Chapter 1: (loading screen)
That's how many were left in England after the storm came and took the rest away.
(Dan wakes up and it's so quiet. It registers with a sleep-dulled tingle in the back of his mind. There are no taxi horns. There are no sirens. There are no children shrieking and laughing outside.
Only one sound registers: a muted buzzing.
It's a too-familiar sound. He digs his mobile out from between the sheet and the duvet and looks at the screen.
Seventeen missed calls from his mum.
His heart plunges down to his stomach. His mum would only be calling so much if something awful's happened. His first thought is of his grandparents, and he almost doesn't answer just to have to avoid bad news.
He spends too long thinking and misses the call. When he rings her back, it goes straight to voicemail. He realizes she must have immediately tried him back so he waits. It only takes a few seconds for it to light up to life again.
"Mum?" He answers, voice gravelly. He swallows and tries again. "Mum, what's-""
He stops, because he can hear her crying hysterical, gut-wrenching sobs. His whole body feels cold with shock before she even says a word.
But when she finally does:
"They're gone. Everyone's gone."
His mum has to tell him over and over. He doesn't understand.
How can everyone be gone?
People don't just - they don't just disappear.
But the sheets beside him are cold.
He's halfway up the stairs when he hears the sound of Phil singing some stupid song and he almost drops his phone in relief.)
They call it the storm, because the skies are a strange shade of purple-blue that go darker sometimes. They’re trying to figure out how the people disappeared, where they might have gone. There are no bodies, nothing left behind. In the space of a breath, a fraction of a second, they just ceased to be. Scientists are trying to figure out what caused it, what kind of danger remains, what can be done. But there aren't that many scientists left, and they also need to figure out how to start rebuilding.
The storm covers America. It covers Asia. It covers Europe and Australia. Mainlands with dense populations, but small pockets of sparsely populated land and most islands left untouched.
It degrades the cellular signal after a week. No mobiles. No internet. No satellite television. No mass communication of any kind.
But for that one week between the storm appearing and the world going quiet, the news is full of terrifying declarations, countdowns to when the cooling water will be gone from nuclear stations and how quickly the tubes will flood.
Then there’s nothing. They’re just left with the fear and the silence. Unsure what else to do, people try to continue on.
Then pantries begin to empty. Even in the shops whose owners and staff haven't all disappeared there aren't enough factories working, enough lorry drivers transporting, enough stockers left to keep things on the shelves. Riots begin. Power goes out. Darkness feels like it's everywhere, not just above them in the sky.
The parody of normality lasts a matter of weeks, and then talk of evacuation begins.
1,331,470 people all needing food, shelter, water.
Population management, they're calling it. No other mainland countries were taking people in, every major continent dealing with their own storm. But Britain has its isles and it plans to make good use of them just as soon as it can.
Housing needs to be built. Trade agreements need to be worked out. Crops need to be planted. Everything is just - stretched too thin. So they settle on a hundred thousand people per month, ferries that will show up at designated spots and a lottery system with evacuation lots engraved onto metallic chips.
Those with specialized skill are taken first. Families get preferential treatment. All the rest are just left to survive in the time before their pickup.
Dan's glad, to be honest. He's glad they don't see mothers carrying their confused, screaming children anymore. He's glad most of them have moved on to something better.
And it has to be better. He has to believe it's better, because he and Phil have nothing left but hope.
Chapter 2: (the motel)
"There's nothing here," Dan calls out, staring down at the empty till pulled halfway out. Who the fuck needs money in the apocalypse?
"I found a few things," Phil says, standing in the storage closet. He comes out with a few cardboard boxes that have been opened but clearly not deemed interesting enough to swipe. He looks delighted, though, as he upturns them onto the counter.
Little packets of shampoo and conditioner and toothpaste go spilling out everywhere.
"Oh my god," Dan moans, grabbing at them. "This is brilliant. I'm washing my hair ten times tonight."
Phil laughs. "You could do with it."
They recollect as much as they can into one box and leave it on the counter, methodically finishing the rest of their search. There's not much else; a few paperbacks that Phil holds like they're made of glass, a first aid kit abandoned underneath the sink in the small kitchen area, some packets of porridge that'll do as a nice break from tinned beans.
"Let's check the rooms," Dan says. He looks outside. It's not evening yet but the sun is sinking lower. "Maybe find one for the night."
"Do you think we can?" Phil says, like he doesn't dare to hope.
"The doors will have locks," Dan says. The truth is that he doesn't know what's safe and what isn't anymore, but his bones are tired and he wants to sit and rest a while.
"This is heaven," Phil says, moaning as he lays back against the mattress, head against a cheap striped throw.
The rooms smell stale and dusty, and the few nearest to the lobby had been torn apart, but closer to the back of the building they seemed untouched. There was even a vending machine with bottles of water and snacks that Dan is wondering if could be taken apart. It's only been two months. The chocolate may still be good, especially if there's any dark.
He looks at Phil with his eyes closed, how there are lines on his face Dan swears weren't there that long ago. He'd really like to get Phil some sweets if he can.
