"I'm trying to keep a map, as current as possible. You know, the places we've gone through so far, and what the, um, live versus hostile versus undead situations were," Ryan says, shading in an area on a street map spread across his lap while Sam turns over the engine. "Marking where we stayed, where we found stuff. I've got bits of Liverpool and London and Wales, Jess filled in some of Ireland and Clive had some details too. Did you know he was born in Ireland? Mostly grew up in England, though."
Sam shakes his head. "I haven't really had a chance to talk to him yet," he says, pulling out from behind the house and starting down the long drive. "Jess either. She seems to be doing better though."
"She does seem to be, yeah. I still think she'd obliterate any one of us if we walked up from behind and startled her, but I also think that of pretty much all of us." Ryan's mouth curves in a dry smile. He glances at Sam, thinking to check in about how he's handling his brother's fiancee moving on... But then, of course, Ryan's got no reason to think there's anything more than attraction between Keira and Clive. It might be that nothing comes of it at all, so there's no sense in stirring the pot. He shuts his mouth in favour of simply studying his lover's face for a few forgetful seconds.
"I'm going to do a drive through the town - check out the main street and the other side - and then we'll come back," Sam says, eyes scanning the road and the fields beyond them as they make their way down into the town. "I don't like how quiet it is and I want to make sure there's not some huge wave of them coming."
"All right." Ryan pulls himself back to attention, sitting up straight and rechecking his ammo. They ride in silence for a couple minutes before he asks, "What do you think happens when they reach the sea?"
"I've seen them walk off cliffs," Sam says after a moment, taking the main street nice and slow, still scanning for any movement. "I expect they keep on walking."
Ryan frowns, studying their surroundings through his window. "Yeah, that makes sense. Probably right up until they float aimlessly, and still attack everything that brushes past them." He nods, and takes a breath. "You don't think they could do serious damage to a passing boat, though. Do you?"
Sam shakes his head. "I don't think so. I guess if you stopped and the sides were low enough, or you got one caught up in the engine..." he shudders, making a face. "But I expect the currents out where we're going will keep them closer to shore and out of our way."
"Yeah." Ryan glances sharply over his shoulder at a sudden movement in his peripheral vision, but it resolves as a brightly-colored flag snapping in the chill breeze. "Jesus, Sam," he murmurs, letting down his guard for an instant, here, with this man. "I hope this works."
"I know. Me too." Sam nods, reaching over to put his hand on Ryan's leg. "It really does sound like our best chance though."
Ryan smiles at the caress, and drops his hand to cover Sam's, giving his fingers a quick squeeze. Then he leans forward. "On my ten," he says, and brings his rifle to aim, although he definitely wants them to get out of this without using it. "Two... Three dead. I don't think they're actually at the grocer's door, just more milling near it. Try it, or drive by?"
"Let's pull around back," Sam suggests. "See if we can figure out if they're it or there's more inside."
In response, Ryan gets ready to jump out of the van, but he hesitates once Sam finds a place where they're somewhat sheltered from view. "Wait up a second," he says softly. "I don't want to distract you, but..." Whatever the rest of the words were, they're surely redundant. He clasps Sam's nape and leans in to kiss him firmly. "Okay." Opens his door and hops lightly to the ground.
Sam's left grinning and he meets Ryan around the front of the van, knife at the ready. He tries the back service entrance and finds it unlocked. Gives a soft rap at it, then slightly louder. When there's no noise from the other side he eases the door open.
They enter into a back store room - damn near stripped already - with doors leading to a small cramped office and the shop floor. The only light filtering in is from small windows high up on the walls, but at least it's enough to work with. Ryan catches Sam's silent signal that he's checking out the office, and moves to cover him while he explores inside.
The office is all clear but Sam goes through the doors and cupboards before they move on, pocketing some binder clips and electrical tape. There's a vial of pills at the very back of the bottom desk drawer and he holds them out to Ryan. "Any good?"
"Really good," Ryan agrees, stuffing the vial to the bottom of his pack. He edges down the short hallway and it opens up into a large room; the sales floor looks like a hurricane hit. Hesitating, he listens intently, then looks to Sam in question. "I don't hear anything," he whispers. "You?"
Sam shakes his head. "Split up or stick together?" They're not in any hurry and so far, so good.
"Together," Ryan says with a shrug. Ordinarily he'd say they should split and cover more ground, but in the absence of a crisis, he finds he's simply enjoying his lover's companionship. Even with circumstances being what they are. "Oh, hey," he says quietly as they slowly make their way down a row of shelves, pausing here and there to make closer inspections. "Are you allergic to anything? I'm trying to find out that stuff about everyone. Just in case."
"Nope. I used to be allergic to nuts as a kid but I outgrew it," Sam says, picking up a few handfuls of tampons from where boxes have been left torn open and tossing them in his bag. "You?"
"Nah." Ryan grabs a last few plastic bottles of aspirin. "Fuckin' Tesco," he mutters, crouching down to peer at a suspicious stain on the floor. Yep, Cabernet. "At least the hard stuff was in plastic bottles. So, when it all got looted, no one smashed a bunch of glass on the floor. What's your favourite colour?"
"Black, but Keira tells me it's not a colour," Sam says with a laugh.
