It's been at least a year since Son Chaeyoung woke up to the sound of her dad chewing on her mom's brains. Or maybe it's been months, days, seconds... who keeps count during an apocalypse? Especially a zombie one. Not Chae.
Out of all the apocalyptic scenarios Hollywood and YA books had come up with, zombies seemed like the silliest one. Like, how can a thing be dead but still be alive? What could possibly make a human crave another human's flesh? Well, a virus, apparently. The government had been experimenting with it for years if the gossip she had heard was to be correct, some kind of biological weapon that would destroy the enemies of the State, and they would win every war and blah blah blah. Turns out the virus had managed to break out and infect its own people, leaving the entire population of the country infected. Or most of it, anyway. Chae has managed to survive for God knows how long without being bitten.
She's been living under whatever roof she could find ever since then. For a while, she'd settled in a hospital with a bunch of other people when the apocalypse was brand new and there were far more survivors with a nice nurse who taught her how to do first aid and to supply vaccines, and then the zombies broke in after a man tried to leave to get Twinkies and she got her head bitten off. Traumatic stuff. Let's not get into it.
Then she had lived on a farm with a family of six who ended up going insane and almost shot her in the leg, then proceeded to escape to a church where they tried to sacrifice her to some God. After that, she managed to find a mall in what seems to be the outskirts of the city, where she (occasionally) talks to the mannequins.
There are people here too, but everyone just takes care of themselves and minds their business, and it's not like there's much to talk about being locked up inside an abandoned mall and fearing for their lives every day. Nobody wants to get attached to anyone anyway, because there's a 90% chance they die the next time someone opens the mall's entrance (because zombies are fucking stupid and they can't enter a place unless they break the door, and there are not enough people in the Mall to grant an army of zombies the will to break in).
So no one really talks to each other. Which kills Chaeyoung because she likes to talk a lot, so she had to learn the hard way nobody talks around here when someone almost jumped her for asking if she could borrow their soap. She showers with detergent now. Mannequins are better company than people anyway because they say whatever you want them to say and they will never try to kill you.
She spends most days quietly, silently humming Backstreet Boys songs under her breath, walking around the mall looking for supplies that she hopes are not expired, showers in the fountain then counts every red piece of clothing in the H&M store she sleeps in, eats ramen and goes to sleep. Life's gotten so dull and scary at the same time. She used to sing, rap, draw, go to school - damn, she used to be popular in school. She used to have things. She used to have long nail, manicures, boots... and her friends and her parents and her cat... she doesn't want to think about it. Which is hard because there's literally nothing else to do but think.
At least she had shit to do on the farm, taking care of the animals and helping around the house. On the weird church too, with all the chores going around and all the trying to escape a sacrifice thing. And on the hospital she had friends. Now she has none of those things. All she has is a Post Malone CD that she doesn’t even like, and most importantly doesn’t hold a conversation quite like a real person does.
She's sketching with chalk on her little notebook when she hears it, and the hairs on the back of her neck stand up without warning. It's the sound of the door opening. The sound of screams and frantic yelling. Cursing under her breath and turning paler by the second, Chaeyoung throws the notebook to the ground and runs to the deposit where she keeps her only weapon - a frying pan from Costco - and runs outside to find everyone nervously looking around, terrified and armed for battle. She gulps.
"What's going on?" She hears someone ask. The man next to her shrugs, Gary, who lives in the Olive Graden on the food court in the second floor (he has a very cute dog and he lets her pet him sometimes when they trade stuff but that's not important right now), knife in hand and looking ready to attack.
"I don't know," he answers. "Someone just got in."
That does nothing but put Chae even more on edge, clutching her pan closer to her body. There's a second of silence, a second of uncertainty where everyone tries to digest the situation, and then Gary walks towards the door. Chaeyoung bites her lower lip, wondering if it's a good idea, but quickly shakes her head and follows the man. If zombies did get in there's no point in cowering. She listens closely - grunting. Zombies love grunting.
