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"We did this before, too. Just kind of hold the perimeter while they try to find a vehicle that'll be right for us," Jess explains, huddling into her jacket and looking up at Eva. "Last time the van they found was really good. Before this one, I mean." Eva is tall just like Keira, and Jess feels uncomfortably more like Tinkerbell than ever.

Eva nods, her eyes blank on the horizon.

"If we find a good house on the road, we might be able to cook, too," Jess babbles, feeling like she has to fill up the silence so that Eva knows she's welcome. "We actually had warm meals last night, it was pretty great. Are you hungry? I didn't even ask, I'm so sorry." She twists around to start digging in her backpack. "I'm sure I have a--"

"I don't need a mother," Eva says quietly, each word precise and distinct.

Her face flares like a brushfire, and Jess nods. Takes a few steps back.

Ryan walks briskly across the tarmac, his rifle cocked and ready. "They need a little more time to find something," he updates his friends. "The walkers are pretty thick in places, but some of the vehicles seem clear. How about here?"

"Yeah, it's been quiet," Alex tells him, emerging from behind a burned-out truck. "Other than that pocket we hit coming in, it's been just a couple stragglers by themselves." They'd known there was a good chance the military base was overrun, so at least they'd been prepared for the possibility. "If they can find a truck in good enough shape, we might want to take some of this ordinance with us," nodding towards a pile of assault rifles and a couple flamethrowers, a grenade launcher, mostly collected off bodies of uniformed walkers.

Luke comes running up, breathing heavily, the base bigger than expected, everything spread out. "They found a couple of Humvees around back. Antony's suggesting we split up into three vehicles - the van and the two Humvees - but he wants to know what you guys think." It would at least give them options if one of the vehicles ran into issues but it also makes them a bigger target.

Alex looks at Luke. "I don't know the roads in this part of the country. Can you guess whether they'll be wide enough for Humvees?"

"They will be," Eva cuts in, her voice still strangely without inflection. "As long as we stay out of the small villages, there should be no problem with the roads."

Ryan stares at her, then gives Luke a shrug. "That sounds good to me."

Luke runs back and gives Antony the consensus and they move the Humvees around front, loading them up with the supplies from the van and the weapons and food gathered from the base. There's gas too, thank god, and they take their time using the piston pump to fill all three vehicles plus several jerry cans.

The trip north is a little easier than it was. Mainly because of the Humvees, which can reliably forge a path even when the roads are mostly blocked, leaving space for Clive to drive the van through. Usually. "Next time," he tells Keira, jumping back in and slamming the door shut after working with Logan and Ryan to shove a burnt-out husk of a car off the road. "Next time, we should trade up," he says, firing up the engine. "If they're going to have Humvees, then we should get a tank."

"We should," Keira agrees. "We had a tank before. It was brilliant. We just mowed over everything."

"Seriously? Shit, I was joking." Clive gives her a broad smile before returning his gaze to the road. After a couple minutes he asks, "Tell me about yourself. What did you do before all this?"

"I was a senior software engineer for the BBC," Keira says, smiling over at him. "Total computer geek."

"That is very sexy. Clever women get me hot," he tells her, half teasing. "Did you ever wear little reading glasses?"

"No," she replies dryly, aiming for deadpan, before adding, "but I'm certain we could find some if you're harbouring naughty librarian fantasies." She grins.

"God, be still my heart," he says, clapping a hand to his chest. "I'll add that to the necessary supply list next time I go out."

Keira laughs. She takes a moment to look out the window, watch the walkers stumbling by in the fields as they pass. "What about you? What did you do?"

"I ran an animal shelter. Non-profit, no-kill," he answers, and a bittersweet pang of memory shoots through him. Only to be replaced by more horrific recollections. He swiftly changes the subject. "Do you want to talk about Cal?"

Keira glances over, surprised by the question. "Do you?"

"Not particularly. But I'm not going to pretend I don't know he existed," Clive says quietly, glancing at her before returning his attention to the road. "I'm not trying to replace him, but even so, I'm moving into his place. If you need to talk about him, I'm open to it."