"There's a lady for you. It's the absence of all colours though, right? That should count," Ryan assures him with a grin. God, Sam has a sexy laugh. He wants to hear more of it in the days to come. "And, favourite sports?"
"Footy," Sam says with a grin. "No contest." He nudges Ryan. "What about you? Colour and sport."
"Blue. Shades of blue and green and turquoise, like the shallows on a perfect surfing day," Ryan answers, a smile of memory slipping into place. "And footy, yes!" He holds his hand up for his mate to high-five. "I love to watch it. I haven't really played team sports since I was a teenager, though. I'd rather just compete against myself. Um. Favourite band? No, wait," he says, pausing by a ruined display of canned beans. "Favourite colour is black, so I'm going to go with... Metallica, The Black Album. Or AC/DC, Back in Black. Or..."
"Both," Sam says with another laugh, just about to ask Ryan the same when he could swear he hears something. He freezes where he is and brings a finger to his lips. Listening...
Ryan turns to wood in an instant. Listening intently, he silently unships his KA-bar, drawing the steel smoothly from its oiled holster and putting his back to Sam's. God help anyone who fucks with them.
Sam curses softly under his breath as the sound comes again. The shelves are too high to see into the next row and he taps Ryan on the hip, motioning for him to come with him to the end of their aisle. He peeks around the corner, hears another moan and creeps along the end before peeking into the next aisle, the blur that comes at him taking him by surprise.
The awful gnashing sound tips Ryan off before his eyes make sense of it all. He ducks around the scissoring legs and quickly checks if there are more where that one came from. Then he watches Sam closely, prays he's got the timing right and edges in to boot the walker in its decaying face.
Fuck. It's been a while since Sam's been on the ground with one of these things. He shoves at it, keeping it back, those teeth from his flesh, struggling to reach his knife which got knocked from his hand in the shuffle and then a boot flashes in front of him, slamming into the thing and it buys him that second, that space he needs. He grabs the knife and stabs the walker in the head, straight into the brain, shuddering as it drops down against him.
Ryan shoves at the thing, half-dragging it off. Then he bends to pull Sam up. "Are you all right? Did you bang your head?" Overreacting? Maybe. But the close call with Alex just makes him worry worse now about his mates.
"Yeah." Sam nods. "But I'm okay. Thanks." He sighs then takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly, his heart still racing a mile a minute. "We should have done a better check of the whole place." As it is, they still haven't done one. "Let's scope out the rest of the aisles and then we'll come back and go through things."
"All right." But Ryan stares a moment longer, his own breath hitching. And he realizes he's on the verge of yanking Sam into his arms and kissing him, just to make absolutely certain they're both unharmed. He swallows hard and turns away, creeping into the next aisle and slowly working his way down. Jesus, of all the stupid things to do at the worst fucking times.
They finish the search they should have done in the first place and return to where they started, Sam going through the refuse left on the shelves for a moment before he stops and turns to Ryan, reaching for his wrist and pulling him into a hug.
It's unexpected, but Ryan gets over his surprise awfully fast. He clings tightly to Sam, basking in his warmth, his strength. His very vitality. He still feels a slight trembling in his own blood.
"That was too fucking close," Sam murmurs, holding Ryan tight.
That's an understatement. Ryan has to force himself to peel his fingers from Sam's shirt. "Right, no more Twenty Questions," he says, and steps back. He stares down at his palm, trying to decipher the blurred ink of the shopping list. "That Jessica girl said to get her baking soda." He looks at Sam in question.
"What for?" Sam asks, picking up some packets of seeds and cocking his head at a box in the corner. There's no fucking way...
"No idea, I wondered... What?" Ryan says, having some trouble deciphering Sam's expression. He tenses all over again, raising his knife. It looks to him like some more dusty beat-up cartons and boxes, long left to the rats.
"Just a sec," Sam says, not wanting to get their hopes up. He tosses the seeds in his bag and heads for the box, pulling it out from the other crap in the corner. It's not empty, there's weight inside, but still. He tears open what's left of the box and blurts out a, "fuck, yes." Thisclose to tears at the sight and the relief it brings.
For a moment Ryan stares at him like he's lost his mind. "What... pistons?" he says, rubbing some dirt off the box so he can read it. "What is this for?"
"It's a piston pump," Sam says. "You can access underground tanks with it, get the petrol up and out with almost no effort." He looks at Ryan. "This means we won't have to worry about petrol again. Usually once the pumps are out, short of having a tanker with the right equipment, you're fucked for getting to the tanks. I'm sure a few people have these but they're really unusual." He grins. "Antony's going to freak."
"Really?" Ryan smiles in an echo of Sam's. "I would pay..." he sorts through his pack and comes up with a handful of bandages, "four packets of Tesco plasters, just to see Antony freak."
"I don't want your plasters," Sam says, making a face. "I want a blowjob."
Ryan arches an eyebrow. "You could've simply asked," he murmurs in amusement. "But now in return I'll expect a performance from your mate."
Sam grins, eyes sparkling. "Just wait. I guarantee - you'll see more of a reaction out of him over this than anything else so far."
"Brilliant." Ryan glances around, checking to make sure they haven't overlooked anything important. He takes Sam's pack and slips it onto his own shoulder so that now Sam's got both hands free to carry the piston pump. "What do you think, a good haul? Maybe it's enough that we can turn back now and get started on that blowjob."