They walk just a bit, and Chaeyoung clutches and clutches and clutches until her knuckles turn white. Her shoulders are so tense they hurt but she doesn't even notice the pain - her heart is beating so loudly in her ribcage she can barely listen to her own footsteps or her own heavy breathing. The fluorescent lights’ flicker make a dreadful sight, casting a shadow on those who walk under it, almost making her feel dizzy. The green light makes everything look sickly, even the ice cream parlor and abandoned toystores.
The smell of blood hits her nostrils suddenly and then she hears it - someone cursing loudly like they are in pain. Someone is hurt, her brain registers like lighting. She says as much, and her grip on the pan softens slightly. Doesn't mean they are alone, and maybe they are lunatics who turned to cannibalism or whatever, but they are injured and they need help.
"Doesn't mean it's safe," someone answers, mirroring her own concerns.
Chaeyoung turns the corner towards the fountain and that's when they see it: a group of four, maybe five girls whispering among themselves. Chae can see that one of them is on the floor, grunting in pain and clearly injured, covered in dirt and blood. They all look worried and tired like they just came from a fight, clearly trying to contain the poor injured girl's moans of pain. Chae wants to sigh in relief, but she just bites her lip - this still doesn't mean they are safe, not under any circumstances. The fact that they aren't zombies changes nothing.
One of the girls seems to notice them, and not even a second goes by before she graciously pulls out a gun, more smoothly than anyone Chae has ever seen. She'd be impressed if she didn't currently have at least four guns pointed directly at her face.
"Who are you?" Gary asks, knife in hand, as the rest of the people of the mall circle them. It's like an old western movie.
The girl barely even blinks. "Who are you?"
She has a strange accent, one that she can barely place, but it’s there.
A slightly older woman lifts her revolver a little higher, showing off her gun in an attempt to scare her, it seems.
"He asked you first," she responds.
A smaller girl next to the girl with the accent clicks her tongue, her grip on her weapon never faltering. Her hair is pink. "She asked you second!"
"I won't tell you who I am," Gary growls, ignoring her.
"You don't need to know who I am, then," the girl with the accent bites back. Japanese, it suddenly comes to her. She's Japanese.
"Do you want to fucking die?!" some man with a knife yells, but he's shaking and he looks scared out of his mind. He's sweating like it's the hottest summer since 1996.
"Do you want to die?"
The lights flicker once again, and Chae's eyes fall on the injured girl who is holding onto her leg for dear life, biting her lip to keep from yelling. From the looks of it and the amount of blood soaking her hand, it seems like a bullet wound, and she seems to be in incredible pain.
She sighs. When she starts lowering the pan to the floor, everyone's eyes fall on her.
"What are you doing?" One of the girls questions.
"Lowering my weapon, duh," Chaeyoung answers and then puts her hands in the air when everyone frowns at her. "I'm Chaeyoung, and your friend is dying."
Every eye falls to the girl on the floor, but her pained expression changes - she raises her chin as if she's not embarrassed and she doesn't want anyone to see her weakened. Her brown eyes are teary though, and when she bites her lip a little harder she draws a little blood. Chae's heartstrings tug at the sight because she looks at her right then and her eyes meet her own, and despite her determined gaze, she knows there's pain.
"Shut up!" The smaller girl yells, her gun pointing straight at Chaeyoung, who jumps at the sight. "Jeongyeon isn't dying!"
"I want to help! I want to help!" She defends herself quickly. "She's hurting, I know how to help, I swear."
The Japanese girl frowns, thinking. "Who are you, Chaeyoung?"
She shakes her head. "Just Chaeyoung, we - this isn't a community, we - we just live here."
"How can you help?" Another of the girls ask, shorter the others.
"I know first aid," The girl tries to drown a whimper, but she can still hear it and she knows the others can too. "Please, let me help."
The girls all look at the black haired Japanese girl, who after a few seconds just nods, and Chae rushes to the girl's side, who looks up at her almost looking relieved.
"I'm Chaeng," She nods at the girl as she kneels to her side, gently placing a hand on her forehead checking for a fever letting herself feel slightly relieved when her temperature feels normal. The girl tries to respond, but she just whines because Chae's hand presses against the wound to stop her from bleeding out. She tries to smile at her as an apology because she looks embarrassed about it, but she quickly looks away to talk to the Japanese girl since she seems to be the leader. "Black hair!" She calls.