He walks into the bathroom and turns the tap on.
A rush of water comes out. It's brown at first, but it clears quickly.
"Phil!" He says, not shouting - they don't shout anymore - but speaking slightly louder than normal as he turns to stick his head back out the door. "It gets even better."
"You wash up first," Dan says.
Phil opens his eyes slowly. "You don't want to wash each other's hair?" He pouts.
They haven't actually had sex in almost a month. They've forged intimacy in other ways, and Dan's never been more a believer in lifelong love and partnership as he's become in the past two months, but sex - no. Too tired, too tense, too uncomfortable stealing nights in other people's homes after pilfering their belongings.
This isn't someone else's home, though. This is a room meant for temporary use, devoid of personality or family photos. Just the realization that they have time, relative security, and a mattress at their disposal - it's almost shocking how quickly the want arrives.
"We'll wash each other's hair before we leave tomorrow," Dan promises. "For now, let's just take turns washing up so we don't get the sheets filthy... with dirt, at least."
Phil laughs. "Fine, fine."
As soon as he's gone Dan digs through his pack for the little tool kit that's proven handy with getting doors open without too much sound. The vending machine is the old sort with uncovered hinges and screws on the side. He studies it from a few different angles before getting to work.
"Dan!" Phil's jaw drops when he walks into the small bedroom and sees a treasure of snacks spread out on the bed.
"I couldn't conjure up wine and roses," Dan says. "So hopefully Haribo and stale Walkers crisps will still sweep you off your feet."
Phil actually looks like he might cry. "You found sweets for me."
Dan sits on the edge of the bed. His face feels funny and he can't stop smiling. It’s strange what counts as a good day now. "You deserve them."
Phil leans in to kiss him, then stops. "I really want to kiss you," he says. "But you're disgusting and you need to brush your teeth."
Dan laughs and stands up. "Fair enough."
Sex will be good, Dan is sure.
But washing his hair might actually be better. There's a pile of towels collected from a few of the rooms and the water pressure holds, a testament to how they're in the middle of nowhere. In the cities taps run dry now but here, in the places that take them hours of walking, tanks are still full.
He scrubs everywhere and relishes in how he can feel the sweat and dirt running off his skin. Not a part of him goes without being slathered in soap at least three times over, and it doesn't even matter that the water is cold. It's refreshing and he feels alive for the first time in days.
But as the minutes pass he thinks of Phil waiting for him in a clean bed and another sort of desire beings to rear its head.
"Fuck," Dan says, panting.
He's climbed trees and hacked through walls and ran like his life depended on it more times than he can count in the past two months, but he's not sure any of them have made his heart pound like the sex they just had.
Phil looks equally shattered by his orgasm, though it doesn't stop him from rolling over to grab one of the chocolate bars thirty seconds later.
"You absolute glutton," Dan says, voice full of fondness. "Give me some of that."
Phil breaks it in half, some of the inside bits crumbling between them. "Oops," he says.
"You spork, we have to sleep here."
"We don't, though," Phil points out. "We can sleep in any of the other rooms."
".... you're right," Dan says. "You're very right."
They don't, in the end, move rooms. It sounds like too much work and they're both very tired. Sleeping normally happens in shifts, one of them curled up against or around the other who tries to stay more alert.
But the door locks and their bodies are tired and their bellies are full and for tonight, they let themselves stop to breathe and forget the hell they're living in.
Chapter 3: (retail row)
"Why didn't we play more survival video games?" Dan asks, hefting his pack up up higher on a shoulder that aches with the weight of it.
Phil doesn’t respond but Dan can hear his shallow breathing as he limps quietly along behind Dan.
He's only stopped twice in the past hour, an improvement over the hour before. Both times all he could do was lean over and wretch. There's nothing else in his system, but the migraine gripping his skull won't let him have any kind of peace.
"Almost," Dan says, without knowing what he's promising.
They try to avoid high streets, but sometimes it's impossible. That’s where all the shops are, and some things can’t be found in private pantries and bathroom cabinets.
Phil needs real medicine. He needs something to get his strength back up, something in his stomach and water to drink. He also needs somewhere cool and dark to rest, and there’s only one place they’ll satisfy all of those needs.
This high street is completely empty. A few shops have bashed in windows, but nothing looks recently disturbed. "Phil," Dan says, stomach flipping in excitement when he sees the sign for Boots. "Look."
Phil nods shallowly and reaches out to put his hand in Dan's and lets Dan lead him inside.
Dan realizes right away that the windows aren't broken in this shop because the door wasn't locked.
The shelves are partially wiped, but what Dan needs isn't put out on display. "Come on," he says, still gripping Phil's hand. He pushes a few doors open, finding the toilets down one hallway and a small room that looks like it might have been an employee break room behind another.
There are no windows, and no other doors. He could cry with relief. "Here," he says, helping Phil with his pack off and then reaching up to push Phil's hair out of his eyes. Phil's lips are chapped with dehydration and his face is far too thin. "Lay down. I'll go get your pills. Do you remember what you used to take?"
Phil sinks down onto the sofa before he answers with a shake of his head.