Sam laughs. "Did we get Jess her baking soda?"
"I didn't notice any," Ryan says with a look around. "I'll make another circuit," he says, readying his blade, then he looks at Sam. "Meet you 'round the back?"
Sam nods. If he wasn't a hundred percent sure they'd cleared everything there's not a chance in hell he'd leave Ryan alone, not after earlier. "Don't take too long."
A shelf previously designated for baking goods is now an explosion of flour and sugar, tracks and prints both human and animal on the floor and on the display. Ryan pushes through the split boxes and sacks to reach the back of the shelf, and is rewarded when his fingers close around a small intact box. When the label is cleared, it reveals itself as soda powder, and Ryan figures Jess will either want it or not, but either way he's done looking. The sad bit is when he nudges aside a package and flour poofs in an explosion of air, leaving him decorated from head to toe. "Fuck," he mumbles, heading to the back of the shop and scrubbing at his face.
Sam gets the piston pump into the van and checks out the alleys on either side of the store, making sure they're still in the clear. Satisfied, he settles behind the wheel, waiting for Ryan, his smile at his lover's appearance turning into outright laughter at his "frosted" state. "What the hell happened to you?" he asks as Ryan gets in the van.
"I'm not sure, but I blame Jessica," Ryan answers. He does his best to wipe flour off himself, brushing down his shirt and the thighs of his jeans. But then he catches a glimpse of himself in the van's side mirror and softly groans, then starts raking his fingers through his hair. "I give up, let's go," he finally says, shooting Sam a grin and climbing into the passenger seat.
But Sam doesn't go just yet. He takes another long look at Ryan. "You look good even covered in whatever that is," he says with a smile, leaning across to kiss Ryan on the mouth.
Thoughts flee from Ryan's mind like rats from a sinking ship. "Consider yourself lucky it's not rodent poison," he murmurs against Sam's lips, and kisses him again.
"I can think of worse ways to go," Sam murmurs back, losing himself in Ryan for a long minute.
* * *
It takes a second. It's like seeing fucking water in the desert and suspecting it's just a mirage. Antony blinks at the sight and then breaks into a huge grin. "Are you fucking kidding me?" he says, eyes lighting up, crinkling at their corners as he grabs the pump from Sam. "Where the fuck did you find this?" Holy shit. Fuck water. This is better than water.
Well, damn. Ryan's own grin is wide and pleased, and he shoots Sam a look. Oh yeah, there is definitely a blowjob coming in the very near future.
Sam grins at Ryan then at Antony. "We found it in the grocer's. They carry everything. It was hidden in the corner, the box all fucked up, so I don't think anyone paid it any attention or knew what it was."
Antony nods, checking it out. "This is going to make things so much easier." He smiles at Ryan. "Do you know what it does?"
His eyes flash with mirth, and Ryan has to press his lips tightly together for a moment. Then he nods towards Sam. "It gets your mate laid."
Antony just shakes his head. "I don't need to know about that," he says, mouth still curved into a small smile.
Ryan shrugs and shoots Sam an incorrigible grin.
"What kind of machine does that?" Jess asks, entering the kitchen. Then she shakes off the question. "Never mind. I think I always come into these conversations at the wrong time." She points at the box, and stares at Antony just a little too long; it's just... his smile. Still so unexpected and dazzling thereby. "That thing, whatever it does. It makes you happy?"
"It makes me ecstatic," Antony says, his smile widening, eyes crinkling again. "It's a piston pump, dual action. It means we can access underground tanks at petrol stations and fairly easily fill up the van, or any other cars we find. It means no more scavenging for petrol. It's a huge find," he emphasizes. A fucking game-changer.
"Brilliant," Clive murmurs, catching the last of the exchange. He's not certain why Jess looks quite so gob-smacked, though; she must be really excited about the dual piston thing too.
Ryan has seen enough. "Oh hey, I found you some baking soda," he tells Jess with a gesture towards the backpack he set by the kitchen table. Then he cocks an eyebrow at Sam. "Can I see you upstairs please?" He doesn't wait for an answer.
Sam just grins at everyone and follows Ryan.
"At some point we should have someone pick up a bunch of headphones - noise-cancelling ones," Antony quips, setting the pump aside. "What's the baking soda for?"
"Um, cleaning mostly, but it's really versatile." Jess looks back towards the stairway, her eyes wide. "Oh my god, are they going to go fuck now?" She winces. "Shit, I'm sorry, I sound like such an idiot."
"No, not at all," Clive tells her companionably, rushing with a smile to help her feel less awkward. "Antony, are they going to go fuck now?"
"Who's fucking?" Alex asks, limping into the kitchen.
"Sam and Ryan," Antony answers. "And yeah," he tells Jess. "Something about finding the pump gets Sam laid."
"Get it while you can," Alex murmurs, grinning as he helps himself to a glass of bottled water. He has no concerns on that score; praise be to Luke and any deities which still exist in this world. Pulling out a chair from the table, he eases himself to a seat. "All right, what do we need to get done today?"
"You can cook dinner," Clive suggests. He sympathizes with the man. It's plainly obvious that the forced inactivity weighs on Alex. "Or, do you sew?"
"Sew?" Alex echoes, cocking an eyebrow. "No one wants that."