The Japanese doesn't respond at first, but then she notices when she calls for her again. "What?"
"When did she get shot?" she asks.
"Like five minutes ago," she responds but looks like she wants to say more - then she says, "Bandits." As if that answers everything.
She barely nods before carefully and as hurriedly as she can tries to lift the girl's leg to see if there's a bullet hole - which would be ideal, because that means she doesn't have to get out a whole bullet out of the poor girl's leg - and sighs with relief once she sees an exit hole and no signs of bone shattering. If she doesn't catch an infection she'll live.
Chaeyoung motions to one of the girls to come to them, the shortest, and she kneels down and helps. Chaeng instructs her to keep both hands on the wound and proceeds to take off her shirt - she's thankfully wearing a bra today - and looks at the wounded girl's eyes. "I'm going to wrap this around the wound," she explains. The other girl’s brown eyes, despite the pain, manage to be almost comically panicked.
As cleanly as she can, Chaeyoung wraps her shirt around the girl's leg, but she knows they will need actual bandages soon. A shirt is hardly going to hold up, but it will do for a little. Jeongyeon manages to not make a sound during the whole process, but stubborn tears fall from her eyes and she wipes them as quickly as possible.
"I think she'll be fine if we get what we need for her leg to fully heal," she nods at the others. No one is looking at her - they’re still stubbornly pointing their guns at Gary, and she wonders if their arms will ever cramp.
A beat passes.
"... You should stop pointing guns at each other now."
"How do we know we can trust them?" One of the people from the mall asks.
"How do we know we can trust anyone?" Chaeyoung shrugged. "This is stupid. We shouldn't be fighting each other."
One of the girls growls. "You’re gonna tell us what do now - "
"Guys," the wounded girl speaks, and it shocks Chaeyoung so much she almost dislocates her neck when she looks down at her. "Put down the guns."
The Japanese girl frowns. "Jeongyeon -"
"I said put them down, Momo."
The girl sighs but nods at the girls and they lower them, some a bit more reluctantly than others, but all obeying Jeongyeon nonetheless. Black hair isn't the leader then.
"We need bandages and antibiotics," she tells the girl next to her, avoiding the tension as everyone lowers their weapons as well. "Or she'll catch an infection."
"Where are we even going to get that?" One of the girls asks, impatiently.
"There's a pharmacy on the last floor," she nods. "But someone lives there, and we're gonna have to trade for them."
The girl sitting next to her nods. "We have some bullets we can trade."
"She won't want that," Chae shakes her head. "She's kind of a hippy, she doesn't use guns. She'll want stuff for winter."
"We don't have stuff like that," the pink haired girl sighs. "This was supposed to be a quick mission."
"I - I have clothes. I live in the H&M store," Chaeyoung points out. "You can use some to trade."
"We can give you the bullets then," she nods.
"For her frying pan?" The fourth girl lifts an eyebrow.
"Nayeon," Momo warns.
"Don't you Nayeon me."
Chaeng clears her throat, trying to stop the tension from rising. "I don't need anything in exchange, I just want to help -"
"We don't need this much help," Jeongyeon interrupts, and she doesn't look at her in the eye. "We're not charity."
"You aren't charity -" Chaeyoung frowns, but Jeongyeon interrupts her again, this time looking intently at her. Her black eyes are a storm.
"We'll pay you back." She assures her, and then she passes out.
After reassurance that Jeongyeon's blackout is due to the pain, the girls help drag her to the H&M store she sleeps in, and she finally gets to know all of their names. The pink haired one is Sana, who is also Japanese but whose accent is way less noticeable, and the other is Jihyo who seems really kind. She learns that they are all part of a community a little far from here and that their search for supplies had lead them to a bunch of bandits who had attacked and stolen from them. Momo remains in silence the whole journey and when they get there too, only really interacting when she smiles at Sana's comments or Jihyo's laughter. Nayeon seems to hate the place though, and she isn't shy about it.
"This mall is disgusting," she shakes her head. "I bet this place has a nasty rat invasion."
"Only in the storage room," Chaeyoung shrugs, and she sees Nayeon shudder.