"I'll figure it out," Dan says, shrugging his own pack off. He finds a torch and the knife he's got tucked in one of the back pockets of the bag and pulls it them both out, putting them down by Phil. Phil watches him, frowning a bit. Dan hates that they have to do this. "I won't shut the door entirely, but - just in case."
The door between the proper storefront and the back where the pills are kept is already ajar. He can tell from a glance that most of what's been taken are the fun ones, opioids and heavy painkillers. He bypasses the emptier shelves and starts to pick up bottles one at a time, using his torch to shine light on the labels and skimming for descriptions of what they're for.
He misses Google. He misses it a lot.
In the end he finds a small basket and dumps pill bottles in - nausea tablets and paracetamol and whatever he thinks might help. It's strange but reading the labels on the bottles makes him begin to panic of what all could go wrong. He finds himself tossing in antibiotics, NSAIDS... he even hovers a hand over the type of antidepressant he used to take before he decides it wouldn't serve much of a point anyway.
"What did you just say?" Phil asks. “I think it’s that one.”
He'd lain in the dark for almost an hour while Dan raided the store. Now he's sat up sipping water from a bottle and listening to Dan read names of medications out loud.
Dan looks at it. "Eletripan," he says, and hands it over.
"That's it." Phil's fingers shake with relief as he tries to open the bottle.
Dan has to take it back from him to open it.
Phil sleeps for ten straight hours.
Day looks different than it used to. Everything is washed in blue and sometimes the sky seems to crackle overhead. But day is still day, and the sun is somewhere out there still rising and setting like it always has.
It means that while there’s light out he can walk around the shop and investigate. There’s no real food left to be found so he gets creative, perusing the aisles for vitamins that might help them now that their diet lacks anything fresh. He finds some canned coffee drinks that haven't gone off that he thinks might help with Phil's head if the good medicine doesn't. He pilfers the sports nutrition section for protein powders and tablets they can dissolve in water, dubiously referred to as 'shakes.'
It’s not the biggest Boots he’s been in, but he walks the aisles because it’s not as though there’s anything left for him to do. He finds lip balm in the beauty aisle and rips open a packet. It tastes like cheap, overly sweet berry but it feels good on his chapped lips.
He picks up a journal branded with Zoella in gold foil. His fingers trace the letters.
They weren’t friends. They hadn’t even seen each other in years. But the name still strikes him in his core, a link he can reach out and touch to who they used to be, him and Phil, the weird obsolete life they led. It already feels like someone else’s memory.
Phil sometimes says he thinks the people that disappeared are in an alternate reality, still living their lives. Sometimes he says they're on another planet and the storm is some kind of alien. Phil has a lot of theories and the underlying point of all of them is that the people who aren't here anymore must be somewhere better. Dan doesn't know what he thinks, but he hopes wherever Zoe is, wherever everyone else is, it’s a better place than this.
He's bored. So bored. No one told him the end of the world would be so boring.
He’s spent an hour working sudoku puzzles. The sun is going down soon and he's got nothing left to occupy him. He can't wake Phil. Phil needs this rest, he’s been running on fumes for days now.
He makes a fifth lap around the store and then stops to mix some of the protein powder in with a bottle of water. It’s wholly unsatisfying but he drinks until his stomach feels achingly full and then stops for fear of making himself ill. They can't afford to both be out of commission at the same time.
He finds himself back in the beauty section, pushing tubes and bottles around. His fingers close in on a small gift set, green apple scented. He shakes the contents out and picks through until he finds a shampoo and a conditioner.
Inspired, he moves onto the men’s hygiene section and finds a razor, aftershave, and a deodorants. He can’t find linens but pricey cloth nappies will do, he thinks.
There’s no water in the taps anymore, but he still goes into the toilets to clean up. His torch only provides a thin weak beam of light, but he thinks it’s probably best he can’t see himself right now. He takes his time shampooing his hair with the tiniest trickles of water, then shaving the patchy stubble off his face before he moves on to the rest of his body.
Phil gets sleep, he can at least have this.
He smells like a goddamn fresh apple orchard and Phil isn’t even awake to appreciate it.
He finds an empty journal in the store - not Zoe’s, but one with a plain black leather cover, and a pen from the stationary section. He writes until his hand aches, trying to make lists and lists of things he doesn’t want to forget.
When he’s done he has the urge to rip the pages out and tear them apart, but he doesn’t. Instead he makes his way back to the small room where Phil is. It’s properly dark out now and if being alone in the dark scared Dan before, it’s a true terror now. He carefully shuts the break room door to close them off from the world. It’s hard for him to turn the torch off, but they don’t have batteries to spare for him to leave it on all night.
If he can’t have one security blanket, he’ll just use another. Phil doesn't so much as stir when Dan curls up between his body and the back of the sofa.
"Dan?" Phil asks, voice cracking from disuse.
It’s a whisper in a darkened room that makes Dan’s heart jump.
"Hey," Dan says. His own head is throbbing, but he knows it's from exhaustion. He thinks it’s been at least four hours since he laid down beside Phil, and he hasn’t slept at all. "How's-"
"Better." Phil takes a deep breath in and out. "Oh, god. It doesn't hurt."