"I sew," Luke says, holding up his hand to volunteer as he joins them. "Alex can help prep dinner - there's an overgrown vegetable patch out back and Keira's picking whatever's still edible - but I'll cook. He shouldn't be standing on that leg."
"I'm--" fine is the rest of that protest, but it fades on Alex's lips when he catches a glint of steel in his lover's gaze. "Okay, yeah. I can maybe prep some food for the road, too."
"I can scout through the bushes around here and look for other edible stuff," Jess suggests, then looks up at a loud thump from upstairs, followed by a shout.
Clive covers his mouth with his hand, trying to cover his snicker. "I think they're okay. Jess, want me to come with you when you go out?" he asks, and she half-shrugs, then nods, her face flaming.
"Is it alright if I tag along?" Antony asks them both. "I wouldn't mind a primer on what's good for food or medicine around here."
"Yeah, of course," Jess answers, a tiny bit surprised that he's interested. "I'll be ready in five."
* * *
Jesus Christ. How could he be so fucking stupid? Logan stays where he is for a second, forehead pressed against the glass, before raising his hands and straightening up. "Can I turn around?"
"Slowly," Keira nods, even though he can't see her. Huh. American accent. "But don't get any funny ideas. My friends are inside and they'll come if I call." Of course in order to call loud enough, she'd bring every walker for miles around. As would a gun shot.
As ordered, Logan turns around slowly, hands in the air. "I don't mean you any harm," he says, hoping he can talk his way out of this. "I'm alone and I saw the van."
"And what? You thought you'd take it?" Keira asks.
Logan shakes his head. "Don't need it. I have my bike," he says, nodding towards where it's parked. "But I was hoping there might be supplies or gas."
"I'm so excited we found those marigolds," Jess whispers as they thread through the last few meters of woods before the house. She and Clive and Antony spent a couple hours hiking the countryside is search of useable herbs, and her pleasure at their haul - combined with the general lack of walkers - has her opening up and growing damn near chatty. "I didn't think we could get any this late in the year, and calendula oil is--" Abruptly she becomes aware that both men have stiffened, the air around them suddenly blazing to high-alert. The feeling of safety disappears instantly and she stops in her tracks to stare at the tableau in front of them.
There's no time for thought. Clive's sledgehammer is suddenly at the ready, and he doesn't even recall raising it. And even though Keira's got the gun and the stranger seems to be compliant, the hairs on the nape of his neck rise. "She's not alone," he tells the man, pitching his voice just loud enough to carry.
"Yeah, she told me," Logan says, not moving a muscle, not even checking out how many there are. Keeping his gaze locked on the woman in front of him. "I swear. I'm not a threat. I'm alone and I don't mean anyone harm. I just came up to check for supplies. I didn't know you guys were here. If you'll let me, I'll just be on my way." Letting them know he's alone could put him in even hotter water but if they think he's got a camp somewhere, people who could threaten them? He's taking his chances that would be worse.
Antony steps forward. "What's your name?"
"Logan," he says.
"Where are you coming from and what are you doing on this side of the pond in the first place?" Antony asks, watching the man very closely.
"I'm coming from Edinburgh," Logan says. "Well, around it. I was visiting friends in Glasgow and we were holed up there until last week."
"Where are your friends now?" As much as Clive hates to ask, it's the obvious question.
Logan takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, his shoulders sagging slightly although he's careful to keep his hands raised. "One of them died from an allergic reaction and turned. Her husband wouldn't let me kill her, she killed him and I had to take them both out. The whole thing caused such a ruckus zombies started streaming in from everywhere and I had to make a break for it."
The way he answers, such obvious grief in the set of his bodies -- Jess realizes she believes him. Pity that's proven to be a poor indicator of character in this world. Pulling her handgun from its holster, redundant though it may be, she crosses the yard and steps up a meter away from Keira. A united front and an uncertain threat, right. That should keep the stranger honest.
"Look. Like I said. If you let me go, I'll be on my way and you won't see hide nor hair of me again," Logan says. "Seriously, if I'd known you were all up here, I would've just kept going."
"Going where?" Antony asks.
"I don't know," Logan answers honestly. "Away from them."
The back door opens and Luke sticks his head out. "Everything under control?"
Letting the guy go would be the least complicated option... Jess winces. "You need people," she says, before she can overthink it. Looking past the van, she meets Antony's eyes. Silently questioning. She feels strong right now, knowing that so many people - her people - have her back.
"She's right. It's getting late," Antony says, his gut telling him Logan's at least on level about being alone. "You can spend the night here and leave in the morning."
"Okay. Thank you," Logan nods. "Can I put my hands down?"
Antony grins. "That's up to Jess and Keira."
Jess takes another second before she holsters her gun. "Yes. You may," she agrees. "But be very careful what you do with them." Because feeling like their group could safely help the guy for a night is a lot different from being alone with him.
Overhearing, Clive frowns, his jaw tight. He strolls quietly up to Logan, hammer resting against his shoulder, and comments, "Nice to meet you, I'm their big brother."
Logan carefully lowers his hands. He glances from the big guy to the two women and back again. "Message received," he says. "But I meant what I said. I'm not here to harm anyone."
"Good. Then come grab something to eat." Clive claps him on the back and follows the others into the house. "What's it like in the city now?"
