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Good Thing At a Bad Time

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“Quick run,” Niall says, pulling open the door to the little black Audi. “Get the medicine, get out.”

Liam wants to protest. They need food. They can’t keep living on instant mashed potatoes and rice. He knows that no amount of arguing with Niall will change his mind, though. Not after last time. They’d do a real run another day, when Harry is back on his feet, because runs are Harry’s job. He was best at them. The quickest, sneakiest. Harry could get into a building and get out of it without anyone knowing he was ever there. Unfortunately for them, Harry is sick. Really, really sick.

“Got it,” Liam agrees, climbing into his side of the car.

It’s a nice car. Something he’d never of dreamed about owning before, but now that there’s no such thing as world order, having a nice car doesn’t really matter. Not when everyone you knew is dead.

Louis gets the gates for them, and Liam eyes him warily. He doesn’t like this. Doesn’t like leaving Louis alone, even if the prison is as safe as it gets anymore. Even if he’s not technically alone, because the prison is filled with others (he just considers the four of them their own group). Louis’ the worst shot of them all. If something were to happen… but no, it’s pointless to dwell on that. They all know that every time they separate could be the last time they see each other. You just get used to that. Or you’re supposed to, anyways. Liam’s never been good at the emotional separation thing. Niall has it down pat, though.

The drive into town isn’t a bad one. Niall can be a hardass a lot of the time, but he’s also just a twenty year old University student who can drink his weight in alcohol and knows the words to every Justin Bieber song. Liam doesn’t mind listening to the shitty Cds they’d scavenged a few weeks back, because it’s better than driving with Louis would have been. Louis’ been nothing but jumpy and bitchy since Harry got sick, and Liam knows he’ll continue to be like that until the other boy is better.

“Twenty points,” Niall says, fingers curling around the steering wheel hard enough that his knuckles turn white.

Liam snorts. “Oh, come on, he’s stumbling. Ten points.”

“Thirty if I don’t get and blood on the windshield,” Niall bargains.

Liam eyes the walker just down the road. He’s not moving fast, but he’s large, almost bloated. There’s no way he’ll manage it. “Deal.”

Niall presses down on the gas, and the sleek car speeds down the road. A moment later they hit the walker with a loud thump. Liam knows that they probably shouldn’t do this. That they could seriously damage the car, and it’s a little immature. But Niall whoops out a laugh, and Liam can’t see any reason to deny him this. Having fun isn’t exactly easy when you’re in the middle of an apocalypse.

“Fucking right!” Niall shouts, slowing down. “Thirty points.”

Liam leans forward, inspecting the windshield. “Thirty points,” he agrees. “Damn. How do you always manage to do that?”

Niall shrugs and gives Liam a bright grin. “I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto over the years.”

Liam shakes his head and looks out the window. He has no idea where they are. What city they’re in. Somewhere with a lot of trees. Definitely the kind of town that you’d stop into to get gas, but never to stay. A pit stop.

The shopping district is literally one short street, lined on every side with shops. The best thing about little towns, besides the small population, is the fact that the roads are always clearer. Not enough cars around to block the streets, which means getting in and out of places is a lot easier. Still not safe or simple, but easier.

Niall slows down near the pharmacy. They’d passed it on their way into town a few weeks ago, and Harry had drawn them a map to find it, not that they needed it. They don’t talk as Niall parks the car and hands Liam the pistol. Personally, Liam likes the shotgun better. The pistol with a silencer attached to it is just too awkward in his hands. But they ran out of ammo for the Model last week while cleaning out another part of the prison, so it can’t be helped.

Liam scans the area around the car. The only movement he can see is to his left, too far down the road for him to bother taking it out. It’d be a waste of a bullet, and they can’t afford it. Niall nods his agreement and Liam gets out, gun at the ready just in case.

He moves towards the building fast and flattens himself against the glass, trying to see inside. He can see the entire front room, mostly. There’s a few shelves, but they’re all short enough that if anything lethal was behind them, he’d probably see them. Probably, but not definitely. Crawlers (walkers without legs -- or with broken legs) are a different story. The back room, though, where they keep anything that he actually needs, is blocked off.

Liam lifts a hand to Niall, signalling that he’s going in, and Niall lifts up a thumb. Liam can see the tense set of his shoulders even through the slightly tinted windows of the car, but he’ll be fine. And if not, it’s not like he’s the most important one of them all. They could all move on if he was gone. They couldn’t if it were, say, Harry or Jen, both of whom are important members of the group.

Liam pulls open the door slowly, standing up on his toes to grab the bell hanging over the door. A quick yank and the bell comes off in his hand. He learned that trick from Harry. Almost all store doors have bells to signal to cashiers that someone is coming in. Now it signals to the dead that the living are coming, so you have to be careful and find a way to stop it when you open a door.

The front room has a set of freezers, each one filled with drinks that Liam’s itching to grab, but he can’t. No matter how refreshing a warm bottle of lemonade would be. Next time, maybe.

He heads for the counter that separates the front room from the actual pharmaceuticals. The behind the counter stuff. He can’t spare Niall another glance, just in case, and he lifts his gun to shoulder level, finger on the trigger. The door behind the counter is, thankfully, unlocked, and he turns it while holding the gun in his left hand.

The room is just a few sets of shelves. Liam takes a quick look around and then heads for one of them, shoving the gun back in his holster. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for, so he pulls his bag off his shoulders and starts filling it with one of everything. Best to be on the safe side.

He’s leaning up to reach for a bottle on the top shelf when the atmosphere in the room changes. It was something he wouldn’t have been able to pick up on before, when survival instincts weren’t needed to live. Now, he can feel the shift in the air, knows he’s not the only one breathing it in. He reaches for his knife in his belt (no need to grab for the gun when there’s only one), but before he can, the cold press of a blade digs into his throat, and a body presses against his from behind.

“One move,” the person holding the knife to his throat says, “and you die. Understood?”

 

--

 

He slept in the pharmacy for one reason: the dead are really fucking loud. It’s impossible for one of them to make it through the front room, and then into the back room where he sleeps, without making noise. And if one does make it into the back room, the way Zayn has the shelves set up (which didn’t take much rearranging, thankfully) assures that they’d have to knock into at least one to get to him, and the sound of the bottles moving or falling would wake him up.

Sure, it’s not foolproof. Sure, there’s too many variables, so many chances being taken. He can’t help it, though. There’s nowhere else. Not when he’d run out of ammo three days ago. Not when he has no idea what he’ll find when he leaves this building, because he’d stumbled into here days ago in the middle of the night after staying awake for three days straight and running non-stop for two of them without anything to drink.

He was dehydrated and starving, and a pharmacy is as good a place to die as any.

Obviously his muddled thoughts had been smart ones, because the sound of someone riffling through the shelves wakes him. It takes him all of about fifteen seconds to realize that, no, that is not one of the dead. The movements are too precise, the breathing too even and levelled. Whoever it is, they don’t know he’s here. Dumb, he thinks, or cocky. Didn’t check the whole room first.

Trying to make as little noise as possible, Zayn sits up. He’s already got his knife clutched in his hand (who doesn’t sleep with a weapon at the ready anymore?) and he crouches down to stay out of view as he moves towards the sound of his much too loud companion.

The first thing he sees is a wide set of shoulders stretching a too tight black t-shirt. The second thing he notices is the man’s short hair, and the fact that he looks not only well fed, but clean. And he’s instantly on alert. He can count on his left hand the amount of living people he’s come across in the last three months. He knows what people are like now. Knows that the only way to survive is to kill, and not just kill the dead, either.

Zayn sucks in a shallow, quiet breath, and then moves behind the man and, as carefully as he can, he presses the man into the shelf and levels his knife at the man’s throat.

“One move and you die,” Zayn says softly. “Understood?”

The man is frozen, hand halfway to his belt. Zayn sees a knife and a gun there, knows that he’s risking everything by even doing this, because he’s too weak right now to fight. One good elbow to the ribs and he figures he’d go down, if the man in front of him is willing to risk it.

“Understood,” he says softly.

Zayn sucks in another breath and tries to think. Tries to figure out a way out of this that doesn’t involve either of them dying, but he doubts there is one. He might have been prepared to die when he’d came into this place, but he’s not anymore. If it comes down to it, he’ll go out fighting, and he hopes that his companion is too concerned about that to try anything.

“I’m not alone,” the man says. Zayn winces. Of course he’s not. “I’ve got someone waiting just outside, and he’ll be in here soon if I don’t come out, and he’s not going to ask questions first.”

Zayn chews his lip. “So I’ve got no options, then,” Zayn says.

“You could kill me and take my gun,” the man suggests.

Zayn startles a bit at those words, and the knife digs into the man’s skin harder than he meant to. Zayn can see the drop of blood slide down his throat, over a dark birthmark that is really unimportant right now, but for someone sticks out in his mind anyways.

“Too late to decide,” a voice behind him says, and then pain explodes in the back of Zayn’s skull and his body crumples, vision going black.

 

--

 

He wakes up in a bed. He doesn’t have to open his eyes to know this. Months of sleeping on cement floors, in the backs of abandoned cars, or even in trees has taught him to treasure warm, soft beds. Sleeping in houses is too risky. It’s too hard to secure them. He hasn’t had the luxury of sleeping in a bed since October or December, and it’s now late into July.

His head aches. No, it fucking pounds. That’s really not important, though. What’s important is the cold water that seeps down his neck. He’s laying facedown without a pillow, and someone is cleaning the wound on the back of his neck. Someone male, he guesses, who doesn’t have any medical training, because the way he’s going about things is a bit too painful and fumbled.

A moment later the water is replaced by something that fucking stings, but Zayn holds in the hiss of pain, because he’s in trouble here. He can tell that he doesn’t have his knife. It’s not in his hands, and he can’t feel the hilt of it digging into his hip, which it would be doing if it was in his belt.

Zayn’s good at hand to hand combat, though. He’s weak and hurt and thin, but he’s quick and smart. As subtly as he can, he shifts his position a bit, putting a bit more pressure on his left leg, splaying the fingers of his left hand flat against the mattress. Then, in one swift, fast move, he’s twisting out of bed, grabbing the man by the throat, and pushing him against the opposite wall.

He takes a few seconds (not many, because time is a luxury and ten seconds could bet he difference between life and death) to figure out where he is. When he does, he finds panic bubbling up inside of him, because he’s in a fucking cell. Complete with a barred door.

“Where’s my knife?” Zayn hisses into the ear of the man he’s got pressed against the wall. It’s the same one from earlier, though he’s wearing different clothes now. He doesn’t know if the guy just changed, or if it’s actually been over a day since he was knocked out. It could be either.

“Not in here,” the guy grinds out. It must be a little difficult, given the way his face is pressed against the cement wall, but Zayn doesn’t let up because one wrong move and this guy will be able to overpower him easily. “There’s no weapons in here. Strict rules. A precaution.”

“And where the fuck is here, exactly?” Zayn demands, eyes scanning the man’s body. He can’t pat him down, can’t take the hand off his neck or from between his shoulder blades, but from what he can see, this guy really is unarmed.

The man ignores the question and says, “Remember yesterday how I gave you an out? Told you to take my gun? This time there isn’t an out. You kill me, it won’t make a difference. That door’s locked, and only one person has the key, and I can guarantee you that you’d be dead before you even asked him to open the door.”

Zayn makes a frustrated noise and steps back, releasing the man at once. He moves across the cell, trying to put as much distance between them as possible, but there’s not a lot of room in the small space. There’s the bunk bed that Zayn had been sleeping on, stripped bare, and then a sink against the wall he’d just pushed the man into. Nothing else.

Zayn’s back hits the barred door and he winces in pain when his elbow hits the metal too hard. The man turns, and Zayn takes in a wide pair of brown eyes, pink lips stretches into a thin line, and the cut on his throat from Zayn’s blade. It must have slipped against his neck when Zayn fell, but the cut looks days old, at least.

“How long was I out for?” Zayn demands. His voice is rough, throat dry. He doesn’t just feel like a caged animal. He is one.

“Two and a half days,” the man answers. He busies himself with grabbing the cloth from Zayn’s bed and wets it in the sink.

Zayn reaches up a hand to the cut on the back of his neck, which he assumes to be from the butt of a gun. “You drugged me,” Zayn realizes, because there’s no way that wound knocked him out for days.

“Again, a precaution,” the man says. “Had to make sure you were unconscious long enough to get you into the cell, and Niall went a little overboard with the sleeping pills.”

Zayn lifts his chin defiantly, trying to make it look like he’s calm and in control, though he has no doubt that they both know who’s really in control here. “What do you plan on doing with me?”

“That’s not up to him to decide,” a voice behind him says.

Zayn whirls and backs up, putting distance between himself and the door. He ends up having the other man stepping in front of him, shielding Zayn’s whole body with his bigger one. “Louis,” the man in front of him says.

The one at the door is smaller than the one in his cell. Shorter, thin, wiry arms, but a slightly curvy sort of body. They’re both well fed, Zayn notes. Not starving, not dirty. Wherever he is right now (which is obviously a prison, but for some reason that doesn’t make sense in Zayn’s mind), they’re living a cushy life here.

“Liam,” the other man counters, and the four letters are laced with everything from warning and annoyance, to concern and exhaustion.

“What do you want me to do?” Liam demands. “I told you, we couldn’t have left him, he was unconscious! I don’t want his death on my hands.”

Louis sighs deeply and says, “That doesn’t mean you have to lick his fucking wounds, now does it? And he didn’t seem to have an qualms about killing you, or so I’d assume, given the cut on your throat.”

I should have, Zayn thinks. Should have killed him, grabbed his gun, got out of there. He’d be long gone by now, and he’d be better off than he was before, because he’d have a gun. Hesitation will be the death of him, he figures. If he had of just went through with it, he wouldn’t be here right now. And here? Here is probably where he dies, he knows. Groups don’t just expand to allow in outsiders. And Zayn doesn’t like people very much. They’ll probably kill him just to get rid of the inconvenience, and Zayn can’t see any way to escape.

“He wasn’t going to kill me,” Liam says quietly. Zayn doesn’t add anything, because he’s right. Zayn wouldn’t have went through with it, and he knows it, as pathetic and stupid as that is.

“Louis!” someone yells, and Louis tenses. The man in front of him grins, though, and Zayn feels himself relax a little. Liam had been tense when Louis came into the picture, but that rigid set to his shoulders relaxes a bit as another person comes into view.

This one is younger than the others. He’s tall and thin with wild hair and a bright grin. He looks sick, though. Skin ashen, cheekbones too sharp, not as healthy as Liam and Louis.

“What are you doing?” Louis asks quietly, concern etched in every part of his face. “You should be in bed.”

The curly haired boy shrugs and says, “I wanted to see what everyone’s going on about. Jen said Liam brought home another stray.”

Louis sighs loudly and wraps an arm around the other boy. “You’re not allowed in the cell, though,” he says. “And don’t you dare let him out, Harry, you hear me?”

Curly-- Harry-- rolls his eyes. “Do I look like an idiot?” he asks, and then turns to Zayn. “So what’s your name, anyways?”

Zayn feels like a lab experiment, and he takes a step backwards and keeps going until he hits the wall. He feels safer against a wall, knowing that nothing could come up behind him, even if it would be impossible for anything to get to him from behind because, you know, he’s in a fucking cell.

“Does he speak English?” Harry asks Liam.

“Yes,” Liam says, turning to Zayn. “He was just talking to me.”

Zayn has no idea why he doesn’t tell them that Zayn had attacked him. There’s something far too kind in those brown eyes, and it makes Zayn feel guilty.

“Whatever,” Louis says suddenly. “You’re going back to bed.”

“Oh, come on, Lou!” Harry whines. “I don’t want to be in bed. I’ve been in bed for almost two fucking weeks.”

“And you’re still running a fever, so you’re going back to bed,” Louis says firmly. “And Liam?”

“What?” Liam asks, stepping towards the door.

“Here,” Louis says, handing him a set of keys, as well as a set of handcuffs that Zayn hadn’t seen before. “Anything he eats comes out of your rations. You keep him away from our cellblock. And if you take him out of the cell, he’s handcuffed at all times. Understood?”

“Wait, I’ll come with you,” Liam says, using the keys to unlock the cell door. “I’m getting us lunch. And then I’m going to take him to the showers. I don’t think he’s had a proper wash in weeks. I’ll let Jen know to keep everyone out of that side of the prison while we’re there, and I’ll take Niall with us.”

Louis nods and fixes Zayn with a hard look. “You can try all you want, but there’s no way to get out of the cell. And when he takes you out, if you try anything, we shoot first and ask questions second, and there’s way too many of us for you to even think of getting out of here alive, so I wouldn’t try anything.”

Zayn doesn’t answer. He doesn’t really see what he can say, because it’s not like he’s not going to at least try to get out of here. He has to. If he dies, at least he’ll do it knowing he tried his best to keep himself alive.

The three of them leave and Zayn waits until he can no longer hear the sounds of their footsteps to move. He looks over the cell slowly, and then tries the door just to see. Liam had locked it behind him, but Zayn tries pushing on it, tries pulling on it, tries kicking it and everything, but there’s no point in even trying, because Louis was right. He can’t get out.

Next he heads for the bed. He lifts both mattresses, finds nothing underneath. He tries the sink next, attempts to rip the pipe from the wall, because that could be a fairly useful weapon. He doesn’t have the energy to do it, though. His body is too weak, and the pipe doesn’t budge.

Eventually he sighs and sits down on the bottom bunk and tries to think. There’s got to be a way to get out of this alive. Liam’s coming back with food, he said. Food has to come on a plate, right? He could wait until Liam is inside, break the plate over his head, or break it on the wall and stab him with one of the shards, and then take the keys from his pockets. And then he could… what? How many people are here, exactly? Louis had said a lot, but a lot, in this world, could mean five.

So he won’t try anything right away. He’ll wait until Liam takes him to the showers, wherever they are. Maybe he’ll get to see the others, figure out what he’s up against, and come up with the best way to go about this. Reconnaissance. Get a weapon. Get out.

When Liam comes back he politely asks Zayn to stay sitting while he opens the door, which Zayn does. He carefully locks the two of them in, and then hands Zayn a bowl of rice and a spoon.

“Do you mind if I sit?” he asks, gesturing to the bed.

Zayn shrugs and Liam sinks into the space beside him, the bed dipping down under his weight in a way that it doesn’t with Zayn’s. He starts eating right away, like he’s completely comfortable to sit here with Zayn, locked in a prison cell.

After a few moments Zayn lifts his spoon to his mouth and swallows. It hurts, and he coughs.

“Oh, right, shit,” Liam says, standing up. He pulls a water bottle out of his back pocket and hands it to Zayn. “Sorry, I forgot. You’re probably thirsty, right?”

Zayn ignores him and unscrews the lid before bringing the bottle to his lips. The water is warm and seems to only intensify the foul taste in his mouth, but it’s wet and it soothes his dry throat, so he keeps drinking, keeps guzzling it down until the bottle’s empty.

Liam watches him the whole time, eyes on Zayn while he shovels food into his mouth. Zayn tries another bite, finds it bland and a bit mushy, but it’s food. On his own he’d had barely anything to eat. He sticks to the woods, most of the time. It’s safer. The only reason he was even in town in the first place was because he was getting reckless, and he figured he was going to die soon on the road anyways. Might as well go out with a roof over his head.

He eats faster than Liam. The food settles in his stomach in a way that’s almost painful because he’s not used to it. When he’s done, Liam hands Zayn his bowl, too, even though it’s still half full.

“Go ahead,” Liam tells him. “You look like you need it a lot more than I do.”

It’s true. Zayn is all thin limbs and gaunt cheekbones, and Liam looks like a fucking athletic model. Strong arms, tanned skin, wide shoulders, full cheeks. Which is why Zayn takes the second helping of food, eating it quickly even if his stomach is starting to protest. Who knows where his next meal is going to come from. It’s best to get his fill while he can.

This time, when he finishes, Liam takes the bowl from him, adds the other one on top of it, and stands up. “I’m going to go get Niall,” he explains. “What size pants are you? I think something of Harry’s might fit. Be a bit long, but that’s because Harry’s sort of a mutant.”

Zayn frowns up at him. “What?”

“Clothes,” Liam repeats. He wrinkles his nose and gives Zayn an apologetic look. “No offence, but you smell rank. And those pants look plastered to your body, not to mention they’re ripped and covered in blood.”

Zayn looks down at himself. Liam’s got a point. His leather jacket no longer looks black, but is instead grey from dirt and brown and red in places from blood and… he doesn’t know what else. Doesn’t really want to think about it. And his jeans are even worse. Finding clothes, when he does bother to stop into a town or break into a house, was never a top priority.

“Why are you doing this?” Zayn asks, searching Liam’s eyes for something. Some hint of malice, something that betrays the open and friendly look on his face, that proves that Zayn’s guard is up for a reason. He doesn’t find anything.

“Doing what?” Liam asks, turning his keys in his hands.

“I did try to kill you,” Zayn says softly. “And now you’re-- feeding me, offering me clothes. Why?”

Liam shrugs and says, “Why not? Until everyone decides what to do with you, you’re stuck here anyways. And who knows, you might end up being useful.” He smiles a bit. “You were out there on your own, weren’t you? For how long?”

Zayn shifts uncomfortably. “Haven’t been with anyone else since October.”

“Fuck,” Liam breathes, eyes wide. “How’d you last so long?”

Zayn narrows his eyes. “I just did.”

“Right, well,” Liam grins again. “See what I mean? If you can last that long on your own, out there, then you might be a real help in here.”

“What if I don’t want to stay?” Zayn asks him.

Liam snorts. “You will,” he says with complete conviction. “You’ll see.”

Zayn severely doubts this, but Liam is too busy unlocking, and then relocking, the door for Zayn to bother mentioning it. Liam, he decides, is far too naive for his own good. He has no idea how Liam lasted this long in a world like this, but people like that are a hazard to themselves. Too willing to believe in the good in people, and too willing to take in a stranger that has considered killing you on multiple different occasions.

At least it’ll be easier for Zayn to escape if Liam is the one constantly watching him.

 

--

 

Louis wasn’t kidding about the handcuffs. Niall (the one who apparently hit him on the back of the head, and drugged him afterwards) waits outside with a gun hanging loosely in one hand, a bag in the other. Zayn thinks he might be a friendly enough looking guy, if you’re on his good side. Zayn apparently isn’t, though, and Niall’s blue eyes are cold and watchful as Liam comes into the cell and makes Zayn turn around so he can put the handcuffs on him.

Zayn hates it. He really fucking hates it. The metal is cold and it bites into his skin, and without control of his hands or arms, he’s even more defenceless than he already was. When Liam guides him out of the room, it’s with a gentle hand on his back. If he gets the chance, Zayn decides he will break that hand.

“Jen’s cleared out the way,” Niall says conversationally to Liam as they walk. “Louis’ right pissed at you though, eh? You’re lucky Harry’s sick and he’s too distracted.’

Liam shrugs. “Louis will get over it.”

“Think the others will, though?” Niall questions. “Jen’s pretty curious, wants to know what his deal is. Mary and Carson think we should kill him.”

Zayn stiffens but Liam rolls his eyes. “Mary’s reaction to everything is murder. Remember last week when Louis told her that her haircut looked stupid? Nearly sliced his head off.”

Niall chuckles. “It does look stupid though, doesn’t it?”

Liam shakes his head. “I’m not answering that.”

“So what’s his name, anyways?” Niall asks, pointing a thumb in Zayn’s direction.

“Don’t know,” Liam admits. “Said he was on his own since October.”

Niall raises his eyebrows, looking impressed. “October?” he asks Zayn. “How the fuck’d you manage that?”

Zayn glares at him and doesn’t answer.

They ignore him after that. Well, mostly. Liam’s still got a hand on him, whether to guide him or to keep him from running off, he has no idea. Zayn’s too busy taking in his surroundings to care.

He really is in a prison. His cell is in an abandoned cellblock. He’s the only one in there, from what he could tell. The rest of the prison is desolate looking, but Zayn can faintly hear people laughing and talking from far off, to the left. He figures that Liam and his group are staying in a different cellblock, one far from Zayn’s.

“That’s the kitchen,” Liam explains, pointing to a set of two doors on their left. “Jen handles all the food, so I wouldn’t go in there without her permission.”

Zayn turns to look at the door as they walk past, sees the indents in the metal that suggests bodies had been slammed into it. There’s no blood, though. In fact, there’s no blood anywhere.

“You cleared out the whole prison?” Zayn asks quietly.

Liam nods. “Most of it. Don’t go near the other cellblocks. There’s a wall of dead that keeps the others out, but the back wall’s been broken for who knows how long. That whole area isn’t safe. We don’t know if there’s a lot of them there, but none of us are willing to check. It’s too blocked off to be an issue, and too risky to try clearing it out.”

Zayn is more than a little impressed. At first, the idea of living in a prison seemed insane to him, but the more he thinks about it, the smarter it is. Everything is locked down, for one. You can lock down different sections of the jail, and different cellblocks, and then even specific cells, like his own. You could get a full nights sleep, knowing that nothing can get to you. And then on top of that there’s a kitchen and running water, apparently. And there’s so much space.

“Genius,” Zayn breathes.

Liam grins. “Thanks.”

“His idea,” Niall adds. “The prison, I mean. We were out on the run most of the winter, until we came by this place. Told him he was crazy to even consider clearing it out, but we did it.”

Liam flushes but says, “It’s not that big of a deal.”

“No, it really is,” Niall says sincerely. “Saved my life a million times, Liam. So you fuck with him and I’ll make sure that you wish we’d of just thrown you to the walkers.”

Zayn would snort a laugh if he wasn’t positive that Niall is 100% serious. Niall seems like the kind of person who is constantly teetering on the edge of good and bad. Will be kind and open to those he’s loyal to, and won’t hesitate to put a bullet in everyone else. At first glance, you might assume that Niall is more in charge than Liam, but that’s not true, Zayn thinks. Niall gravitates to Liam, changes his every move to match Liam’s, like he’s used to taking orders from the other man.

“Showers,” Liam says finally. They’re just down the hall from the kitchen, and Liam nods to Niall and says, “You keep watch. I’ll take him in.”

Niall nods and says to Zayn, “This is the only exit out of the bathroom. You come through that door before he does, I shoot you.”

Zayn nods, and Liam pulls out a set of keys and unlocks the door before grabbing the bag from Niall and letting Zayn walk in first. Once again, Zayn is taken aback by how clean it is. There’s windows high up, at least twice his own height, and they’re too small to get out through. They allow light to filter in, though, giving the room a bright, open look. There’s a shoulder height wall separating the actual showers from the rest of the room, too, and a small bench against the wall by the door.

“I’ll unlock those,” Liam says, gesturing to his cuffs. Zayn turns and the metal releases his hands. He flexes his fingers as Liam pockets the keys and handcuffs. “Here,” Liam says, handing Zayn the bag. “Clothes, soap, a towel.”

Zayn takes them, pulling the towel out and slinging it over his shoulder. He pulls out the clothes next, finding a pair of jeans that he can already tell, from one look, are going to be too long on him, and then a black t-shirt and a pair of black boxers that actually look new. There’s a brand new bar of soap inside, too, and Zayn pulls that out before hanging the clothes up on the wall beside him and adding the towel, too.

Liam sinks down onto the bench and fixes the wall across from him with an intense look, letting Zayn know that he’s safe to get undressed without being watched. That doesn’t make Zayn feel any more comfortable. Being naked isn’t something he’s used to anymore. It’s just not safe, not when you might have to be on the run at any second.

He really needs a shower, though, so he kicks off his shoes and pulls off his disgusting looking socks and then walks around the wall and strips off his t-shirt, too, which he hangs up beside the clean clothes. Next come his jeans, which, as Liam had pointed out earlier, really are plastered to his skin with blood and dirt, and he rips open a scab getting them off. He doesn’t react to it, though, because the mild pain is practically nothing to him.

Zayn takes one look down at his boxers and sucks in a breath before pulling them off. He doesn’t want to look at himself, but he can’t help it. His legs are so thin, the knobs of his knees sticking out sickeningly. His skin is dirty, too-- disgustingly so.

There’s six shower heads against the wall, and Zayn throws a look over his shoulder at Liam before walking towards them. He turns the first dial and steps out of the way as a stream of freezing water splashes around him. He can’t help but reach for the other dial, even though he knows it’s impossible. There’s no electricity anywhere anymore. The last time he’d washed in warm water was almost a year ago.

And yet, when he turns the dial, warm water comes out. He can’t help the gasp that escapes from his lips, or the way he cups the water in his hands just to make sure that this is real.

“You’ve got two minutes,” Liam says loudly. “Can’t waste hot water. You only get a hot shower once a week.”

“How is this even possible?” Zayn asks, stepping under the spray. The warmth washes over him, and he feels like crying, for some absurd reason.

The water turns a gross, muddy brown as it washes away his dirt, and Zayn rips open the soap box and lathers up his hands. It smells like citrus, and he scrubs his skin vigorously.

“Generator,” Liam explains. “Louis’ looking into solar power. There’s a farm not too far from here, and there’s panels on the roof. We’ve been waiting for Harry to get better to go check it out.”

Zayn sighs and continues to clean himself. The soap bar is half gone by the time he’s got the dirt from every inch of his body, and he can’t remember the last time he was this clean. He feels brand new, and it’s… it’s enough to distract him, for the time being, from his situation.

“Time’s up,” Liam tells him, and Zayn reluctantly turns of the water and pads over to the wall to grab his towel.

