No amount of gaming could have ever prepared them for this. When it’s a controller in your hand, things are simple and easy and killing is just a few button clicks. But when it’s a shotgun in your hand instead? It is power and terror and kickback and pain. It’s simpler – pulling a trigger instead of button combos – but so much fear courses through your veins the entire time. There’s no enjoyment in ending lives, even if you’re just killing monsters that once were human.
It was a virus that got out of hand. Secretly released by their own government (which has long been abolished and their leaders killed by vigilantes), it slowly morphed and grew until once was just science fiction fodder became reality.
The only benefit about the intense gaming was that the rules of gaming seemed to apply. (And a few movies; think Zombieland). Double tap. Shotguns to the head. Cardio. Virus transfer via biting. Flesh hungry and fast as fuck.
There was so many of them when they first started and now it was down to five. The sole survivors of RoosterTeeth and their families was the five dorks who liked to play video games, intent on finding achievements. Now the only achievement they look for is Making it to the Next Day.
Michael almost wants to laugh at it; they spent two entire Let’s Plays finding a strong hold and they currently live in one. What is left of the warehouse is now their home. Filled to the brim with guns and bullets and machetes and anything you could think of to help kill the monsters that have taken their families, it’s a cold and haunted place. Within the walls lived, not only the ghosts of who they used to be, but the memories of everyone they’ve ever lost.
Things have changed, more than the obvious. Geoff is a shell of the man he used to be. He was one of the first to lose his family and it caused him to become dark and vengeful. (Sometimes, Michael would look over at him and not recognize the cold commander staring back.) Ray doesn’t tell jokes that often anymore and he’s just as good with a gun as he was with a controller. (He doesn’t talk about why he kills instead of evacuating like so many others did and the first thing Michael learned about this new world is your questions will only lead to bullets.) Jack is practically silent now; he replies to everything with well-placed nods and grunts. (Jack makes sure that everyone eats though, especially Geoff so Michael has never been more thankful for someone before in his life.)
Gavin is still a fucking idiot. He treats the entire situation like one big video game and if it wasn’t for Mogar, he would be dead right now. Gavin’s also an idiot because the virus has been quarantined to the US and the US only. It would only be a few dozen tests before he would be airlifted to a base in the UK to be reunited with his family and Dan and everyone over there who loves him. (Michael, in the blackest of nights, once whispered his question to Gavin as the Brit lay close to him on the floor. “Why?” Gavin, with a stupid smile on his face, simply said, “Can’t break up Team Nice Dynamite, now can I?” Michael had closed his eyes, already feeling the pressing guilt on his chest, when that guilt was replaced with Gavin’s hand. “You blokes are my family. I don’t want to leave you.” That night, Michael slept with Gavin tucked under his chin, tear tracks drying on his face.)
Michael likes to think that he himself hasn't changed too much. Sure, he’s a little angrier (those bastards took Lindsay from him, he has a fucking right to be angry) and he can kill a zombie faster with a gun than he could with a controller but he’s still the same dude. He still talks to Ray, cracking quiet jokes just to see if he could get his oldest friend to smile the same way. He still tackles Gavin to the ground when the Brit does something stupid. He still gets Jack and Geoff a beer without them asking. He’s still the same dude.
“Get your shit. I got a tip from the guys out in Dallas; a hordes coming and its right up our alley,” Geoff says and Michael looks up from cleaning the shot gun on his lap. He nods once and Geoff turns away, most likely going to tell Jack and Ray the same thing.
Michael leans over and whacks Gavin in the ass once. “C’mon stupid. Raid.”
“Aww, a bloody ‘nother one?” Gavin sits up, yawning. His hair has gotten longer and it falls into his eyes now. Michael keeps trying to get the man to cut it, but Gavin always says no.
(And although, he’ll never tell Michael, Gavin keeps it long for him, so Michael has something to play with when the nights are long and the raids longer.)
“Yep. Get your gun. And watch your six.”
“Yes, Commander Jones!” Gavin mock salutes, standing before walking around Michael, heading to grab his gun. Michael sets his own aside as he jumps up. He grabs Gavin’s thin wrist (thinner with every passing day) and pulls the other man back. Gavin already has a small smile on his face as Michael curls his hand around the back of Gavin’s neck, pulling him close until their foreheads are resting on each-others.
