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and we're all dead now.

Chapter Text

It never feels right calling them zombies. It just sounds dumb, too cliché. But there isn't really any other word for it. They are half-alive, slowly decaying humans that wander around, groaning as if just walking, or rather shuffling, is taking too much energy, no longer the same person they were before turning. Half-alive humans who are but a shell, a host for a parasite residing in the brain, slowly but surely driving the person to insanity.

See, they're not really zombies. Not by your usual, movie definition of a zombie, anyway. They aren't dead, they haven't risen from the grave; there's still a part of them alive in there, somewhere. Their brains have just been taken over.

They attack without remorse, without mercy, without conscious knowledge. They're vicious, angry creatures without intending to be, attacking anyone and anything that moves. That’s just how the infection works. Spread via bodily fluids, causing any bite to be deadly, any splatter of blood too near your mouth to be deadly, and there's no cure. The problem is that no one is really sure how it started, no one knows what is causing the infected to turn like they do. They are super humans, mutated and decaying and rabid. Blood thirsty, cannibalistic creatures that just so happen to resemble your mother, your friends, your husband.

It never feels right to call them zombies. It's too nice of a word.

 

-----------------

 

As it turns out, the idea of a zombie invasion isn't nearly as fun in real life and it seems in movies. People die, you realise that pretty soon on. James can't even remember how it started, he's sure it was an infection or something. It's been… what, about two months? Two months since the first serious infection, the first incident. Well, it's hard to pinpoint the first exact person to get infected, the first person to spread the infection on, since it just started to happen out of absolutely nowhere. No one was prepared; but why the hell would they be? No one prepares for the fucking apocalypse.

James tried to keep in contact with everyone, his friends, his mother, for as long as he could, until the cellphone lines went down. He was too scared to leave his house when he first heard about the infection, as selfish at that may seem, so he lost contact. That being said, no one has come to his house to see if he's alright either, so he guesses he's not being that selfish. The internet went soon after, and honestly, he's amazed they still have electricity. He just has no idea who's still alive now. And that's the worst part, just not knowing.

All his neighbours are dead, or turned. And even the ones who have turned are hardly alive anymore, anyway. That much he does know. How he's managed to stay alive this long, he hasn't got a clue, how he's managed to get on without having to kill anything, anyone, yet. Even the idea of it leaves him shaking. He's kept himself locked in his house and hasn't actually left since the last official news update before he lost connection, but he knows he's gonna have to leave soon. He's running out of supplies.

On that thought, James wanders off to his kitchen to check the fridge. He's only got 3 bottles of water left and probably enough food to last maybe another day, so he's gonna have to brave the outside world and leave, go raid a store or something. Maybe he'll try and find out if his mother is still alive while he's out there.

Try and find out if Aleks is still alive, too.

Honestly, he surprised himself at how much he misses Aleks. Obviously, he's missing all his coworkers- his friends- but he just can't seem to get Aleks off his mind. He's worried about him, he lives the furthest away from everyone, and he lives alone, minus Mishka and Celia. Aleks has never been the most stable of people at the best of times, and James is worried. Scared for him. At least Trevor, Asher, and Jakob all have each other, and he's not sure about Lindsey and Brett, but they're strong people, especially Brett, so he's sure they're alright. It's just Aleks he's worried most about.

But the desperate sounds of decaying humans wandering around aimlessly outside is really fucking putting him off leaving the relative safety of his house.

It's an infection, he seems to remember, that's what started it. He can't remember details, sure there aren't actually many details to remember, but it's basically a bacteria that rots the infected's brain, keeping them partly alive not something not entirely human anymore.

Life's pretty fucked, basically.

Another thing that's really tempting James to leave is just to survey the damage, really. The area immediately surrounding his house currently seems relatively safe, since it was a quiet neighbourhood before the outbreak. He just wants to know how fucked the rest of the city is, if the warehouse is still standing. It'd be a pretty good place to go, actually, he realises, it's pretty difficult to get in and out of there if you don't have a key. The concrete walls would provide a decent amount of protection, as would the metal gate, and he'd be closer to stores and other necessities there than he is in his own house. And plus, there's a chance that the others may have had the same thought.

James goes off to see where Ein is, picking up her lead as he goes. That gets him thinking about Aleks again, wondering how Mishka is. He's sure Ein is missing her as much as James is missing Aleks.

After finding Ein chilling on the bottom of the stairs, looking more relaxed than James would like in the current situation, he takes a few minutes to just mentally prepare for leaving. He looks around his house for something he could possibly use as a weapon if the need arises, which it almost definitely will. There's all sorts of shit at the warehouse, like Brett's stupid katanas and a random sledgehammer, and he's sure he left that pipe there, he just doesn’t really have anything if any use in his own damn house. Eventually he settles for a branch from his back garden. It'll do for now, he supposes, but he really hopes he doesn't need to use it.

So with that, he collects Ein, tells her they'll be alright, grabs a bag and shoves anything he deems essential in it, and heads out. He's not sure if the roads will even be clear, but he decides taking his car is the best option; he'll be reasonably safe in there, compared to outside, anyway.

Surprisingly, the roads are pretty clear. He only passes about ten abandoned cars, including two cop cars, and a couple more that look like they may have been crashed. Another thing that surprised him was that he didn’t see many zombies. It feels so fucking silly calling them that, like he's in a fucking film or something. If only that was the case; he wouldn't have to worry so much about his friends if it were. He wouldn't be here, driving to the office on a practically deserted road in hopes of staying alive a little longer than he would in his own home.

The eeriest part, really, is the lack of traffic, and how quickly he actually manages to get to the office. It feels safe and familiar once James pulls up, but one thing is bugging him.

The gate is open.

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That's weird. 

He pulls into the parking lot slowly, cautiously. There's a car parked there already, and he has a moment of sheer blood-chilling panic before he realises it's Trevor's car. 

He parks his car next to Trevor's, choosing to ignore the ominous dark red splatter on the yellow paint. He gets out and clips Ein's lead to her collar, getting her out the car too. 

"Who's there?" 

James spins around and holds his hands up, dropping Ein's lead in the process, the sudden loud voice startling him. 

"James?" 

It's Asher, pointing a gun at him. Like an actual, real life pistol. Not a sight he ever expected to see. He looks rough as hell, James thinks. He can see the dark circles under his eyes from here. At least he's alive though, fuck. 

"Hey, uh. Mind putting the gun down?" 

Asher does that, lowering the gun but keeping his hands in position. 

"Sorry." Asher visibly relaxes. "Come inside, it's not safe out here." 

"You scared the shit out of me, man," James mutters, picking up Ein's lead again. He grabs his bag and the branch from the car, locks it and follows Asher into the warehouse. 

"It's James," Asher says as he walks in, presumably not talking to James. 

Trevor peeks around the corner as James walks in, looking just as tired as Asher, but he seems to light up when he sees James. He's wearing a plain t-shirt and a pink Hawaiin style shirt over the top of it, splattered with blood just like his car. It's quite the look, colourful and so Trevor, contrasting with the dark under his eyes and the dried blood covering him. Even still, James is so happy to see he's alive. 

"Dude, I thought you were dead," Trevor says as he practically runs up to James and hugs him. "I've never been so glad to see you." The words are muffled against James' shoulder. 

"Likewise," James replies. He hadn't realised how much he'd missed human contact until he feels Trevor's arms around him, hugging him within an inch of his life. It's hard to embrace the larger man with his hands full, but he does anyway, holding him until Trevor releases him and takes a step back, folding his arms across his chest. "Are you... uh, is it just you two here?" James asks. 

Both Trevor and Asher seem to wince at his words. "Yeah, just us." Asher says. He's put his gun in his pocket, and up this close James can really see how bad he looks, though he's not as… bloody as Trevor. 

Ein jumps up at Asher's feet, whining for attention. Asher leans down and pets her, and for a moment, James forgets about the outside world, he forgets about the zombies and the gun in Asher's pocket. It's just like how it was before the outbreak, but there's a few things missing. 

He's not sure how to word what he wants to ask next, and he's sure he knows the answer, but he feels the need to say it anyway. 

"What happened to Jakob?" 

"He's dead." and "He got bit." are both thrown his way, coldly. James runs a hand over his face, his heart dropping. 

"Shit, sorry, I-" he starts, but Trevor interrupts, loudly.  

"It's fine, dude. It happens." 

Spinning around, Trevor makes his way into the main part of the building, Ein following, leaving Asher and James stood in the entrance area, with James giving Asher a questioning look. 

Zombie invasions are no fun. People die, and you realise that pretty soon on. 

"Trevor killed him." Asher says blankly, turning away from James and locking the door. "He was bitten at some point and didn’t tell us. He tried to attack me, and Trevor killed him." 

"Fuck." 

"Yeah." Asher turns back around and follows Trevor into the warehouse, James close behind. "It happens." 

Well, James thinks, not really. It's not every day you have to literally kill your best friend, but he supposes that's just how it is when the apocalypse hits. They seem to be doing pretty well, all things considered. They're still alive, and, though they both look absolutely shattered, they seem alright. He wonders if they’re trying to be strong in front of James, if they're hiding anything. 

"Are you okay? Like, in general?" James asks, and Asher gives him a look. Okay, not a good time. "Sorry, stupid question." 

The warehouse feels as strangely comforting and familiar and James has expected. It's weird, being back here after so long, with all the tents still up around the editing tables, props and shit strewn about randomly as it should be. The filming tables in the middle of the room have been moved close to the wall, and the couches, including the cow print one, have taken their place in a makeshift living room. Trevor is seated on one, on top of a blanket, with Ein sitting next to him, curled up against his leg. At least she's making herself at home, James thinks. 

"Do you guys know anything about everyone else?" James asks as Asher shoos Ein off the sofa and sits next to Trevor. James settles himself down on the cow printed one, Ein jumping up and into his lap. He pets her absentmindedly. 

Asher shakes his head. "No, do you?" 

"Unfortunately, no. I just came straight here from my house." 

"Why here?" Trevor asks, as if he and Asher weren't here too. 

"Could ask you the same," James says. "Safer, I suppose. And plus, I don’t have any... uh, anything to use as a weapon at home. And I was running out of water. Needed to get out. Was hoping to find some of you." Trevor accepts that as an answer, and they fall into a comfortable silence. Contemplative silence. 

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It's really strange, James thinks. After a while, the three of them decide to play a few games, while they can, before the electricity goes, as James is sure it will, just sitting on the floor in front of the TV, fucking about. It's almost as if nothing had ever happened. It doesn’t last long, however, because eventually someone has to leave to get supplies. Trevor ends up going, taking a rucksack, the pipe James intended to pinch, and a gun. Where these two managed to find guns, James doesn’t know, but he decides not to keep questioning them. 

Asher and James chat for a while, talking about anything and everything. The topic of work comes up at one point, and it just gets James thinking about Aleks again. Asher seems convinced he's fine, that his Russian blood is helping him survive, and James hopes that’s true. 

James had phoned Aleks two days before the lines went down. At that point, Aleks was still holding it together pretty well. Everyone in his street that was still alive had come together and were basically hiding out in one of his neighbours' houses. The last text James had received from him was telling him that he had to leave, that he was going back to his own house and staying there, because one of his neighbours had gotten bit and had turned. When James tried to phone to see if he was alright, the call went straight to voicemail, and that was the last he heard. 

James finds out that Asher and Trevor came here as soon as they could, after the Jakob incident, meaning they've been here a little over a week. Trevor is really shaken up by the experience, but really, he can't blame him. He has nightmares, apparently. Dreams where he's in that moment again, dreams about Asher turning, dreams about his other friends turning. It's really fucked him up quite badly. Asher is just as fucked up, but he's doing a pretty good job of keeping himself together, and James admires him for his strength. Trevor too. If he had to kill one of his friends, if he had to kill Aleks... he's not sure he'd be able to. Trevor is a lot stronger than James would ever have thought. 

The sound of a car engine comes from outside, and James assumes Trevor is back. Still cautious, Asher goes to investigate, gun in hand yet again. James just stays put, until he hears voices that aren't Asher's or Trevor's, and Ein jumps down from his lap to investigate. 

James decides to do the same. 

Trevor has returned, though this time not alone. This time, he's with Lindsey and Brett. 

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Lindsey and Brett both look about as exhausted as Trevor and Asher did when James first came to the office. Lindsey more so; she looks like she hasn’t had a good night's sleep in weeks, eyes dark and hair a mess, and James guesses that that is probably the case. They both seem pretty happy to see James, though, so that's a plus. James is pretty fucking happy to see them, too. 

Asher re-explains the situation to them once they come inside, Trevor and James sitting on the cow couch with Ein relaxing between them, oblivious to the terror of the outside world. James envies her a little. 

Again, they all fall into another bubble of normalcy. They're all hanging out in the main part of the building, occasionally someone gets up to do whatever, all talking about whatever comes to mind. In a way, it helps calm James' nerves a little. Though, it probably would feel better if everyone was here, but it just feels wrong. Fake. James supposes it is, really. It probably would feel better if Aleks was here. 

Brett and Lindsey have been on the move for a few days, he finds out. Trevor found them not far from the warehouse, already on their way down here, so his search for supplies got cut short. They'd had the same idea as James in terms of coming here, hoping for better protection and the chance everyone else might be here. 

Now, the only person they're missing is Aleks. 

And Jakob, of course, but at least they know what happened to him. No one knows if Aleks is alive, or turned, or… dead. 

Lindsey thinks she may have seen him in town, but she can't be too sure. She wasn’t close enough to make out facial features, but the person had grown-out bleached hair and sunglasses. James can't help but hold onto the hope it was Aleks, because it means he's alive, like fully alive, and not turned. That in itself is almost enough for James to stop worrying. Almost. 

"I want to go and find Aleks," James says after a moment of silence. Everyone's in the make-do living room area now, James and Trevor still sat on the cow couch, Asher sitting on the floor in front of Trevor and Lindsey and Brett sharing the other sofa. Lindsey looks up for a second and lives James a concerned look. James swallows roughly. "I… I need to know if he's alive." 

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Lindsey says, and Trevor pipes up to hum in agreement. "You never know what's happened to him. You... you might not want to know." 

"That's," James starts, but the way Lindsey and Trevor are looking at him is making him a little uncomfortable. He clears his throat awkwardly. "That's kinda the point. I want to know… I think I'd feel better if I knew what was going on with him. He could be alive." 

"I think I get what he's saying. At least we know what happened with Jakob, yeah?" Brett adds to the conversation, and Trevor and Asher both flinch at his words. "Sorry." 

"No, it's okay, I know what you mean. Both of you," Asher says, reaching his hand back to hold onto Trevor's calf in what James assumes is a comforting gesture. It seems to work, as Trevor relaxes a little again. "I think it's better knowing." 

"I just miss him." James says. 

The room falls quiet again, and even without looking up, James can feel almost everyone's eyes on him. 

---------------

The rest of the day goes smoothly. Trevor and Brett go out again at one point to actually try and find supplies, since there's more people here now. That's the problem really, it's all well and good staying together, safety in numbers and all that, but it means you're gonna get through essentials a lot faster. Asher and Trevor seem pretty thrilled to have more people here; they were getting bored to sleeping at different times to keep watch of the warehouse. James thinks if they closed the gate they'd be a lot safer, but Asher's afraid of the electric going out and them being stuck in here. Which is a valid point. 

Once Brett and Trevor went out, Lindsey had pinched a blanket from one of the couches and wandered off to Brett's old office to take what she called a 'well deserved nap', leaving Asher and James alone in the warehouse once again. 

"D'you think if we boiled this water it'd be safe to drink?" Asher asks from the kitchen area. He's been fiddling around in there for about ten minutes, and James had left him to it, assuming he wanted a bit of space. That might have been the case to begin with, but now he keeps talking to him, asking him silly questions. Almost as if he's narrating what he's doing. James just assumes he's missed having someone other than Trevor to talk to. 

"I wouldn't risk it," James says back, still staying where he is on the couch next to Ein. Though she seems to have fallen asleep now, even with Asher and James' back and forth shouting across the room. "Could be useless." 

Asher seems to give up his search for something consumable in the cupboards as he sulks back over to the couches and sits down next to James and Ein. He seems frustrated, with what exactly James isn't sure, but his eyebrows are pinched together and he keeps running his hands through his hair. 

"You good?" James tries, and Asher just sighs in response, resting his elbows on his knees and leaning forward so his head is resting on his hands. 

"Stressed," Asher says, muffled against his palms. "Tired." 

"I get you," James says. Ein jumps down from where she's seated next to James and runs over to Asher, scratching at his leg for a second before Asher reaches down and pets her. 

"It's better now you guys are here," Asher adds, straightening up a little. "But it's not the same." 

At least James isn't the only one who feels that way. 