"That's not safe," Jihyo comments as she and the others lay Jeongyeon down in the made-up bed of hoodies and shirts and whatever soft thing she could find laying around. "Rats can carry viruses."
"I've laid traps," she agrees with her with a nod, "and I keep the door locked. Hopefully they'll starve."
"Have you been here long?" Jihyo questions kindly as Chaeng clutches down and places a hand on Jeongyeon's forehead checking for a fever that she knows isn't there. She's never had people over, and it makes her so anxious she doesn’t even know what to do.
"Not really," she shakes her head. "Two months, I think. Maybe three months? Time gets blurry." She drops her hand to check the improvised bandages on Jeongyeon's leg, trying to make conversation. "What about you guys? How long have you known each other?"
"Oh!," Sana speaks. "Me and Momo have been friends for a while, we knew each other before any of this happened. We met Jeongyeon's community when they saved us from a horde of zombies and just stayed there."
"Is she, like, your leader?" Chaeyoung looks up from her work, curiosity getting the best of her.
"She's the founder," Jihyo nods. “I’m technically the leader, but Jeongyeon organized raids so she’s in charge.” Before she can continue though, Momo clears her throat.
"We should get the antibiotics," she interrupts.
"Ah, yes, the pharmacy is -" Chaeng starts to stand up to guide them, but Momo shakes her head.
"You should stay," she says, cutting her enthusiasm with invisible scissors. "In case something happens to Jeongyeon."
Momo nods. "Just guide us there."
Chae tells them everything they have to know about the place and where to go, which antibiotics to get, to try to not draw a lot of attention to themselves and to not talk about violence. Ever since she lost her sister to a raid it seemed the poor woman had lost it a little, and she didn't appreciate guns or knives of any sort. Chaeyoung gives them a jacket to trade-off and sends them on their way, dropping down to Jeongyeon's side as they leave.
They probably think she's too naive, too trusting to let them into her home. You aren't supposed to trust anyone these days, especially with how horrible people have proved themselves to be during the apocalypse. Mass murderers, rapists, power-hungry men, cannibals... the world has ended. Humanity is gone. Morality is gone. And yet here she is giving her bed to a girl who probably wanted her dead like ten minutes ago because... because she wants new friends? She needs someone to talk to? Because she's lonely?
"You should put on a shirt."
Chaeyoung's yelp does not make her proud.
"Jesus," she holds a hand to her heart and stares at the wounded girl on her bed. The girl’s expression is somewhat completely embarrassed but also smug at the same time and Chae glares at her. "You scared the shit out of me."
"Sorry," her cheeks are red. "But I still think you should put on a shirt, your hand was cold as hell."
Chaeng frowns momentarily, then remembers she used her shirt to stop the bleeding and she's been walking around in her bra with a blush. It's mid-autumn and winter is coming soon, and she hugs herself suddenly realizing she's fucking freezing.
"Shit," she mutters, and quickly finds a shirt laying around near the bed and throws it on. A beat passes. "The girls are looking for bandages and medicine, they should be back soon."
"How are you feeling?" she asks. "Does it hurt?"
Jeongyeon's mouth curls, but it's not quite a smile. "Like a motherfucker."
"That's good," she chuckles. "That means you haven't lost feeling. A good sign you're not losing the leg."
Jeongyeon bites her lip, then nods again. "How long till I recover?"
Chaeng titled her head, thinking a little bit, "At least two weeks, but there are still risks of infection."
"Not possible," Jeongyeon shakes her head, clearly displeased. She scoffs. "I'm not staying in bed for two weeks. People need me."
"I'm sure they do -"
"You don't get it," she interrupts, using her arms to sit on the bed. "I have to get back. I have a whole community to feed and bring supplies to."
"Well, if you wanna walk, then you will," Chaeyoung snaps back, trying to push her to lay back down. "It's important your leg fully heals, especially if you're gonna be traveling."
"Winter's coming," Jeonyeon shakes her head, ignoring her. "We need clothes and food. They can't wait two weeks."
Chaeyoung bites her lip. Jeonyeon clearly cares a lot about the people she has to look after, but she needs time to rest. "They'll have to, Jeongyeon."