He dries his hair first, and then his body. When he’s done, he throws the towel back over the wall and reaches for the clothes. He hopes the boxers are new, but then he takes a look at the state of his old ones and decides that he really can’t afford to give a shit. They’re clean, and that’s all that he can focus on.

The pants are too big, as he knew they’d be. That can’t be helped, though, so he cuffs them up around the ankles and then pulls on the shirt, which smells distinctly of lavender.

“Jen’s cleaning your jacket,” Liam tells him as he heads around to the other side of the wall.

“Thank you,” Zayn says, the word feeling foreign on his tongue.

Liam shrugs. “Didn’t do it for you,” Liam tells him. “Did it for me. I’m stuck watching you until we’ve all decided what to do with you, and I’m going to have a much better time doing that if you don’t smell like the dead.”

Zayn nods and Liam grabs Zayn’s towel off the wall and slings it over his shoulder, and then stuffs the bag with Zayn’s dirty clothes. “What are you going to do with those?” Zayn asks.

Liam looks down at the bag. “Throw them out, unless you want to keep them.”

“No,” Zayn says after a moment of debating. He doesn’t ever want to put those jeans on again. In fact, he’d burn them if he could.

Liam pulls the handcuffs out of his pocket and Zayn obediently turns around, knowing there’s no way to fight him on this one. Plus, now that he’s clean and fed, he feels tired again. The prospect of falling asleep in a bed, knowing that the dead can’t get to him, is too amazing to even comprehend, and he just wants to sleep. If someone shoots or stabs him in his sleep, so be it. He doesn’t care right now.

The walk back to his cellblock is mostly quiet. Niall and Liam chat, but Zayn silently walks beside Liam, following the same path they’d taken on the way to the showers. When they get to his cellblock, Niall waits outside and then locks the two of them in.

“I’ll come check on you in two hours,” Niall says, pocketing the keys.

Zayn frowns but waits for him to go before asking. He notes the fact that someone came in and made both of the beds, because there’s a blanket and pillow on the top and bottom bunk.

“Why’d he lock you in with me?” Zayn asks Liam.

Liam yawns and stretches. “So I can take a nap,” he explains. “This way, I don’t have the key on me so I don’t have to worry about you killing me in my sleep to take them.”

Zayn’s frown deepens and he tugs at the collar of his shirt. Liam looks like he’s waiting for Zayn to say that he wouldn’t do that, but he can’t. Not because he actually would, but because he can’t have Liam thinking that he’s some passive person who’s just going to allow them to take him prisoner (literally).

Zayn pulls back the blanket on the bed and crawls onto it, too tired to talk anymore. Too tired to think, really, because he’s only been up for a few hours, but today has just been too much for him.

He hears Liam climb into the bunk above him, hears him shift around. There’s a moment of panic where Zayn wonders if the bunk will cave in on him and he’ll end up dead, sandwiched between two mattresses. That’d be a pretty embarrassing way to go.

“I still don’t know your name,” Liam says quietly as Zayn tries to get comfortable.

Zayn closes his eyes and pulls the blankets up over his shoulders. “It’s Zayn,” he says, and he’s not sure why. He just does. And then he falls asleep, for the first time in so long, to the sound of someone else breathing around him.

 

--

 

Liam wakes up when Niall comes back, carrying a tray of food with him. Maybe to an outsider, Niall would seem calm and relaxed, but Liam knows he’s on edge. He knows that the boy -- Zayn-- is making them all anxious, except maybe Liam and Harry. Harry is far too eager at the prospect of someone else being able to help take care of everyone, and Liam can’t deny that Zayn is probably capable.

Eight months. He’s been on his own for over eight months, and he’s lasted this long. He’s doing something right, apparently. Liam needs to know what it is. And Liam thinks that he could be an asset, if they could get him to relax, and get everyone else to accept him.

Except Zayn is skittish and terrified. He can see it in the other man’s eyes, in the way he holds himself. He’s looking for a way out, though he and Niall and Louis had explained to him that there isn’t one. And there’s not. Unless he wants to go on a rampage and kill everyone, he’s stuck here. And Liam really, really hopes that Zayn is better than that. If someone got hurt because Liam was too kind to let this guy die, he’d never forgive himself. And as much as he wants to make Zayn comfortable, if it came down to Zayn or any of the others, Liam would kill him.

Zayn is still asleep when Niall comes into the cell. He places the tray on the sink as Liam jumps down from the bunk. “Like a sack of fucking potatoes,” Niall comments, eying Zayn warily. “Bet he hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in months.”

Liam nods his agreement and reaches for the bowl of instant mashed potatoes. They taste too watery and gross, but it’s warm, at least. “I think you’re right,” Liam agrees. “You should have seen him in the shower. I think he was about to cry because we actually have hot water.”

Niall’s lips quirk up. “You watched him in the shower?”

Liam feels heat rise to his cheeks. “No, I just--,”

“Sure,” Niall says, grinning. “So the fact that he’s hot as fuck had no effect on your decision to save him.”

No, it hadn’t. Liam hadn’t even know what he looked like when he’d picked up the body to carry him out to the car. The way Niall had hit him made Zayn collapse on himself, face pressed into the ground. All he had seen was a skinny boy with dirt and blood stained clothes, and blood dripping down his neck. He looked helpless, and Liam couldn’t leave him.

Zayn is attractive, though. Now that he’s showered, it’s even more obvious. Smooth skin a few shades darker than Liam’s is naturally. Dark hair that hangs over his eyes a bit, probably in need of a good cut. Wide eyes that look brown sometimes, and hazel others, framed by dark lashes. But beauty isn’t really important anymore.

“It didn’t,” Liam denies honestly. “I would have saved him no matter what he looked like.”

Niall laughs, but it’s a fond sound, not mocking. “I know,” he admits. “That’s what makes you Liam.”

Liam snorts and shovels more food into his mouth while Niall leans against the wall. “Harry’s feeling better,” he says. “We’re going on a run tomorrow. Louis said it was fine.”

Liam swallows and nods. “Good. I have a list of things we need.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Niall says, pulling at a string on his shirt. “There’s a mall not far from here, you know. Next town over.”

Liam shakes his head quickly. “No way.”

“But--,’

“No way,” he repeats.

“Liam, come on. Think about it, okay. It’s stocked with clothes, and food, and blankets and supplies. And not just that, but we can get seeds and start growing food. Imagine how fucking great it would be to eat real vegetables again.”

“Niall,” Liam says slowly, because it’s too risky. A store that big is too much of a chance. It’s just not safe.

“Just think about it,” Niall replies. “Okay?”

Liam sighs and nods, but he knows he’s not going to change his mind. “I’ll think about it, but don’t get your hopes up.”

“Don’t count on it, boss,” Niall says, grinning. “I’ve got watch duty. You’re off for the night. You can stay here with your pet.”

Liam frowns at him. “Don’t call him that.”

“You feed him, clean him, and keep him behind bars.” Niall raises his eyebrows. “That sounds like a pet to me.”

Liam sighs. “Tell Louis I want us all to have a meeting tomorrow, okay? I want to decide what to do with him.”

Niall groans. “We should blindfold him and drop him off in the woods too far for him to find his way back, is what we should do,” he says passionately. “We can’t trust him, Liam. He tried to kill you, don’t forget that.”

Liam stands up and crosses his arms over his chest. “Louis said the exact same thing about you, but who was the one that vouched for your ass?”

Niall glares. “That was different.”

“How so?”

“Because-- I--,” Niall waves a hand. “Come on, Liam, you can’t deny that there’s something wrong with him. Eight or nine months on his own? Living like that without someone else? Something like that fucks you up beyond repair. Even if he isn’t going to hurt us, you really think he’ll want to stay?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Liam demands. “We’re safe here.”

“Can’t tame a wild thing, Li,” Niall says quietly. “And him? He’s a wild thing.”

Liam doesn’t say anything else, and Niall leaves, locking the door behind himself. Liam finishes eating and puts his bowl back on the tray just as Zayn says, “He’s right, you know.”

Liam nearly jumps, but his instincts are too good for that. His heart does race, though, as he turns to see Zayn, whose eyes are still closed, still laying with his head on the pillow.

“About what?” Liam asks, putting a hand on the ladder of the bunk bed.

“’m fucked up beyond repair,” Zayn says quietly.

Liam doesn’t argue with him because he doesn’t see any point. “There’s food for you on the sink for when you wake up.”

Zayn grunts his reply, and Liam climbs back onto the bunk to go back to sleep. He’s going to need to be well rested for tomorrow.

 

--

 

Zayn is still sleeping when Liam leaves the cell. He has Niall watch him while he showers and gets dressed and ready for the day, and then gets Jen to go and watch him while they have the meeting. Jen’s already put in her vote anyways. She’s for letting him stay, and Liam’s grateful to have her on his side, because Jen is possibly the most influential person in their group.

Jen is a sweet old woman of fifty-six who looks like she smells like cookies and probably used to carry around mints in her purse. She is also the most capable person with a gun in their entire group, being an even better shot that Liam or Niall, and her old wrinkled hands can reload a handgun at a speed that is astounding. When Liam first met her, he wondered how she was still alive. And then he got to know her, and he stopped wondering.

“I’ve got it,” she says, nodding towards the cell. Liam must still look hesitant because she adds, “Don’t you worry, I’ve got your boy.”

Liam nods and goes to head out of the cellblock, but Zayn sits up first and calls his name. Liam looks over to see him clutching at his blankets, eyes wide.

“Zayn,” Liam says lightly, “this is Jen. Jen, this is Zayn.”

“He’s a pretty little thing, isn’t he?” Jen asks. “Zayn, is it?” Zayn nods. “Nice to meet you, Zayn. I’m Jennison, but you can call me Jen.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Zayn says slowly. It’s the first words Liam’s heard him speak to anyone other than him, which in itself is surprising enough. The polite, open tone of voice is even more surprising, and it makes something weird twist in Liam’s gut, because Zayn doesn’t talk to him like that. Zayn talks to Liam likes he’s seconds away from attacking him again, or running.

“See?” Jen asks, turning to him. “We’re fine. You go talk to the others.”

Liam gives Zayn one last look, and Zayn nods his head subtly; Liam figures that means he’s okay being left alone. He doesn’t know why the thought of leaving him under someone else’s care bothers him so much, but it does.

He leaves the cellblock anyways, and heads for their own. Their cellblock is different than Zayn’s, in the sense that it looks almost homey. There’s colourful blankets hung up to cover the bars, and each room has some sort of decoration, from Harry’s ridiculous posters on his walls, to Niall’s snapbacks hanging off the corners of his bed.

It’s still such a shock, how well they’ve managed to carry on like this. How they’ve all come together and learned to just live with the way that things are. Found a way to bring back some normalcy to the insanity.

Liam pushes through the set of door into the common room area, which is really jut a room with a few circular tables. Everyone else is in here, except for Niall, who’s on watch. Louis is sitting with an arm around Harry, like he still doesn’t trust that the boy is safe and well. Liam doesn’t blame him. Harry being sick made him worry, too, but Harry is far too resilient to die from a fever. When he goes out, it’ll be in a blaze of fire with a mountain of dead walkers surrounding him, Liam knows.

Mary and Carson are sitting together, too, and Jen’s grandson Wyatt is sitting with Louis and Harry, talking in an animated way that only someone under the age of ten can manage (and Louis, because Louis is ten years old mentally, anyways). Wilson and Jordon are at the far corner, and they smile at him when he walks in. Sam and Lena are too busy eating to pay him any attention.

Liam coughs loudly until everyone stops talking and faces him. “I’d like to have a talk about what to do with our -- erm-- friend.”

“Prisoner,” Louis corrects.

“He’s not a prisoner,” Liam sighs.

“You have him locked in a cell. He is a prisoner.”

“Whatever,” Liam says, waving him off. “Before we throw around ideas, I want to talk about this first. Personally, I don’t think he’s a threat.”

“Not to you, maybe,” Mary points out. “No one’s a threat to you.”

Liam ignores her. “I can vouch for him. Niall can vouch for him. Jen can couch for him. We had him out in the halls yesterday, and he hasn’t tried anything.” Liam omits the part where Zayn woke up and attacked him, because Liam can understand where he was coming from with that. Liam would have reacted the exact same way if the roles had been reversed. “So I think we should give him a two week trial period.”

“Seconded,” Harry says immediately, raising his hand.

Harry elbows Louis in the ribs, and Louis raises his hand, too, and says, “Same here, but on one condition: he has a guard at all times. Handcuffs, too.”

Liam nods. “That’s reasonable.” Though he decides that, if in a few days things go well, they’ll have another discussion about removing them.

“I don’t like this,” Mary says loudly. “We’re happy with our group. We don’t need an outsider screwing that up.”

Liam raises his eyebrows. “What about an outsider that survived alone for eight months out there?” Liam asks. “Who did something that not a single person in this room could do?”

Mary sucks in a breath, but it’s Wyatt who speaks up. “Eight months?” he asks, blue eyes wide. “Alone?” Liam nods. “He must be lonely. I think he should stay. We have lots of room.”

“We don’t have lots of food,” Carson argues.

“If he stays, he’ll pull his weight around here just like everyone else,” Liam promises. “Everyone in favour of a trial period, raise your hand.”

Six hands go up, some only halfway, but still. That’s more than half, if you add in Niall and Jen, too, and Liam. Mary, Carson, and Sam are the only ones who don’t raise their hands.

“Then it’s decided,” Liam says. “Harry, if you want to start getting ready to head out.”

Harry nods and he and Sam gets up. Sam’s going to take Niall’s place on watch so he can come with them. They head for the next room over to get their gear and guns, grabbing bags, too. Wyatt joins them, because he thinks the guns are cool. Two years ago, Liam would be disturbed by the thought of a child even looking at a real gun. Now, Wyatt loads Niall’s for him and no one bats an eye.

 

--

 

“You remind me of my mum,” Zayn admits.

Jen laughs. “She old, too?”

Zayn shakes his head. “No, but she looks like the sweet, caring mother, but you touch anything on her stove and she’ll wack you with a wooden spoon.”

Jen laughs louder, and Zayn faintly smiles. He likes her. He likes her a lot, and he hasn’t liked anyone in… in so long. Hasn’t been around a single person that he’s wanted to smile with. He thinks it’d be pretty impossible not to with Jen, though. She’s old, but she’s feisty, and she’s funny.

He wonders where Liam’s going, though. Why he’s leaving Zayn alone with someone else. And he doesn’t like it. He might like Jen, but Liam is… Liam is safe, as weird as that is. It’s not that Zayn is deluded. He has no doubt that Liam could and would kill him, if Zayn gave him a reason. He just knows that, as long as he doesn’t give him that reason, he won’t.

It’s weird, though, being around people. Talking. He hasn’t talked to another person in so long, it’s a surprise his voice even works. It’s a surprise he even knows how to socialize still. He’s struggling a bit, though. More than a little agitated and restless. He doesn’t like being inside, for one. He prefers to be somewhere he can run. And he’s so used to attacking everything that moves that he feels like jumping every time Jen lifts a hand to tuck a strand of grey hair behind her ear, or to cover her mouth to hide a laugh.

“That’ll be them leaving,” Jen says suddenly. Zayn holds his breath, listens. He hears he sounds of cars running, and then the scrape of a gate opening.

“Who’s leaving?” Zayn asks.

“The men,” Jen says, shrugging. “Not all of them, in case you’re getting any ideas of escaping when it’s just a little old lady and a few other women. Not all of them go. Just Harry and Niall and Liam.”

Zayn swallows thickly and wonders why his gut is twisting in worry. “Where are they going?”

Jen shrugs a shoulder. “Food run, most likely. Needed to be done days ago, but Harry’s been sick. He’s our errand boy. Sneaky as a fox, that one.”

“Are they-- I mean, will he-- they--,”

“He’ll be fine,” Jen says. She’s been sitting on the other side of the bars, knitting this whole time. She really does look like the picture of the perfect, dotting grandmother. Zayn thinks that she’d stab anything that came in through those doors with one of those knitting needles, though.

“I wasn’t worrying,” Zayn lies.

Jen’s lips tilts up a bit. “Yes, you were. Can’t say I blame you. Liam’s like that, you know? He’s got a gravitational pull, that one. Sweet as a button, but lethal, too.”

Zayn nods. He can see that. He can definitely see that.

The sound of the cellblock door opening echoes loudly, and Jen sighs and folds up her yarn and says, “You coming to terrorize the boy, Tomlinson?”

“Coming to relieve you for a bit,” Louis says, coming into view. “I can’t just sit here and--,” He cuts himself off abruptly and jerkily runs a hand through his hair. “I need to do something.”

Jen nods and stands up. “You’ll be fine with ‘im,” she tells Zayn.

Zayn snaps his mouth closed loudly to stop the protest that bubbles up inside of him. He doesn’t want to be left alone with Louis. He wants to sit with Jen until Liam gets back. It’s not that Louis scares him. He just isn’t comforting in any way possible, and Zayn likes Jen. Louis, on the other hand…

But Jen walks off and Louis opens the cell door and leaves it wide open. “Cards?” he asks, holding out a deck.

Zayn eyes him warily and shakes his head, no.

“Come on,” Louis says, sighing. “I’m not going to shoot you. Liam would have my head on a stick if I did.”

Zayn narrows his eyes a bit but doesn’t move from his spot, so Louis comes farther into the cell and sinks down on his bed, which Zayn had made twenty minutes ago when Jen told him to, with a snapped, “You’re a man not an animal. We sleep in beds, not pig pens. First rule around here is that you keep your space clean.”

Zayn leans again the opposite wall, beside the sink, while Louis starts shuffling the card deck. Zayn doesn’t miss the knife or the revolver in his belt, and he doesn’t really feel like being on the opposite end of either of those things.

Louis must realize that Zayn’s not going to move or respond to him, so he lays the desk of cards down on the bed. A few slide off the deck, but Louis’ too busy brushing a hand through his hair to notice or care apparently.

“I don’t like it when they go out,” Louis confesses, staring at the floor. “It freaks me out. Like, what if one of them doesn’t come back? And they never let me go with them, because I’m a terrible fucking shot and I once nearly got Liam in the head while trying to shoot a walker, and after that it was just mutually decided that I stay and hold down the fort while the others are out, you know?”

Zayn chews the inside of his lip while Louis talks. Zayn knows exactly what he means. Back when-- no, no, he’s not going to think about that. He’s not. And he doesn’t like Louis, he decides. Louis reminds him far too much of himself from before. Not from before everything started, but from before everything ended. Jumpy, skittish, worried. Left to stay behind while the others went out. Not because he wasn’t good at killing the dead. Because he had been hurt, so they’d left him behind and-- and they’d never come back. Not all of them, at least, and the ones that did--.

Zayn bites down hard on his lip, the metallic taste of blood flooding his mouth. The slight pain is enough of a distraction from thinking, though, so he welcomes it.

“Not that we have anything to worry about,” Louis says suddenly. “Harry’s good at what he does, and Liam will get the three of them back safe. He always does.”

Very slowly, Zayn pushes away from the wall and then sinks down on the bed, far enough from Louis that another person could easily sit between them. Louis grins, sort of. It’s too weak and sarcastic to really be considered a smile. He reaches for the cards again and starts dealing them out, and when he’s done Zayn picks up his cards.

“Rummy,” Louis tells him, flipping up one of the cards. Zayn sorts through his own and then lays down a six, seven, and eight of hearts. Louis does the same with a two, three, and four of spades. Zayn lays down his five of spades, too.

They play in silence for a few minutes, but Louis is obviously distracted. He keeps fidgeting, or running his hands through his hair.

“We took a vote,” he tells Zayn. “When Liam gets back, he’ll probably explain everything to you, but we’re giving you a two week trial period.”

“Trial period,” Zayn repeats. His voice cracks a bit from lack of usage.

Louis nods and lays down a pair of three aces. “To see how you work with the group, or if you can pull your own weight. And to make sure you’re not a psycho who’s going to kill us all in our sleep.”

Zayn snorts and takes a card from the deck. Queen Of Hearts. He can’t help but voice the two questions that have been running through his mind for the past couple hours.

“How many of you are there?” Zayn asks, eyes on his cards like he doesn’t really care about the answer. “And who’s in charge?”

“Twelve,” Louis answers, flipping down another card. Zayn makes a surprised sound. “There were more, but shit happens. Not for a few months, though. No one’s been hurt or-- lost in that long.”

“That’s not possible,” Zayn says softly.

Louis’ lips quirk up. “It is when you’ve got a good leader. Someone in charge who knows not only how to make snap decisions that are beneficial, but who’s also got enough heart to do everything in his power to keep everyone safe.”

Zayn frowns. “So who is he?”

Louis laughs. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find out when the time is right.”

Zayn narrows his eyes. He doesn’t like not knowing things. Louis’ obviously not going to tell him, though.

“Anyways,” Louis says abruptly. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Zayn,” Zayn answers, flipping down another card. “My name’s Zayn.”

“Zayn,” Louis repeats. He’s frowning at Zayn, head tilted. “Suits you.”

Zayn has no idea what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. Eventually they run out of cards, and Zayn wins. Louis sighs loudly and says, “Seriously? I was hoping you’d be shit at this game. Everyone always beats me. I was stuck covering Niall’s chores last week after betting that asshole I could beat him.”

Zayn tries not to smile, but he can’t help it. It’s not that Louis is at all the comforting presence that Jen is, or that he radiates safety the way that Liam does. There’s just something about Louis that makes it really, really easy to just… forget. Not just where he is, or the fact that he’d really, really rather not be here. Louis made him, for a few moments, forget it all. It was like hanging with friends after school again.

It has nothing to do with liking Louis, because Zayn actually thinks Louis is a bit overwhelming, and he doesn’t think he’d be able to spend extended periods of time with him. But at the same time, Zayn would give anything to slip out of the world again for a minute, and if chatting with Louis can do that, Zayn would talk to him for hours.

“One more game?” Louis asks. “Then I’ll get us something to eat and drink. I’m starving. I cannot eat instant mash again. They better get something with actual meat in it or I’m going to go crazy.”

“Sure,” Zayn says, answering the first question.

Louis picks up the deck and starts shuffling it again. As he’s dealing out the cards, the sound of tires coming up the drive reaches them, and then the scraping of the gate, and then someone starts shouting.

Louis is off the bed in seconds, eyes wide with panic. He gives Zayn one look as he’s heading out the door, and says, “Fuck it. Come with me. You run, I shoot. I don’t have time to lock you up.”

Zayn nods and follow Louis. Louis has a rough grip on his arm, and Zayn figures there will be finger shaped bruises there tomorrow. Louis doesn’t care, though. He just keeps dragging Zayn through a long hallway, and then fumbles with a set of keys on a door, and then they’re in a room with a lot of tables and three people who look alarmed.

“Get out the medical supplies,” Louis snaps at them. Zayn doesn’t have time to check out these new people, because Louis is tugging him towards another door, through a shorter hallway, and then they’re outside.

Zayn sucks in a deep breath of fresh air, feels the heat of the sun beating down on him. Louis still has a hold on him, but Zayn looks around, figuring out where he is. He sees fences everywhere. They’re in a courtyard, he realizes. This was probably where the inmates went when they were allowed outside. And then, just beyond the courtyard is a fence that leads to a large, wide open field, and then another fence and then he’d be free.

He can see, in the distance, that the gate to the second fence is closed. The first one is still wide open, though. He could make a run for it. If he had a knife, he could find a weak point in the fence and cut it. Or he could climb it. There’s barbed wire on top, but he could strip off his jacket and-- he doesn’t have his jacket.

And he’s not going to run right now anyways, because people are screaming and Niall and Harry are carrying Liam out of the car, and his left arm is stained red and dripping with blood.

“What happened?” Louis demands. Zayn doesn’t miss the way the panic in his features retreats a bit as he takes in the curly haired boy and his still alive, well state.

“Shot,” Niall grunts, shouldering most of Liam’s weight. Liam is blinking in and out of consciousness, eyelids heavy. “There was a walker behind him. I went to shoot it and--,”

“Not your fault,” Liam lets out. “Accident. ‘m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Louis hisses as someone Zayn doesn’t recognize gestures for them to get inside, shooting Zayn one short, distrustful look. “God, he’s losing blood fast. He looks pale. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

Louis is still holding on to Zayn, but he’s distracted enough that Zayn thinks he could steal the knife from Louis’ belt without him noticing. He doesn’t, though. He has no idea why, but maybe it’s got something to do with the boy bleeding out and being carried inside the building.

“I need to take you back to the cellblock,” Louis mutters, dragging Zayn inside.

The two boys drop Liam on one of the round tables in the room, and Jen is there instantly, a first aid kit in her hand. “I don’t know if I can help this,” she says quietly. “Bullet wounds aren’t my forte, but I’ll do my best. Just hang in there, sweetie,” she adds, petting Liam’s head.

Liam grins at her. “Not going anywhere any time soon,” Liam assures her. “You guys need me too much.”

Jen shoos everyone out after that. Well, mostly everyone. A few people go outside to get the stuff from the cars, others to close the gates. Eventually it’s just Niall, Harry, Jen, Liam, Louis, and Zayn.

“Shouldn’t he be handcuffed?” Niall asks Louis, gesturing to Zayn.

Louis frowns and says, “Didn’t have time.”

“You have time now.”

Zayn sighs and turns around and puts his wrists behind his back. Louis snaps on the handcuffs and then Zayn turns around, watching as Jen cuts off Liam’s blood stained shirt. His arm is still a sleeve of blood, though, and Harry moves in to dump a bottle of water on it and wipe off most of the blood with a cloth. He doesn’t wipe too close to the wound, though, because Jen’s got that covered.

“Get me something to numb the pain,” Jen snaps. “He’s going to pass out, too. I need to get the bullet out.”

Niall darts out of the room, returning moments later with a bottle of pills. Jen dumps one out onto her hand, digs into the medical kit, and then she’s crushing up the pill, and Harry’s grabbing a syringe from the medical kit, and Zayn looks away until the shot’s been administered. He hates watching people get shots.

Liam moans in pain, and Louis steps away from Zayn to grab his hand as Jen starts pulling out the bullet with a pair of tweezers. Zayn has to look away again as she finishes up and starts stitching the wound closed.

The room starts filling up again. People are carrying in bags filled with supplies, and every single one of them takes a moment to give Liam a concerned look. Zayn tries to take inventory of everyone he sees. There’s three women, including Jen. The rest are men. And there’s one child, he can’t be any older than ten, who has tears streaming down his face and tries to move towards Liam until one of them men scoops him up in his arms and takes him away.

In all the commotion, Zayn sees so many chances to escape. So many perfect opportunities. He doesn’t take any of them.

 

--

 

Eventually things calm down and Louis brings Zayn back to his cell. “He’ll probably be here as soon as he wakes up,” Louis tells him. “I’ve got to move his stuff around, so I’ll be in and out of here for a bit. I can leave the door open, but the cuffs have to stay on.”

“Just lock me in,” Zayn says, wanting the handcuffs off him. He hates them more than he hates being locked up.

Louis nods and takes the handcuffs off before locking Zayn back in. Zayn sinks onto his bed and wipes a hand over his face, trying to figure out what the fuck he’s feeling. Annoyed at himself, first and foremost. He could be out of here right now. So, so many perfect opportunities. And he’d let them all go by. Why? It doesn’t make any sense.

And then, after the annoyance, is the anger. Anger at even being in this fucking situation in the first place. Anger at everyone around him for keeping him here without his consent. Anger at the world for being the way it is.

And then there’s that feeling that he’s not used to. That he’s avoided for so long. It wasn’t like he hadn’t come across a single decent person in the time he’s been alone. Zayn’s just never stopped long enough to talk to any of them, to ask them to let him come along with them, because he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to feel for people anymore, because it’s just too damn easy to lose everyone, and he can’t go through that again. Can’t go through the loss, or the constant worrying and concern. And that’s what he feels. Concern, for the boy with the large brown eyes and the bullet wound on his shoulder.

Zayn hears someone moving around the cell across from his. He stands up and curls his hands around the bars to see Louis making the bed on the top bunk. “What’re you doing?” Zayn questions.

Louis looks up and frowns at him. “What’s it look like?” he scoffs. “I’m making a bed, obviously.”

“Who’s bed?”

“Liam’s,” Louis says, tucking in the corner of a sheet. “He’s moving in here with you, for the time being. Makes everyone feel safer or something, because half of them are still convinced you’re, you know, psychotic.”

“Maybe I am,” Zayn finds himself saying.

Louis straightens and gives Zayn a blinding grin. “Yeah, but so am I.”

Zayn’s fingers tighten around the bars as he watches Louis finish making the bed and then leave the cell again with a quick wave for Zayn on his way out. Minutes later he returns, and this time he’s struggling to carry a shelf, a picture frame, and a few candles, and another blanket. Zayn watches as he put the shelf beside the sink and then tops it with the picture frame and the candles, and then hangs up the blanket in front of the door and tucks it back a bit so Zayn can still see inside. Louis takes a look at his handiwork and grins at Zayn.

“Not too bad, eh?” he asks. “I mean, it’s not perfect but it’s home. Pain in the ass to make the top bunk, but Liam refuses to sleep on the bottom one.”

Not for the first time, Zayn has no idea how to respond to Louis, so he doesn’t. Louis comes over to him and unlocks his cell door and then leans in the doorway.

“You’re not so bad, are you?” Louis asks.

Zayn shrugs. “Kind of up to you to decide, isn’t it?”

Louis cocks his head to the side. “You could have run earlier, you know. The gate was open. I gave you several opportunities to take my weapon. You could have.”

Zayn sinks down on his bed. “I could have,” he agrees.

“So then why didn’t you?”