Keira nods. "We met at uni," she says after a long moment. "A friend set us up. I didn't want to meet him. He was a finance major and I thought he'd be boring, stuck on himself. But he wasn't. He was amazing." She pauses, biting at her lower lip. "He was a lot like Sam. A little taller, lankier, but the same colouring, the same looks - you knew immediately they were brothers." Blowing out a soft breath, she goes on, "He was really kind and funny and from the moment I met him I couldn't imagine my life without him - and he felt the same way about me."

Clive nods, taking that in. "That sounds really special -- the connection that you have." It sounds intrinsically unique, such closeness and certainty. "How long were you together?"

"Ten years." Keira sighs. It sounds like a lifetime.

Ten years. It confirms Clive's suspicion: there's not a chance he can touch that history, or come close to that bond. Even if Keira's in his bed, she's unreachable. He softly blows out a breath and confesses, "I didn't have that with anyone. Not even before everything went to hell."

"Not many people do," she says quietly. "I miss him, and I don't know that I'll ever stop missing him, but I am ready to move on." Reaching for Clive's hand. "I'm tired of being alone, of not having someone. I don't think he'd want that for me either. He'd be okay with this."

He nods, and gently squeezes her hand before reaching for the steering wheel once more. And changes the subject. "You and Sam and Antony have really good instincts about picking up strays. Have there been others you encountered, who you backed off from? Instinctively?"

Keira nods. "Lots early on. They were too desperate, too scared, which I know sounds funny when we're all scared, but we couldn't trust them to have our backs - to not do something stupid or use us as shields. And then along the way there's been the crazies or the people we thought would be good but they were too tied down to someone who wasn't a good fit. We always made sure they had some food, left a weapon or two when we could, but we couldn't risk taking them along."

That sounds all too familiar, and it's a long moment before Clive speaks again. "Jess and I were traveling with someone -- I mean, we were traveling with a group, before, but then..." He clears his throat and starts over. "There was an elderly woman who Jess had kind of adopted as her grandmother. She was only getting through because we were taking her with us, you know? When we walked into a nest of walkers... Jesus. That was the hardest fucking thing I've ever done, leaving her behind. It was too late, I shot her..." Swallowing hard, he blinks back sudden wetness from his eyes. "But it wasn't too late for Jess and me. I had to get us out."

Keira nods again. "You have to do what you have to do," she says quietly. "To survive, I mean. And sometimes I hate it. We watched a couple of groups go into that tunnel before Ryan and the guys arrived and - we knew they weren't going to make it, but one was too large to take on and the other - there was nothing we could have done for them. We couldn't have got them through." She sighs. "Was that the worst?"

His jaw tightens, his steely gaze fixed on the road ahead. "No."

Keira watches him for a moment. "I'm sorry," she says, her voice soft, more tentative than is usual for her. She can't help wondering if his worst has to do with what happened to Jess. "If you ever want to talk about it, I'm here. I won't judge. I can't judge. Unless you raped someone but you don't seem like that kind of man to me."

"No, that's not something you need to worry about with me," Clive agrees, his voice dry as dust. "There are other ways of violating a person's soul, though. Let me ask you," he says thoughtfully, "do you think it's the extremeness of our circumstances that brings out the best and the worst in different people? Or do you think the world was always this fucked up, and we just weren't so aware of it because there were so many of us? Getting lost in the numbers."

"I don't know," Keira says, blowing out a breath. She glances back out the window. "I don't think the world was always this fucked up but I think there's three groups of people, good, bad and undecided. The good were always going to do good, same with the bad, but then there's this big pool in the middle and depending on their circumstances, who's around them, the influences, they go one way or the other. And most of the ones who go to the bad side were the ones who were held in check by laws, morals, what they thought they should do. And now there's none of that. They're not in check anymore." She looks over at Clive. "I do think we're outnumbered. I don't see how we can't be. Part of what makes the good guys good is the unwillingness to be the bad guys and go as far as we need to. That's why I'm glad I met Antony. I don't think I've ever met anyone who could mix both."

