Chapter 1: Level 1: The Prologue
No one expected things to happen the way they did. Quietly, with no warning, and then all at once.
Michael was in, possibly, to worst state he’s ever been in when he finally made it to Jeremy's place. He had practically burst through the front door, dashing up the stairs to Jeremy's room with heavy steps. He didn't bother knocking, throwing the door open so hard it slammed against the wall. His eyes desperately scanned the room until he finally saw Jeremy. He paused for only a second to take stock of his state of being- he looked totally fine, thank God.
Michael, on the other hand, probably looked fucked five ways from Sunday. He was definitely sweaty, and he knew he had at least a few good mud/dirt stains on his clothes from where he had previously fallen. He had even managed to rip the sleeve of his hoodie slightly, right at the elbow. He hadn't even realized that he still had the blood spattered shovel clutched in his shaking hands. The most upsetting thing about him was probably his expression of complete, unadulterated fear and desperation.
Jeremy was on his feet in an instant, by reflex. He turned around faster than ever. He hoped it was Michael, so he went ahead and guessed. “Micha–” Then he saw him. Dirty, ripped, bloody shovel in hand– “W-What the fuck?”
Michael let out a relieved breath as he practically threw himself at Jeremy, hugging him tightly. “Thank fuck you're okay.”
Jeremy’s heart was beating fast. “Wh-What’s happening?” He gulped. “This is- this is a joke, right? Y-You didn’t kill someone, did you?”
Michael jolted, pulling back to look at Jeremy with wide eyes. “Wh- No! I didn't kill anybody.” Probably. “Jeremy, something weird is going on, and it's not good. I was on my way home but I hit this traffic and I wasn't sure why none of the cars were moving- at least, until I saw–” Michael gulped. “Something bad is happening.”
“B-Bad? How bad?” Jeremy was getting scared. He’d just started his math homework, though, and this was a good distraction.
Michael didn't answer. “Where's your dad? Is he home?”
“He’s downstairs, didn’t you see him when you came in?” Jeremy’s voice started to waver. “Michael, what’s happening? You’re really scaring me. Put that shovel down.”
Michael dropped it like it burned. “I– I don't know what's happening. But I'm–” he gulped, pulling away. “Look outside, Jeremy.”
“D-Do I really want to?” Jeremy backed up so his hand was touching the blinds on the window behind him.
“No. But you need to.”
Jeremy shakily turned around, parting the blinds and peering onto the street.
For a moment, nothing happened. All Jeremy could see was his neighborhood, an old man out watering his plants across the street, some birds, someone shuffling down the sidewalk. But then, the person on the sidewalk turned towards the old man. He didn't hear them. It wasn't until the person had the man on the ground did it become clear what was going on.
Jeremy let go of the blinds and turned back around in fear. “M-Michael, i-is that guy a fucking zombie?”
Michael's eyes were terrified. “I don't know.”
Jeremy walked away from the window like he was scared of it. He approached Michael. “Wh-What happened to you, Mike? Why do you have m-mud all over you? And that shovel?!”
Michael shuddered. “I f-fell. The shovel- I just, I had to–” he took a deep breath. “It doesn't matter anymore. We need to… do… something. We can't stay here.”
“I-I’ll get my dad,” Jeremy reasoned. “Wh-Where are your moms? Are they okay?”
Michael grimaced. “I don't know. They're on a business trip.”
“Shit. Did you call them?”
“They didn't pick up.”
“Wh-What do we do, Mike?”
Michael stared at the ground. “I don't know.”
Jeremy felt awfully nauseated. His anxiety hit him in a huge wave. “Michael? I-I think I’m about to freak out.”
Michael pulled Jeremy close, holding him tightly. “I know, Jere.”
Jeremy’s breathing started picking up, faster and harder. Tears came into his eyes. “W-What’s going on?!”
Michael buried his face into Jeremy's neck. “I don't know,” he whispered.
“I-I need to get my dad, h-he needs to know about this.” Jeremy didn’t move, however. He trembled in Michael’s arms. Had he just seen someone get killed? Had Michael killed someone? He didn’t want to dwell on it. He just wanted to play a game with his best friend.
Michael took a deep breath. “I'm scared, Jeremy.”
“M-My dad’ll know what to do,” Jeremy said through heavy breaths. He was getting Michael’s shoulder wet with tears. If this was a joke, it was a damn bad one.
Michael nodded, pulling away reluctantly. “Okay.”
Jeremy wiped his eyes. Now wasn’t the time to cry. He eyed the shovel on the floor. “M-Maybe bring that.”
Michael picked it up, holding it by his side. “I’ll go first,” he muttered, stepping over to the door. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
Jeremy felt numb as he followed Michael closely, sticking right behind him.
Michael shuffled down the stairs, peeking around each corner before they made their way around them. “Mr. Heere?”
“Dad?” Jeremy asked shakily. “Are you home?”
Michael grimaced, stepping into the kitchen. “Hello?”
Jeremy started hyperventilating again. “M-Michael, he’s not here, where is he?!”
Michael gulped, pulling Jeremy's arm so that he was standing closer. “I don't know,” he breathed for the thousandth time.
Jeremy wrapped both his arms around Michael’s left one, terrified. “M-Maybe he’s in the bathroom.”
Michael carefully led them to the ground floor bathroom, knocking on the door. “Mr. Heere?”
“I-Is he in there?”
Michael frowned, cracking the door open. “Hello?”
“I-I don’t think he’s–” A loud noise cut Jeremy off.
Michael shoved Jeremy behind him protectively, holding up the shovel.
Jeremy’s father was in the bathroom. But he was standing still, looking down at a bottle of soap that had fallen, causing the sound. He didn’t respond to the boys in the doorway.
“D-Dad? W-We need to get somewhere saf–” Jeremy was cut off again as his father turned to face him suddenly.
Mr. Heere’s eyes were milky, his skin a little greyish. He stared blankly at the teens. Jeremy noticed a rip in the new pants his father had bought just the day before.
Michael paled, stepping back. “Jeremy, Don't look.”
Jeremy’s mouth was dry, the blood in his body rushing to his brain. He felt incredibly sick. “Wh-what?” he breathed.
Michael stared down the creature in front of him. “Go back to your room. Pack a bag. Do not look at this, Jeremy.”
“B-But I–” Jeremy was frozen. Nothing Michael said actually registered. His eyes were transfixed on his father’s; but were they really his father’s eyes anymore?
It took everything he had, but Jeremy backed numbly out of the bathroom.
Michael moved in.
The creature in the bathroom stared blankly at Michael, unmoving. It gave Jeremy the time to come to his senses—if only for a second—and sprint upstairs.
Michael cautiously reached for the doorknob, hoping he could get the door closed before it attacked.
Michael didn’t have the luck. It lunged at him.
“Fuck!” Michael brought the shovel up, swinging it at the zombie and managing to slam its side, pushing it back.
It didn’t let up; it didn’t seem to feel any pain. Its arms reached out to Michael, grabbing for him.
Michael ducked out of its reach, smashing it in the side and cutting into it with the metal of the shovel. It almost made him sick.
The zombie’s movements were slow, but strong. It growled, trying to pull the shovel away.
Michael took a deep breath, yanking the shovel back. He shut his eyes as he swung it forward again, stabbing directly into its rib cage.
It screamed deafeningly, struggling, but went limp. It still twitched; most likely still alive. But for now it was incapacitated.
Michael yanked the shovel free, slamming the door closed and jamming it with a chair. He turned, running up to Jeremy's room.
Jeremy had managed to get a bag from his closet, but now he was on his knees in the middle of his bedroom floor, in shock and on the verge of sobbing.
Michael's heart twisted as he locked the door, shuffling over. He crouched down beside him. “Jere?”
Jeremy’s eyes were wide and his hands covered his mouth. A choked noise came from his throat. He was paler than ever.
Michael held his arms out. “Hug?”
Jeremy wasn’t sure he could move. He gulped, but the next thing he remembered was clutching onto Michael with his whole body shaking, crying into his friend’s shoulder.
Michael soothed him as best he could, rocking him back and forth as he ran his fingers through the boy’s hair. “I know, buddy. Let it out.”
Jeremy yelled in anguish. He hadn’t even left the house and it was already too much for him. “M-My– Th-That was– M-My dad j-just– He just b-bought those p-pants!”
Michael grimaced as his own eyes teared up. He sniffled, pulling Jeremy impossibly closer.
Jeremy didn’t say anything else. He dug his nails into Michael’s back as he cried. Was his dad really gone? Already? The last family member that ever cared about him? That scream from downstairs broke him. He’d never heard a sound like that come from his father.
“I'm sorry,” Michael murmured, pressing his face into Jeremy's hair.
A broken sob escaped Jeremy’s throat. He wanted everything to stop. He wanted to catch up. What the hell was even going on?! He knew he was getting Michael’s shirt wetter than before, but he couldn’t pull himself away.
Michael let Jeremy cry himself out for who knows how long, pressed together in the middle of Jeremy's room for what could have been hours.
A sound from downstairs startled Jeremy out of his emotional state for a moment. He knew what it was. He pulled his face—wet and snotty—away from Michael’s shoulder. “W-We need to leave,” he said, voice scratchy and insistent. “Now.”
Michael hesitated, looking from Jeremy to the room they were in. “Yeah,” he muttered. “We probably should.”
Jeremy gulped, sniffing. “Please.”
Michael took a deep breath, giving Jeremy one last squeeze before pulling away and helping him to his feet. “Did you pack everything you need?”
“N-No,” Jeremy whimpered. “I didn’t pack a-anything.”
Michael nodded, still pressing him into his side. “We need to do that, then.”
Jeremy sniffled. “I-I don’t know what we would even– H-How?”
“Clothes and anything that might come in handy or that you can't live without.”
“H-Hold the bag open for me,” Jeremy said.
Michael nodded, doing just that.
Jeremy frantically began throwing shirts and pants and other clothing into the bag. Once that was done, he started with sentimental things like the tickets to his and Michael’s first concert and the DS Michael had given him years ago. He hesitated to throw in a framed picture of his father and himself, but he tossed it in anyway. He stepped back, still shaking. “I-Is that good?”
Michael nodded zipping it up carefully. “We need to grab some food and stop by my house. I need to get some stuff.”
“C-Can we hurry?” Jeremy’s voice was becoming broken again. “Please?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah, buddy, of course. We need to get out of here.” He gulped. Where they were going to go, though, he had no idea.
Jeremy didn’t care where they were going. He just wanted to leave. He wanted to figure out what the fuck was happening. But he also didn’t. He did want Michael to carry him, though. He felt weak. He’d never admit that however. Friends didn’t just carry each other. He put on a brave face, which wasn’t much different from his terrified one. “L-Let’s go.”
Michael gulped, nodding. He made his way to the door but then paused, his hand on the knob. “Hey, Jeremy?”
Jeremy’s eyes were wide and scared. “W-What’s wrong?”
Michael bit his lip thoughtfully. “I just- In case anything happens-” Michael’s face burned and he looked slightly frustrated. After a second of internal struggle, he leaned forward, pressing his lips to Jeremy's.