Zayn shrugs. “Still trying to figure that out, mate.”

“Mm, I don’t think you are,” Louis tells him. “I think you know exactly why you’re still here.”

Zayn narrows his eyes defensively. “Really.”

Louis grins and nods. “Same reason we’re all here,” he says. “Liam. I’ve watched that boy talk his way out of a fight with the barrel of a gun pressed to his temple. Takes a really fucked up person to hurt someone like Liam.”

Again, Zayn doesn’t answer. Mostly because he thinks Louis sort of has a point. It’s not so much any feelings of attachment towards the man. He barely knows Liam. It’s more that Liam had taken him in. Had put himself out there, all for the sake of saving Zayn’s life, even though Zayn had done not a single thing to deserve it.

Zayn still plans on leaving. If Louis’ being honest about this two week trial period, Zayn will behave for the time being, and then he’ll ask Liam to let him leave at the end of it. But until then, he sort of owes Liam a lot, and Zayn doesn’t like that. Doesn’t like being indebted. So he’ll make up for it and then go on the run on his own again.

“Gotta run,” Louis says, pushing off the doorframe. “Liam’ll bring you dinner. And um, if you need to, like, bathroom. Now would be the time to tell me.”

Zayn shakes his head, no, and Louis nods before leaving. He leaves the door to the cell open, but locks the cellblock. When Zayn can no longer hear his footsteps, he slowly moves out of the cell.

The cellblock isn’t very big. There’s ten cells on each floor, five on each side. There’s a set of stairs on the left that lead to the second floor, and Zayn climbs them, finding all of the cells up there completely bare. When he’s done inspecting that, he goes back downstairs and, after a quick look around, ducks into Liam’s cell.

He can’t help it. He picks up the framed picture and frowns down at it. It’s a picture of five people. Obviously it’s Liam’s family. His father on the right, with his mother on the left. Liam and two girls who look slightly older than him in front of them, with Liam in the middle. He’s much younger, probably sixteen, maybe seventeen, Zayn guesses. His hair is straight and longer, and he’s so much thinner and smaller. It almost doesn’t look like him at all, except the eyes are the same, and so are the nose and the lips.

Before Zayn can put down the picture, it’s taken from his hands. Zayn turns, eyes wide, but Liam is too busy staring down at the picture to yell at him for the invasion of privacy.

“I was sixteen,” Liam says, smiling fondly at the picture. “I thought I was cool. Justin Bieber had just come out, and my sister, Ruth, she was taking hairdressing in school, and she convinced me it would look good. Bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”

“Sorry,” Zayn blurts. He wants to get out of the cell. It feels far too small all of a sudden, filled with him, Liam, the picture, and Zayn’s guilt at butting into something that he had no right to. Liam’s blocking his path, though, and the only way to get out is to wait for Liam to move, or ask him to.

Liam shrug and puts the picture down. “Don’t worry about it. I was coming to ask you if you wanted to eat in here or with everyone else anyways.”

Zayn frowns at him. “Bit hard to eat with handcuffs on, don’t you think?”

Liam opens his mouth and then closes it. “Right. I forgot about the handcuff rule. Sorry.”

Zayn shrugs. “Just a precaution, right?”

“Right,” Liam sighs. “I’ll be back.”

Zayn nods and exits Liam’s cell with him. He goes back to his own and sits on the bed, playing around with the deck of cards Louis had left behind. He flips through them, shuffling them for something to do, until Liam comes back. He’s carrying a large metal tray and he’s grinning so widely it almost looks painful. When he gets closer, Zayn can understand why.

The smell is amazing. He keeps inhaling, unable to stop, as Liam plunks himself down on the bed. The tray is filled with two plates. The first thing on the plates is some pasta dish that Zayn can’t name, but that smells like tomato sauce and spices and has his mouth watering. The second thing is bread. Warm, soft looking bread with a little bowl of what Zayn guesses to be olive oil beside it for dipping.

“Found a cast iron skillet a few weeks ago,” Liam explains. “We don’t run the ovens ever, since we need to save the electricity for hot water and heat during the cold months. Harry’s brilliant with the skillet, though. He can cook anything over a fire.”

Zayn can’t talk. He’s too busy reaching for one of the plates of food, biting into the soft bread soaked with the lightly flavoured oil. It’s possibly the greatest thing he’s ever eaten in his entire fucking life, and he can’t help the soft sound that escapes him.

“Right?” Liam says, reaching for his own food. “Told you.”

There are two bottles of Pepsi on the tray, too, and Zayn reaches for one and uncaps the lid, taking a long sip of the too warm liquid, only so that he doesn’t keep eating. He could clear the entire tray (including Liam’s helping) in a minute, if he didn’t stop himself. And he wants to savour this. Wants to remember the flavours and the way the bread is soft and fluffy and just the right amount of chewy in his mouth, because he doubts he’ll eat anything this good ever again.

Liam is a very neat eater, Zayn thinks. He’s almost OCD about it. He spears exactly two pieces of the pasta with his fork and brings it to his mouth, chews with his mouth closed, swallows, and then spears another two pieces and repeats. Every four bites he’ll stop, take a bite of bread, follow it with a sip of his drink, and then, yet again, repeats the cycle. Not that Zayn’s, like, staring or anything. He just doesn’t know what else to do with himself. Just like when he was with Louis, or Jen, Zayn can’t seem to remember exactly how to socialize properly, how to react to having another person so close to him. Another living person.

When they’re done Liam piles the tray with their plates and stands up, and then says, “Oh, shit, I forgot.” He digs into his pocket and pulls out a toothbrush and a new tube of toothpaste. “Your sink works, so… you know. Here.”

Zayn takes the items and holds them tightly in his hands. “Thanks,” he says quietly. Liam just keeps giving him more and more things that he’s going to have to pay him back for. Zayn wishes his kindness had an end, but he has a feeling it doesn’t.

Liam leaves the cellblock and Zayn finishes his drink of Pepsi before craning his neck to see the windows that are just above the second floor cells. Just like the ones in the shower room, they’re too small for anyone to fit through, but they show him that it’s late. He doesn’t know the exact time, but he’d guess somewhere around nine. Not late enough for him to want to sleep yet, but he’s got nothing else to do.

If he were out on his own, he’d be finding a tree to sleep in right about now. He’d kill one of the dead first, lay it at the bottom of the tree just to be sure that his scent is masked. Then he’d climb up as high as he can go without the branches giving way, and he’d tie the rope from his bag around his stomach. He remembers Jake laughing at him for watching the Hunger Games movie four times, but Zayn doesn’t regret it. Not when the whole tying the rope around him while he sleeps thing had saved his life on two separate occasions. Zayn is a fitful sleeper. He tosses and turns and twice he woke up to his stomach dropping and his body falling off the branch he’d passed out on.

Zayn stands up and turns on the sink. It takes a moment for the water to flow through the tap, and it makes a loud, slightly alarming sound, but then cool, clean water comes out, and Zayn splashes some onto his face before opening the packaging of his new toothbrush. Had Liam specifically grabbed a toothbrush when they were on the run, just for him? Or did they have extras lying around? He sincerely hopes it’s the second one, because the thought of Liam going out of his way while in a situation that was extremely risky, just so Zayn could brush his teeth, makes his stomach churn uncomfortably.

He hears Liam come back as he brushes the taste of tomato sauce out of his mouth, unable to meet the other boys eyes as he enters his own cell. When he’s done, Zayn runs his tongue over his teeth, revelling in the clean, smooth feeling and the minty taste in his mouth. God how he missed that.

“You heading to bed?” Liam asks, appearing in Zayn’s doorway.

Zayn turns to him and shrugs. “Probably.”

Liam nods. “Good idea. I have some things we have to do tomorrow.”

“We,” Zayn repeats.

Liam nods. “People to introduce you to. Other things.”

Zayn sighs because he has a feeling that Liam will make him even if he doesn’t want to meet other people. He really doesn’t. The people he’s already met have overwhelmed him. Liam just doesn’t get that Zayn hasn’t spent time with people in months, and now Liam is pushing him into a situation where there’s people everywhere.

“Okay,” Zayn agrees reluctantly. He rubs the back of his neck, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. “Um, I sort of need to….”

“Oh!” Liam says, eyes wide. “Um. Yeah. We can. Yeah.” He digs into his pocket and pulls out the handcuffs. Zayn feels slightly annoyed at how easily he just turns around and allows Liam to cuff him, but there’s no point in fighting it.

They run into something on the way to the bathroom. It is not a person. Zayn knows it’s not a person because the sound reaches his ears first. It’s nearly impossible to mistake the sounds of the dead for the sounds of the living, and the low, hollow sound makes Zayn’s blood run cold, and for some reason, despite the handcuffs, despite the fact that he’s unarmed, he shoulders Liam out of the way.

Liam’s a lot smarter than him, though, because Liam grabs Zayn roughly by the arm and pushes him back, and then he’s pulling a knife from his belt, moving forward, and plunging it into the eye socket of the dead man.

It’s the first time Zayn’s seen Liam in action. Up until now, Liam has been some muscular but soft person with warm eyes and a gentle smile. Right then, he wasn’t. Right then, Zayn could almost feel the air in the room getting colder as Liam’s natural warmth seemed to completely disappear. The dead man falls to the ground and Liam steps on his chest, pulling the knife out of its skull. The muscles of his biceps bulge as he does so, and Zayn takes back any thoughts of Liam being far too soft.

“You good?” Liam asks, pulling a cloth out of his pocket. He wipes down the blade and returns it to his pocket.

Zayn nods. “I’m fine.”

Liam nods, too, and then puts a hand on Zayn’s back the rest of the way to the bathroom. Liam is calm and seemingly unaffected, but Zayn thinks that there’s a tightness to Liam’s mouth, and his eyes are still cold. “I’ll be out here,” he says when they get to a door that Liam has to unlock.

Zayn nods and disappears inside. He shuts the door quietly behind himself and then sucks in a breath and bumps his shoulder into the door. “Liam,” he calls.

The door opens and Liam’s eyes dart around the room. When he doesn’t see any immediate danger, he frowns at Zayn. “What?”

Zayn wiggles his arms helplessly. “Handcuffs,” he says heavily.

Liam looks sheepish and gestures for him to turn around. Once the cuffs are unlocked, the door closes between them again and Zayn does his business in the cold, small bathroom. It’s nearly pitch dark in the room, only the faint light from the moon illuminating the space feebly. When he’s done he goes back out into the hall to find Liam chatting with someone.

The man -- tall, brown eyes that seem dull compared to Liam’s, longish brown hair-- cuts off abruptly at the sight of Zayn and says, “Isn’t he supposed to be cuffed at all times?”

Liam sighs. “Zayn, this is Sam. Sam, this is Zayn.”

“He might be lenient on you,” Sam says to Zayn, “but if I catch you in the halls uncuffed, I won’t hesitate to take you out.”

Zayn narrows his eyes and doesn’t respond to that threat. Liam does, though, and that coolness is back in him. It makes Zayn want to shiver.

“Deal with the door by his block,” Liam says. “I don’t know how it got unlocked, because I know for a fact it wasn’t authorized. If I wasn’t with him--,”

“If you weren’t with him, he’d be dead,” Sam says. “Which is probably what whoever unlocked that door was trying to accomplish. Thank goodness you were there to save the day, Liam.”

“We were very lucky,” Zayn says in a clipped tone. Zayn doesn’t like Sam at all. Louis set him on edge at first, definitely, and Niall was more than a little prickly towards him, but Sam is different. Sometimes people adapt to this world, Zayn thinks. Other times, they were already tainted to begin with, and this world only made that worse. He has a feeling he knows what kind of person Sam is.

“Door,” Liam grunts Sam. “Zayn, cuffs.”

Zayn turns around, a defiant tilt to his chin. He feels more than a little humiliated, being locked up in front of this other man. He can tell that this isn’t precautionary at the moment. This is Liam asserting his dominance, and it pisses Zayn off to no fucking end.

Sam nods and moves on down the hall, and Liam guides Zayn in the opposite direction again. When they turn a corner, Liam releases his arm and says, “I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” Zayn tells him. He feels on edge, and he doesn’t like this sudden change in Liam’s character.

“Just-- be careful around Sam, okay?” Liam tells him as he unlocks the cellblock door.

Zayn snorts and stays silent.

Liam turns to him suddenly, and he puts a hand on Zayn’s arm. He has a feeling it’s supposed to be as much of a threat as it is a comfort. “I’m serious, Zayn,” Liam says slowly. “Alright?”

“Alright,” Zayn repeats, tugging his arm out of Liam’s grip.

In the cellblock, Liam lights his candle, illuminating his cell. Zayn watches him for a moment as Liam pulls a book out from between the bottom mattress and then climbs up to the top bunk and lays down. He climbs into bed, still in the jeans and t-shirt that Liam had given him yesterday. He’s got nothing else to sleep in, and he likes sleeping fully dressed.

When Liam’s candle goes out, Zayn is still awake. He doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s because his door isn’t locked like it had been last night. Or maybe it’s something else.

An hour later he decides it’s something else. He doesn’t even think it through, really. He just grabs his pillow and blankets and silently moves towards Liam’s room.

Liam is off the bunk in seconds, and Zayn’s body crumples under his weight when Liam lands on him. His head hits the ground painfully, and Liam is fucking heavy. Zayn is seeing stars, he thinks. His vision is suddenly a swirl of dizzying, painful colours, and then random intervals of pure, astonishing blackness that is void of any light.

He can’t breath because of the weight on his chest, and he can’t think through the blinding, searing pain. He thinks he might throw up, actually. It’s a definite possibility. The swirling colours are making him nauseous.

And then the weight on his chest is gone. Zayn takes a ragged, quick breath, and blinks open his eyes. He can’t see anything in the darkness, but a moment later he hears a lighter being flicked, and then the room fills with a warm, flickering light, and Liam is staring down at him, looking like a kicked puppy, which is sort of ridiculous because Zayn’s the one on the fucking floor.

“I’m sorry,” Liam says quickly. “I thought--,”

“You thought what?” Zayn demands.

“I don’t know,” Liam admits. “I heard something coming into my room, and I reacted. Why do you have your blankets and pillow?”

Zayn pushes himself up off the ground. It’s hard. His head is still spinning, and he feels off balance. Liam grabs his arm to steady him, but just like earlier, Zayn shrugs him off. “I just--,” he pauses and busies himself with bending down to grab his bedding (which makes the spinning even worse, but it’s better than looking at Liam). “I didn’t want to sleep alone in my cell, okay?”

The kicked puppy look gets worse. “I’m sorry,” Liam repeats. “Fuck-- Zayn, I--,”

“Forget about it,” Zayn tells him. He turns, ready to leave the cell, but Liam doesn’t let him.

“Stay,” Liam says. “Okay?”

Zayn doesn’t really want to anymore, not with the throbbing pain in his head. He nods anyways and throws his pillow on the bottom bunk, and then climbs in and tugs his blanket around his shoulders. Liam blows out the candle and climbs into his own bunk.

Five minutes later, when the even sound of Liam’s breathing fills the room, Zayn finally falls asleep.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to someone gently nudging his shoulder. It shouldn’t cause alarm, because the person touching him is being as gentle as possible, but Zayn’s mind is too foggy to distinguish a friendly touch from a violent one, and he jerks upright, grabbing the person’s wrist and twisting.

Liam makes a surprised sound and Zayn releases him, blinking slowly. “Sorry,” he say automatically.

Liam takes a step back and frowns. “I’ll remember not to wake you up,” he says, and grins faintly. “It’s almost noon, though.”

Zayn sits up and runs a hand through his hair. “Really?” he asks. They had went to bed pretty early. Zayn’s not used to letting himself sleep in that late. Three, four hours of sleep a night is what he usually gets, on a good night.

Liam nods. “I’ve got the showers booked for us for the next twenty minutes, so you might want to hurry up,” he says. “Niall’s got it booked afterwards, and he’ll kick us out whether we’re done or not.”

Zayn runs a hand through his hair and then gets out of bed. He gathers up his pillow and blankets and moves his stuff back to his own cell, for some reason not wanting anyone else to know where he slept last night. He doesn’t want Louis coming in and questioning why he’d moved in the middle of the night.

“You need more clothes,” Liam says while making his own bed. The way sound travels in the cellblock is weird. It echoes.

Zayn looks down at himself and then frowns at Liam. “I do?”

Liam nods. “You can’t sleep in jeans every night, and you can’t just wear the same outfit for a month. You clean your own clothes here. I’ll show you the laundry room later. But before that we’ll stop down at the other block and see what we can find you.”

Zayn swallows thickly. “Okay.”

Liam’s already got two towels and soap for them, which means that he’s been up for a while longer than Zayn. How he managed to get out of bed and out of the cellblock without waking Zayn, Zayn has no idea. He usually wakes at the slightest sounds.

It isn’t until they’re walking -- Zayn in cuffs-- to the shower that Zayn realizes that they’re going to shower together. Which, you know, isn’t that weird, right? He’s showered with other guys. Guys used to shower in the locker rooms at school together all the time, right? And in every prison movie he’s seen, there’s always more than one person showering at once. But the thought still makes Zayn more than a little uncomfortable.

“Mornin’,” Jen says when they pass her in the hallway.

“It’s the afternoon,” Liam points out.

Jen rolls her eyes. “You know, I never used to get up until at least twelve before everything went to hell. Had a schedule. I refused to get up until my soaps were on and tea was made.”

Zayn grins at her. “I could sleep all day back then if I didn’t have a reason to get up.”

Jen ruffles his hair. “Be good,” she tells him. “And bring him by to see my later, Liam. I have a few things I need to ask this one.”

Liam nods and they keep walking, while Jen goes in the opposite direction. “What kind of things?” Zayn asks warily.

Liam shrugs. “Who knows.” Zayn must look slightly alarmed because Liam chuckles and says, “She’s probably just going to figure out what we can do with you. How to put you to work.”

“Oh,” Zayn says softly.

When they get to the showers, Liam locks them in and then takes off Zayn’s cuffs.

Zayn’s still rubbing his wrists as Liam hangs up their towels on the wall, adds two bars of soap, and a bottle of shampoo, and then strips off his shirt. The shoulder bandage looks recently cleaned, and Liam carefully pulls it off, barely wincing. Zayn averts his eyes to the wall at the sudden show of so much skin. It’s not that he has a thing against looking at other guys. He definitely doesn’t. In fact, he’d dated as many guys as he had girls, before. It’s just that Liam is all hard muscles and tanned skin, like he was constantly working outside without a shirt on, and it’s a little overwhelming, and he doesn’t want Liam to catch him staring.

Zayn sink onto the bench that Liam had sat at last time they were in here and waits for Liam to be done first. He watches as Liam’s pants are strung up alongside their towels, and then a pair of grey briefs are added, and Zayn swallows and blinks at the wall as the sound of water running fills the room.

And then Liam starts singing softly to himself. Zayn doesn’t recognize the tune, but he’s got a nice voice. Soft, level. Talented, actually. Really, really talented. The smell of citrus and strawberries fills the room, and it mingles with the sweetness of Liam’s voice. The whole effect is just dizzying.

Liam’s water goes off a minute later and he comes around the wall with his towel hanging loosely on his hips. “All yours,” he says, water dripping down his chest.

“What?” Zayn asks.

Liam raises his eyebrows. “The shower.”

“Oh, right,” Zayn says, shaking his head. He stands up and ducks around the wall and then hastily removes his clothing. While he’s hanging up his clothes on the wall, Liam tugs off his towel and fuck. Okay. Zayn is turning around right now. He is so not looking. He is so not looking.

“You have a lot of tattoos,” Liam comments.

Zayn shuts his eyes and turns on the water, remembering what Liam had said about conserving the hot water. The cold water is a little uncomfortable, but it’s still a shower, so he’s not complaining. “A few,” Zayn says, remembering that Liam has spoken a moment ago.

“They’re nice,” Liam says conversationally, and it just makes Zayn that much more uncomfortable. Why are they talking? Why?

“Thanks,” Zayn says quietly.

When he’s done he doesn’t wrap a towel around his waist and join Liam on the other side of the wall. He dries himself off and then pulls on his old clothes, waiting until he’s fully dressed to join the other man.

“Think you’re ready to face the crowd?” Liam asks, grinning.

“No,” Zayn says honestly.

Liam frowns and scratches at his neck. “You’ll be fine,” he says slowly. “Honestly. You’ve managed to win Louis over in two days. That’s not an easy feat.”

Zayn’s hair is still dripping a bit, and he pushes it off his forehead impatiently while trying to sort out his thoughts. “You do realize,” he says, and then takes a breath to steady himself. “It’s just-- I was on my own for a long time, Liam. I’m not used to -- people, anymore. I’m just-- I’m not.”

Liam cocks his head to the side and he’s quiet for a long moment. “I’m sorry if this is all overwhelming for you,” Liam says gently. “But you know that you are safe here, right? We’re -- we’re good people.”

“I know,” Zayn says honestly. He can’t speak for everyone else, but he knows that Liam is.

Liam grins again and then pulls out the handcuffs. Instead of telling Zayn to turn, he locks them in front of Zayn this time. Zayn frowns but doesn’t ask why, because he has a feeling Liam won’t answer him if he does.

“You were in here yesterday, I guess,” Liam says when he’s led Zayn through the prison and to the room where Liam had been stitched up on the table.

“Yes,” Zayn answers, averting his eyes from the table that Liam had been laid on. He doesn’t know why, he just does.

“No one’s in here right now because everyone’s sort of busy,” Liam explains. “It’s not that there’s a lot to do around here, but sometimes there is. Mostly this is where everyone hangs out when they’ve got nothing to do. Or outside in the courtyard on a nice day.”

Zayn nods, taking this in, and then Liam is leading him towards the cellblock.

“If things go well,” Liam says, not unlocking the door, “you’ll be moved to a room in here.”

Zayn sucks in a breath and then says, “Liam, I don’t plan on staying, you get that, right?”

Liam turns and frowns at him. “What?”

Zayn shifts uncomfortably. “I mean-- as soon as you all trust me enough to let me go free, I’m leaving.”

Liam continues to frown at him until that cool look from last night comes back. It’s not as intense, but it’s undeniably there. “Well, you can’t leave yet,” he says in a clipped tone. “We can’t risk you sneaking back in and taking the place over.”

“By myself?” Zayn asks, raising his eyebrows.

Liam narrows his eyes. “It’s a precaution. You say you don’t have another group, but not everyone here trusts you. It wouldn’t be the first time another group has attempted to take us over.”

Zayn’s eyebrows raised. “Here? Really?”

“Not here.” Liam turns away from him and starts heading towards the other side of the room. “Another place. We had to move. It wasn’t-- we couldn’t stay there anymore.”

Zayn follows him, staying just a step behind Liam as Liam opens a door and leads him into a new hallway. All the hallways are sort of dark and dank, but this one isn’t so bad. Liam stops them at the second door in the hallway and says, “This is the laundry room.”

He opens the door. Inside is a room with high, barred windows. He didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t a room with a bunch of large basins filled with water and walls lined with laundry detergent. There’s also clothes lined up on a wire in front of the windows.

“We don’t waste water,” Liam explains. “If you clean something, ask Jen or Harry first and they’ll explain the process to you.”

Zayn nods and Liam leads him out of the room and then farther down the hall. Before they get to the end, someone runs around a corner and Zayn tenses. Liam, on the other hand, opens his arms and catches the figure in his arms, picking it up.

“Liam!” It’s a kid. The kid from yesterday.

“Wyatt,” Liam says pleasantly, turning with the boy in his arms, “this is Zayn.”

“Hi, Zayn,” Wyatt says. He frowns. “You don’t look scary. Mary told me he was a--,”

“Didn’t I tell you not to listen to what Mary says?” Liam scolds.

Wyatt looks guilty. “Sorry, sir.”

Liam ruffles his hair and something weird happens to Zayn’s stomach, something that he can’t explain. Doesn’t really want to. “Where’s your grandmother?” Liam asks.

Wyatt giggles. “She’s outside with Harry and Lou.” He grins at Zayn. “They’re fighting again.”

“About what?” Liam asks.

Wyatt shrugs and Liam puts him down. “Harry and Niall want to go check out that farm outside of town. Niall thinks he seen a cow.”

“A cow,” Liam repeats.

“Yeah, isn’t that great? We could have steak!”

Liam grins. “That would be awesome. But aren’t you supposed to be with Lena?”

Wyatt’s expression goes dark and defiant. “No.”

“Wyatt…”

“I don’t want Lena to teach me,” Wyatt says. “She’s rude.”

“She’s not rude.”

“She is.”

Liam sighs and then bends down and says something quiet to Wyatt. Wyatt’s eyes go wide and he nods and then runs off. When he’s gone, Liam straightens up and shakes his head.

“Lena’s the closest thing we have to a teacher,” he explains. “She’s sort of terrible at it, and I know that Wyatt hates it, which is why I grabbed a few candy bars yesterday. Offer the kid chocolate and he’ll do whatever you tell him.”

Zayn frowns as they start walking again. “She’s teaching him?”

Liam nods. “We all thought it was important to make things feel as normal possible for him, you know? And he’d be in school right now if…”

“If schools were still something that existed.”

“Exactly,” Liam says quietly.

Zayn chews the inside of his lip as they walk. The skin there is all ragged and soft from being bitten these past couple days. “I can help,” he finds himself saying.

Liam turns to him, confused. “With what?”

“The school thing,” Zayn says, shrugging. “I was getting my teaching degree at Uni before this all happened.”

“Really?” Liam asks, surprised.

Zayn shrugs again, wishing he could burry his hands in his pockets, or brush them through his hair. Unfortunately he’s still cuffed.

“That’d be brilliant,” Liam says.

He doesn’t get a full tour of the building. Liam skips certain doors, doesn’t show Zayn any alternative exits. The only one he is aware of is the one they’d went through yesterday, which led to the courtyard. He has a feeling that’s not the only exit, but he also has a feeling that Liam is avoiding showing him any others on purpose.

When they get back to what Zayn labels the common room, more people are inside. He spots Harry and Niall, but Louis isn’t with them. Wyatt is, though. As is a younger woman with red hair and a sad smile, and a man with greying hair.

Liam leads Zayn right to their table and sinks down beside Harry, leaving Zayn to stand there awkwardly until he pats the seat beside himself. Zayn sits, reluctantly.

“Jordan,” Liam says, nodding at the men. “Lena. This is Zayn.”

“Hello,” Jordan says, smiling in a friendly way. “Nice to meet you, young man.”

The girl is frowning at him. “You’re what all the fuss is about?” she asks. “He’s got to weigh less than me.”

Zayn narrows his eyes a bit at that. He doesn’t like people acting like he’s defenceless or weak. He’s not.

“Where’s Lou?” Liam asks, ignoring her.

“Outside,” Harry grumbles.

Liam shakes his head. “I’ll talk to him. You’re sure you think there’s livestock out there?” he asks Niall.

Niall nods. “Almost positive.”

“We’ll go check it out, then,” Liam decides. “We have the gas, right?”

Niall nods. “Went into town this morning. This town’s barely been touched by anyone. I think we might actually be the first people to come near the place since everything’s went down.”

Liam sits up straight and folds his hands on the table. “You went into town alone.”

Niall rolls his eyes. “Don’t make a big deal of it. I’m fine. I was careful.”

“We don’t go off alone,” Liam snaps. “Niall, come on.”

“I was fine.”

“Doesn’t matter. Don’t do it again.”

Everyone at the table is silent for a long moment, and Zayn waits for Niall to snap something back. He doesn’t. Instead, he hang his head a bit and says, “I’m sorry.”

Zayn takes a look around at the table. The rest of them are looking elsewhere, purposefully not looking at Liam, except for Harry. And then it clicks, right then. It probably should have a while ago, but it just… hadn’t.

“You’re in charge,” Zayn blurts.

Liam turns to him, eyebrows scrunched together. “What?”

“You’re--,” Zayn tries to wave a hand and once again gets frustrated at the stupid handcuffs. “You’re in charge here. You’re the leader.”

Liam looks almost uncomfortable. “We don’t have a ‘leader’. Our group isn’t like that.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Liam’s the leader,” he says. When Liam opens his mouth to protest, Harry says, “Ninety percent of the time he’ll deny it, until he wants you to do something. Then he gets out his bossy voice and you do whatever he tells you.”

“Liam Payne!” A familiar voice says loudly.

Liam snorts and says to Harry, “If anyone’s in charge here, it’s her.”

Harry considers this for a moment and doesn’t argue as Jen stomps over to their table and points a finger at Liam. “Didn’t I tell you to bring him to see me?”

“Slipped my mind,” Liam tells her sheepishly.

Jen shakes her head and mutters, “Men.” Then she nods at Zayn. “I’m taking him for about an hour. You three were planning on a run to the farm anyways, weren’t you?”

Liam sighs and nods. “Yeah, I think we’ll go after I calm Louis down.”

“Oh, the princess is fine,” Jen says. “You know how he is. He just doesn’t like Curly going out without him.”

Harry grins. “Am I Curly?”

“You know damn well that you’re Curly,” Jen tells him. “No, pretty boy, come on.”

Zayn looks to Liam, and Liam nods his head. “Go on. I’ll see you when we get back.”

Zayn nods and stands up and then does a weird, half turn, jerky sort of movement, words threatening to tumble from his mouth. He turns back to Jen at the last second and keeps them in, though.

“Be safe, you three,” Jen calls over her shoulder as she leads Zayn towards the cellblock. Zayn looks over his shoulder and tries to say the same thing with his eyes, but Liam is too busy talking with Niall to see it.