"Yeah, he's... He's a little scary," are the words Clive decides on. Then he laughs. "Although I'm sure you've seen a much different side of him than I ever have. I think I've only seen the one." He glances aside at her. "He's good with Jess." To his mind it's as solid a character recommendation as any, these days. "Even though she did try to shoot him."

Keira laughs. "I think Logan likes her."

"What?" He slams on the brakes in reflex, shooting her an aghast look before driving on. "No, no. No. She's like a little sister to me. That's not acceptable." Of course, the light dawns a moment later. "Oh, fuck. This is karma," he realizes, a laugh slipping out when he looks over at Keira again. "This is karma, biting me in the ass."

"Probably," Keira agrees happily, unable to stop smiling. "But I don't know he'll do anything about it. Or that she'll let him." Which would be a shame.

"I couldn't blame her for that," Clive says ruefully. "I guess we'll take his measure. See if he's a patient man at all. Hell, we'll see whether Jess draws a gun on him." That thought shouldn't be nearly as amusing as it is, really.

Keira giggles. "Just as long as she doesn't actually shoot him. We need people who can handle weapons and lots of you big strong guys. We're going to have building and plowing and all sorts of things in need of brute strength when we get to Auskerry."

"Brute strength," he echoes, and grins at her. "I'm yours."

"And mine only," Keira grins back. "Don't you forget that part. I don't care how much baby-making needs to be done, I'm not a sharing kind of girl."

"Possessive streak, huh? Good to know," Clive teases, but his brain is still stuck. "Do you want to get pregnant?" he asks after a moment, looking over at her.

Keira smiles at him. "Yes." Unsure of his reaction. "I was waiting until I got married and had a good start on my job, but now there's nothing to wait for - except making sure we're safe from them." She nods out her window as they pass a walker swaying at the side of the road.

"That makes sense. Damn," he exhales, shaking his head. "It's hard to start thinking beyond the next few days. Do you know what I mean? Looking forward to the island, planning... It gives us something to focus on. I know Jess and I really needed that. Still need it. A baby, though..." He chuckles softly. "That's even a lot longer-term than I was thinking." It's hopeful. Defiant hope.

Keira grins. "Am I freaking you out?"

"You mean even more than 'the end of the world, now with extra zombies' thing?" Clive laughs again. "Yes. You're freaking me out. But it's a good sort of freaking out." He should be paranoid. He should be terrified. He should refuse to have sex with her anymore unless she lets him wear a rubber. "A baby," he says, wonder in his voice. "God, that's amazing."

"I'm glad you think so," Keira says, pretty amazed herself. "As it is, we only have three women in our group and two of them most likely won't let anyone near them. We'll have to find at least a couple more before we make the crossing."

* * *

"There are farms to the west of here," Eva says, her voice abruptly breaking the thick silence in the Rover. Jess looks at her like she's spoken out of turn. "I can't decide if I think a place like that is a good bet for the night, or even worse than usual because of all the livestock carcasses."

"You thinking smell or walkers?" Antony asks. A lot of what they've seen has been stripped clean but who knows the further north they get.

"I was thinking walkers. There's no getting away from the smell anymore," Eva murmurs, a touch of a dry smile on her lips.

Antony nods. "I don't want us to have to backtrack," he says, reaching across to dig in the glove compartment. "Take a look at the map and let me know if there's anywhere we can go off and shortcut north rather than having to come back to the main road."

She arches an eyebrow but accepts the map. "Here. Towards Driscoll," she says, "unless we're already further north than I thought. I wasn't paying attention."

"That's okay," Jess rushes to say, and Eva looks at her coldly.

"I know it is." Eva lifts her chin and informs Antony. "The M14 west. See if you can get off the road there. Then there are smaller routes."