Jeremy froze, his eyes impossibly widening. Was Michael okay? Was he really kissing him? But why? Jeremy didn’t return the kiss, but he didn’t lean away either.
Michael eventually pulled away, staring at the ground. “I’m sorry. I had to do that at least once,” he laughed pitifully. “I won’t do it again, if you don’t want.”
Jeremy didn’t understand. It was one bombshell after another. This one would have to wait. Although his face burned red, he cleared his throat and said, instead of responding, “We need to go.”
Michael nodded, shoving away his encroaching anxiety. “Right. Um, stay close, okay?”
Jeremy nodded. He kept himself directly behind Michael.
They made it to Michael’s house without any bother, slamming the door and locking all of its locks once they were inside. “Jesus. We’re fine here for a while, I think. But we shouldn’t hang around for more than a day, if I’ve learned anything from TV and Video games.”
Jeremy was already close to another breakdown. “I-Is this really happening, Mike? A-A real zombie apocalypse?”
Michael took a deep breath, throwing his shovel down onto the floor and running a hand through his hair. “Looks like it,” he muttered.
That wasn’t what Jeremy wanted to hear. He sank in on himself. “I-I don’t believe it. I never wanted– All those games– They weren’t supposed to be real, Micah.”
Michael gave him a sad look. “I know, Jere. No one wanted this.” His gaze dropped to the floor.
“W-Will we even make it?”
Michael’s head whipped up. “Of course we will! I won’t let anything happen to you, Jeremy. I swear.”
Jeremy looked him in the eye. “Is that why you kissed me?”
Michael paled, blinking. “Huh? What do you mean?”
“S-Sorry, I don’t know how my thought process got to that,” Jeremy muttered. Really, he’d just been waiting for a chance to bring it up, if he realized it or not.
Michael bit his lip. “Why do you think I kissed you?”
“To distract me?”
Michael shook his head. “That's not why.”
“I-I don’t understand, Mike.”
Michael sighed, leaning back against the wall defeatedly. “I did it because I like you, Jeremy. Have for a while. I just figured that if the goddamn world is ending I may as well take a chance.”
Jeremy scoffed. “So you decided to– At the worst possible time?! Michael, my dad is a fucking zombie!”
Michael winced, closing his eyes. “I know! I know it was shit timing and I know it was a shit idea! I'm painfully aware! I'm sorry! I just figured–” he cut himself off as he pushed himself off of the wall, turning away from Jeremy and striding away down the hallway. “I won't make the mistake again, okay? I got the message loud and clear. I won't do it again.”
Jeremy watched him go in anger. Michael was right; the world was ending—as far as they knew. He wouldn’t let Michael guilt trip him. He stood in the doorway feeling numb and frustrated. It didn’t even matter if it was a kiss or not, or who liked who. Jeremy’s only concern was his father, and even if he hadn’t meant it, Michael tried to take that away from him. A dark place in his mind started to wonder if they’d be able to survive like this.
Chapter 2: Level 2: The Night
Michael ended up locking himself in his mother's office for about three hours. In that time, he paced around the room internally beating himself up. What was he thinking? Could he have been any more insensitive? God, he was such a stupid asshole. Jeremy must hate him now. Eventually though, he emerged to go start sorting through his things and see what he needed to pack.
Jeremy hadn’t moved much from the doorframe in the hallway since Michael stormed off. He’d slid down the wall to sit on the floor, but he felt like he’d puke every time he tried to move more than that. Finally, though, he could hear Michael coming back around.
As Michael headed down to his room, he paused as his eyes caught on Jeremy, still sitting in the entrance of the house. Michael frowned, a mixture of guilt, worry, and sadness stabbing him in the chest. He hesitated, speaking softly. “Jeremy? Are you okay?”
“No,” came Jeremy’s weak, sad reply.
Michael's heart twisted. “Do you- Can I touch you?”
Jeremy didn’t look up. “Okay.”
Michael shuffled over, cautiously lifting Jeremy up into his arms and cradling him to his chest. He carried him down into his bedroom, carefully laying him down on the bed. He stepped back, giving him space. “What do you need?”
Jeremy curled in on himself in a ball. He stared straight ahead. “T-To wake up. From this nightmare.”
Michael felt like crying for him. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, staring at the ground. “I'm so sorry, Jeremy. I want to wake up too.”
“M-Maybe we will soon.” Jeremy gulped. “H-Have you seen any news?”
Michael shook his head. “They haven't said anything about it. It's like they're just trying to ignore it or something.”
“What?!” Jeremy uncurled a little. “How could they not say anything?! Not even a ‘stay inside’?!”
Michael grimaced. “I don't know. It's fucked up.”
“Mike– I’m so scared,” Jeremy whimpered.
Michael's heart twisted again, but he didn't let himself give into his own wishes. He stayed where he was. Jeremy probably didn't want to touch him, anyway. “Me too, buddy. This is shit.” He wished he could hug him.
“G-Get up here,” Jeremy said. He reached an arm out.
Michael, although surprised, did as instructed. He took Jeremy's hand, holding it tightly as he climbed up into the bed with him.
Jeremy shakily melted into Michael’s warmth. He needed it. He was comfortable. “I-I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he whispered. “That’s not gonna help us survive.”
Michael let out a slightly pained laugh. “It's okay. I deserved it,” he held Jeremy close. “I shouldn't have- I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry. It was selfish and stupid.’’
“P-Please don’t say those things,” Jeremy said. “J-Just relax with me, please?”
Michael was confused, but nodded. “Okay,” he agreed, burying his face in Jeremy's hair.
Jeremy closed his eyes, trying not to cry again. “I’m glad you’re here with me.”
Michael let out a shaky breath. “I'm so glad you're okay.”
“T-Thanks for saving me.”
Michael was quiet for a second. “I’ll always be there for you. As long as you want me.”
“Please don’t leave.”
Jeremy pulled Michael closer. “You’re so soft.”
Michael chuckled, pulling the blankets on his bed closer around the pair of them. “It comes with my love for food.”
“I like it,” Jeremy whispered. “Can we go to sleep?”
“Yeah buddy,” Michael murmured. “We can go to sleep.”
“Thanks,” Jeremy said weakly. He hoped they’d wake up.
Michael woke up five hours later, feeling very groggy. There was a minute where he didn't remember anything, and he simply felt warm and content with Jeremy curled up in his arms. But then it all came rushing back like a horrible wave. Jesus. They needed to figure something out. They needed to find somewhere safe. They couldn't stay here forever. They would run out of food. He didn't notice Jeremy stirring in his arms as he thought.
Jeremy whimpered as he woke up, snuggling farther into Michael’s warm embrace. He didn’t want to get up. He felt like he was dreading something.
Michael was curled around Jeremy protectively, holding him tightly. His attention was drawn by the sound he made, making Michael look down at him. God, he was beautiful.
The blankets had shifted during their nap, so Jeremy was cold. He sank back into Michael, searching for more heat. He whimpered again, trying to get back to sleep.
Michael almost felt like crying. Why did this have to happen? Why couldn't they just be happy? Of all the fucked up things life had thrown at the pair of them, the goddamn apocalypse was obviously the worst. He just wanted to be happy with the boy he loved.
Jeremy didn’t get his second chance at sleep. His eyes cracked open. “Micah…?”
Michael automatically curled tighter around him. “Hey, Jerm,” he whispered.
Jeremy was a little out of it. “What’s goin’ on?”
Michael gulped. “Nothing.”
Jeremy let out a sigh. “Thank god.”
Michael took a deep breath. “How are you feeling?”
“A-A little weird. I had a really freaky dream.”
Michael frowned. “Jeremy… that probably wasn't a dream.” He hated that he had to tell him this.
Jeremy’s throat nearly closed, his face paling. “W-What? Y-You said nothing was– You said–”
Michael shushed him soothingly, trying to keep him calm. “I meant– nothing is happening right now specifically.” God damn it Michael, you upset him again.
“I– But– Oh, god, Mike, we’re gonna die here.” Jeremy was about to cry again.
“Hey, Hey,” Michael sat up, pulling Jeremy into his lap and turning his face up to face him. “We are not going to die here. I won't let anything happen to you, okay? I promised, remember? I meant it. Nothing's gonna hurt you.”
Jeremy’s teary eyes watched Michael closely. He nodded absently. “R-Right, I-I trust you,” he whispered. He hoped that was the right choice.
Michael smiled reassuringly, kissing Jeremy's forehead. “I'll keep you safe, no matter what.”
“I-I’d die for you, you know,” Jeremy said softly.
Michael chuckled slightly. “See, talk like that is what makes people fall in love with you, Jere.”
Jeremy’s face hardened. “Uh huh,” he deadpanned.
Michael tensed, paling as he realised what he said. “Shit.” He started untangling himself from Jeremy.
Jeremy didn’t help him, but he also didn’t stop him. He stayed still, staring ahead, getting used to being awake. “I’m hungry,” he said, changing the subject.
Michael shuffled over to the door, not looking back, “I’ll make food,” he muttered, body feeling numb. Fuck! He fucked it up again! He paused in the doorway, still not looking back. “I’d die for you any day, Jere. Just- so you know.” He hurried out of the room.
Jeremy sat back on the bed. He shoved all his guilt to the back of his mind. He couldn’t deal with that now. It could wait along with his grief. What mattered at the moment was finding somewhere to go. They could talk about their feelings later. Jeremy made the mistake of peering out the window again, eyes locking on the sidewalk outside, blood everywhere. He shuddered and closed the blinds. He hugged his knees to his chest. Michael probably didn’t want him to follow him anyway.
Michael returned twenty minutes later, plate in hand. “Leftover pizza good with you?”
Jeremy swallowed, his throat sore. “Y-yeah, it always is.”
Michael handed him the plate, dropping a can of soda onto the bedside table. He sighed, heading over to his closet to pull out a medium sized duffel bag. “God.”
“S-So we have electricity, yeah? That’s good,” Jeremy said, trying to make conversation. He opened the can with a fizz.
“Yeah, for now,” Michael grunted, grabbing some clothes to shove into his bag. “We better charge up all batteries while we have the chance, though. Just in case.”
Jeremy nodded, reaching for Michael’s phone charger. “You’re packing your memories, right?” he asked in a quiet, unsure voice. “O-Our stuff together?”
Michael paused, the tenseness in his shoulders dropping momentarily. “Of course I am,” he muttered. “How could I not?” Michael's heart hurt. He reached into his pants pocket, pulling out his key ring. He didn't have many keys- just his car key, house key, and a spare key to Jeremy's house, and one more that belonged to a small metal lockbox that he kept his most important things in. He pulled the box key from the ring.
Jeremy watched blearily. “What’s that?”
Michael grunted, reaching up into his closet the pull out the small hidden box. It only had a few things in it, some movie/concert tickets, the Magik the Gathering card from Jeremy, a picture of his mothers and one of the photo strips from a mall photo booth that him and Jeremy had gotten on a whim. He made sure it was locked, slipping it into his bag. “I can't lose this key.”
“S-Special box?” Jeremy hadn’t seen it before.
