abandoned as drivers and their passengers deciding to get away from danger was more important than their expensive property. Zayn looked beyond the road to the opposite sidewalk to see people running while more people were emerging from other buildings, restaurants and shops to see what was happening. At this point distant gun fire could be heard, garbled shouts and one or two explosions.

Zayn looked around those gathered, at his girlfriend and her sister Bella, to their mom Yolanda and finally, to her father Mohamed. They all looked spooked but there was nothing he could do to comfort them. It seemed like time had stood still but one glance at a fancy wall clock near the bar indicated just twenty minutes had passed since the beginning of this ordeal. He was shocked at the amount of people and cars that littered his eye view in just that short amount of time. The murmurs and cries of the restaurant goers turned into full out screams and yells, human nature winning out when faced against something so terrifying yet mysterious. Zayn noticed more than a handful of patrons exiting the restaurant, darting out into the fray, running along with the crowds despite not knowing what the situation was. It was fight or flight in the most classic sense.

“Everyone remain calm! Please stay inside for your safety!” The restaurant manager had emerged from the back, barking out orders. “Someone turn on the news, see what the hell is going on out there!”

A waiter grabbed a remote and began turning all the big screen televisions mounted on the wall to various news channels, including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. They were all reporting the breaking news from downtown Los Angeles of a disturbance originating at the California Hospital Medical Center. That put them four blocks from whatever was happening. As several people quietly sobbed and others huddled together in comfort, Zayn turned his attention to one of the monitors. CNN’s Anderson Cooper cut to a local reporter who seemed to be near the hospital, reporting live. The other news outlets also cut live to their various local reporters, seemingly all aware that something was occurring. If it weren’t such a hectic scene, Zayn would have remarked at how impressed he was with the swiftness of their reporting.

Everyone was glued to the multiple screens as images of the hospital in the background was obscured by plumes of smoke, from varying angles as camera men were posted at differing vantage points as instructed by their respective news reporters. People could be seen scattering in all directions while police officers, fire fighters and other first responders were trying to keep order in all the confusion. Images of officers in riot gear darting into the smoke-filled hospital were interspliced with reactions of individuals running in all directions, away from the immediate viewing area. Every now and then it looked like people were tackling and knocking others over on purpose, but the cameras kept zipping around so fast that Zayn could not really analyze why that was occurring.

Zayn, refocusing on CNN’s broadcast, found it curious that people were still out of control despite the presence of authorities. He was also perplexed why the hospital was the source of the terror and why it now resembled a war zone.

“Did some terrorists attack the hospital!?”
It was asked by someone he did not know, and he was too enraptured by the scene unfolding on the television to see the source. Zayn still winced though, recalling the Islamophobic environment of their current society, knowing full well any type of attack on United States soil would be automatically labeled terrorism. He had been called a lot worse in his short lifetime because of his Pakistani descent, but it still stung because he could suddenly feel stranger’s eyeballs giving him and his girlfriend’s father cursory glances as if they had anything to do with it. Guilty by association, of course. Gigi’s father Mohammed scoffed and was going to reply when the reporter from CNN began to yell, drawing everyone’s attention.

“There seems to be some escaped patients attacking other people Anderson. We noticed several giving chase to nearby residents as we pulled up but there are others emerging from the hospital as we speak. The whereabouts of the initial wave of patients is yet unknown but they should be considered hostile and dangerous. Anderson, it appears that some of the hospital staff and the officers in riot gear have also joined in this chaos and are attacking random citizens. The nature of the motivation behind these actions is still unknown. I am unsure, but it appears that maybe some sort of chemical agent has been released inside this hospital causing those encountering it to exhibit an almost rabid and animalistic response. It is the only thing I can come up with to explain this most bizarre of scenes. Our calls to the hospital staff have gone unanswered. I am trying to get the camera man to zoom into the entrance... ok Anderson the authorities are making us back up for our safety. It appears the other news outlets are also being moved back. I will try to keep reporting.... oh my god. Are you seeing these images Anderson!?”

Zayn watched as a zoomed in view showed a hospital staffer, a doctor of some sorts with blood already on his white scrubs, run at abnormal speed towards a fleeing woman clutching the hands of her teenage son. The doctor launched himself at the woman, knocking her loose from her son’s grip. He could be seen skidding to a halt, many others running by him to flee. The camera man’s lens documents the doctor sinking his teeth into the woman’s neck, as she shrieked in pain. The next second the doctor can be seen snapping his head up, taking a portion of the woman’s neck, larynx and esophagus with it, blood spilling from his mouth and her wounded neck. He appeared to be trying to eat the woman, who was still trying to bat her assailant away despite the mortal wound. The teen could be seen screaming in horror and barreling into the doctor, knocking him off his mother.

Zayn looked away and thought he was going to be sick to his stomach and he could feel Gigi’s grip on his wrist tighten. Looking back up he watched on with morbid curiosity as the doctor did not seem phased by being knocked over. He rolled and got back up, with horrific blood splatters all over his face. He quickly advanced on the teen, who had his fists raised to defend himself from the inevitable attack. Suddenly gun fire could be heard as a couple of cops appeared from off camera and unloaded several rounds into the aggressor. Each bullet seemed to knock the doctor back a step before he advanced towards the shell shocked but slowly backpedaling teenager. After a half dozen rounds one of the officers took aim at the doctor’s head and squeezed his trigger. The doctor’s head exploded like a watermelon, and the headless man dropped.

The teen was still walking backwards and accidentally bumped into the lying form of his mom. The camera caught him cover his mouth, body wracked in sobs as he stared at the lifeless form, his mom bleeding out during the shooting frenzy. Zayn felt horrible for what this teenager had to witness. The officers stood down but were still on alert as people kept running by them. It looked like the cameraman was going to cut away when the lady on the ground could be seen going into convulsions before springing up to a sitting position, grabbing her teenage son’s leg and sinking her teeth into it. The boy gasped then screamed in surprise and pain. This woman, his mom, neck wounded from the earlier attack, ripped a huge chunk of his leg out like a shark on a whale carcass.