Jen needs him to help with laundry, apparently. She makes him hold out his arms while she piles them with sheets and comforters, and then she leads him through the common room to the laundry room. Liam, Niall, and Harry are gone by the time they get there. Once they start cleaning, he finds out that the laundry was actually just an excuse to barrage him with questions.

“How old’re you?” is the first one she asks.

Zayn stops in the middle of dousing a sheet in water and frowns at Jen. “Twenty-one.”

She nods and then says, “And what were you doing before all this?”

“Before they brought me here, or before?”

“Both,” she answers, handing him laundry detergent.

Zayn busies himself with the cleaning. He’s not the best at it, and Jen slaps his hand and shows him how to ring it out better after failing to do it to her standards.

“I was at University, before this,” he starts, frowning down at the sheet. “I was home for the summer, though, about a week before I was supposed to go back everything happened.”

“So you were with your family, in the beginning?” she asks.

Zayn shuts down. His shoulders slump, his hands freeze in their movements, and his thoughts just stop. He can’t open that door, not now, maybe not ever. He definitely doesn’t want to. It took far too long to close it, far too long to get to where he is now, and he can’t go through it again. Can’t think through it all again, let alone tell someone else about it. Someone who is, mostly, a stranger. No matter how kind Jen’s eyes are, or how much she reminds him of his mum. He can’t do it.

“I’m sorry,” Jen says suddenly. “That was wrong of me to ask.”

Zayn blinks up at her. “Don’t worry about it,” he says offhandedly, despite the fact that his hands are shaking too much to clean properly. “What about you?” he asks to change the subject. “How old are you?’

Jen laughs. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to ask a lady her age?” she replies.

Zayn grins. “I’d say… forty. Give or take a few years.”

“A few dozen,” she counters. “Don’t you pull any of that charm on me, boy. I get enough of that from Harry.”

Zayn chuckles and goes back to cleaning, previous question out of his mind. “What about the others?” he asks. “How old are they?”

Jen sighs and pushes her hair off her forehead. Zayn lifts his still cuffed (which weirdly enough doesn’t effect his ability to clean all that much) hands to do the same, and ends up getting soap on his forehead. “Well,” she starts, “Harry is nineteen. Niall’s your age, I think. Louis’ twenty-four, and Liam is twenty-three.”

Zayn blinks, eyes wide. “Little young to be running a whole group, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t,” Jen says honestly. “That boy is wise beyond his years, and he takes care of things that the rest of us never could.”

Zayn doesn’t ask what she means by that, because he feels that it’s not his right to know. He wouldn’t want someone sharing information about him with anyone else, and so he doesn’t want to hear things about Liam from someone that’s not Liam.

Eventually Louis comes in and watches them for a bit. He helps Zayn with his cleaning, and then Jen hangs up the wet blankets and shoos them both out, telling Louis to get ready to open the gate for when the others get back, and telling him to take Zayn with him.

“You come by and see me anytime though, yes?” Jen says to Zayn.

“When Liam feels like escorting me,” Zayn says.

Jen rolls her eyes. “I give you two days before they take the escort off. You watch,” she tells him. “If not, I’ll have a nice chat with the rest of the group. You’re a sweet boy. This is a little ridiculous.”

“Just a precaution,” Zayn says, lips quirking up because that’s Liam’s catchphrase.

Jen rolls her eyes and ruffles his hair a bit before kissing his forehead and pushing them out of the room. When the door closes between them, Zayn lifts his joined hands and brushes his palm over the warm spot on his forehead, frowning.

“Like a mother,” Louis comments. “Reminds me a lot of my own.”

Zayn nods. There are two people in the common room that Zayn doesn’t recognize. Louis nods to them and says, “Wilson’s the older one. Nice man. Don’t ever touch his Doritos or he’ll skin you alive. The younger one is Carson. He’s okay, most of the time. Just don’t go near Mary and you’ll be okay with him.”

Zayn nods again and then they’re heading outside. Zayn wants to stay out here, in the courtyard. He misses the open spaces. There’s something comforting about the knowledge that, if you have to, you can run. He can’t do that inside. There’s too many walls and doors and bars. And while the cellblock is safe, he feels better out in the fresh air.

Louis guides him to a bench and they sit down and wait for the cars to come up the walk. “Sam’s down at the other gate,” Louis explains, leaning back on his hands. “Did Liam already tell you to stay away from him?”

“Yeah,” Zayn admits. “We ran into him last night.”

Louis nods. “If Liam’s ever out, and he comes near you, just come get me. He’s a bit hot headed. I don’t fully trust him.”

Zayn frowns. “Then why are you all together?”

“Sam is with Lena,” Louis explains. “Lena I do trust. And care about. And if we kick him out, she goes with him, and I don’t want her blood on my hands. We’ve lost too many people, and I’m not going to risk loosing another because Sam’s an asshole.”

If he looks hard enough, he can see the dead walking around outside the fence. There’s not a lot, and they almost seem docile. He wonders, for a moment, how sturdy the defences here are. If there’s a chance that something could break down not just the fence but the doors, too. It would take a herd of hundreds to do it, he thinks, and pushes the thought away. No point in worrying about something that will most likely never happen, and if it does he’d be long gone by that point anyways.

Louis sits up abruptly, hands clenching into fists. Zayn frowns and tries to figure out why. No one’s coming near them, he can’t hear or see a car -- yet. There it is. How Louis heard it way before he did, he has no idea, but Louis is jumping up and heading for the gate.

The first gate opens and a car and a silver truck come up the drive as Louis pulls out a set of keys and unlocks the second gate and then slides it open. Only the car comes through the gate. The truck turns and then parks on the side of the driveway and Liam gets out, grinning from ear to ear. A moment later Harry and Niall get out of the car, Niall with a loud whoop. Harry goes straight for Louis and hugs him tightly before running off towards the doors.

Liam saunters up to them, bright smile falling into something a little calmer. “So?” Louis demands, pushing the gate closed. “What happened?”

Niall sighs and says, “I was wrong, man.”

“He was wrong,” Liam agrees.

“There wasn’t a cow,” Niall adds.

“There are three,” Liam continues, grinning once again. “Three. One of them was out in the field. They’re behind a fence that must have been too tall for any walker to climb. And there was a barn filled with chickens. Whoever lived there must have lasted a long time, because they were all pretty well fed, actually.”

Louis’ lips part and even Zayn is surprised. A cow means meat. He knows he’s not the only one who hasn’t had that in so, so long. “Fuck,” Louis breathes. “The truck, then?”

Liam nods. “Harry’s getting Lena and they’re going to butcher it, see what we can do. We raided the house, too. Found three walkers inside, took them out easily. Think we should just have a feast?” he asks. “Like, a big outdoor barbeque? We don’t have a freezer or anything to keep the meat in. It’s not like we can preserve it. Might as well cook what we can, right?”

Louis nods slowly. “I think,” he says quietly, “that is a brilliant idea. Especially given the current situation. It’ll take everyone’s mind off everything. Make everyone more relaxed. This is perfect.”

Liam claps Louis on the back. “We’re heading back tomorrow. Going to see if we can move the chickens here. Having a daily supply of eggs is too good to pass up on.”

Liam walks past Louis after that and sinks down onto the bench next to Zayn. He’s sweaty, his forehead slick and shiny, his shirt clinging to his back. He sighs loudly and leans back the same way Louis had been earlier, but it’s different when Liam does it. The sun lightens his skin, and he arches his neck back, exposing his throat and the cut that’s still there, along with the birthmark. Zayn has the weirdest urge to run his fingers over the skin there.

“How was your time with Jen?” Liam asks, opening his eyes, which he’d let fall closed for a moment.

Zayn shrugs and looks out at the grounds. He hears people come outside, and Louis opens the gate again as Harry and Lena head for the truck, Niall and Louis trailing behind them.

“We did laundry,” Zayn answers. “It was… fine. And then Louis came in to get me.”

Suddenly Liam’s hand is on his thigh. He’s got long, thick fingers, and Zayn frowns down at them until Liam removes his hand very, very slowly, and says, “Sorry. I didn’t think-- personal space. I’m sort of bad at it.”

Zayn ignores him. “So, feast, huh?”

Liam’s grin is back. “Yep. You any good at cooking?”

Zayn gives him a disbelieving look. “I nearly burnt down my dorm room with a hotplate once.”

“You can help me make the fire, then,” Liam says easily. “Harry won’t allow me near anything that hasn’t been cooked yet after the hotdog incident.”

“Hotdog incident,” Zayn repeats.

Liam nods solemnly. “Apparently it’s possible to overcook them, and they become hard logs of disgusting meat.”

Zayn almost laughs, but then someone shouts, “Man down!” Liam and Zayn both look up to see Niall waving frantically, yelling, “Cow! Cows are heavy!”

Liam jumps up and Zayn follows him out the gate to find Harry on the ground at the bed of the truck, trapped underneath the cow’s leg. The animal is huge, and Harry’s lucky the whole thing didn’t land on him. There’s a perfectly aimed bullet wound in its eye and Zayn looks away from it. He doesn’t have anything against killing animals for food, he really doesn’t, but there’s something a lot different about killing something living as opposed to killing something that was already dead.

With Liam and Niall’s help, they get the cow off Harry and inside, where they bring it to the kitchen. Niall stays with Harry, Louis, and Lena, who are starting to butcher the dead animal. Zayn doesn’t want to watch that, and he doesn’t have to, because Liam is guiding him out of the room immediately.

Liam leads Zayn to a room that he hadn’t been in before. “Weapons room,” Liam explains. “I sort of can’t let you in here. You okay to wait out here on your own?”

Zayn nods and leans against the wall. He lifts the cuffs and lets them slide down his wrists as far as they go, taking in the red marks they’ve left for wearing them for too long, and for doing too much with them on. He can hear people down both ends of the hallway talking, and he suddenly feels really, really out of place. This isn’t where he belongs. This isn’t his group. And no matter what happens, he won’t ever be part of their group. No matter how nice Liam is, or how comforting Jen is, or how many games of cards he plays with Louis, it will always be true.

That thought is reinforced when someone starts coming down the hallway towards him, and then the sound of a gun’s safety being turned off echoes through the hall, and Zayn tenses.

“What are you doing out here alone?” Sam demands.

The man comes farther down the hall, and his gun is aimed at Zayn’s head. For some reason, that doesn’t make him scared. It makes him really, really fucking angry. “None of your business,” Zayn tells him, lifting his chin. Liam’s in the next room. He could just say that, and Sam would probably back off. He doesn’t want Liam to fight all of his battles for him, though.

“So I’m supposed to think it’s just some random coincidence that you’re hanging outside the weapons room, while everyone is distracted in the kitchen?” Sam asks, raising his eyebrows.

He’s closer now, and if he shoots there’s no way he’ll miss. Zayn shrugs his shoulders anyways. Zayn thinks he could take this guy, bound in handcuffs or not. He’d duck first, kick out his legs from under him, bring the handcuffs down on his head. He could do it.

The door beside Zayn opens before either of them can do it, and Sam changes the aim of the gun to point it at Liam. He lowers it almost instantly, though, and Liam says, calm and cool, “Next time you point that thing at me you better pull the trigger,” Liam tells him. “Because if you don’t, I will.”

“I didn’t know you were watching him,” Sam says, putting his gun away. “I thought he was roaming the halls on his own.”

“He’s in cuffs, isn’t he?” Liam asks. Sam nods. “So then you back off. Unless he’s out of his cuffs, you keep that thing where it belongs.”

Sam glares at Liam and shoulders past him, heading towards the kitchen. Liam rolls his eyes and Zayn notes, for the first time, that he’s got an axe in his hands as well as the gun in his belt that had been there from when he’d went out with Niall and Harry.

“Just forget about him,” Liam says, already starting down the hall.

“Maybe I would if you gave me my knife back,” Zayn tells him.

“I can’t do that and you know it,” Liam says testily. Sam’s obviously ruined whatever good mood Liam had been in, and it just makes Zayn hate the man all that much more.

“Are you going to actually cut down trees for wood?” Zayn asks as they walk. Liam holds every door open for him, which is probably supposed to be a nice gesture, but it irritates Zayn anyways.

“Yes,” Liam admits. “We have a supply of wood, but I don’t like touching it unless we have to. Best to stalk up for the winter months, for when we can’t just go out and get it ourselves.”

“So what do you want me to do?” Zayn asks when they get outside.

“You’re going to lock and unlock the gates for me.”

Zayn freezes midstep. “Wait, you’re going out there alone?”

Liam shrugs. “Not far. There’s trees close to the gate. I’ll be within seeing distance at all time. Just open and close the gates when I need to, and if I come running, do it quickly.”

Zayn doesn’t like this. He really doesn’t. He doesn’t say as much, though. He just follows Liam as Liam unlocked the first gate and they walk down the gravel road towards the second fence. They don’t head for the gate that had been open to let the car in, though. Liam turns them along the fence line and they get to a different set of gates. These are for people, not cars, and Liam unlocks the small chain door and then they’re sort of blocked in on all sides by fence.

“This is the only key you’ll need,” Liam says, pulling one off the chain. He hands it to Zayn, who holds it tightly in his palm. “Like I said, if I come running, get that open, okay?”

Zayn nods and then moves forward to unlock the small, swinging door that will let Liam out into the forest surrounding this side of the prison. Liam shuts it behind himself and Zayn locks it again.

Zayn leans against the fence, fingers curling into the loops. He can see the dead walking around closer to the other gate, but they’re too far away (for now) to be of any concern. And, just like Liam had promised, he doesn’t stray very far. He heads for the closest cropping of trees and then, when he gets to the smallest one, he starts going at it with the axe.

Zayn is a little distracted. He’s close enough that Zayn can see the way his arm muscles bulge, and the thick veins there. Liam stops for a moment and wipes sweat off his brow, and then after a second of consideration, he strips off his shirt and hangs it around his neck, occasionally using it to wipe off sweat.

Eventually Zayn sits down in the gravel and leans back on his hands to watch Liam work, and to keep an eye out for anything coming his way. At one point one of the dead wobbles out of the woods and the axe goes into its forehead. Liam’s shirt is used to wipe off blood after that.

When he’s got the tree down (it’s not very large, maybe twice Zayn’s height, and the trunk is only about as wide as Liam’s midsection) Liam comes over to the fence and gets Zayn to open the gate, and then tosses the axe to the ground. Zayn looks at it for a long moment and then locks the gate behind Liam when he goes back out again.

He realizes, then, that he has an opportunity. He’s got a weapon, keys. He could find a way to break the handcuffs with the axe, and then he could run. He could really do it. It would be so, so easy, especially with Liam distracted. And why not? Why wait until Sam decides that he doesn’t care about the repercussions and decides to just kill him? Or until Liam decides that Zayn isn’t helpful at all, and does it himself?

Zayn eyes the axe, sucks in a breath, and then kicks the axe far away from himself to avoid temptation. Plus, Liam is now attempting to lift that fucking tree (honestly, who even is this guy?) but he must have realized he can’t, because he’s sighing and coming back towards the fence. He doesn’t ask Zayn to open the gate, but instead stands on the other side and curls his fingers in the loops and leans heavily on it. He looks tired, Zayn thinks.

“What’s up?” Zayn asks.

Liam shakes his head. A bead of sweat drips down his temple. “Just taking a break,” he says breathlessly. “I can’t bring the truck over here to load it up. I’ve got to cut it in half first and then bring it in. We’ll chop it up here and then carry it into the field and set up a fire closer to the building. By then they should be done butchering the thing.”

This close up, Zayn can see each and every crease between the muscles in his stomach. Can see the fine trail of hair that leads from his bellybutton lower, and it makes it a little difficult to remember that Liam was actually talking to him.

“I can help,” Zayn offers.

“Help,” Liam repeats, releasing the fence. He gives Zayn a wary look. “How do I know I can trust you not to run off?”

Zayn shrugs. “You can’t.”

Liam sighs heavily and says, “Open the gate. And if anyone asks, I didn’t do this.”

Zayn grins and unlocks the gate. Liam shuts it behind himself for a moment and pulls the set of keys out of his pocket. He unlocks Zayn’s cuffs and Zayn sighs in relief before rubbing at the red marks. They’re bright against his skin, the area where the cuffs were is rubbed almost raw.

“Shit,” Liam says, grabbing Zayn’s arms. He gently traces just around the angry coloured skin and then says, “I’m sorry.” He does it while looking at Zayn with those stupidly wide brown eyes.

“Not a big deal,” Zayn says, pulling his hands away. “Don’t we have a tree to carry?”

Liam nods and heads out of the gate. Zayn locks it behind them and follows Liam towards the tree he’d cut down, which is still a really ridiculous thought in his mind. It’s 2013 and they’re cutting down trees for firewood.

Liam stops in front of the tree and looks around, and then he says, very quietly, “If you want to go, you can.”

Zayn feels everything in him freeze, and he levels Liam with a wary look. “What?”

Liam brushes a hand over his hair in a jerky movement. “If you want to go, go. I won’t stop you, okay?”

“I don’t have a weapon,” Zayn points out. “I’d be dead by nightfall.” He bends down and wraps his hands around the base of the tree and tries to tug. It’s really heavy, obviously, and the bark cuts into his skin. “Are you going to help me, or what?”

Liam’s bright grin from earlier is back full force, and he nods. Somehow, they manage to get the monstrous thing to the gates. Liam had already chopped off all the branches, so it’s just the trunk. Zayn unlocks the gate and they struggle to get the thing inside, and then they drop it heavily and Zayn relocks the gate before giving Liam back the key.

Liam pockets it and then collapses to the ground, laying his head against the gravel. He closes his eyes and breathes for a long moment. “I need a drink,” he says.

Zayn sinks to the ground beside him. “We should have thought about that before we came down here.”

“Yeah,” Liam agrees. He pushes himself up on his hands. “I’m not going to give you another opportunity like that one, I hope you realize. It was a one time thing.”

Zayn picks up a small pebble and tosses it between his hands. He shrugs. “I didn’t ask for it in the first place.”

Liam cocks his head to the side, still grinning a bit. “Getting fond of this place?”

“No,” Zayn answers. “I’m looking forward to eating that steak tonight.”

Liam sighs and stands up. He grabs the axe and orders Zayn to move back. Zayn obliges, finding a spot a bit of a ways down, where he sinks to the ground against and watches Liam get back to work. This time, Liam is facing away from him. Zayn may or may not have a thing for backs, apparently, because Liam has a very nice back. It’s all smooth skin spread tight against wide shoulders and sharp shoulder blades. His jeans hang low on his hips, and Zayn’s eyes follow the curve of his spin down to where his back dips above his ass and-- Zayn pulls his eyes away.

“I can’t believe you’re actually chopping wood,” Zayn comments.

Liam pauses and looks at him. “What do you mean?”

Zayn shrugs. “Just feels… weird. I don’t know.”

Liam smiles a lopsided smile. “My parents owned a farm,” he says. “First fourteen years of my life were spent working out there in the fields, and sometimes my dad would take me out to the woods and we’d get firewood.”

Zayn sits up a bit straighter and crosses his legs. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Liam says, swinging down the axe. “I’m not exactly book smart. I wasn’t planning on going to University. I’m good at labour work, though. Figured I’d be a construction worker or something.”

“I can see that,” Zayn says, picturing Liam in a hardhat and work boots and nothing else.

“My mum wasn’t happy about it,” Liam tells him. “She wanted me to be something important, you know. Like a doctor, or something. But that just wasn’t really realistic for me. I only just got into University. I’m still surprised I managed that. Guess all that work paid off though, right? I mean, a doctor’s degree wouldn’t have saved my life during this.”

When Liam’s finished chopping up the wood, Zayn stands up and brushes the dust off himself, and Liam puts the handcuffs back on him. He looks rather reluctant to do so, but they both know it’s for the best, which is why Zayn doesn’t complain. Afterwards, Liam piles Zayn’s arms with wood and they head into the field. It takes four trips to get all the wood to the spot Liam wants to have the fire. The ground there has been dug up a bit so there’s no grass around the area where they dump the wood.

Forty minutes later there’s a tall fire blazing. In the distance, Zayn can see that the dead have been drawn by the smoke and are converging near the fence. It makes him uneasy, especially because the sun is starting to set, and it’s getting dark.

The rest of the group files out of the building slowly. Some bring plates and utensils. Others bring blankets to sit on. Louis and Harry bring out the meat, while Lena and Jen carry out two large pots of instant mashes potatoes and a pot of canned vegetables that Liam and the others had scavenged on their last trip to town.

The smell of frying meat fills the air, and Harry and Louis are arguing over the best way to cook it. Zayn’s sitting far from the group in the grass, watching everyone interact. It reminds him of the camping trip he’d went on with his family when he was twelve. The warm fire, everyone smiling and laughing. No one being quiet because there’s no point to be.

Liam’s chatting with the other woman he hasn’t spoken to. Mary. She’s smiling at him and looking up at him through her lashes in a way that makes Zayn feel far too warm all of a sudden, like he’s jealous, which he’s not. He tears his eyes away and falls back against the grass. He can faintly see the stars already.

Someone falls onto the ground next to him and Zayn reacts instinctually by sitting up, alert instantly. Harry groans loudly and says, “Not you too. Liam’s like a fucking ninja.” Zayn stares blankly at him an Harry tugs at his curls. “What’re you doing all the way over here?”

Zayn shrugs and rips up a bit of grass. “Giving everyone their space.”

Harry frowns. “You realize you’re welcome to sit with everyone, right? Except maybe Mary and Sam.”

Before Zayn can respond, there’s a head in his lap. Zayn looks down at Louis and frowns. “What are you doing?”

Louis sighs dramatically. “I literally cannot take Wilson and Niall’s incessant chatting about golf. Honestly, it’s ridiculous. And then I thought, wow, Zayn doesn’t talk much, which means he can’t annoy me much. So then I came over here.”

Zayn sighs and pushes Louis off him. Louis seems undeterred, and he puts his head in Harry’s lap instead. Harry absently plays with his hair and says, “D’you think Mary’s got a thing for him?”

Zayn looks up sharply at Liam and Mary, who are still talking. “I thought she was with that other guy,” Zayn says, frowning.

“Carson?” Louis and Harry both ask. Louis laughs, but Harry says, “That’s her brother.”

“Oh,” Zayn replies, tugging up more grass.

“Shouldn’t you be cooking?” Louis asks Harry.

Harry sighs. “Jen told me to get away from the fire because you wouldn’t stop fighting with me.”

“You wouldn’t stop fighting with me,” Louis corrects.

“Um, you started it,” Harry argues.

“I did not, actually. You did. I specifically remember you starting it, and--,” Zayn lays back against the ground and drones them out.

At some point Harry and Louis both get up and then return with plates of food. Zayn doesn’t move. He feels tired, though he didn’t really do much today. He also doesn’t feel comfortable going to get his own food, so he doesn’t. Ten minutes later Niall brings him something, and Zayn thanks him.

“Get it yourself next time,” Niall says, sinking to the ground beside him. “’m not your fucking maid or your mother. And I’m not Liam.”

Zayn looks down at the plate and then at his cuffs. How, exactly, is he supposed to cut a large (mouth watering) steak with handcuffs on? The answer to that question is that he’s not. Liam comes over and makes a big show of having Zayn stand up and taking the cuffs off while everyone watches, which makes him extremely uncomfortable. Liam looks defiant as he does it, like he’s daring someone to say something. No one does, and Zayn sits back down, this time with Liam on his right.

“Taking the cuffs off and letting me have a knife,” Zayn comments, cutting up the meat. “Bit risky, isn’t it?”

“Not when three out of four of us have guns in our belts right now,” Niall says.

Zayn snorts and starts eating. If last night’s dinner had been good, it’s nothing compared to this. He didn’t even realize how much he missed eating meat until he had it in his mouth. It’s kind of weird, the way you take advantage of having things until you don’t anymore. Like a proper meal every night, or a warm shower. It makes you appreciate having them again when you do.

Zayn can’t finish all the food on his plate. He tries, he just can’t. His stomach isn’t used to more than one meal a day, and it’s too much. He puts the plate in front of him and leans back, even as Harry and Niall get up for seconds.

“Have you been up to the towers yet?” Liam asks abruptly.

Zayn looks over at him, not sure if he’s being spoken to. Apparently he is. “The towers?’

Liam nods and then stands up and offers Zayn a hand. “I’ll show you, come on.”

“Can I come?” Harry asks, retuning with Niall and another full plate of food.

“No,” Liam answers flatly.

“Buzzkill,” Harry mutters.

“I need to relieve Carson of watch anyways,” Liam tells him. “We’re not going up just for fun.”

“Lou and I’ll take the later shift, then,” Harry offers.

Liam nods. “Make sure you actually get up this time.”

“That was one time,” Louis says loudly. “One time, Liam. Let it go.”

“I was up there for twelve hours straight,” Liam says shortly. “I will not let it go.”

Louis flips him off and Liam rolls his eyes before heading towards the fire. After a look from Niall, Zayn jogs after him. Liam grabs two drinks and then pats Jen’s shoulder as they pass.

By ‘tower’ Liam meant the watchtowers. They’re stationed around the prison, but Liam leads him to the one inside the field. He pushes open the door at the base and then they climb the steps. Carson (a man who can’t be much older than them, with blue eyes and black hair) stands up when they get to the top.

“I’ve got it from here,” Liam tells him. “Go eat.”

Carson nods and gives Zayn a slightly hostile look as he passes.

The watchtower is basically a small room with a door that leads to a sort of balcony that’s high enough to see the entire prison from. Zayn takes a hesitant step towards the railing and then looks around. He hadn’t really thought about how big the place must be, but he thinks about it now. It’s huge. The blocks they’re living in can’t take up even half of the prison. There’s another courtyard farther down, completely closed in on every side by walls. Farther past that is a broken wall that leads straight to the woods.

“Can I be honest with you?” Liam asks, startling him.

Zayn turns and shrugs. “I don’t know, can you?”

Liam snorts and rolls his eyes. “You sound like every single teacher in existence, you know that?” he asks. “But anyways, I actually sort of hate watch, which is why I dragged you up here with me.”

Zayn frowns. “Why didn’t you let Harry do it, then?”

Liam shrugs and sits down, leaving the door to the room with the staircase open. He unscrews the lid on his drip and takes a long sip before answering. “They need to relax. Have fun. He can take over later, when everyone’s in bed.”

Zayn sits down next to him and lets his legs hang over the edge. Liam looks a little concerned about that, and he doesn’t move too close to the edge himself. “Don’t you need to relax?”

Liam laughs and puts the lid back on his drink. “Not as much as everyone else does.”

“What do you mean?”

Liam shrugs again. “I mean I’d rather take the burden off everyone else, if I can. At the end of the day, someone’s got to do the jobs no one else wants to, right? And no matter what, at least one person is going to end up unhappy. So I just think -- why make more than one person unhappy, when I could just do it myself, you know?”

“So what you’re saying,” Zayn starts, peering down at the fire not far from them, smoke rising high into the air, “is that you’ll make yourself unhappy, as long as it makes everyone else happy.”

“I never said I was unhappy,” Liam points out. “I just know that Harry and Lou will have more fun down there then they would up here. So why spoil that for them?”

“Why spoil it for yourself?”

“Because I don’t mind,” Liam says sincerely. He sighs. “Do you know how hard it was before we got here? What it was like? You were on your own, and I know that must have been just as, if not more, hard for you. But at the same time, you’ve not had to worry about a bunch of other people. I have. Every day, I wondered who I’d lose next. Would it be Niall, or Harry? Or Wyatt, or Jen? And it’s just-- it’s different here. We have a chance to be happy here, and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that we all are.”

“Shouldn’t that extend to yourself?” Zayn asks, instead of pointing out the obvious fact that Liam has a hero complex.

“It does,” Liam says, shifting forward a bit so he can rest his arms on the railing. “That’s why I brought you up here with me.”

Zayn wonders if people will ever stop saying things to him that he can’t figure out a reply to. He leans forward and rests his chin on the bars of the railing and Liam frowns at him.

“I may be afraid of heights,” Liam admits suddenly. “Only really high ones, though.”

Zayn looks up at him and snorts. “Really?’

Liam nods and swallows visibly. “Ever since I was young. I may or may not be terrified so do you think you could, like, not lean halfway off the tower, maybe?”

Zayn scoots back a bit. “Happy?”

“Very.”

They’re quiet for a long time, Liam’s eyes scanning the fence warily. Zayn doesn’t know what to say or do. If he should say or do anything. If he were alone, he’d enjoy this. He likes being high up. It makes him feel safer, like nothing can get to him right now. Liam sort of makes him feel like that sometimes, too, not that Zayn really likes to think about that, because he hardly knows Liam. Maybe this is all just a show. Maybe he’s not really this sweet, kind person. He’s definitely shown glimpses of another person. A colder, ruthless person. Who knows who Liam really is. Zayn hasn’t known him long enough to be sure.

“Where’d you stay when you were on your own?” Liam asks without warning.

Zayn’s eyebrows come together at the randomness of the question. “A lot of places,” he answers. “The woods, mostly. I didn’t like to move into towns. Too many dead. Too many living.”

Liam nods. “The dead aren’t the only thing you’ve got to worry about anymore.”

“No,” Zayn agrees. “They’re not.”

“Can I ask you a more personal question?” He sounds hesitant and wary, like he’s worried Zayn’s going to get upset.

“You can, but I can’t promise to answer it.”

Liam nods, accepting that. “You were on your own since October, but everything started before that. So-- were you with another group, at one point?”

Zayn closes his eyes. “Ask me another time, yeah? I might answer you then. Just -- not tonight.”