“Yeah.” Michael sighed. “Okay. We can do this. We’ve play a thousand games with this scenario. What do we need,” he seemed to be talking to no one in particular. “Water, food, weapons. Those are the basics, right? And then, like, other stuff. Like, uh.. a lighter? Can opener? Fuck.”
“Yeah,” Jeremy croaked. “First aid?”
Michael nodded. “Right, yes, first aid is important.” Michael gulped. “We can get all of that shit in a little while. Do you wanna stay here for the night? I think we should try going to the school since it has that shelter underneath it? I bet there's other people there, maybe we can get some information or something.”
“I-Is it safe here at night, Micah?” Jeremy felt nauseated again.
Michael bit his lip. “It should be. Everything is locked and I don't think they’ll pay us any attention as long as we keep quiet.”
“R-Right. I-I want to stay here.”
Michael hesitated. “Hey, listen, if it's gonna make you uncomfortable for me to sleep in the same room as you or whatever I can sleep somewhere else. Or you can, if you don't want to stay in here.” Michael didn't want his feelings to hurt their relationship any more than they already had.
Jeremy met his eyes. “M-Mike, I’m not uncom–We just swore to stick together!” he remembered. “You’re willing to leave me already?”
Michael's eyes widened. “What- No! I'm not leaving you, I just figured that with everything– Look, I just don't want to mess up any more than I already have, y'know?’
“Please don’t leave my sight, Michael,” Jeremy pleaded.
Michael softened, nodding. “Alright. If that's what you want.”
Jeremy gulped. He wasn’t sure what was going on with himself, but he nodded too. “It is.”
Michael nodded again. “Okay,” he reassured. He bent down, slipping the box key into his shoe. “Do you wanna take a bath? I don't know when we'll next be able to, y’know. I can wait outside the door, if you want.”
Jeremy’s face contorted. “I probably should, huh?” he reasoned. “You’re dirty too, do you wanna go first?”
Michael shrugged. “I can wait.”
“Yeah, it's fine you can go first.”
Jeremy weakly stood up. “I-I’ll hurry.”
Michael gave him a smile, weak but reassuring. “You can take as long as you need, dude.”
Jeremy only took nine minutes. He went as fast as he could, since every minute in a room alone felt more agonizingly terrifying than the last. He came out with wet hair. “Your turn,” he said quietly, afraid to make too much noise.
Michael frowned slightly. “Your hair's wet. You'll get sick.”
“Wh-What?” Jeremy questioned. “I sleep with wet hair all the time.”
“But it's winter. It gets cold at night.” Michael paused, holding up a finger as he grabbed a towel from the bathroom, coming back to drop it onto Jeremy's head. “It's still, like, dripping. Jeez.” Michael brought his hands up, gently rubbing at Jeremy's hair with the towel to dry up as much excess water as he could.
Jeremy flinched, but didn’t make an effort to get away. “Stop, Mike, I’m fine. It’s one night. It’s really the least of our worries, huh?”
Michael scoffed lightly. “Jerm, your health is literally my number one concern right now.”
“I can handle myself! Or– well– I can handle one night.”
Michael laughed softly. “Just let me do this one thing, okay?” He finished drying Jeremy's hair as much as he could, pulling the towel away with a smile. “There. Much better.” He gave him a crooked smile, before biting his lip. “Are you sure you'll be okay out here on your own?”
Jeremy tried to fix his hair, which seemed insistent on staying stuck up in every direction. “A-As long as you hurry,” he whispered.
Michael nodded. “I will. And hey, don't worry, dude. We’re safe, okay? Nothing's gonna hurt you here. I promise. If you need to, like, come in or anything I’ll leave the door unlocked. I don't mind.”
Jeremy nodded in understanding. “O-Okay. I think I’ll be okay.”
Michael shuffled into the bathroom. “Five minutes, tops.”
“Y-You can take longer than that, you know.”
“Five minutes.” Michael closed the door softly.
Jeremy gulped. He stared at the bathroom door.
Michael got done in about five minutes, like he said. He came out with a towel on his head and glasses slightly foggy.
Relieved, Jeremy sighed. “How’d you do it so fast?”
Michael shrugged. “I'm efficient.”
“Guess so,” Jeremy mumbled. “Can we go to sleep now?”
“Yeah. Let's do a once over and make sure everything is locked first, though. Just to be safe.”
Jeremy gasped a little. “I didn’t even think of that.”
Michael hummed. “Stay quiet and away from any uncovered windows, okay?”
“Carry me,” Jeremy whined.
Michael rolled his eyes, smiling. He turned around, kneeling down. “Get on, then.”
Jeremy shakily climbed onto Michael’s back. He rarely ever did this anymore. Only when he was incredibly scared or incapable of walking.
Michael hooked his arms under Jeremy's legs, holding him in place as he got back to his feet. “Good?”
Jeremy hummed in content. “S-Sorry, I just don’t think I can–” He didn’t finish. Michael knew.
Michael shuffled down the hall carefully. “It's okay.”
Jeremy watched the floor go by. Whenever they got to a window or a door, he pointed to it, trying to be as helpful as possible.
Eventually, they got through them all and then headed back to Michael’s room.
“Sleep now?” Jeremy whispered.
“Yeah, buddy.” Michael turned around, letting Jeremy climb off of his back and onto the bed.
Jeremy felt weak and childish. He’d really have to apologize properly to Michael soon. He curled instantly into a small ball on the bed.
Michael crawled in next to him, not quite touching him. He wasn't sure what he was allowed to do now. He had basically told Jeremy how he felt and then instantly gotten rejected, after all.
Jeremy stretched his leg out, his foot grazing Michael’s calf in a hopefully constant reminder of his presence for the night. Jesus. They were screwed.
Michael leaned over to click the lamp on his bedside table off, hugging his pillow to himself as he settled back down. He wished it was Jeremy instead.
Chapter 3: Level 3: The Escape
Michael woke up first. He found himself clinging to Jeremy, arms wrapped around him tightly. He was too tired to care.
Jeremy’s sleepy expression was frozen into one of worry. His breathing, despite him being fast asleep, was uneven. He was cuddled snugly in Michael’s arms.
Michael looked down at him with a slight grimace, one hand moving to carefully thread through his hair to try and soothe him.
Jeremy leaned into Michael’s touch subconsciously. He made a whining sound akin to a whimper. He didn’t wake up.
Michael continued trying to calm Jeremy as best he could. “Hey,” he whispered. “Wake up, buddy.”
Jeremy’s eyes squeezed tighter, but he twitched, pulled from his slumber.
“Hey,” Michael repeated. “You okay? Bad dream?”
Jeremy’s nose scrunched up. “Huh?” He remembered his surroundings. “O-oh. Yeah.”
Michael didn't move away just yet. “Wanna talk about it?”
Jeremy was silent for a while. “No.”
Michael frowned. “Are you sure?”
Jeremy only nodded. He didn’t want to talk about his dad.
Michael grimaced slightly, but relented. He sighed, glancing at the covered window. “We should probably get up,” he sighed.
“W-Where were we going, again?” came Jeremy’s weak voice.
“R-Right, I forgot,” Jeremy mumbled. He didn’t feel ready to see more people.
“Are you okay?”
“Mike, I don’t think I’m gonna be okay ever again.”
Michael winced, hugging Jeremy. “Don't– Don't say that. Just because things are a little fucked up now doesn't mean everything is lost, right? We still have each other.”
“Just because we have each other doesn’t mean I’m okay.”
“I know. I'm sorry.” Michael felt like crying.
“I-I don’t think any amount of sorries from anyone is enough. You don’t have to apologize. W-We should get going.”
Michael nodded, pulling away. “Okay.” He felt like shit.
“A-Are we driving?”
Michael grimaced. “Loud.”
“Walking is…not ideal.”
“I… I don't know, Jeremy. I don't know what I'm doing.” Michael thought he might have his own breakdown soon. He missed his mothers. They'd been away for a week, and now he might never see them again.
Jeremy looked at his hands. “I-I know, sorry.” He knew he couldn’t keep relying on Michael to make all the decisions.
Michael shook his head. “No, Don't apologise, just–” Michael huffed. “Let's work this out. If this were a video game, what would be the safest route? How would we try to travel?”
“Q-Quickly but quietly, right?”
Michael nodded. “By foot?”
“S-Still not ideal,” Jeremy complained.
“But it might be our best option. Can you think of anything better?”
“...We ride our Razor scooters.”
Michael paused. “Upsettingly enough I thought the same thing.”
“You’re kidding,” Jeremy scoffed. “That was a joke!”
Michael pouted. “That's why I didn't say it!”
“C-Could it work though?”
Michael was thoughtful before he snapped out of it, shaking his head. “Wh- no! Those things make noise anyway.”
Jeremy sat quietly for a minute. “I think it could work.”
Michael grimaced. “Jeremy, we don't even know where those things are and we also have to be able to carry weapons and shit.”
“I just don’t want to walk, Micah!” Jeremy defended.
“I'll carry you.”
Jeremy let out a half-scoff. “Michael, seriously.”
Michael didn't seem like he was joking. “I will.”
“Wouldn’t that be difficult?”
Michael just shrugged.
“What about our—our bags?”
Michael shrugged again. “You carry them, I carry you?”
Jeremy stared at him. “You’re actually serious, aren’t you?”
Michael nodded. “100%”
“Any other options?”
“I dunno, can you think of anything other than razor scooters?”
“Can I ever? I’m always thinking about razor scooters.”
Michael nodded understandingly. “Who isn't, honestly.”
“I guess this is our best bet?”
Michael hummed. “I guess. We should finish getting all of our stuff together.” He paused. “You need a weapon.”
“A-A weapon?” Michael was right. “I don’t think I can use one if I tried,” Jeremy admitted.
Michael frowned. “I know, Jeremy, but you need something. I can't morally let you out there without any kind of defense.”
“W-Well you have a shovel. I could use, like, a hoe? A gardening hoe!” Jeremy had to clarify for his own dignity.
Michael hummed. “I guess that would work, but you don't have to stick with gardening tools.”
Jeremy scoffed. “If we’re gonna be a team, we have to have a theme. We gotta match, Mike. It’s the rules.”
Michael laughed. “Our theme is gardening?”
“You picked it!”
Michael snorted, rolling his eyes. “Fine. Just go get your clothes on.”
“Do I gotta?”
“Yes, Jerm. Go on.”
Jeremy pouted, but stood weakly and went off to complete his task.
Michael finished gathering necessary supplies, packing preparedly but still keeping it light.
When Jeremy came back, he also had Michael’s family’s gardening hoe. It hadn’t moved from where they’d left it in the fourth grade when they’d tried to make a garden.
Michael handed him the bag. “You ready?”
Jeremy gripped the bag tightly. “We’re leaving whether I’m ready or not, aren’t we?”
“Sorry. We have to.”
“Let’s just go.”
Michael knelt down, waiting for Jeremy.
Jeremy hesitated. “You’re sure about this?”
“Yuh-huh. Get on, Cowboy.”
“Don’t call me that.” Jeremy carefully climbed onto Michael’s back. It had been years since they’d done this. It felt familiar yet embarrassing.