The nearby officers watched in horror before firing at the woman, taking three attempts to get a head shot as the teen boy stumbled and fell to the ground, clutching his injured leg. Running over to the boy, the policemen dragged him a few feet away to assess the damage when his body began to convulse on the sidewalk, like his mother a few moments earlier. One of the cops had knelt to try to help the boy while the other could be seen radioing for backup. After what seemed like 10-20 seconds, the teenager’s convulsions stopped. The attending officer leaned over to inspect the wounded boy when the teen reached up with scary speed and grabbed the kneeling officer’s head, to bite his face. The screaming cop attempted to extricate himself as his nose was ripped clean off.

The other cop, distracted by his earlier radio call turned to see what just happened. Before he could react, a random man grabbed him from behind and began to bite his shoulder, and swiftly three more equally rabid people piled onto him. Zayn gaped in horror as he tried to take in all the action unfolding, turning his focus back to the teenager. The teenager could be seen sitting on the previous officer’s chest, biting and ripping his face further as the cop flailed and kicked, unable to throw him off. It looked like a feeding frenzy as a few more bloodied bodies jumped on top of the fallen officer, ripping chunks of flesh and uniform from his body.

“Anderson! I am not sure what is happening down here, if it is some kind of chemical attack like I said earlier.... though I’ve never seen this type of reaction before.... but as you can see from that footage, there is something causing people to attack one another and it seems to spread on contact, or through bodily fluid exchange! Maybe it is some sort of hallucinogenic! We are going to attempt to get to a safe location because it seems like the authorities are slowly losing control of this situation! Everyone watching, please get to a secure location! Do not go outside and do not approach the California Hospital Medical Center in Downtown Los Angeles. All main roads are gridlocked, including South Hope Street, South Grand Avenue, South Olive Street and South Main Street. I repeat, there has been some sort of chemical attack in downtown Los Angeles. Everyone stay safely away and get into a secure location! Anderson back to...... oh my god!”

In one swift motion the camera can be seen knocked to the ground, presumably from the cameraman dropping it. The screen, now sideways, shows the reporter being knocked to the ground as well, by two assailants, blood curdling screams drowning out all other noises. The live feed cut back to a very startled looking Anderson Cooper. He attempted to reiterate the message that people should find safety in doors, but Zayn had zoned out at this point. What did he just witness? What was this insanity and how far had it spread? Looking back outside, he now knew what everyone was running from, even though his mind could still not wrap itself around it.

“We need to get out of here,” screamed Yolanda. Gigi and her sister Bella rose up, gathering their things. Mohammed carefully took his wife’s hand, to help her up.

“Are you guy’s insane!? Did you not see what is happening out there!? We have to stay here and find-,” Zayn began but was cut off by Mohammed.

“We will be safer back at our house Zayn. This is my family and we will not stay in this glass covered shell like sitting ducks!”

Whenever his girlfriend’s father spoke, he tended to shut off all arguments and it seemed like this was another one of those times. The elder man began to usher the group towards the door, past the remaining patrons caught up in the same dilemma of whether to stay or take their chances trying to get home. Zayn was reluctant to leave and took hold of Gigi. “Baby, we can’t leave. We must stay here and try to find a safe spot. Maybe they have like an office in the back. I know he’s your father, but he is making a stupid mistake!”

Gigi was torn and Mohammed, who had turned back to see where his daughter was, began to yell at the pair. “Gigi! We are leaving! You and Zayn hurry up!”

Zayn’s temper was beginning to flare. How could that man be so reckless? He held Gigi in place and called out to her father. “Sir, you can go ahead and endanger yourself but how dare you endanger everyone else in your family!? How are you even going to get home? Look outside! The roads are blocked by cars, people are stampeding like bulls and there are crazy lunatics out there eating each other! Let’s just stay here until the authorities can control the situation!”

Mohammed stormed back towards Gigi and Zayn and took her arm, forcibly pulling her towards the exits. “I will not have you tell me how to run my family! You can stay here, but we are going home to safety.”

As she was being pulled towards the doors, she turned back with tears running down her cheeks. “Come on Zaynie.... please. Just go with us. We can make it home. Just come.”

He sighed, never being able to resist when she used her pet name for him. The group had made it outside when Zayn was a few steps from the door. Without warning a blur of bodies hurtled towards his girlfriend and her family, catching everyone off-guard. Zayn rushed forward but watched in horror as maybe a dozen or more people began attacking Mohammed and the rest of the girls. They were fighting them off valiantly, using their purses and shoes as weapons. Several good Samaritans that were rushing by turned and tried to help, grabbing whatever objects they could to ward off the attack.

As Zayn tried to exit, he was pulled back in by strong arms. “Let me go! That’s my girlfriend out there!!”

“There’s nothing you can do for them mate! Look!”

As Zayn continued to struggle to free himself, more and more rabid looking people ran towards the group, overpowering all their defenses. Zayn could see some of the defending group, including Gigi and Bella, pressed back towards the floor to ceiling glass, desperately flailing their arms and legs but to no avail. Soon blood began to stain the windows. Bella was the first to go down, followed soon by some of the good Samaritans, Yolanda, and finally Gigi. Their once beautiful faces were now covered in scratches and bites. Pieces of flesh were being torn from their lifeless bodies.

Zayn could not control his sobs, clutching the strong arms that were now wrapped around him, in an attempt at comfort. He closed his eyes tight, hoping this was just a nightmare before opening them again. He was unsure how long he kept his eyes closed, but the hoarseness of his throat indicated that he had kept on screaming. He willed himself to open his eyes and see the reality in front of him. Through his tear streaked eyes he could see Yolanda, dress completely torn, and blood soaked, sitting on the chest of her husband, taking bites from his neck and face.