“Okay,” Liam agrees. “Just-- if you’ve lost people--,”

“Everyone’s lost people,” Zayn points out, a bitter laugh bubbling up in him.

“I know, but I just mean-- we have too. A lot of people, Zayn. I can relate. When we started out, I wasn’t with any of these people. I met Harry and Louis in September. Niall in late October. The rest over November and December.” He sucks in a breath. “When I started out, I was with my mum and my sisters. My dad-- he was one of the first in my town to go. Was out harvesting crops when our neighbour stumbled over to him. My mum watched it from the kitchen window. Watched--,”

“Liam,” Zayn says quietly.

“Sorry,” Liam says, shaking his head. “Sorry. Don’t know why I brought that up. Such a fun night and here I am, talking about-- never mind.”

“You can talk about it,” Zayn says softly. “If you want to talk about it, talk about it.”

Liam shakes his head again. “I really don’t want to. Really. I don’t know why I even said any of that.”

Zayn gives him a look and Liam groans and falls back against the metal of the balcony. He lays like that for a long time, staring up at the sky, and Zayn takes advantage of the position to admire Liam’s neck and his arms, which are apparently starting to become an obsession of Zayn’s.

“There’re blankets up here,” Liam says suddenly. He turns his head to look at Zayn. “I can get them, if you want to stretch out and go to bed. Or-- you can head back to your cell, if you want. I probably should have asked you first if you wanted to do the shift with me. Sorry.”

“You say sorry a lot, you know that?” Zayn asks, standing up. “Where are these blankets?”

“On the shelf inside,” Liam says, not moving.

Zayn heads inside the building and spots a set of cupboards on the left wall. He pulls them open and grabs the wool blanket from inside and then freezes, eyes wide and on the box of condoms and the bottle of lube.

“Are you sure this blanket it clean?” Zayn asks.

Liam sounds confused when he says, “Pretty sure. Why?”

“Just wondering because, you know, the condoms and the lube,” he says nonchalantly.

“The-- what?” Liam is suddenly behind him, and then he’s leaning over Zayn to grab the box of condoms off the shelf. He pulls them out and finds only two left in the box of twelve. “Huh. Um. Maybe we shouldn’t use that blanket, actually.”

Zayn snorts and shoves the blanket back onto the shelf and closes the door. This time, he sits against the wall instead of hanging his legs off the edge. Liam sinks down beside him, and after a few minutes Liam moves down the wall and puts his head in Zayn’s lap, much the way Louis had earlier. Only it’s different. It’s very, very different, for several reasons.

For one, with Louis, Zayn knew to just shove him off. He knew it wouldn’t get a reaction out of the boy. With Liam, he’s not sure how he’ll react. And then there’s the fact that Zayn sort of wants Liam’s head there as much as he doesn’t want it there. He doesn’t want it there because he’s just not used to this -- touching thing. But then he wants it there because it’s Liam and if anyone had to touch him, he’s sort of glad it’s him. And then, you know, there’s the issue of Liam’s head being pretty fucking close to his dick. That’s sort of the biggest issue.

“Does taking watch include falling asleep?” Zayn asks.

Liam sits up quickly, looking only mildly sheepish. “No,” he admits. “It probably doesn’t. Then again, I’m sure closing my eyes for a few minutes is better than making use of what’s in that cupboard.”

Zayn’s cheeks heat up, but Liam obviously doesn’t mean that the way Zayn’s taking it. He doesn’t see the effect those words have on Zayn, because he’s too busy sliding forward so he can see over the edge more. Zayn leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes.

He must fall asleep, because the next thing he knows, Liam is carrying him through the gates and towards the door to the building. Zayn blinks slowly and then squirms and then he pushes roughly on Liam’s shoulders until, surprised, Liam drops him.

Zayn hits the ground hard. His tailbone aches and, yep, fuck, that’s going to bruise. “Not your fault,” Zayn says before Liam can apologize. “I freaked out. Sorry.”

“You’re apologizing now?” Liam asks, peering down at him.

Zayn sits up slowly. “You must be rubbing off on me.” He groans as his back aches worse when he stands. “You could have just woken me up. You didn’t have to carry me.”

Liam shrugs. “You looked really peaceful.”

Zayn struggles to remember what he was dreaming about, but he can’t. Doesn’t matter anyways, because Liam’s putting a hand on the small of his back and is gently nudging him towards the doors. By the time they get back to the cellblock, Zayn is ready to collapse. Apparently socializing is more tiring than running through the woods all day, because he’s so, so tired.

“Night,” Liam says, heading off for his own cell.

Zayn doesn’t even bother trying to pretend this time, and he grabs his blankets and pillows and makes the bed on the bottom of Liam’s bunk as Liam lights a candle, and then he falls asleep yet again, comforted by the knowledge that Liam is right above him.

 

--

 

Liam’s out for the day with Harry and Niall, heading back to that farm to round up the chickens, or whatever. Zayn’s still convinced the whole idea is just fucking ridiculous, but he keeps that to himself. Louis doesn’t. Louis is antsy and annoyed and snappy, and Zayn is stuck with him until they get back. Apparently the handcuff rule has been revoked, but the guard rule is stricter than ever.

Zayn’s worried, too. He doesn’t want to be, but he is. He doesn’t like how often Liam leaves the safety of the prison. Considering the fact that the first time he’d done it with Zayn there, he’d come back with a bullet in his shoulder, Zayn thinks that he’s completely rational with this concern. Even if he doesn’t really care all that much about Liam or anyone here. Even if he is still planning on leaving. Just-- after he pays off his debts.

“When they brought you here,” Louis says, pulling Zayn out of his thoughts as they walk through the field, picking up garbage from last night, “you only had a knife on you, right?”

Zayn nods. “Why?”

Louis shrugs. “Just wondering what you’re good at.”

“What I’m good at.” His voice is flat as he picks up another plastic plate.

“Like-- Harry. He’s good with a crossbow, right? Like, really fucking good. And Niall’s got aim with a pistol that only Jen can beat. Liam likes shotguns--,”

“Really?” Zayn asks, surprised. He didn’t take Liam for a shotgun type of guy. Zayn’s used a few shotguns in his life, and he doesn’t like them. Too much recoil, the spread is too wide. It’s too inaccurate. He figured Liam would be a handgun type of guy.

“Yeah,” Louis says, sounding annoyed with Zayn for cutting him off. “Personally, I like the submachine guns. I like the spray.”

Zayn chuckles. He’s not surprised by this one, at least. Louis is sort of like a submachine gun himself. Quick, all over the place, firing off like crazy, not very big.

“I like knives,” Zayn says after a moment. “You don’t have to worry about reloading a knife, or running out of bullets. And it takes a really stupid person to accidentally stab someone.”

“Knives,” Louis repeats. “Brilliant.”

“Why is that brilliant?” Zayn questions.

Louis grins and drops his garbage bag and says, “Come on. We’ll finish this later. I can’t work until they’re back. I need to do something that’s actually distracting.”

Zayn reluctantly follows him, leaving his own bag in a pile beside Louis’. He has a feeling he’ll be out here later, finishing up their work, and Louis will find a reason not to.

Louis opens the door to the weapons room and waves Zayn in. Zayn takes a hesitant step into the room, eyes wide. There are guns everywhere. Every kind you could think of. Submachine guns, pistols, shotguns, assault riffles.

“We’ve run out of ammo for most of them,” Louis explains, waving to an entire wall. “None of those have any rounds. Everything that still works and has ammo is over here.”

Zayn follows his train of sight to a table that’s littered in guns, but there’s really not all that many of them. He can see the magazines on the shelf behind the table, but Louis’ heading for the opposite wall and pulling down a long, sheathed sword.

“Katana,” Louis says, grinning. “It belongs to Harry, but he nearly took his own head off with it, so he’s not actually allowed to touch it.”

He hands it to Zayn and Zayn takes it and holds it carefully in his hands before looking at Louis, asking for permission with his eyes. Louis takes a step back and nods, and Zayn pulls the sword out, fingers curled tightly around the hilt. It’s a long, sleek, curved blade, and Zayn can’t resist the urge to press his thumb against the sharp edge. Barely any pressure and he slices his finger open, blood dripping down it.

Zayn sucks his thumb into his mouth, but he’s grinning. “This is amazing,” he says before wrapping both hands around the hilt and swinging it, only safe to do so because Louis is far enough away.

“Do you actually know what you’re doing with that thing?” Louis asks.

Zayn nods. “To an extent, yes.”

“You can have it, then,” Louis tells him. “For when you leave.”

Zayn looks up at him. “What?” He hadn’t mentioned to Louis that he was planning on leaving, but Liam definitely could have. He doesn’t know why that upsets him, but it does.

“You’ve got to start doing runs eventually,” Louis explains. “I’m sure they’ll want to take you around. Liam doesn’t stop talking you up. ‘Survived on his own for eight months, imagine how much help he’ll be?’” Louis snorts.

Zayn frowns. Is that why Liam seems to be trying so hard to get him to stay? Because he thinks they need his help?

“Not anytime soon,” Zayn says, sheathing the sword again. “I’m pretty sure half the people here would be upset at you just for letting me in this room, let alone allowing me to touch something.”

“Half the people here can go fuck themselves,” Louis says brightly. “Now let’s go play cards, yeah? I think I’ll beat you this time. I’ve been playing with Harry, and I won two games last night up in the tower.”

Zayn smirks. “Really, that’s what you did? You played cards?”

Louis locks the door behind himself, and Zayn doesn’t miss the flush in his cheeks. “And slept for a bit while Harry stayed up. Why?”

Zayn shrugs. “Just wondering.”

They play cards in the common room. At one point Wyatt and Lena come in and join them, until Jen comes to grab Zayn to help her make dinner, which consists of leftover meat from last night and rice. By the time it’s done the door to the kitchen opens and Liam says, “Smells good in here.”

“It damn well better,” Jen says, shaking her head. “You know, you’re gonna have to start letting me out on the runs, too. Might be getting the impression that the men are the hunters and the women only cook and clean.”

Liam frowns. “Lena or Mary could come if they wanted,” he says. “They never ask.”

“I’m asking,” Jen tells him.

“And I’m saying no,” Liam says quietly.

Zayn doesn’t want to be in the room anymore. Jen had looked teasing and friendly at the beginning of the conversation, but she looks genuinely angry now. And Liam looks as hard as stone, and Zayn knows he isn’t going to change his mind.

“I’m just as capable as Curly and you know it,” Jen says.

Liam shakes his head. “No. I don’t want to risk it. You’re needed here too much to risk you getting hurt out there.”

“You risk it every day,” Jen points out.

“I’m going to go take a shower,” Zayn says abruptly.

“You better get your boy, Payne,” Jen says while Zayn heads for the door. “If Sam finds him out on his own--,”

“I’m going,” Liam says. Zayn pauses at the door and waits. “I’m sorry, Jen, I am. But I can’t lose you, okay?”

Jen sighs. “I know.”

“Okay. Save us something for dinner?”

“Of course.”

Wyatt intercepts them in the hallway. Liam obediently follows him through the building towards the group’s cellblock. It’s different than his and Liam’s. For one, every cell is decorated somehow. It looks almost homey, in a way that his doesn’t, because his is just bare and far too empty.

“See?” Wyatt asks, pointing.

Liam sighs deeply and nods. Zayn’s not really sure what’s going on here, but Niall is passed out in a bed, and his shirt is soaked. His face is red, too, and he’s clutching at a picture frame. The sight makes Zayn’s heart hurt.

“I’ve got it,” Liam says, clapping Wyatt on the shoulder. “Go help Jen with dinner, okay?”

Wyatt nods and runs off, and Liam sighs again before turning to Zayn and saying, “Give me a minute, yeah?”

Zayn nods, too, and steps back, and then the curtain covering Niall’s door falls closed and Zayn can’t see them anymore. He hears water running, and the mattress groaning, and Niall’s quiet, “Li?”

“Yeah,” Liam says softly. “I’ve got you.”

“’m sorry,” Niall says, and Zayn tries not to listen, he really does. It’s hard not to, though. “Just needed to forget, you know?”

He’s drunk. Zayn’s not stupid. If the smell wasn’t enough to give it away, the slurs are.

“Go back to bed,” Liam says gently. “I’ll make sure your watches are covered. Need you well rested for tomorrow. We’re heading to that mall just outside of the next town over.”

“Really?” Niall asks, sounding much happier than he had a moment ago. “Because I need new shoes, mate. And I was thinking we could--,”

“Tomorrow,” Liam says.

“Tomorrow,” Niall repeats. “’kay. Night, Li. Love you.”

Liam comes out from behind the curtain a moment later, and he carefully locks Niall in his cell. “Have to,” he explains. “He once wandered into the uncleared part of the prison like that. Only reason he’s still here is because Harry heard him yelling.”

Zayn doesn’t say anything. It’s not his place. Niall is not his friend, and Niall wouldn’t be happy if he knew Zayn had been a witness of any of that, he knows.

“Anyways,” Liam says as they head out of the cellblock, “I’m serious about stopping at the department store tomorrow. You need clothes, for one. So do I, and so does Harry. And we need more medical supplies. Not medicine, but bandages, rubbing alcohol, the works. And Niall suggested we start a garden. I think it’s a good idea.”

Zayn tenses a bit. “You sure that’s safe? A store that big--,”

“It’s not,” Liam says truthfully. “You up for it?”

Zayn tilts his head, not understanding. “You mean--,”

“I want you to come,” Liam clarifies.

Zayn debates for a moment. “Okay,” he agrees. He knows it’s not safe. He’d never risk going in a store that big on his own, ever. But he won’t be alone, and if Liam thinks it’s safe enough to try, then Zayn will trust his judgement. “Are you sure the others will want me to come?”

“Harry won’t care,” Liam says, twirling his keys in his hands. When they get to their cellblock he uses it to unlock the door and then says, “And Niall won’t be thrilled, but he’s not going to protest either. We all want to see what you’re made of. A bit curious. You’ve sort of got this reputation that proceeds you, you know? Lasting that long on your own.”

“It’s not because I’m some spectacular killer,” Zayn huffs, heading to his room to grab his towel. “It’s because I was smart. I didn’t stay in one place too long. I didn’t go near people. I stayed away from towns.”

“Didn’t--,” Liam pauses and wrings his own towel in his hands. “Didn’t you get lonely? On your own, I mean.”

Zayn looks up at him sharply. “No, I didn’t.”

“At all?”

“No,” Zayn repeats. “It’s easier than you’d think. Not worrying about anyone. Not watching people you care about dying. Being on your own, in this world, is the smartest thing you can do, Liam.”

Liam tosses his towel onto his shoulder and then crosses his arms over his chest. “So that’s it, then?”

Zayn isn’t following. “That’s what?”

“Why you won’t stay,” Liam clarifies. “Because you’re afraid you’ll get attached, and someone will get hurt, and you can’t deal with that.”

“Don’t want to deal with that,” Zayn corrects. “I can deal with anything. Doesn’t mean I’m going to willingly put myself through that again. I was happy by myself. Maybe you think you wouldn’t be, but I know I was. It was easy and simple. This?” Zayn waves a hand. “This is complicated.”

Liam snorts and turns his back on Zayn, heading for the door. “I didn’t take you for a coward, Zayn. A lot of things, but not a coward.”

Zayn balls his hands into fists but he refuses to rise to the bait. He knows that Liam’s only saying that because he wants Zayn to stay for some reason unbeknownst to Zayn. Really, Zayn doesn’t get it. Liam doesn’t know him at all, technically. There’s no reason for Liam to care whether Zayn stays or goes, lives or dies. Unless he’s benefiting from it some how. And maybe he is. And maybe Zayn is going to figure out how.

They’re silent on the whole walk to the bathroom, even when they pass by Wilson and Lena. Zayn has nothing to say to Liam, and Liam apparently has nothing to say to him, either. And yet they both still sit on the bench while the other showers.

It should be weird, Zayn thinks. Instead, Zayn is just slightly comforted by Liam’s presence, as always, even if he’s sort of angry at Liam for a lot of things. Like calling him a coward, or asking something of him that he just can’t do. And for making him sort of want to do it, just because it would make Liam happy.

There’s no conversation or friendly grins for the rest of the night. They shower and then Liam lends Zayn a clean shirt that hangs off his shoulders ridiculously, which thankfully no one comments on. They sit with Harry and Louis at dinner, until Liam mentions them going to the mall tomorrow, at which point Louis excuses himself from the table and leaves the room, heading for the hallway instead of the cellblock.

“Out, Louis,” Liam says when they head to their cells for bed. He’s laying on Zayn’s bunk, staring at the underside of the top bunk, hands folded on his chest.

“Why?” Louis asks. “It’s not like Zayn sleeps in here anyways.”

Zayn makes a surprised sound. “How do you know that?”

Louis sits up and smirks at him. “I know a lot of things.”

“Like how to find your way back to your own cell, maybe?” Liam cuts in.

Louis sighs and stands up. “Fine,” he says. He stomps towards the door but pauses before unlocking it with his own set of keys. “But if any of you get hurt tomorrow, Liam, I won’t be able to forgive you for that. You get that, right? Not after I told you not to go.”

Liam lifts his chin a bit and Zayn steps backwards into his cell, not wanting to be caught in the crossfire of Louis’ anger and Liam’s anger. “We don’t have a choice,” Liam tells him. “We need--,”

“We don’t need anything,” Louis says fiercely. “We have everything we could possibly need at the moment. Everything that is worth risking out lives for. You’re all getting cocky, and far too comfortable, and it’ll be the death of one us.”

“Louis,” Zayn hisses.

Louis whirls on him, but Liam acts like Zayn had never spoken. “He doesn’t have to come,” Liam points out. “That’s his choice.”

“No, it’s your choice,” Louis argues. “You tell anyone around here to do something, and they all jump to your command. So don’t abuse that power because you’re trying to make this feel like a home. This is a prison, Liam. You can hang up curtains, or scavenge Batman sheets for Wyatt, but it is, and always will be, a fucking prison. It’s not a home. The world isn’t normal and safe. You need to stop trying to fix something that can’t be fixed.”

With that, Louis is gone. He doesn’t lock the cellblock behind himself, but Liam heads for the door after a beat and does it for him, and then he returns to his own cell, shuts the barred door, locks it, and closes the curtain covering it.

Zayn sighs and crawls into his own bed and tries to fall asleep. He really does. The curtain blocks out the sound of Liam’s breathing and soft snoring, though, and he just can’t. And that really, really bothers him, because he tries. He tries until he’s turned so much in bed that the blankets are twisted and on the floor, and his hair is matted to his forehead with sweat.

Eventually Zayn gives up and pads out of his room and then raises his hand to knock at Liam’s door before remembering that he doesn’t really have a door.

“Liam,” Zayn calls softly.

“Go to bed, Zayn,” Liam answers immediately, letting Zayn know that he hadn’t been asleep in the first place.

“I just--,”

“What’re you going to do when you leave in a little over a week?” Liam asks. “You can’t even sleep in a cell by yourself.”

Zayn walks back to his cell without word, because Liam’s words don’t really bother him. He’s right. Zayn will be gone in just a matter of days and he’s gotten weirdly dependent on the knowledge that Liam was only an arms length away from him while he slept.

Knowing that doesn’t really help, though. Zayn strips off his t-shirt, remakes his bed, and then tries to fall asleep again and can’t. He swears he can hear the moans of the dead filling the halls, but obviously that’s just in his mind, because if those sounds were real Liam would without a doubt be in the hallways clearing them out.

He rolls and faces the wall, pressing his arm against the cold surface to try and cool his body down and fall asleep before the sun comes up. He can’t tell if he actually hears the sound of Liam’s cell door opening, or if it’s just his imagination again, until his bed dips and then a warm body settles in beside his.

“Don’t,” Liam says before Zayn can roll over. “Okay?”

Zayn has no idea what he means. Don’t ask why he’s there? Don’t kick him out? Don’t roll over? So he just closes his eyes and waits for sleep to overtake him, which it does almost immediately.

 

--

 

Zayn wakes up alone in his bed, and he’d almost convince himself that Liam hadn’t been there last night if it weren’t for the boy discreetly trying to leave the cell without waking him.

“Middle of an apocalypse,” Zayn says, making Liam freeze, “and I still wake up to guys sneaking out of my bed.”

Liam sighs but doesn’t turn around. He curls his fingers around the bars in Zayn’s door as Zayn sits up and stretches, remembering that he’d tugged his shirt off in a fit last night. And also remembers Liam’s words, and his fight with Louis, and also the argument that they’d had, too, before that.

“I wasn’t planning on just sneaking out of your bed,” Liam admits.

Zayn yawns. “What’s that mean?”

He’s too tired to hold a grudge. Maybe later, when he’s awake and had something to eat, he’ll be upset at Liam.

Liam shrugs and turns, wrapping his arms around his stomach in a way that Zayn used to when he was younger. A defensive gesture. One he used when he felt insecure or guilty. “I was planning on heading in to town before Niall and Harry woke up,” Liam admits. “That way neither of them can convince me to take them with me. And I can do what we need to do. Get you clothes, see what food I can find, see if that farm has any gardening equipment.”

“You were going to go by yourself,” Zayn guesses.

Liam nods and steps backwards out of Zayn’s cell. “Best to do it that way,” Liam says quickly. “No point risking more than one person for something we don’t technically need. Louis was right last night.”

Zayn is torn between agreeing and disagreeing. He thinks Louis has a point, from a logical standpoint. And then he thinks Louis is an asshole for putting that look on Liam’s face, from a personal standpoint. None of that matters, though.

He gets out of bed and finds his (Liam’s) shirt that he’d thrown off and pulls it on, saying only slightly groggily, “I’ll come with you.”

Liam halts and shakes his head quickly. “No.”

Zayn raises his eyebrows. “Why not?’

“Several reasons,” Liam answers. “Like the whole not risking more than one person thing.”

Zayn crosses his arms over his chest. “I’d like to see you stop me from coming.”

“I won’t give you a weapon.”

“Then I’ll be defenceless, which will put me at even more of a risk.”

Liam sighs and runs a hand over his short hair. “You’re not going to let me go on my own, are you?”

Zayn shakes his head. “Unless you lock me in this cell, you can’t stop me from coming with you.” Something in Liam’s gaze darkens, and Zayn hastily adds, “Don’t you even think about it.”

Liam fidgets and tugs at the collar of his shirt, and then he says, “Fine. You’ve got two minutes and then we’re leaving, so hurry up.”

Zayn slips his shoes on and grins. “I’m ready already.”

Liam is full blown glaring at him now, but he doesn’t protest again as he goes into his own cell, changes, and then they head out of the weapons room. They’re quiet as they walk through the halls, and Zayn isn’t sure the exact time, but he’d guess it’s some time around five in the morning.

“The only person up right now is Carson,” Liam tells him as he loads his gun. “He’s on watch, he’ll get the gates for us.”

“Louis and Niall are going to be furious,” Zayn can’t help but mention.

“Furious but safe,” Liam argues. He goes over to the wall where the katana is hanging and picks it up. There’s a moment of hesitation, Zayn sees it, but he hands it over anyways. “You sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable with a gun?”

“Positive,” Zayn says, using the strap on the cover to hang it over his shoulder. Just to be sure, he reaches up and checks that he can quickly unsheathe it at a moments notice. He can.

Liam leaves him in the courtyard for a few minutes so he can head up to one of the towers to get Carson to let them out. Carson, Zayn notes, is about as much of a fan of this plan as Zayn is. He looks surly and wary, but then he glares at Zayn and Zayn realizes it’s not because Liam’s leaving.

“You’re really arming him?” Carson mock whispers to Liam.

“Yeah, I am,” Liam answers flatly. “I trust him.”

Zayn’s eyebrows draw together at that, but he doesn’t ask why Liam trusts him. Liam doesn’t really have any reason to, but he’s glad that he does anyways.

They take the Audi. Liam drives and Zayn sits in the passenger seat, more than a little restless. He’s only been outside the prison once since he’s been there, and he hasn’t had to worry about defending himself for days. He hopes he hasn’t somehow forgotten it all.

“We’re just going downtown,” Liam explains as they drive. He’s calm. Too calm. It’s almost eerie, really, because if Zayn didn’t know better he could almost pretend that they were just two friends going out for a day of shopping. Two heavily armed friends.

“Okay,” Zayn says, staring out the window.

They drive by the pharmacy, and Zayn looks around as they go. He hadn’t really gotten much of a look around the town when he’d gotten there. Too risky. Now, he sees that it’s fairly small. And there aren’t many dead. They pass maybe five all together on the street, and they all look up as the car passes, but not one runs after them, which is a little disconcerting, to Zayn at least. Liam still seems indifferent.

“Clothing store,” Liam says abruptly. He pulls up right in front of it and stops the car. “Rules: No leaving my sight. No longer than five minutes inside. Grab what we need and get out. Got it?”

“Got it,” Zayn agrees. He feels jumpy and energetic all of a sudden, even though he’s still sort of tired and definitely hungry.

Liam is out of the car first, and Zayn follows a moment later. Liam takes a long look around them then nods at the store door. Zayn holds back a bit as Liam pushes it open, reaching up high. He grabs something and tugs and then holds out his hand, showing Zayn a small bell. He doesn’t talk as he pockets it, and Zayn stays quiet, too, that way he can listen.

The way the store is set up is pretty open, and Zayn doesn’t see anything inside. Liam heads straight for the front counter and ducks behind it, pulling out a bunch of plastic bags. Zayn grabs a few from him and then heads for the racks of clothing. He grabs jeans in his size (well, a size smaller than he’d used to wear, because he’s lost weight), and then does the same with t-shirts, until he’s filled three bags with clothes that he’s pretty sure will fit. Liam’s got two bags himself, and a box of shoes.

“For Niall,” he explains.

Zayn nods. “I’m good. You?”

Liam nods and they head back to the car. Liam pauses on the sidewalk, drops his bags, and pulls his knife from it’s holster and takes out a stumbling female that’s on the other side of the car. Zayn watches him do it and then loads in his bags, and grabs Liam’s too, and then they both get in and Liam starts driving again.

“We passed another farm yesterday,” Liam tells him as they drive. “I want to check it out. Niall was right about the gardening supplies. It’d be a real asset. Do you mind if we go check it out?”

Zayn shrugs. He feels… he feels weirdly calm, too. Maybe that’s Liam’s fault, or maybe it’s because this town is so abandoned. It feels almost like the world really has ended, but in a different way. Like everyone else in the entire world is wiped out except for them, even the dead. Obviously this isn’t true, because they pass by two of the dead eating what looks like a dog on the side of the road. Zayn averts his eyes.

“We’re going to need more gas soon,” Liam comments, pointing at the gas gauge. “Tomorrow I’ll take Niall into town and we’ll siphon some.”

Driving outside of town is even more peaceful. There’s nothing but trees and the sound of the car running and their breathing. For just a moment, Zayn entertains the idea of him and Liam just… going. Getting in a car and driving forever, not stopping unless they have to. Taking turns driving, scavenging food from every other town. For some reason it fills him with a sombre feeling and he pushes those thoughts away, because in a little over a weeks time he’ll be gone, and Liam can add another person to the bottom of his list of people he’s lost.

Zayn sees the farm up ahead not long after. Liam drives right through the gate. The screeching sound of metal on metal makes Zayn flinch, but Liam says, “Sorry, can’t be helped.” Zayn nods but that doesn’t really help at all.

The farm seems abandoned, mostly. There’s no animals here, not outside at least.

“We’ll check the house first,” Liam says. “Then the barn and the shed to see if we can find anything we might need.”

Zayn nods and pulls out the sword. He doesn’t know why, but he feels different than he did in the store in town. Something is very, very wrong, but he can’t tell Liam that, because he has no facts to back up the feeling, and Liam seems pretty comfortable. Maybe Zayn’s just not used to being out anymore, and this is a natural reaction to the amount of open space around him. He’s probably just judging the feeling wrong. Nothing’s going to happen.

Liam goes into the house first. The front door is locked, but with a good, hard (attractive, really, because the way his face sets and he tenses his body is sort of fucking hot) kick, the door goes down with a loud noise. Seconds later the hallway fills with the dead, and Zayn pushes past Liam because Liam doesn’t have his weapon out.

The blade is sharp and long, and it’s like the sword is an extension of his body. He keeps a tight and yet somehow still relaxed grip on the hilt and swings. The head of the first dead falls to the ground, and Zayn kicks the body out of the way and then jabs the knife forward through the skull of the next one. The force of the blow vibrates through his arms, but he hardly notices it, because there’s still two left. Two that he dispatches easily with two long, hard swings. The heads roll, the bodies fall, and blood splatters his arms sickeningly.

Zayn breathes heavily for a moment before finishing off the three that he’d decapitated. The sickest thing about the dead is that you can cut their heads off, and they’ll still be animated. One of the heads rolls and snaps it’s teeth at him, and Zayn’s stomach churns until the tip of the sword sinks into its eye socket and it’s finally put out of its misery.

Zayn wipes the now bloodied blade on his pants (he has new ones anyways) and then wipes off his arms, too, and sheaths the sword.

“Not bad,” Liam says from the doorway.

Zayn grins at him. He feels the adrenaline coursing through him, making him feel almost giddy. That’s the bad thing about adrenaline. It makes you laugh at the most inappropriate times, and he definitely feels like laughing now.

“Does it make me a freak if I say that I missed that?” Zayn asks, kicking the bodies over so they’re lined against the wall instead of blocking the hallway. “Not the killing but-- the rush of it. Or-- having something to do. I don’t know. It’s a good distraction.”