"Overrun." Logan's amazed they've let him keep his weapons but the one guy hasn't taken his eyes off him and he's reading him as military. "Glasgow was bad enough, I didn't even bother trying to go into Edinburgh. I just skirted the edges and decided to head for the coast."
"What are you looking for?" Jess asks as the two men enter the house. "People, a place?"
"Survival?" Alex leans against the living room wall, measuring the stranger with his eyes.
"All three?" Logan suggests, running a hand over the back of his head, taking in just how many there of them. "Before my friend Stella died we had a really good set-up going and I thought we'd just wait things out. I wasn't even thinking about having to actually deal with this stuff."
Hearing a new voice in the mix, Ryan pads barefoot halfway down the stairs to lean on the banister. "Hi," he greets the stranger, "I'm Ryan. Are you a friend of Antony's?"
"Think he's a friend of Jessie's," Clive murmurs, sitting down on the sofa. Still on edge, though, just to be safe.
"I'm Logan," Logan says. "Which one's Antony?" Getting a nod from the guy he'd labelled as military. "Is this all of you?"
"Everyone except Sam," Luke responds, offering Logan a bottle of water. "I'm Luke. This is Alex, Keira, Jess, Clive... You've met Ryan and Sam's still upstairs."
"So there's eight of you?" Logan cracks open the bottle and takes a healthy swig. "Have you all been together from the get-go? Whose place is this?"
"Yes, no, and we don't know," Alex answers, and gestures an invitation for Logan to take a seat. "Do you have any special skills? And are you hungry?"
"I'm starving," Logan confesses. He nods at Antony. "You're military?"
Antony nods back, eyes narrowing slightly. "Retired. You?"
"New York police," Logan admits after a moment. It's not the whole truth but it'll do and it covers about as much as Antony's retired.
"Did you specialize in hostile negotiations?" Ryan asks, coming back into the room and handing Logan a plate with a sloppy stew sandwich on it. "I'm kidding. Are you a good shot?"
Logan's eyes widen at the sight and smell of the food, his stomach grumbling loudly. "Sorry. I've been living on protein bars and jerky the last few days." He takes the plate from Ryan and bites into the sandwich which tastes so good right now he could almost cry. Waiting until his mouth's clear, he finally answers Ryan's question. "I'm a really good shot. I grew up in the south, spent whole weekends hunting with my dad and uncles."
"I'm from North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Mountains," Jess offers, wondering why even as she does so. The men seem to have the interrogation - and it most definitely is one - well in hand, so she slips into the kitchen to begin sorting the fresh herbs she found.
Clive watches her go, checking the set of her shoulders, and decides she's all right. His gaze moves to Keira, and the sound of the conversation blurs around him as his eyes trace the shape of her mouth.
It's a surprisingly small world after all, Logan muses, quickly turning his attention back to the men as they pepper him with more questions. He answers them to the best of his ability, not outright lying about anything but playing some cards close to his chest. He doesn't want to be seen as too much of a threat. "My friends were real hippie types," he explains. "Catchment barrels, composting toilets, chickens out back, salting meat and keeping a larder... I think they drove their neighbours nuts and there was a time or two I wished I was at a hotel but then this all happened and Stella and Brian had a whole cellar full of jarred and preserved food, wine, candles..." He sits back, setting his empty plate beside him. "They should have been set."
A moment passes in silence, and then Clive murmurs, "Sorry to hear that you lost your friends. We all..." he gestures broadly at the assembled company, then drops his hand, figuring that he has said enough. "Getting dark soon," he mutters, crossing the room to begin pushing the hutch back in front of the door, just like last night.
"My room's got twins. You can bunk with me," Antony tells Logan, damned if the man's going to sleep anywhere he can't keep an eye on him despite there being more than enough room. "And you can think about it, but if you don't have plans, you can fall in with us."
Logan's stunned by the invitation. "What are your plans?"
"I'll tell you in the morning if you're interested in joining us," Antony says with a small smile.
Ryan scoops food onto plates, laying the plates around the edge of the dining room table with forks and napkins. "I made a new dish," he says, "a Sloppy Stu. It's like a Sloppy Joe, but with stew..." He snickers at the glances that fetches him from his mates. "Hey, it's the apocalypse. I'll take my fun where I can get it." Which reminds him... He jogs lightly up the stairs to see what's taking Sam so long. Maybe he went back to sleep.
Sam had fallen back asleep but he's awake now, pulling a slightly less worn t-shirt over his head as Ryan comes in. "Is that a new voice I heard?"
"Yep. A new stray to add to the kennel," Ryan jokes, quietly shutting the bedroom door. "American, says he was in the police. It sounds like he has a lot of experience with guns." He shrugs and slips his arms around Sam's waist. "Antony actually invited him to maybe join up with us tomorrow."
"Just like that?" Sam exhales loudly. "I know he says he wants numbers but..." He shakes his head and pulls Ryan in closer. "What's your read on the guy?"
"I didn't really get one," Ryan answers, toying with the crew neck of his lover's shirt. "More an absence of a vibe. Like, he doesn't make the air around him feel creepy. More like he could just disappear instantly if he wanted to. He seems... dangerous," he murmurs, thinking. "But not an overt threat, not now." A quicksilver grin. "He's bunking with Antony."