Dan smiles. "Good."
"I was dreaming.” Phil curls his hand around Dan’s. “I think I was waking up, but I was dreaming we’d just fallen asleep on the sofa back home."
“I wish,” Dan says, pressing a kiss to the side of Phil’s head, since he can’t really see where he’s aiming for. “It’s probably morning by now.”
“Yeah,” Phil says. “You smell good. Did you wash up?”
"Yeah. I'll show you-" Dan starts to sit up, but Phil puts a hand on his shoulder.
"I'll find it," Phil says. He gets up and Dan can hear him stretching.
Dan leans over and feels along the floor, curling his fingers around cool metal. “Here,” he says, finger sliding along the button to turn the torch on.
Phil reaches and takes it from him, but it turns out he doesn’t need it. When he opens the door to their makeshift safehouse, it’s not dark anymore. "How long was I asleep?"
"I'm not sure," Dan answers. "I wasn't thinking of checking the time."
"It was daytime yesterday when we got here," Phil says. "And it's day again now."
"You needed it," Dan says softly.
Phil doesn't argue him. He just nods and says, "And now you do. Go to sleep, Dan. I'll wash up and find something to eat."
Dan sinks down onto the scratchy sofa cushion and nods, his eyes already sinking shut.
Chapter 4: (snobby shores)
"We could have lived here," Phil says wistfully, staring at house in front of them.
They're somewhere near Brighton, Dan thinks. Three days of walking through most of the daylight hours on aching legs and empty stomach. Phil said Brighton because he wanted to see the water, but there hadn't been much a question of where they were headed.
There’s not much hope, but they still check and when they’ve finished checking they left PJ's empty flat untouched.
Now they're along a different street, where the homes here have good views of the water and cost millions upon millions of pounds.
Phil's right. They could have afforded it, just barely.
"Yeah," Dan says.
Phil turns to look at him. His glasses have a smear of dirt or sweat or maybe both across one lens, and his stubble is very nearly a proper beard. It makes Dan's heart pang painfully, how little Phil looks like himself these days. "Can we pretend?"
"Yeah," Dan says. "Let's pretend."
They haven't seen another person in nine days.
The only time in Dan's life he's ever gone nine days not seeing another human besides Phil were the times he didn't see any point to living so he just - shut down.
Phil took care of him during those times. He'd make sure Dan ate and showered at least once a week and make him drink glasses of water and sit by him with the television, playing video games or commenting on home programs.
They were some of the worst days of Dan's life, but he'd give anything to go back to that. He thinks of that bed back in Manchester and those stupid ugly sheets of Phil's and it's like his mind just can't comprehend that he'll never see that again. He'll never go back to that. He'll never be that person.
Now he's staring at someone else's sheets, standing in someone else's bedroom. The doors to the wardrobe are flung open and there aren't any pictures on the nightstand. That means they were the lucky ones, probably; they had time to pack some belongings and gather things together.
He opens the bedside drawer. A few five pound notes, some pens and a notebook, a spare key, a torch, a tube of some kind of lip product, a prescription bottle, a couple of mobile chargers... He takes the torch and drops it into his bag. A glance at the pill bottle reveals it's for sleeping pills. He hesitates, then drops it in as well.
Phil would hate him for it, but Dan wants options. Not for now - but for any future where Phil might not be by his side. He needs that option.
The next drawer has more notebooks and a few heavy folders. He doesn't bother looking at them, just shuffles them side to side to make sure no treasures are hiding then crouches to open the third drawer. He has to laugh as he looks down at an array of vibrators, some with their own charging cables and a few packs of batteries. He reaches in and takes the batteries and then at second thought reaches back for the tube of lubricant he spots near the back.
"What did you find?" Dan asks, walking into the kitchen.
Phil's sat on the floor surrounded by a few piles of assorted cans and boxes. He looks up at Dan and swallows guiltily, then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
Dan rolls his eyes. He's not cross with Phil. It's not as though they've got to ration food forever. Ninety percent of the population of England disappeared without a trace. The homes they used to inhabit are mostly untouched now, preserved just as they were less than three months ago. Hunger becomes an issue when they're too afraid to risk the streets with stores or when they find themselves walking for hours and haven't packed their bags full enough, but it's not that there isn't food.
Dan sits across from Phil. They locked the door when they came up. They'll hear if anyone of the roughly five hundred thousand left in England actually try to come in.
Not that they've got anything to fight people off with if that does happen. They're unprepared for confrontation and so their only goal is to avoid it.
"Here," Phil says, pushing a box of cereal toward Dan. "They're a bit stale, but not too awful."
“How is it that even now you’re a caricature of yourself?” Dan asks, grabbing a handful of the cereal. It’s Crunchy Nut, his favorite, and it’s not even that stale. His stomach is reminding him that hunger motivated them to pick a house to begin with.
“Shush or I’ll decide not to tell you that there’s a box that isn’t even open yet,” Phil threatens.