They stand there and they breathe together. Both of their eyes are closed and Michael whispers, “Don’t die, asshole.”
“Of course, Michael. What would you do without me?”
Michael never responds – because this is common place before raids, one more moment with something that still precious to him – but the response is always on the tip of his tongue. “I have no fucking idea.”
Ray comes up behind them and they split turning to look at him. While their pre-raid show is foreheads, Rays’ are hugs that go on forever. He squeezes Michael so tight that the one rib that was out of place for the last week slips back into spot. He rubs the tender spot while Ray gives Gavin the same treatment. Team Lads stand awkwardly together, waiting for the call from Geoff.
“Another day. Another hoard.” Ray states, huffing a humorless laugh and swinging his shotguns up on his shoulders, letting them make an X behind his head. “Let’s not die, huh?”
“Please. With X-Ray, Vav and Mogar?” Gavin exclaims, pocketing his handgun and loading up on shells. “We’ll be fine.”
Michael prays to a dead God that Gavin’s right.
This hoard, just the rest before them, are violent, stupid and bloodthirsty. They destroy most of them before the surviving ones turn tail and run.
Michael lets the shot gun fall and he uses the butt of it as leaning cane. He’s panting, unable to catch his breath with the air tasting like death, and two of his ribs are broken again. And of everything that’s different with this life, the one thing that he will never be used to is the feeling of being covered in blood, of blood that’s not his own.
He looks across the street, trying to find the rest of his team. Ray’s stupid head pops up from behind a useless car, looking around. Michael continues looking, finding Geoff holding Jack up with a strong arm around his waist. Jack looks like death but they all do – looking like death is a good sign – so Michael continues his search for Gavvers.
“Gavin!” he cries, his voice loud and echoing until he reverberates back to him. “Gavin!”
“Mi-cool!” a faint voice calls back. Michael drops his shot gun – his glock comforting on his hip – and runs towards the voice. That nickname was always his downfall and will probably be until his dying day.
It’s a few dozen feet behind the rest of the guys where Michael finally finds Gavin. Michael already has a reprimand on his lips when it falls away at the sight in front of him. Gavin lies against the side of an abandoned cop car, propped against it with his legs in front of him, apparently useless.
“Vav made a mistake,” he whispers weakly. Michael chokes on a sob so it comes out sounding like a laugh. “Don’t laugh at me, you knob.”
“Gavin,” Michael’s vision become blurred with tears. “I’m not laughing,” he finishes around a sob.
“Well then. I’m sorry I snapped.”
“Gavin, what happened?” Michael asks, falling to his knees next to his best friend.
“Remember, when Ryan was alive and we would all play video games, are you blokes would gang up on me and I would always bitched about how five-on-one isn’t fair?”
“Yeah,” Michael replies, the name of their long lost comrade hardly phasing him anymore.
“It applies here too.”
“Jesus fuck!” Michael cries, reaching for Gavin. The Brit flinches back and Michael pauses. “What?”
Gavin says nothing, just leans down and slowly – excruciatingly slowly – pulls back his pant leg. What was once just gentle cries turn full blown sobs as Michael looks at the bitemark painting Gavin’s calf.
“No,” Michael cries, shaking his head in disbelief. “No. No no no.”
“I’m sorry, love.”
“Not you, Gavin. Anyone but you.”
“It’s too late.”
Michael curls in on himself as he screams, “I fucking know!”
Gavin’s hand comes to rest on Michael’s head and Michael hates how he can feel the coldness through the layer of beanie and hair. “Don’t cry, love.”
“Gavin!” Michael shouts again, this time with a thin veil of protective anger. “If I want to fucking cry over you, I’ll fucking cry over you!”
Michael curls into himself further until Gavin reaches with both hands, pulling the older one to his chest. Michael sobs and sobs until he’s near vomiting. The beanie has been thrown to the side minutes earlier so Gavin could run his fingers through Michael’s curls one last time.
“Michael. Mi-cool.” Gavin whispers and Michael preemptively starts to shake his head.
“Michael.” Gavin’s eyes start to well as well.
“You have to.” Gavin cups Michael’s face with his ice cold hands. “I won’t have anyone else do it.”
