A little shard of sunlight somehow finds its way through the wooden slats haphazardly nailed across his apartment window. It's vaguely triangular, slowly inching across the windowsill, and it makes his eyes strain through the darkness he sits in. The light is golden against the dull walls, and it beckons him across the room like a beacon. His eyes yearn for the sun after two weeks in utter darkness. His mind yearns for him to sit back down.
Arthur's throat is dry. From fear or thirst, he isn't sure, but it's probably both. The piece of sunbeam is the size of his hand, quivering uncontrollably too, and Arthur bites back a sob. The last water bottle is gone, and the only thing left is a single box of dry spaghetti. He's dead, but he still can't die. What a bitter irony, a strange joke, a stinging quip. Bloody fuck, he still can't die.
Wasn't he supposed to die three weeks ago?
The old man only a few paces behind screamed hoarsely as they closed in on him. The supermarket was crammed with desperate people, desperate mothers, fathers, loved ones, friends, all desperate, all terrified. Shrill screams and cries made his eyes water as the horde circled them. He could see nothing but blood and rot. A little boy opened his mouth to cry out. Panic and fear and terror overwhelmed him, pulling him into the rest of the frantic crowd, and the undead claimed their prize.
He could only see blue-black as he ran, everything numbing, footsteps slowing, breathing heavy. Cold hands brushed his unfeeling arms and legs the sudden sting of a bite slammed his senses into overdrive something hurt like hell in his chest Arthur could only feel terror pounding in his head
He takes a breath. One. Two. Three.
He lets it out. One. Two. Three.
The bite on his upper arm is raised and puckered. It slants forward, like the walker had a bad overbite. And he's still alive.
He has to piss, and the beginnings of dehydration grate at his nerves. His tongue is swollen, head pounding, and he somehow finds his way to his old armchair. It's by that damned window. He feels his eyelashes flutter sluggishly. His thoughts are deteriorating, drowning, muddled in nausea and confusion. The room feels warm. He can't think. The sentences in his head are becoming basic and vague. Vague. The view is anything but. Why can't he….?
A despondent cry from outside makes the mindless rambling running through Arthur's head skid to a halt. His arm almost hurls through the window in shock, and he desperately presses his eye to the gap in the slats. The light blinds him and the lure of turning away from the wanton destruction outside surges. He can hear walkers hissing, the screaming progressing as his eyes burn. But he stays, waits patiently, and steels himself for the worst.
The fog in his eyes lifts, and Arthur has already reached for his brother's old rifle. The sun glares through scattered rubble and dust. Three, four, five lurkers are almost shrieking in their slow but steady advance on a desperately sobbing figure. He looks young, with a wild curl flinging out of his hair and flashlight-amber eyes. He doesn't have a left foot.
Arthur can feel his fingers over the butt of the rifle shaking back and forth.
Aim. Shoot him. Put him out of his misery, you bloody fool. Blast out his goddamn brains. Oh, bollocks, there's a sixth one.
The place where his leg ends is trailing blood through the dust. The boy is crawling through the burning-hot dust on his raw palms and knees, tears making his face glossy. He's crying, sobbing, weeping, howling in pain, calling a name over and over as the infected close in.
"Ludwig!" he screams. "Ludwig!"
Arthur slowly cocks the rifle, slowly lines it up with the gap, lets his mind wander.
Shoot him. Shoot it. Him. It. Him. It.
Two shots echo through his ears, but the recoil doesn't hit him at all. Two more shots fire, neatly running through two ghouls, a sickening squelch he can almost feel as they hit the ground. Even through a haze of thirst and fear, it's obvious the bullets aren't his. Arthur can't seem to comprehend what's going on.
A tall blond is almost hysterical, eyes wide as he bends over the injury. He's muscular, probably strong enough to pick up one of the massive chunks of concrete in the road. His hair is weakly slicked back to the nape of his neck. A military-grade rifle and pack are strapped to his back as well, and Arthur finds himself struggling to uncock his sodding gun without accidentally shooting it off.
The blond is almost in tears now, seemingly muttering something over and over, shaking the other boy back and forth. Arthur wants to retch at the horror, even though his stomach is empty and his mind feels dead. He can barely feel his feet as he stumbles out of his chair, snatching his gun and the med kit. Everything is screaming at him to stop, but only one thought is in his head.
Arthur somehow finds himself at the foot of the stairs, raggedly out of breath, ready to open the door, ready to die. Out through the boarded-up backdoor, around the deserted apartment building, and his eyes almost scream at him. There's so much blood and the boy's hacked-up leg makes his stomach lurch. The view from around the corner is worlds away from the gap in his window. The blond one is desperately trying to staunch the blood and the crying.