“You literally just told me,” Dan says. “That is what you actually just did.”
“Well, I won’t share it with you then.” Phil makes a scrunched up face at Dan, then goes back to his bounty. He pulls the plastic cereal bag out of the box and tosses the box to the side.
"Is this how you'd treat this kitchen if it were ours?" Dan teases. "Leave food lying about everywhere? Oh, wait, that's exactly how you treated our kitchen."
"Hey!" Phil sulks.
There are three more bedrooms upstairs: a child's room in bright blues and greens, a neutral looking guest room, and a room on the far end painted pale blue with a bay window.
"Looks like your room when I met you," Dan says as they pass the child’s room, only sparing a look in.
They haven't been to Manchester. Dan hopes Phil won't want to go there. He can't exactly verify with google maps, but it sounds like a fuck of a lot of walking through the English countryside for nothing but bittersweet memories and disappointment.
The guest room holds nothing of interest. They pull open a few drawers but everything is empty.
The third room looks lived in. “What do you think?” Dan asks. “Young girl?”
“I think so,” Phil says, sitting on the bed. He lays back, stretching his arms over his head.
Dan lays down too, but on the floor. They’re close enough to hear the waves breaking on the shore. He could fall asleep like this, he thinks.
And then he hears the sound of voices.
The room they're in is small and very, very dark.
They don't speak. They barely even breathe, conscious of sound that will carry and give their presence away to the people outside.
They might be fine people. They might be friendly.
But the access chips tucked away in Dan’s bag have a shiny number five on them, and since the last pick up was four - five is the most sought after number. People with access chips for the current pickup and previous ones are allowed on board for the monthly pickups; people with chips whose numbers are higher have to wait... or find some way to acquire a faster ticket out.
The British government probably didn't intend on inciting a bloodbath over access passes, but the British government doesn't actually seem to consider that this is a problem worth addressing. It's too busy rebuilding with the population already evacuated to have resources to spare for those left in the eye of the storm.
Phil's hand grips Dan's so tightly it almost cuts off his circulation.
They have to leave soon, Dan thinks. They can't stay here forever.
Six hours crammed in a tiny little attic crawlspace listening to the house they'd been hiding out in be ransacked.
Dan's just glad they'd had the door locked. He's glad they'd heard the commotion of people trying to get in, that they hadn't unpacked yet, that they hadn't lost precious supplies to someone else's desperate thieving hands. They'd even managed to pull the ladder up and latch the attic entry shut. Whoever'd come along behind them hadn't been observant enough to notice, or maybe just hadn't thought the attic would contain anything they needed.
This sick adrenaline sensation is Dan's least favorite feeling now. There's no way to tell how desperate other people are. There's no way to know who they can trust.
His heart is pounding. He can feel the already small space closing in on him. He can't speak, he can't open his mouth. Even if he could, would any sound come out?
He really, really hates the dark.
"Dan," Phil whispers. "Breathe."
"Shut up-" Dan says, almost choking on the sound. "They'll-"
"They're gone," Phil says. His hand still grips Dan's tightly. "They've been gone. There hasn't been any noise for at least an hour, and we need to get out of here. You're having a panic attack, aren't you?"
"Maybe," Dan says, because he can't really tell. If he is, then it's not his first. It's not even his first this week.
Phil turns a torch on. It's a thin ray of light but enough for Phil to find the metal latch to the attic door and slide it open, pulling up on the handle. It goes upright and then Phil lets the latter down. Each clunk as it gets close to the ground sounds deafening.
Dan almost falls climbing down. His legs feel like noodles.
It's night outside.
"Fuck," Dan says.
The house around them is torn apart in a much more haphazard fashion than Dan and Phil had done.
"It's fine," Phil says. "They're gone. We'll - we'll stay here tonight. They won't come back. I'd packed most of the food in the bag before they came in. We've got peanut butter, we haven't had that in ages. We'll have peanut butter and biscuits for dinner."
"Okay." Dan's head hurts. He feels weak and shaky but Phil's voice is grounding, so he lets the sound of it wrap around him. "Okay. Let's eat."
Chapter 5: (tomato town)
"Dan." Phil grabs his sleeve. "Dan, look!"
It takes Dan a second to realize what Phil's pointing at. It's still so far in the distance that he's shocked Phil with his constantly dirty glasses and generally failworthy eyesight actually saw them first, but there they are: three small buildings just off the roadway.
"Is that - a petrol station?" There's immediate relief at the sight. They have to venture further and further out to find stores that still have anything on the shelves, and today's hike has been almost three hours already.
"No, look!" Phil jabs with the finger that's not still tugging on Dan's arm. "Pizza!"
He squints and then realizes that Phil is right. There's a white brick building just across from the petrol station with a sign out in front, big and red and round and unmistakably pizza-like.
He thinks of Phil lamenting how much he missed pizza the other day and starts to laugh. "Jesus, Phil. If you can manifest a pizza place then manifest us the fuck out of here next."
"We can't actually make a pizza, you now that, right?" Dan says.
