Alex scrubs at the stubble on his cheek. It's too bad Luke gave that razor back to Keira; maybe he can find a new one. Abandoning the scruff, he opens a bottle of water and uses it to brush his teeth over the bathroom sink. It amazes him that such little details can make such a difference, but he feels ten times better just from knowing his breath is good and his body doesn't smell bad – well, not nearly as bad as it did a few days ago. Taking his time, taking care, he cleans up and then limps back down the hall to the first-floor bedroom he and Luke are sharing. Sitting back, he eases his bad leg onto the bed, then lies down behind his lover and settles against the warmth of his body.
Luke makes a happy contented little sound and shifts into the heat at his back.
Smiling, Alex wraps his arms around his lover, holding him close. He shuts his eyes and relaxes, surprised that it's even possible to do so. But the two of them are warm and sheltered and seemingly safe. He hadn't thought to be this happy ever again.
"Mm." Luke shifts again, as deep as he can into the embrace, laying his arm over Alex's and linking their fingers. "You feel good."
"Yeah? Good." Alex brushes his lips over Luke's nape. "I like being here with you," he says softly, though everything sounds more acute in the darkness. "Being like this with you."
"Me too," Luke whispers. "I don't want to leave here." Not just this house, this place, but this bubble.
"...Yeah." Alex knows that staying isn't a possibility, but he can certainly understand the sentiment. "The world has changed so fucking much, and it keeps changing. Right now I wish it would just hold still."
Luke turns in Alex's arms. "Maybe it will when we reach the island," he says, pressing close.
The island. It's already becoming a thing of myth, in Alex's mind. A utopia that can't truly exist. Not that it makes much of a practical difference to him. "I'm not stopping there. I have to get to Sweden."
Luke pulls back a little. "But you don't know... even if they've survived, the chances are they've moved on, moved wherever they could find safety."
It's too dark to see Luke's eyes, though Alex tries to anyway. He brushes his fingers over his lover's cheek, needing to feel connected with him. "What are you saying?" he asks softly, frowning. "You think I should... that I should just give up on the idea of finding them?"
"No," Luke says softly, because of course he can't say that. Telling Alex to give up on finding his family? "But come to the island first. Make sure you have somewhere to bring them. And then I'll go with you."
"You'll go with me?" Flimsy promises for an unpredictable future, but it's the best they can do. And hope is worth more than anything right now. Alex smiles and brushes their mouths together. "To the ends of the earth?"
Luke nods. "I'll go wherever you go," he whispers, tears stinging his eyes.
Alex's breath catches. They're simple enough words, but they mean so much. He tangles his fingers in Luke's hair and kisses him hard, yearning and need in his touch.
Luke moans into the kiss, his body responding eagerly. "How do you feel?"
"The truth? It hurts like a motherfucker," Alex admits with a sigh. He plays his fingertips over the fine hairs at Luke's nape. "Thanks for... for saying we should stay here longer. I know that if they'd all kept arguing about it, I would've done something really stupid, like go out and run a mile just to prove I could." And he's pretty sure he can't, right now. "But, you made it so that I didn't have to."
"They need you, they need us," Luke says. "I was just making them see reason." And protecting Alex to the best of his ability.
Sunlight is beginning to filter through the heavy quilt covering the window, and Alex is finally able to make out his lover's features. He smiles a little and strokes Luke's hair back from his temple. "Are you always so reasonable?"
"No. Not even close, but I try," Luke says softly.
Alex's smile widens before his eyes grow somber once more. "After this, you're not going to have to take care of me," he murmurs, smoothing his hand over Luke's shoulder. "I promise."
Luke shakes his head. "Don't say that. We need to take care of each other." And he needs that to keep going.
God, as nice as it sounds, that is just not what Alex wants to hear. It's not a way he wants to picture himself, ever. "Do you feel confident that I can take care of you, too?"
"Of course. We have each other's backs," Luke says, wondering if he's misspoken.