"I'll help you find Aleks," Asher says after a bit, and James looks up to catch his gaze, "if you want." 

If you want? Of course he does, what the hell. Though... "I don't want to put you in danger." 

"Well, I'm not letting you go out on your own." 

James can't argue with that. 

The decide they'll go tomorrow. It's getting dark now, and they'd rather wait until Brett and Trevor return; it'd be kinda shitty to leave Lindsey here on her own. 

About an hour later, Brett and Trevor come back, with some water and a few random cans of food, and two more guns. Trevor gives one to James, the other to Lindsey, who had emerged out of Brett's office when the others had returned. 

It's almost as if holding the pistol has made James really realise the severity of the situation. It feels cold in his hand, cold and heavy, and he's terrified. When he thinks about it, it's a bit stupid to expect to be able to surive a fucking zombie apocalypse without killing anything. But he's not sure he's actually gonna be able to use this gun. He holds it a little tighter and squeezes his eyes shut, as if that'd help him figure out what the fuck he's gonna do. He can't kill someone, even if they may be a zombie now, he can't…  

He doesn't realise he's just been sat there, staring at the weapon in his hands, until he feels a hand against his shoulder that startles him out of his thoughts. 

"James," It's Lindsey, and the worry in her voice and her face almost makes James feel nauseous, "are you okay?" 

"I'm just…" he starts, turning the gun over in his hands, running his fingers over the cold metal, "I'm fucking scared, dude." 

Lindsey just gives him a sympathetic look, and pats him once on the shoulder. "You might not even have to use it." She squeezes James' shoulder lightly. "Just… keep hold of it. Just in case." 

James lets out a shaky breath, but he nods in acknowledgment. Lindsey taps him again before she walks off, towards the kitchen area where Brett and Asher are, where they're trying to sort something to eat. 

The rest of the evening is pretty uneventful. The few cans of food collected earlier are warmed up and eaten. They figure out who's sleeping where and who's keeping watch-- Asher to start with, then Brett later on in the night. 

They all settle down soon enough, Lindsey and Brett sharing the cow couch and Trevor taking the other, slightly more beaten down one. James had pulled out the old cow printed couch, and as disgusting as it is, it's a little better than sleeping in a chair or on the floor. Ein, however, isnt quite as bothered at the idea of sleeping on the floor, as she's curled up next to James' couch, letting out soft noises and shuffling around occasionally. 

Though James can't sleep. It's weird; he'd thought he'd be able to sleep a little better around everyone else. But he's just lying there in the dark, the sounds of soft snores and breathing from his friends surrounding him. His mind is racing, too many thoughts changing too quickly for James to really keep concentrate on just one. He's worried about Aleks again. Is he still at his house? Does he have somewhere safe to be? Is he safe at all? 

He sits up and stretches his arms before running a hand through his hair, pulling the tie out. He gets out of the chair slowly, careful not to make too much noise, wraps his blanket around his shoulders and wanders off towards the office entrance. 

"Asher?" He says into the almost complete darkness.  He can see a vague shape of what he assumes is Asher sat on a chair in front of the door. 

"Yeah?" Comes the reply, a flashlight clicking on that blinds James for a second. It's pointed towards the ground when Asher figures out who's standing in the doorway. "Oh, James. What's up, dude?" 

"Me, apparently," James huffs, waddling over to Asher and sitting on the floor next to him. "I can't sleep." 

Asher hums, a hand reaching down and holding James' shoulder, like Lindsey did earlier. "Thinking about Aleks?" 

"Uh, yeah, actually," he says, a little taken aback. How does he know that? "But uh. My mind's just racing in general." That's not entirely a lie, he tells himself, but he'd be lying if he didn’t admit the that main reason his mind is racing is because of Aleks. 

"We'll go find him tomorrow," Asher says, clicking the torch off again, "we'll find him."  

James want to believe him. He really does, 

Somehow, James manages to drift off to sleep, sat upright and leaning against Asher's armchair. He half wakes up again when Brett and Asher swap shifts, and shuffles back into the main room with Asher, settling back onto the old, partially destroyed couch. 

They'll find Aleks tomorrow. They'll find him. 

Chapter Text

The thing is, when the news first came out about this  infection, James wasn't exactly scared. He was a little nervous, yeah, but he felt that there was no need to be really scared. He assumed he'd die pretty soon on, and there'd be nothing he could do about it. So he wasn't afraid. 

But here he is now, months since the outbreak, alive and well and fucking terrified. He doesn't know how to survive a zombie apocalypse. But since he's got this far, he can't just give up, can he? Not now that he's found his friends. He can't just abandon them. He doesn't know what to do. 

Maybe finding Aleks might help. It's something to do, at least. 

-----------------

Asher and James set off early the next morning, and James would be lying if he said he wasn't scared. He takes the gun with him, tucked it into his pocket, even though he's sure he won't be able to use it. Whether or not he has to is a different story, though. He picks up the pipe as well. 

Before they go, they get Lindsey to explain where exactly it was she thought she'd seen Aleks. She tells them it was outside a drugstore, but they guess he was only there for a while. It's a good start though. 

Going on foot seems to be the best option, since the store Aleks was possibly seen at isn't too far from the office, and both James and Trevor's cars are pretty low on gas. Best to keep them here for emergencies, or something. 

James clutches the pipe in his hands, so hard his knuckles are going white, trailing slightly behind Asher as they leave the warehouse and walk into the road. Asher seems almost unfazed, unbothered by the distant voices and gunshots, oblivious to the crippling anxiety James is feeling. 

James isn't sure exactly where they're headed, but Asher seems to know judging by the confidence in his steps. Every noise James hears has him jumping, clutching his pipe even tighter in fear of actually needing to use it. Asher'll take care of things. As least he hopes. 

As the distant gunshots become less distant, and the confidence in Asher's steps falters, just slightly. They walk past a restaurant, the windows smashed and the door kicked in, dark red stains splattered across the walls. James’ stomach flips. Every building they pass is the same story, trashed and painted in blood. One has writing sprawled across the wall, 'NO HOPE' in thick black letters. It's cliché as hell, but it still sends a chill down James' spine. 

They come across a corner store with the windows still in tact. Asher tells him they need to look in there for supplies, since it's likely no one's been in there yet. 

"I think there's something in there," Asher says quietly, and James knows by something he means zombies. James just concentrates on his breathing. 

Asher pushes at the door, and, luckily, it’s not locked. James stays back as Asher peeks in, presumably deciding whether the zombie to supplies ratio is good enough to enter. 

"There's only two," Asher whispers, reaching back to grab his gun from where it's slotted under his belt. "I can probably get them from here." 

James nods in response and takes a step back, letting Asher do what he needs to. 

Asher pushes the door open a little more, and shoots. It's louder than James was expecting, and it's followed by an absolutely blood-chilling screech. James feels faint. 

Asher steps back, and shoots again, this time the sound is accompanied by a dull thud as, James assumes, the zombie slumps to the floor. Asher wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and replaces his gun in his belt. 

James tries to speak, but his voice just comes out as a tiny squeak. He clears his throat and tries again. "Good shot." 

Asher just shrugs. "Come on." 

He walks into the building and James follows, breathing slowly, trying to calm his racing heart. 

He ignores the bloodied corpses on the floor as they search for anything useful. The store was a good call; they pick up food and water and a first aid kit James found behind the counter. They make a mental note to come back here at a later date. 

---------------

It takes them about an hour to get to the drugstore. By some fucking miracle, they don't have any more run-ins with the undead, or the alive, for that matter. 

Though… it doesn't look promising. The building is fucked, and even from this far away James can clearly see the dark, almost black blood coating the walls and the bodies piled up in front of the open door.  

"Shit," Asher mutters under his breath, "should we bother looking?" 

James doesn't really know what to say. He was going on about wanting to know what's happened to Aleks no matter what, but he'd rather not find him dead. Fuck. 

"…No," he says in the end, voice soft. Asher gives him a look. "No point." 

"He might be somewhere else," he says, a hand coming up to grip James' shoulder again. Why does he keep doing that? James shakes his hand off and turns around. 

"Let's just keep looking for supplies." He adjusts his grip on his pipe. "We might find-" 

James is interrupted by a noise behind them. They both spin around, Asher's hand immediately going to the gun in his belt. James gulps. 

It seemed to have came from the building behind them; a bar. 

"It's probably nothing," Asher says, but the noise happens again. It's like a shuffling sound, like someone's moving around in there. There's no groaning, no other sounds that suggest it could be a zombie. It sounds like a person. An alive person. 

James glances at Asher, and he's sure he's thinking the same thing he is. 

Maybe it's Aleks. 

Asher's the first to move, taking a few cautious steps towards the door. James is close behind. 

The gun is pulled out of Asher's belt again and held out in front of him as he pushes the door open. 

"The fucks going on?" A voice comes from inside. A really fucking familiar voice. Not a zombie in there, then. James steps into the building behind Asher. 

The building smells strongly of cigarette smoke and alcohol. It's dark, almost too dark to see properly, but James’ eyes adjust to it pretty soon. The sight he's greeted with leaves his heart skipping a beat. 

A skinny, blonde haired figure is stood a few feet in front of them, a pair of sunglasses resting on his head, holding up a gun in Asher and James' general direction. His hands are shaking like mad, and James almost collapses. He'd recognise those tattoos anywhere. 

It's fucking Aleks. 

"What… what the fuck?" Aleks says, lowering the gun a little. 

"Holy shit," Asher says, arms falling to his sides. 

James is speechless. He's alive. Aleks is fucking alive. His hair has grown a hell of a lot, the blonde only on the tips in parts now, and his shirt is stained red and black in places. There's a bruise on his left cheek, James can see even in the low light of the store, and his eyes are dark and tired. But holy fucking shit, he's alive. 

"What the fuck," Aleks repeats, putting the gun down on the counter behind him. 

"You don't know how happy we are to see you, Jesus Christ," Asher says, taking the last few steps and embracing Aleks in a hug. Aleks huffs out a laugh and wraps his arms around Asher, catching James' gaze over his shoulder. 

Asher lets Aleks go, and James keeps eye contact. He doesn't know what to say; thanks for being alive? I couldn't sleep because I missed you so much? Your hair needs dyeing again? 

"You okay?" Aleks says, stepping forward so he's in front of James. James just takes that as an opportunity to lurch forward and hug him as tight as he possibly can without hurting him. Aleks makes s little surprised noise but his arms soon wrap around James like they did Asher, and James has to resist the urge to sob. He reeks of alcohol, which isn't exactly surprising because one, it's Aleks, and two, he's hiding out in a bar. Still, it makes James’ heart ache. 

"I fucking missed you," he settles on, still holding Aleks tight. Aleks squeezes him back briefly, and James lets him go. "Fuck, dude. I missed you so much." 

James keeps his hands on Aleks' shoulders, not quite wanting to let go fully just yet in case he disappears again. Or something. Up close, James can see how much of a fucking mess Aleks is. The bruise on his cheek looks worse this close, dark and purple and blue, matching the circles under his eyes. He obviously hasn't shaved for a while; that stupid moustache is back. He almost looks as if he's been out for a few days, partying too hard, and James wishes that was the case. He's had it hard, it's written all over his face. But he's so fucking happy to see him alive. 

"Why're you here?" Aleks slurs, walking backwards until he hits the counter, holding his hands out behind himself and resting his weight on them. "Needed a drink?" 

"We were looking for you, actually," Asher says, glancing over to James for a second. 

An emotion of some sort flashes over Aleks' face; surprise maybe? Confusion? James isn't sure, but his eyes widen a little and his eyebrows knit together. "Why?" 

"What do you mean, 'why'?" James says, "'cause we fucking care about you, dude, and if you hadn't noticed, the world's been taken over by fucking… fucking zombies!" 

The look on Aleks' face now is definitely surprise. He's still shaking, his arms are wobbling as they support him, and it hurts. It hurts James to see Aleks like this. Why is it bothering him so much? Why Aleks? 

"Sorry," James mutters when the look on Aleks' face doesn't falter. "I'm so tired, dude, sorry." 

Aleks runs a hand through his hair, accidentally dislodging his sunglasses. They fall to the ground with a clatter, filling the silence that had fallen over them. 

"I'd ask you how you've been, but that'd be a dumb question," Aleks says, bending over and picking up his sunglasses, then the gun from the counter behind him and walking behind it. 

"Well, we're better now we’re at the warehouse," Asher responds, keeping the conversation going. James lets them talk, tuning out of the conversation, and wanders around the bar, looking for supplies. Aleks must have been camping out in here for a while, it's pretty empty. Most of the tables have been moved towards the wall, not dissimilar to in the office. There's a pile of blankets on the floor in one corner, a guitar case leaning against the wall next to it, and countless empty bottles strewn across the floor and on the nearby tables. A few empty cigarette packets. James wants to sob again. 

He hears Aleks calling him over from the other side of the bar, so he pulls himself out of his thoughts and walks away from the evidence of Aleks' suffering. 

"You coming?" Aleks asks. 

"Hm?" 

"We're going back to the warehouse," Asher answers, "Aleks is coming with." 

Something about that makes James feel a little better. Aleks is coming with them. Things are gonna be okay. 

----------------

In a way, James feels a little safer walking back to the warehouse with Aleks here. Of course, Asher is strong, he's sure he'd be able to protect them both if the need so arises, but for some reason Aleks' presence is weirdly comforting. Maybe it's just because James now has two people who aren't afraid to defend themselves. 

James had stuffed one of Aleks' blankets in his bag for him, the other in Asher's. Aleks takes the guitar case with him, a few other important things stashed in there. They take a different route back. Aleks says there's a store nearby that he was staying in a few weeks ago, and he wants to see if there's anything left there. Apparently it was pretty well stocked when he was there, so they go via that store. 

It doesn't look too good when they get there; it's in a similar state to most of the other stores in the area. Ever hopeful, Asher decides to take a look anyway, James following him in and Aleks standing outside to 'keep an eye out', whatever that means. 

The inside of the store is in slightly better condition than was suggested by the exterior. The doors on the refrigerated sections are still intact, and there's a decent amount of food left. They take what they can. 

James is looking through a freezer when he hears a loud noise from the back room, where Asher is currently looking for more water. James freezes, grabbing his pipe from where he'd leant it against the freezer beside him with shaking hands. Asher calls his name out, and the panic in his voice leaves his blood running cold. 

James walks as quickly as he can to the back room without making too much noise, and peeps through the open door. 

"Fucking- James!" Asher calls out again. 

He's pinned against a wall by a fucking zombie, kicking at it and desperately trying to avoid getting bitten. James doesn't what to do. Asher's gun is on the floor in front of him, and James assumed he dropped it when he got jumped. By a zombie. 

"Do something! Fucking help me!" 

The zombie groans, and it’s as if it kicks James into action. He basically runs over, raises the pipe above his head, and swings. 

It connects with the zombie's head with a sickening crack, splattering blood and brains over the wall behind it. Asher pushes at the zombie and it collapses, its head hitting the ground with another horrible sound. Blood pools beneath it. James feels like he's going to be sick. 

"Thanks, dude," Asher says, wiping his face with the back of his hand. James can feel him looking at him out the corner of his eye, unable to tear his gaze away from the slowly growing puddle of gore beneath the corpse. "First kill’s the hardest. You’ll get used to it eventually." 

Asher walks back into the store, picking his gun up as he goes.  

James' gaze switches to the pipe in his hands, and the blood dripping off the top of it. The bits of flesh and brain matter falling onto the floor. 

"James?" It's Aleks' voice this time. He must have come in when he heard Asher shouting. It breaks him out of his trance, and he drops the pipe with a loud clang. "You okay?" 

"Not really," he says, not intending on whispering, but for some reason his voice isn't cooperating. He spins around to face him. 

"Might help if you stop staring at that," Aleks says, pointing at the corpse behind him. "Come on, let's keep going." 

Aleks picks his pipe up for him and offers it back. James takes it, his fingers brushing Aleks' for a second. 

"It'll get easier," Aleks tells him, turning around and walking out, like Asher did. James follows this time. 

First kill is the hardest. It'll get easier.  

James isn't sure he wants it to. 

Chapter Text

Having Aleks at the warehouse seems to make things better. James isn't sure if it's just the fact that Aleks is alive, or if it's his actually presence, but either way, something has improved; something hs shifted the dark cloud hovering over them. Even though Aleks is more depressed and angry than he was before the spread of the infection, it's nice just having him around. Everyone else seems to have noticed the sudden up in James' mood anyway. 

Surprisingly, it doesn't take long to get Aleks to talk about how he's been. James finds out Mishka and Celia are gone, assumed dead. Aleks left them at home when he'd gone out one day, and when he came back they were gone. Nothing else from his house was gone, just his girls, the only thing left a small trail of blood. James can't imagine how that must feel. That was what had pushed Aleks to leave. That, and the fact he was the only person left alive from his neighbourhood. His first kill was his own next door neighbour, and Aleks tells him he took it a lot worse than James did his first kill. He's not sure what to think about that. 