Zayn could not process what he was witnessing. It seemed like these people were eating his entourage, that they were eating each other, but when someone expired, they stopped their attack and began seeking out new meat. Yolanda had scampered away at some point as well, Zayn assuming this meant Mohammed was no longer alive. This must have been the case, as the mob began to stagger away from the fallen bodies that had not reanimated yet, aiming their attention to the still living people running by. Zayn did not have a chance to grieve as mere seconds after, the blood soaked, and damaged bodies of his loved ones began writhing and convulsing, as if possessed by demons.

They began springing back up with lightning speed. Zayn noticed all their eyes seemed to be milky in color and their veins were darker, almost black, on the parts of their skin not too covered and caked with blood and their own entrails. He covered his mouth to gasp, never in his life thinking this would ever be a scenario he would be facing. The arms holding him in place tensed as well. Someone shrieked near where they were standing, and the noise seemed to catch the attention of the reanimated individuals closest to the glass.

Gigi and Bella snarled and ran towards the windows. Zayn did not know where Yolanda or Mohammed disappeared to, but he assumed they were now hunting down innocent people frantic to get to safe locations. The two girls ran into the glass with force, their bodies thunking against the offending material. This caught the attention of some of the other infected, who began running into the glass as well. People screamed all around them, causing the attackers to get more agitated and increase their attempts to get inside. They backed up and ran forward again with unnerving speed, throwing their bodies against the front of the restaurant. Small spiderweb shaped cracks began to form on the glass.

Zayn could feel the arms that were enveloping him release as the mystery man began to calmly direct all those around them. “Everyone, remain calm. Do not scream, it seems to be drawing their attention. We need to create a barrier because that glass will not hold out, especially if more of those... those things decide to join in. Everyone, grab tables and turn them onto their sides. We need to secure this building.”

Zayn was rooted to his spot, watching as the man explained what to do. He did not appear to be any older than Zayn, but he was more muscular. He had medium length brunette hair and brown eyes. He was dressed in a white button up shirt tucked neatly into his crisp black pants. His outfit was completed by a black skinny tie and Zayn belatedly figured out that he was one of the servers, as he was dressed in the uniform of the restaurant staff.

The manager from earlier swiftly approached the glass doors and turned the brass lock, ensuring no one could open the door as restaurant staff and the remainder of the patrons began to grab tables and upend them. Men that were able carried their tables towards the front while women and the younger folks dragged theirs. Zayn had to duck out of the way as tables began to line up the front, people being wary of the things still pounding against the glass, but continuing with their task. The waiter that began this barricade process help direct the way the tables were placed while the restaurant manager had some of the other staff go and lock up the rear kitchen doors and secure them as well.

Everyone worked diligently, and Zayn finally was able to get his wits about him enough to help in the efforts. He gathered chairs and began to scoot them closer to the front, while some of the waiters and patrons used linen napkins to tie the table legs together to ensure their barricade would not crumble. They had enough tables to completely cover the eight-foot high front glass of the restaurant. Once they were secure, people began to take the chairs Zayn diligently brought up and used them to wedge the tables against the floors. A couple of men stood on some of the leftover tables and secured the top legs with more linen napkin ropes to the exposed metal pipes of the ceiling, giving the establishment the cool and deconstructed look it had been going for, and now supplying more support for their makeshift barricade.

It was an amazingly sturdy barrier all things considered, and it even masked the chaos of the outside, the thumping of the glass having died down. Zayn wondered if because they were out of sight that they were no longer targets. He filed that tidbit of information away mentally. The staff and several of the more enterprising restaurant goers began to survey their defenses and they used some of the remaining chairs to keep the big double doors that separated the kitchen from the front of the house open, so they could have eyes on the entire space. In the back of Zayn’s mind, he almost felt safer, then he scoffed knowing that this version of safe was laughable, barricaded inside a restaurant while Armageddon was occurring in the outside world.

He sighed and walked towards the bar that dominated the right side of the room, sliding down and sitting with his back resting against the luxurious mahogany wood. Several other people were following suit, just sitting where they were, either calling loved ones or family members on their cellphones, taking stock of what they had just experienced. Waiters and waitresses kept moving about, double and triple checking their barricades while the manager called whatever authorities could give him answers.

“All the emergency lines are busy,” he yelled in frustration.

Zayn realized the televisions were still reporting on their predicament though he noted there was no longer any on the ground live reporting. A few stations were showing aerial shots, presumably from news helicopters, and the extent of the calamity could finally be seen. There was the familiar sight of the hospital still going up in smoke but all around it, the visuals were stunning. Everywhere one looked pools of blood could be seen, many having the distinct signs of something that had been lying in blood but then reanimating and walking away. Tell-tale markings of bloody footprints and trails could be seen radiating from many spots.

There were several bodies still on the ground, perhaps ones shot by the cops or whoever had a gun. This might have been the first time Zayn was happy that there were not stricter gun control laws in place. Still, as he looked on, he could not help but think these were people lying dead on the ground, who mere hours and minutes before, were living out their day to day lives. Zayn could also see all the abandoned cars, some still on the road way while others were zig zagged onto sidewalks, clogging routes and pavement. Some of the surrounding buildings seemed to be consumed in smoke as well, Zayn having no idea how that could have happened but assumed that it was a side effect of people trying to fight off their attackers in any way possible.

Windows of buildings could be seen broken from people either forcing their way in or making hasty escapes. There were fire trucks and police cars, still with their lights flashing, seemingly abandoned or their occupants now turned into a murderous and rampaging monster. The occasional image of an individual could be seen darting around, though Zayn could not tell if it was an unlucky person trying to find safety or one of the rabid, as he was now referring to them. As the helicopter flew around and continued to show these images, a split screen shot of Anderson Cooper reappeared.