Dan sits on the floor, thumbing through a magazine he's already read five times and occasionally looking up to watch Phil make his trips to and from the pantry. The magazine is nothing but masochism, a glimpse at what the world was just six months ago. He spends most of the time wondering which celebrities disappeared and which kings and queens of Hollywood have been left to live as mortals now.
"Why not?" Phil asks, popping his head back out of the small room. He puts a massive tin of tomato sauce beside the flour, salt, and seasoning powder. "What else goes into a pizza crust?"
Dan picks them up one by one as Phil puts them down. Flour. Salt. "Don't you need milk?"
"We've got some of that powdered sort left," Phil says. "D'you think that'd do?"
Dan shrugs, then remembers Phil can't see him. He leans over and snags his finger against the strap of Phil's pack, opening it up. Things immediately spill out from the top. "You're so shit at packing," he grumbles. Phil can't even hear him.
It takes him five minutes to find the small canister of Nido that Phil's been using in his coffee. He shakes it and finds it almost a third empty.
"Phil?" He stands in the doorway of the pantry. "I'm going to check out the petrol station. Do you have your knife?"
He can see Phil's shoulders go tense. Phil hates the knife, and Dan hates how Phil keeps accidentally forgetting to carry it with him. "Yeah," he says.
Phil reaches into his pocket and holds it up, not turning around to look at Dan. "Happy now?"
Dan rolls his eyes and walks over to Phil, wrapping his arms around him from behind and kissing his neck. "Drama queen. I'll be right back."
The door to the petrol station is swung open, but Dan can tell from the accumulation of dirt and leaves in front of it that no one's been here recently.
It smells off, like all these places do now. Once in a while there'll be a shop that someone was around to keep up or clear out before they left, but it's rare. Two weeks ago they found one still open, a woman and her daughter dealing out their stock for trades. They'd walked away with two cans of butane for their camp stove, trading away some of the last toiletries they'd had left from the motel.
The petrol station looks small to begin with, a utilitarian stop over for people on long car trips that needed refueling, but the shelves are only partly cleared. Despite the lacking selection, he finds powdered milk, and shoved in the back out of obvious sight are even a few jars of instant coffee. He's pleased with the find. It still tastes like shit, but Phil can't function without it and sometimes just a warm drink in his belly is nice.
Dan stands in front of a display of boiled sweets and thinks about how his grandma used to let him get boiled sweets when he'd go with her to fill up the tank with petrol in her little grandma car.
The thought wants to linger, burning in his throat.
He pushes past it. Today isn't a day for feeling or remembering. Tonight, when they're safely behind a closed door, maybe. But right now he needs to move, to act, to do.
But his feet won't carry him away. Not - not yet.
He reaches for one of the little plastic bags provided for the sweets. The fingers holding it open shake just a bit, but his other hand plunges into the first jar. He grabs handfuls of candy. It feels wrong in an almost delicious kind of way and he grins as he does it. Honey and lemon menthols, liquorice mints, fizzballs, humbugs and treacle and some he's not even sure the flavors of.
He grabs until his hand is sticky with sugar from them and the bag is full and then he stops, twisting off the top and shoving it into the pocket of his jacket.
His heart is pounding in a funny way. His grandma would laugh if she could see him, he's sure of it.
"We need to go," Dan says, standing in the doorway.
Phil's got a small collection of ingredients. It's not worth the weight, Dan thinks. They've got three hours left to walk, and none of this is necessary.
But he thinks of his candy, and of small pleasures, and how half of surviving is finding things to smile about.
So if Phil wants pizza tonight, Dan will help carry the burden to get him his pizza.
They make it back just as night falls.
Their little home for the week is barely more than a brick shed. It holds no temptation of supplies and no creature comforts, just four brick walls and a concrete floor. Their hope is that anyone that does pass by won't give it a second glance.
They've got a bed three sleeping bags deep that still feels like exactly what it is, barely cushioned concrete. They use their spare clothes as a pillow, rolled up and put in Phil's blue and green pillow case.
Dan's plan from the start, from the day they left London, had been to never settle in one spot. But he realized quickly that it was too much. They needed a base, somewhere to feel like they could stop and breathe in. Maybe the safety it offers is all in their head, but Dan breathes easier with home as a tangible place and not a concept suddenly taken from them.
Phil has tomato sauce on his chin and flour on his cheek, but their entire little home smells like something delicious and so familiar that if he closes his eyes he can almost pretend they’re back home, in their actual home.
But he opens his eyes again and this is where they are: a small brick building with a heavy metal door and cold walls. At least their camp stove is working, warming the late spring chill out of room for them and heating the pizza that they've got in their small lidded skillet.
He almost does cry when he takes the first bite. The dough is slightly chewy in the middle and the powdery cheese on top won’t ever be mistaken for a proper Dominos, but like everything else in his life now - Dan’ll take what he can get.
“Do you think we’ll be able to make pizza when we leave?” Phil asks.
They do that now, more than they used to before - they talk about what life will be like.
“Don’t see why not,” Dan says, keeping his voice light. “Your mum probably has a garden going already with real tomatoes.”