"Yes." Okay, phrased that way, Alex can agree. He chews on his bottom lip, uncharacteristically hesitant, then tries to explain himself. "It's just that this feels off, do you know what I mean? We've been together for less than a week, and already our sex life is disappointing. I want so bad to fuck you and I can't, and you've been spoon-feeding me and helping me piss, and... This just really isn't fair to you."
Luke shakes his head. "I spent the last three years taking care of a partner who was only getting sicker and sicker. I don't mind taking care of one who's only going to get better and better and fair doesn't even enter into it. We're not keeping score and there'll be plenty of time for you to make it up to me if you really feel like you have to."
"Christ." Alex winces and covers his face for a second. The comparison to Luke's previous lover triggers his instinct to jump out of bed and prove that he's undamaged, that he isn't dependent on anyone. Regardless of how self-destructive he knows that instinct to be. Blowing out a breath, he forces himself to meet Luke's eyes again, instead. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Luke says with a small smile, pressing close again. "Now kiss me."
Alex huffs a soft laugh. "Yeah, that much I can do." He slips his arms around Luke and licks slowly across the seam of his lips.
* * *
Clive's eyes open before his mind realizes he's awake. The bedroom is silent, but not entirely dark, and he watches Antony with interest for a few seconds before he gives in to his curiosity. "Kiwi or Aussie?"
"Kiwi," Antony says, glancing over at Clive before returning to his maps. "Did you manage to get some sleep?"
"I did, yes." Pushing back the blankets, Clive sits up and stretches his arms over his head, sighing in satisfaction when his shoulder pops. "It's been a while. What about you?"
"Yeah." Antony nods. "The crowd's getting bigger out front though." He doesn't want to spook the other man but he doesn't believe in lying either.
"Fuck." There goes the last dreamlike semblance of peacefulness. Clive gets up and drags the blankets and pillows back into place on his twin bed, tidying up out of habit. "Have you seen any signs that they know we're here?"
"Nope." Antony shakes his head. "We sealed up the whole front of the house the night we got here and Ryan and Keira made sure everything else was taken care of and reinforced the next day. As long as we don't make too much noise or draw their attention some other way, we should be fine."
Clive leans back against a bedpost and folds his arms across his chest. "Do you think we need to leave before they outnumber us much more?"
"As long as they're focused on the tunnel and not down to the end of this block, we're good," Antony says, finally refolding the maps. "Today, tomorrow. One more day won't make a difference."
With a nod, Clive acknowledges his words. He purses his lips for a moment, mulling over his next question before speaking it aloud. "Do you genuinely believe your island will be safe?"
"If we can get to it, yeah, I do," Antony says, blowing out a breath. "There should be shelter, power, water, some livestock, decent soil... No one's lived there for a couple of years, very few people have the skills to get there and it's way too far out for walkers."
"But you have the skills to get there?"
Antony nods. "Do you have any experience with sailing?"
"Some," Clive answers. "I grew up on the coast. Around boats."
"Good." Antony's relieved. "The more people I can train to handle the crossing, the better off we'll be."
"True." Clive snags a half-full water bottle from where he left it the night before on the floor by his bed. He turns to leave, but pauses with his hand on the doorknob to look back over his shoulder. "You...? You're not searching for anyone."
"You mean family?" Antony asks then shakes his head. He'd burned those bridges long before this all happened. "No. There's no one."
That could explain some of the man's manner, to Clive's mind. But it also creates more mysteries. "There's no one at all you hope might be waiting for you, somewhere?"
Antony's silent for a moment. "I wasn't married, I don't have a partner, my parents died in a car crash when I was a teenager and when all this happened, I'd just decided to retire. So, no, there's no one, which is kind of a blessing in its own way." He pauses for a second and then, because he knows he should, asks, "You?"
"Me? No." Clive is surprised that Antony asks, even as he wonders what the hell kind of job the guy retired from so young. But he's been nosy enough, so he follows up with a neutral topic. "What do you want for breakfast? Stew, you think?"
Antony makes a face. "I think there's oats," he says, climbing off the bed. "I can do oatmeal if you want to make up some powdered milk. I'll get everyone up. It'll be better when it's not fucking glue."
"Yeah, all right. See you down there," Clive nods and heads downstairs.