Jeongyeon doesn't respond for a while, and Chaeyoung knows the conversation isn't over at all. Jeongyeon won't rest until she has the assurance that she will be out of here by tomorrow. Which she’ll never get, by the way.
"So this is your place."
"Yeah," Chaeyoung nods, looking around her unimpressive room (which wasn't even a room, by the way, just the space behind the counter). "It's not much, but I do have lip gloss and a Post Malone CD."
Jeongyeon raises an eyebrow. "Post Malone?"
Chaeyoung mirrors her expression. "Did you expect more refined taste from me?"
A beat passes.
"Good," Chaeng finds herself chuckling, and Jeongyeon joins her with a smile. It suits her, Chae thinks in a passing moment. She has a pretty smile.
The girls come back shortly after that, carrying bandages and antibiotics, and they seem almost static to see Jeongyeon awake and talking. Chaeng cleans the wound and changes the bandages with just some pained whimpers from Jeongyeon, which she counts as a success. She cooks some ramen for the girls and soon enough all of them are laying around the store, getting ready for bed even though no one knows for certain what time of the day it even is. Sana and Momo stay near Jeongyeon, and said girl seems very reluctant to take the bed from Chaeyoung, but she just shrugs it off with a motion of her hand and goes lay down in the jacket section.
She wakes up in the middle of the night to check on Jeongyeon, only to find Sana and Momo whispering to each other, little smiles and soft touches. Momo is running her hands through the other girl's hair, her lips curled in a smile. Sana, who has proven herself to be unbelievable loud, is quietly listening and responding as softly as she can. Chaeyoung doesn't mean to interrupt, but maybe Jeongyeon has bled through her bandages and -
"Do you think she has ulterior motives?" Sana asks Momo.
"I don't know," Momo shakes her head. "If she just let us stay over the kindness of her tender heart, then she's a moron."
Oh. They are talking about her. Chaeyoung frowns.
Sana scoffs at the other girl's words. "She's nice."
"We can't trust her," Momo shakes her head.
"You don't trust anyone," Sana deadpans.
"I trust you," the girl smirks, and the other smiles. Chaeyoung doesn't want to eavesdrop anymore, mostly because the way they melt into each other is making her feel sick in ways she can't describe, so she just clears her throat to make her presence known and Sana and Momo jump away from each other like they were burned. Chae checks on Jeongyeon's wounds as quickly as she can and forces herself to go back to sleep without thinking of Momo's words.
"We can't stay here for another day," Momo states simply on their fourth day at the mall. Jeongyeon smirks in victory, but Chaeng and Jihyo frown.
"I thought you'd be more reasonable," Jihyo folds her arms in annoyance.
Chaeyoung nods. "She needs to rest and heal."
"Jihyo," Momo calls. "You know we can't afford two weeks of rest, no matter how fucked Jeongyeon's leg is. We need to get new supplies and get them to the fortress."
"I agree," Sana bites her lip as if she can't make up her mind. "But Jeongyeon can't even walk."
"I can walk," Jeongyeon speaks up, and Jihyo is quick to rage.
"No you fucking can't," Jihyo says, holding her head in annoyance. "You can't walk and don't even try to, cause I will kill you."
Jeongyeon is half-right though. She can stand up with some help but it's too early to walk without the improvised stitches opening, or she'd just be able to if she can lean on two people to do so.
Nayeon sighs. "What the hell are we going to do now?"
"Wait for Jeongyeon to heal," Chaeyoung points out.
That seems to drive Jeongyeon even madder. "You don't get it!" She exclaims, sighing exasperatedly. "These people need us, you have no idea!"
"You want to go ahead and lose your fucking leg?" Chaeng presses her lips together in annoyance.
"There has to be a way," Nayeon interrupts before Jeongyeon could respond. "Let's just think."
"We can't take more than seven days," Momo shakes her head. "That's the most we can take - it's what we told Tzuyu and Dahyun to wait before we left."
Chae closes her eyes and sighs, trying to stop her anger from fully forming. "How many days does it take to get back to your base?"
"From here?" Sana asks but waits for no answer. "Two days."
"Can't you guys leave then come for Jeongyeon?" Chaeyoung groans. "It'd give her time to heal and you guys can get the supplies, take them to base then come back for her."