“The local armed forces have been called in by the governor to try to take control of this volatile situation in Los Angeles. Be advised, if you are watching this broadcast, get to a safe indoor location and secure yourself and your families. The nature of the attack is unknown but what is known is that the toxin, or gas or perhaps even new strain of disease affecting our citizens can be spread by direct bodily contact, from an open wound especially. It is deadly, and it works fast. Please do not approach any individual that appears to be infected. They are dangerous and should be avoided. Take all measures necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones...”

As Anderson continued his segment Zayn sighed and ran his hands through his short raven colored hair. He had recently shaved his once long and silky locks, at the request of Gigi. Thinking about her made him tear up again, little rivers of warm, salty liquid trailing over the sharp angles of his cheekbones. He must have passed out from exhaustion because he was startled awake as he could feel a presence nearby. Someone approached him slowly and sank down next to him, mirroring his position against the bar. Zayn quickly wiped at his eyes furiously and breathed heavily, trying to gain his composure. He turned his head to see who had joined him, and saw it was the waiter from earlier that had saved him from near certain death. The waiter’s eyes were warm and brown, and radiated empathy.

“I’m so sorry mate, ‘bout wakin’ you up and… you know… about your girl and her family. You must be absolutely gutted.” Zayn could pick out the obvious accent and assumed this waiter must have been from England. He just kept staring at the waiter, not able to really say anything back. Sensing the awkwardness, the waiter extended his hand out to the side.

“My name is Liam.”

Zayn absentmindedly extended his own hand out to grasp Liam’s and lightly shook it. “I’m Zayn... Zayn Malik. Um… how long was I asleep?”

Liam smiled softly but it did not reach his eyes. He gave Zayn’s hand a slight squeeze before ending the handshake and resting back against the bar again. “A few hours… a lot of the people in here are wiped out. I kept checking up on ya to make sure… just to make sure.”

The constant drone of the various news outlets continued while both boys sat in uneasy silence. Around them the others who were trapped still talked softly on their cellphones, telling whomever on the other end that they were safe. A few were crying and some of the younger ones were cradled in their parent’s laps. Zayn hoped that whatever was happening would be contained soon, so he could properly process his losses and grieve. He also hoped that Gigi, Bella and their parents would be found and put to rest... or even perhaps cured. He did not know if whatever was happening was curable, but the slight elation he felt that this was a treatable epidemic made him infinitesimally happier. He would be there every step of the way for his girlfriend’s recovery process, and they could forget this utterly devastating blip in their happy life together. Zayn was so deep in his thoughts that he momentarily forgot the boy seated next to him, until Liam spoke up again.

“A penny for your thoughts?”

Zayn looked over with slight confusion. “Huh... I’m sorry. What was that?”

Liam smiled softly once more. “It looks like you were like, really deep in thought. Sorry, I know you have been through a lot.”

Zayn nodded. He wanted to keep engaging in conversation, but he really could not find it within himself to, despite how friendly this Liam fellow seemed to be. And he did save Zayn’s life. He would thank him for that another time, but for now he just wanted to be left alone with his own thoughts. Zayn was also curious how the other man could be so calm at a time like this. Liam seemed to get the hint, sighing awkwardly and gently patting Zayn on the shoulder. “Well, I am going to check up on our supplies and give my mum a call. Take care of yourself Zayn.”

Liam got up and pulled his cellphone from his pocket. He wandered off towards the back of the building, to the kitchen and back offices to conduct his conversation. Zayn was reminded to call his own mom and dad and let them know he was safe and break the news about Gigi and her family. He pulled out his cellphone and saw he had dozens of missed calls and even more text messages. They were all from various members of his own family. He swore to himself and quickly dialed his mother’s number.

Trisha, his mom, picked up immediately. “Zayn! I swear! I have been trying to call you! Where are you!? Are you alright!? This is all over the news! They have no idea what is going on but whatever it is, it is spreading fast! Baby, are you ok!?” Trisha Malik was a fierce and strong woman and when it came to her children, she would worry about and coddle them until the ends of time.

Zayn was choked up, but he did not want to excite his mom further. “I’m ok mom. I’m in a restaurant. It happened so quickly... I don’t even know how to feel right now.”

He could hear his mother’s breaths on the other end of the phone, listening to her son intently. The mentioning of the restaurant reminded Trisha of what day it was. “Oh Zayn! Gigi’s birthday! How is she? Is her family there with you? Are they safe?”

Zayn could feel tears streaming down his face again. His breathing became erratic. “Zayn... baby? Are they... are they ok? Where are they?” The silence loomed on for too long and Trisha seemed to understand why. A mother always had that type of intuition. “Oh... darling... I’m so, so, sorry. How? How did it happen? Was it one of those... people... those things?”

Zayn hiccupped and nodded, before realizing his mother could not see his actions. “It happened so fast mom! We… we… here… in a restaurant... and Gigi... and presents and ... then people were running ... and cars ... and then they tried to get home and... and... it happened so fast mom! And I just stood there... and watched. I let it happen. Now they’re... they’re like one of those animals out there. It was my fault... I should have been firmer.... but her dad is... was... so stubborn...”

Trisha cut her son off. “Shhh, shhh. None of this is your fault honey. You hear me? None of this is your fault. Don’t you dare blame yourself.”

Zayn could not control the tears falling down his face as his mom continued to console him from thousands of miles away. He took solace in knowing his parents and three sisters all lived in New York City, far away from the chaos. There was no way this would ever reach them, he had faith it would be contained within the borders of Los Angeles. He was sure of it.

“Zayn, we’ve been watching the news. They have called in the National Guard and even the military to round up the people infected. They aren’t sure how far it has spread yet, but the governor of California has called in a State of Emergency and they are shutting down the routes to and from Los Angeles... just as a precaution. It’ll be over soon baby. Just you stay safe in that restaurant.”