Antony knocks on the girls' bedroom and opens the door a crack when Keira whispers for him to come in. "I'm making breakfast. Oatmeal. Should be ready in twenty if you want it hot and still oat-like," he says with a smile.
She laughs. "I'll be down," she promises.
Jess comes awake with a start, and the darkness is so disorienting that she scrambles off the bed and smacks straight into a wall. Drops to the floor, trying desperately to sense what's coming.
"Jess." Keira's off her own bed in a flash, following Jess, but she doesn't try to touch her. "It's me, Keira. You're in the house with us and you're safe."
Her breath leaves Jess in a rush, and for a second her relief is so intense that she feels boneless. "Thank you," she whispers, but it's another moment before she's able to get to her feet again.
"You're welcome," Keira says with a shrug. "Are you okay? Do you want me to get Clive?"
"No. No, I'm fine now, really," Jess lies. But she will be fine, she thinks. "And god, Clive has already put up with way too much from me," she adds, trying to make a joke of it. "Did I wake you up?"
"No." Keira shakes her head. "Antony poked his head in to say he's making breakfast and I was just going to wake you."
"Oh." Jess pushes her hair out of her face, then gives up and shakes it out so she can rebraid it. "Wait, he makes you breakfast, too?"
Keira grins. "He's the resident cook. I try to help out but he can make something out of almost anything and Sam's useless in the kitchen."
That actually fetches a soft giggle from Jess, and a smile lingers on her lips. "Everybody's got their roles in a group. Antony's your chef, Sam is your recruiter, I guess. What's your specialty?"
"I don't know," Keira admits after a moment's thought. She's not the best at anything. Not of the three of them. "I guess I'm the glue. I hold them together. They're both too set in their ways to work together if it wasn't for me."
"That's the one then. You're the one who makes it all work." Jess huddles into herself with a shiver.
"Here." Keira hands her a knitted jumper. "It's clean." She sits down on the end of Jess's bed. "Do you want to talk about any of it?" she asks softly, leaving the question, the subject - subjects - wide open.
Jess is already pulling the jumper over her head when Keira asks that loaded question. Tugging the hem down, she blinks in surprise and for an instant she considers playing dumb: Talk about any of what? But no, she can already feel her face flushing with shame, so she says, "I'm fine. Just so long as none of them fucking touch me." Tilting her head, she regards the other woman curiously. "It seems like you genuinely trust them. I don't get it. I mean, I know Clive, I know he's a good person and a real gentleman." She rolls her eyes at the sound of herself, thinking that surely that's a word which doesn't fit into this new world. Just as she doesn't. "You really don't think they'll hurt you?"
"I know they won't," Keira says firmly. "I've known Sam for years and he's a really good guy and Antony started training me to defend myself right after we met. Alex, Luke and Ryan have been nothing but gentlemen..." she shrugs then adds a little more quietly, "Sam and Antony already took out a couple of guys who tried to assault me and Antony killed another guy who was raping this woman we didn't even know. She didn't want to come with us but he made sure she had shelter and food until she could figure out what she wanted to do next." She pauses. "I know I'm lucky. I know there are a lot of assholes out there and they have a crazy amount of power right now but there are good guys too and not only do I trust them, but I also know not one of these guys would stand by and let anyone else try to hurt me."
Tears well up in her eyes, and Jess swipes angrily at them with the back of her hand. Despising herself for being so weak. "You're right, you are lucky," she says softly. "But I'll never be in that situation again. I'll die first." She huffs a sound that bears zero resemblance to a laugh. "I'll make goddamn sure of that."
Keira nods. "I think I would too," she says. "But we have a good group here, a strong group, and once we get to the island we won't have to worry about any of that ever again."
"You all talk about the island like it's some kind of paradise. Like it's a fairy tale," Jess whispers. "For weeks now I've been wondering why I bother to keep going. It would be so much easier to just stop." She swallows around a lump in her throat. "The island. That's it for you?"
Keira nods again. "It won't exactly be paradise," she says with a smile. "It'll be isolated and it'll take a lot of hard work to get it producing the things we need but it'll be safe. A place we can regroup and hopefully wait things out."