Michael cracked a smile, hooking his arms under Jeremy's legs. He shuffled over to the window beside the door, peeking through it. “I don't see anything out there, so it's probably a good enough time to head out.”
Jeremy nodded. “Y-Yeah, just get this over with. It’s not a short walk.”
Michael grunted, grabbing his shovel from beside the door and handing it to Jeremy. “I know. Be on the lookout, okay?”
“Uh huh.” Jeremy took a deep breath. He felt about to cry again, but did his best to keep it down.
Michael gulped, taking one last look around his house before opening the door and stepping outside. Now or never.
Jeremy instantly clutched the shovel tighter, shrinking in against Michael. The air already smelled stale. He could tell the stains on the road were blood. Did it all happen that quickly? Nevermind that. Their priority was getting to the school. He kept an eye out for any movements around them and listened hard for signs of life—or death.
Michael knew that the walk to the school would take at least an hour, so he moved as quickly and quietly as possible. He had to take a couple breaks, but never for long. They spotted a couple distant people, but they couldn't be sure if they were alive or not so they had to make detours, making the trip even longer.
Jeremy’s hands felt weak from his tight grip on the bag and the shovel. Eventually, he straightened up and whispered right into Michael’s ear, “The school!” He could see it over the top of a strip mall.
Michael nodded, gulping. “Look,” he muttered, jerking his chin towards a distant crowd of people. The way they were walking gave away the fact that they weren't alive. “That's a lot.”
Jeremy felt sick. “U-Um, is it too late to turn back?”
Michael frowned. “The only way is around the mall.”
“I don’t– I– Mike, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Michael hesitated. “Me too.”
“Th-Those are people we know, Micah, I– I can’t do this.” Jeremy could feel his panic rising.
Michael grimaced, eyeing the crowd. “There has to be a way to get around, right?”
“I-I think through is the way.”
“Yeah but like a different way.”
“I’m not seeing one.”
Michael grunted, heading away from the crowd. “We’ll try going around.”
“I don’t think–” Jeremy let it go. “O-Okay.”
Michael carefully switched routes, heading off down a side road that lead around the back of the mall.
Jeremy kept his guard up, not sure what to expect. He was afraid to breathe too loudly; they might be heard, or maybe they wouldn’t hear someone sneak up on them. It seemed quiet so far.
Michael made it about half way before they ran into trouble.
Chapter 4: Level 4: The School
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.” Michael swore under his breath, taking a step back and carefully lowering Jeremy off his back. “Shovel,” he called quietly, eyes never leaving the creature in from of him.
Jeremy gulped, shoving the tool into Michael’s hand instantly, terrified. He stayed behind Michael, but felt guilty for making him do all the work so far. Still, he couldn’t make himself make a move if he wanted to.
“Fuck.” Michael swore as a second zombie appeared out behind a dumpster. And then a third. “Jeremy,” he called. “I need you to go, okay? I’ll hold them off. You run and get somewhere safe. I'm right behind you, okay?”
Jeremy tore his eyes away from the monster in front of them. “Wh– What?! Leave you?! I- I don’t even know where to– I can’t just run, Michael!” He was already close to panic.
“I'm right behind you. We can't fight three of these, I could barely handle one. Running is our only option. But I need you to go first so that I can have your back.”
“Where?!” Jeremy squealed.
Michael yelped as one lunged at him. “We’ll figure it out, just go! You can do this, Jeremy.”
Jeremy was about to cry, but that wouldn’t help Michael. He dug his feet into the dirt and took off running as fast as his legs could take him, past Michael and the zombies. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be stopping any time soon.
Michael knocked the creature back, causing it to tumble into its friends. He shoved the lot of them back into a brick wall before turning to follow after Jeremy. Fuck, maybe he was faster than Michael realized.
Jeremy didn’t slow down. He was lucky nothing was in front of him, because he didn’t think he could stop if he tried. He wanted to turn around to see if Michael was behind him, but his legs were going too fast. Hopefully they were fine.
Michael ended up catching Jeremy as he turned a corner, grabbing him tightly in his arms. “Jeremy! Stop, hey, it's me, we’re okay! They're back there! We're safe!”
Jeremy’s legs kept trying to run for a moment before stopping and going nearly limp. “W-We’re safe?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah, bud. I had your back, we’re good.”
“Y-You didn’t get hurt?” Jeremy asked, out of breath.
“No, I’m okay. You did really good, buddy.”
Jeremy nodded slowly. “Where are we– Where are we going?”
“School. It's only twenty more minutes, yeah?” Michael slowly loosened his grip on Jeremy.
“B-But there’s gonna be more of them,” Jeremy complained.
“Yeah, but it's either that or turning back.”
Jeremy contemplated it. “We’ve come all this way,” he said. “We can’t turn back.”
Michael nodded, finally releasing Jeremy completely. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Keep moving forward, right? Just like a side scroller.”
“Right,” Jeremy murmured. He took a few steps, but stopped to wait for Michael, too nervous to move any further.
Michael took the lead, grabbing Jeremy's hand to keep him close. “Are you okay?”
“Just a little shaken I guess,” Jeremy mumbled.
Michael nodded understandingly.
“The school better be worth it,” Jeremy said under his breath as they walked.
Michael took a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. “I hope so.”
Jeremy had started lugging the bags on the ground, dragging them along, about two minutes into walking. It wasn't even a long walk from the strip mall to the school, but they had to be extremely careful. Surprisingly, no more unexpected attacks threw them off balance. “There it is!” Jeremy observed, stating the obvious, but too tired to care.
Michael nodded, taking the bags from Jeremy. “We need to get in. There's an entrance around the back, near the principal's office.”
“I know that place!” Jeremy replied. “It’s where my dad picks me up when– I guess picked me up…” He cleared his throat, but lowered his voice as if ashamed. “When I had breakdowns in the nurse's office.”
Michael squeezed Jeremy's hand in reassurance. “We’ll try there. The front doors are boarded up. That means there has to be people in there!”
“Which means we’re saved! Right?” Jeremy looked up at Michael in hope.
“Right,” Michael murmured. “C’mon.” He tugged Jeremy's hand lightly.
Jeremy gave in to Michael's pulling. He kept his steps quiet.
They scurried around to the side of the school quickly. “Who do you think is in there? Any of our friends?”
“I dunno. I sure hope so. Christine...A-All of them.” Jeremy cleared his throat but said no more.
Michael hummed. “Yeah. I hope they're safe.”
“I feel like they are.”
Michael nodded. “Me too. They know how to handle themselves.”
“Rich and Jake at least. And Jenna. I hope they found the others.”
Michael nodded again. “Ah, the door.” It had a padlock on it, securing it shut. “Shit.”
“J-Just knock?” Jeremy offered.
Michael grimaced, glancing around. He knocked loudly, bouncing on his heels worriedly. No answer.
“Uh.” Jeremy kicked the door hard.
Nothing. Michael frowned. “The sound is gonna-” he was cut off at the sound of a dull shuffling behind them. Michael turned, locking eyes with a zombie limping towards them. “Fuck.” He grabbed his shovel, lifting it up to bang against the lock, trying to break it off.
Jeremy kept facing the creature. “Mike? Might wanna hurry!” This one seemed a little more capable than the others they’d encountered.
Michael grunted, his shovel scraping crudely against the metal. He tried again, putting his weight behind it. The lock snapped open, Michael fumbling to get it off.
“Oh, god, Michael,” Jeremy muttered in recognition. “That’s the fucking principal! Get us in already! He’ll expel us from life!”
“Ah!” Michael yelped as he cut his finger on the metal in his rush, throwing the lock to the ground and banging the door open. “Go!”
Jeremy took the opportunity and ran inside.
Michael followed, slamming the door shut and holding it closed. “Find something to block it!”
Jeremy frantically searched, finally finding an office chair next to the door, locking its wheels, and shoving it in front of the latch.
Michael pulled away from the door. “Let's get fucking rolling dude, we don't know if that's gonna hold.”
“It was the best thing I could find!” Jeremy defended. “Just– Come on!” Fueled by adrenaline and fear, he grabbed Michael’s wrist and pulled him down the hall.
Michael glanced behind him at the rattling door the the creature presumably banged on it. “No wonder they didn't let us in when we knocked.”
“I guess that’s a good thing,” Jeremy said, still looking ahead.
Michael gulped, pulling Jeremy into the boys bathroom. He carefully checked each stall, pulling Jeremy into the handicap one once he was sure they were alone.
“What are you doing?” Jeremy asked. “Shouldn’t we be looking for people?”
“We need to think. We can't just run around blindly. I don't know about you but I haven't seen anyone yet.”
“They’re hiding because they heard their lock get broken!”
Michael huffed. “They're probably all down in the shelter! But I don't know how to get down there! They never told us, remember? They thought kids would use it to have sex during class.”
“We could scream ‘HEY IS ANYONE ALIVE’ until they hear us!”
“Or the zombies hear us.”
“How do we get down there? Any ideas?”
“We ruthlessly break in!”
Michael snorted, rolling his eyes. “Gotta find the entrance first, dummy. It's gotta be one of the maintenance closets, right?”
“I thought it was a basement?” Jeremy was confused.
“Yeah but there has to be stairs somewhere.”
“The door that says stairs!”
“Where is that?!”
“There’s a metal door down the hall a little ways.”
“What the fuck?! I never noticed?”
“How stupid am I?!”
“Probably. Should we check there?” Jeremy bit his lip.
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
“Great, let’s get moving!”
Michael nodded, unlocking the stall door. “I guess you have to lead the way, huh?”
“Me?” Jeremy froze.
“I don't know where it is.”
“Down the hall!”
Michael sighed. “Jeremy,” he grabbed his hand. “I'm right here, okay? I'm not going anywhere. You can do this. I'll always have your back.”
Jeremy breathed deeply. “O-Okay, fine. Jerk.” He squeezed Michael’s hand hard and brought them out into the hallway.
Michael stuck close, eyes searching for any signs of danger.
Jeremy kept tightening his grip on Michael’s hand as they made their way down the hall. He knew his palm was sweaty, but he also knew Michael wouldn’t say anything about it. Finally, they reached the door. “Here it is.”
Michael edged closer, trying the door knob. Locked. “I don't know what we expected.”
“Try the knocking again?” Jeremy whispered. “Like in a pattern so they know we’re, uh, alive?”
Michael frowned, knocking on the heavy metal door. Nothing. “Fuck.”
“B-Beat the lock off?”
Michael opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off when a loud scream echoed down the hall. Michael's eyes widened. “That sounded like Brooke!” He flipped around. “We have to help her!”
“What?! Where’d it come from?!” Jeremy spun in circles.
“This way!” Michael tugged Jeremy's down the hall, in the direction they their math class used to be. “She's gotta be here somewhere, start checking rooms!”
Jeremy didn’t want to let go of Michael. “W-We can check rooms together!”
Michael didn't have time to argue. “Brooke?!” Maybe she would hear them?
Jeremy called out too. “Hello?!” He looked in the windows of the doors they passed.
A cry rang out from a nearby room. “Help!”
“Brooke?!” Jeremy pulled Michael toward the sound.
Michael yanked the door open. Inside they saw Brooke, precariously balanced on a stack of chairs, two zombies rapidly nearing. “Brooke!”
