Wymack swirled the last remains of the bottle of fruity grenadine, slamming it onto the counter in disgust.
“He said this was a full bar! How the hell am I supposed to make a Shirley Temple without any cherries?”
Riko watched, sulking against the counter where Katelyn had banished him to. “Jesus Christ, Wymack. It’s the end of the world and you’re gonna get your drink on with a Shirley fucking Temple?”
A vein throbbed in Wymack’s head, and he suppressed the urge to punch the slimy bastard. “Well, if it’s as serious as all that, I figured we might need a designated driver!”
Riko took a swig from a bottle of whisky, obviously trying to glare at him but ending up looking more like he was pouting. “Okay, so when the cops pull you over, you can pass their breathalyzer test before they infect you with their nasty blue shit?”
Wymack took a sip of his ginger ale and watched what looked like the start of a temper tantrum. God, he’d never liked Riko- he’d brought Kevin in to work one summer, to get some work experience, and Riko had spent the whole week ordering him around like he was just there to make the coffees. Besides, his statistical analysis sheets had to be almost entirely rewritten by Andrew every week- he had no idea how Riko had managed to land a job working with numbers. But despite the fact that he was a gruff man, someone who was rough and liked to shout, he wasn’t about to beat the guy up for what, he allowed, was probably an entirely appropriate response to the fucking apocalypse. So instead, he levelled the man with a look.
“Listen, Riko, no one wants to be here, no one wants to run for their lives, but really, no one here wants to listen to you bitch on what could be our last day alive. Sit down, and drink your whisky.”
Riko flared, puffing out his chest and storming towards him, waving the bottle in a manner he probably thought was threatening. “You make one more crack at me and I’ll fucking... do something to you!”
Wymack just looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah? What are you gonna do?”
Riko obviously hadn’t thought this far ahead. He stuttered, anger flashing in his eyes. “I’m gonna- kick your head!”
Now that, that was laughable. “Oh? My head. Not my ass.”
Riko glared up at him, as if realising for the first time that he barely scraped 5”7 and Wymack was a good 6”2, with biceps the size of tree trunks. He looked away, sour. Wymack would have let it go, but Neil let out a harsh peal of laughter from where he’d been watching from a barstool next to Andrew’s.
“Alright then! Let’s see it! Huh? Kick his head!”
He grinned, baring a slightly manic looking smile as he looked between the two of them.
“Come on, then, karate champ! You see his head? I want to see you kick above your waistline.” He accompanied his words with exaggerated gestures, as if pantomiming to a child- he mimicked a karate kick and bowed to Riko as he spoke. “Show me that sweeping crane kick that your Kung fu master taught you.”
Wymack chuckled a little, but looked at the redhead reproachfully. “Okay, calm down! Neil, Riko’s not gonna kick anybody’s head.”
Apparently, Neil was not finished. He gasped loudly, eyes wide open in fake shock. “Why not? It’s the most vulnerable part of the body- that’s what Sensei Riko taught me-“
Wymack cut him off. Really, of all the people Andrew had decided to latch onto, it was this one? A fiery, skittish man who was barely taller than Andrew himself, who’d taken it upon himself to roast Riko when what they really needed was cooperation. “Okay, Neil, it was a dumb threat. Stop rubbing it in. I’m sure if he could do it again, he’d say ass.”
Was that amusement on Andrew’s face? Why on earth had he ever decided it was a good idea to get that midget a job in the same company as him- of all the things he’d ever done in his life, this was the one he was regretting the most as Andrew watched Neil strategically take Riko apart with what looked like fondness softening his features.
“Uh-uh, uh-uh, you know if you want to kill a snake, what do you do? Huh? You cut off it’s head. Where does the fish rot from? The head! Take out the head, and the whole thing goes down! That’s why a fisherman always goes for...” He paused dramatically, finger pointed at Riko. “The head!”