"So he can keep an eye on him," Sam nods. "That's good at least. And I guess Antony's invites have worked out so far," he adds, brushing his lips across Ryan's and smiling.
"Was it his doing, taking us in?" Ryan asks with a chuckle. "And here I thought it was just a ploy so you could get hold of my sweet ass."
Sam laughs. "I wasn't even aware your sweet ass was on offer when we met up. Not that I wasn't hoping," he amends, sliding his hands down to cup said ass and give it a squeeze.
Ryan shivers in response, lust flashing through his core. "I guess there's a lot to be said for staying in one place more than just one night," he murmurs, slipping his hand to cup Sam's nape. "Oh, which reminds me. Dinner's on." He brushes a kiss slowly over his lover's lips. "You should come meet the new guy. Weigh in."
"Lead the way," Sam says, smiling, his hands staying right where they are.
Ryan chuckles and slides his lips along the column of Sam's throat. "They're going to start getting pissed off at us soon," he theorizes. "Tell us we're not pulling our weight and we hold things up." He sucks lightly at his lover's collarbone, then steps back. "Come on." Grins and opens the door to the hall.
Back downstairs, Logan's answering questions the best he can, revealing as much as feels safe and comfortable while taking everything in. They seem like good people and they're obviously all survivors and can pull their own weight or they wouldn't still be here. He smiles at the new face as Ryan comes back with another man in tow. "Hey."
"Hey," Sam nods. "I'm Sam," he says, holding his hand out. The guy's good-looking, dressed in leather, his smile warm and easy. "Glad to have you with us."
"Thanks." Logan's smile widens as he shakes Sam's hand. "Logan."
"Looks like Clive is on the couch," Jess says softly to Keira. "Because I sure don't want to disturb that corner room..." Her casual glance around is arrested by Logan's unexpected smile, her attention caught for a full dazed moment of open-mouthed wonder. What is it with these men and their secretly stunning smiles?
"He's bunking with Antony," Keira whispers back. "Logan I mean." Which reminds her that Clive has his own big bed.
"Oh." Her gaze wanders back to Logan, and when Keira's words truly register with Jess, she laughs. "Think he'll survive the night?"
Keira laughs too. "If he does, I bet he'll be staying. I just hope he's not gay. God knows we need some way of repopulating," she says under her breath.
Was Jess laughing before? She's all-out giggling now. "You are seriously thinking about sex at a time like this?" she asks, albeit quietly. "Wait, scratch that," she adds, reminding herself that Keira may feel very differently about sex than she herself does. "Absolutely. There's no reason the boys should be having all the fun without you."
"It wasn't bothering me until they started having fun," Keira lets her know. "Now I'm jealous. And horny." And although Logan's very good-looking, her real attention is still on Clive.
Jess grins. "I'm sure you can take your pick," she says, gesturing at the room and, by extension, the house. "Okay, maybe not. For sure you can take your pick of all the men who aren't already fucking each other. You're spoiled for choice," she teases. "Alternatively, I could guard your bedroom door and get you some good alone time."
Keira giggles and nudges Jess's shoulder.
"What's so funny?" Sam asks, stepping away from where the guys have been talking.
"Nothing," Keira says quickly. "We were just being silly." She loves Sam, she really does, in a good friend and almost brother-in-law sort of way, but she doesn't know how he'd react to her moving on from Cal.
It's a surprise to hear Keira lie, and Jess turns away to hide her expression until she's got her indifferent facade back in place. At least, that's how she hopes it's interpreted: neutral. Not constantly afraid.
"Hey," Ryan says, coming over to join them. He asks in a barely-voiced whisper, "First impressions?"
"I like him," Keira says. "And I believe him when he says he doesn't mean us any harm. He was armed when I was found him but he didn't have any of his weapons out." She nudges Jess again. "What do you think?"
"Me? Oh." Jess glances back at Logan. "I... I think he gives off a less-creepy vibe than others I've met."
Ryan looks at her and snickers. "I think that might be praise both faint and damning," he says, slipping his hands into the pickets of his cargo pants. "Sam?"
"So far, so good," Sam says with a bit of a shrug. "If he made it here from Glasgow on his own, I think he'd probably make a good addition to the group." He looks to Jess and Keira. "Did anyone tell him where we're going?"
Jess shakes her head, looking to Keira. "He didn't threaten you at all? Before the rest of us showed up?"
"No. He put his hands up like I told him to, told me he didn't mean me any harm and said he didn't think anyone was up here, that he just wanted to check out the van and was hoping to find some supplies." Keira shrugs. "He said he didn't even need the van because he had his bike. Which he does. It's parked against the side of the house. He was hoping to find some gas for it, I guess."
Ryan glances at Sam and shrugs. Unless or until the guy sets warning bells clanging in his mind, he's all right with him staying. "Come on," he says, laying his hand on his lover's arm. "Let's get you fed."
Sam follows Ryan, his stomach grumbling at the thought of food. "All we need now is a couple more women," he says softly, making sure no one else is within hearing distance. "Our numbers are getting a little testosterone-heavy."
Keira turns to Jess the moment Sam's out of range. "Sam's a great guy," she says. "But I don't know how he'll react to me getting involved with someone else after Cal. I don't think he'd be angry but the thought of hurting him makes me feel really guilty."