Zayn wiped away his tears, listening to his mother speak. He was confident everything would be under control soon. “Mom... is Baba there?” He often called his father Yaser by this nickname.

He could hear his mom call for his father and soon the familiar voice was on the phone. “Hey beta. I am glad you are safe... and....I’m sorry for... you know.”

Zayn sucked in some air before letting it out slowly. His father must have heard him speaking with his mom and put two and two together about Gigi and her family. “Hey dad. I miss you all so much. When this is all over, I want to come home for a little while. Is that ok?”

“Of course, son! You never have to ask that! You sisters and your mother and I would love to have you back home!”

Zayn briefly smiled to himself before letting some more tears escape. They were a very tight-knit family and they took him leaving for Los Angeles almost five years prior very hard. He met Gigi at an Art Exhibit in New York City when they were both only 19 years old. She was there with her very wealthy family on vacation while he was exhibiting some of his art. They hit it off quickly, and her parents bought three of his pieces, though he knew it was through Gigi’s insistence. They talked all that night and began a long-distance courtship that lasted several months before she finally asked him to move out West, so they could be together officially.

It took him several weeks to work up the courage to break it to his family, and his mom and youngest sister, Safaa, were the most upset of them all. It took time and constant assurances of daily phone calls and video chats for them all to become more accepting of his departure and over the years they had been visiting back and forth, slowly but surely creating a family. Now... it had all crumbled.

“Zayn, son... are you still there?” Yasser sounded worried and Zayn must have zoned out. He had been doing a lot of that lately, for good reason.

“Yes... sorry. Baba... do you think... do you think there is a cure for this... disease? Or infection... or... whatever the fuck this is?”

“Zayn, language. And... I’m not sure. We keep watching the news but it’s all still too soon. No one has any real information. The scientists they have interviewed are all baffled. The medical experts are all saying it is one thing or another... no one really knows.”

Zayn banged the back of his head back against the bar softly but repeatedly. He just wanted answers and he wanted this whole ordeal to be over. Zayn sighed and finally spoke up again. “Thanks dad. I’m exhausted and I need to save my battery in case we are stuck here for a day or two. I’ll let you know if anything happens... and I will stay safe. Promise. Tell mom and Safaa that I love them. I’ll text Doniya and Waliyha to let them know I am ok.”

He could hear his father mumble something before answering. “Be safe Beta. Allah will watch over you. Everything will be ok.”

They ended their phone call and Zayn fired off a couple of quick texts to his two other sisters before shutting his phone off to conserve his battery. He looked up at the clock and saw that it was now approaching 10 pm... five hours had passed though it seemed like an eternity. During his phone call someone must have turned the volume down on all the televisions, so that the atmosphere was more quiet and somber. Several people began making nests from suit jackets and shawls... while others began to lay down on the booth seats. There was maybe one or two people still on their phones, speaking in hushed tones.

Zayn wondered where Liam had gone off to, but that was a fleeting thought as his eyes became heavy from exhaustion. He soon drifted off to sleep again, as distant sounds of sirens, gun fire and the occasional cry for help could be heard. He did not know how far away any of this activity was happening and he prayed it was the sounds of their lives being put back together by the authorities.

He had no idea how long he slept but he awoke with a start before noting that it was just after 4am on the clock. It was dark all around him except for two television monitors still broadcasting the news while the other monitors were turned off. He could hear the soft breathing of dozens of people in his vicinity before he noticed that someone had draped a suit jacket to cover his upper body and thighs. He slowly got up and carefully took the suit jacket and folded it over his arm. He stretched his aching muscles, hearing small pops as his bones and joints realigned.

He used the soft glow of the monitors to guide his way back towards the kitchen area, where he could see a faint light coming from an open doorway, which he presumed to be the office. He found the restaurant manager snoring on a cot which indicated he probably spent many long hours at his business and probably often slept there. He also saw Liam with his head down on the desk sleeping, as a small old fashioned tv box was broadcasting the news.

Liam seemed to sense someone was watching him as he bolted upright, fists at the ready before realizing it was Zayn. In a sleep worn voice he whispered. “You alright mate?”

Zayn nodded but stayed in place, feeling awkward for staring. “I woke up suddenly and wandered back here. I found this jacket, er... I mean someone put it on me.”

Liam’s eyes could be seen flicking down towards the jacket held out in Zayn’s hand. The pale light danced across Liam’s face from the small television in front of him. He looked rugged with his mustache and facial hair, but it was well groomed, which Zayn attributed to his working in the food service industry at a high-end establishment. “Uhm.... yeah. I put it on you. You were knackered, and this restaurant is cold. Didn’t want you getting sick on top of the world going to pot. No big deal, yeah?”

Zayn smiled softly. It was nice of this stranger to care about his well-being. Before he could dwell on it he turned his attention to the small monitor. “Any updates?”

Liam’s brown eyes cast away from Zayn towards the television. Zayn walked quietly until he was next to Liam, then he proceeded to crouch, using the jacket as a pillow as he rested his head on the desk. They both began to watch the broadcast. He was unsure what station it was but the images he was seeing along with the constant scroll of headlines at the bottom of the screen made his heart sink and stomach churn. While they slept the local, state and even federal government had sent reinforcements in the shape of the National Guard, police officers and deputies from surrounding jurisdictions, and even military servicemen in the vicinity to contain the threat.