"Feliciano, Feli, Feli, Mein Gott, Feli…."
The alleged Feliciano shrieks as he catches a glimpse of his leg through the other one's attempt to keep him occupied. His eyes roll into his forehead, and he stops mid-scream to collapse in the dust. Arthur can't blame him. The kid can't be older than eighteen, and he's already missing a left foot and his ever-loving dignity. Arthur doesn't want to speak to them, doesn't even want to think about them, his head is spinning blindly with revulsion and the sick splatters the ground. The blond's head shoots up at the disgusting noise, at the shabby ex-expat clutching a med kit, at the old English rifle in the other hand. His lips move silently, frantically trying to speak, but he can't say anything. Arthur weakly kicks the box through the seemingly never ending space between them and steers his eyes away from the vomit in the dust. It's watery and colorless.
"-an iron?" The blond's voice is low, and Arthur can barely catch what he's saying. He has a moderate accent; it sounds German.
The supposed German continues bandaging. His face is almost stoic as he takes a breath. Almost, not quite, but he's making an effort.
"Yes. An iron."
"You want to…..cauterize it?"
The German just stares at him, as if questioning him to do otherwise, as if Arthur's going to get the bloody piss strangled out of him in seven seconds if he doesn't get that damn iron. But his gaze drops to his friend's leg, the blood rapidly soaking through thick layers of bandages.
After a long silence, the blond clears his throat and stands unsteadily. "You are dehydrated. I have water."
Arthur stares at him for a moment. Before he knows it, he's quickly gesturing to the back door like a madman. He can hear the sodding German's heavy footfalls behind him. His friend and pack weigh on broad shoulders, but he doesn't seem to break a sweat, somehow keeping up with Arthur's erratic pace. He can't help it, but thirst claws at his throat uncomfortably and he needs water so horribly he can barely function.
Arthur practically slams through the door of his cluttered apartment and his head spins. The sight makes him feel sick yet again, and he wonders why he feels the need to continuously vomit, but it doesn't matter because the German has something he needs so desperately, so, so, desperately. As he stumbles into the bathroom, rummaging through his cabinets, it occurs to him how quickly his mental state deteriorates.
This German can kill him and take everything he has left.
But the screaming Italian passed out on the linoleum says something else. Arthur's too much of a damn twat to deny him.
The old iron his mum left when she visited is still there. Just looking at it is like listening to Feliciano's shrieks of horror again, and he almost drops it as he turns to face the German. The man stares him in the eye for a solid thirty seconds, suddenly dropping his pack with a thump and rapidly producing a bottle of water and a generator. It must weigh at least twenty pounds. Arthur swallows nervously, thinking back on how heavy the Italian could be, and knows this man could kill him with the three weaker fingers on his left hand. Still, he almost snatches the bottle from him and lets the clear taste flood his head.
The generator starts to hum but doesn't even get close to filling the silence between them. Arthur needs to say something, needs to thank this man for a trait he hasn't seen since the walkers rose and snatched humanity away by the collar, but his thoughts are rambling too much to focus. Thankfully, the man clears his throat first.
"What do I call you?"
Arthur releases the tension from his thoughts like a breath of fresh air. "My name is A-Arthur. And you?"
"I am Ludwig." He pauses, plugging in the iron, and looks back at Arthur. His eyes are icy blue, the color of the glaciers you used to see in documentaries. "And he is Feliciano."
The conversation falls silent once more, no one saying a word. Shivers of insecurity tingle through his spine, and Arthur feels his head begin to spin again. The sweet water almost grounds him, but fear still slips through, making his fingers shake again.
He'll kill you. He'll rob you. Look at him. The tosser looks like he curls a few hundred kilos as a warmup every day. It's all false.
No, he has to help me, he can protect me, he needs to...I can't live here alone. I can't.
You bloody wanker, can't you see? You're just a tool for his friend. You won't live long. Run, while you still can.
A sharp beep from the iron shatters his internal monologue, and Ludwig mutters something under his breath in German. Arthur remembers this iron as a child, remembers the screaming molten pain when his finger brushed against it, and can't say anything.
"He…..he is in a state of shock," sighs Ludwig. "Maybe he will be numb enough." But his voice is uncertain, haltingly stating a quasi-truth.
"Do you know how to do it?"
"I am a medical student. I can only hope."