Jess eyes her with sympathy. "I don't think you can help whether Sam's feelings get hurt or not," she murmurs, laying her hand briefly on her friend's shoulder. "And I'm sure he knows how much you loved Cal." Tentative, she goes all out and gives Keira a quick hug.
"If we get more women, what will you do?" Ryan asks, mirth dancing in his eyes. "You'll throw yourself on that sword for the good of humanity? Actually, I can see how that could work. 'But seriously, babe -- I'm, like, practically the last man on earth!'"
Sam laughs. "I wouldn't be throwing myself on any sword. I am bisexual. But I didn't hook up with you because I lacked for options. I hooked up with you because I really liked you and because you're incredibly hot." He reels Ryan in and kisses him. "But don't you think we should both be prepared to sleep with women if that means increasing our numbers? Once we're safe, I mean."
With a sigh, Ryan lets the joke go. "That makes sense," he agrees, linking his arms around his lover's neck. "It feels weird to think about it that way, but yeah, it makes sense." He studies Sam for a moment, then flicks his tongue over Sam's bottom lip. "For the record, I like you too."
"Good. I'd hate to think you'd throw me over for the first female who isn't off limits," Sam teases, licking over Ryan's lips.
"I wouldn't throw you over anyway," Ryan chuckles, heat simmering through him. "I'd invite you to join us."
"Join who?" Alex asks, limping into the kitchen and sitting down at the small table.
Ryan's back teeth nearly grind together at the timing. "Did we ever discuss that annoying thing you do when you come crashing into the middle of other people talking?"
Alex furrows his brow, keeping a straight face as he pretends to think it over. "...No," he decides, and ignores the dirty look that fetches him.
"Remind me to have that conversation with you," Ryan replies, and as he steps back he shoots Sam a look which clearly says, Later.
Sam nods and takes a seat at the table. "How's your leg?"
"It hurts and I blame your boyfriend," Alex gripes. He rolls his eyes when Ryan sets a couple pills and a bottle of water before him, but obediently takes his medicine nonetheless. "That's a cool find, that pump." He grins. "What will you do for an encore?"
"That's it," Sam says, grinning back. "I found the pump, Ryan fixed your leg, it's your turn now. What are you going to do?"
"Sweet Christ Jesus," Alex grumbles, and has to work hard to keep a straight face when Ryan snickers. He looks around for help and says in a plaintive voice, "Luke, they want me to perform. Tell them to shut it." Because he couldn't feel much shittier than he does about being out of the action like this, but he sure doesn't need the household at large to know that.
Luke laughs. He can't help it. "You brought it on yourself," he tells Alex but he leans down and kisses him thoroughly. "And you'll do lots of stuff when you're feeling better. They know that."
With a pout he really can't help, Alex tugs Luke down for another, longer kiss. He's amazed by Luke's loyalty at such a catastrophic time; the man seems to actually like him. Which Alex is grateful as hell for, because he's pretty sure that he himself is fast falling in love.
* * *
"Thanks," Logan nods. "I wouldn't mind."
"I think Keira already put towels and toilet paper in each, but there's a linen closet by the kitchen," Antony goes on. "And we're in the second last bedroom on the left. Not the one with the X."
Logan can guess well enough what the X means. "Okay. Thanks," he says again, picking up his bag. "I'll see you up there."
Upstairs, Antony strips to his shorts and gets into bed, smoothing out the map in front of him, memorizing their intended path. They need at least one more day here but after that it's on to North Berwick and their first crossing.
Feeling almost human again, Logan eases open the door and flashes a small smile at Antony, his interest piqued by the map. "You gonna tell me where you're going?"
"You gonna come with us?" Antony retorts but nicely, for him.
"I don't exactly have a boatload of options right now," Logan says with a shrug. "You guys seem like good people, you're obviously survivors, and I'm guessing," he nods at the map, "between that and what you said downstairs, you have an actual plan."
"We do," Antony nods. "But I have a feeling you're not telling us something and I want to know what it is before I let you in on everything."
"It's not that big a deal," Logan says, hanging his head a little. "I just - " Fuck. "I know people don't like law enforcement..."
* * *
She leaves Keira sleeping when she heads downstairs to wash up, and the house is so quiet around her that she damn near jumps when she walks into the kitchen to find Logan standing there. "Oh my god, you're like a mouse. I didn't even realize anyone was up."
"Sorry," Logan says, holding his hands up, which he seems to be doing a lot these days. "I didn't mean to scare you. I couldn't sleep any longer and I thought I'd make some coffee." He opens the cabinet above his head and pulls down a mug. "Would you like some?"
"Um. Sure, thanks." Jess hangs back and lets him take care of it, but watches his every movement. "You bunked with Antony last night? And lived to tell the tale. He must like you." Actually, the Antony litmus test does a lot towards settling her nerviness right now.
Logan boils the water on the stove and puts the coffee grounds in the press. "I don't know about that, but he told me about your plans - the island - and I'm going to tag along."
"Oh." What a useless comment, Jess knows. "I guess I'm not surprised," she says, wrapping her arms around her middle and leaning against the door jamb. "These guys really think ahead. Long-term planning, and I admit I hadn't thought beyond day-to-day survival until I met them. Everything just seemed so... urgent."
"Yeah." Logan nods, exhaling softly. "It sure felt urgent on the way here." He glances over at her and smiles. "It feels like this is the first time I've really breathed in days. Like I've found some kind of oasis apart from everything else."