“That’s fucking torture!”
“Michael,” Gavin says reasonably, the tears in his green eyes finally spilling over. “I have to die. And the last thing I ever want to see is the face of the person I have loved the most.”
Michael stops, feeling as if cold water has been poured over him. “What?”
“I have loved you for a very long time, Michael. Since before all of this.” Gavin blindly reaches in around his neck and pulls out the creeper necklace. “Since before you bought me this.”
“Gavin,” Michael whispers.
“Please. Just do this one thing for me.”
Michael murmurs Gavin’s name again but it’s lost between the pressings of their lips. It turns frantic in seconds and it’s only broken when Gavin’s unable to withhold his sobs.
“I am sorry-” Michael starts but Gavin interrupts with a quick, “I’m not.”
“Let me finish,” Michael pleads. “I am sorry that it took me this long to figure out.”
Gavin smiles but it’s more pain than happiness. “Oh, I’ve known for a long time, love.” Gavin brings Michael in for another kiss, which he gives without hesitation. “Although, I’m gonna miss this bit.”
Gavin twitches violently and Michael’s heart breaks because he knows what that means. The change is happening. “Michael, please,” Gavin begs.
Michael pulls Gavin in for one more kiss, deep and long and he tries his hardest to put everything he has ever felt for Gavin in that one kiss. “I love you,” he whispers as he stands, pulling the glock from his hip.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” Gavin replies, closing his eyes and leaning his head against the car behind him.
Michael waits for more but when Gavin seems content with what he said, Michael snarls, “Tell me it back, asshole!”
Gavin looks confused. Michael starts to cry again as the gun shakes in his hand.
“I have to live with this moment for as long as my life continues! The least you can do is say it back to me!”
“This is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and that includes watching them drag Lindsay away!”
“And you don’t even have the fucking decency to let me know that you love me back!? How fucking dare you!?”
“What!” he shouts, the ‘t’ falling into a sob.
“I love you, you stupid moron.” Gavin smiles but it turns into a groan at the last minute. Michael knows his time is almost gone. He falls to his knees once more, taking one last kiss.
“I love you,” he whispers. Gavin tips his head to look at him. “And I love you, too.”
Michael stands, repositioning his glock, aiming it right at Gavin’s head. He closes his eyes and looks away, pulling the tigger once. And then again.
As the second shots echo fades, Michael finally gathers enough courage to look at the body of what could have been the greatest love he’s never really had. Gavin closed his eyes at the last moment and Michael makes a conscious effort to avoid looking at his forehead (the forehead that was just pressed to his less than two hours ago, oh god, he’s gonna cry again). Slowly, he walks towards the body (because it’s not Gavin anymore) and reaches with a shaky hand. He grips the Creeper pendent and tugs, until the clasp gives and it’s free from its owner.
He quickly reattaches the clasp and suddenly, it’s good as new again. Michael holsters his gun and unlocks the clasp, reaching behind his neck and hooking it, so the diamond and the creeper are once again together.
They will always be together. Michael will fight and kill until he is outfought and killed himself. He will fight his hardest - for Gavin - he will try his damned hardest to survive - for Gavin - and when he is ultimately killed, he will have made Gavin proud. And wherever the fuck you go after you die in this hellhole, he will meet Gavin and they will finally get to be together like they never got a chance to.
He will be strong. Because that’s what Gavin would have wanted for him.
He wipes his tears on the cuffs on his shirt and turns away from the body. He stones his face and returns to where the rest of their unit – because they were soldiers now, how had he never seen that before? – was and is greeted with curious faces.
“What happened?” Geoff demands. Michael could tell him the whole story. Could tell him everything that happened and how and why. But that, all of it was just for him and Gavin. The things said were things that are shared between lovers in between sheets; not words their commanding officer should know.
Michael keeps his face impassive as he says, “Gavin’s down.”
He’s never imagined that two words could break him so completely.
The diamond and the creeper on his neck are heavy as he turns from the shocked faces and heads back towards basecamp. With every footfall, the two markers of friendship found and of love lost make soft, sad jingling noise, almost like the soundtrack to their lives. It’s almost appropriate.
And later, Michael will think he’s not the same guy anymore.