When he left, Aleks didn't have a goal or anything to look for, it was just a case of getting out of his house and getting somewhere else, a change of scenery, somewhere with more resources, somewhere where he wasn’t constantly reminded of his pets' deaths. He'd ran into some kid just outside the bar who'd jumped him and tried to steal his guitar case, which James finds out is how he got the bruise on his cheek, but Aleks just had to point his gun at him and he went running. 

Things were hard. The drugstore was a good source of supplies for a while but it very quickly got taken over by the undead. Aleks felt like there wasn't any hope, no point carrying on, and he was close to giving up when James and Asher found him. They had pulled him out of the hole he'd fallen into. They had saved him. 

Aleks settles down in the warehouse pretty quickly. He puts his belongings down near a shelf and starts rearranging stuff to his liking. Another old couch is pulled out from god knows where and put where the cow print one used to be, Aleks' blankets chucked haphazardly on top of it. James watches as he plays around with stuff on the shelf behind, picking up James' rainbow dildo and pointing it at James, wobbling it intimidatingly in James' general direction.  

"Think I could kill a zombie with this?" He asks, changing his grip so he's holding it like a knife, moving his arm in a stabbing motion. "They got soft skulls." 

James can't help but smile, laughing quietly. If he thought about it, he'd realise it's the first time he's properly laughed at something for months. But he doesn't. 

Later on, James watches Aleks beat the living shit out of a zombie that had wandered into the parking lot with a crowbar, whacking it across the head a few times before he stabs one end of the bar directly into the zombie's eye socket and twists, pulling it out again and watching as blood spurts from it's face, groaning as it falls to the ground. Aleks kicks at the corpse, moving it out of the parking lot and into the street. James has a little panic again, and Aleks and Asher decide to give James a quick crash course on zombie killing, deciding James' incompetence might hinder their chances of surviving. The number one rule is just don't think too hard, and that's easier said than done for someone like James. Don't think about the person they were before turning, don't worry about hurting them, just go for it. Aim for the head, but immobilizing it will help you significantly if that's all you can do. 

Days go by without James seeing another person, alive or undead, save for the rest of his crew camping out in the warehouse. It’s a little eerie, but James is glad he doesn’t have to put his zombie killing training into action any time soon. 

Things are getting better. 

That is... until things start going downhill.  

-----------------

Trevor isn't himself. He's not sleeping, he's looking more and more pale by the day, and he hardly speaks anymore unless someone asks him a direct question. James supposes that's what happens when you're forced to kill your best friend.  But something is definitely wrong with him, something else. 

Trevor is the one who goes looking for supplies most of the time. Sometimes with someone else, mostly on his own. Perhaps he just needs time to himself, the fake-happy environment of the warehouse probably isn't helping his situation. He comes back from a search one morning looking worse than James had ever seen him. He left before anyone else had woken up, save for Brett who was keeping watch, so James isn't sure if he looked that bad first thing, but shit. He looks terrible. 

He's lost a lot of weight, which is to be expected when you have to be wary of where the food you're eating is coming from, but it's so different, such a sudden change that it concerns James. It's not just that though, he's eating less than everyone else when they actually do get food, though he's probably just lost his appetite. Apocalypses do that to you. Though, he's so pale his skin has a sickly grey tinge to it, and his eyes look as if they've clouded over slightly. And he's weak. His legs were shaking when he came back to the warehouse, and the way he slumped down onto the couch next to James made it look as if his knees gave way. It's really worrying. 

"You good?" James asks, and Trevor just leans to the side so his head is resting on James' shoulder. "You look rough." 

"I guess I'm just tired," Trevor mumbles, bringing his legs up and folding them beneath him. He sighs, deep and exhaused. 

"You're putting too much responsibility on yourself," James says, wrapping an arm around him. Trevor sighs again, but he doesn’t push James away.. "Seriously. You don't need to be going out all the time, we can do that too. You've got us now." 

"Sorry," Trevor says, almost so quiet that James can't hear him. 

"Hey, it's fine, just take some time for yourself, yeah? You're gonna hurt yourself." Trevor lifts his head a little and yeah, his eyes have definitely clouded over. James just mentally shakes away the uneasy feeling that settles in his gut. "Get some sleep, dude." 

"Yeah, okay," Trevor says, and gets up, legs wobbling a little underneath him. He grabs a blanket from the other sofa and hobbles off towards Brett's old office. 

"What's up with Trevor?" 

James looks up to see Aleks, holding two bottles of water. He looks as worried as James feels. 

"I don't know, man. He's said he's just tired," James says. Aleks comes and sits next to him on the couch, like Trevor had moments earlier. Something inside James feels off when he does; it didn't when Trevor slid down next to him. Something about Aleks  makes James feel… he's not even sure what he's feeling. Aleks offers a bottle to James. The bruise on his face is starting to fade now. 

"Bullshit, we're all tired," Aleks says. James watches as he opens his water bottle and brings it to his mouth, taking a few gulps before putting the cap on again and setting it aside. "Something's up." 

"Well, he did have to kill Jakob," James adds, "that'd fuck anyone up." 

"I know, poor kid. Its just... It seems like something more. He looks sick." 

James' heart skips a beat. Now that he thinks about it, he does look ill. The pale skin, the dark eyes, the weakness. "You don't think...?" He trails off, not wanting to finish the sentence. He hopes Aleks knows what he means. 

"That he's infected?" Aleks says. James nods, swallowing nervously. "I don't know, dude. He could be. He might not be. Something's wrong, either way." 

Could Trevor be infected? No, he'd tell them if he'd been bitten, wouldn't he? He's been out so much recently it wouldn't exactly be a surprise. Or maybe it's from something else? Perhaps he doesn't even know he's got the parasite? It takes a few days to really kick in. Maybe he ate something that was infected, or somehow got zombie blood in his mouth or… shit, the more James thinks about it, the more likely it is. 

"He could be fine, though," Aleks says, seemingly knowing what was going through James' head, though James isn't sure whether he's trying to convince James or himself, "don't dwell on it." 

"Yeah," James says. "I suppose." 

-----------------

Trevor gets up a few hours later, and he looks a little bit better. The cloudiness in his eyes is still there, and he's still pale as a fucking sheet, but he doesn't seem as weak as he did. He's still so… off though. James can't get the idea of him being infected out of his head. Brett and Aleks had gone out, back to that shop, Asher and Lindsey are trying to make something to eat that isn't just warmed-up cans of baked beans, and James is sat on the couch with Ein, as usual, watching the others attempts as post-apocalyptic cooking. That'd be a good idea for a video series, James thinks, before he remembers. Trevor's pads over to the other two, blanket still wrapped around his shoulders, to see what they're doing. 

Trevor would tell them if he was infected, James is sure. He wouldn't put them all in danger like that. Though no one really knows exactly how the virus is spread, so maybe they're all fine, until… until he turns, and tries to bite someone. Like Jakob did. 

James shakes the thoughts out of his head and joins the others in the kitchenette, deciding to make himself at least slightly useful. 

"Made anything edible?" James asks as Asher puts a tray of something in the oven. "What's that?" 

"Cookies," he replies, "We found ingredients in the cupboards."  

"Nice," James says, and it is really. A little treat, something nice in the horrific environment they've found themselves in. "You make anything else?" 

"I think I've made pasta," Lindsey says, pointing to the container Trevor is currently poking around in with a fork. "Hey, leave that alone." Trevor does as he's told, dropping the fork back down against the counter top with a sarcastic apology. 

"You think?" James asks. Lindsey laughs. 

"Yeah, it's... it's nothing special, but it's something." 

--------------------

Brett and Aleks come back sooner than expected, however, they're empty handed. Everyone's still in the kitchen area when they return, Trevor sitting on the floor with Ein at his feet and everyone else trying to improve Lindsey's possible-pasta dish. 

"Ooh, food," Aleks says as he walks in, doing what Trevor did earlier and trying to pinch something. Lindsey smacks his hand away and scolds him, and Aleks pouts, put on and exaggerated, and it's just so Aleks that James' heart aches for a second. 

"We got ambushed," Brett says, throwing his bag down with a huff, hitting the metal sliding door and making it shake. "By zombies, I mean." 

"You good though?" Asher asks, sounding concerned. He's probably scared, after what happened with Jakob, and he has every reason to be. 

"Yeah," Aleks answers, "We just walked away, came back. Didn't wanna get involved. When are we eating?" 

Trust Aleks to have food on the mind as soon as he gets back. 

"Soon," Lindsey says, "be patient." 

"I don't know the meaning of the word," Aleks laughs, picking Brett's bag up for him and taking both that as his own to the living room area. Brett follows, and James watches as they settle down on a couch. Ein nuzzles Aleks' legs. 

"You boys hungry?" Lindsey asks. 

"I guess," Asher says, and James just makes a noise in agreement. Trevor doesn't say anything, but he does get up from the floor, having to hold a hand out behind him, grabbing the counter, to keep himself from falling back down. 

"You lot go sit down, I'll get this sorted," Lindsey tells them. James watches as Asher helps Trevor walk to the couches, feeling even more worried. Something is definitely up with that kid. 

------------------------

They eat the pasta, which is actually a lot nicer than James expected. They crack a few jokes, just having a genuinely good time, almost forgetting the situation. Asher brings the cookies out, and Aleks brings out a bottle of vodka from his guitar case, and even Trevor had a few drinks, seemingly having fun for once, and they just enjoy themselves for the first time in months. 

Aleks nominates himself to keep watch, and Trevor offers to sit with him, claiming he won't sleep anyway. He gets his way after a half-hearted argument with Asher about getting rest. 

They're all settling down, clearing plates and gathering blankets, when they hear someone shouting from outside. It sounded like Trevor. 

James freezes, dropping his blanket. Everyone else does too, straining to hear what's going on. Someone shouts again, and it sounds like Aleks this time, and James is quick to grab his pipe and run to the entrance, terrified. 

"You fucking- you bastard!" James hears Aleks shout, followed by the dull thud of his crowbar hitting someone's skull, followed by a clatter of something, maybe a knife, hitting the ground. James rushes outside, nearly dropping his pipe in shock. 

Trevor is clutching at his side, blood spilling between his fingers. Aleks is standing over a lifeless figure, their skull bashed in and a knife, coated in blood, laying on the floor near the figures hand. Trevor falls to the ground suddenly, a weak gasp leaving his mouth, and both James and Aleks are running to his side, James actually dropping the pipe this time. 

"What the fuck happened?" James asks frantically, and he realises he hasn't got a damn clue what to do here what are you supposed to do when someone gets stabbed? That’s not information James ever learned. 

"What do you think happened?" Aleks snaps, and he's in the same boat as James, absolutely clueless. Trevor is still clutching at his side, breaths coming out fast and shallow, blinking slowly. 

"What-" Asher starts as he too comes running out, the look on his face making James' blood run cold, "Trevor!" 

"He's fucking- he got stabbed! What the fuck do we do?!" Aleks yells, panic dripping from his voice. Trevor makes another pained sound, falling to one side, leaning against Aleks' chest. 

James doesn't even know what happens next, he sort of blacks out in panic. Asher runs up to them, and they somehow maneuver Trevor back inside and into the main room. James follows them, moving on autopilot, eyes locked onto the trail of blood following his path. The next thing he knows is Trevor is on the ground, Aleks, Brett and Lindsey are trying to figure out what to do, hovering over him. Asher in kneeling on the floor next to him, gripping one of Trevor's hands, the other on top of the hand Trevor has over the wound, probably trying to move it. His t-shirt is pushed up a bit, but his hand is still clutching desperately at his side, clasped over the hole under his ribs. 

"What even happened? How…" Asher mutters, talking to Trevor probably, just Trevor's response is just a quiet groan. 

"There was someone outside," Aleks explains, "Trevor went to see and… they- they had a knife. We couldn't… Trevor didn't see, and-" 

"Got stabbed," Trevor finishes, breathless. Asher shushes him, pulling at the hand on his side again. It's fucking terrifying, seeing the usual stoic, cold Asher with panic painted all over his face, hands shaking and tears of frustration, maybe even sadness, prickling at the corners of his eyes. 

"You need to move your hand if you want us to sort this out," Asher tells him, and Trevor actually does, moves his hand slowly away, and it looks... it doesn't look good. Its deep, deep enough that ven from where James is standing, the fat under his skin is visable, lumpy and yellow and poking through the slice in his flesh. Asher swears under his breath. "Linds, where's that first aid kit?" 

Lindsey nods and goes to get it from one of the cupboards in the kitchen. 

"Don't bother," Trevor says quietly, eyes squeezed closed. James can quite literally feel the tension in the room thicken. Lindsey stops searching the cupboards and turns around. 

"What?" Asher says in disbelief, and its exactly what everyone else is thinking. 

"I said, don't bother. There's no use. I'm gonna die anyway," Trevor answers. His voice is strangely calm, strangely steady. 

"Don't say that," Aleks jumps in, "don't fucking say that, Trevor, we're not letting you die." 

"There's no point, I… I think I'm infected. I'll just end up- I don't want to turn." 

James feels faint again. 

"No, no- Trevor, please tell me that's not true," Asher all but shouts, grabbing his blood-covered hand. "I can't- I can't loose you too." 

"I'm sorry," is all Trevor can say, and Asher sobs. It's a pitiful sound, so full of emotion and pain that it almost sets everyone else off. "It doesn't hurt, if… if that's any consolation." 

"That's probably just the shock," Brett adds, and James looks over to see him gripping Lindsey's hand so tight the knuckles on both of their hands are pale. "You'll be fine." 

"I won't," Trevor snaps. "And you know it, don't try and save me." 

"No, I won't-" Asher starts, voice cracking. 

"Asher, please listen to me. I don't want saving, I don't want to turn. Just please, Asher, all of you, just… let me die human." 

James' throat feels tight. Asher sobs again, folding in on himself and resting his head against Trevor's chest, his entire body shaking as he cries. Both hands are gripping Trevor’s, the two of them covered in Trevor’s infected blood, tears streaming down Asher’s face, which James is sure it’s soaking Trevor’s shirt, but with how saturated it already is with blood, he can’t quite tell. 

“I’m sorry,” Trevor says quietly, voice still so fucking calm. 

“Don’t,” Asher says between sobs, “it’s not your fault.” 

“We should go outside,” Aleks suggests, and James can’t miss the tremor in his voice, “we, uh. He’s making a mess. He's- its not safe." 

"Take your gun, Asher," Trevor says, and Asher just sobs again. 

James stays with Aleks and Lindsey and watches as Brett and Asher help Trevor to stand, supporting him on either side as they make their way back outside. 

"I knew it," Aleks says quietly, wandering off to his couch. "I fucking knew it." He searches his guitar bag for a second before he pulls out a small bottle of something, and from the face he makes when he down the whole thing, James assumes its vodka. "I just... Trevor, man. Hes so fucking young. This is fucking unfair." 

The room is silent when Brett comes back in on his own, splattered with blood and eyes red. The room is silent when they all settle down in the living room area. The room is silent when a single gunshot echoes outside. 

 

That's the thing with the end of the world. People die. You realise that pretty soon on. 

Chapter Text

When Asher comes back into the warehouse, it's much later. No one's really settled yet, no one's really in the mood to sleep. It's obvious Asher has been crying: his face is red and his eyes are swollen and puffy, cheeks still glistening with tears he was unable to wipe away. The blood trail leading in from outside has been cleaned up, as best as possible, thanks to Lindsey and Brett, though Asher brings in a few more droplets, falling from his bloodied clothes and hands, as he walks over to the sink and places his gun on the counter beside it. The room stays silent as Asher takes his shirt off and throws it into the sink, turning the tap on and rinsing his hands as he tries to wash the blood out of the fabric.

"Asher, man?" Aleks is the first to speak. Asher turns towards him, but he doesn’t say anything. "Would... uh. Do you want to stay up and keep watch with me?"

Asher turns back to the sink, scrubbing his hands again. "Alright," he replies quietly, muffled by the sound of running water.

"Keep an eye on him, yeah?" Brett says low as Aleks gets up. Aleks just nods and walks over to Asher, bringing a blanket for him to wrap around his shoulders.

"Fucking hell," James says, breaking the silence again. "Asher's had a hard fucking time."

"No shit," Brett says, but there's no heat behind the words. "He's done well to stay as strong as he did for as long as he did, though. Gotta give him that at least."

"Why didn’t Trev tell us something was up?" Lindsey says. She's got a blanket around herself, pulled up over her head. "I just don’t get it."

“I think he was scared,” Brett answers, “you know, after what happened with Jakob. He probably didn’t want to hurt us by telling us.”