“It is,” Liam agrees quietly, walking past Zayn. He’s got his gun out, now, so Zayn lets him take the lead. “I think those were the only ones. They probably lived here.” Zayn nods his agreement. “You want to check the rest of the house and I’ll go check the barn?”

Zayn frowns. “No,” he says, “I don’t. We should stick together.”

Liam snorts. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, Zayn. If there’s anything else on this property, it can’t be anymore than maybe three or four of them. We’ll be fine.”

There’s that twisting, wrong feeling in him again. It’s screaming no, bad idea. “Liam--,”

“Just check the cupboards for food. Bag up anything that’s preserved, and then see if they have any weapons anywhere in here. Oh, and the linen closet upstairs, too. We could always use more blankets, and you probably want something to hang up in front of your door.”

Before Zayn can protest again, Liam is heading for the door. Zayn follows him, but Liam doesn’t turn around. He goes down the steps and then crosses the property to the barn. It’s a bit of a ways away from the house, and Zayn watches him until he breaks the lock on the barn door and disappears inside.

Liam peaks his head out a moment later and calls, “We can’t waste time, Zayn, hurry up!”

Zayn doesn’t answer, but he does turn back and head inside the house. Downstairs he finds a few bags and then pulls open the cupboards and loads up all the cans he can find, and then piles them by the door. He doesn’t check the fridge, because there’s no point. Anything in there will have spoiled months ago.

It’s a nice house, Zayn thinks. Not something he’d ever chose for himself, because he liked the bustle of the city, liked the small apartments and the sound of cars driving by, and the fact that there was always someone awake, no matter what time it was. But it’s still nice.

He doesn’t find any guns or anything else worth scavenging downstairs. Upstairs, he does what Liam says and finds the linen closet, and then piles up bags of blankets and towels. He also finds a bookshelf, which is what distracts him.

He can’t help it. Maybe they’re not a necessity, but he could use something to do in his free time. None of the books are anything he’d spend money on, but they’re a form of entertainment. He grabs six of them, decides that he can take them on the road with him when he goes. They’d fit in a small bag he could carry on his back.

He was distracted by the bookshelf. That’s probably why he didn’t hear them. But when he heads for the window that looks out over the back of the farm, Zayn’s heart sinks into his stomach. The front of the property is gated in, but the back of the property leads to a set of woods, and there’s no fence there. And Zayn hasn’t seen so many dead in one place at one time in… in a long, long time. Since he and his group had made the mistake of stopping in a too big city. There, the streets had been filled with them. That’s when he’d lost his dad, and -- no. No, no, no. That’s not going to happen again.

There’s so many. A hundred, maybe more. A herd. He’s got maybe a minute until they get to the house, which is why he drops the books in his hands and runs down the stairs, taking them three at a time, landing on the bottom hard enough to rattle his teeth.

His sword is out and in his hands as he passes through the front door and slams into a body. The woman screeches -- she fucking screeches-- and grabs his arm, pulling it to her mouth, but Zayn’s blade goes through her skull before she can bite him. And he doesn’t even have time to stop and react. He pushes her so she slides off his blade and tumbles down the steps, and then he runs for the barn.

Four of them block his path, but Zayn takes them out easily. The sounds fill the air, though; the moans and the yells. Zayn wonders where the fuck Liam is. Where the fuck is he?

“Liam!” Zayn shouts, running forward. He trips on a body and falls, sword still in his hand. His elbow throbs and his face hits the dirt. He feels the katana slice his leg, but it’s not important. Getting back up is, so that’s what he tries to do, just as something grabs onto his leg.

“Zayn!” It’s Liam --of course it’s Liam-- but Zayn can’t turn to him because he’s struggling to kick the thing off his leg, and he’s trying to get a grip on his sword, but he can’t because his fingers are coated in slick blood and the sword is trapped under the body of the thing. It’s got wide, pale eyes, and the skin on the left half of its face is gone, revealing bone and flesh and it’s fucking grotesque.

Zayn kicks at it with the leg that’s not trapped under its body, the bottom of his shoe connecting with its nose. The sound of bone crushing makes bile rise in his throat, but he just keeps kicking, even as the thing’s head caves in, until one more hard, properly aimed kick does the trick, and the thing stops writhing on top of him.

Zayn rolls onto his side and pushes himself up. He grabs his knife just in time to take out another one as the sound of gunfire fills the air. It’s muted by the silencer, but the quiet ping of Liam’s bullets rings in his ears anyways, and Zayn whirls, trying to figure out where he is.

Zayn’s between the car and the house. Liam’s between the car and the barn. And there are so many of them now, the horde closing in. At least twenty block Liam’s path, but he’s taking them out steadily, headshot after headshot. Zayn would be impressed if he weren’t so terrified. And he is terrified. He feels cold and shaky all over, like when he’d gotten the flu when he was nine and had to be taken to the hospital because it was so bad.

The smell of the dead surrounds him, because he’s coated in their blood now, and he’s surrounded by their bodies. It’s like road kill that’s been left in the sun to cook. Rotten and potent and horrible.

They’re still coming, too. So many of them on every side. Some come from the left of the house, others from the right. Zayn backs up, wanting to head for the car. He can’t, though, because Liam’s trapped. He was closer to the horde, the barn situated a bit to the left and behind the house. There’s no way he can make it. There’s just too many. The dead create an impenetrable wall that separates the two of them.

Zayn doesn’t care. He’s moving towards Liam anyways and watches as one of them grabs Liam from behind. His shout of warning is too late, but Liam uses the barrel of the gun to crush the things head in, and then he whirls and faces Zayn. Their eyes meet for one moment that couldn’t have lasted long, but it feels like it did. And Liam’s telling him to go, and he’s throwing the keys.

They land between two of the dead who look down at the ground and then continue towards Zayn. Zayn rushes them, ducking down and slicing through both of their legs with one good, arched swing, and they fall to the ground. Zayn doesn’t even bother to take them out. He scrambles for the keys and his freehand closes around the warm metal that must have been in Liam’s hand for a long moment, heated by his body. Zayn squeezes them until they bite into his skin and then he holds them in his mouth so his hands will be free and he heads for the car.

Liam lets out a loud shout, but it’s not in anguish. It’s a distraction. He’s distracting the rest of them so Zayn can get to the car. The sound of bullets being fired stops, and Zayn figures that Liam’s either run out of ammo, or he’s reloading. He doesn’t know, because he doesn’t turn to check. He’s too busy moving steadily towards the car, taking out everything in his path, like he’s on autopilot. Swing the katana, duck away from the arms that reach for him, keep moving.

He gets to the car and pulls open the door as something grabs him from behind. He just tosses the katana into the backseat and slams the door, and the hand holding him falls onto his lap. Zayn throws it off him and scrambles to lock the doors and get the key in the ignition.

The sound of the car starting up has dozens of heads turning in his direction. Only the ones that are closest to Liam don’t turn, but Zayn’s happy about that. If he can just hold on, Zayn can get to him.

He’s not a great driver, never has been. He never got his licence. He knows enough to get the car started, and then he backs up swiftly as the dead blanket the front of the vehicle. They streak the windshield with blood and other things that Zayn really doesn’t think about, because he would have thrown up already if he’d had anything to eat this morning, but thankfully Liam had gotten them out of the prisoner before that happened.

Zayn turns the car in a sharp arc, trying to get them off, and it works, mostly. He presses down on the gas and just goes forward. The sound of crushing bones under the tires is loud, but he tunes it out, because he’s got to get to Liam, who has backed inside of the barn now, but is still up and alive, as far as Zayn can tell. He can’t be certain, except he just knows that if Liam were dead, he’d feel it.

Zayn drives straight into the barn. He nearly hits Liam, who’s backed against the wall. He looks confused when he meets Zayn’s eyes, but Zayn honks the horn and the dead around him turn, and that’s all the distraction Liam needed, apparently, because he takes most of them out fast, and Zayn backs up a bit because they’re pushing into the barn behind him, blocking the exit.

He’s looking over his shoulder when Liam pounds on the window, and Zayn quickly unlocks the door.

He has no idea how Liam managed it. How he managed to get through the crowd of them and managed to get inside the car, but he did. He did, and he’s alive, and he doesn’t look bitten, but Zayn doesn’t have time to check because they’re blanketing the car again, and it’s so dark all of a sudden, all light blocked out by the bodies.

“Straight,” Liam orders. “Zayn, fucking drive.”

Zayn presses his foot down on the gas and drives.

The windshield cracks as they break through the back of the barn. Shards of glass fly, and one slices open his cheek. He doesn’t raise an arm to cover his face, though, because his fingers are curled so tightly around the steering wheel he thinks it’ll take a crowbar to get them off.

His blood is pounding in his ears, and the bottom half of a person is hanging off the front of the car. The car was not made for off road driving, and driving on the grass is hard. He feels every bump and dip, and it’s so difficult to control the fucking vehicle, especially when he keeps hitting the dead. There’s a constant thump of bodies hitting the windows and the roof and the hood of the car.

“Don’t slow down,” Liam orders.

Zayn nods and doesn’t slow down. He turns and drives around the other side of the house, and then he manages to get back onto the driveway again and speeds down it towards the broken open gate.

When they get to the road, Zayn doesn’t calm down, even though he is aware of the fact that they’re safe. They’re alive and they fucking made it, but he doesn’t feel safe anyways. He doesn’t think he’ll feel safe again.

“Left,” Liam says softly.

Zayn turns left. He can hear his own ragged breathing filling the car, and Liam’s, too. He doesn’t look at the other boy though. He can’t. He can’t take his eyes off the road or his hands off the steering wheel, because if he does he has a feeling he’ll crack into a hundred little pieces that will never be put back together again.

“Another left,” Liam says a few minutes later.

Zayn turns yet again, and then he can see the fence of the prison coming up, but he’s still speeding towards it, and he can’t seem to stop. He can’t lift his foot off the gas, and the fence is coming up, and he’s going to hit it. He’s going to go right fucking through it, the same way he did with the barn.

Except Liam is moving, kicking Zayn’s legs away somehow, and the car jolts to a stop. Zayn’s thrown forward and his face hits the steering wheel. He hears the crack of bone and figures that his nose is broken. Blood flows from the injury and gets in his mouth.

Liam gets out of the car and the gates slide open. Zayn’s door opens and he’s pulled from the vehicle. A moment later Liam picks him up over his shoulder and he somehow gets Zayn in the passenger seat. Zayn stares blankly ahead the whole time. He’s in shock, he guesses.

Liam drives them through the first gate, and Zayn spots Louis, who opens the second gate for them. He’s not alone, either, because Niall’s beside him, and Harry’s on the bleachers. The three of them surround the car when Liam turns it off and gets out.

They’re shouting. Zayn hears it but it barely registers. Once again his door opens and he’s pulled from the vehicle by warm, large hands that could only belong to Liam. Liam tries to pick him up but Zayn shoves him off and stumbles backwards until someone else steadies him.

“What happened?” It’s Louis. Louis, who’s holding him and asking.

Liam doesn’t answer. Zayn can’t. He can pushes Louis off him, though, so he does, and then he backs away from him. The sun is high in the sky and it beats down on him, and Zayn can almost feel the weight of the heat. It’s suffocating him, and he struggles to breathe. His head is pounding right along with his heart, and he waits for it to calm down, waits for the adrenaline to wear off. It doesn’t.

More people come outside, and more questions are asked. Someone screams-- Jen, Zayn thinks-- and Liam finally speaks. Zayn keeps backing up, and no one comes near him. When his back hits the wall Liam meets his eyes and then comes towards him. Louis grabs his arm but Liam shakes him off, which upsets Louis, but Liam apparently doesn’t care.

Liam grabs Zayn roughly by the arm and pulls him away from the wall, and Zayn grabs at him, clinging to his shirt and his arms. He thinks his fingernails draw blood from Liam’s skin, but he can’t really be sure because they’re both coated in blood anyways. Some is there own, but most of it isn’t. Liam’s dirty, too, just like him, like he’d fallen at some point, too. Dirt is smudged on his left cheek, and his right eyebrow is split open and dried blood covers that side of his face.

That’s when Zayn starts laughing. It’s loud and rough and it burns his throat to do so, but he can’t stop. The sound of it just keeps spilling out of his mouth until it’s all he can hear, and he’s sure he looks insane, but Liam doesn’t seem to care or notice. He just carefully uncurls Zayn’s fingers from around his forearm and his shirt, and then he guides Zayn towards the door and inside the building.

For some reason, no one follows them. Zayn keeps laughing all the way to their cellblock, until Liam tries to lean him against the wall and head for his cell. Zayn clings to him again and stops laughing.

“Nononono,” Zayn says, the word repeating and slurring together into a string of protests. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Liam, please--,”

Liam crowds Zayn up against the wall and puts their foreheads together. Zayn sighs in relief, the momentary panic that had suddenly swept through him when Liam had originally tried to walk away from him disappearing almost instantly.

Zayn hates people touching him. He really does. He doesn’t like people getting that close to him anymore. If Liam tries to stop touching him right now Zayn might actually kill him for it, though. He wraps his arms around Liam’s neck and tries to fist his hands in Liam’s hair, but there’s not enough of it to do that, and his nails scrape feebly against Liam’s scalp.

The only thing in his vision is Liam’s eyes. They’re so close and huge that they block out everything else. Slowly, so slowly, he feels the adrenaline wearing off. Liam’s does too, apparently, because Liam slumps against him until they’re touching everywhere. Chest to chest, forehead to forehead, legs tangling between each others. Their breathing is the only sound in the world at that moment, until Liam breaks the silence with a rough groan and then they’re kissing.

God, it’s horrible. It tastes like blood and dirt and the smell of the dead is everywhere, but Zayn never wants it to end. Liam’s lips are soft and they part almost instantly, pushing Zayn’s open, too. It’s rough and needy, the way their tongues move together and Liam’s nails dig into Zayn’s hips through his shirt. He’s never been so desperate for another person in his life. For the feeling of Liam against him, assuring him that they’re both fine. They’re both alright. They’re alive. They’re okay.

Zayn lets his hands slide down Liam’s back, clawing at his shirt. He wants it off. He doesn’t exactly get his wish, but there’s a tear in Liam’s shirt and Zayn hooks his fingers into and pulls, ripping it open so he can get his hands on Liam’s skin, and that’s going to have to suffice for now. His back is all warm and smooth skin, and Zayn slides his hands over it, feeling the muscles of Liam’s back and the sharp bones of his shoulder blades.

Liam makes another sound, low in his throat, and he fumbles for the button on Zayn’s jeans. Zayn sucks in a breath, stealing Liam’s air, and their lips separate for one quick moment that feels like centuries, until they connect again, this time sloppily, lips slick with what Zayn hopes is spit but could very well be blood.

Liam gets Zayn’s jeans undone and he palms Zayn through his boxers. Zayn hadn’t realized how painfully hard he was until that moment, and now the material separating the skin is too much. He wants it all off. Wants both of their clothes off, so he pushes at Liam’s shoulders until he backs up enough, craning his neck so they don’t separate their lips again.

Zayn’s fingers don’t know how to work anymore, apparently, and they slide over the buttons and Liam’s zipper, over and over again, as he tries to remember how to do this. He makes a frustrated sound and Liam does it for him.

Zayn sighs into the kiss as Liam kicks off his own jeans and then pushes his body back against Zayn’s, rutting into him. It’s like all the heat in Zayn’s body has concentrated in his stomach, and the way Liam grinds against him, cocks rubbing together through the thin cloth of their boxers, is only making it worse.

Liam’s tongue pushes into his mouth again, and this time Zayn can taste him underneath the metallic tang of blood. Of course Liam tastes sweet. He wouldn’t expect anything different.

The panic and desperation starts to wear off a bit the more Liam moves against him, but the need is still there, just as strong. Zayn scratches at Liam’s back again, trying to bring their bodies even closer despite the fact that closer isn’t really a possibility, given the way they’re pressed together everywhere.

Liam’s got a leg between Zayn’s, and Zayn is still rocking against him, riding his thigh, but he doesn’t even care. Isn’t at all embarrassed about the fact that he knows -- there isn’t any doubt at all in his mind -- that he’s going to come like this, clutching at Liam’s back as Liam ruts against him. He wants the feel of skin on skin, he wants Liam’s hands or lips wrapped around him, but he doesn’t think that’s a good idea right now considering how dirty and bloody they both are, which is why he doesn’t suggest it.

Liam’s lips slide from his own, down his jaw, and then Liam bites his neck hard enough to hurt. Zayn cries out, but not in pain, and that warmth that pooled in his stomach gets worse. His body tenses as he comes, soaking the front of his boxers. He slumps after that, unable to hold himself up, all the energy in his body leaving him with his orgasm. Liam keeps moving against him though, until he comes, too, with a muffled sound against Zayn’s neck.

He’s not sure how they get to the ground, if it’s him that pulls them down or Liam, but suddenly Zayn is sitting on the ground with his back against the wall, and Liam’s on top of him. His legs are on either side of Zayn’s body, and his head is still in the crook of Zayn’s neck. Liam’s heavy, but Zayn doesn’t push him off because he likes the weight. And he doesn’t think he can handle Liam moving away from him any time soon.

Liam’s lips are moving against his neck, and it takes Zayn a moment to realize he’s speaking. “I’m so sorry,” he’s saying, over and over, like he’s trying to ingrain the words into Zayn’s skin. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I should have listened to you. I’m so sorry.”

Zayn rubs soothing circles into Liam’s back -- or he hopes they’re soothing, but he can’t be sure-- but Liam just keeps saying it. Zayn feels exhausted and shaky, but he still pulls at Liam’s shoulders until Liam moves away from his neck, and then he puts his hands on either sides of Liam’s face and kisses him on the mouth again.

Now that he’s come down from everything, from the terror and the adrenaline and the panic and the need for Liam, he feels more clear minded. He’s not sure if this is allowed. If he can just kiss Liam, because what just happened could very easily be chalked up to the adrenaline rush. A heat of the moment thing that probably shouldn’t have happened. Liam doesn’t push him away, though, so Zayn keeps kissing him, slowly this time, not because he’s desperate for Liam but because he wants assure Liam that he’s not upset, and that they’re both fine.

Liam starts laughing into the kiss, and the sound of it is eerily similar to Zayn’s laughter from earlier. “We need a shower,” Liam says suddenly, breaking it off.

Zayn nods. “We’re disgusting.”

“But-- but we’re alright,” Liam says slowly. “Right? We’re-- we’re alright?”

“We’re alright,” Zayn confirms. They’re not good. Zayn has a feeling he’ll be up for the next couple of nights with visions of what happened today. He has a feeling that Liam leaving his side any time soon will send him spiralling into a world of a panic. But they’re alright.

Liam nods and gets off him. Zayn stands up instantly and grabs Liam’s wrist. “Just-- don’t --,” he doesn’t know what he’s trying to say, but Liam nods again anyways and lets Zayn leave his hand there as they head for Liam’s cell. Liam grabs his towel, and then they grab Zayn’s towel, and they head for the showers.

“They’re all probably in the common room,” Liam explains as they walk down the hallway. Zayn had just been about to ask, and it’s a little creepy how well Liam read his mind. “They’re upset.”

Zayn sucks in a deep breath. “Would this be a bad time to say I told you so?” he asks. He doesn’t know how he’s making a joke of it, but he can’t help it. If he thinks too much about any of what just happened, he has a feeling he’ll shut down and he doesn’t think he’ll be able to find his way back to himself if he does. “Because I told you so. I told you we should have told them. I told you we shouldn’t split up, I told you--,”

“I know,” Liam says quietly. “Okay? I know, Zayn. I fucking know.”

Zayn pauses in his step and, since he’s still holding onto Liam’s wrist, Liam has no choice but to stop too. His eyes are on the ground, and his shoulders are slumped pitifully.

“I’m sorry,” Zayn say quickly. “I know you--,”

“You should have left when I told you to,” Liam says abruptly. He looks up at Zayn and his expression is suddenly furious. “When I threw you the keys, you should have left. We could have both died there. They could have covered the car, broken the windows--,”

“I wasn’t going to leave you,” Zayn says fiercely. “Okay? I couldn’t.”

Liam kisses him again. It’s a bit of a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. “I know,” Liam says against his lips. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Zayn says, starting down the hall again, dragging Liam with him. “Just don’t let that shit happen again.”

“Okay,” Liam agrees.

They shower together. They don’t really talk about it, it just happens. They don’t touch, but Zayn feels Liam’s eyes on him more than once, and he cuts his own eyes to Liam several times, too. He can’t help it. For one, Liam is cut and bruised everywhere, and Zayn can’t help but check if he’s okay. And then there’s also the fact that Liam is possibly the most beautiful person Zayn has ever met, and he’s only human. He can’t help but admire the strong muscles that cover his body, or the curves of his legs and his back, and every other little part of him.

Zayn’s injured, too. After he cleans off the blood and dirt (so much of it that the water ran red and brown at times) he finds a long, thin gash on his leg from the katana that hurts now that he’s aware of it. Liam tells him they’ll get to the first aid kit later.

The door to the room opens suddenly, and Liam tenses, eyes wide, because he didn’t lock the door. Zayn turns and presses his back against the wall, feeling that panic rise up in him again. It’s just Niall, though.

“Grabbed the stuff out of the car,” he explains, dropping two bags onto the bench. “Figured you’d both need a change off clothes.”

Liam nods. “Thanks.”

Niall shakes his head. “Don’t thank me. I’m fucking furious at the both of you. Just-- come to the common room when you’re done, okay?”

Liam nods and Niall leaves again. When the door closes Liam leans against the wall of the shower and lets the water wash over him. Zayn shuts his own off and grabs his towel, leaving Liam alone for a moment, because he has a feeling Liam wouldn’t appreciate consoling words or touches right now.

The new clothes fit well, and it’s nice to be in something that he can call his own again, something that wasn’t lent to him from Harry or Liam. And the clothes smell clean and are dry and not ripped or bloody, which is even more of a plus.

He’s just tugging on a black t-shirt when Liam shuts off his own water and towels off. Zayn turns away from him so Liam can get dressed in semi-private, but when he’s done Liam comes up behind him and wraps his arms around Zayn from behind, his chin resting on Zayn’s shoulder.

“Left a mark,” he says quietly, pressing his lips against Zayn’s throat.

“You bite like the dead,” Zayn jokes, turning around.

He shifts a bit, because this suddenly feels so… intimate, which shouldn’t be that weird considering, hey, they’d just gotten each other off like half an hour ago. But it does feel weird, mostly because it doesn’t, not that that makes sense. It’s just-- Liam’s body fits easily against his, and Zayn finds himself leaning into Liam’s touch without thought, and that’s not normal. Not at all, considering the fact that they’d barely touched each other before what went down today.

“We should go face the music,” Liam says quietly. “They’re all going to be upset.”

Zayn nods and they leave their towels and dirty, bloodied clothes in the bathroom after Liam takes his keys from his jeans. Zayn can’t resist the urge to grab Liam’s wrist again. He can’t hold his hand, for some reason. That would just be too… romantic. Too coupley. And this isn’t about Zayn wanting to be Liam’s boyfriend. This touching is about Zayn needing to reassure himself over and over again. And it’s to keep Liam from leaving him, because he can’t handle that just yet.

Nearly everyone is in the common room, and they all look up when Zayn and Liam walk in. Zayn finds himself hiding behind Liam just a little bit, his shoulder behind Liam’s.

Louis gets up, and his expression is hard and cold. Liam stands there and waits as Louis comes up to them and then slaps Liam hard enough that the sound echoes through the room, and Zayn winces. Seconds later Louis wraps Liam in a hug that Zayn’s arm is trapped in the middle of, because he hasn’t let go of Liam’s wrist.

“You asshole,” Louis says, pulling back. “You fucking bucket of shit. You cactus eating--,”

“Cactus eating?” Liam repeats.

Louis glares at him. “I’m too upset to come up with proper insults. Go fuck yourself.”

“Love you, too,” Liam tells him.

Louis nods, and then Jen says, “You two better come sit down and get something to eat, and then tell us what in God’s name possessed you two to leave without telling anyone, and what happened to you.”

Liam sighs and leads them over to the table where Harry and Niall are sitting. A plate of food is placed in front of them both immediately, and Zayn uses his freehand to eat. He’s suddenly ravenous, like he hasn’t eaten in days as opposed to hours.

“We went into town,” Liam starts, pushing his food around on his own plate with his left hand, not tugging his right out of Zayn’s grip. “We went to the clothing shop downtown to get clothes. That went fine. There’s barely anything in town. A few walkers, but they’re scattered.”

Everyone is nodding along with this, and Louis sinks down into the seat next to Zayn and wraps an arm around his waist that Zayn is too tired to push off. He lets Liam tell the whole story, about going to the farm, and Zayn staying in the house and telling Liam that they shouldn’t separate (which Niall grunts his agreement about). He goes on to tell them about the herd, and how Liam had been in the barn, grabbing a bag of seeds that he’d found, when something grabbed him form behind. And then how he’d left the barn to go check on Zayn, only to be surrounded by ‘walkers’ as he calls them.

Zayn tries to tune the whole thing out, because each of Liam’s words is punctuated by a memory that flashes in his mind, and it makes Zayn’s throat close over and his chest tighten. There will be bruises in the shape of Zayn’s fingers on Liam’s wrist tomorrow from how hard Zayn is gripping him now.

“He drove right through the barn,” Liam concludes, and he sort of grins at Zayn, like this was some hilarious, heroic tale. Like Zayn hadn’t been so fucking terrified he could have cried, if he had the time. Like they hadn’t both almost died. “He could have left me. He should have left me.”

Zayn stares down at his plate as everyone turns to him. Some people congratulate and thank him, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He just wants to go to bed.

“No more leaving for a few days,” Niall says after a moment. “Either of you. Got it? And when you do leave, it’s as a group, and we do not split up.”

“Got it,” Liam concedes.

After that everyone else settles down. Harry and Niall and Liam have a long conversation about what could have brought the herd there, but none of them have any idea what would make the dead group together like that. It’s worrying, though. Could a big enough herd break down their gates? Niall says no, but Liam says maybe.

Liam ducks his head a bit later and says, only for Zayn’s ears, “Bed?”

Zayn nods and Liam stands up. “I think we’re going to head off to our cellblock,” Liam says loudly. “I’m a bit worn out.”

Louis snorts. “I bet.”

Neither Zayn nor Liam reply to that. They just get up, let someone else deal with their dishes, and head for their cellblock, Zayn keeping his tight grip on Liam. At least Liam doesn’t seem to mind.

It’s still bright outside. Zayn can see the sunlight filtering in through the windows above the cells.

Liam pulls out of Zayn’s grip after locking down the cellblock and says, “I’ll be back.”

Zayn nods and leans against the wall as Liam ducks into Zayn’s cell and comes out with just his pillow, and then Zayn follows him into Liam’s cell. They both sleep on the bottom bunk, with the curtain closed to block out the light. Liam is as much of a blanket for Zayn as the actual comforter, his leg thrown over Zayn’s lower body, his arm over Zayn’s waist, his head on Zayn’s chest. Zayn wouldn’t be able to sleep if they had it any other way.

Chapter Text

 

 

He’s standing just inside the gates, in the same spot he’d been when Liam had been cutting down the tree to get firewood. His fingers are curled into the loops of the fence, and Liam’s on the other side. On the outside. His fingers overlap Zayn’s, and he’s smiling brightly and leaning his head on the fence. Zayn does the same until they’re almost pressed together.

The sounds of the dead fill the air, impossibly loud. Only hundreds could make a sound that loud, and it makes Zayn’s blood run cold. He tries to pull away from the fence, to get to the opening to get Liam inside to safety, but Liam’s fingers are somehow still curled around his own, keeping him in place. Zayn struggles to pull free, but he can’t. The keys to the gate are heavy in his pocket, and it feels like they’re burning him, but he can’t reach for them because he can’t get Liam to let go of him.

He can see them now, coming out of the forest. So, so many. And Liam is still grinning at him like nothing’s wrong. Even as the first one grabs at him and bites at his throat, tearing the flesh from the bone. Zayn screams but Liam just stands there as more move in, biting, scratching, tearing at him. Liam’s blood splatters his face, and Zayn is still screaming, and Liam is still grinning, even as one of them scratches as it face and leaves deep welts in his cheeks.

Zayn wakes up panting. Liam’s awake, too. He’s sitting up and frowning at Zayn, eyebrows scrunched together. It’s dark in the cell, but a bit of light manages to sneak in through the cracks in the curtain, barely illuminating everything.

“You’re okay,” Liam tells him.

Zayn shakes his head and runs his hands over Liam’s face, and then his arms, and then his ribs and his chest, everywhere he can, because he’s fine. He’s fine. He’s fine. He’s fine. Zayn repeats it over and over again.

“You’re okay,” Zayn says finally, looking up at Liam with wide eyes. Liam’s leaning over him, one arm on either side of Zayn’s body.

“I’m fine,” Liam assures him.

Zayn nods and sighs, his eyes falling closed again. He’s so tired, but he doesn’t want to fall asleep again. Not after that nightmare. But Liam collapses on top of him, heavy and warm, and he can’t help but be pulled back under.

 

--

 

Everyone is taking a break for the day. No one needs anything washed. Nothing else really needs to be done. Only the watch, but Lena and Wilson are on that, while everyone else sits in the common room, crowded around the table that Zayn now knows is Harry’s, and Liam’s, and Louis’, and Niall’s.

They’re playing poker. Zayn’s not playing because he’s shit at it, and he doesn’t really know how. He’s content to watch everyone else play, though, while he keeps his hand on Liam’s thigh and their sides pressed together.