“Michael, your shovel!” Jeremy yelled. “Hit ‘em in the head!”
Michael yelped, slamming one of them. It stumbled, and the other one turned to them.
“Oh shit,” Jeremy mumbled. He already had his hoe in hand, but he didn’t know if he could bring himself to use it.
“Fuck- Jeremy!” Michael bashed the one that was approaching Jeremy, knocking it back as well. The first one recovered quickly from its initial blow.
“I don’t know what to do!” Jeremy shrieked. He held his weapon tightly, staring at the creatures.
Michael swung again, barely clipping one of them. “Hit them!”
Jeremy instantly swung the gardening tool, whacking the other zombie hard in the side of the head. “Woah!”
The zombie stumbled, moving slower this time once it recovered. Michael smashed the other one, knocking it down again. “Yes! Like that!”
“Until their health is at zero!” Jeremy cried. It was a lot easier to think of this as a video game. He brought his weapon down on the creature again.
“Exactly!” Michael had to close his eyes when he swung at his zombie again, bashing its head in.
A few more hits, and Jeremy’s foe was bested. “Hah! I did it!”
Michael grinned, giving him a high five. “Nice, dude! You did it!”
Jeremy’s smile didn’t go away. “Wait, Brooke!”
Brooke was staring at them, wide eyed. “Jeremy? Michael? Is it really you?”
Jeremy didn’t answer her. “Are you okay?!”
“Please help me down!”
Jeremy threw his weapon to the floor and offered both arms up to Brooke for support.
Michael hurried over as well, holding the tower of chairs steady. “Howd you even get up there?”
Brooke grabbed Jeremy's arms to stabilize herself as she carefully hopped down. “You'd be surprised what being scared can make you do.”
Jeremy nodded in understanding. “Are you okay though?”
Brooke grimaced. “Physically? Sure.“
Brooke shot Jeremy a look.
“Sorry, I thought it was nice to ask,” he muttered.
Michael cleared his throat, shifting closer to Jeremy. “Brooke, what were you doing? Why were you in here?”
Brooke perked up, eyes wide. “Wait, Chloe was–” and then she was running out of the room.
Jeremy didn’t move. “Wait, Brooke–” She was gone. “Follow her?” he asked Michael in worry.
Michael nodded. “We gotta catch her, C’mon.”
Jeremy instantly pulled Michael out.
They managed to see Brooke as she rounded the corner, bounding into the girls bathroom.
Jeremy stopped them. “We can’t go in there!”
Michael's eyebrows furrowed. “Why not?!”
“It’s the girls room, Michael!”
Michael's face was blank for a second as he processed. “Jeremy the god damn apocalypse is happening!”
“Respect women no matter what, dude!”
Michael paused. “Damn, you're right. We can't fucking go in there.”
“Brooke!” Jeremy yelled from outside the bathroom. “Are you okay in there?!”
“Shut up, Jeremy, Chloe is having a crisis! We’ll be out in a minute!”
Jeremy turned to Michael. “What if I’m having a crisis too?” He pouted.
Michael patted Jeremy's shoulder in consolation. “Guess you just gotta crisis out here, bud.”
“Maybe I will,” Jeremy muttered.
Michael's arm dropped down over Jeremy’s shoulder, pulling him into his side. “It's okay, buddy.”
“I hate this,” Jeremy whispered. He hugged himself close to Michael. “At least Brooke and Chloe are alive, right?”
Michael nodded. “Right. And we can ask them about the shelter and the others.”
“Right! You can ask Chloe and I’ll stand behind you!”
Michael laughed. “As nervous as always.”
“Shut up, I have reasons.”
Michael shrugged as Brooke came out of the bathroom accompanied by a vaguely weary looking Chloe.
Jeremy watched them. “A-Are you okay?”
Brooke ignored the question. “Where have you two been?!” She paused. “Are you two like together now or something?” She eyed the way Michael protectively held Jeremy close.
Michael suddenly felt nauseous.
Jeremy blinked. “We got here together, yeah.” He cleared his throat, trying to keep his voice even and not show how terrified he was. “W-We were at Michael’s house.”
Brooke seemed almost pained by his statement. “Right. Well,” she sighed. “Lucky you guys got here before they locked the doors for good. How did you get in, anyway?”
Jeremy looked at Michael. “He broke the lock.”
Brooke blinked. “You what?”
“Michael broke the lock outside.” Jeremy smiled from behind him.
Brooke blinked, “Jesus. You closed the door back, right?”
Michael snorted. “You think we left it open?”
Jeremy bit his lip. “A flimsy chair’s holding it closed, but it won’t last.”
Chloe shrugged, finally speaking up. “Better than nothing.”
“You have another lock, r-right?” Jeremy posed.
She shrugged. “I don't know. Probably.”
“You don’t seem very organized.”
Chloe scoffed. “This is the apocalypse, Heere.”
“Don’t get sassy with me, Valentine.” Jeremy suddenly felt angry.
Michael blinked. “Jere? You good?”
“No! I’m going through every stage of grief at once, leave me alone!”
Michael winced, removing his arm from Jeremy and stepping back. “Okay,” he murmured, voice hurt like a kicked dog. “Sorry.”
Jeremy shook for a moment, but calmed down. “S-Sorry, I just– I freaked out.” He didn’t look at Chloe or Brooke, but held his hand out to Michael. “Come back.” He didn’t know what that episode was, but it was more than just a freak out. It was too short to be a freak out. A normal one, anyway.
Michael gulped, stepping close once again. Brooke and Chloe shared a look, not saying anything.
Jeremy felt ostracized, so he didn’t speak up again. He didn’t want to ruin it any further.
Chloe eventually cleared her throat, spinning on her heel. “Right. Well, follow us. We'll lead you to the others.”
Michael perked up. “Others?” He automatically reached over to grab Jeremy's hand, but scolded himself. He shouldn't be touching Jeremy unless necessary. That's what he would want. He hesitated, unsure whether he should pull his hand away.
Jeremy joined his hand with Michael’s, tugging in the direction the girls were headed. He told himself it didn’t matter who wasn’t there in the school, because they might be safe elsewhere. He’d been worried about who they wouldn’t see.
Chapter 5: Level 5: The End of the Beginning
The girls led the pair of them around to an old stairwell, hidden in a maintenance closet in the far corner of the building. Michael gripped Jeremy's hand as the descended, anxious about what would happen once they were in the shelter.
Jeremy squeezed Michael’s hand. “We did it,” he muttered to him, cynically. They’d made it to the shelter, at least.
Michael nodded. “What do you think is gonna happen now?”
“What do you mean?” Jeremy whispered. “Like, are we gonna die? I-I hope not. God, what is gonna happen?”
“I mean like, we can't stay in the shelter forever, right? What's gonna happen out there?”
Jeremy sighed. “The apocalypse, dude. Humanity’s done for.”
Michael grimaced, but didn't have time to say anything else as they reached the shelter door. A man was there, giving them a quick check for any bites. Once they were cleared, they were allowed in.
Jeremy let Michael go through first, being led by Brooke and Chloe. He stayed behind him. “Wh-Who’s down here?”
The girls shared a look, Chloe speaking up. “Most students, their families. Christine, Jenna, Rich…” she trailed off.
“Their families made it too?” Jeremy’s voice wasn’t meant to hold that much venom, but with what he’d seen of his dad, and what with Michael’s moms unresponsive, he was surprised anyone else was lucky enough to have their families with them.
“Most of them.”
Michael paused. “What about Jake?”
Chloe grimaced, not responding.
“He’s here, right?” Jeremy asked slowly.
Brooke cleared her throat. “No one's seen him. Alive or… otherwise.” She frowned, voice soft. “Rich is pretty torn up about it. His brother is missing too.”
“God…” Jeremy suddenly felt bad about how his comment had come across. “Where is he?”
Chloe sighed. “Probably in bed. He won't really talk much to anyone.”
Jeremy winced. “Mike, we should find him. T-Tell him we’re alive?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
Chloe pointed them in the right direction, through a doorway leading to a room filled with rows of bunk beds. When they found Rich, he was huddled in the far corner, wrapped in a thin blanket. He didn't look good.
Jeremy’s face fell. “Jeez,” he muttered. “H-Hey, Rich?” he called out, louder. “Uh, it’s us, J-Jeremy and Michael?”
Rich jolted slightly, turning to look at them. He cleared his throat, smiling a bit. “Hey, guys, I'm so glad you're alright!” His smile didn't reach his eyes, but he did sound relieved.
Jeremy returned the smile, but tried to keep it genuine. “You too, buddy. Hey, got yourself a cool bunk bed, huh?”
Rich snorted. “Yeah, right. Did you guys run into trouble during your way here? Oh, Christine is here somewhere I'm sure she'd be glad to know you're safe.”
“We can talk to her in a bit,” Jeremy said. “And yeah, you could say there was some trouble outside.”
Rich nodded. “Anyone familiar?”
Rich seemed relieved. “That's good. Um… you didn't happen to see Jake out there anywhere, huh?”
Jeremy shared a look with Michael and shook his head. “I-I’m sorry, Rich.”
Michael spoke up. “He's a tough guy, Rich. I'm sure he's safe.”
Rich nodded. “Yeah. I'm, uh, gonna go back to sleep. I'll talk to you guys later.”
Jeremy frowned, but didn’t protest. “A-Alright. Sleep well, okay?”
Rich nodded again, burrowing down in his bed.
Michael frowned as well, glancing at Jeremy.
Michael pulled Jeremy away. “I feel bad.”
“I-I know. Me too. This is so much worse than I thought,” Jeremy mumbled.
Michael sighed. “I don't know what to do.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I’m starting to feel numb.”
“I don't like that. I don't know if it's better to be afraid or to feel nothing.”
“I’m afraid all the time,” Jeremy whispered. “I dunno, I’d kinda like a break.”
Michael frowned sadly. “I'm sorry, Jeremy. For everything. Especially that stupid kiss, I should never have– I'm just really–” Michael sighed. “You deserve a break.”
Jeremy shook his head. “I overreacted. It wasn’t that bad. I get why you did it. I’d have done it too.”
Michael shook his head as well. “You wouldn't have.”
“I mean for the same reason. I guess. Look, I’m sorry I acted so rude.” Jeremy sighed. “And I know we kinda had this talk already, but it’s still true.”
Michael grunted. “I'm confused. What do you mean by same reason?”
“You kissed me because you thought you’d never get the chance to again, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, because I like you.”
“And– Right, and I would have done the same if my crush was there.” Jeremy was lying through his teeth on multiple levels.
Michael tried not to wince. “Right,” he whispered, dropping Jeremy's hand. “I- um. I'm gonna go try to find the bathroom. You go see Christine.” Michael needed to be alone for a minute.
Something flickered in Jeremy’s eyes. “Okay?” He backed up, eventually turning around and walking away.
As soon as Jeremy was gone, Michael turned around, feeling the tears starting to roll down his face. He hurried away, ducking into the first secluded area he could find. Once he was alone, shudders wracked his body along with silent sobs. He buried his face in his hands as he cried, his glasses pushed up his face awkwardly.