Before anyone even has time to reply, Jeongyeon shakes her head.
"No," she says simply. "No way."
"Jeongyeon -" Jihyo starts, but Momo shrugs.
"Jeongyeon's right," she says and Chaeng resists the urge to slap her for being in Jeongyeon's side for everything. "It's too dangerous. We can't risk two trips, there's already rival communities looking for us."
Sana looks so torn when she nods. "She's right. We almost got killed a day ago."
"I thought those were bandits," Chaeyoung squints.
Jeongyeon winces. "Yeah, bandits from another community that want to kill us."
"So..." Chaeyoung tilts her head. "You guys are being hunted down."
"Kinda," Jihyo scratches her nose.
"That's a nice way of putting it," Nayeon chuckles, and when the others glare at her she rolls her eyes. "What? It’s the truth. They want our heads."
"What have you done?" Chaeyoung closes her eyes, almost doesn't want to hear it.
"We killed their leader," Momo announces almost like it's nothing, but her lips are pressed in a thin line.
Chaeyoung sighs, letting her palms rest on her head. "Fuck."
If there is one important thing in the apocalypse, that is communities. It's one of the only forms of survival now that the world is up in flames, sharing a home and building relationships and all that good stuff. Leaders are essential. It's practically tribal at this point.
"Why would you kill their leader?" she asks.
"They tried to invade our territory," Jeongyeon answered, her chest a little more puffed out than normal. She's not ashamed of what she did, Chaeng realizes. “We had to stop them."
"The guy was a lunatic," Sana continues as Chaeng frowns, confused and a little upset. "He was a psycho, and he knew we are a community of women. He was collecting wives and we were his next target."
"He broke into my home," Nayeon shakes her head at the memory. "He grabbed a bunch of girls and he almost did whatever shit he could to them before Jeongyeon shot him and his group retreated."
Chaeyoung's rising disappointment comes to a halt as she realizes what had happened. They were just protecting themselves, and sure, she isn't a fan of violence, but she probably would've done the same thing in that situation. The end of the world turned evil men into monsters.
Jeongyeon gulps. "I wasn't going to let them touch any of the girls."
Chaeyoung feels bad that Jeongyeon feels like she needs to explain herself, so she gently places a hand on her arm.
"I understand now," Her voice sounds softer than she intends it to, but the tension in Jeongyeon's shoulders disappears and she gifts her another smile. Victory, Chaeyoung thinks, smiling a little to herself.
"So..." Nayeon says, a pitch higher than normal. "What are we gonna do?"
Chaeng bites her lip. "If you guys need to get there in a week..." Everyone's staring at her, expectantly, and she sighs. "You should leave. They need you." Momo nods, but Chaeyoung ignores Jeongyeon's stare.
"So Jeongyeon is staying?" Jihyo asks the dreaded question.
"No," Chaeyoung shakes her head. She can practically hear how excited she just made Jeongyeon feel. "If she truly wants to go... she's going. But -"
"And there's always a but," Jeongyeon jokes, and Chaeyoung wants to chuckle but she really has to get this off her back.
"I'm coming with you."
"Oh," Jihyo's blinking repeatedly looking shocked. "You want to come?"
Chaeng looks around the room, waiting for answers - denial or acceptance. "I mean, can I?" She stammers, "I'd help Jeongyeon move and change her bandages during the trip and I -"
"You're leaving your home," Jeongyeon mutters, and it sounds so soft that Chaeyoung feels her heart flutter.
"This isn't my home," she frowns. "This is an H&M store, it means nothing else to me."
And it doesn't. She doesn't have friends, she sleeps on the floor, she does nothing all day to help her feel like she's actually doing something with her life. It's empty, it's cold, and Chaeng wants what the others have shown her she can have: A home. A community who wants her to come home.
Silence settles between them all, and Chaeyoung braces herself for rejection but then Jeongyeon places her hand on her arm and things feel okay almost instantly.
"Okay," she nods. "Of course you can come with us."
"We leave tomorrow morning," Momo says simply, and the girls leave them so they can start preparing everything to leave.
She's left with Jeongyeon, who's looking at her in a way Chaeyoung can't understand.