Arthur watches as he neatly lines up more bandages, a tube of Neosporin, and a pair of gloves. Ludwig hurriedly forces antihistamines down Feliciano's throat as if trying to compensate for what he's about to do, and his eyes shoot from the blood-soaked bandages to the iron to Arthur again.
The metal is hissing, so Ludwig slowly unravels the bandages with a practiced theatrical slowness. Arthur averts his eyes, mumbles something about packing a bag, practically sprints out drowning in horror. He's almost forgotten the hell the world is now; flesh-eating undead roaming the streets, bands of survivors finishing each other off like rabid dogs, plague spreading across the continents in a wildfire of panic, English expats alone in apartments with bodybuilder Germans and screaming Italians….
Arthur pulls his head back out of the clouds just in time to hear a sharp hiss from the hallway and an agonized wail. It lasts for several seconds. He's too panicked to function for a moment, but the feeling quickly fades to be replaced with desperation. Ludwig is finished, which means he'll be leaving, and Arthur will be alone again with a single water bottle in a wasteland. His hands fly, cramming everything he can think of into an old pack of his brother's. Clothes, jacket, switchblade, flashlight, matches, canteen, all of his medication, another first-aid kit….what else? Rummaging around, he can only find the dry pasta and a Mars bar. In they go; maybe he can bait Ludwig with them.
The pack is almost entirely too heavy on his back, but he's fine, he has to be, and Arthur bursts into the hallway where the Italian is awake. He's crying again, whimpering and muttering something under his breath. Ludwig is bandaging the wound again with the utmost care and focus. Arthur has to loudly clear his throat before the two look up.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, grazie!" Feliciano cries, tears forgotten as he solidly beams at Arthur. Even in the harsh sunlight, his grin is so bright Arthur has trouble looking straight at him. Who are these people? Here he is, in the middle of a literal bloody hell, and a boy who was just screaming as someone burned his bloody stump of a foot with an iron is now smiling at him with bright eyes.
"Y-you're….most certainly welcome," Arthur mumbles, hit by a surge of self-consciousness. How exactly is he going to convince them to take him in?
"Why do you have a pack?"
His lilting Italian accent only raises the nervousness to an entirely new level.
"Oh, ah...yes, about that, lad…." Arthur is getting desperate, so he does the only thing he can do without internally combusting. "I really honestly can't stay here and rot away or die in this bloody apartment and I haven't had any human contact in weeks and I need somewhere to go before I shoot myself and I have a weapon and supplies and you must let me go along with you please I can fend for myself-" At this, he takes a deep breath, letting the words spew out of him like a breaking dam. "-so please I helped you you must try to do me a favor I swear I won't be a nuisance just get me out of here, please." His anxiety reaches an all-time high, and his head doesn't seem to work properly at the moment, so he somewhat subconsciously reaches for the spaghetti in his hastily-made pack. Everything fogs over at the edges of his vision.
As his head begins to clear, Arthur is aware of two things. One, he's somehow in an awkward position with his hands shoving a box of spaghetti at two strangers, as if he's stiffly prostrating himself to the Queen of England. Two, Feliciano is grinning so widely his smile from before seems somewhat unhappy in comparison.
Arthur is suddenly overwhelmed by the Italian's happy squeal as he turns to a straight-faced Ludwig. "Luddy, we can't refuse him, it's pasta! Oh, we haven't had pasta in weeks, no, we have to take him back to the camp, the sun is setting in an hour, oh, please? Can we?"
The German just stares at his companion for a long moment, then turns toward Arthur. "Feli, I th-" But he's quickly silenced by the look Feliciano shoots him, and Arthur lets his legs give out from under him.
He is saved.
Ludwig stiffly stares at him. "I suppose he can stay for a night. But this is not an attitude we normally adapt towards other survivors, so consider that a warning. Gott, if you-"
"Si, si, Luddy, you'll snap his neck if he steals something, we know. It's okay, nice British eyebrow stranger, you have pasta for us, so Luddy won't be too harsh on you. Well, he likes wurst more, but I don't suppose you have some of that, do you? Anyways, I don't like wurst much anyways, but we don't even have it, so that's not-"
The Italian giggles, snatching the box from Arthur's hands and tugging on Ludwig's cargo shorts. "Ludwig, carry me! Carry me!"
Before Arthur can keep track of what the bollocks is going on, Feliciano and Ludwig are already halfway down the stairs as he gawks in bewilderment. Ludwig glances back, clearing his throat and shouldering his pack.
"Are you coming, or not?"