Jeremy wandered around slowly, the numb feeling creeping up on him faster now that Michael wasn’t there to ground him. He felt like he was moving in slow motion, no Christine in sight. He figured he’d see her eventually, so he lowered his standards and started searching for any familiar face.
Michael didn't try to stop the tears, instead biting down harshly on his own hand to try and keep himself quiet. His other hand moved up to his hair, tugging it angrily. He hated himself.
Eventually, Jeremy became a little overwhelmed by all the people and the heavy blanket of gloom over the whole place. He circled back—he hoped; it was a confusing maze—in search of the bathroom Michael had looked for. He didn’t want to be away from him for one more minute.
Michael had somehow ended up curled in on himself on the floor, his hand was bleeding from him biting too hard, but he ignored it, digging his fingernails into his palm as he continued yanking at his hair.
Jeremy rounded the corner, getting increasingly worried about where Michael had gone. He hadn’t found any sort of bathroom. Finally, he saw his best friend on the floor, and ran fast enough to his side to make his gym teacher proud. “Michael?” he said carefully. “What’s going on, why are you on the floor?”
Michael jolted, head snapping up to look at Jeremy in surprise. Fuck. He looked like shit. “Ah,” he sniffled. “I-” he didn't know what to say.
Jeremy’s eyes snapped wide. “Wh-What happened? Why do you look like– Oh my god.” He felt his throat close up. “Is that– Did you– The guy, he- he checked for bites! He checked!” Jeremy dropped to his knees. “Michael?!”
Michael blinked through his tears, staring down at the bleeding bite on his hand. “N-No, It's not-” he was cut off by a broken sob. “I b-bit myself, 's all.” he assured.
Jeremy gulped. “N-Not a zombie?”
Michael sniffled, shaking his head. He was still crying. The sight of Jeremy only served to remind him exactly why he was crying.
“You did this to yourself?! Michael!” Jeremy was back to flipping out. “Why?! This has to hurt! We need a doctor! God, I hope we have a doctor down here, wasn’t Jenna in allied health last year? Oh my god, that’s a lot of blood– What did you do that for?!”
Michael's lip quivered. “I'm s-sorry,” he whispered, hugging his knees to his chest. “I'm so sorry.”
Jeremy reached out to him, but didn’t dare touch him without permission. “Don’t be sorry! How did this happen?”
Michael whimpered pathetically. “I h-hate myself.”
“What?” Jeremy whispered. “N-No, you’re perfect, c-can you stand up? We need to find a doctor.”
“I'm not! I'm an idiot in love with his best friend and I'm stupid and gross and- god,” he sobbed.
Jeremy was close to hyperventilating. “Michael, you’re bleeding! Can’t we do this when you have a bandage?!” It had come out a lot meaner than he intended. “I-I’m sorry, but I’m worried about you.”
Michael shrugged. “'S not that bad.”
“If you won’t go see a doctor for yourself, will you go for me?”
Michael sniffled, cradling his hand to his chest. “W-What if they don't believe me?”
“They– They will, they checked you before we came in! And it’s f-fresh blood, so it’s fine!” Jeremy hoped it was fine.
Michael's body was shaking. “It hurts,” he breathed, his uninjured hand clutching the fabric of his shirt, right over his heart.
Jeremy saw how Michael was holding his shirt. “Y-Your hand, you mean?”
Michael shook his head, whimpering. “They n-never tell you that heartbreak can hurt ph-physically, too,” he let out a broken laugh. “Guess now I know.”
Jeremy blinked. “M-Micah, what are you talking about? We made it, we’re safe.” For now anyway.
“Jeremy, for fucks sake! I'm in love with you! And you don't love me back! And it fucking hurts!” Michael sobbed again.
Jeremy backed up on his heels. He sighed, a broken sound. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep lying to you.” He took a deep breath. “No one ever said I didn’t love you. Not truthfully, anyway.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Michael sounded resigned.
“Look, call me an idiot! Call me a horrible person! Be mad at me! I know I am!” Jeremy sighed. “I lied to you, Michael. I lied really bad. I just didn’t want so much changing at once, and then everything got so much worse, and now you’re hurting yourself because of me! I– Just be mad at me!”
“Mad–” Michael shook his head. “I just- I don't understand,” Michael sniffled, wiping at his eyes.
Jeremy’s eyes flickered painfully over to Michael’s injured hand. “I like you! Okay? Can we please find some sort of medic now?!”
Michael blinked, breath still uneven. He got to his feet, silently nodding to Jeremy. “Okay,” he muttered, tears still streaming.
Jeremy had tried to hide his own tears, but like usual, his efforts went uneffective. He wrapped his arm around Michael’s torso. “C-C’mon, you really need that looked at.” He was worried sick. Actually sick; nauseous. He felt like he’d throw up any minute.
Michael sniffled, nodding again. He leaned into Jeremy's touch automatically.
“I-I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Jeremy said as he walked Michael back out toward the other people. “Again. I’m really sorry, Michael.”
“I'm sorry I'm acting like this,” Michael breathed. “I didn't want you to see me like this.”
“Mikey, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” Jeremy wasn’t used to being the level-headed one.
“Is it?” Michael wasn't so sure.
“It– Yeah, buddy. It is.”
Michael nodded acceptingly. He didn't say anything else, just holding his hand to his chest protectively.
Jeremy wasted no time calling out for anyone who knew how to wrap a wound.
Eventually, an older man approached them. “What's 'a matter with ya? Why are you yellin’?”
Jeremy took them a step back from the stranger. “We need a doctor?” he squeaked.
“Why?” The man frowned. “Cut yourself?”
“Yes?” It wasn’t a lie. Michael had cut himself. With his teeth.
The man huffed. “Fine. Follow me.” He led them back around a corner into a small room with a cot. “Sit.”
Michael gulped, looking to Jeremy.
Jeremy shrugged and pulled Michael down to sit on the cot, not letting go of him.
The man grunted. “All right, show me the cut.”
Jeremy nudged Michael.
Michael hesitantly held put his hand. It was too bloody to tell it was a bite.
The man hummed. “Cut yourself good, didn't ya?” He sighed, stepping out of the door to wave someone down. He returned with a rather fit looking man who seemed to but in his early thirties. The older man pointed at Michael. “Clean it up while I prep the disinfectant.”
The fit man nodded, shuffling over to a small sink and wetting a rag. He moved over Jeremy and Michael. “Hi,” he greeted. “I'm Terrance. Old man Harold over there is teaching me how to help out with injuries and such.” He gestured to Michael's hand. “May I?”
Michael hesitated for a second, but he hesitantly held his hand out.
Jeremy narrowed his eyes at the newcomer. It was probably nothing to worry about, in all honesty, but he had played enough video games to know he shouldn’t trust someone so easily. He took a deep breath. “So, um, T-Terrance, you a med student or something?”
Terrance nodded, carefully cleaning off the blood. “Yeah, something like that.”
Michael winced slightly as his injury received pressure.
Jeremy scooted closer to Michael, his arm still around him. “Cool, I guess,” he murmured.
If either of them noticed the tear stains on Michael's face, they didn't say anything. Terrance did say something once the blood was gone, however. His eyes widened, hand freezing where it was holding Michael's wrist in place. “H!” he called.
Michael's eyes widened in alarm, reflexively trying to tug his wrist back out of the man grip. He only succeeded in making him grip onto him tighter. “Hey! Let go, that hurts!” He whined, his other hand coming up to try and pry Terrance's fingers off of him.
Harold tsked. “What are you doing over there, boy?”
Jeremy tried to pull Michael away from the man’s grip, ignoring the older guy. “Let go of him!” he shrieked. “What the hell?! Get off!” He wished he were stronger; maybe then he could be of real help.
“He's bit!” Terrance called.
Michael gasped. “N-No, I–”
It was too late. Harold was out of the room and back in a second accompanied by three large men. They instantly went for Michael, trying to pull Jeremy off of him so they could take him.
Michael yelped as their hands grabbed his arms with a bruising grip. “No!”
Jeremy held onto Michael tightly, kicking at the men trying to take him away. “Stop! That just happened! Twenty minutes ago! He did that to himself, please stop! Leave him alone!” He shouted at the top of his lungs, making his throat hurt. “He bit himself!”
They didn't seem to care, prying Jeremy off forcibly. One man pinned Jeremy’s hands behind his back, the other two yanking Michael to his feet and dragged him from the room.
Michael pulled at his arms in an attempt to get free, tears once again trailing down his face as he called out, face desperate. “Jeremy! Don't let them take me! Please! Jeremy!”
Jeremy stomped hard on the man’s foot, trying to buy time. He screamed again. “Stop! That wasn’t a fucking zombie, let him go! Let him go! If you take him, you have to kill me!” He honestly didn’t care anymore. If they were going to hurt Michael, he didn’t want to be alive in a world without him. “He’s not fucking sick! Check the fucking teeth marks, it matches his mouth!”
The man holding him cursed in pain, just barely maintaining his grip. Michael's cries grew more desperate the farther away he got.
Harold sucked his teeth, approaching Jeremy with a syringe. “Hold him still,” he commanded.
Jeremy gasped, tears falling down his cheeks. “Where the fuck did that come from?! The apocalypse just started!” He desperately stomped the man’s other foot and tried to twist around out of his grip. “M-Michael, I’m coming!”
Michael's yells could be heard from outside the room. “Jeremy! Let me go, you assholes! Jeremy! Please!”
The man holding him growled in frustration, wrapping one arm around Jeremy's torso and the other moving up to hold his head still. Harold quickly pressed the needle into Jeremy's skin, pressing down the plunger. Michael's distant cries were the last thing Jeremy heard as his vision went dark.
Chapter 6: Level 6: The Beginning of the End
actually kinda harmless fluff
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jeremy’s eyes snapped open. He felt his head throbbing as memories crashed down on him like the wind was knocked out of his lungs.
They’d taken Michael.
That was all he could focus on. He sat up so quick he got vertigo, barely recognizing the large men from before in the corner of the room—the same infirmary he’d been in when they’d sedated him. He felt hot, and a little dizzy. He hadn’t noticed he’d started yelling.
“What the fuck did you do to Michael?! Where is he?!”
One of the men got to his feet quickly, holding up his hands. “Now, calm down, son.”
Jeremy didn’t stop. “No! Where did you take him?! Where is he?!”
“Sit down. Stop yelling, boy, it's not going to get you anywhere. Your friend is fine.”
Jeremy didn’t sit down. He stood up. “Where is he?!” They hadn’t killed Michael?
“He's fine,” the man sighed. “He's been put in isolation so that they can monitor him.”
“He– Iso– He bit himself!” Jeremy yelled. “I tried to tell you, he did that to himself! He doesn’t need to be fucking isolated!”
The man grimaced at Jeremy's volume. “We heard you. But we have to think about the other people here, boy. It's just for a few days, to make sure you're telling the truth.”
“Days?! That’s– No! You assholes! We never should have come here!” Jeremy tried to leave.
“We can take you to him.”
Jeremy stopped. “You can?” He was hopeful, but tried to remember trust was supposed to be earned, and the men here hadn’t earned a speck.