There are nights when he can’t just plug his ears to the most dismal of potential realities. But he knows Phil’s looking forward to seeing his family. He knows that’s what keeps Phil going.
Dan’s got hopes that his own mum will be there. She’d come to London the day the storm happened, and she’d spent two weeks with them. Then the lottery happened, and she was one of the luckiest, set to go out in the first evacuation.
She hadn’t wanted to go. She and Dan had fought bitterly, barely even talking to each other for a full day. Dan’s not sure he’d ever seen Phil as angry, either - angry at Dan, reminding Dan of how many people would never have the chance to fight with their mums again.
So they’d made up and on the day he’d coaxed her into agreeing to leave. They’d all agreed on Isle of Man, a central location they could try to start rebuilding again.
At least, they hope. There’s no real attempt at communication anymore, they’re just left to hope that the ferry keeps showing up as it has once a month for the past four months. Just one more time - the boat only has to show up one more time, and they’ll be on it.
Chapter 6: (somewhere outside of salty springs)
"Dan," Phil says, gently nudging at Dan's shoulder.
Dan turns and buries his face in his lumpy pillow. "G'way."
"It's your birthday, though!"
Birthdays don't have meaning anymore, Dan wants to say.
But he's never been one to kick a puppy, so he groans and flips Phil off but he sits up anyway. "If it's my birthday, aren't you supposed to let me sleep in?"
"I did," Phil says. "It's almost midday."
"... Oh." Dan stifles a yawn into his hand then throws the light blanket off of him. "Well, thanks."
"I also made you breakfast in bed." Phil hands Dan a plate.
"Phil." Dan smiles a bit, looking at the meal. He recognizes the pale yellow of powdered egg done up in a scramble, with baked beans to the side and mushy potato hash. It's the most appetizing meal he's seen in weeks. "Thank you."
Phil grins. "It's just the beginning," he says. "I've got plans for you, Howell."
It's a lazy day, Phil declares.
No pouring over the map. No hikes to see if they can find more supplies, new comfort items, extras for their meager pantry. No, today is for relaxing.
"Relaxing," Dan says.
That used to be all he wanted on his birthday. A good meal and solitude, time alone and time with Phil.
He's not very good at that these days. His head is too loud of bad things and his anxiety spikes too hard if Phil is more than ten paces away.
"Relaxing," Phil says again, voice firm. "And I got you something that I think will help with that."
"What?" Dan asks, tucking his legs up against him.
Phil pulls out a small wrapped package. The paper around it is one of the bags of flour they've already gone through turned inside out. He looks wide-eyed and nervous as Dan he hands it over. "Here. I just - I found it last week, it was in someone's backpack in one of the houses we were in, and. I hope it works. I really - I really hope it works."
"Okay..." Dan takes it and opens it carefully. There's a jumble of things in it, two - headphones and lightning cable - that he recognizes right away. The third thing, the heavier thing, is foreign to Dan. He picks up and turns it over a few times. "Phil-"
It's a phone accessory, obviously. He runs his fingers over the smooth surface of the backing. "It's a solar power bank," Phil says in a rush. "For your phone. I know you've still got it, and I know it's got all your music on it, and I thought - if this works. You can have your music back."
"Phil." Dan barely manages to say the name before he's crying, letting the charger hit the soft bedroll underneath him and burying his face in his hands. His shoulders shake and he doesn't know why this is making him feel so much but he can't stop.
He feels Phil's arms wrap around him and he turns into the hold, burying his face against Phil's shoulder. "Thank you," he manages to say between gasping sobs.
He doesn't really know how long they stay like that, Dan crying and Phil letting him cry, but Dan feels wrecked when he finally pulls back away.
He wipes his face with his hands and then cups Phil's cheek with damp, dirty fingers and kisses him hard on the mouth. "I love you so fucking much," he says, a blunter confession than he might have ever made it in their past life. But time matters now, words matter now, and Dan wants to say it.
"I love you, too," Phil says. He sounds a bit choked up as well.
Dan gives him another kiss and then fumbles his hand around for the charger. "Is it-"
"I put it out all day yesterday," Phil says. "I was so afraid you'd notice it! But it should have a full charge."
Dan reaches out and snags his backpack, never far away. He knows exactly where his phone is, tucked away in one of the very back pockets, protected for the precious but obsolete thing that it is.
It hasn't been turned on in over four months. He remembers the sinking pit in his stomach the last time they had electricity left to charge it, and what he'd been listening to when the battery drained for the last time.
He plugs the cable in to one end of the power bank, and then into his phone.
They're both holding their breath as he presses the side button.
The screen jumps to a brighter kind of dark and the little white apple pops onto the screen, and Dan starts crying again.
Phil won't let him help with any of the washing up for their midday breakfast. He tells Dan that he's contractually obligated to do nothing but lay in bed enjoying his present, and for once Dan doesn't fight it.
His phone holds over ten thousand songs. He skims his finger over the list, watching the screen move with his touch. When the screen stops moving, he taps on the song. The burst of sound is an epiphany, Frank Ocean's voice cutting through the noise and filling up his ears.