It appeared that the rabid had been multiplying in numbers far exceeding what could have been predicted. Los Angeles and its adjacent counties was a densely populated area and apparently the infection spread like wildfire. Replays from night vision cameras from helicopter footage showed battalions of personnel being overwhelmed and forced back by hundreds and hundreds of fast moving rabids. No matter how much firepower was aimed towards the infected swarms, they seemed to continually surge forward, breaking rank after rank of defenses and frighteningly, converting armed service men and guardsmen into mindless animals in their wake. For every one or two of them that were successfully neutralized, it seemed like five more were “born” from newly turned victims. As the defenses dwindled, the number of infected increased exponentially. Zayn watched in stunned silence, not believing that their side was losing.

“Fucking bloody hell,” Liam muttered. The footage cut to the news anchors in their studio, looking haggard from an all-nighter of reporting. The male anchor with slightly curly brown hair began his report and spoke with an almost lazy, and slow drawl. It was a soothing type of cantor and Zayn knew he was the perfect one to deliver heartbreaking news without inciting panic.

“Harry Styles here alongside Heather Morales, and we interrupt the previous broadcast to give you up-to-date information on our continued coverage of the attack on Los Angeles. It appears the nature of the situation has exceeded the initial response from authorities and the governor has implored the federal government to send in as many troops as possible before this contagion can spread further. Scientists and medical experts have all agreed that this is some sort of infection but are not in agreement whether it is naturally occurring, or a man-made agent created by terrorist cells. Thus far no terror group has taken responsibility for this attack. There have been widespread reports that this epidemic has already spread beyond the greater Los Angeles city limits. Everyone is advised to stay indoors and lock all doors and windows. Keep your homes as dimly lit as possible and avoid using any lights unless absolutely necessary. Keep all pets indoors and do not, I repeat do not, engage anyone infected. Symptoms of infection from a few eye witnesses include pale, almost translucent skin with visible dark veins... fast and aggressive movements with possible hallucinogenic side effects that cause inflicted persons to attack those not infected. All exposure increases the likelihood of spreading the illness. Witnesses also claim the infected have milky colored eyes and do not respond to verbal cues. The President of the United States is having a press conference this morning at eight AM Eastern standard time to brief the nation on the latest of this ongoing crisis. For now, everyone stay vigilant, stay smart and stay safe. This is Harry Styles reporting and I will now pass it over to Heather to fill you in on other news around the nation.”

Liam was running his hands through his brown hair and Zayn shook his head in disbelief once again. “I wonder how bad it really is. Do you think they are telling us everything?” Zayn turned towards Liam to get his response.

Liam chewed on his plump lips, wetting them before responding. Zayn found it odd that he noticed the plumpness of Liam’s lips but did not dwell.
“I wish I knew Zayn. This entire thing is bollocks. You saw that footage... even the damn National Guard and military here could not stop them. If the President sends more troops in blindly without some kind of strategy, who knows how many more people will be infected?”

Zayn hummed in agreement. He had read about things like this hundreds of times and, being a comic book and closet science fiction geek, he knew how eerily similar this situation was becoming to something he only thought occurred on tv or the movies. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “it’s like a real-life zombie apocalypse.”

Liam looked at Zayn contemplatively. “Zombies don’t exist mate. And if they did aren’t they supposed to be like daft and slow, or summat?”

Zayn was fortunate enough to be obsessed with British culture and slang, so Liam’s strange expressions did not throw him off. He just shrugged. “Well, humans have never experienced a zombie apocalypse before. Maybe everything we thought about zombies is wrong. All we know is what Hollywood has taught us.”

Liam still looked very skeptical. “Those people out there don’t look like zombies. I’m not sure what they are… maybe just people gone mental or like they said on the news... a chemical or… orrr. I just don’t know.”

Zayn tried not to get frustrated, so he simply huffed. “My girlfriend did not go mental, or whatever. She was turned into something. Might not have been a zombie, but it was definitely something.”

Liam closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry mate. I know I keep apologizing. Let’s just hope we are wrong about everything because if we’re right about zombie apocalypses then this is just the beginning. Which means we are completely snookered. I just can’t believe how fast it is spreading. You always see in the shows where it takes like hours or summat.”

Zayn could feel bile rising from his stomach and he quickly swallowed it down. The idea of a zombie apocalypse was so preposterous yet here they were, holed up in a restaurant, with tables being their only barrier against the horrors of the outside world. Luckily, they still had electricity and cell service as well as cable, keeping them informed. Zayn wondered how long it would take for all those conveniences to break down if the authorities could not get a handle on this growing epidemic.

He started to panic at the thought of being cut off from his family if this was indeed the beginning of the end. He also began to wonder how long he could survive. He was an artist, not a survivalist. He began to feel lightheaded and was starting to breathe rapidly. He thought he was going to collapse at any moment, but strong hands gripped both of his shoulders from behind and began to firmly massage him.

“It’s ok Zayn. Calm down. Your safe mate. Breathe in... ok good. Now breathe out. That’s good. Keep doing that, yeah?”

Zayn kept doing these breathing exercises while Liam massaged his shoulders. He began to calm down after a few moments, leaning into Liam’s strong and decent sized hands. Before, the thought of allowing a man to massage his shoulders seemed ludicrous. Zayn was not homophobic, and he knew that his looks had gotten him a lot of attention from both sexes, but he certainly never had any inclinations or desires to be with another man, especially when he was dating perhaps the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He needed to stop thinking about Gigi because it always made his stomach clench and his head throb.

Liam was still kneading his shoulders and Zayn had to admit that he needed the comfort, even if it was from a stranger that worked at the restaurant. Liam seemed like a nice guy from what little interaction they have had thus far so Zayn did not allow any reservations and doubts creep in. After a few minutes Zayn could feel Liam patting his shoulder and ending the massage session.

“Feelin’ alright then mate?” Liam asked as he backed away and returned to his seated position.

“Yeah, thanks. I needed that.” Zayn turned to hold Liam’s gaze and they both nodded in comfortable silence. After several seconds Zayn decided to break the quiet with some more conversation.

“So, Liam, were you able to um… get a hold of your family? Are they alright?”