He nodded. “You can visit him as much as you want. We just can't let him out yet.”
Jeremy stepped right in front of the man. “Take me now.”
The man sighed. “Fine. Follow me.” He led him away, all the was to a secluded area with a series of doors. There was a man stationed in front of the one on the very end.
Jeremy felt cold. Had this place been under the school the whole time? The apocalypse had just started, how had these people built this so fast? “He’s in that one?” Jeremy snapped, pointing to the guarded door.
The man nodded. “You'll be checked upon exit. Don't try anything.”
Jeremy was already running down to Michael, ignoring the pounding in his head and the way his legs felt numb.
The man at the door unlocked it for Jeremy, letting him in. “Knock when you're ready to come out.”
Inside the makeshift cell was a sink, a toilet, and a single bed shoved in the corner. All Jeremy could see was a lump curled up in the corner on the bed beneath a blanket.
Again, Jeremy wondered how long this had been under their school, but he didn’t dwell on it for more than a second. He slowly approached the bed. “M-Michael?”
The lump shifted slightly.
“I-It’s me, Jeremy.”
Michael jolted, sitting up quickly. “Jeremy?!”
Michael scrambled out of the bed, throwing himself into Jeremy's arms, holding him tight.
“Mike!” Jeremy was thrown back a little by the force, but immediately hugged him back.
Michael was shaking, his face buried in Jeremy's shoulder.
Jeremy was already tearing up. “C-Can you look at me?”
Michael whimpered, clinging to Jeremy desperately. He pulled away just enough to meet his eyes.
Jeremy had thought seeing Michael’s face would make him feel better, but the pain in his eyes made his heart shatter. He pulled him back in. “Mike, I-I am so sorry,” he said, crying. “I let them take you.”
Michael whined softly. “You didn't mean to. You tried to fight them. It's okay.”
Jeremy shook his head. “I promised I’d help and I couldn’t. It’s my fault you’re in here.”
“'S not. You didn't put me here.”
“But I let them get you,” Jeremy whispered. “And you hurt yourself because of me.”
Michael shook his head. “Those aren't your fault.”
“Yes they are. I’m so fucking sorry, Mikey, I’d rather die than hurt you.”
Michael sniffled a bit. “I love you,” he murmured.
Jeremy hugged him tighter. “I love you too. I-I’ll do everything I can to keep you safe.”
Michael's grip impossibly tightened as well. “I've w-wanted to hear you say that for so l-long.”
Jeremy’s throat felt narrow. “I-I know. N-No more secrets or lies. I’m so sorry.”
“It's okay.” Michael sniffled. “I d-don't like being alone,” he whispered.
Jeremy took a breath. “The guy– He said to knock when I wanted to leave, but he didn’t say I had to leave at all.”
Michael didn't move. “You sh-shouldn’t have to stay.”
“Have to? I want to. I need to. I don’t know how long I was out for, but it felt like forever. I need to be here with you. C-Can you look at me again? Please?”
Michael gulped, once again pulling back enough to look up at him.
Immediately, Jeremy’s lips were on Michael’s.
Michael gasped slightly, but quickly pressed back into the kiss, his eyes falling closed.
Jeremy still had tears running down his cheeks, but he barely noticed. He held Michael flush to himself, as tight as he could, worried he’d blow away. His lips were relieved, sorry, and desperate against Michael’s.
Michael's own tears mixed with Jeremy's as his head tilted, his lips pliant under Jeremy's.
Once he was sure Michael wasn’t going anywhere, Jeremy moved his hands up to cup Michael’s cheeks, deepening the kiss.
Michael whimpered slightly, fingers twisting in Jeremy's shirt.
Jeremy pulled away enough to speak. “I love you.” His voice was barely audible.
Michael let out a shuddering breath. “I love you so much.”
Jeremy touched their foreheads together. “I don’t want to be without you ever again.”
Michael sniffled. “D-Don't leave me, please.”
“N-Never. If there’s anything I can do to stay, I’ll do it.”
Michael pulled Jeremy backwards, onto the bed. “Thank you.”
Jeremy smiled weakly and sank down to kiss him again.
Michael accepted it readily, still holding Jeremy tight.
Jeremy kept kissing him, making up for lost time.
Michael pulled Jeremy down on top of him, laying back on the bed.
Jeremy used his weight to his advantage, keeping Michael pinned. He did pull away eventually. “How’s your bite?”
Michael panted softly, holding up his hand. “They cleaned it and wrapped it.”
“At least it won’t get infected. How– How long has it been?”
“A day?! I’ve been– You’ve been– Shit, Mikey, I’m so sorry!”
Michael shook his head. “It's okay. You're here now, anyway.”
“I came as soon as I could! I just woke up, I swear!”
Michael smiled. “It's okay, Jere. I know. They told me so I would stop screaming.”
Michael gave a crooked smile. “Kiss me?”
“Wait, you’ve been screaming for a day?”
“More like half a day.”
“You need water! Your throat must hurt like hell!”
“Yeah,” Michael whispered. “It's okay. I just want you.”
Jeremy sighed. “I’m sorry I took a day.”
“No it’s not. A normal person wouldn’t have been under for a whole day.”
“You don't know that. Maybe it's just whatever they injected you with. Or maybe you were just that tired. It's not your fault.”
Jeremy looked down. “I guess. But honestly all that matters is that you’re alive.”
“You too, really.” Michael laughed slightly. “Please kiss me.”
Jeremy finally gave in again, connecting their lips harshly.
Michael let out a soft noise, putting his all into the kiss.
Jeremy drank in Michael’s sound, hoping to get more out of him.
Michael's hands moved to Jeremy's hips, holding him on top of him.
Jeremy kissed him as long as he could, eventually parting to breathe. “I’m never leaving you.”
Michael panted, eyes closed. “Thank you.”
Jeremy nodded. “You’re all that matters now.”
Michael pulled him into a lingering kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you more.”
Michael held Jeremy tightly. “Sleep with me? I don't think I've slept properly since my house. And even then it was spotty at best.”
“Sleep...with you,” Jeremy echoed. “Sleep with you.”
Michael gulped. “Sleep with me,” he repeated. “Whichever way you want.”
“R-Right now, I’m just a little tired. So sure, we can sleep.”
Michael smiled. “Oh, right. You just woke up, huh? You're probably not that sleepy.”
“I’m still tired,” Jeremy assured. “I got all my energy out yelling at those guys when I woke up. And I have a killer headache.”
Michael smiled softly. “You yelled?”
“Of course I did! I thought they were gonna kill you!”
Michael hummed, flipping them over so Jeremy was beside him rather than on top of him. “I'm alive.”
“I know,” Jeremy said, smiling. “I’ve never been more relieved.”
Michael curled up into Jeremy's side.
“As long as they don’t hurt you, this is fine. We can do this.” Jeremy kissed Michael’s forehead.
“We can do this,” Michael repeated softly.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said, voice gentle. “We can do this.”
Michael nodded, tugging at the blanket beside them.
Jeremy helped him get the blankets on top of them. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Michael smiled, holding him close. “G’night.”
Jeremy made sure his arms wouldn’t let go of Michael no matter what. “Night, buddy.”
Michael woke up some time later, still cuddled up to Jeremy.
Jeremy had gotten some sleep, but not much. He was wide awake when Michael started stirring. “Micah?” he whispered.
Michael hummed. “Hm?”
“Oh, you’re awake.”
“Mhm,” Michael yawned.
“What time do you think it is?”
“Dunno. Does it matter?”
“I guess not.”
Michael stretched sleepily.
“Are you going back to sleep?”
“No, even though I want to.”
“You can,” Jeremy said softly.
“I shouldn't,” Michael sighed. “Besides, more time to be with you if I'm awake.”
“You’d still be with me, Mikey.”
“But I couldn't see you.”
“Oh. Then stay awake with me.”
“Good!” Jeremy kissed his nose.
“I love you,” Jeremy whispered.
“I love you too,” Michael responded instantly.
Jeremy smiled. “This is good. As good as it can be.”
Michael nodded. “Given the current circumstances.”
“Yeah. But I’ll stay with you as long as they’ll let me. The guard was kinda eying me weird while you were asleep.”
“Yeah. I hate them. All those guys out there who tried to take you away.”
Michael hummed, burying his face in Jeremy's chest. “They were just doing their jobs.”
“It all seems weird. Can a society like this be built that fast? I mean, it hasn’t even been a week.”
Michael shrugged. “It's better than chaos.”
“Yeah, but they’re mean.”
“Yeah.” Michael shrugged again.
“I really hate them.”
Michael hummed. “It's okay, Jere.”
“They hurt us.”
“They had to.”
“No they didn’t!”
Michael shook his head. “They had their reasons! I mean hell, we don't know how this works. For all we know it could be airborne and I'll be a damn zombie tomorrow.”
Jeremy gaped. “No! You’ll never be a zombie! I’ll die before I let another bad thing happen to you. I’ve been far too weak, Mike, it’s time I start actually putting an effort up.”
Michael smiled. “Thanks.”
“We’ll survive this,” Jeremy said. “I know we will. Because as long as we’re together, this is a two player game. And we’ve never met a game we haven’t beaten.” He didn’t know where his optimism was coming from, but decided to ride it as far as it would take him.
Michael smiled wider. “Right.”
Michael was on him in a second, kissing him languidly.
Jeremy felt himself smile, pressing back hard.
Michael's hands moved to Jeremy's hips, holding him close.
“You’re perfect,” Jeremy whispered.
Michael pecked Jeremy's lips again. “I love you.”
“I love you most. I’m so sorry it took all of this for me to say it.” Jeremy sighed. “I’m really an awful person to you.”
“No,” Michael cut in. “You're amazing to me. That's why I love you.”
“But Michael– Nevermind. I never want to argue with you again. Life’s too short.”
Michael smiled, pressing his lips to Jeremy's yet again. “I really like kissing you.”
“I really like kissing you too.” Jeremy proved it.
Michael smiled against Jeremy's lips.
Jeremy moved them to a better angle, kissing him hard.
Michael accepted it readily, tilting his head under Jeremy to deepen it, opening his mouth a bit.
Jeremy boldly swiped his tongue over Michael’s lip.
Michael whimpered softly, opening his mouth up more in invitation.
Jeremy took the invite, pushing his tongue back further. He shifted them again, so that he was hovering above Michael.
Michael made a soft noise of approval, his own tongue investigating curiously.
Jeremy kept deepening their kiss, trying to get more sounds out of Michael.
It worked. As Jeremy's tongue ran over the roof of Michael's mouth, he barely noticed the soft moan that it drew out of him.
Jeremy smiled against Michael’s lips. He repeated his action, attempting to get Michael to get a little louder.
Michael moaned again, shifting beneath Jeremy as he tried to pull him closer.
Jeremy sank lower so more of them was touching, running a hand over Michael’s chest.
Michael gasped at the feeling, moaning yet again. He whimpered, pressing into their kiss even more fiercely.
Jeremy was about to make a bold choice of where to put his hand, but there was a loud knock at the door of the cell, a voice ringing out clearly.
“Hey,” it said. “They told me you two were in here. We need to talk.”