Antony glances at Eva then at Jess. He doesn't think anything actually happened between the two women and the last thing he wants to do is interfere while he's stuck in the humvee with the two of them but he's not about to let it pass if it continues. He unclips the radio from his belt and hands it back to Jess. "You want to radio the others and let them know we're taking the M14 west? We'll stop at the first gas station we come to unless it's overrun. Fill up and decide where to stop for the night."

"Sure." Jess glances out the windscreen but she can't quite see the now-familiar figure on his motorcycle, just a cloud of dust. "Can you pull Logan over and let him know?"

Antony speeds up, gesturing to Logan to drop back for a second. "We're taking the M14 west," he calls out, rolling down his window. "Stop at the first gas station after that."

Logan gives him a thumbs up, glancing at Jess before he takes the lead again.

"What did you do before all this?" Antony asks Eva, watching for the route markers.

"I was in estate planning." She's silent for a beat, but then laughs out loud. "Of all the careers from before that are worthless now, I suspect mine is the most worthless. I'm very good with money, you see."

Jess stares at her for a moment, and that laugh crawls beneath her skin. "Conservation of resources," she puts in, even as she wonders whether it'd be best to just keep her mouth shut.

Eva looks at her skeptically. "What?"

"You're good with money. You know how to responsibly handle resources," Jess answers. "If we ever get to the point where we're, I don't know, bartering with... with other settlements, then we'll need you to run all that."

"Other settlements?" Eva arches an eyebrow.

"It's a hope, okay? If we're looking forward to the future, then I'm going to think about a someday far in the future when we're all safe and trying to find normal again."

"With a trade-based economy?" She shakes her head, but Eva's eyes aren't so mocking this time when she looks at Jess. "Fine. Someday. Right now, I just want to kill things."

Jess shrugs a little. "I'm with you there. And no one who can fight is useless."

"What about your boyfriend?" Antony asks, damned if he's going to skip around things with anyone. "Were you together from before?"

Eva snaps a glare at him, but answers nonetheless. "No. I was in Somerville in a little town. He came with a couple of friends. They stayed for a couple weeks, but they didn't want to sit in houses and wait to be attacked. When they took off, I went with them. We lost... everyone," she says bleakly, her voice tapering off. "I lost everyone."

"I'm sorry," Antony says, his voice softer. "We didn't know him but he seemed like a nice guy and he would have made a good addition to our group." If only he hadn't forgotten one of the most basic tenets of how they live in this new world: check everything.

Her lips tighten. "He would've, it's true. He was a lot nicer than I am. And he still believed there was something good to fight for."

"And you don't?" Antony asks, steering slightly to the right to avoid running over half a walker dragging itself across the road.

"Today?" It's a long moment before Eva answers. "I think you're all crazy," she says finally, and slowly exhales. "That's not a criticism. You have to be crazy now, or you'd never have the strength to stand up." She purses her lips, then nods. "Marcus would have believed in you. And I believed in him."

"Good." Antony nods, still not sure how she's going to mesh with the group. "We need everyone on board if this is going to work."

Eva shakes her head slightly, and tells him, "I pull my weight. You don't need to worry about that." She points. "That's our turn."

Logan makes it ahead of them and Antony follows, glancing in the rearview mirror to make sure the other two vehicles follow. The sky's starting to darken, a storm obviously brewing, and he suspects they're going to have to find a place for the night sooner than originally planned. "We'll make sure everyone's on plan at the gas station, quickly fuel up and stop at the first decent place after that. I want us inside and battened before this hits," he says, nodding at the gathering clouds overhead.

Despite their good intentions, the skies open up and dump rain on them before they come across a fuel station. When the Rover rolls to a stop Alex is already sliding open the door, gingerly stepping out onto the pavement. Ryan glares after him - he told Alex he was the last one who should be out fooling around in the rain, his immune system's already compromised - then looks at Sam in exasperation. "You see this? This is why I'm not a bloody pediatrician." It's possible he's being a touch overprotective at this point, but the desire is strong to fall back into the nice safe structure of doctor and patient.