“He could’ve turned, he could’ve hurt us anyway,” Lindsey retorts. James feels like his head is spinning.

“Well, he not gonna hurt us now, is he?” James snaps, louder than he really intended to. Lindsey jumps slightly, and Brett gives him a look. “Sorry.”

Silence settles over the room again, like a heavy fog on an early morning in spring.

“We should sleep,” Lindsey says eventually, getting up off the floor, keeping her blanket wrapped around herself as she makes her way over to one of the couches. “We need rest after this.”

 

James doesn’t sleep that night. He listens to Brett and Lindsey snoring softly, listens to Ein breathing quietly next to him, listens to the muffled voices of Aleks and Asher in the room next door. But he doesn’t sleep. He sits and he thinks. Just lets his mind wander.

It’s early when Aleks and Asher come back into the main area, so early the sun is only just peeking over the horizon. It’s reminds James of the morning he and Asher left to find Aleks, a happier morning. But this morning is one for mourning. They’re silent when they walk in.

“What time is it?” James asks, making Asher jump.

“It’s, uh,” Aleks brings his arm up to check his watch, “five thirteen. Why are you up?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he explains, trying to keep his voice quiet, but Brett starts stirring next to him anyway.

“We were about to go out, to uh...” Aleks trails off, and James frowns at him.

“Give Trev a good send-off,” Asher finishes. He seems a little better this morning, his eyes are still a little red but he seems to have mostly recovered.

“Shouldn’t we all go?” James says. Aleks is sorting through his guitar case, taking things out and putting things in. Asher shakes his head.

“I kinda wanted to go on my own,” he explains, retrieving his gun from where he left it near the sink last night. “I... I don’t know. I want to be alone.”

“I was gonna go as a body guard,” Aleks says, seemingly finished with rearranging his bag, coming back to stand with Asher. “Just in case any shit goes down.”

“Oh, right,” James says.

That’s fine, he guesses. Asher is- was- the closest to Trevor out of them all. He’s lost both his roommates, his two best friends, in the space of a few months. The last thing he needs is to be on his own, but if that’s what he wants, James can’t exactly say no.

“I’ll go if you want,” Brett adds to the conversation from his couch, having been woken up by their voices. “Instead of Aleks, I mean.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Aleks says, mock offended.

“We both know I’m stronger than you,” Brett says, and Aleks just shrugs, and puts his case back against the wall in the corner. Brett gets up and stretches, folding his blanket neatly and going off to find a weapon.

“You doing alright?” James says to Asher, the younger man staring at the gun in his hands, picking at it, probably tying to remove blood spatters only he can see. Asher looks up, and James watches tears forming in the corners of his eyes again.

“No,” Asher says blankly, “but I need to hold on. For Trevor. And Jakob. I can’t let them down.”

James nods, puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” Asher says, shaking his hand away. “Don’t pity me. I’ll be fine.”

 

Asher and Brett leave soon after, and James doesn’t try to intervene again. Asher knows what he needs, and James trusts that.

Lindsey wakes up a few minutes later, and decides to deal with the mess in the driveway, something about not wanting to attract zombies. Leaving Aleks and James on their own in the warehouse, excluding Ein who is currently sleeping on the floor in front of them, sitting on the couch in front of the TV. It’s a little unsettling, how comforting just sitting there feels. They’re sat a lot closer to each other than when they film, Aleks almost leaning on James, and it’s not exactly a bad feeling. But the lack of cameras, and cameramen, is unnerving. A cruel reminder of the events of the past few months.

Aleks had searched through James’ bag earlier and had stolen his beanie, claiming his hair is getting too long as is starting to irritate him. James thinks it looks alright, really. Just a little disheveled. The extra length is more noticeable on the sides and at the back, where the blonde only covers the tiniest patches, but... it reminds him of when they first met. If James ignores the scruffy, shitty excuse for a beard, and the dark circles under his eyes, he looks just how he did all those years ago. It reminds him of the beginnings of their friendship, of a happier time, when his friends weren’t dying around him. James is almost thankful for Aleks hiding it beneath the beanie. Hiding away painfully happy memories of a better time.

“You wanna play a game?” Aleks asks, getting up and turning the TV on, bringing James back to reality. “Like old times.”

“Sure, you can pick,” James tells him.

 

Aleks decides to go full throwback and pulls out a copy of Heavy Rain from god knows where. He gives James the controller, and he plays for a little while before giving Aleks the controller, and it really is just like old times. When Aleks takes his, or rather James’, beanie off at one point, James is struck with all those feelings again. Aleks just looks so... young, but aged. He really does need to dye his hair again. Maybe they’ll raid a drugstore and find some hair dye.

Just as James is about to suggest the idea, the TV, along with the rest of the electricity in the warehouse, shuts off with a clunk.

“Oh,” James says, looking around as if the lights might flicker back on if he stares at them hard enough, “oh shit.”

“What the fuck,” Aleks says, apparently equally confused. James shouldn’t be surprised. He was expecting it, really. Aleks gets up with a huff, throwing the controller down against the sofa. “The fuck are we supposed to do now?”

“Stop playing Heavy Rain?” James says, trying to make light of the situation. Aleks spins around and glares at him. James shrugs.

“Well,” Aleks sighs, coming back over to the couch and throwing himself down into it. “I guess this is the apocalypse.”

James has to stifle a laugh against the back of his hand. “What, you only just realised now? The zombies didn’t give it away?”

Aleks groans, shooting him a glare. “You know what I mean.”

James does, really. I guess this really is the end.

 

Brett and Asher come back late, having sorted out the body of whoever it was that attacked Trevor the day before as well as Trevor’s. They both look tired, and Asher throws himself down onto a couch with an exaggerated huff when he walks in. James thinks he should probably say something, but he doesn’t really know exactly what he should say, so he just offers Asher a sympathetic smile.

“All sorted?” Lindsey asks, and Brett just hums in response, coming over to the couch and settling down next to Asher.

“The electricity went out earlier,” James tells them, “s’why the lights are off.”

“Oh,” Brett responds, “I did wonder.”

Asher shifts a little closer to Brett and lays his head on his shoulder. “I’m tired,” he mumbles.

“Can’t imagine why,” Brett jokes, tapping the top of Asher’s head a few times. “You need to rest.”

“‘M just gonna sleep here,” he says, almost snuggling into Brett’s side. It would be sweet if James didn’t know why he was so tired.

“Alright, dude,” Brett laughs softly, moving his arm to wrap it around Asher’s shoulders instead. James smiles at them and gets up to leave them to get some rest, going over to the kitchenette to see what Aleks and Lindsey are up to. Nothing interesting, apparently.

“We need to go on another supply run,” Lindsey tells him as she searches through the fridge. “We’re running low on water.”

“And alcohol,” Aleks adds, ignoring Lindsey as she gives him a look.

“I can go tomorrow morning if you want,” James offers, watching as Aleks examines the various bottles of drink beside the sink, “I haven’t gone for a while.”

“I’ll go with,” Aleks says, picking up a bottle of something and swishing it around. He unscrews the lid and takes a swig, pulling a face as soon as the liquid touches his tongue. He puts the bottle down again.

“Alright,” James says, feeling his heart ache a little as Aleks tries another bottle. He’s worried; Aleks has always been a big drinker, always joking about being an alcoholic, but James thinks something's up. He almost seems dependent on it now.

“Ugh, that tastes like shit,” Aleks groans, voice croaky from whatever it was he drank, breaking James away from his thoughts. Aleks holds the bottle up and examines the label, “the fuck is this?”

“I think that’s something Brett brought in a few months ago,” Lindsey says as she takes the bottle from him and puts it back.

“Hey, Aleks,” James says, trying to distract him from grabbing another bottle. It doesn’t work, Aleks grabs it anyway, but he does turn his attention towards James. “I was thinking about dying your hair again.”

Aleks frowns at James for a second before turning his attention back to the bottle in his hands. “How do you expect to do that? We need dye.” He says, unscrewing the lid on this new bottle and sniffing it before trying it.

“I know that, you dick,” he says, smiling when Aleks shoots him a playful frown. “We could probably find some.”

“We can do it for you again!” Lindsey adds cheerfully, “like the first time.”

Aleks seems to think about it for a second, before he shrugs and puts the bottle down. “Sure.”

James grins, punching Aleks in the arm lightly. “Come on, man. Don’t be so... like that. It’ll be fun.”

“Alright, man, we’ll do it. What else have we go to do, really?”

They might as well try and have some fun. Anything to live for, not matter how trivial and stupid it seems, is good enough in times like these.

That, and any idea to make Aleks a little happier is a good idea in James’ book.

Chapter Text

Aleks seems a lot more warmed up to the idea come the morning. James is pulled from his sleep by Aleks shaking him awake, poking him in the cheek until James slaps his hand away and sits up, shooing Ein down from by his feet. She jumps to the floor and sits next to Aleks, pawing his leg and whining until Aleks pets her. 

“Do you mind?” He asks, squinting at the blonde. Aleks smiles softly, and it does something to James. He looks... he looks pretty. His smile is cute, and James shakes his head to clear it, blaming his still-tired brain on that thought. 

“You gotta get up,” Aleks says. He’s kneeling on the floor in front of the couch James is, or rather was, sleeping on, one hand resting on his knee, the other lazily rubbing Ein’s head.. “We’re going out, remember?” 

He’s like a child on Christmas, James thinks, he’s the happiest he’s seen him for months. James is a little proud of himself for suggesting something that lifted his mood as much as it has already. 

“Yeah yeah, alright man, just let me wake up first,” James mutters, rubbing his eyes in an attempt to wake up faster. Aleks gets up off the floor, knees creaking as he straightens up, and leaves James to get up, wandering off to the kitchenette, Ein waddling along after him. 

A quick glance around tells him that everyone else is up, loitering about in the kitchen area, though Lindsey isn’t with them. James gets up slowly, keeps his blanket around him, and joins the rest of his crew. 

“Morning, sleepyhead,” Brett teases, looking up from the guns he has laid out on the table, possibly cleaning them. James just gives him a half-hearted grunt in response, plonking himself down on a chair next to Asher. Asher has a pair of glasses balanced on top of his head, and since James is pretty sure Asher has never needed glasses, they must be Trevor’s. It leaves James feeling a little unsettled. He misses Trevor, and he’s sure Asher, and the rest of the crew, do too. 

“Where’s Linds?” He asks, watching he way Brett wipes at a pistol in front of him. He looks far too comfortable, the movements of his hands too precise, too... practiced. It leaves a nasty feeling settling in James’ stomach. Brett puts his gun down. 

“She went out this morning,” he answers, “supply run, I assume.” 

“Yeah, she went out for water,” Aleks adds, “we can still go out, though.” 

“I knew you’d change your mind about this,” James says, offering Aleks a smile. The corners of Aleks’ lips twitch up just slightly, and he hides his face behind his mug. It’s cute, James realises. Aleks is cute. His longer hair makes him look younger, the way he’s hiding his face, he’s cute. It’s not the thought that worries him, it’s the fact that the thought doesn’t faze him that worries him. It’s not weird to think your friends are cute, right? He's probably just still sleepy.

“Yeah, like you said, it’s something to do,” Aleks explains, pulling James out of his mind again. He seems to be doing that a lot lately; if only he knew what James was thinking about. 

 

They leave soon after, having waited for Brett to finish cleaning everyone’s guns. Lindsey still hadn’t returned, but they’re sure she’ll be back before them. 

Aleks takes his bass guitar case with him again, packed with alcohol. When James had questioned it, Aleks just gave him a dirty look, so James decided not to push further. It’s not his problem to worry about, really, is it? Maybe he'll try and talk to him some other time.

The walk to the drugstore is quiet, and James would be thankful if he wasn’t so weirded out by it. It doesn’t take them as long to get there as it did James and Asher the other day, they just have the problem of getting in there this time. It looks just as bad is it did with Asher, various bodies stacked in front of the doors. A warning, perhaps. Inhabited, either by the undead or the living, and James isn’t sure which he’d prefer. 

“What’s the plan here, then?” Aleks asks him, taking his gun out from his jeans and readying himself. “Do we just... run in, guns blazing?” 

“I don’t know,” James replies, adjusting his grip on his pipe, “what if we’re outnumbered?” 

“True,” Aleks says as he lowers his gun just a little, “stay low then? Don’t cause trouble unless it comes for us?” 

“Don’t cause trouble,” James agrees, “unless it comes for us.” 

Aleks gives him a nod, and takes a deep breath before stepping forward. James follows behind, trying to ignore how bad he’s shaking. 

It’s quiet in the pharmacy, but there’s signs of people living here. Living being the key word. Aleks glances back at James quickly, and James just nods at him. 

“Come on,” he whispers. Aleks nods back and walks further into the building, holding his gun up in front of him. James’ hand wanders Dow towards his pocket, where his own gun is, fingers just brushing over the metal. Don’t cause trouble. 

Even in the dark of the building, Aleks manages to find the aisle with the hair products, still mostly stacked full. 

“Just grab it and run?” He asks quietly once he locates a box of bleach. James nods, looking around nervously. It seems as though whoever was camping out in here has left, whether permanently or not James isn’t sure. This is definitely a good place to camp out, but with the electricity off now it’s dark and probably quite unsafe. 

They leave quickly, still careful not to make a sound just in case someone was hiding in there. Once they get out and away from the drugstore, Aleks sighs out a laugh. 

“All that for some fucking hair dye,” he says, his smile lighting up his face. It’s so nice seeing him smile for once, even with the dark eyes and the stubble on his face, it makes James happy to see Aleks happy. He can’t help but smile back. 

“We still gotta get back,” he reminds him, and Aleks rolls his eyes. 

“Don’t ruin my fun,” he complains, smile still plastered over his face, and at that point James decides he wants to see him smile more. It’s a good look on him. 

 

James is sure he will never be as comfortable with killing zombies as Aleks is. They run into a few on the walk back to the warehouse, and Aleks is effortless with pulling his gun out and shooting them. He manages to get one right between the eyes from a good few meters away, and James doesn't know whether to be impressed or concerned. They manage to get back to the office unscathed, thanks for Aleks' zombie slaughtering competence. 

“You get the dye?” Brett asks them when they come in, and Aleks excitedly holds up the box with both hands, that goofy smile on his face again. 

The tables are moved around a little so they can set up a temporary hair salon for Aleks, and Ein has decided that the space under the table is a good place for a nap. Aleks keeps bothering her, tapping her with his foot and leaning down to pet her while he waits for Asher and James to sort themselves out. Brett stays around the door, keeping watch while Aleks get his hair done by possibly the least experienced people ever. They'd had to open up the metal sliding door when the power went out so they could actually see what they’re doing, the tiny windows in the roof not doing much to let the sunlight in, creating the need for extra security, even with the gate closed as far as it can be without being fully closed. Aleks is perched on an office chair, swinging himself side to side as he watches James and Asher sort out the dye. James can almost feel the excitement radiating off him. 

“Wait, which ones do we mix?” Asher asks, holding a bottle in one hand and the instructions in the other. “This one and... this one?” He puts the instructions down and picks up a silver packet. 

“No, no, that’s for after,” Aleks tells him, taking the packet from him and taking another similar pouch out of the box, “you need this one.” 

“And I just put it in here, right?” Asher says, picking up the plastic tray that came in the box. James is just stood to one side, watching the two idiots trying to figure out how to mix up the dye, arms folded and a smile on his face. 

They, eventually, manage to mix the correct things together, and Asher gives the mixed concoction to James. “Your turn.” 

“Why do I have to do it? I’m just here for free entertainment.” He says, but he takes the tray of mysterious blue paste. 

“You’re the one that suggested it,” Asher counteracts, already starting to walk away, joining Brett near the metal door. Ein jumps up from where she was chilling under the table and runs along behind him. James looks over to Aleks, who just shrugs at him. 

“He has a point,” he says. James just glared at him. “Oh, don’t forget to put the gloves on.” 

“This is so much... hassle,” James complains, putting the tray down on the table to put on the massive fucking plastic gloves. “Was it this difficult when we dyed your hair here?” 

“If I’m being completely honest, I don’t really remember,” Aleks says, leaning back into the chair a little. “I just hope it works a bit better. I don’t want to be orange again.” 

“Don’t you trust me?” James feigns offence, putting a hand to his chest and taking a step back. Aleks snorts out a laugh, and it makes James feel a little fluttery, knowing that it was him that made Aleks, cold, depressed Aleks, laugh. Yeah, really needs more sleep. 

 

Dyeing Aleks’ hair is... an experience. Aleks guides him through the whole thing, giving him tips on applying the paste better, yelling at him whenever James accidentally tugs at the strands, complaining whenever James ‘accidentally’ drops dye on his jeans. What's a few bleach stains compared to the old brown blood stains on them, anyway. Aleks looks fucking dumb with the dye on his head. 