Liam smiled softly. “As of right now yeah. My mum and dad live in England. Wolverhampton to be exact. And my two older sisters live there as well. It looks like whatever this is has not made its way overseas.”

“With any luck, hopefully this won’t even make it out of California,” Zayn added.

Liam nodded, more to himself than to Zayn. Just then his phone lit up with a text message. The brunette leaned over to see who it was from before closing his eyes and sighing in relief.

Zayn did not miss the reaction. “Good news,” he asked shyly.

Liam’s eyes opened, and he simply sighed and nodded. “Yeah. It was from my roommate, Niall. I hadn’t heard from him since this whole thing began and I was starting to get worried. He just messaged me.”

“That’s great news. Is he safe?”

Liam picked his phone up and fired off a response text. Several seconds later there were several replies in a row, presumably from Niall, which made Liam’s brows furrow.
“Yeah, he said he’s barricaded in our flat. Said he was going for a beer run yesterday evening when a couple of people tried chasing him, but he lucked out when some other people got caught in the middle and were attacked instead. He said he saw them getting bitten and he didn’t stick around long enough to see the rest.”

Liam typed another message and waited for his roommate to answer again. Another quick succession of texts had Liam standing and pacing. “He says that many people in our complex have gone stark raving mad. He’s seen people diving into windows to attack their own neighbors… it’s complete bedlam. He’s pushed all our furniture and our mattresses to block the windows and doors. He’s freaking out.” Liam repeatedly ran a hand through his now completely tousled brown hair.

Zayn gasped. “Liam… I don’t know what to say.”

The brunette kept pacing and sending out text messages to his friend. “It’s not your fault mate. I mean, he’s safe, for now. I just feel personally responsible for him, ya know? He moved here from Ireland to live with me.”

“Is he… like is he your… boyfriend or something?” Zayn hated to ask gossipy type questions like that, but he was just curious.

Liam chuckled slightly. “Bugger off. He’s just my best mate… pretty much since the first day we met at university. I’ve always treated him like a little brother since he’s a little younger than I am. I’m just protective.”

Zayn smiled. “I’m sorry to assume. Forget I asked that.”

Before Liam could say anything back his phone buzzed. Niall must have been texting him again. Liam read the next series of texts, though he did finally stop pacing the room. Zayn looked over to the still sleeping manager and wondered how he could sleep through all their talking. They were using hushed tones, but Zayn was a light sleeper so even the sound of a pin dropping could wake him. Zayn could hear Liam sighing, so he turned his focus back to the brunette.

“What’s up,” he asked quietly.

“Oh… nothing. Niall is just not good at stressful situations. He’s having a meltdown over there. He texted me saying he does not know how much longer he can just wait around before he starts to lose the plot. I’m scared he is gonna do something stupid, like leave our flat to find other people.”

Zayn shuddered at the thought of leaving relative safety to chase down other survivors. Zayn wanted to change the subject because he could see how agitated the usually benign brunette was getting. “So, Liam, how long do you think we can hold out in here? I guess since it’s a restaurant we have food and drinks but… for how long?” Zayn could not calculate in his mind how many resources they would need to accommodate the almost two dozen patrons and staff remaining.

Liam sighed and rubbed his beard. He sat contemplatively, really taking time to analyze the question before answering. “Maybe a week… two weeks tops if we ration everything and the power grid holds so we can actually prepare the food. After that… let’s just hope there isn’t any need for an after that.”

Zayn gulped down his response and opted to just nod. “Yeah… let’s hope.”

He could see the other man type out what looked like a final text message to his roommate before pocketing his cellphone. The two boys shared another moment of silence before Liam yawned. “I’m still pretty zonked. You mind if I try to catch some more sleep?”

Zayn saw no need to keep Liam up any longer though he liked the company. Reluctantly he agreed. As he turned to leave the office he stopped at the doorway and turned around again to see Liam watching him go. “Liam… um… thanks. I mean, for stopping me earlier. I never got the chance to thank you. And for thinking of the barricade idea.”

The brunette smiled shyly. “No need to thank me. I would’ve been a right wanker if I would have let you outside to face all that. I’m just sorry I could not stop your girlfriend and her family.” The smile on Liam’s face faded, to be replaced by a look of pure guilt.

Zayn simply nodded before letting out a soft sigh. “Yeah… me too. Goodnight Liam.”

Zayn turned and walked out of the office and through the kitchen to the front part of the restaurant. Everyone was still asleep on various booths, makeshift nests on the floor and even on top of the bar itself. It was too dark to tell who were customers and who were staff and it did not matter honestly. They were all in this together now. Zayn chose to ignore the continual coverage of their situation on the mounted television screens and found his spot next to the bar again. He quietly sat back down and used the wood as a backrest. It was finally silent outside. He had no idea if that was a good or bad sign, but the relative silence allowed him to close his eyes and sleep.

He had no idea how long he slept but when he awoke again with a crick in his neck, he could see several other people had already risen and were watching the television monitors, murmuring quietly to each other. Light was filtering in through the cracks between their makeshift table barricade but everything else seemed calm. The raven-haired man thought maybe the worst was over and somehow the tide changed as he slept.

Zayn focused his attention to the television screen as well and what he saw made his blood run cold. It was more aerial footage, this time from a higher vantage point. Perhaps from a satellite instead of a chopper. It showed the vast majority of the greater Los Angeles area obscured by smoke from burning buildings. The vantage point was too high up to see if there were people on the ground, but it was the headline running across the bottom of the screen that held Zayn’s gaze.

‘Epidemic has spread as far north as San Francisco and as far south as San Diego as reports of attacks continue to pour in.’