“Alright, alright, this alcohol is supposed to be calming us down, not killing each other.” Wymack looked pointedly at Neil until he backed away to the corner of the room, settling down next to Andrew.
He wasn’t quite sure what was going on between he two of them, but Neil smiled widely at Andrew, who settled his face into an impassive mask which was fooling no one.
It’s not like he cared, really. He watched Riko sulk, watched Aaron and Katelyn huddle over a microscope, and thanked whoever there was out there watching over him that Kevin was with his uncle in Clivesdale.
“Ugh. Why did I come here?” Neil tipped his head back to look at the ceiling, Andrew a solid presence at his side. They were tucked into the corner of the kitchen, in the dining area, sat against the wall. He should be sleeping, probably- he’d learnt over the last decade or so that you took your sleep where you could get it. He could nap anywhere, a handy skill developed from regularly sleeping on the streets or in abandoned houses with only a sweater as his blanket and his duffel as his pillow. He checked his gun discreetly; there it was, still in his bag, and in what he knew to be perfect condition.
But he couldn’t sleep, not in the same room as all these strangers, no matter how much he trusted Andrew. It was a surprising realisation, really- he hadn’t trusted anyone since his mom died, almost ten years ago. He trusted Andrew to keep him safe while he slept, even with Riko glaring and Wymack giving him pitying looks every time he instinctively flinched away from the man. He could sleep, but he found he didn’t really want to- he’d always been a realist, and if he weighed his odds here they didn’t look too good. He wasn’t quite sure what it was about Andrew that made him so eager to see him, but if these were the last few days of his life before he was turned into a singing zombie, then he wanted to spend as much of that time as possible talking to the man sat beside him.
The man who was currently looking at him like he was stupid, speaking in a monotone that managed to sound vaguely disdainful. “To the kitchen? We came here to drink, Neil.”
Neil glared at him. “No, asshole. To Hatchetfield. God, I could have gone anywhere in the world, and I chose the inescapable island just happened to be where the apocalypse was gonna originate. Should have just stayed in Guatemala.”
He sighed, a small smile on his face as he reminisced. “I mean, yeah, they’ve got volcanoes and Coatimunides everywhere, but uh-“
“What’s a coatimundi?”
Neil stopped, cut off, then made a gesture that was probably supposed to convey his general annoyance with coatimundies. “Oh, it’s like a little raccoon thing. They get into shit, people hate ‘em, but hey- at least they don’t sing!”
He held up finger-guns in a weak attempt to put some humour into the situation. It didn’t work, but Andrew watched him with soft eyes. “So, is that what drove you to Hatchetfield? Coatimnudies up in your shit?”
Neil stiffened slightly, the danger warnings flashing through his head, but they dissipated as soon as they’d arrived. This was Andrew. Besides, what harm could it do, at this point? If they were going out in a musical apocalypse, he wanted to leave some truth behind. He’d had so little truth in his life- even after his mom died, he’d kept running, leaving trails of fake IDs and friends-that-could-have-been behind.
So he told the truth. He’d spent a few years in Guatemala after escaping through the Mexican border- he’d thought it was time to leave the US again when the FBI started digging in to some of his father’s cold cases. He’d had a good few years there, barely attempting to conceal himself from the rather lax government, but he’d had to make a dramatic exit from a warehouse in the middle of the desert after he’d gotten caught up with a local cartel. Really, it hadn’t been his fault; he’d tried to get some semi-official looking documents from one of their forgers, and they’d decided to traffic him to some perverts in Russia.
The man might be impassive, but he wasn’t sure even Andrew would be able to hear all the gory details of his childhood without flinching. He wasn’t going to lie, but certain things could be skillfully omitted from his story.
“No, no, not the coatimundies. My mom died a few years back, and I’d never really been on my own before- we were running across the whole world, and I guess after she died, I wanted to stay in the same place for a while. Guatemala, I mean, it’s not like the FBI were going to find me there. But I ran into some trouble with the locals, so I had to relocate, and I thought Hatchetfield was gonna be as safe as it comes, you know? No mafia, no danger, no one even gets robbed in Hatchetfield. It was a chance to be normal, maybe.”