"We'll have today to help you walk," she informs the girl, who nods her way. "You can lean on me and we can walk laps around the place - It's really going to hurt though. I wish you had more time to heal."
Jeongyeon shrugs. "It's fine."
"I'll pack my stuff and I'll come practice walking with you," Chaeyoung says, planning more for herself than for Jeongyeon. Her mind's racing already. She's never been one to freak out, but she hasn't left the mall in God knows how long.
Chaeyoung is about to stand up when Jeongyeon grabs her arm to pull her down, gently (Or as Chaeng is growing to learn, as gentle as Jeongyeon can be).
"You seem nervous," she says, bluntly and to the point.
"I haven't left this place in ages," she admits. "That frying pan hasn't been used in months."
"Hopefully you won't need to use it," Jeongyeon tries to comfort her. "But we'll help you. You're going to be one of us, now."
Chaeyoung is really looking forward to that.
Sana wakes up Chaeyoung the next day, with a serious expression she hasn't seen since the day she first met her. She gives her some crackers and water and tells her they are leaving in the next half hour, and that her things should be ready by then. Chae nods and stays in the made-up bed for five more minutes, taking in the fact that yes, she's actually leaving before changing and getting ready.
Momo gave her instructions on taking only essentials last night, which meant no heavy stuff (Goodbye, music player), all the clothes she could fit in a backpack, and whatever else she considered important. And everything was important to Chaeng, so it was really hard, okay? She might or might not have cried when she realized she had to leave behind the mannequins. She takes the Post Malone CD that she pretty much loathes at this point just as a little souvenir.
The girls are waiting for her in the mall entrance, already Jeongyeon supporting herself on Momo and Jihyo, Nayeon and Sana making sure they have enough food. Chaeyoung smiles at them, or whatever sort of smile she can possibly muster just woken up, and waves a little, her black hair bouncing in the improvised ponytail.
"I have all the antibiotics and medicine for Jeongyeon," she says when she arrives. "Also some knives and my frying pan."
"That's good and all," Sana smiles at her, "but you're gonna need the real stuff, baby."
Nayeon places a gun on her hand suddenly, and the cold of the metal bites into her skin. She gulps.
"Do you know how to use it?" she asks.
"I've killed zombies with one before," she bites her lip. “Just once, though."
Momo snorts. "You call them zombies?"
"Well duh," she affirms. "That's what they are."
"That makes it sound so silly," Momo responds.
"Well, what do you call them?"
Momo leans her weight on her other leg, annoyed. "The undead."
"That sounds even sillier!" she scoffs, resting her hands on her hips.
"Whatever," Jeongyeon rolls her eyes, "Let's just go."
"Yeah," Jihyo nods. "The trade zone is not far from here, we can get there by tomorrow."
Chaeyoung tilts her head. "How are you guys paying for the new supplies?"
"Trading," Sana answers simply. "We stole a lot of stuff from around here. We got salad dressing, clothes, old books... Whatever we could find."
"Then why not just take what you got from here and leave to base?"
"They have something else we need," Momo responds, and it sounds so cutting she makes it sound like its the end of the conversation when it's not.
"Guns," Chaeyoung says, and they nod. The word tastes bitter in her mouth, like a silver bullet.
Chaeng starts to fear what she might face when she's out there. People are going to want her dead simply for knowing the girls, and they seem to be as deadly as those who are after them. Chae glances at Jeongyeon who is smiling at her for God knows what reason and she wonders if she'll actually make it during the trip. She did fine while they practiced yesterday, with mild complaining not that much pain if she leaned against Chaeyoung in the right way, but outside was a different story: a story filled with murderers, bandits and... the evil dead (is that better than saying zombie?).
But even then Jeongyeon seemed to hate the fact that she actually needs help to walk. Or to do anything, honestly. Jeongyeon is... stubborn. And also unlike anyone she's ever met. She's all hard edges and weird jokes but also really caring and weird in the best way. She's never felt so drawn to anyone before - she wants to get to know her, wants to understand whatever the hell goes on inside her head. She’s quite possibly the coolest person she’s ever met.
"Ready?" she asks.
Chaeyoung takes one look around the mall, and thinks, I'm not looking back.