Chewing on her bottom lip for a moment, Jess returns her nod. "You've been incredibly kind to us. We'll help you get there, however best we can."
Keira gives her another smile. "Can I give you a hug?" she asks, well-prepared to have Jess say no.
Jess's breath catches, and though her instinct is to retreat, she realizes that her body is crying out for affection, for touch of the simplest kind. "Yes?" she whispers uncertainly.
Keira leans in and wraps her arms around Jess, hugging her close. "I'm so glad you're here."
Even though Jess is expecting it – is braced for it, actually – the hug is a shock to her system. She stands stiffly in Keira's arms, half terrified. But abruptly her defenses come crashing down, and she clings to Keira, sobbing on her shoulder like a baby.
Keira just tightens her hold, letting Jess get it out of her system.
It takes several minutes before Jess is able to draw in a shaky breath without feeling like she's about to splinter into a thousand pieces. She wipes her eyes and draws back a little, then pats Keira's shoulder. "I got you all wet. I'm sorry."
"I don't mind," Keira says with a smile. "I meant it. I'm just so glad you're here. I've really missed having another woman around."
Jess smiles crookedly and blinks back fresh tears. "Was it starting to feel like a locker room?" she asks. "Speaking of which, do you think it would be okay if I boiled some water to wash up with? I hate it when I smell so bad that I actually smell bad to myself."
"It was," Keira laughs, making a face. "And that would be fine. The water in the downstairs bathroom is okay for washing without being boiled but it's really really cold."
"But it's clean and it's wet?" Jess laughs softly too. "That sounds like a good start on paradise."
* * *
"Mm-hmm. Okay," Ryan mumbles, still mostly asleep. But not entirely, and he rolls over, throwing his leg over Sam's thigh and slipping one hand into his hair. "Stay here."
Sam's hungry, his stomach starting to gurgle but Ryan's asleep again and he feels so fucking good. Plus, stay here. How could Sam resist? He settles back down to sleep, sure someone will wake them at some point. And maybe save them some food.
And it's not long before Ryan begins to emerge from the fog of sleep, wrapping himself around his lover even more. Gently rocking his stiff cock against Sam's hip and nuzzling into the well between throat and shoulder.
"You're insatiable," Sam murmurs, waking again. Teasing, because he has absolutely no ground to stand on.
"What?" Ryan lifts his head in mock affront. "We were asleep for at least an hour!"
Sam laughs. "At least," he agrees and kisses Ryan on the mouth.
Ryan hums approvingly and shifts to his back, pulling Sam on top of him. "It's just... It's been a really long time for me. And even longer than that with another man."
"And what? We're making up for lost time?" Sam teases, kissing Ryan again.
"Well, no, I just meant..." Ryan grins. "I guess yeah, that's what I meant."
"How's it compare?" Sam says, keeping his tone light, still teasing, their erections pressed together. "Are you wishing you'd met some hot woman who'd jumped you instead?"
Ryan rolls his eyes. "Shut the fuck up," he retorts, cupping Sam's chin in his hand and licking deep into his mouth.
And Sam does, because with Ryan kissing him like that, he doesn't have a brain cell left for anything else.
His blood heating, Ryan grabs Sam's ass and pushes up against him. Whimpering under his breath and wrapping his legs around Sam's waist to take even more.
Fuck. At some point Sam figures he should last longer. Get used to this, to the feel of Ryan against him, under him, around him. But this time isn't it. He plunders Ryan's mouth, rutting against him, their stomachs and cocks slick with precome.
"Oh god, Sam!" Ryan arches against the bed, need shocking through him. And, shit, that wasn't quiet or discreet, nope, not at all – awareness crashes into him, but before he can even worry his climax burns through any lingering shyness.
The hot splash of semen against his belly pushes Sam over, his teeth gritted against crying out as he adds his own to their mess. "Fuck," he whispers, panting softly, his cock still throbbing, shuddering through the aftershocks.
For a couple moments, Ryan's hands hover uncertainly over Sam's back. Then he wraps himself tightly around his lover once more. And he starts to laugh, bubbling over with joy and release.