“There’s still loads left,” James says, mixing the remaining paste around with the brush, giving Aleks a quick look over to see if the dye is even. 

“We could redo your blond streak,” Aleks suggests, and James frowns at him. 

“Nah, it looked dumb anyway.” 

“I thought it looked cool,” Aleks says, already taking the tray from him and standing up out the chair, “come on, sit down.” 

James sighs, realising there isn’t any point in arguing, and sits down on the office chair. Aleks is grinning like an idiot, and it’s endearing. 

“Oh, do you want these?” James asks, taking the plastic gloves off. Aleks shakes his head. 

“Nah, I’ll live,” he says, and James shrugs, putting them on the table, “take your hair down.” 

Aleks doesn’t even give James a chance to do that, immediately he puts the tray on the table and his hands come up and start pulling at the tie holding James’ hair up. James slaps his hands away and undoes it himself, running his fingers through the strands in an attempt to tame them slightly. He cringes a little at how greasy his hair is. 

“My hair’s gross, dude,” he says, though Aleks just ignores him, already beginning to separate the blond stands from the rest of his hair. 

“So’s mine,” Aleks says, “everyone’s is, dog. We're all gross. You’re not special.” 

James snorts, rolling his eyes. Aleks does have a point, though. There’s more important things to worry about now than washing your hair. James watches the look of concentration on Aleks’ face as he sorts out the chunk of James’s hair he’s going to dye; his eyebrows are knitted together just slightly and he’s chewing on his bottom lip. It’s really cute. Jeez, James really does need a good night's sleep. 

Aleks is a good looking guy, and both James and Aleks know that. But... James is noticing more things about him recently. His slightly droopy eyes, the way they crinkle when he laughs, his wonky nose, the sharp angle of his eyebrows, the fact he’s lost a little weight due to the current situation. Aleks is attractive, not by conventional standards, but attractive all the same. All his flaws, even his horrible facial hair (okay, maybe not that) give him such an interesting look that James has never noticed was so... pretty before. 

“Dude?” Aleks says, sounding vaguely annoyed, and James realises he’s been daydreaming about Aleks instead of listening to him. He feels his face heat up slightly. 

“Sorry, just... tired,” he lies, avoiding eye contact. “What did you say?” 

“I said,” Aleks starts again, bringing the chunk of hair down in front of James’ face so he can see it, “am I good to dye this?” 

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine,” James says. It’s a little more hair than he originally had dyed, but James can’t think of a reason to say no. Aleks seems happy with his answer, anyway. 

 

Aleks’ hair is pretty uneven when they wash the bleach off. It’s a little orange at the roots, though admittedly not as bad as the first time they dyed, and the bits that were already blond have gone practically white. Though honestly, James wasn’t expecting it to work too well. His blond streak comes out more even than Aleks’ hair, Aleks obviously better at this whole hair dying shit than James. Aleks seems a little annoyed at it at first, but after about an hour of complaining about James' shitty hairdressing skills, he gives up, and James catches him smiling at himself in the mirror in the bathroom as he runs his hands over his hair.

It’s quite late once they clean everything up, and Lindsey still isn’t back. James can’t help but worry, though he’s sure she’s perfectly fine. It's just... probably the right option to expect the worst in times like these. Asher stays up to keep watch, to let Lindsey back in when she comes back, and everyone else settles down for the night. 

James takes the newer cow print couch this time, much to Aleks’ annoyance. Aleks jokingly suggests sharing it with him, and James tries to ignore the fluttery feeling that floods his stomach at the idea of Aleks pressed up against him on the couch. He's not sure it's Aleks, really, he's sure he'd just feeling a little lonely. Who can blame him, really? It's perfectly normal to feel lonely when your friends and family are dead, missing, or assumed dead. 

James is the last to fall asleep, as usual. He watches Aleks for a bit, the way he hugs the blanket in his sleep, holding it close to himself as if it’ll run away. The last thought that crosses James’ mind before he falls asleep is that he wishes Aleks would hold him like that. 

Hopefully getting a good nights sleep might sort his feelings out a little. 

Chapter Text

James wakes up to an empty room again, this time without a certain Russian poking him in the face, but to frantic voices coming from the lobby. He sits up, trying to listen, quickly deciding that’s useless, he can’t hear them this far away, before he gets up and goes to investigate. 

Lindsey still isn’t back. 

James checks his watch. It’s about eight in the morning, meaning Lindsey has been gone for a good 24 hours. By the sounds of things, everyone has started to panic. 

“We have to go and find her,” James hears Brett say before he peeks around the door. “Oh, you’re up.” 

“Lindsey’s probably fine, isn’t she?” Aleks turns to him and asks. James can hear the uncertainty in his voice, and he’s sure he’s trying to convince himself that as much as James. 

“I... I don’t know,” he admits. Lindsey is strong, but... how well can she deal with zombies? On her own? “I really don’t know.” 

“Are you sure looking for her is the best option?” Aleks says, and Brett gives him a look. “Like... you never know. She could be-“ 

“Don’t say it,” Brett interrupts, running hand over his face. 

“I think we should look for her, at least,” Asher adds, “Even if we don’t find her, we need a break from this damn place anyway.” 

As much as James want to argue that point, he knows he can’t. Asher’s right, too many memories are attached to this god awful building, and it would do them all a world of good to just get out, all of them. Even if the outcome of their search isn’t good. 

“I guess...” James adds, “I guess we should look. She’d want us to, right?” 

“Exactly,” Brett says. And that settles it. Aleks still thinks it’s a bad idea, but everyone can agree that getting out of the warehouse, all of them, at least for a few days, is the best idea they’ve had for a while. 

No one really knows where Lindsey could be. The only places they can think of are their usual supply spots; the few corner stores nearby and possibly the drugstore. But there’s the possibility that she went somewhere new, somewhere they haven’t been before, and it might’ve been unsafe. Which could be why she hasn’t come back yet. 

James still doesn’t really want to look for her. He’s just afraid that they won’t find what they want to find. But Brett is just so determined. James just wishes he could have the same level of hope as him. 

They take with them what they can carry, enough food and water to last them a couple days if they can’t find anywhere good to settle down, before, if, they come back. 

A very vague plan of action has been mostly sorted: check usual scavenging spots, check anywhere else they may have looted, and find somewhere to stay in the mean time. Whether or not they’ll come back to the warehouse is time is anyone’s guess. Really, it’s the safest place they could possibly be. But leaving it empty and unguarded for as long as they indent to, not accounting for any hiccups along the way, there’s no guarantee it’ll still be empty or unguarded by the time they get back. 

James is sure they’ll figure something out eventually. 

Seems like finding a missing person is the emergency situation where taking a car is deemed appropriate. James’ car is given that job, after Asher decided he would rather anything else but Trevor’s car, considering it was also Lindsey’s car at one point. 

There’s something weirdly melancholy about just leaving the car there, but it had to happen somewhere, at some point in time. 

The roads are... just as eerily quiet as when James drove to the warehouse. If not more. There’s a few groups of zombies wandering around near the road, but that’s all the life, or lack there of really, that they see. No other cars, no sign of Lindsey. 

“We should check the bar I was in,” Aleks suggests from the back seat. They’ve just stopped in the middle of a road for a second, no need to pull over when they’re the only traffic. The tension in the car is high, everyone is stressed beyond belief. Losing Trevor has fucked everyone up pretty bad, and no one is really meaning to think the worst of the situation, but honestly, it’s hard not to. 

“We could,” Brett says, and James can hear the disappointment in his voice, “what do we have to lose, I guess.” 

“How far is it from here? We’re pretty low on gas,” James adds, checking the dial on the dashboard. He doesn’t have a clue where they’re gonna find gas, so he supposes they need to be conservative on that front. He’d rather not have to abandon his car randomly in the street, even now. “I don’t really want to walk, but, y’ know.” 

“Um,” Aleks starts, “like... an hours walk? We can probably set up camp in there for a while. It’s pretty safe.” 

“If it’s empty,” Asher adds. There’s that tension again. It’s leaving an unsettled feeling in James’ stomach. 

“We’ll drive,” James decides when no one else speaks. He turns the engine back on. “If it’s a lost cause, we can just go back to the warehouse.” 

He glances over at Asher, in the passenger seat next to him. He’s staring out the window, not looking at James. James just decides to take his silence as agreement. 

Aleks gives James directions to the bar, but that’s all the words that are spoken. The silence in the car isn’t exactly awkward, it’s just... sad. Mournful. James has definitely accepted that they probably won’t see Lindsey again, at least not alive, and he’s sure the rest of the remaining crew have too. 

It doesn’t take them long to get to the bar. It’s a little trashed, worse than when James found Aleks there, but still standing enough to house someone. A couple of the windows look like they’ve been boarded up, and the small bits of glass in the door are shattered. 

“Are we all going in?” James asks, turning the engine off. 

“If there’s anyone living in there they would’ve heard your car,” Aleks adds, though he looks as if he’s making a move to get out the car and investigate. “But I’ll look.” 

James is about to argue but Aleks gets out the car anyway. He basically slams the door shut behind him, and if anyone staying in the bar didn’t hear the engine they would absolutely would’ve heard that. 

James watches as Aleks takes a few cautious steps towards the entrance to the bar, one hand holding his gun out in front of him, the other reaching out to open the door. 

But. 

The door opens anyway. Aleks jumps back, both hands now gripping his gun tightly, and James can see how bad he’s shaking even from here. 

“Shit,” he hears Brett mutter, and he’s getting out the car too. James follows, nudging Asher as he does. Asher comes too. 

There’s someone in the bar, anyway. 

James can see them peeking through the gap in the ajar door, pointing a gun in Aleks’ general direction. Brett goes to interfere, but James holds a hand out, shaking his head. They don’t want to startle whoever’s hiding in there, and he knows Aleks can handle himself. At least, he hopes he can. 

“What do you want?” The person calls out, pushing the door open just a little more. Aleks adjusts his grip. 

“We’re looking for someone,” Aleks explains, glancing back over to James. He just gives him a little nod. “We’re not here to cause trouble.” 

The guy seems to think for a second. “Put your gun away.” 

Aleks does that, lowers his hands and turns the safety on, slipping the gun under his belt. He raises both hands and takes a step forward, flinching back again when the guy aims his gun a little higher. 

“Chill,” Aleks says, “seriously, the last thing we want to do it hurt you. We just need to know if you’ve seen someone.” 

The door is pushed open more and the guy looks around a little, catching James’ eyes. “Who’re they?” 

James raises his hands, nudges the other two to get them to copy. 

“They’re with me,” Aleks tells him, taking another step forward. “Just help us, okay? I can’t remember the last time I saw another person that isn’t these lot. We need your help.” 

“What’s in it for me?” The guy says, but he’s lowered his shotgun. “Why should I trust you?” 

So many questions, James finds himself thinking. At least the guys calmed down a little. Now that he’s removed himself from the shadow the door was casting, James can see him a little better, and he looks better than any of his current crew do. He doesn’t look nearly as tired as them, for one thing. He looks... clean. James wants to know his secrets. 

“If I was going to shoot you I would’ve done it by now.” Aleks tells him. It seems to work, because the guy disappears from the doorway for a second before he returns without his gun. Aleks signals for the rest of the crew to come over. 

If I was going to shoot you I would’ve done it by now. Something about those words just doesn’t sit right with James. Aleks is confident, always has been, but something about seeing, first hand, how well Aleks can actually handle himself; the fact he would shoot another living person is push came to shove, just makes James feel both uneasy and proud at the same time. 

James watches the guy walk back into the building, Aleks following with his gun ready, just in case. The rest of them come too. 

The first thing James thinks is the inside of the bar is almost the same as it was a few months ago. There’s been a little bit of rearranging going on; a couple of beds in one corner, tables stacked up on top of each other in front of one window. 

“Guys?” A small voice calls from one side of the room. James spins around, looking for the source, and sees none other than Lindsey sitting up on a sleeping bag against the wall. She’s in a complete state, a bloody bandage wrapped around her middle, hair an absolute mess, dirt and grime all over her face, but she’s alive. 

“Lindsey!” Brett calls out, obviously noticing her too, and basically sprints over to her. “Holy shit, you’re alive. Wait, you’re bleeding- are you okay? Did a zom-?” 

“Chill, Brett, chill,” Lindsey calms him, interrupting his panicked voice, a slightly shaking hand reaching out to grip his shoulder. Her eyes are slightly lidded, and she’s looking a lot paler than James remembers, but thankfully she’s without the grey tinge in her skin and the cloudy eyes. “I’m fine, I didn’t get bitten.” 

James turns back to the guy who let them in. He looks... confused, to say the least. “Well. That was an easy search and rescue, huh?” 

Brett turns his attention away from Lindsey for a second to just glare at the guy. 

“What even happened here? Why are you here?” Brett asks, though he’s looking at Lindsey again it’s directed towards the guy. He spins around to look at him for a second again. “Who are you?” 

“I’m Alec,” the guy, Alec says, “and uh. I’ll let Lindsey tell you.” 

Lindsey rolls her eyes and lies back on the sleeping bag a little more. “Alec, he- uh, Brett, don’t freak out,” she starts, “he accidentally shot me.” 

Even from where James is, he can see Brett tense up. Lindsey speaks again before Brett goes mad. “It’s fine! Brett, relax for a second, please.” 

“Sorry,” Brett says, “shit, I was just so worried about you. How- why did you shoot at her, you idiot?” He turns back to Alec, who looks just as tense as Brett. If you didn’t know Brett you’d be intimated by his presence. He’s not the tallest dude ever, but he’s big. Looks like he could tear you in half with his bare hands, and in all honesty, he probably could. Alec has every right to be afraid, really. 

“I didn’t mean to! I just, something- someone walked into the bar and I got scared, and just... fired.” Alec defends himself. 

“That’s hardly an excuse, you could’ve killed her,” Aleks chimes in, and Alec glances around the room in a panic. 

“He didn’t though,” Lindsey adds, “it’s not his fault. He didn’t know I was— that I’m human.” 

James is just confused. So this Alec guy shot Lindsey, so her first idea was to stay there, with the guy who literally shot her, and let him patch her up. Lindsey isn’t that dumb. Or maybe, Alec is actually a good guy. 

James has never been the sort of person to just trust people right off the bat, and in times like these it’s even harder to trust. 

The argument keeps going a little, but James tunes it out. 

Lindsey got shot. She could’ve died. They could’ve lost another person, another friend. James isn’t sure what they would’ve done if that had happened. He feels his breathing pick up slightly and he mentally slaps himself for being so pessimistic. Lindsey isn’t dead, she’s right here and, albeit injured, she’s alive and conscious. 

James glances back to Lindsey for a second. She doesn’t look like she’s in too much pain, so he guesses the bullet just grazed her slightly. Either that, or she’s drugged up on some hard painkiller. Actually, now he’s looking a little closer, that could very well be the case; her eyes are really lidded now, and she looks... chilled. He wonders where they found painkillers that good. 

Once James tunes back into the conversation, Brett and Alec appear to have mostly sorted their differences as their voices have been lowered. 

“Can we stay here for a bit?” Aleks asks, and Brett gives him a look. “I just wanna make sure Lindsey’s, like... recovered before we leave. I don’t really want her staying here.” 

“I can make my own decisions, you know,” Lindsey retorts, “And anyway, maybe I don’t want to leave. Alec is taking good care of me here, guys. I’m living like the queen I am.” 

Okay, Alec has definitely drugged her. Or... maybe he is just a genuinely good person. 

“You can stay, on one condition,” Alec says, waiting a second until everyone’s attention is on him. “I come with you when you do leave.” 

James has to respect him for that confidence, at least. Aleks scoffs, looks at James for support, and James just shrugs at him. 

“I say deal,” James adds his own piece, “I mean. He can’t be that bad. He hasn’t killed any of us yet.” 

“He could’ve killed Lindsey!” Brett pipes up again, calming down when Lindsey bats him lightly with a weak hand. 

“Come on, you know how hard it is to survive on your own now.” 

No one can really argue with that. And anyway, they could do with someone else in their little post-apocalyptic crew now. Safety in numbers, and all that. 

So. Alec joins the crew, to Brett’s mild annoyance. He seems to have gotten over his initial hatred, the feeling now something more like... slight distaste. 

Everyone sits on the floor next to Lindsey and introduces themselves to Alec, who, honestly, seems almost as relieved as they are to see another person who’s actually in control of their own mind. 

Alec tells them he heard about a motel relatively nearby, that, at the time, was basically a safe house, properly guarded with a good supply of food and water, and medical supplies. Apparently, he had his own crew for a while, until they left him alone one night, leaving nothing but a messily written note on how to find this ‘safe house’. He was just stopping in the bar for a few days to recover lost strength, and to find supplies, before leaving to get there. 