He could not believe what he was seeing. Just overnight and the infection had already made its way to the next biggest cities in the state of California. That meant thousands if not millions more people were now experiencing what everyone in Los Angeles had gone through, with no end in sight. Zayn promptly got up and walked briskly to the bathroom where he threw up what little was in his stomach in one of the toilet stalls. After cleaning himself up in the sink he made his way out to see Liam and the restaurant manager amongst the people watching the news stations.

The brunette made eye contact with Zayn briefly before turning back to the monitor showing CNN. It was more bad news piled on top of even crappier news. The military was being deployed from all over the country to set up blockades on all major roadways into and out of the state. Several foreign nations had also pledged to send over troops to assist, including allies from Europe and Canada. Mexico had moved its military and police forces to the border of California and even drug cartels issued a ceasefire to join the authorities, a development no one would ever thought could happen. All neighboring states had shut their borders down meaning no one was able to escape California.

Zayn apparently must have slept through the President’s address to the nation, but clips were being replayed, highlighting the most important points. The nation’s top leader had issued a full declaration of war against this growing epidemic and said there would be no taking prisoners. The response from the military and all other forces would be of indiscriminate and total lethality; anyone showing signs of infection were to be destroyed. Their top priority was containing the threat and protecting the power grid. There would be no captures, no rehabilitation and no searches for a cure. Zayn hugged himself knowing full well that he was never going to be reunited with his girlfriend or her family ever again. It was kill or be killed.

Liam walked over and put a calming hand on Zayn’s shoulder even though Zayn could feel the seething tension in the other man's touch. “The president is a daft wanker mate. I’m so sorry.”

Zayn hugged himself tighter and answered back hoarsely. “No… it’s ok. This is for the best. We can’t let it spread further. If the infection were to somehow cross the borders… no… this is for the best.” Zayn nodded, willing his own words to convince himself that what he said was right.

Liam squeezed his shoulder. “Just doesn’t feel right. We haven’t even had a chance to study this… to see if there is a cure or an antidote.”

Zayn could understand Liam’s point of view. This was a sudden incident and something no one understood yet. If they were able to capture a few infected people, then maybe they could find a cure somehow… a way to reverse the effects. It was too risky though, seeing as how fast the infection spread. Zayn was not able to voice any of this, still too numb.
“Yeah,” was all he was able to muster.

There was a soft buzzing and it took a few seconds for both boys to realize it was Liam’s cellphone. The brunette looked apologetic as he turned to answer the phone in his pocket. Zayn observed a heated, yet hushed argument ensue before Liam ended the call and ran his hands through his hair. He approached the brunette cautiously. “What’s wrong Liam?”

The waiter let his soft brown eyes land on Zayn before answering. “Niall said that there were three or four of those things that had plowed their way through one of the kitchen windows. He’s locked himself in the master bathroom and the only thing separating him from them is the locked bedroom and bathroom doors. He is freaking out. I … I need to go… I need to go save him.”

Before Zayn could protest, Liam was darting back towards the kitchen and to a metal ladder that was attached to the concrete wall next to the swinging double doors. Zayn swiftly jogged back towards the brunette, grabbing him by both shoulders and keeping him rooted to the ground as he was trying to climb the ladder rungs. Liam let out a surprised yelp.
“What are you doing!? Are you absolutely and certifiably insane? Where are you going?”

Liam’s shoulder tensed but he did not turn to face Zayn nor the handful of other people that had gathered due to the commotion. “I already told you Zayn. Niall is my best mate and he’s in trouble… he’s alone and… I am not going to let him die.”

Zayn did not loosen his grip on the slightly taller man’s shoulders. “I am not letting you go out there. You stopped me from being stupid yesterday. Now I’m doing the same for you. You are not going.”

Liam whipped around with a speed that startled Zayn and the once soft brown eyes were full of fury and deadly intentions. “I stopped you yesterday because you can’t handle those things. I can. Now you’re going to let me go or I am going to break both of your arms. Are we clear?”

Zayn was taken aback by Liam’s words and there was a story behind the brunette’s confidence in survival that he was ignorant to. Yes, he did not know the other lad all that well, but he liked to think himself a good judge of character and nothing in their interactions indicated Liam was capable of such vitriol. The slight surprised response from Zayn was quickly replaced with his own bubbling anger.

He may not have been nearly as built as Liam, but he knew he had a much more dangerous temper. “You want to go out there and be a cowboy? Be my guest. But I’m going with you.”

It was Liam’s turn to be slightly surprised and Zayn had to steel his face as to not give away the hammering of his own chest. He did not know where the idea of going with Liam came from nor did he think any plan through. All he knew was that he was not going to let the man that saved his life throw his own well-being away, not on his watch. Maybe a certain part of Zayn hoped that the idea of bringing along someone as defenseless would deter the other man, but all Liam did was stare into the hazel depths of Zayn’s eyes. Zayn felt naked and exposed the way Liam concentrated and gazed, as if he could see into his soul.

After a few moments Liam lowered his gaze. “Fine, you can come. But we are going to need some supplies and some weapons to defend ourselves.”

Liam darted into the office and walked back out with two rucksacks. As he began rummaging around the restaurant’s kitchen for portable items, with several staffers and his manager on his heels trying to dissuade him, Zayn leaned back against the concrete wall. He just offered to leave this temporary haven to go rescue a virtual stranger’s best friend. Ten minutes later a bag was shoved into his chest and he took it mechanically, realizing it was a bookbag. He shouldered both straps and quickly adjusted to the weight of it. Liam did the same, fending off a few final protestations from his restaurant coworkers.

Grabbing the bottom rung the brunette turned towards Zayn with a look of conviction. “Let’s go,” was all he said simply as he began to ascend the metal rungs towards an access door in the drop ceiling tiles.

Zayn took a deep breath and grabbed the ladder and before he could chicken out, he followed Liam up. He prayed that their destination was not that far, and he hoped his assumption that Liam had some sort of training that would keep them alive would hold true.