He doesn’t know what happens. Louis lays his cards face down, and then Niall and Sam do the same. A moment later both Liam and Harry lay theirs face-up, and Liam grins while Harry throws up his hands and says, “No fucking way! You cheated!”

“Sore loser,” Liam tells him, grinning.

“Cheater,” Harry repeats.

“Call me whatever you want, you’ve still got dishes duty for the next two weeks,” Liam tells him.

They start another game, Sam dealing. He looks at Zayn after dealing to everyone else and then says, stiffly, but still polite, “Do you want to play?”

Zayn shakes his head. “I don’t really know how.”

Sam runs a hand through his hair and says, “I can teach you, if you want.”

Zayn frowns at him for a moment before saying, “No, but thank you.”

Liam grins at them both and they play another game. Harry wins this time, which means that Liam is stuck doing watch duty after Lena and Wilson. They don’t really have much to bet with, so they’re betting with chores. Eventually Jen comes in with lunch and Louis gets up to help her, and then they eat and Liam and Zayn head up to the tower.

“Sam was being nice to you today,” Liam says, sinking down to the ground beside Zayn.

“Think so?” Zayn asks.

“I do,” Liam answers. “I think that what you did yesterday proved to them all that you’re not just an asset, but someone who can be trusted.”

Zayn snorts. “They’re just happy that I brought you home. They’d all fall apart without you.”

Liam doesn’t confirm or deny this. Just like last time, he doesn’t get too close to the edge of the tower. Zayn grins at his uneasy look. He feels better today. A lot better. Even after that nightmare last night. If he could just forget everything that happened yesterday, he’d almost be happy. If you can be happy in this world.

Watching the way the sun glints off Liam’s skin, Zayn think that maybe you can be.

“Going to clear out cellblock E today,” Liam says after a few minutes.

“I thought everyone was taking a break today,” Zayn says, frowning at movement in the distance. Just one of the dead moving too close to the fence. Nothing to be worried about.

“We were,” Liam agrees, “but apparently another walker got into B today, and there’s nowhere else it could come from. We’ve got to contain it, push them back. See what we can do about locking everything down to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Zayn’s stomach twists. “I’m coming with you.”

“I figured you would,” Liam admits. “Are you sure you want to, though?” He says it gently, like he’s concerned. “You seemed pretty shaken up after everything that happened yesterday.”

“I was,” Zayn says, glad that he can pretend to be watching the perimeter instead of having to meet Liam’s eyes. “I haven’t been that afraid in a long time. It-- it fucking terrified me. I was looking at books, Liam, and then I checked out back, and there were so many, and I just-- I couldn’t get to you. They just kept blocking my way.”

“I know,” Liam says softly. He grabs Zayn’s hand, fingers fitting perfectly in the spaces between Zayn’s. He curls them together until the only way to tell the difference between their fingers is the skin tone. “Trust me, I know.”

Zayn sighs and turns his head. He should pull away from Liam, and he knows it. Because he’s giving Liam a lot of wrong signals here, and Liam’s going to get the idea that Zayn’s going to change his mind about leaving. But he’s not. Yesterday was enough to chase out any doubt that he can’t stay here, because he hadn’t just been afraid for himself. He’d been afraid for Liam. He’d been so scared to lose him, and Zayn can’t deal with that. Because if he stays, one day he will lose Liam. One day he won’t be able to get to him fast enough. And Zayn cannot deal with that.

He wasn’t just saying things when he told Liam that it was easiest to be on your own. It’s a lot easier. There’s no looking over your shoulder to see if someone you care about is getting eaten. There’s no wondering if you’ll see each other again.

Zayn is selfish, though. That’s why he tightens his grip on Liam. That’s why he’ll go to bed tonight in Liam’s cell with Liam curled around him. Because as long as he’s here, he’s going to take advantage of all the time they have, even if it’ll make it harder for them both when he goes.

“Zayn,” Liam says quietly. Zayn turns to him and Liam’s smiling lazily. “Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere important,” Zayn answers.

They spend most of the watch like that. Liam is very bad at watch, apparently. He gets bored easily, and he almost falls asleep twice. It’s almost funny, because Liam is so serious and focused all the time, but like this he’s not. Zayn wonders what Liam was like before. He probably played sports, and dated the prettiest girls (or guys, maybe) in school. He was probably that nice, popular guy that everyone knew and liked. The kind that fell asleep in class and even the teachers didn’t get mad at him because, really, how could you when he has those eyes and that smile?

“That’s adorable.”

Zayn and Liam both jump a bit away from each other, though they’re still holding hands. Liam grins up at Jen, and Zayn might blush a little. “Coming to take over?” Liam asks.

“Unless you two lovebirds would like a little more time in the nest,” she says cheekily.

“We’ve got stuff to do, actually,” Liam says, standing up. He offers Zayn a hand up, which he takes.

“Right. Clearing out the other block,” Jen says warily. “Be careful, okay?”

“Of course,” Liam says easily.

Jen pats Zayn’s shoulder as they pass her and Zayn waves goodbye.

Someone had grabbed the katana from the car and cleaned it for him, because when they get to the weapons room it’s hanging on the wall, looking as clean and new as it had before they’d left yesterday. Zayn grabs it and curls his fingers around the hilt, closing his eyes for a long moment, wondering if he can really do this. Thinking that maybe yesterday broke him, because he used to be good at the killing. He used to be able to do it and sleep without nightmares.

But he’s going to go with Niall and Liam and Harry anyways, because he refuses to let Liam go without him. And Zayn sort of feels bad for Louis, because they don’t let Louis come with them, and Zayn can just imagine how he feels about that.

“This part of the prison is dark,” Niall mentions as they head down a hallway that Zayn’s never been in. He’s got a flashlight in one hand, a revolver in the other.

Harry’s got a crossbow in his hands and a serious expression on his face. It’s a little weird to see him like that, because Zayn’s not used to seeing Harry be anything but cheerful and happy. If he wasn’t seeing it firsthand, he probably wouldn’t believe that Harry was capable of seriousness.

Liam’s got a gun and a knife in his hands. Zayn’s sword is strapped to his back, but he doesn’t have it out.

Eventually they get to the end of the hallway and they turn left, where they find another room that looks exactly like the common room. At the other end is the other cellblock, and Zayn can hear them through it. The closer they get, the louder it gets, but when Zayn looks inside the cellblock, it’s empty.

“Other side,” Liam tells him.

Zayn nods, and then they’re down to business. They head through the cellblock and lock it behind them, just in case. At the other end, they let Zayn go through and take out all of the dead that are just in front of the barred door, because his sword is long enough to take them out easily through the bars. There are only four of them, but he knows that’s not all of them. Knows that there’s a hallway on the other side of the door, and that there will be a lot more.

Just as he suspected, they head down a dark hallway. Liam and Niall are at the front, with Harry and Zayn taking up the back. Niall turns on the flashlight just in time to illuminate a decayed face. A second later a crossbow bolt buries itself into the things forehead. Zayn’s impressed, but he’s also scared, and he doesn’t like that. He doesn’t want to be scared. He wants to be as calm and unaffected as Liam looks.

“You two take left, we’ll take right,” Liam says when they get to the end of the hall that branches off in two direction. “Something happens, you yell.”

Zayn doesn’t like the splitting up still, but they’re in groups of twos, at least. Plus, the three of them do this all the time, right? They must have a set way that they do things, so Zayn trusts their judgement.

The prison is a maze of hallways, but Liam seems to know his way around. They slowly move down the hall, following the sounds that are making Zayn’s heart race. When they round one corner, they’re faced with a group of about six or seven of them that are fighting to get through a door that Zayn thinks leads outside.

They all turn when Zayn and Liam skid to a halt. Liam raises his gun, but Zayn shakes his head, telling him with his eyes not to waste the ammo. They can handle this many with their knives.

Zayn takes out the two closest to them with a sweep of his blade. One breaks off from the group and rushes them, but Liam’s knife goes into it’s skull and it drops. Two more come at them, and Zayn takes one, while Liam takes the other. It’s going fine. They’re doing well.

Until they’re not, and something moans behind them. Zayn turns, sword raised, careful of Liam beside him because it would be very, very easy to swing and cut or kill him. He can’t count how many of them there are. Maybe a dozen. Maybe more. They’re fighting with each other to get through first, blocking the way, creating a barrier.

“Shit,” Liam breathes.

Zayn can’t respond because that panic is back full force. Liam is calm despite the fact that there are so many of them coming at them. Zayn tries his best to take out the ones that came up behind them while Liam finishes off the last of the original group and fumbles with the keys to get the door open.

Zayn misses a swing and ends up cutting off an arm instead of a head, and the man grabs Zayn’s arm and tugs him forward. Zayn freezes. He fucking freezes. He can’t seem to move or think or even yell for help. Just before he’s bitten a bullet goes through the walker’s head.

Zayn whimpers and stumbles backwards, and Liam grabs him roughly by the shirt and tugs him outside.

Zayn recognizes this place. He’s seen it from the tower. They’re in the courtyard that’s surrounded on every side by walls. And the dead are filtering out through the door much faster than Liam can kill them. Zayn has no idea where they all came from. They’re everywhere, though.

“Back to back,” Liam says suddenly. Zayn nods. That seems like the best option, seeing as how they’re coming towards them from all sides.

He feels the warmth and the hardness of Liam’s back against his own, and that makes the panic subside enough for Zayn to think again. He springs into action, blade swinging. It’s sort of beautiful, in an extremely fucked up kind of way, how the blade slices and glides through the air, moving easily through everything it comes in contact with. Every time he hits bone it vibrates in his hands and makes his teeth rattle, but that keeps Zayn grounded, weirdly enough.

“They’re still coming,” Liam says behind him. “I’ve got to reload.”

“I’ve got you,” Zayn tells him, turning. Liam turns with him, so that Zayn’s facing the bigger group of them. One of them is on the ground, and it grabs at Zayn’s leg. Zayn stabs the blade down into its skull and manages to take out another one as he brings the blade back up. Another one comes from the left, and he hears Liam fumbling to reload the gun as he brings the sword down on its head. Bile rises in his throat as the head is cut clear in half, sort of like a hardboiled egg that’s been cut down the middle.

And then someone whoops to his left, and a crossbow bolt goes into the skull of the dead man to Zayn’s left. Niall’s firing in all directions, and Liam gets his gun loaded again and starts taking them out, too, and within minutes they’ve cleared out the courtyard.

“Our side was empty,” Harry explains. “Figured we’d come check on you two.”

“Glad you did,” Liam says. He holds up his gun and frowns. “I’m nearly out. We should figure out where the breach is and then head back.”

The others nod and they head back inside. It takes them about five minutes to figure out that they were getting in through what looks like an office room that leads to the front of the prison. It’s the only door that was open, and there’s bloody handprints all over the door. Niall and Zayn hang back as Harry and Liam head down the hall. They need to get the door on the other end of the hallway closed or else the dead will keep pushing in, but that means that they have to leave Niall and Zayn’s sight.

“Better to do it with just two,” Liam says. “That way if we need to run, the hallway won’t be crowded.”

Zayn leans against the wall and chews his lip the whole time. Niall calmly inspects his nails and wipes them off on his pants, looking bored. Zayn wishes he could feel as sure about Harry and Liam’s return as Niall does, but he’s not. Until Liam is back in his sights, Zayn won’t be happy.

That happens a minute later. They come around the corner and he and Harry are both significantly more bloody than they had been when they’d left. Harry’s face is splattered with it everywhere, making the grin on his face look grotesque. Liam’s breathing heavily, chest rising and falling, and he’s sweaty.

Zayn moves forward, not caring that Niall and Harry are right there, and grabs the front of Liam’s shirt, pulling him in, pressing their foreheads together. “Next time, I come with you.”

Liam grins and nods, even though it’s a little difficult given their position. “Okay.”

They break apart, but Liam grabs Zayn’s wrist the same way Zayn had done to him yesterday. “We get the showers first,” Liam says as they head back.

Zayn feels high on the adrenaline. It’s different than yesterday, mostly because he never felt completely helpless. There wasn’t a single time today where he thought that Liam was, without a doubt, going to die, and that takes the edge off a bit, leaving him feeling light and rushed. Like he could run a marathon or-- or do anything, really.

Liam dumps their weapons off on Harry and Niall when they get back to the main part of the prison, and they only stop in their cellblock long enough to get soap and towels, and then they’re heading for the showers.

The moment Liam locks the door behind them, he’s kissing Zayn roughly. Zayn kisses him back just as hard, trying to push Liam up against the closed door. Liam’s having none of that, though, because he’s pushing Zayn back instead, until Zayn hits that wall that separates the actual showers from the rest of the room.

“No separating,” Zayn says into the kiss. “No leaving me behind.”

“Okay,” Liam agrees, just like earlier.

He pulls back and Zayn moves forward to follow him, missing Liam’s warmth pressing up against him already, but Liam’s pulling off his shirt, so Zayn reluctantly allows the separation. He tugs off his own shirt, too, and then kicks off his bloodied jeans and his boxers, too. He remembers when he’d been uncomfortable being naked in the same room as Liam, and now he’s stripping right in front of him without a care.

Zayn goes to kiss Liam again, but Liam ducks past him and heads for the showers, throwing Zayn a grin over his shoulder. Zayn realizes then that they’re both a little caught up in the rush of the fight. That’s what’s fuelling this right now. And he doesn’t mind at all, especially not when he follows Liam into the shower and Liam presses him up against the damp wall.

Cold waters pours over both of their bodies. It blurs Zayn’s vision, gets in his eyes, so he closes them as Liam kisses him again. They’re both hard already, Liam’s length digging into his leg. Zayn tries to find something to cling to, but Liam’s skin is wet and slippery, and his fingers slide over it.

Liam pulls back without warning, breaking all contact. Zayn glares at him for it, but Liam grabs the soap off the wall and, oh, right, they really do need to get clean. As much fun as making out against the shower wall while they’re both naked is, it’ll be a lot better when they’re not covered in blood and dirt and the flesh of the dead.

It’s a little awkward, because they only turned on one shower head, and Zayn doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to having cold showers, because he still struggles not to jump away from the freezing water. Liam hands him the bar of soap and he lathers up his skin, though, focusing on Liam’s wet body instead of the blood that he washes from his skin, or the sting of the soap against a cut on his arm that he hadn’t noticed.

When they’re both clean, Liam takes the soap from Zayn’s hand and throws it somewhere. Zayn doesn’t see where it lands because he’s hitting the wall of the shower again. It’s cool against his back, and a small, insignificant part of him is annoyed by the way that Liam manhandles him so easily. That part of him shuts up the moment Liam sinks to his knees in front of him.

Zayn scrambles to turn off the water, hand curling around the knob. He twists it and the water stops pouring down Liam’s face and Liam blinks up at him, both of his hands flat against Zayn’s thighs. His eyelashes stuck together, and water drips down his wide shoulders.

“Is this okay?” Liam asks, eyes wide.

“Is this-- fuck,” Zayn breathes. He nods so fast that his head hits the wall a bit hard, and it hurts, but the pain isn’t really important.

Liam nods, too, and then he wraps a hand around Zayn’s cock and leans forward, guiding it to his lips. Zayn can’t remember how to breathe or think or anything. Liam’s tongue licks over the head, and Zayn’s knees feel too weak to hold him up all of a sudden.

He really wishes they weren’t doing this in the shower, because he doubts that the tiles are comfortable for Liam’s knees, and he also can’t find anything to grab onto. Liam’s lips spread widely over him, and he tries to grab at Liam’s hair to ground himself, but Liam doesn’t fucking have any. And then he tries to grab at the wall, but his fingers do nothing but scrape over the damp wall as Liam’s lips slide down his shaft and fuck.

His blood pounds in his ears, and the rest of his body feels almost nonexistent, because everything he’s feeling right now is centered to one spot as Liam pulls up, cheeks hollowing, tongue dragging along the underside. He moans. It’s soft but it still echoes off the walls, and Liam groans at the sound of it, which sends shivers through Zayn’s whole body. His thighs shake when Liam gently cups his balls, and he meets Liam’s eyes for a moment.

Fuck nightmares, he thinks. This is what he wants to see every time he closes his eyes, because Liam looks fucking beautiful like that, lips stretched obscenely, cheeks flushed, shoulders still wet from the shower. Zayn nearly loses it when Liam uses his freehand to fist himself, hand moving fast over his own cock, but Zayn closes his eyes and tries to steady his breathing because he doesn’t want this to be over yet.

Eventually he wraps his hand around Liam’s neck, because he needs to hold onto something. Liam doesn’t complain when Zayn’s nails dig into his skin, and Zayn’s grateful, because he needs this one little thing, or else he’s going to lose himself completely in the feel of Liam’s lips and tongue working him over.

Someone knocks at the door. Liam doesn’t stop, but Zayn’s eyes move to the door. “Your time is up!” Niall calls through the door.

“Give us a--another--,” Zayn cuts off because Liam is swirling his tongue around his tip and looking up at Zayn all innocently, the little shit.

“What?” Niall calls.

“A--another minute!” Zayn shouts, eyes fluttering closed. “Fuck.”

He wants to live in this moment forever. Doesn’t want to have to face the outside world again. He wants to stay here with Liam like this and never leave. Sadly, good things don’t last forever, and Zayn’s fingers dig harder into Liam’s skin as that familiar coiling in his stomach becomes to much to hold back.

“Liam,” Zayn gasps out. If Liam had hair, he’d be tugging him up. Liam gets what he’s saying, though, and he pulls off Zayn with a filthy sound, and then looks up at Zayn and continues to jerk himself off. His lips are swollen and red, and he pumps Zayn quickly with his other hand, until Zayn comes while trying to dig his fingers into the wall.

Liam comes a moment later, grabbing painfully at Zayn’s thigh, biting down hard enough on his lip that Zayn wonders how he managed to keep from bleeding. They take a moment like that, Zayn leaning against the wall, Liam on the ground, until Liam finally pushes himself up and says, “We need another shower.”

Zayn’s laughter bubbles out of him without his consent, and he nods. Niall shouts something through the door but they both ignore him and clean off before quickly getting dressed again, sharing secret grins with each other the whole time. When they open the door, Niall is leaning against the opposite wall, glaring at them.

“Can’t you fuck in your cells or in the tower like everyone else?” he demands, shaking his head at them.

Liam sucks his lips into his mouth to stop from laughing. Zayn doesn’t bother to stop it. He decides that they don’t laugh enough anymore, and that he’s not going to hold back when something good happens.

Niall slams the door between them and Liam lets his laugh out, clutching at Zayn as he does so.

After that they head to the kitchen to help Harry and Lena make dinner. Harry doesn’t really let them help all that much, though. He slaps their hands away whenever they try to touch anything, and they end up just fooling around in the kitchen until Lena kicks them out.

“Good day today, yeah?” Liam asks as they walk down the hallway, hands brushing too often to be accidental.

“Yeah,” Zayn agrees.

They end up playing a game of Rummy with Wyatt and Wilson. Liam pretends to get really upset when he loses until Wyatt hugs him and says, “I’ll let you win next time, Liam.”

Zayn smiles down at his hands and decides that he should probably not to do this again, because maybe it’s not just Liam that’s he’s getting attached to.

 

--

 

The next night they wake up in the middle of the sleeping to someone screaming. Zayn bolts upright, stomach twisting, scrambling to grab Liam. Liam, who is already jumping out of bed and pulling on his shirt, but who is, thankfully, fine. Not hurt. Fine.

“What’s going on?” Zayn asks, struggling to wake up his still half asleep brain.

Liam shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says, slipping on his shoes. “Stay here.”

Zayn gets out of bed, eyes narrowed. “No way.”

Liam turns and gives Zayn a pleading look as another shout rings through the prison. “Zayn, please.”

“No.”

Liam grabs him roughly by the shoulders and says, “I can’t handle you getting hurt, okay? Stay.”

Zayn shoves past him, out of the cell. “You go, I go.”

Liam makes a frustrated sound but doesn’t argue after that. They don’t have time.

He unlocks the door and then they’re running down the hall, heading for the main block. Liam stops in the hallway and hastily goes to unlock the weapons room, but the door is already unlocked. That makes Zayn’s worry deepen, because they never leave the weapons room unlocked. The only reason anyone would is if they were in too much of a hurry to stop.

Zayn grabs his katana as Liam grabs a gun and then they leave the door unlocked, too. They find Wyatt and Wilson in the common room, Wilson with his arms around Wyatt.

“What happened?” Liam demands.

Wilson shakes his head. “Mary and Carson were on watch. The gate was open, no one noticed, and a herd--,”

Liam doesn’t wait for more of an answer. Zayn jogs to catch up to him as they head outside, Zayn closing the door carefully behind them.

It’s bright on the grounds. The emergency lights have been turned on, and everything is illuminated. The gate to the field is closed, but the field itself is filled with living and dead. They’re everywhere. Harry and Louis are back to back in the middle, steadily taking out as many as they can. He can see Niall, too, closer to the gate that is now closed again, apparently. There are others, too, but Zayn is selfish and man enough to admit that it’s them he worries about first.

There are still so many, though. Not enough that they can’t handle it. Zayn thinks they can handle it.

Liam runs for the gate while Zayn’s busy taking everything in, and then he’s sliding it open and moving to the other side, and sliding it closed as Zayn runs over to him. He locks it just as Zayn gets there, leaving them on opposite sides.

“Liam,” Zayn warns, but Liam shakes his head and then runs off into the field. “Liam!”

Zayn stares after him, shocked. That couldn’t have just happened. No. No, no, no. Zayn shouts after him but Liam doesn’t turn once. He just starts shooting and taking out the dead, all the while Zayn is left to stand there, helpless. He could run back inside, see if Wilson has a set of keys. He can’t, though, because if something happens to Liam when he’s inside, Zayn-- he doesn’t know what he’d do. It just can’t happen.

Zayn’s shaking his head and curling his fingers around the loops of the fence. He shivers, though it’s more than warm outside. He feels cold all over anyways, and he can’t take his eyes off Liam. Anger twists his gut as much as worry does. How fucking dare he. How dare he keep Zayn out of a fight that he’s more than willing to throw himself into. Hadn’t he promised Zayn yesterday that he wouldn’t do that? That he wouldn’t leave Zayn behind?

He’s running for Niall, who’s closest to the other gate and surrounded by the biggest group. Zayn holds his breath as a lot of them stop pushing at each other to get to Niall, and turn to go after Liam instead. He doesn’t know what’s going on with the others. He hears Louis shout Harry’s name, and a female screams, but he can’t check on anyone else. It’s not like he can help anyways, because he’s trapped here, behind the fucking fence, stuck watching everything happen and helpless to offer assistance.

He and Niall have almost got the group between them cleared when it happens. Zayn watches the whole thing, his body going numb, as Liam goes down.

“No!” The scream is torn from his throat, and he shakes the fence as hard as he can, trying helplessly to get it down. The only thing that happens is the sound of the chains rattling filling the air along with the moans of the dead and the screams of the living.

He can’t see what happens. There are too many of them blocking his view of Liam and he starts shouting Niall’s name until the other boy turns to see what happened. Niall is a blur of movement after that, but Zayn can’t tell if he gets him or not. He’s still shouting, his throat going raw, but they’re not so much words as they are helpless, pained sounds.

And then he sees Liam up and alive, still fighting, and he releases the fence and falls to his knees, relief making his legs too weak to hold himself up. He wipes at his cheeks distractedly, not really surprised to find them wet.

Someone blocks his view, and the gate is being opened. Louis is carrying Harry’s lip form, a worried look on his face. He’s not dead though, obviously, because if he were Louis wouldn’t be just carrying him.

Zayn backs up and scrambles to sit up. Louis asks him something but Zayn doesn’t hear it because he’s pulling out his knife and running for Liam as fast as his legs can carry him. It’s a bit of a downward run, and he stumbles and nearly falls, but he doesn’t stop to do anything but kill everything in his path.

Niall nearly shoots him when he whirls to see Zayn coming at him. He thanks God that Niall’s aim was off, because the bullet whizzes far too close to him. He’s still running though, and he doesn’t stop until he knocks into Liam’s shoulder hard enough that they both go sprawling to the ground before jumping up again.

Liam gives him an incredulous, pained look, and then continues to fire the gun. His is silenced, as it always is, but Niall’s isn’t, and neither is any of the others. The sounds of gun fire is deafening out in the field, but Zayn barely registers it. He swings the sword in every direction, wishing that the rush of the fight could drown out the anger and pain inside of him, but it doesn’t.

The three of them eventually split up to take over the rest of the field. They’re not the only ones still inside, even though Harry and Louis are now inside somewhere, attending to whatever injury Harry got. Zayn passes Harry’s crossbow and picks it up, slinging it over his shoulder as he goes.

He’s not sure how long it takes, but they clear out the whole yard and then the group heads inside without anyone speaking. Zayn is torn between not ever wanting to speak to Liam again and not ever wanting to let him go. He doesn’t go and cling to him like he wants to, though. Instead, he stays as far away from Liam as he can, but he also doesn’t take his eyes off him.

In the common room, everyone is quiet except for Wyatt, who is steadily sobbing into Wilson’s chest now. Harry is laying flat on one of the tables, and Louis is standing beside him, gently brushing his curls with his fingers. Everyone sits down and Zayn takes inventory. He can feel the spaces in the room that the missing people don’t fill, even if he hasn’t categorized them yet.

Mary is sitting alone at a table, head in her arms, and Zayn realizes that Carson is dead. He looks around to confirm this suspicion, taking in the fact that the man is nowhere to be seen. He continues his sweeping look around the room. There’s Jordon, sitting with Wilson and Wyatt. Niall’s with Liam. Lena is with Sam. Jen is-- Jen is--,

“Where is she?” Zayn demands

Liam’s standing on the other side of the room, caught up in what looks like an argument with Niall, and he looks up at Zayn when he asks this, frowning. Liam’s not the only one who looks at him, but Zayn doesn’t have eyes for anyone else.

Someone sobs. Lena or Mary, he can’t tell. Liam breaks eye contact and looks around the room. Zayn sees the realization dawn on his face at the same moment that it registers inside of Zayn.

“No,” Liam says, shaking his head. “No. No!”

Niall reaches for Liam, but Liam backs away from him, still shaking his head.

“We were in the tower,” Mary says loudly. Zayn pulls his eyes away from Liam to look at her the same way that everyone else is. “We were--,” Mary’s voice breaks, “playing cards. And-- and-- we weren’t paying attention. No one ever pays attention on watch. We-- we thought it’d be fine. And then-- and then three of them came into the room at once, and they-- they grabbed him, and --,”

Someone goes to console her, but Liam says, “What happened to Jen?” His voice is eerily calm. It makes Zayn feel even colder as he sinks down the wall he’s leaning against to the floor. He pulls his legs up against his chest and wraps his arms around them.

“She was the first one out,” Mary says. “She-- she must have heard my scream and she came running and-- they-- so many of them, she only just had enough time to lock the gate before they--,”

Liam covers his face with his arm at the same time that Zayn lets his own head fall onto his hands. Zayn is a horrible person, because the only thought that’s going through his mind is why couldn’t it have been Mary? Or Jordan? Or Sam? Or Wilson? He doesn’t even care, though, because it’s like losing his mum all over again. Jen won’t pat his shoulder or ruffle his hair again. She won’t cook them dinner or do laundry with them. She won’t smile or laugh or live again. She’s just gone and they’re going to have to just move on like it never happened, because that’s what you do when people die. You move on. Zayn doesn’t want to.

Zayn covers his ears so he doesn’t have to hear what everyone else starts saying. He doesn’t want to hear anything or feel anything or see anything. He never wanted to come here. He never wanted to go through this again. He told Liam he didn’t want this, and it’s not fair that he’s got to deal with it anyways.

The only voice that breaks through to him is Liam’s, but Liam’s not talking to him. He’s still far away as he says, “Come on, back to bed.”

“I don’t want to be alone,” Wyatt says back.

“I’ll sleep in your bunk,” Liam tells him.

Zayn doesn’t lift his head to watch them go. He hears others get up, too, and the atmosphere in the room changes. He doesn’t have to look up to know that nearly everyone is gone, but he does look up, finding himself alone with Niall and Louis and Harry’s still unconscious form.

Louis is crying. Niall is crying, too, but discreetly. Louis is doing it openly and unabashedly, and he’s still petting Harry’s hair.

“I hit him,” Louis says suddenly. “With my gun. On accident. He just-- went down.”

“He’ll be fine,” Niall says thickly. “Take him to bed, Lou.”

Louis nods and somehow he manages to carry Harry into the cellblock, even though Harry is a hell of a lot bigger than Louis. When they’re gone, Niall turns to him.

“You can sleep in the block, if you want,” Niall offers.

Zayn shakes his head and stands up. “Could you unlock mine for me?”

Niall gives him a look that he can’t put a name to and says, “He’d be happier if you stayed with the rest of us.”

“I don’t want to,” Zayn tells him.

Niall nods, accepting this, and they walk through the halls to Zayn’s block. They’re quiet the whole way, but Niall comes inside the block with him. Zayn doesn’t ask him what he’s doing. He just retrieves his pillow from Liam’s cell and heads back to his own and climbs into bed, pulling the pillow over his head to block out the light. Niall sleeps in Liam’s cell.

Zayn figures that the only reason he manages to fall asleep without Liam there is because he’s just too tired to stay awake.

 

--

 

He wakes up to someone touching him. Not inappropriately. Just a gentle hand brushing his cheek, over his eyebrows, tracing his mouth. It still alarms him, though, and he sits up fast, grabbing the wrist of the person. And of course it’s Liam. Who else would it be?