"Yeah." That actually fetches a small smile from her. "I definitely know what you mean. A place to sleep, away from it all. The illusion of safety in numbers." She considers him, cocking her head to the side. "Do you like your coffee sweet?"
When Jess smiles that, she sure is pretty, beautiful even, something Logan hadn't really been paying attention to until now. "I do," he says, careful not to stare too long, the kettle saving him with its soft whistle. "I can take it black but I prefer it sweet. You?" he asks, pouring the water into the press.
"Yeah, same. I have-- wait there," she orders, and goes to the corner where she took advantage of the blocked windows and made an impromptu drying rack on the boards. "I have some herbs that'll lessen the bitterness," she says, stepping a little closer to Logan. "Lemon balm - it's not dried yet, but that's okay, just crush the leaves into your mug - and some angelica." She hands him a few velvety soft leaves, then some peeled stems. "It's not exactly stevia, but it's better than chewing on coffee grounds."
"Do I put these in the press?" Logan asks, taking a moment to smell what she's put in his hand. "Or do they steep after?"
The question surprises Jess. "I never thought about it that way," she says, unwittingly pleased with his line of thought. "Put the leaves in the press, but the stems straight into your mug. It's worth a try, right?" She looks up to meet his eyes with a smile.
"Definitely," Logan says, smiling back. He puts the leaves in the press and replaces the plunger, glancing at his watch for the time. "We'll let it go a couple minutes."
Reminded, Jess steps back. Looking at him without prejudice renders him much too handsome. "Is there any more hot water?" she asks, retreating to the pile of supplies they brought with them from the last safe house. "We have oats and powdered milk. I'll start breakfast."
"Yeah, there's lots," Logan nods, handing over the kettle. "I filled it. Figured if I was boiling water I might as well do a whole thing." He leans back against the counter. "We're all lucky we were over here when this happened. You don't have too many houses in the States that run on propane anymore. Gas, yeah, but it all goes through transmission lines and I bet those went down pretty quickly."
Jess nods, lips pursed tight as she focuses on pouring into a large saucepan without splashing herself. But there's only so long she can pretend to be engrossed by such a menial task. "Do you have people back there? Family?"
"My parents and twin brother," Logan says, checking his watch again. Like so much else, it's not the whole truth but it's all he can handle at the moment. "But I don't think there's any chance they made it. You?"
She's silent for a moment, stirring oats into the pot. "Parents. Younger brother. His wife and their little girl... My older sister killed herself about ten years ago. She was driving drunk and she hit a neighborhood kid on her way home. She couldn't cope with the guilt." Looking up, she blows out an exasperated breath. "Sorry, I'm babbling."
"No, you're not," Logan says, turning to depress the plunger and finish making their coffee. "I'm glad you told me. The way things are now, the way people are thrown together, we need to be able to share, trust." He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "My wife killed herself. Last year. I haven't told anyone else, so maybe we could keep it between us?"
She cringes, tears welling instantly in her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she whispers. "In so many ways it seems better, knowing that they never had to go through this. But in other ways, it... it's..." Jess swipes the back of her hand over her eyes. "How could they fucking do that to us?"
"I don't know," Logan says, filling two mugs with coffee and adding the angelica stems. "I wish I did," he adds softly, handing one over. "Here."
"Thank you." She puts down the ladle and takes the offered coffee, blowing on the surface to cool it. "Talk about misplaced emotion," she whispers ruefully. Sipping from her mug, she nods. "That was a good idea you had. This is better than just crushing the leaves right in." Turning away, she pokes through an overhead cabinet and assembles a series of bowls, some broken crockery and some intact, to begin spooning oatmeal into. "Did you and Antony talk about plans for today?"
Logan shakes his head as he takes a sip. "Mm. This is good and no, we just talked about the island and what we'd need out there. He was really happy to find out I have experience sailing." He watches her for a moment. "We're here for another day because of Alex's leg?"
"Right. This was actually the second minor surgery he's had in the past two weeks. Apparently he got a really deep cut when they were fighting their way through the tunnel in Tyne. He's lucky Ryan used to be a doctor. Keira said no one even knew that about Ryan." She hands Logan a full bowl and spoon, and eyes him steadily. "Do you think that matters now? What we all used to be?"
"I don't think so, other than the skill sets we bring with us," Logan says. "I can understand why Ryan wouldn't tell people though. They'd expect him to be able to work miracles. And I know there are certain groups who hate cops. Letting people know what I used to be could get me killed. But it's like any other new situation. You get a chance to reinvent yourself if you want it. And sometimes it shows your true colours, whether you like it or not. The coward turns out to be the hero, the would-be hero the coward." He shrugs. "But way too many people let it drag them down. They give in to their base instincts and become fucking savages."
She shivers, drawing in on herself. "Yes," she agrees softly, and turns the flame low. "You can wash with the tap water but don't drink it. If you're going out alone, let someone know first," she says, and heads upstairs.
Logan nods, watching her go, wondering - he can't help it - if she's involved with any of the other guys, or Keira even. They'd certainly spent most of the evening huddled up together. Oh, well. He's pretty much resigned himself to a life of celibacy and once they're out on the island... Yeah. It's likely him and his hand.