Out of all of them, discounting Alec, Asher seems the most excited about the prospect of a possible new place to stay. The only problem being it’s, apparently, a good four, maybe five, days walk, and James’ car is too low on gas to get them the whole way, and far too small to fit six people in. So, they’ll have to walk, meaning they’ll have to wait until Lindsey is able to actually like, ya know, walk. 

At least they’ve got somewhere safe to stay in the mean time, away from the warehouse and all the feelings attached to it.

Chapter Text

Settling down into the bar pretty is a pretty easy task. Aleks’ guitar case is leant up against one wall, possibly the same place as when he was staying here himself. Brett has decided the best place for him to stay is attached to Lindsey’s side, and Ein has decided next to Brett is the best place for her. 

Eventually, James comes to the conclusion that Alec is actually an alright person. He felt obliged to help patch Linds up after he accidentally almost killed her, and Lindsey was in too much of a state to say no. Though honestly, she’s it a bit of a state now, just. A different kind. 

Oh, morphine. Somehow, James hadn’t asked, Alec had morphine on him, and had given it to Lindsey to help the pain. Alec’s old crew seemed to be pretty well equipped anyway, considering they left Alec with a generous medical supply and more than one weapon when they, apparently, abandoned him. At least they were kind enough to do that. 

Lindsey stays half sat up, half lead down, in her little bed area, Brett sat with her. The others hang around what used to be the bar counter, sat on the floor, Aleks pulling a half empty bottle of vodka out of his case at one point, sharing drinks with everyone. 

“How long have you been here?” Asher asks at one point, probably trying to make conversation. “Alec, I mean.” 

“Oh, uh,” Alec looks around as if the slightly yellow stained walls will give him the answer, “a few weeks, at least. Maybe a month. I came here on my own. The others left before I came here.” 

“Jumped in my grave,” Aleks mutters, raising an eyebrow when Alec gives him a dirty look. “I stayed here for a while. Probably not long before you came here.” 

“Oh,” Alec says in response, picking up the almost empty bottle on front of him. “Pretty good place to stay, I guess.” 

James glances over to Brett and Lindsey again. Lindsey is leant against Brett, her head on his shoulder, Brett with one arm draped over her shoulders. Judging by Brett’s soft snores, they’ve fallen asleep like that. It’s sweet, and with Ein curled up at their feet, a little part of James’ mind feels jealous. Not of either of them in particular, just... the bond that they have. 

James misses home. He misses feeling safe, he misses having a safe place to stay where he didn’t have to watch his back every damn second. He just can’t get used to taking a weapon with him every time he goes outside, he can’t get used to there being literal fucking zombies everywhere. Though he should be grateful; he’s still got Aleks and Ein, he’s still got most of his friends, he’s not alone like Alec is. Or... was. 

Though, James can’t help but feel lonely. Even with Aleks and Asher sat right next to him, James feels alone. Besides Alec, he hasn’t seen another person in months, and the world just feels so empty. 

James has never been a very social person, outgoing, yeah, but never very social. But in a way, he misses that human interaction. The world has gone to shit, and the lack of awkward encounters with other people is a constant reminder of that. 

Aleks stretches beside him, breaking James away from his thoughts as he yawns loudly.  

“I’m so tired,” he complains, uncrossing his legs to fold them underneath himself, groaning as he does. James tries to ignore the way his stomach flutters when Aleks shuffles a little closer and leans his head against his shoulder. 

Alec gets up off the floor, muttering something about finding more beds, wandering off towards Lindsey and Brett. 

“‘M sorry if I fall asleep on you,” Aleks mumbles, already sounding half asleep. He leans in a little closer, almost nuzzling into the space between James’ jaw and his shoulder, and James’ stomach is doing  fuckin’ somersaults or something. He’s probably tired too. 

“That’s, uh. I don’t mind,” he gets out when he remembers how to talk. Aleks settles against him easily, a quiet sigh escaping him as he gets comfortable. 

James has to draw his attention away for a second to calm himself down, why, though, he has no idea. It’s just Aleks, he’s only leaning on him. He ends up looking over to Alec; he’s woken Lindsey and Brett up, both now stood up, Lindsey a little unsteady on her feet, and Alec has a couple of blankets bundled up in his arms. 

Aleks shifts again, moving himself away from James’ shoulder and lowering himself so his head is resting on one of James’ thighs. 

“More comfy here,” Aleks says, and James feels like he’s about to have a panic attack. He doesn’t say anything, just reaches a hand out to pat Aleks’ shoulder, before thinking why did I do that and moving it away again. He glances up at Asher, feeling his eyes on him, frowning when he sees the questioning look on his face, one eyebrow quirked up. Asher just shrugs. 

“You wanna stay up and keep watch with me?” He asks, and James thinks the question through for a second. Alec is probably tired from helping Lindsey sort herself out, Lindsey can’t exactly keep watch herself, and both Brett and Aleks are pretty sleepy, Brett having already fallen asleep at one point today and Aleks most of the way there to being in the same situation. There isn’t really another option. 

“Sure,” he says eventually, “I guess one of us could take the door and the other take that window.” He points to said window, the only one not boarded up entirely. There’s just a small gap in the cardboard, probably just about enough to look through to see the road outside. 

James draws his attention back to Alec. The few empty beds around the room have been moved slightly closer to each other, most of them with blankets on now. Alec is still wandering around, this time without any blankets. 

“I’m gonna see if there’s anything we can sleep on in the back,” Alec says, walking towards a door that James assumes leads to the back of the bar. 

The sound of Aleks snoring quietly, shifting a little, brings James’ attention back. He was tired then, huh. James finds himself just looking at Aleks’ face; he looks so... soft. There’s always this slight frown painted over Aleks’ sharp features, eyebrows knitted together, but now, he’s relaxed. His mouth is open just a little, lips parted just slightly, and James can’t help but stare at him. He has just the slightest dusting of freckles over his cheeks, and James is sure he would never have noticed that if he wasn’t looking as closely as he is. He doesn’t realise he’s spaced out until- 

“James!” Asher half shouts, half whispers. Aleks shifts a little in his sleep, but he doesn’t wake up. James finally breaks his gaze away from Aleks’ face. 

“What?” He says, trying to decipher the look Asher is giving him. 

“I said,” he starts, lowering his voice again, “do you want a blanket? Alec found more.” 

“Oh, uh. Yeah, sure,” James replies, watching as Asher stands up, saying something about getting something for them to sit on. 

Aleks sighs softly in his sleep. Without really thinking, James reaches his hand out and brushes a strand of Aleks’ hair out of his face. It’s almost long enough to tuck it behind his ear, so he tries, though he ends up more just stroking the skin there. He’s warm, and even though his hair is horribly dirty, it still feels soft under James’ fingers.  

James strokes his thumb under one of Aleks cheeks, only to recoil his hand away like he’d been shocked when Aleks frowns and lifts his head. Their gazes connect, and James cannot read Aleks’ expression for the life of him. There’s a look of something in Aleks’ dark eyes, and it looks as if he’s about to say something when Asher comes back over.  

“You ready?” Asher says, two folded up camp chairs in his arms, oblivious to the tsunami of feelings crashing over James right now. Aleks is the one who breaks their gaze, blinking slowly a few times before he makes a move to stand up. 

“Uh, yeah,” James says, watching as Aleks sits up slowly and stretches his arms up above his head. He looks away before Aleks sees him looking again. 

 

 

It’s quiet, is the first thing James notices here. Much quieter than the warehouse, for whatever reason. He hears a car in the distance at one point, a few far away gun shots, but apart from that, it’s basically silent. No unsettling groaning from the undead, no sign of any people. Asher is staying quiet too, no attempts to make conversation. He’s just watching through the hole in the cardboard, chair squeaking occasionally as he adjusts his position. 

The silence is a nice change. 

James breaks his attention away from the gap in the door, just for a second, and looks over at Asher. He’s got Trevor’s glasses in his hands, just playing with them. One of the lenses has fallen out, how or when that happened James isn’t too sure. A rhythmic clicking fills the silence as Asher plays with the arms, opening and closing them. 

“You missing him?” James asks, voice quiet. Asher looks over at him for a second, the clicking faltering. He looks back out the window. 

“Yeah,” he says softly, so quiet James wouldn’t have heard it if he wasn’t listening out for an answer. “It gets... it’s really hard, some days, y’know?” 

“Yeah.” James says, but he doesn’t. He can’t imagine the pain Asher has been through. James pulls his blanket a little tighter around his shoulders. The silence falls again. 

“I loved him.”  

James looks over at him. “Trevor?” 

Asher looks down at his hands, gripping tightly at the frames, and nods. “Yeah. I- I was in love with him.” 

“Oh, shit, I- I’m sorry,” James says. He’s not sure what else to say really. That’s... rough. He can’t- doesn’t want to- imagine how bad that feels. “Does he... did you tell him?” 

Asher drops his hands into his lap. “Not soon enough.” 

“I’m sorry,” James says again. Asher shakes his head. 

“I...” Asher starts, trailing off and looking out the window. He swallows thickly before he continues. “I told him before I shot him. He- When... I finally told him while I had a gun aimed at his head. Fuckin’ told him everything. I was- we were crying, both of us. He blamed himself. I just... I’m glad I told him.” 

Well shit. “Fuck, man, I’m so sorry,” James says again. There’s more he wants to say, like does anyone else know?, or did he love you too? or why didn’t you tell him sooner?, but he doesn’t. He just watches as Asher clips Trevor’s glasses back over the neck of his tshirt. 

There’s silence again. James concentrated on listening to the soft breathing of the rest of his crew. He glances over to them, Lindsey and Brett are sharing a bed, Aleks has the other, with Alec curled up awkwardly on the floor. Someone’s snoring quietly. 

“You need to tell Aleks.” 

James looks over to Asher again. He’s looking back at him this time, and it’s too dark to read his expression. “What?” 

“You need to tell him how you feel,” Asher continues, “before it’s too late.” 

“What- I don’t-“ James starts, slightly taken aback. Where had he got that idea from? He doesn’t... he’s not in love with Aleks, what- 

“Don’t give me that,” Asher says, tone stern but voice quiet. “I can tell. I know what… what the signs are,, man. You’ve loved him for years.” 

He... loves Aleks...? He’s never thought about it like that, hardly thought about it at all. Though, the fluttering in his stomach, the way he feels dizzy around him, it just makes sense. Aleks is his best friend, has been for years, so of course he loves him, but James had never realised he loved him like that. 

He loves Aleks. 

He goes to say something, but he voice doesn’t quite work. That’s a big realisation to come to terms with, especially at this time of night. 

Tell him, James.” Asher repeats. 

Before it’s too late

 

 

James must’ve fallen asleep in his chair at some point, because he wakes up to a soft blue light from outside and a sharp pain in his neck. 

He stretches his arms up, twisting his neck around to figure out where the pain is. He grunts when he twists it slightly the wrong way. He brings a hand up to run where it hurts; it’s right at the juncture between his neck and his shoulder, and it hurts if he moves his arm too far. That’s gonna be an issue. 

A quick glance over to his right tells him Asher had fallen asleep at some point too. 

For a second, James thinks he’s the only one awake, meaning everyone was asleep at one point, which is really quite unsafe, but he looks over to the makeshift sleeping area and finds Aleks’ bed is empty. 

Of course. 

It’s only then that he notices the door in front of Asher is slightly ajar. He gets up from his chair, wrapping his blanket around his shoulders again, and sneaks out the door without disturbing Asher. 

“Aleks?” He calls out, before he spots him sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. He smells the cigarette before he sees it in Aleks’ hand, and God knows where he found them. 

“Oh,” Aleks says quietly, looking up at James. Aleks offers James the packet of cigarettes, James shakes his head in response, ignoring the tremor in Aleks’ hands. 

He loves Aleks

James runs a hand over his face, and sits down next to Aleks. He unwraps his blanket on one side to drape it over Aleks’ shoulders, getting a quiet ‘thanks’ in response. “What are you doing out here?” 

Aleks raises his hand, the one with his lit cigarette in. James nods. 

“Didn’t wanna wake you guys up,” he explains further, bringing the cigarette to his lips. James tries not to watch as he takes a drag. “Couldn’t sleep.” 

“How long have you been out here?” James asks, resorting to looking at his own hands, picking at a nail. The floor in front of him is littered with cigarette ends. He hopes they aren’t all from Aleks now. 

“Not sure. A few hours, maybe.” 

James looks up at Aleks again. He does look tired, but then again, so does everyone. His hair is a mess, as if he’s been running his hands through it, and as if on cue, Aleks does just that, pushing a couple stray strands out of his face. 

“It’s not safe out here on your own,” James tells him, looking back at Aleks’ face. The expression on Aleks’ face is blank. He shrugs. 

“I lived here on my own for weeks,” he counters, taking one last drag of his cigarette before stubbing it out on the floor, the end joining the others. “I know how to handle myself, James.” 

He’s so fucking stubborn. 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” James says. I care about you, dude

Aleks just smiles, and James’ stomach flips. He can tell it’s not really a sincere smile, but that doesn’t matter to him. Aleks smiles with his whole face, his eyes crinkle slightly and it’s such a good look on him. James wants to make him smile more. 

James eyes the packet of cigarettes in front of Aleks. He grabs it before Aleks does, flipping the pack open, taking one out and handing the packet back to Aleks. 

Aleks gives him a look, but he fishes his lighter out of his jacket pocket and passes it to James. Aleks’ fingers brush against James’, lingering for a little longer than they need to. James tries to ignore it, tries to ignore how Aleks’ fingers feel against his own; slightly cold, slightly calloused. 

Placing his cigarette between his lips, James flicks the lighter a few times, to no avail. He tries shielding it with one hand, still doesn’t work. 

“Sorry, it’s kinda fucky,” Aleks explains, taking the defective lighter out of James’ hand. He flicks it himself a few times. “Come here a second.” 

Aleks leans forwards towards James, holding the lighter in one hand. “Put your hands like this,” he says, shielding the cigarette with both hands. James mirrors him once Aleks’ hands are moved away again, watching as Aleks fiddles with his lighter.  

“I think it’s running out of gas,” Aleks says, “I gotta, like...”  

He comes a little closer towards James, the thumb on one hand holding down the gas button, the other flicking at the flint. James finds himself looking at Aleks’ face, watching as he concentrates in getting his lighter to work. The dark circles under his eyes are more defined than ever, looking more like bruises. His hair has fallen into his eyes again, in desperate need of a trim. 

After at least twenty attempts, Aleks finally gets his lighter the work, the flame dancing between them, illuminating Aleks’ sharp features with a soft yellow glow. James leans in as Aleks brings the lighter closer, James successfully lighting his cigarette after God knows how long. He catches Aleks’ gaze as he takes a drag, almost choking on the smoke. He’s still close, close enough James could probably count each individual eyelash if he felt so inclined. There’s a soft look in Aleks’ eyes, something completely different to the dark, cold stare he’s been sporting the past few months. James does choke. 

Aleks finally leans back again, taking James’ cigarette off him for a second while he coughs his lungs up. Well, at least everyone else is probably awake now. 

“You sure you want this?” Aleks says, no heat behind it. James just gives him a look, the chuckle Aleks gives in response leaves James’ heart skipping a beat. 

I love you

James needs to tell him.

Chapter Text

James ignores the way Aleks looks at him. Ignores the way it makes him feel. He does, however, watch as Aleks takes a drag on James’ cigarette, watches the smoke swirl around his face as he exhales. Takes in how good he looks. 

“You want this back?” Aleks asks, waving the cigarette in James’ general direction. He doesn’t answer, just reaches for it. Their fingers do that thing again, just brushing past each other, lingering for longer than they need to. That soft look is in Aleks’ again when James looks up at him. 

I need to tell him.  

James thinks for a second. How, though? He can’t just come out with a “hey, I know we’ve been friends for years, but I’ve just realised I’m in love with you” can he? Aleks probably doesn’t feel the same anyway, James is sure he would’ve said something by now if he did. The last thing he needs now is to make things awkward between them. 

But. Aleks looks at him a certain way sometimes. The way James is sure he looks at Aleks sometimes, too. Aleks seems to come out of himself when he’s with James, he doesn’t seem so... depressed. And James certainly feels that way about Aleks. Having him near, almost protecting James at times, it really gives him hope in the shit show his life has become. He doesn’t mean to be dramatic, but. Aleks makes his life worth living at this point. 

So really, what does he have to lose? 

“Hey, uh, Aleks-“ 

“Wait, shut up,” Aleks interrupts. James raises an eyebrow. 

“What-“ he tries again. 

“Shh!” 

Okay? James stops trying. Takes a drag on his cigarette. 

“I thought I heard something,” Aleks explains low. He gets up slowly, picking up his gun and clicking the safety off. “Stay there.” 