It's a perfect release. He shuts his eyes and listens.
"One more surprise," Phil says.
The sun is just starting to set. Dan hasn't turned his phone off, but he has one earbud popped out so he can talk to Phil. "If you've somehow managed to resurrect Reddit for me, then I'll know we're actually dead and this is Heaven."
"Facebook," Phil says. "And the only people using it are elderly relatives sharing memes from 2007. Tricked you, we've been in Hell all along."
Dan's face is mock horror. "Don't even joke."
"No websites," Phil says. "Just pudding."
"Pudding?" Dan sits up.
Phil reaches into his pack and pulls another tin out. He uses their can opener and peels the top back on it. "Something else I stored away. You have a good timed birthday, it goes off in a week. It's just a shame we don't have any custard, and we have to it raw. But-"
It takes Dan a second to realize that it's spotted dick, processed and preserved but still smelling sickly sweet in an almost familiar way.
"Jesus fucking Christ," Dan says, laughing. "We'll, open that the fuck up and let's celebrate."
He tips the can over and a dense, tin-molded circle of cake hits the plate with a wet sound.
He falls asleep with Perfume Genius in his ears and Phil's body warm beside him.
Chapter 7: (final circle)
"Home," Phil says, voice tinged with melancholy.
They stand in the middle of their flat. Things are just as they left them four months ago, when they realized they couldn't stay.
It's not that they hadn't wanted to. They had very much wanted to. But each trip out felt more of a risk, and the first time they heard the voices shouting for help and then the next morning saw the body of a woman on the street outside their front door they'd known the city was too dangerous.
They're back now, though. Because they only have one day left until pickup and they both needed the chance to say goodbye to the last remnant of the life they led together back before the end of the world.
"It feels strange to pack a suitcase for going away forever," Phil says. "What do you even pack?"
He's sat on their bed. The air in the flat smells stale.
"I don't know," Dan admits. "Clothes? I guess?"
They don't know what the new communities look like. All they know is that they're going to Isle of Man, and that Phil's family will be there (all of them, Dan thinks, please - please let it be all of them) and Dan’s mum as well.
They're better off than most people, Dan reckons. They've still got each other and they've still got somewhere to go.
They do pack clothes, the practical things that'll do them well through the Manx winters and stand up against the wind. Dan folds up his blanket from Bryony and slides books between the layers of clothing.
He manages twenty minutes in the bedroom on his own before he goes to find Phil. He can't help it; the past months have given him a particular sort of anxiety, a fear that if Phil's not in his line of vision then Phil will just disappear.
Phil hasn't gone anywhere, though. He's sitting on their floor with his second suitcase open, and he's -
Dan laughs. He laughs so hard he almost cries and his heart aches with how much he loves Phil and how grateful he is to not be alone. "You're packing board games?"
"I love our board games!" Phil says, pouting at him. "And we'll need things to do to pass the time."
"Well," Dan says, dropping to the floor beside Phil. "You're not wrong. Come on, I'll help you make them fit, you're always shit at packing neatly."
They sleep in their bed for one last time.
He might feel more sentimental about it if it even felt like their bed still. He thinks back to how much money they spent on the mattress, and how long he spent picking out the mirror shaped like the moon, and he thinks of their first night here.
He rolls over and wraps his arms around Phil, kissing the back of his neck.
They're both bathed clean of the sweat and dirt that accumulated on their long walk back for the last time.
He kisses again, soft presses of lips going down.
"Dan," Phil says, softly like a sigh. He turns over and his mouth finds Dan's.
Their last night.
Might as well make it count.
The bullhorn sirens start at dawn.
They know the routine by now. They’d even been there to watch the first two sets of boats take off, first to see Dan’s mum off and the next time hoping they’d be given information or updates. There was no information, just riotous behavior met with military indifference.
The sirens go off once an hour until noon, giving people time to get to get on the ferry heading out for their destination. The soldiers let on board people whose chips scanned correctly. Those without chips or whose chips failed to scan were left behind.
They lie awake side by side listening until the first round of alerts stops.
“We should go,” Dan says.
He feels Phil let out a breath. “Alright.”
Phil packs snacks.
"For the ride," he says.
His voice has that strained brightness to it.
This isn't any ferry ride. This is their salvation and their final acknowledgement that things will never go back to the way they were. They've been in limbo for a hundred days and now it's over.
If Phil wants to act like it's just a normal weekend trip to see his folks, Dan won't stop him.
"I want the sunflower seeds," Dan says.
The boat is overly full of people.
Dan and Phil sit pressed close together, their suitcases upright in front of them and backpacks tucked underneath their legs.
It's quieter than he expected, much quieter than it had been on the docks three months ago. Some people came in groups, little communities that have survived through the power of numbers and staking out safe territory. Some are stragglers, alone, shellshocked at the sight of so many people after so much solitude.
Dan thinks Phil falls into that second category. He's pale and his hands are shaking.
He has the thought that he wishes he could comfort Phil, and then he realizes there's really nothing stopping him.
They are no one, now.
He reaches over and takes Phil's hand.