Neil hadn’t realised he was still staring resolutely at the ceiling until Andrew gripped his chin and turned his face back to look into hazel eyes. He couldn’t quite hide his watery smile, full of relief and unspoken gratitude for the lack of pity on the man’s face- honey eyes stared at him as impassive as always, devoid of anger of fear. It calmed him enough to carry on.
“Anyway, it’s weird, growing up in the huge shadow that was my dad. He controlled every bit of our lives, even when we left that house; we were always checking over our shoulders, knowing he could be right behind us. I still check exits whenever I enter a room, still freeze up when someone calls out my name.” He sighed, looking down at his hands. “Not that it matters, now.”
Andrew flicked the side of his head. “It could be worse. You could be dying in Clivesdale.”
Neil took a stuttering breath, warm flooding through him as he laughed. “Fuck Clivesdale.”
Andrew nodded sagely, jabbing a finger vaguely into the air. “Fuck ‘em.”
And trust Andrew to make him smile, even at a time like this. Neil smiled at him softly, eyes catching on the way the kitchen’s light filtered through the room to light up Andrew’s hair in a golden halo. He could’ve kept staring forever, but Andrew pushed his face away gently with a finger as he spoke.
“You know, all things considered, I like Hatchetfield. I’ve been here since I was thirteen, after Aaron did one of those Ancestry tests- I was in foster care before that, and one of the moms had tried it a few years earlier to see if I had any family. I never really wanted to leave, when it was so much better living with Nicky than anywhere else I’d ever stayed. Still don’t.”
They sat for a few seconds, reveling in the calm, before a thought occurred to Neil.
“Hey, if you’re the same age as Dan- thirty right?- how come you’re not in her yearbook? I swear she’s shown me every photo taken in her whole life twice at this point.”
Andrew looked like he was considering this. “She probably went to Hatchetfield High, I went to Sycamore.”
Despite himself, Neil felt a grin spread across his face. “Fucking Timberwolves! She hated you guys!”
“Mmm. We hated ourselves.”
He laughed, leaning into Andrew’s side. “Yeah, Dan was on the lacrosse team, and she’s really competitive.”
“Sounds about right. Boyd has lamented about her muscles on several excruciating occasions. So, uh, back at Beanie’s you said you were in Brigadoon in high school?”
Neil smirked, adopting a ridiculously over the top Scottish accent. “Aye, I was Bonnie Jean- why?”
Andrew glared at the dining chairs as if the memory caused him physical pain. “2003 was a painful year for many reasons, but mainly because Hatchetfield High actually did Brigadoon too, and we got carted over to watch it, because we didn’t have a theatre programme in our school, so I guess to make us feel like crap they took us to watch those guys.”
He thought about it for a few seconds. “It was the first musical I ever saw, come to think of it. I hated it.” He paused, looking stricken. “That’s probably the start of my whole thing- did I really base a significant portion of my identity around hating musicals just because I had to watch Allison Reynolds prance about in 2003?”
Neil almost cackled. “I can picture dramatic-ass goth baby gay Andrew, dressed in all-black and bitching about happy-sounding music. Whoa, that’s like... your origin story. Hey, if I was Bonnie Jean too, then I guess that makes me the supervillain, huh?”
Andrew looked at him then, with an expression Neil couldn’t discern. “I don’t think of you like that at all.”
For a moment, there was a silent tension in the air- not a bad one, but the sort of energy that screamed at Neil that this was important- and then Andrew looked away and Neil could breathe again.
“Besides, don’t fool yourself, Neil. We would both be supervillains.”
Neil was almost, strangely, disappointed. But Andrew had changed the subject, so he grinned and said,“Oh yeah? Who’s the hero of this story, then?”