James doesn’t listen to him. He’s not letting Aleks go off into danger on his own now he’s realised just how much he means to him. James gets up too, following Aleks and he walks around the corner of the bar, into the alleyway next to it. If he listens closely, he can hear shuffling, like someone dragging their feet across the floor. Could be a person, could be a zombie.  

Aleks turns around sharply, probably hearing James’ footsteps echoing his. “I thought I told- never mind, have you got your gun?” 

“You have yours,” James responds, nodding towards said gun in Aleks’ hands. Aleks rolls his eyes. 

“I know that, genius,” Aleks says, inching forward slightly more. “You need a weapon too. Could be zombies.” 

James swallows thickly. Keyword there is zombies. James strains his ears again, and yeah, it definitely sounds like more than one pair of feet. 

“Stay here,” Aleks says again, “I mean it this time, don’t move.” 

James does listen this time. Stays plastered against the cold brick of the wall, watching Aleks moving forward slowly, gun aimed and ready.  

“Zombies?” James asks quietly, just loud enough for Aleks to hear. Aleks turns his head towards James just a little, nodding quickly before turning his attention back to the undead. “How many?” 

“Two,” Aleks says, “I think I can get them from here.” 

James shuffles forward as Aleks aims his gun again, adjusting his footing slightly. He can see the zombies now, and they both seem pretty... dead. Or undead. Definitely not newly turned, anyway. It looks like one of the them is missing an eye. 

James rubs as his neck with one hand, both to relieve that twinge of pain that’s still bothering him and in an attempt to calm down a bit.  

Even though he’s expecting it, the first gun shot makes him jump. The bullet seems to collide with the one-eyed zombie’s leg, knocking it out from beneath it. It falls to the ground, groaning as it tries to stand up again. James slides back along the wall, stomach churning in anxiety. Aleks follows his movements, moving out of view from the other zombie as it thrashes around, probably trying to figure out where the sound came from. 

“It’s down,” Aleks says, readying up to take the other down. “Not dead, but... not a problem.” 

James nods, though Aleks isn’t looking at him. He shoots again, and... it doesn’t hit the zombie. It sounds like it hits something more solid, like the wall directly behind them. 

“Fuck,” Aleks says, taking a step forward and aiming again. That proves James’ theory correct anyway. He lowers the gun slightly, steps back again. “Fuck.” 

“What?” James says, a little unsettled by the panic in Aleks’ voice. 

Aleks turns around, eyes wide. “There’s more.” 

Fuck. “How many?” 

“...Lots.” 

Aleks speed walks past James, back towards the bar. “Come on!” 

James drops his half smoked cigarette and follows him, risking a glance back quickly, trying his best to ignore the twinge in his neck. He can’t see any yet, but he assumes they heard the gunshots. That does seem to be one similarity to movies; they seem to be attracted to any type of noise. He can hear them though, low groaning and dragging feet. 

Aleks runs ahead of James, almost slipping as he speeds around the corner. James doesn’t run quite as fast, trailing behind Aleks a little. He looks back again before he follows Aleks into the bar; there’s a lot. He can see... five? Maybe six? But there’s more coming around the corner and fuck. 

They’ve been pretty lucky with the amount of zombie experiences so far, really. This was bound to happen eventually. James just wished it wasn’t so early in the morning, and his neck is still hurting. 

“What’s going on?” Asher says, voice hoarse from sleep. “Why are we awake?” 

“Zombies,” Aleks says quickly, not pausing in his search for weapons. 

“How many?” Asher asks. 

Both James and Aleks answer, “lots.” 

A gun is tossed towards Asher, who just about manages to catch it. James watches as Lindsey sits up slowly, wincing as she does.  

Ein waddles over to James, he reaches down to shush her. 

“We need a plan,” Aleks says, handing a smaller gun to Brett. He takes it, looking slightly confused, sliding it into his pocket. “Lindsey needs to stay here. Someone needs to stay with her.” 

“Uh, I can-“ James starts, but Aleks walks over to him, shoving a gun in his general direction. James takes it, tries speaking again, and Aleks interrupts.  

“Alec, you stay here. Watch the door.” 

“Alright,” Alec answers, shotgun in hand. Lindsey still looks a little confused, but she's settled back down again. Alec says something to her, though James can't hear what's being said. He watches Aleks again, panic-searching the bar for more weapons. He finds his crowbar propped up against a wall, next to his guitar case, James’ broken pipe next to that. The pipe is passed to James. 

“What’s the plan?” Brett asks. 

“Uh,” Aleks starts, looking around at everyone quickly. “James stays by the door. Me, you and Asher just... jump in, I guess. Since you’re pretty strong and Asher is a good shot, we should be fine.” 

Hardly sounds like a plan, James thinks. But Brett nods, and Asher voices his agreement, so he guesses it’ll do. Just get out there, kill a few zombies, and get back in. He’ll factor in the mental breakdown later. 

“Alright,” Aleks says, gun tucked into his belt, crowbar thrown over one shoulder, “let’s fucking go.”  

James takes a deep breath as he watches Aleks lead the others out the door, Brett then Asher. He tucks his gun into his pocket. Adjusts his grip on the pipe. Glances over at Alec. 

“You good?” Alec asks, and James pulls a face in response, still fidgeting. 

“No,” he answers, “s’gotta be done, though.” 

Alec just shrugs, Lindsey gives him a sympathetic look. “You’ll be fine.” 

James just hopes she’s right. 

He follows the others, staying near the door like Aleks told him to. He watches. Watches Brett shoot a zombie with matted blond hair at close range. Watches Asher kick one down and shoot it as it looks up. Watches Aleks swinging his crowbar towards another, the bar going straight through the zombie’s skull, brain matter flying as he pulls it out again. 

There’s not as many as James and Aleks though, probably less than ten, and it takes them no time at all to deal with them. It’s mesmerising watching them. James just stands back, fingers twitching around his pipe, and marvels. It’s so... efficient. They make it look easy. Maybe it is, for them. Maybe they just don’t feel the moral dilemma like James does. He doubts it. 

It’s funny, they all seem to have their own ways of dealing with the zombies. Styles. Brett is quick, merciful, uses his gun more than the others. Asher is less merciful, taking the time to kick the shit into a couple of them before shooting them. And Aleks... the only word James can think of is brutal. He kills them like he’s got some pent up anger, as if this single zombie is responsible for the whole outbreak. He’s oddly graceful about it, as graceful as beating a zombies head in with a crowbar can be, anyway. It fits him. 

A low groan to James’ left, near where his car was left, brings him out of his thoughts. He swivels around, getting ready to swing his pipe, but... he can’t. He freezes up. He tries to shout for someone to /fucking help/, but his voice won’t work. He just gets caught in staring at the zombie. Into its dead, white, cloudy eyes. The skin peeling off around it’s face. The matted hair. The sounds it’s making are ... it sounds distraught. It makes James feel sad, this is a person. Was a person. With a family maybe, friends, pets. They had a life, and now they’re dead. Undead. And walking very quickly towards James. 

The zombie lunges. James un-freezes, accidentally launching his pipe over his shoulder. It clatters to the ground, startling both James and the zombie, and as James reaches back to grab it the zombie jerks forward. James hits the ground, knocking his elbow in the process, and the fucking zombie falls on top on him. Finally, he finds his voice again, and promptly screams, flailing his arms around as he tries to figure out what to do. 

His gun. Fuck, he needs to get his gun. It’s in his pocket, but his hands are a little busy trying to hold the zombie from biting his fucking face off. He shouts again, going for “help!” but it ends up coming out more as just a noise of distress. 

He’s gonna die. This is it, this is how James dies. Fucking... wrestling with a zombie. He tries kicking one of its legs, and it actually works, unbalancing the zombie enough for James to push it off him. He sits up frantically, ignoring the pain in both his neck and his elbow now, and shuffled backwards, reaching for his pipe. The zombie follows him, crawling along the floor in a way that leaves James feeling uneasy. He doesn’t take his eyes away from the zombie as he scrabbles around the floor behind him, eventually finding and picking up the broken pipe. 

He’s not really sure what to do now, so he kinda just shoves his pipe forward, the end connecting with the zombie’s jaw, dislocating it with a sickening crack. It seems to disorientate the zombie for a second; as its head is whipped to the side.  

But only for a second. The zombie remembers where it is, and starts reaching for James once more. James does the thing with his pipe again, shoving it forward, and this time it somehow gets stuck in the zombie’s lower jaw. He tugs at it, trying to get it out, but he just ends up pulling the zombie closer to him. He shouts, pushing the pipe forward again, shoving it further through the zombie’s jaw. It opens its mouth and groans, and James can actually see the top of the pipe poking through into its mouth. He holds it there, the zombie struggling against the metal in its throat, and tries to figure out what to do next. He could probably get his gun out now, if he just holds onto his pipe with one hand, he could get it. He tries, using his free hand to grab his gun. But, since James’ life has never been easy, he’s sat at an awkward enough angle that he can’t get it out. Fuck. Maybe he should call for help again...? 

“James!” Someone shouts, sounds like Aleks, saving James the effort. 

It was Aleks. He appears behind the zombie, white-knuckled and clutching his crowbar, considerably more bloody than when James last looked over at them. The crowbar is swung backwards over Aleks’ shoulder, ready to strike.  

“Cover your face!” Aleks shouts, louder than he needs to. For once, James does as Aleks tells him. Using his now free arm, he hides his face into his elbow, peeking out just to see Aleks swing the bar into the zombie’s head. 

He hears it connect. It’s... not a pleasant sound, and coupled with the feeling of blood and bits of brain and skull splattering onto James arm it’s pretty fucking grim. He moves his arm, lifting his head again, just as the zombie, now missing the top part of its head, slumps forward into James. He makes a noise and tries pushing it away with the pipe, stopping it falling completely on top of him.  

He looks over to the lifeless body beside him, then up to Aleks. A hand is offered to James, who takes it, pulling himself up, so he’s face to face with Aleks. Who just saved his life. 

“Uh, thanks,” James says, a little awkwardly. They’re standing pretty close, and they’re both just... looking at each other. James is trying to read the expression on Aleks’ face, through the splatters of blood on him, and he’s still holding onto Aleks’ hand. The other hand gripping the pipe, still connected to the zombie’s face. Neither of them want to let go. James’ mind is in a state, stuck staring at Aleks, into his dark, inviting eyes, at the blood splashed over his forehead and into his hair, at his lips. He really shouldn’t be thinking about kissing Aleks now, but... he just saved his life. And James is gone. 

“Shit, James, are you okay?” Asher calls, running over to them, breaking James out of his Aleks-induced trance. He swears Aleks squeezes his hand before he lets go and wipes his face, finally taking a step back and turning away. James feels like he’s dying all over again. 

“Yeah, uh. I guess,” he answers, still looking at Aleks, then at the zombie. “I’m alive.” He tugs at the pipe until it comes away from what remains of the zombie’s jaw with a squelch. 

“Are you hurt?”  

“No,” James straightens his arm out, the pain in his elbow isn’t really bad enough to be a concern, “not badly.” He is, however, fucking covered in blood. Which is really not ideal. 

“Well,” Brett says, kicking at one of the zombies laying lifeless on the ground in front on him, “What the fuck are we gonna do about all this?” 

“That...” Aleks starts, looking around, surveying the damage, “is a very good question.” 

Brett does have a point. They can’t exactly stay here with this... mess outside, it’ll just attract more zombies. And they can’t exactly move a dozen corpses without leaving trails of blood that’ll just lead right back to the bar. A ball of anxiety and nausea is starting to settling in James’ stomach at the sight. 

“Let’s just get back inside, yeah? We’ll figure something out,” James suggests. 

The others agree, Brett and Asher go inside. James reaches for Aleks’ arm as he walks past, grabbing his attention. 

“You good?” Aleks asks him, turning to face him fully. 

“Yeah,” James answers, letting go of Aleks’ arm. “Thank you, uh. Thanks for that. Y’know, saving me.” 

Aleks smiles softly, and James’ heart flutters. God. There’s just something about seeing him covered, almost head to toe, in blood, smiling all warm and soft like that. At James. He really is gone. 

“You’re welcome,” Aleks says with a laugh. “It’s nothing really.” 

Aleks reaches out and holds onto James’ arm lightly, just above his elbow. “What would you do without me, huh?” 

The hand around James’ arm squeezes a little before he lets go and turns around to follow the others back into the bar. 

What would he do without Aleks. Jeez.

Chapter Text

“What now?” Brett asks out to the room.

It’s a loaded question. Staying isn’t really an option, but Lindsey isn’t up for the walk yet. James’ car isn’t big enough to fit everyone in, and it probably wouldn’t get them even half way there. Really, they need to find somewhere else to stay while Lindsey heals up to a state deemed well enough to make the walk to the motel.

“I don’t know,” comes the eventual response, from Aleks, wiping the blood off his face with the inside of his jacket.

“We can't stay,” Lindsey adds, “We can leave now, I'm sure-”

“You're not well enough,” Brett interrupts, “if anything happens to you…”

Lindsey's silence is anything but disagreeing.

They all know what the only answer is- find somewhere to stay for now, but that's easier said than done. There's no guarantee it'll be close enough for Lindsey to make the walk, or far away enough from this… mess that they won't get bothered again.

“I think… I think if Lindsey thinks she's good to leave, then we leave.” James suggests.

Brett goes to argue, but Aleks speaks up instead, “no, James is right. Lindsey knows herself better than us.”

Lindsey mutters a thanks. Brett frowns at Aleks for a second before he seems to realise that, yeah, Aleks is right, and so is Lindsey.

“I guess. Alec, you know where to go, right?” Brett asks.

“Yeah,” Alec replies, not sounding too sure of himself. He glances at Lindsey.

“If you’re just gonna ask me if I’m okay, don’t. We can’t stay here, even if I wasn’t ready to leave.”

----------------------

It turns out Alec only has a very vague idea of where to go. He knows the motel, he’s just not completely sure how to get there, but he seems confident enough. They’ve got enough weapons and supplies to last them a few days, so even if they get lost they should be fine.

That doesn’t stop James from worrying, though. Mostly about Lindsey. They’re sorta walking in pairs, Asher and Alec at the front, Aleks and James at the back with Ein trotting between them and Lindsey and Brett in the middle. If they get jumped from the back, Aleks should be able to intervene, and Asher is keeping them safe from the front. But James’ mind is still conjuring up the worst possible outcomes that it can.

Lindsey is limping slightly, not enough for it to be a serious concern, but enough that it worries James. Brett had wrapped his shirt around her middle, now donned in just a dirty jacket, and every now and again her hand comes up to hold onto the wound. Again, nothing too concerning, but James’ mind won’t shut up.

They walk for about half an hour before Brett starts to notice Lindsey’s discomfort, and makes everyone stop. Lindsey tries to argue, but she doesn't say no to the idea of taking a break, even for 10 minutes.

“Maybe this wasn't a good idea…” Brett mumbles, pacing around. They'd stopped outside a 7/11, Alec and Aleks having gone inside to check for one, supplies and two, if it's safe to stay inside for a bit. Lindsey's sat on the floor in front of a broken window, Asher and James keeping watch to either side and Brett… doing whatever he's doing. Panicking.

James feels that.

“I'm fine, Brett,” Lindsey insists for probably the tenth time today. “James got attacked earlier, why aren't you fussing over him?”

“Woah, don't pull me into this,” James adds, holding up a hand in surrender. “I only hurt my elbow.”

“Exactly,” Brett says, “you got shot , Lindsey. It's not really comparable. You're allowed to not be fine, I'm allowed to worry about you.”

Lindsey frowns, but Brett is right and she knows it. She looks like she's about to say something when Alec and Aleks emerge out of the store doors.

“What's the verdict?” Brett asks, finally standing still.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” Alec says, and James catches Aleks eye. Aleks makes a show of exaggeratedly rolling his eyes at the cliche line, and James hides his smile as he turns his head to the side.

“Whichever.”

“Well, good news is that it's empty. No people, no… dead people, nothing.”

“And the bad news?”

Aleks answers this time, “it's empty . There's basically nothing in there like, food wise.”

“Hm,” is all Brett responds with.

“It’ll do for now,” Lindsey says, “I don’t… I’d rather be inside an empty store than just out in the open like this.”

“Fair point.” Brett says, and makes a move to help Lindsey up again. James glances over to Alec and Aleks, still stood in the doorway. Aleks is looking at him, or was at least, until James catches his gaze. Alec shoulder bumps him, and Aleks says something that James can’t quite hear, looking over at James quickly again. Hm.