He looks so sad and vulnerable. His eyes are wide and his eyebrows are drawn together, and he has bags under his eyes that let Zayn know that he didn’t really sleep last night.

“Morning,” Liam says softly.

Zayn shoves him. Liam obviously wasn’t expecting that, because he stumbles backwards, hitting the sink with a wince. Good, Zayn thinks as he gets out of bed.

“Don’t touch me,” Zayn tells him. “You don’t get to touch me.”

“Zayn--,”

“No!” Zayn shouts at him. “What you did yesterday-- how could you do that? Do you know what that did to me? After I told you not to leave me behind! I told you not to do that, and you did anyways! You left me, and then you went down and I thought-- I thought you died, and you could have. Do you realize what that would have done to me?”

He’s screaming in Liam’s face, and Liam’s still just watching him with those sad eyes. Zayn shoves him again. And again, even though there’s nowhere for his body to back up to. Then again, Liam’s a lot stronger than him, and Zayn’s shoves barely move his shoulders, which only frustrates Zayn more, so he keeps doing it, until he’s pounding his fists on Liam’s chest.

It’s like some stupid romantic movie where the heroine is crying and hitting the hero and then he grabs her wrists and pulls her to him. That’s why, when Liam grabs Zayn’s wrists and tugs him in, Zayn pulls out of his hold and steps away from him, out of reach.

“What did you expect me to do?” Liam demands, that sad look cracking into one of anger. “Let you join the fight? So you could die too, like Jen, or Carson? What do you think that would do to me?”

“So it’s okay for you to sacrifice yourself, but not me?” Zayn spits out. “That’s not fair.”

Again, Liam’s expression cracks, and he makes a strangled sound and moves forward to grab Zayn roughly, this time not letting Zayn pull away from him. This time Zayn doesn’t try to push him off, either, because he feels Liam’s tears against his neck, feels his body shaking, and Zayn isn’t a strong enough person to push him away.

“I couldn’t risk it, okay?” Liam says against him. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I’m sorry, but if I had another chance, I’d do it again.” He pulls back and his expression hardens once again, and Zayn is starting to get emotional whiplash from Liam’s constantly changing moods. “I’d do it again.”

“You won’t get a chance to,” Zayn tells him. “Next time, I’m not letting you get away from me, even if I have to hold onto you the whole fucking time.”

Liam looks like he’s going to argue, but he stops himself and nods. “I guess I can’t stop you.”

“You can’t.”

Liam nods again and rubs a hand over his hair as Zayn sinks onto the bed. “We have to burry them,” Liam says after a moment of silence. “Carson and…. We have to burry them.”

“You have a shovel?” Zayn asks.

“Yeah.”

Zayn stands up. “I’ll help you.”

“Okay.”

It’s late in the day, but almost everyone is still asleep as Liam gets the shovels and they head out to the field. The field is littered with the bodies of the dead, and the smell of them hangs in the air. Zayn hardly notices.

“When the others are up,” Liam says while unlocking the gate, “we’ll get the truck and move the other bodies.”

Zayn nods. They can’t just leave them there to rot in the sun. Zayn grips the handle of his shovel hard as they walk. He doesn’t know where they’re going, or if they really have a set destination. They’re just aimlessly walking the field until Liam says, “Here.”

Zayn doesn’t see what’s so special about the spot. It looks like the rest of the field, but it’s closer to the fence line, near the trees. He nods and they start digging.

The dirt is hard packed, but it’s stills summer, at least. If it were winter this would be a lot harder. He stabs the shovel into the ground and then steps on the top of it to dig it in deeper and scoops up a pile of dirt.

“My original group,” Zayn finds himself saying, “had about sixteen people, in the beginning. My mum, my dad, my sisters, a few of our neighbours.” Liam doesn’t look up as he talks, and neither does Zayn. They both just dig. “There was supposed to be a military compound a few towns over. Before the televisions stopped playing, they said that it was safe there, so that’s where we were headed. We lost four people before we got there, one of them was my sister.”

Liam pauses for a moment, and Zayn barrels on before he can speak. “It was overrun. A big city, too, and it was filled with people. We lost my dad, then. He-- he sacrificed himself so the rest of us could get away. Walked right into the group of them and they all-- they all stopped coming and started falling over him, you know? It-- it was sick.” He sucks in a breath. “I don’t even know how we got out of that, but we did, and we kept going, staying out of big cities after that. Our group expanded a bit to let in a middle aged couple and their teenage daughter. They both died within a week, but she lasted a bit longer. We just kept going. Lost my other younger sister. And then, in late September, I got badly hurt. Broke my leg. We hunkered down for a bit because of that. My mum refused to leave without me, and I couldn’t be on the run because I slowed everyone down.”

Zayn keeps digging. He’s moving steadily now, sweat slicking his hair down and sliding down his face. He absently brushes the back of his hand across his forehead, feels the dirt it streaks across his skin.

“They left me behind,” Zayn says finally, voice cracking. “Not-- not on purpose. They were going on a run, scouting out a building we’d driven past on our way in. They thought it would be a good place to stay permanently. And-- and I remember watching them leave and I felt sick, because I had a bad feeling. I mean, I always worried when anyone left, but this was different. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t say anything because it wasn’t like they would have listened anyways. I sat at the window they were gone. And I seen the car coming. Only one. They left in three. And then my mum got out, and so did two others of our group. She-- she was bit, though, and they-- they killed her. On the lawn. I watched them do it and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

“Zayn,” Liam says finally.

Zayn keeps digging. “So I left after that. I couldn’t stay there with the two that were left. Not after-- not after that. And I stayed on my own. I passed by other groups, never got close enough to them for them to know I was there. I just kept going, sticking to the woods. I considered killing myself a few times. A bullet in the brain is better than getting eaten alive, right? But I couldn’t. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because it felt like the easy way out. How many people have fought so hard to stay alive, and then there’s me, killing myself. It just didn’t seem right. I was still alive, so I was going to keep fighting. When you came into the pharmacy, I planned to die there. I was exhausted. Hungry, thirsty, tired. I just didn’t see any point to any of it.”

“Zayn,” Liam tries again, but Zayn stops digging and shakes his head at him.

“You can’t just leave me behind like that, Liam,” Zayn tells him. “Do you get it now? I can’t-- I can’t stand sitting there and wondering if you’re not coming back. Even if I could see you. I couldn’t do anything to help you, and that’s just as bad as you leaving the prison without me would be.”

Liam nods, and this time Zayn thinks he made his point. He has a feeling Liam won’t do it again.

“I’m sorry,” Liam says. He sinks down to the ground, shovel in the dirt beside him. “I guess I’m just sick of watching people die when they don’t have to. When I could take their place, you know? Like -- why let you go out there, when I could go myself? Why put you in danger if I can handle it? And if I can’t handle it, then at least you’re still here when I’m gone. I don’t know. I-- I’m responsible for these people, Zayn,” Liam says, waving a hand helplessly. “I’ve been responsible for a lot of people. And a lot of them have died, and that’s on me. That’s my fault. And I can’t add more people to that list. So I figured, sure, you’d be mad at me for what I did, but it’s okay if you’re mad at me as long as you’re alive.”

Zayn sighs and moves to sit beside him. “You’re not responsible for anyone’s death, Liam. And you can’t think like that, because it’ll make you crazy.”

Liam looks up at him, lips quirking up a bit. “Crazy’s sort of a positive in this world, I think.”

“You need a better sense of self, mate,” Zayn tells him. “Seriously. You can’t just be willing to sacrifice yourself. I can’t deal with that.”

“I’ll work on it,” Liam tells him.

“Okay,” Zayn says, because it’s the best he’s going to get, and he knows it.

They get back to work after that. It takes them most of the morning to dig the holes (Zayn can’t think of them as graves). At one point, Louis comes out with food and drinks. His eyes are red and puffy, like he’d been crying, which he probably had been. Later, Niall gets the truck and he, Sam, and Harry (who is up and fine, except for a killer headache) start gathering up the dead.

Zayn takes Liam’s shovel with him and says, “We’ll do the rest of this later.” The rest meaning the actual burial.

Liam nods and they head back inside. They take a shower, getting the dirt and blood from last night off them, and then Zayn makes Liam come back to their cellblock and pushes him down on the bed. “Sleep,” he says. “You look exhausted.”

Liam yawns but shakes his head. “I don’t want to.”

Zayn gives him a stern look. “I didn’t ask if you wanted to.”

“Do you still plan on leaving?” Liam asks him, catching Zayn off guard.

Zayn’s eyes widen and his lips part before he says, “Liam.”

Liam has the same sad look he had on this morning, and he grabs Zayn’s hand and tugs him onto the bed. “That’s what I thought,” he says quietly. Zayn is leaning above him on both of his hands so he doesn’t crush Liam with his weight. “How long?”

Zayn attempts to shrug and fails. “I told you. I’m staying the two weeks, and then I’m going.”

“So then I still have a few days,” Liam says, brushing his hand over Zayn’s cheek. “I plan on taking advantage of that time. I can’t exactly do that if I’m sleeping.”

Zayn goes to protest, to tell Liam that he needs the sleep, but Liam tugs him down and drowns the words in a kiss that’s slow and lazy and nice. It’s the first time they’ve done this without being hyped up on adrenaline, and it’s different. It’s a warm simmer instead of a burning rush, and Zayn likes it. He likes the way Liam’s hands slide under his shirt and slide against his back instead of claw at it in a rush to get his shirt off. Likes the way their tongues brush together, neither of them fighting for dominance.

Liam easily flips them over in a way that should annoy him but doesn’t, and then he grabs Zayn’s arm to get him to sit up a bit, and he pulls off Zayn’s shirt before getting off the bed all together.

“Where are you going?” Zayn asks.

Liam tugs the curtain to his cell closed and, oh, yeah, okay. That’s probably a good idea.

Liam strips off his shirt and pants before coming back into the bed, and Zayn undoes his own and slips them off, too, throwing them off the bed into the pile of Liam’s discarded clothes. Then Liam is leaning over him again, eyes slowly moving down Zayn’s body, like he’s trying to memorize every inch of it.

“I’m not going to force you to stay,” Liam says, ghosting his fingers over Zayn’s ribs in a way that makes him shiver. “I’m not going to argue with you.” He traces the muscles of Zayn’s stomach.

“Okay,” Zayn says, because he has no idea what else to say.

“I’m going to give you a reason to, though,” Liam tells him. There’s determination in his eyes. “I’m going to give you so many reasons that you’ll never want to leave.”

Zayn stares into his eyes and thinks that Liam’s already given him plenty. “I don’t want to stay because I don’t want to lose this. Okay?”

Liam shakes his head. “Not okay. There are too many fucked up things in this world, and I’m not going to let you run away from one of the only good things just because you’re scared you’re going to lose it eventually.”

Zayn swallows and Liam’s eyes follow the movement, until his lips are on Zayn’s neck. They’re soft and slick and Zayn arches up into him, trying to get them pressed together in as many places as possible.

“Stay,” Liam says against his neck. He moves his lips down Zayn’s chest. “Stay.” He keeps going, sucking a mark into Zayn’s hip. “Stay.” Liam tugs down Zayn’s boxers and then kicks off his own. “Stay.”

Zayn pulls him up into another kiss and says, “Stop.”

Liam shakes his head and moves down Zayn’s body again. He wraps a hand around Zayn and strokes him lazily. Not fast enough to get him off, just enough to frustrate him. “Stay,” he says again.

“No,” Zayn groans out.

Liam pushes his legs apart and then Zayn watches as he sucks his fingers into his mouth, and then those fingers are on him, circling his entrance, pushing in a bit. Zayn bites down on his lip to stop the moan that bubbles up inside of him. Liam pulls away, fingers slipping out and hand moving off of Zayn’s cock. Zayn groans at the losses but Liam’s reaching over to the shelf beside the bed and grabbing a bottle of lube.

“Where’d you get that?” Zayn asks. “We’re in the middle of an apocalypse and you have lube?”

“Louis had an extra bottle,” he says, uncapping it. “He’ll be sad if you leave too, you know.”

“Liam,” Zayn groans, head falling back against the pillow. “Please. I’m begging you. Stop.”

Liam shakes his head and slicks up his fingers. They’re back on Zayn in seconds and Zayn pushes his hips down, trying to get more as Liam pushes one all the way inside of him. “I need you to stay,” he says, pushing another finger in. Zayn lets the moan slip out this time, as well as the word, “No.”

Liam spreads his fingers, stretching him more, and Zayn squirms, hands curling in the blanket. He finds that spot inside of Zayn that makes his breath catch and his body tense, and he brushes against it again, and then again, until Zayn is whimpering pathetically and pushing down on his fingers.

Liam adds another one, and Zayn sighs in relief at the slight pain of it, because it balances out the overwhelming amounts of pleasure. With it comes that needy desperation that they usually have when they get like this, though without the adrenaline rush. This has nothing to do with the need to be with another person, to touch someone to assure themselves that they’re okay. This is just a need for Liam in general. A need for him to be everywhere, invading all of Zayn’s senses until he’s the only thing in the world that matters.

“Come on,” Zayn says, eyes squeezed closed. “Liam, please.”

Liam kisses the inside of his thigh and then moves up on the bed, settling himself between Zayn’s legs. Zayn opens his eyes, watching as Liam slicks himself up and then tosses the bottle away without care. Before he guides himself to Zayn’s entrance he tries one more time, a soft, pleading, “Stay.”

Zayn doesn’t have it in him to say no again, so he scratches at Liam’s back and tells him with a look to get on with it. Liam sighs, resigned, and does so. The burning stretch is almost nice, as is the way Liam’s body blankets his own. Liam kisses him after he bottoms out, just as slow and languid as it was when they started, until Zayn pushes his hips up, trying to get more.

Liam’s back is sweaty as Zayn clutches him, legs wrapping around his waist to pull him in more. It’s slow and hot and the only sounds in the room is their breathing and the sound of skin hitting skin. Zayn closes his eyes, getting lost in the drag of Liam’s cock, in and out of him, and Liam’s skin under his hands. Liam kisses his neck again, sucking at the skin sometimes, too. Zayn’s cock is hard and trapped between their bodies, but he doesn’t want to let go of Liam to wrap a hand around himself.

The bed creaks and moves with their movement, but Zayn hardly notices it, because Liam’s pushing himself up on his hands and he reaches around to grab one of Zayn’s legs, and then hooks it over his shoulder, and everything goes from slow and relaxed to something that’s a lot rougher and hurried. Liam’s hand is tight around his calf, and Zayn can’t scratch at his back anymore, so he wraps a hand around himself and tries to move to the same rhythm that Liam is using to pound into him.

Liam hits his head on the ceiling of the bunk, and a laugh escapes Zayn before Liam hits that spot inside of him and it cuts off with a moan. He meets Liam’s gaze, and he gets trapped in those fucking eyes that sometimes look so warm and open, and sometimes look cold and guarded. Right now, they’re filled with desperation, and it makes his chest hurt.

“Faster,” Zayn says, because he doesn’t want to think. Liam complies instantly, and it’s almost brutal, the way he pounds into Zayn, but it’s exactly what he needs. “Fuck. Liam, f-fuck.”

Liam stops and Zayn shakes his head. “No, no, don’t stop, Liam--,”

Liam kisses him to shut him up and then pulls out. Zayn lets out an embarrassingly needy sound until Liam rolls onto his back and then pulls Zayn on top of him and, yeah, Zayn is on board with this. He straddles Liam’s hips an Liam guides himself back in, and then he holds the backs of Zayn’s thighs and fucks into him in a way that can only be described as perfect.

Zayn falls against Liam’s chest, ducking his head into the crook of Liam’s neck. He bites down on the skin there, the same way Liam did with him, but he does it to hold back the sounds that are clawing their way up his throat. His cock moves against Liam’s stomach with every one of his thrusts, and Zayn decides to hell with trying to be quiet. They’re alone here anyways, and he can’t help it. Not when it feels this good, not when Liam’s groans make him shiver like that, and he feels hot and wrecked.

Liam’s tense underneath him, and Zayn can tell by the way he’s holding his breath that he’s trying to hold back, to hold on until Zayn comes first. And he does, not long after, cock dragging against Liam’s abs. His come coats both of their stomachs, but Liam just fucks him through it, not caring. Zayn doesn’t care, either. He doesn’t care about anything at all. He is fucking perfectly blissed out right now.

Liam says his name when he comes, and it makes Zayn bite down hard on his neck again. Zayn doesn’t want to separate, but Liam pulls out of him slowly, and then grabs his towel from where it’s hanging on the corner of the bunk. He cleans himself off, first, and then hands it to Zayn, who does the same. Then he tosses it into the corner of the room and he gets back into bed, pulling the blankets over them.

“I think I’ll take that nap now,” he says.

Zayn nods and curls up against him, eyes already closed. He falls asleep to Liam kissing his forehead and whispering, “Stay.”

 

--

 

They don’t have some big, dramatic funeral. They burry the bodies and everyone stands around for a few moments until Mary starts crying, and Harry brings Louis inside. No one says anything, because what’s there to say, really?

The rest of the day everyone is down, though, which is not surprising. Harry and Louis do watch, and Liam and Zayn end up in the common room playing cards with Wyatt, who has been crying on and off all day. Wyatt is just as reluctant to let Liam out of his sight as Zayn is.

They stay like that for three hours straight, sitting at the table, playing everything from Go Fish to Rummy to Cheat (which Zayn knows how to play, though he grew up with it being called a very different name). Zayn and Liam throw their games, but it’s still weirdly enjoyable. It keeps Wyatt distracted, and it keeps Zayn distracted, too, which is good.

Though not completely distracted, because Liam is still directly beside him, and as often as he can Liam touches him, whether it be the brush of their arms or a hand on his leg. Zayn squirms every time he does it, unable to get the memory of Liam on top of him out of his mind.

He shouldn’t have had sex with him. He knows it. It was a bad, bad idea. Not that he regrets it at all, because he just can’t. But he’s just making this harder on the both of them than it needs to be.

Eventually Wyatt starts yawning and Liam scoops him up and carries him to bed. Zayn comes with him and waits in the hallway, and after he shuts Wyatt’s door he kisses Zayn gently. “We can stay here, you know,” he says. “In this cellblock, if you want. I don’t think anyone cares anymore.”

Zayn curls his fingers around the hem of Liam’s shirt and shakes his head. “I like our cellblock.”

Liam smiles. “So do I.”

They pass Niall on their way to the hallway, who rolls his eyes at them and says, “Get a room.”

“Got a whole cellblock,” Liam counters, waggling his eyebrows.

Niall wrinkles his nose and keeps walking.

“So where’d you meet him, anyways?” Zayn asks as they walk.

“Niall?” Liam asks. Zayn nods. “We were in another city. We weren’t staying, just passing through, and I was driving by myself in front of everyone, and out of nowhere this guy jumps in front of my car. I almost hit him, right, because I thought he was just a walker. But then the next thing I know, he’s sliding into the passenger seat and yelling at me to drive. And then, I don’t know, he’s been here ever since.”

Zayn grins for a moment but it slips off his face when he asks, “What about Jen?”

Liam grabs his hand and squeezes. “Another city. I was in a grocery store, getting food for us. Louis was waiting in the car for me, and I got surrounded. I don’t know where they all came from. And then all of a sudden the walkers just started dropping. It wasn’t all Jen. She was with Wyatt’s dad, and he was a great shot. At first I thought he took them all out, because, I mean, come on. You’ve met Jen. At first glance she’s like the picture of a perfect grandmother. But it turns out she was the one who got most of them. Best shot I’ve ever met, and that’s seriously saying something.”

They get to their cellblock but they stay up for a long time after that. Zayn asks Liam about each and every member of their group, and Liam spills a bit about his old group, before them. When he was with his family and people he knew, and how he lost them. It’s not all that different from Zayn’s own story, and that makes his heart ache for Liam, because if anyone in the world doesn’t deserve to be hurt like that, he thinks it’s Liam. Sometimes Zayn is just hit with the knowledge that Liam is really just a good, good person. Even before the world went to hell that was hard to come by.

“I don’t want to have to tell someone the story of this one day,” Liam says softly after he’s blown out the candle and they’ve crawled under the covers. “I don’t want to have to tell someone about this beautiful boy that threatened to slice my throat open in the back of a pharmacy and then managed to steal my heart in under a week. I want you to be here. I don’t want you to be another memory, or another person that I cared about but who isn’t here anymore. I don’t want to mention your name in a months time and have everyone go quiet and give me sympathetic looks. I want you here. Beside me.”

Zayn pulls the blankets up to his chin and says, “Go to bed, Liam.”

“Stay,” Liam responds.

Zayn closes his eyes and rolls over.

 

--

 

The next couple days pass in a blur of work and Liam. Any opportunity Liam or Zayn can find, they’re together. Zayn does laundry with Liam. He cleans the showers with Liam. He helps Liam do the dishes. He does watch with Liam, where they actually do watch instead of slacking off. And they fall asleep in a tangle of limbs.

He spends a lot of time with Harry and Louis and Niall too, though. He helps Niall load the last of the bodies into the truck, and then opens and closes the gates for him and Harry when they go off to dump them wherever it is they dump them.

Two days before he’s set to leave, they go into town in a group of four. Louis throws a furious fit until they allow him to come, so Niall decided to stay. It’s a short, quick trip, and they only have one thing to get. It’s a bit of a risk, one that they shouldn’t even be taking for something so ridiculous. But they do it anyways, because it’s not really for them.

Harry and Louis go in. Liam waits in the drivers seat, car running. He’s jumpy and worried, his eyebrows drawn together.

“I don’t like him going with just Louis,” Liam admits, drumming his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. “It’s not that I don’t trust Louis, it’s just that we’re better shots than he is. And--,”

“Stop worrying,” Zayn says, squeezing his thigh. “They’ll be fine. You can see the door from here. Nothing can get in and surprise them.”

Liam nods and sighs. “You’re right.”

And he is. Two minutes later they come out of the store with bags in their hands. When they get into the backseat, Louis slaps Zayn’s shoulder and says, “We’ve got one more place we need to go.”

Liam frowns at him. “Where?”

“That sports shop down the street,” Harry answers for him. “We’ll get a football, maybe some shorts and stuff to wear. We can’t play cards all day. We need to be able to do something fun once in a while, and Wyatt will love it.”

Liam doesn’t say no because, really, how can he say no to that?

When they get back to the prison, Harry and Louis go straight for the kitchen. Liam and Zayn relieve Niall of watch and spend the rest of the time until dinner up in the tower. Zayn gives Liam a back massage, and Liam tries to initiate something else, but Zayn pushes him off, says that they can’t slack off after what happened the other day, and Liam sobers instantly.

Zayn can’t admit that he pushes Liam away because he can’t think with Liam touching him, and he needs to think. Needs to sort out his thoughts and feelings, because maybe Liam is right. Maybe he shouldn’t be pushing away this one good thing because he’s afraid it’ll be taken away.

“It tastes even better than it smells,” Louis says, voice proceeding him into the tower. He comes out onto the balcony and places two plates filled with cake behind them. Liam grabs for his plate instantly, and Zayn does the same.

It’s good. Fuck, it’s so good. And it’s ridiculous. They’re eating cake. “This is so good,” Liam moans.

Zayn grunts his agreement.

“You should have seen Wyatt,” Louis says, leaning against the door. “He looks like Christmas just came early. He actually started crying. This time in a good way, though.”

Zayn swallows and ducks his head a bit, because they all know why Wyatt’s been upset lately, and they all feel the same way. Things are just… different without Jen around. Quieter. Colder. Zayn expects to see her in the kitchen when he goes in there, and she’s not. He expects to see her at her table, bickering with Mary or Louis, but she’s never there. And it hurts every time he remembers.

Liam is the same way. Obviously it effects Liam more. Liam knew her longer, and Liam was closer with her than the others. Zayn can’t help but remember Liam asking him not to be another memory, and it makes the cake taste rancid all of a sudden. He pushes it away from himself.

“Anyways,” Louis says suddenly, grabbing Zayn’s attention again. “Wilson’s going to come up in a bit to relieve you two, and then we’re going to play a game. You up for it?”

Zayn looks at Liam, who shrugs and grins. “Are you up for getting your ass kicked?”

Louis scoffs. “Like you could beat the Tommo.”

Liam raises his eyebrows. “You wanna bet?”

“Two weeks of laundry says that my team wins,” Louis says.

Liam stands up and holds out his hand. Louis takes it. “Deal,” he says, and they shake.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “I’ll never get jocks,” he says.

Louis looks offended. “Did you just call me a jock?” Zayn nods. “I’ll have you know that I was actually a drama geek, thank you very much. And what were you? The kid who hung out by the dumpsters and smoked while wearing that ridiculous leather jacket of yours? Which, by the way, is not practical attire, like, ever.”

“Are you making fun of my jacket?” Zayn asks.

“Yes, I am,” Louis says hotly.

“We’re so going to kick your ass,” Zayn says, standing up to take Liam’s side.

“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?” Louis taunts.

“I will,” Zayn says, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Okay,” Louis says, grinning. “You win, I’ll cover your dishes. I win, you stay.”

Zayn sucks in a breath, and it’s like all the light happiness has just been sucked out of all three of them.

“Louis,” Liam says quietly.

Louis lifts his chin defiantly. “Take it or leave it, Zayn.”

Liam sighs and turns around, leaning on the railing. Zayn watches him for a moment, takes in the set of his shoulders, somehow both tensed and drooped.

“Okay,” he says. “You’re on.”

Louis doesn’t shake his hand. Instead Louis hugs him. “Have fun doing my laundry for two weeks, Liam,” he adds before he leaves.

Zayn sinks back down to the ground and pulls his cake towards himself and starts eating again. It takes Liam a few minutes to join him, and when he does he says, “Are you serious, or were just saying that to placate him?”

Zayn swallows and shrugs. “Both.”

Liam frowns down at his plate and then pushes it away, and Zayn’s plate, too, and then Liam is on him, kissing him so hard it makes his head hurt. Or maybe that’s because it falls against the ground hard enough to make a loud sound. It doesn’t really matter because Liam tastes like cake and is as warm as always and maybe this isn’t so bad. Maybe he can do this. And maybe it won’t last forever, because it’s too hard to hold onto good things anymore, but he’ll hold on as long as he can.

Liam pulls back, a grin on his face, but Zayn tugs him back by the collar of his shirt and says, “Stay.”

Liam does, until Wilson comes up and shoos them out of the tower with a roll of his eyes and a, “Kids these days,” that makes Liam chuckle and Zayn blush.

Almost everyone plays. Liam and Zayn team up with Wyatt and Lena against Harry, Louis, Sam and Niall. And they lose spectacularly. Liam may be throwing the game on purpose, but Zayn doesn’t mind because he might be, too.

When they stumble into the cellblock that night, they’re both sweaty and dirty and exhausted, but in the best possible way. They’re going to have to clean the sheets tomorrow because they don’t bother to shower first and they both sleep with their dirty jeans on.

“Can I ask you something?” Liam says quietly, his head on Zayn’s chest.

“Obviously,” Zayn answers.

He feels Liam smiles against his skin before he asks, “What changed your mind?”

Zayn runs his fingers over Liam’s hair and sighs. “A lot of things,” he says. “Like the fact that I can’t sleep without you near me. And I can’t stop worrying every time you leave my sight. And I’d miss Harry’s cooking too much, and kicking Louis’ ass at rummy. And because maybe I wasn’t really planning on leaving in the first place, I just didn’t admit it to myself until now.”

Liam chuckles. “So you were just playing hard to get.”

“I am hard to get,” Zayn replies.

“Easy to keep though,” Liam says, drawing a pattern on Zayn’s hip with his finger. “I hope.”

“Only for you,” Zayn tells him. “Sleep, yeah?”

“Mm, yeah,” Liam agrees, falling onto his side. He keeps an arm around Zayn, though.

He falls asleep a little while after Liam’s breathing evens out and his hand stops moving against Zayn’s skin.

 


 

 

Epilogue

 

Zayn has his back pressed against Liam’s, and the sound of Liam’s gun going off is the only thing louder his breathing. Zayn swings the katana, taking out a walker that was reaching for Liam, and then says, “Left.”

Liam turns and takes out the next one, and Zayn steps back, forcing Liam back, too.

“Next time,” Zayn says, still swinging his blade, because they just keep coming, “we don’t stop for batteries.”

“We needed them,” Liam argues breathlessly as he gets another walker right in the forehead.

“Really?” Zayn asks, stepping forward only long enough to jab his blade through the skull of the nearest dead. “Did we really?”

“Yes,” Liam says tensely, and he turns, chin resting on Zayn’s shoulder, and pulls the trigger once, twice, and clears a path for them. “Run.”

Zayn runs, Liam right behind him, and they get through the doors of the shop. He sees Niall sit up in the car, looking alarmed, and then he and Liam are jumping into the back seat and Liam yells, “Fucking drive Niall, don’t just sit there!”

Niall drives.

Zayn’s heart is pounding and everything sounds sort of fuzzy because of it, but he jumps on Liam, straddling him, and Liam tilts his head up to kiss him, hands sliding under Zayn’s shirt. His nails dig into Zayn’s back and he cants his hips up until their groins press together, too much material between them to do anything more than frustrate them. He just wants to get back to the prison, get back to their cell, and fall into their bed, not even stopping for a shower, no matter how much they both need it.

“Really?” Niall asks from the front seat. “Every fucking time,” he grumbles. “I swear to God, adrenaline is an aphrodisiac. You two are unbelievable.”

“Shut up and drive,” Liam orders before slotting their mouths together again. Zayn grins into the kiss, and Niall shuts up and drives.