“Kevin? Who knows. Maybe we’re just background characters-“
Neil would have liked to hear the rest of that sentence. He would have liked to stay here forever, rambling about high school and coatimundis with Andrew’s very built arm wrapped around his side.
Unfortunately, the universe hated him. There was a loud crash, and the dining room door burst open to reveal Nicky grinning wildly. For a second, you could almost pretend there was nothing wrong at all. And then he opened his mouth, and began to sing.
“It is time..... to DIEEEEEEEEEE!”
Instantly, Andrew was on his feet, pulling Neil up and away from the door- but also away from his precious duffel bag. They backed away, retreating to the kitchen where Wymack was brandishing a bread knife while Riko peeked around his shoulder from where had jumped at the first hint of danger. Katelyn looked over her shoulder at the interruption, blanching when she saw Nicky and Erik’s matching manic smiles.
Nicky advanced, bobbing his head along to a beat only known to the two of them, a finger extended towards them. “Sorry to interrupt, but we got bones to pluck! The time for chaos is long past overdue! Death isn’t optional, in fact it’s optimal! Your time is up and now we go through you!”
Now, Erik took over, vocalising as he belted out lyrics. This was wrong, all wrong.
“We tried to convince you in soliloquy, but now we’ll kill you with more than harmony! Just die!”
The two of them seemed to pause for a second, too caught up in their own twisted harmonies to notice Neil breaking away from Andrew to reach for his duffel bag, and the gun inside it. Nicky smiled up at Erik with crazed eyes, but it almost might have passed for sweet if not for the lyrics they both chanted quietly.
“Join us and die! Join us and die, join us and die... All you gotta do is... join us and die!” Slowly, they turned away from each other and towards Riko, who stood, frozen in terror as Erik advanced an pinned his arms to his sides. “Join us and die, join us and die...”
It was almost gentle, the way they reached for him. Riko’s lip trembled, but he didn’t dare move as Erik reassured him with eyes glazed over. “This is a process that you gotta see, your own body is your front row seat!”
It had been gentle, and then suddenly it wasn’t. Erik yanked his hair back as Nicky began to chant again, and Riko was shoved to the floor.
“Join us and die, join us and die, join us and die... all you gotta do is-“
The thing residing in Nicky’s body could hardly contain it’s glee as Erik slammed a foot into Riko’s stomach, and he half yelled, half sung as Riko gasped on the ground. “Punch him! Squeeze him! Crush him! Kill him! Drag him! Wind it up, kick his nuts! Here’s how it’s gonna go-“
A shot rang out. There was silence for a second, then it seemed as if Nicky came back into his body for long enough to register Erik falling to the ground and the blue seeping from his body. He let out a strangled scream that became, despite itself, melodic. Neil didn’t even blink. He’d been trained since he was old enough to stand how to handle weapons, how to remain calm and shoot accurately through the screams of men and the dying squeals of animals. The second bullet landed true, and Nicky collapsed next to the body of his husband.
They didn’t make a noise, after that. Not a gasp of pain or a whimper, just silence until the mania left their eyes and the pool of blue on the kitchen tiles was large enough to make Riko scramble away from it and steady himself on the back counter. The spell over the room was broken, and Aaron turned to Neil with both rage and terror in his eyes.
“You killed Nicky!”
Neil didn’t even look disturbed. “Wrong. That thing was not your cousin. The Nicky you knew and loved was gone the minute a note came out of his mouth.”
Katelyn placed an hand on Aaron’s arm, pulling him away from Neil despite the tears welling in her dark eyes. “He’s right. We had a look at the blue stuff, and... Erik was no longer human. He was part of the alien hive, genetically reconstructed from the inside out.” She wiped her eyes clear, and spoke with resolve as if trying to convince herself. “They’re wearing our skin to fool us-“ she stopped, as if seeing Neil and the others for the first time.
“Which means any of us could be one of them.”