Jeremy jolted, falling off of Michael and whipping around. He gasped. “Jake?”
o shit jakey d!!!!!
Chapter 7: Level 7: The Reveal
Michael jolted. “Jake?!”
Jake offered a plastic smile. “Hey, dude. And other dude.”
Jeremy just waved.
Michael sat up, pushing Jeremy off of him. “Are you okay?! Why are you here?”
Jeremy grunted. “Hey!”
Jake took a breath. “Like I said, we need to talk. You’re not a zombie, right?”
“No?” Michael turned to Jeremy, kissing his cheek. “No sucking face when important things are happening.”
“They got you locked up for nothin’?” Jake asked. “Damn. And hey, congrats! Only took an apocalypse for you to make out, huh?”
Michael blushed. “I think the better question is where have you been? Have you seen Rich yet? He’s been super torn up, you know.”
Jake looked down. “I didn’t want to wake him up. Christine said he hasn’t been sleeping well. He deserves to rest, y’know? At least he’s alive. I was worried out of my mind.”
Michael frowned. “He’d probably sleep better if he knew you were okay.”
“Yeah, but he’d give himself a heart attack before going back to sleep if he saw me.” Jake smiled at that. “Anyway, it took forever to find this place! Not the school, I know where school is. But all you guys.”
Michael nodded. “We definitely know what you mean.”
“Spent a lot of time suckin’ face?” Jake teased.
Michael coughed. “This is more of a, uh… recent development.”
Jeremy was red.
Jake blinked. “You got locked up and made out, huh? I respect that.”
Michael shook his head. “Where have you been?”
“God, I’ve been at home. My parents, they had this insane idea we’d get nuked or something, so the basement’s like a fallout shelter.” Jake scoffed. “I was down there until I realized I needed to move my ass and find you guys. And Rich.” He sighed. “I was scared.”
Michael grabbed Jeremy’s hand. “And your parents?”
Jake shook his head. “Nothing. Haven’t heard from them. But that’s not new. They could have died months ago and I never would find out.” He looked up. “What about you guys?”
Michael grimaced. “Not important.”
Jeremy squeezed Michael’s hand.
“Right,” Jake muttered. “Anyway, uh, I’ve missed you dudes.”
“Yeah.” Michael nodded. “Fuck, it’s good to see you. Sorry we can't exactly have a group reunion right now.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Jake said. “Once this is all over, we can.”
Jeremy frowned. “Wait, how soon do you think this’ll be over?” he questioned. “Are you telling us everything?”
Jake hesitated. “I-I’ll tell you when Rich wakes up. It’s best to explain all at once, y’know? You guys keep suckin’ face. I’m gonna go find the others.”
Michael yelped. “Damn, just go find Rich.”
Jake tsked. “Have fun in your cage.” He walked off.
Michael released a breath as the door closed. “Holy shit.”
Jeremy squeezed his hand again. “At least he’s alive.”
Michael nodded, falling back against the bed.
“Uh, how’s your hand?” Jeremy asked, scooting back towards him.
“‘S fine.” Michael shrugged. “How’re you?”
“Terrified.” Jeremy cuddled closer to Michael. “But that won’t change soon.”
Michael hummed. “Yeah.”
“Uh, can I kiss you again?” Jeremy asked quietly.
Jeremy leaned over and kissed Michael softly but determinedly.
Michael instantly responded.
Jeremy smiled against him, trying to resume his previous position of laying on him.
Michael laughed softly, helping Jeremy on top of him. “Eager.”
“Well, you pushed me off,” Jeremy mumbled.
“Jake was here.”
“He didn’t care if I was on you or not!”
Michael rolled his eyes. “You’re so needy,” he teased.
“I can be needy if I want.”
“Yeah,” Michael smiled, carefully running his fingers through Jeremy’s hair, eyes soft. “I know.”
Jeremy softened. “I love you.”
Michael pulled him into a sweet kiss.
Jeremy grinned against it. He flattened himself on Michael.
Michael giggled against Jeremy’s lips. “You’re like a starfish who attached itself to me. That’s so cute.”
“Starfish are cool!” Jeremy said. “They can regrow limbs and shit. Am I cool?”
“You’re so cool, Jere.”
“No, you’re supposed to say it doesn’t matter!”
“It doesn’t but you are!”
Jeremy kissed him. “Thanks, Mikey.”
Michael smiled. “No problem.”
“It’s pretty okay being locked up with you.”
Michael laughed. “Yeah. I love you.”
“Love you more!”
Michael kissed him again.
Jeremy giggled against his lips. It was weird to be doing this during the end of the world, wasn’t it?
Michael eventually pulled away, smile drooping slightly. “You really don’t have to stay in here, you know. It’s awfully boring.”
“Why would I leave? I’m never leaving you again. I like it in here with you. We’re together.” Jeremy kissed him again.
Michael giggled. “You’re too sweet.”
Michael laughed, hugging Jeremy tightly.
Jeremy smiled down at him. “I bet we can get a nap in, if we tried.”
“I don’t think it would be hard,” Michael hummed. “They just kinda make you sit in here.”
“Yeah, but there’s a lot of things to think about. To keep you awake. Just thinking. I-I’d rather not do that.” Jeremy squeezed Michael tightly.
Michael nodded, kissing Jeremy’s temple. “I understand.”
“I-I love you a lot,” Jeremy offered.
Michael buried his face in Jeremy’s neck. “I love you so much.”
“So let’s take a nap?”
Michael jolted awake, breathing hard.
Jeremy sat up. “Mikey?” he slurred.
Michael just whimpered, tears welling in his eyes.
“Hey–” Jeremy slid off of him, pulling him into a side-hug. “What happened?”
Michael sniffled grossly. “Had a nightmare,” he buried his face in Jeremy’s neck.
Jeremy frowned. “Uh, d-do you wanna talk about it?”
Michael gulped, wrapping his arms around Jeremy’s middle. “It was about my moms.”
Jeremy looked down. “Oh, I– I’m sorry, Micah. Th-They’re okay, I know they are.”
Michael took a deep breath, shuddering slightly. “Hold me?”
“Of course.” Jeremy squeezed him tighter. “It’s alright, Mikey,” he said, awkwardly trying to reassure him.
Michael pressed a kiss to the skin beneath him.
Jeremy smiled. “Jake seems to know more than us,” he started. “Maybe everything will be better soon.”
“I hope so.” Michael murmured.
“I’m sure of it!”
Michael hummed, sniffling. “Kiss me?”
Jeremy didn’t need to be asked again. He leaned up and kissed Michael as sweetly as he could.
Michael pressed into it, grip tight on Jeremy’s midsection.
Jeremy made a sound, pushing himself closer to Michael.
Michael whined softly, tilting his head for a deeper angle.
Jeremy parted his lips.
Michael gladly took the invitation, his tongue dipping into Jeremy’s mouth.
Jeremy’s noises got louder.
One of Michael's hands found its way up to Jeremy’s hair.
“Yo, what happened to your no face sucking policy?” a voice called from the cell door, jolting Jeremy off of Michael.
“Jake!” Jeremy screeched.
Michael turned. “Oh, hey Jake.”
Jake cracked a smile. “Rich is awake.” He stepped aside to reveal the shorter boy.
Rich waved. “Hi.” his hand was clutching Jake’s tightly.
Jeremy sat up and smiled at him. “Hey, Rich.”
Michael smiled as well. “Things went well?”
Jake nodded. “I’d say so.” He winked.
Rich swatted his arm.
Jake laughed. “Anyway, we need to talk.”
Jeremy quirked an eyebrow. “You’ve said that, but no talking’s happened yet.”
“I wanted to wait for Rich!”
Rich snorted. “Aw, thanks babe.”
“Anything for you, Richie,” Jake whispered.
Michael chuckled. “‘Babe’? Maybe I should start calling Jeremy that.”
Jeremy looked up. “Huh?”
Michael gave him a smile.
Jake gestured toward them. “Well, go on. Do it, coward.”
Michael looked deep into Jeremy’s eyes. “Hey, babe.”
Jeremy squeaked, unable to look away. “H-Hey?”
Michael pecked him on the lips. “So!” he turned back. “Sup?”
“Buh?” Jeremy stammered, jolted out of his trance. He wanted more attention.
Jake laughed. “Yeah. So there’s some stuff I haven’t been telling you guys.”
Michael nodded. “We’re listening.”
Jake took a deep breath, almost comically deep. “So. The SQUIP said–”
Jeremy stopped him. “What? Rewind. Pause. What do you mean the SQUIP?”
“Well…” Jake trailed off.
Rich pressed close to Jake’s side.
Jake continued, holding Rich safely in place. “It’s complicated. I-I was at my apartment, right? And I didn’t know what to do. Rich wasn’t answering my calls, I saw my landlord eat a cat, and there was blood all over the street. I got out, but barely.” He showed a long scratch on his arm. “Nothing was making sense, I-I needed help. So I stole a bottle of Mountain Dew from a 7/11 and reactivated my SQUIP for help.”
“You...Seriously?” Jeremy felt confused.
Michael just nodded. “I guess that make sense.”
“Yeah! I thought it would help, y’know? I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Jeremy was still trying to understand. “Why would you want that thing back on?”
“Uh, to stay alive?” Jake said simply. “To see Rich again?”
Rich hummed. “I would’ve done it too.”
Jake smiled down at him. “Anyway, it got me back to my parents’ house. Well, the...concrete slab that used to be the house.”
Rich’s smile faltered slightly.
Jake pulled him imperceptibly closer. “Anyway. The bunker my parents built was still in tact, so I-I hid in there for a while. And the SQUIP, it– It told me things. About what was happening.”
Michael hummed. “It knew even though you weren’t out there?”
“Kinda,” Jake said. “It tried to explain it to me, but it gave up and called me simple.”
Rich scoffed. “Rude.”
Michael grunted. “You were saying?”
“Uh, right, so, turns out, some people are immune to this zombie shit.”
That caught Jeremy’s attention. “What?”
Michael’s eyebrows furrowed. “Some?”
Jake winced, looking at Michael. “You’re not.”
Michael grimaced. “Great. How do you know?”
Jake’s wince turned into a grimace. “So it turns out, uh, surprise, surprise, SQUIPs make you immune, yay…”
“Yay?” Jake offered.
Rich shifted on his feet. “So, pretty much all of the group is safe from the virus.”
“E-Except Michael?” came Jeremy’s worried, nearly broken voice.
Rich grimaced. “Except Michael.”
“B-But–” Jeremy’s eyes stung. “That’s not– But–”
Michael pulled Jeremy into his side. “Hey, it’s okay,” he soothed. “I’ll be fine. You can’t get rid of me that easily,” he laughed a bit, trying to lighten Jeremy’s mood.
Jeremy wasn’t having it. “I don’t want to get rid of you!”
Michael shook his head. “You won’t! I’m not going anywhere.”
Jake shifted on his feet, speaking before Jeremy could argue further. “This would be cool if we were in a movie or something, but I’ve got more shit to say.”
Jeremy ripped his gaze off of Michael. “Spit it out,” he commanded, angry.
“I know how to stop this,” Jake said.