-----------------

The store was a pretty good shout actually. It really is empty , probably one of the first places looted when this shit show first began. It looks like some other group may have set up camp in here at some point, but the thin layer of dust settled over most of the store suggests they left a while ago. There’s a bare mattress pressed right against one of the back walls and a couple plastic garden chairs around it, but that's pretty much it. The shelves that are still standing are empty, save for a couple of equally empty cans. But it's empty , like Alec said. No one here at all.

Lindsey settles down on the mattress after Brett drapes a blanket over it, Alec and Asher go to look for more furniture. Brett's still pacing. And Aleks is still looking at James.

“You good?” James asks him eventually, after catching him looking at James for probably the sixth time. Aleks seems slightly taken aback for a second.

“Yeah, I'm cool,” Aleks answers, unconvincingly. “Just… y’know. Everything.”

James huffs. He gets that, but there's something else bothering Aleks. “You sure?”

Aleks doesn't answer. James guesses he doesn't want to talk about it, whatever it is. He's not gonna push.

James sits down next to Lindsey. “How're you feeling?”

Lindsey offers a smile. “Not as bad as I have been. Just tired. Hungry. Really hungry.”

“Yeah,” James agrees, “same there.”

“You should take a nap,” Lindsey suggests, “you were up all night, and you had a near death experience an hour ago.”

James chuckles, “I guess,” he settles back, leaning against the wall. Looks over at Aleks. He's talking to Brett about something, leaning against a shelf with his arms crossed. There's still a few splatters of blood around his face and his neck, all over his jacket. The white is a weird muddy shade of pink at this point. It's weirdly endearing, but it leaves a sour taste in James’ mouth. Aleks saved his life. And he can't even pluck up the courage to tell him… to tell him. “Just hard to sleep when your mind’s running at a hundred miles an hour.”

Lindsey smiles and awfully knowing smile, joining James’ gaze in Aleks’ general direction. “Get some sleep.”

She gets up off the mattress, giving James some space. He thanks her, but he doesn't lay down. Just watches Aleks again. Watches him pick his nails, push his hair out of his face, fold his arms again. James drifts off, hardly noticing his eyes closing.

Aleks is calling out to him. James can't see where from, can't place the sound. It's as if it's all around him. James walks, speeds up and runs, forward, just running and running . Aleks’ voice gets clearer, louder, but he can't place him. James calls out this time, frantic, afraid. Aleks voice is an echo, calling back to James. He keeps running.

Aleks, Aleks, Aleks. Where are you?

James, James, James. Where are you?

I need you.

James finds him, in the dark, on the ground. Blood in his face, hair, clothes. He's drenched in blood, his own or someone else's James can't tell. It's red, so bright, deep red.

James…

Aleks…

It's hurts.

It’s his. Aleks is bleeding, where? All over? He’s drenched.

Please. Please.

A hand reaches out. James takes it, squeezes. Blood seeps between them.

I love you. I'm sorry. I love you.

I love you. I'm sorry. I'm stupid. I love you.

James is crying, he thinks. He can't feel anything, but anger. Sadness. Disappointment. Love .

Aleks is crying too. His eyes are glistening.

Aleks… I'm too late…

James… James… James!”

James wakes with a start, gasping for air.

“James?” Brett says, concerned. He's kneeling in front of James, hands on his shoulders, gripping tight enough that it's hurting a little, even in his half asleep yet wide awake state. James sighs deep, then coughs, sitting upright. “Are you okay?”

James thinks about that for a second. Is he? I'm sorry. I love you . Fuck, what was that about? Maybe okay isn't the word.

“I… don't know,” he says honestly, suddenly hyper aware of Brett's vice grip on his shoulders. “Bad… weird dream.”

“Yeah, I... I guessed that much,” Brett answers, seemingly noticing his hands still on James. They're pulled away, and Brett settles down in front of James. “You were… crying? And uh, shouting.”

James then notices the wetness on his cheeks. Shit, okay. He wipes his face with the back of his hand. “Sorry.”

Brett gives him a sympathetic smile. James looks away, not in the mood to deal with that. He looks around the room, and his heart skips a beat when he can't see Aleks. Lindsey's by the door with Ein at her feet, but no Aleks.

“Where's… where's Aleks?”

“Supply run with Asher and Alec,” Brett answers, “probably for the best.”

Now what is that supposed to mean. “Sorry?”

“You were shouting his name,” Brett says, too matter-of-factly for James’ liking. Well shit .

“Oh- uh…” No way outta this one, James. Brett gives him that look again, and James groans, covering his face with his hands. “Don’t, like… say anything, I don’t-”

“I wasn’t going to,” Brett tells him, “But… you need to-”

It's then that Aleks decides to come back to the store, Alec and Asher behind. James rubs his eyes, in an attempt to clear his mind of that dream. Brett doesn’t need to finish his sentence for James to know what he was going to say. He needs to say something to Aleks, before it’s too late.

“Any luck?” Lindsey asks them.

“Kinda,” Aleks answers, “got some more water. Found some whiskey. Uh… not much food.”

James tries not to look at him. He's not covered in blood like in his dream, just those few stubborn splatters from before. James still feels an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

“Let's have some of that water,” Brett says, standing up. Aleks gives him a look, but Asher digs around in his bag for a bottle and passes it to Brett, who then gives it to James. James mutters a thanks, not quite so thankful for Brett drawing attention to James. But it’s whatever.

“Everything alright?” Aleks asks, clocking on to James’ state. He's more aware of himself now, and he can feel sweat cooling on his skin. It's uncomfortable to say the least.

“Yeah,” James lies, not looking Aleks in the face.

I'm too late. I love you.

“...Everything's just getting to me.”

Aleks takes that as an acceptable enough answer, and moves his attention to help Asher take everything out of his bag.

James twists the lid on his water, sips it tentatively. Reads the label a few times. Anything to distract himself.

He'll tell Aleks. He just needs the right time.

Chapter Text

The stay at the store is a short one. It's mostly just a case for Lindsey to rest, which she does. They probably stay for about two hours, giving time for both Lindsey and James to recover. Asher has a nap when he returns from his supply run. The remaining few cans of whatever are shared between them, mostly beans and a can of ravioli, which Lindsey shares with James. It's almost funny, it's like a treat. Cold ravioli, sat on the floor in an empty Seven Eleven. This really is what James’ life has become, huh? He gives a few bits of it to Ein, who seems just as happy as him.

Alec warns them about a group of zombies he, Aleks and Asher saw on their supply run, but they can most likely avoid them if they stay quiet. James is only slightly worried; they can handle themselves pretty well.

Asher is woken up and given time to properly wake up before they leave. James just savours his room-temperature ravioli treat and watches Aleks drink his whiskey straight from the bottle.

Everything is gathered up and they head out, in the same formation as earlier with Aleks and James at the back, still a few steps behind everyone. Aleks keeps looking at James like he wants to say something, but every time James looks back at him, he stares at the floor like this specific pebble in front of him holds the answers.

“Something bugging you?” James asks eventually. Aleks actually looks at him now.

“Could ask you the same,” he says, “you looked pretty shaken up earlier.”

James’ stomach flips. “I, uh… bad dream.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

“...not really.”

What is he gonna say? ‘ Oh yeah, you were dying or something and I realised I need to stop being a pussy and confess my love to you before you fucking bleed to death in front of me .’ That'll go down fantastically.

“Alright,” Aleks says, “must've been pretty bad.”

James just hmph s and they drop it. The silence that follows isn't necessarily awkward, it's just… strange.

“How far did you say it is?” James hears Lindsey ask, probably aimed at Alec.

“Not sure of like, exact distances, but probably about a few hours away at least. Call it three.” Alec answers.

Three hours ,” Aleks repeats under his breath, “he said it was a few days walk the other day.”

“That is true,” James says, lowering his voice a little. “I'm starting to doubt he knows where he's going.”

“Exactly what I was thinking.”

It's not that James doesn't trust Alec, he just thinks he might've been a bit over-confident. 

Anyway, they walk. It’s uneventful; Lindsey stops a few times, they hear something weird behind them and Asher shoots a lone zombie. Oh, and Aleks finds an unopened packet of Doritos on the sidewalk that are only a month past their sell-by date. He actually eats them, must to James’ disgust, but by the sound of it they’re still reasonably edible. If James can enjoy cold ravioli Aleks can enjoy out-of-date Doritos.

Life’s little luxuries, James guesses. It’s better than whiskey, anyway. 

They end up walking along a residential street, along rows and rows of empty houses. It's weird, James would've thought he'd have seen at least one other person by now walking by these houses, but there's nothing . He does see a few zombies, probably once a family, inside a house scratching at the windows, not having figured out how to open the door. It makes James’ heart ache a little, but he ignores it.

“Those zombies were around here somewhere,” Asher warns them, “they were by that house but they must’ve moved on.”

“Stay quiet then, I guess?” Brett says, and Asher nods in response.

“I’m not sure what he’s worried about,” Aleks says to James, “there was only like, four.”

“Yeah, well, you saw two zombies this morning that turned out to be ten.” James retorts.

“Twelve, actually.”

“Point still proven.”

Aleks hmphs, but he quietens down. Hopefully the zombies moved on in another direction, the one everyone else isn’t headed in. 

James still can’t get used to using the word ‘zombie’. It just seems so surreal if he thinks about it for too long. He’s mostly just amazed he’s still alive.

Everyone stops dead when they hear something behind a house near them. 

“Just keep walking,” Alec stage whispers, “we can avoid them.”

The hopefully goes unsaid. They do keep walking, a little slower than before, more cautiously. All listening carefully. It… definitely sounds like more than one, and James really cannot deal with fending off another hoard right now. Not that he's sure he'd ever be able to deal with that, but still.

But… he's not really scared. This is all just too uncomfortably normal now: being overly cautious whenever he steps foot outdoors, assuming every sound is the undead. He's not scared, he's unsettled.

“I think they're down here,” Alec says, and James really doesn't like his tone of voice.

“Is that the way we need to go?” Brett's the one that asks. Alec nods. Well fuck.

“Can we go a different way?” Brett asks.

“This is the only way I know,” Alec answers, “and I don't really fancy getting lost now.”

“We just need to, like, fuck them up as quick as we can,” Aleks says, swinging his crowbar as if he was hitting something, “There's six of us, at least five of us are able to do something. We're gonna be fine.”

James wants to believe him. 

“Brett, how are you for ammo?” Aleks continues, and James tunes them out. He's sure he can hear the zombies getting closer, but that might just be his anxiety riddled brain playing a joke on him. He admires Aleks’ confidence, he really does, but it worries him sometimes. He acts like all of this doesn't bother him, doesn't faze him at all, but James knows it must . He's always been a heavy drinker the ten or so years he's known him, but he's, somehow, drinking more than ever now. Picking up any bottle of whatever he finds, coping . James worries about him.

James looks at the empty Doritos packet on the floor where Aleks had discarded it. Listens to the bottle of whatever alcoholic drink Aleks found on his last supply run sloshing around in his bag. Ignores the rising anxiety.

“James?” He hears Aleks say, bringing him back to reality, and the zombies which are definitely closer now. Must've heard them talking.

“Sorry, what?” James answers.

“Are you okay?”

“Like, in general? Or about the current situation? ‘Cause the answer’s no for both, but I can't really do anything about it.”

Aleks offers him a sympathetic smile. James is sick of the sympathy. “I'll be fine.”

“You will,” Aleks agrees. “Right, we ready?”

Everyone minus James and Lindsey voice their agreement. Aleks takes that as good enough, as he starts to lead everyone down the onwards, not quite towards the sounds but it might as well be.

“Can you see them?” Alec asks, and Aleks shushes him.

“Yeah,” he answers, voice hardly above a whisper, “there's more than I thought.”

James wants to say told you so but he doesn't.

“Shit, okay, uh,” Alec fumbles, “I think this is the only way we can go… unless we turn back-?”

“No, come on,” Aleks interrupts, “don't be a pussy.”

“Aleks-” James starts, but Aleks is already walking forward again, crowbar tucked under his arm, aiming his gun ready. Stubborn.

He does follow though, as does everyone else. James stays out of the way, hangs out towards the back with Lindsey. They're walking in a slightly closer group now, not in pairs like earlier, but Aleks and Alec are kinda leading.

They do try and avoid the zombies, but it's inevitable that they're gonna run into them. James can see them now, and his stomach drops. There's too many, there's no way they're getting through there unscathed.

James thinks about begging Aleks to let them turn around again, but Aleks decides to shoot one of the zombies at that exact moment, alerting the undead of their presence. Fuck, okay.

James stays back. He wants to help, really, but he's too scared to hold his pipe properly, palms so sweaty it'll probably just fall out his hands if he tries to hit anything. So, he stays back with Lindsey and Ein, telling himself he's watching over Linds, making sure she's okay. But he's pretty sure Lindsey would be more able to protect herself than James is to protect her.

Asher sticks to Aleks’ side, helping each other out; Aleks smacks a zombie in the legs with his crowbar, Asher puts it out of its misery with his gun. Alec and Brett shoot two zombies in sync with each other.

It's not until Aleks has a zombie sneak up behind him that James’ fight or flight response kicks in, screaming fight fight fight!! at him. He rushes over, aims to hit the zombie on the head, ending up clipping its shoulder and tearing part of its face off. The zombie spins around, wobbling on its decaying legs, and swings for James, spitty blood flying around as it does. He steps back, the zombie falling to the floor, and fumbles to pull his gun out of his pocket. Aleks beats him to it, shooting it in the back of the head as it looks up at James. James nods thanks to Aleks, Aleks offers him a smile.

It's so fluid, so quick. They're almost too good at this now, killing zombies. James isn't sure how to feel about that. He watches as Aleks gets right back into it, walking on forwards to help the others further up the street. James turns back to Lindsey and Ein quickly.

“You alright?” he says.

“Are you?” is Lindsey’s response. James doesn’t answer, just signals for her to keep moving forward with everyone else.

James keeps watching. Brett goes to shoot a zombie, finding his gun is empty, so just whacks it across the head instead. He shouts to Aleks for a reload, Aleks just chucks him his own gun instead.

James doesn't really realise how distracted he got just watching everyone else until he gets grabbed from behind. He must've fallen behind at some point, as a zombie sneaks up on him and reaches out, managing to clip his hair tie and pulling it out. Ignoring the inconvenience of his hair falling in his face now, he spins around and fuck .

There's more behind them. He shuffles back out of the way of his fucking zombie, now with his hair tie around its fingers, swinging his pipe. He does hit it this time, not hard enough to do any damage but hard enough to confuse it for a second so he can run up to the others.

“Uh… guys!” 

He doesn't need to say anything else. They all turn to him, see the fucking hoard behind him.

“Oh fuck ,” he hears Aleks say.

They're cornered. There's still zombies coming at them from the front, and James has no idea how many are behind them too.

What an inconvenience.

“Just keep moving forward,” Alec encourages, “come on, we can make it.”

The zombies are closing in.

“We can’t,” James retorts, waving his arm behind him, “look how fucking many there are!” 

From in front and behind.

“Don't be so pessimistic-” Alec starts again.

James doesn't mean to shout, but there's a hell of a lot of adrenaline running through his body at the moment. “Why don't you stop being so fucking brave! So fuckin'- I don't know, optimistic! We're scared, okay? We can’t just keep running into things head on!”

“We can’t just stand here either!”

“Guys! Seriously,” Lindsey chimes in, glancing back to the rapidly approaching group of decaying creatures as if to say ‘ get your fucking act together ’. “Arguing isn't helping. We need to do something.”

“I have an idea,” Asher pipes up, and runs off towards a house. Before anyone can ask what he's doing, Asher aims his gun upwards and shoots. “Hey! Zombies! Over here!”

“What the fuck are you doing?” 

“I am,” Asher starts, popping off another shot, “buying you guys time,” (then another), “to fucking run.”

“You idiot,” Alec shouts, trying to run after Asher, but Brett grabs hold of his arm and pulls him back. “You can't do that!”

“I can and I am!” Asher shouts back, “just fucking run!”

It's working. As much as no one wants to admit, the zombies are slowly congregating towards Asher. 

“We should...” Aleks starts, pauses for a second. Glances at Asher. “We're all gonna die if we just stand here.”

“Exactly,” Asher shouts back, “I'll… I'll catch up! Just go!”

Everyone knows he's just saying that. There's no way he's getting out of… this, alive. 

Brett's the one that moves first. Just starts backing up slowly once a gap opens up in the sea of zombies. Alec follows, then Lindsey, tugging Ein along with her.

James glances between Aleks and Asher, watches Asher desperately trying to fend off the undead. Aleks mouths good luck to Asher before he too leaves, jogging to catch up with the others.

"Please, just go," Asher says again, elbowing a zombie in the nose, "for all of us."

James tries to ignore the wobble in Asher's voice.

"Just run."  

James listens. He runs. He doesn't look back, doesn't need to. He hears Asher cry out, and he knows what's happened. He runs.