"One of these days we're going to last longer than teenagers," Sam promises, grinning and hugging Ryan back.
"Sure," Ryan snickers. "We just have to practice. And then we'll get good at it."
Sam laughs. "I'm pretty sure they heard us downstairs. You want to wash up and do the walk of shame?" he teases.
"No." Ryan nips Sam's bottom lip and grins. "Just wash and walk. No shame."
* * *
Clive looks up from the cooking pot he's washing, and tamps down a smile into something more neutral. "Good morning."
Alex, however, doesn't feel the need for kid gloves. Or tact. He sits back in his chair and eyes Ryan with exquisite blandness.
"What?" Ryan stares at his mate, paranoia creeping in.
"You know," Alex says, allowing the faintest of smirks onto his lips, "Luke and I have a gag you can borrow."
"Hey," Sam says, unfazed. And protective. "None of that. Not when I was nice enough to stop Antony from barging in on your time in the warehouse bathroom."
"Antony wanted to join us, really?" Alex asks, ignoring the way Clive is obviously trying to smother a snicker.
"You wish," Ryan mutters, his cheeks flaming. "Probably more like he wanted to shoot you, you idiot," he tells Alex, and sits down next to him with a bashful – yet smug – smile. "Let me check your bandages."
"Wanted to join who?" Antony asks, having heard his name from the hall.
"Never mind," Sam says, adding powdered milk and sugar to two leftover bowls of oatmeal. "It's still warm," he tells Ryan.
"Thanks." Ryan shoots a look at Alex, then leans up to kiss his lover on the mouth.
Surprised, Sam freezes for an instant before his brain kicks in and he kisses back, grinning widely when they part.
"You're okay with this, yeah?" Antony asks Clive at the counter, watching the other man.
"Hmm?" Clive looks at him curiously, uncertain at first just what Antony is asking about. Then he realizes that the man is looking out for his people, checking that Clive isn't a homophobic bigot who might make trouble for them. "Oh, that? Yeah. I mean my heart is broken, obviously," he says with a grin. "But yeah, that's fine." He glances around the kitchen. "Has anyone seen Jess yet this morning?"
"She's washing up," Keira says, dumping a huge pile of folded clothes on the table. "I've got jeans, jumpers, socks, underwear. They're all clean. Men's and women's. I didn't really check sizes but I think everyone's in luck except Clive and Alex. We'll have to scout out a department store or tall men's shop."
"Cool," Ryan says, eyes widening at the huge harvest. "Maybe we can get you some really long basketball shorts or something in the meantime," he tells Alex, "to keep you warm enough."
Alex frowns down at his well-ventilated jeans. "Yeah. I'll find something. Are you going to pull these stitches out yet?"
"I want to give it just a few more days. I don't want to wait so long that you're really healing up on the outside, but we also don't want to bother taking out the inner layer before they've done their job," Ryan explains, peeking beneath the bandage.
Jess enters wearing a somewhat mismatched outfit, clean and new to her, and she gives Keira a big smile. "Thank you so much! I feel a million times better."
She rushes to wrap Keira in a tentative hug, and Clive stares in shock at the pair of them. It's the first time since before that he's seen Jess touch another person, willingly and of her own volition. Clearly Keira is some sort of miracle worker.
Keira hugs her back and beams at everyone. "If you can manage to get them off and don't mind wrapping yourself up for a bit," she tells Alex, "I can put a patch on them."
"I can do it," Luke says, joining them. "I don't mind."
"You know how to sew?" Keira asks, surprised.
"I worked in theatre," Luke explains, but he's smiling at Alex. "Sometimes there's not money for a wardrobe department so you'd better be able to fix your own costumes."
"Okay." Alex nods, only vaguely aware of what he's agreeing to. The way that Luke is looking at him in this moment... Yeah, he'd agree to absolutely fucking anything that his lover suggests. He takes Luke's hand and tugs him down to whisper in his ear, "We've got to get some time alone today."
"Okay," Luke nods, happy to agree. "I'll do your jeans in our bedroom."