"Hey." Alex knocks on Keira's window when the van stops, visually checking in with both her and Clive when she rolls the window down. "Are you two doing okay?"

"We're good," Keira says with a smile. "We've been talking babies." She flashes a mischievous grin at Clive and hops out. "How's your leg?" She waves at Jess, watching Antony haul the pump from the back of the humvee.

"He'll be fine," Luke tells Ryan. "I'll make sure he gets dried off when we're back on the road."

"It's good," Alex answers, distracted. "Babies? Holy fuck, are you pregnant?"

Jess walks up just in time to hear his question, and her eyes widen in alarm.

Keira laughs. "No." Her grin widening. "But I hope to be."

"Hope to be what?" Logan asks, joining them, not quite sure what he's walked into.

"Pregnant," she informs him, enjoying the way he tries to cover for his reaction. "We'll need to repopulate."

"Not today," Alex mutters, complete with a You idiot! glare for Clive.

Jess melts into a smile for Keira. She just can't help it. As terrifying as the idea is, the happiness in Keira's eyes makes her just as happy for her friend. "Good thing we have a doctor," she says with a soft laugh, pushing her wet hair off her face as she looks around for Ryan.

Logan doesn't dare say a word. Given how many of the guys are already hooked up with each other, he's assuming that means Antony, him and Clive are their last best hope. And he's not quite sure how he feels about that.

"We could do it without one if we needed to," Keira says, still rather enjoying making all the guys squirm, "but yeah, we're lucky we do." She grins at Ryan as he and Antony join them, the skies having dried up for a few. "Have you delivered any babies before?"

"I did an emergency Caesarean once," he answers, "but generally there wasn't much call for it where I was. Why?" he asks belatedly, and takes in the enormity of Keira's smile. "Oh my god. Congratulations?" He grins, although he's a bit miffed that Sam didn't mention Keira is expecting Cal's baby. It would have been nice just to know.

"Not yet," Jess says with a giggle, and puts her hand on Ryan's shoulder. "Easy there, champ." She drops her hand like she burned it, surprised at herself, and goes back to smiling at her friends, an arched eyebrow for Clive.

Logan rubs a hand over the back of his neck and looks to Antony. "It looks like we're not done with the rain yet," he says, nodding towards the still threatening clouds overhead. "What's the plan?"

"Stop at the next decent place we see," Antony replies, glancing at Sam, Luke and Eva who are busy filling the humvees. "Get our things inside and get it boarded up before anything more hits."

"We're back in farming country to the west of here," Ryan points out. "Maybe we should try and head inland a bit."

They're back on the road - heading west - when the rain begins to pour down once more. His fingers linked with Luke's on the seat between them, Alex keeps watch out his window as they pass long drenched stretches of open land. "What about cows?" he asks, abruptly breaking the silence.

Ryan blinks then searches, staring in the rapidly-falling darkness. Finding no cattle, he twists in his seat to look back over his shoulder. "What cows?"

"For the island," Alex tells him, momentarily distracted by a jagged slash of lightning, and the crash of lightning that follows almost immediately. "Shit, that's close. Livestock for the island, you know? Do you think there are any left out there?"

"There's supposed to be," Sam says, glancing in the rearview mirror. "They just eat off the land and there's nothing out there to eat them."

Luke ponders that, rubbing his thumb over the back of Alex's hand. "What about milking them though? Would they even let us near them anymore?" He gives a soft laugh. "Do they go feral?" He hasn't got a clue.

Alex snickers. "Mad cows!"

"Hey, that's not funny," Ryan protests, considering their circumstances. Then he relents a bit. "Okay, it's a little funny."

Sam just shakes his head. "Can you imagine?" he says. "Zombie people are hard enough to deal with. If we had to deal with zombie animals, we'd be done for."

Luke shudders. "I don't want to imagine." Adding a moment later, "Should we be taking animals over with us? Like Noah's Ark? Keira said we needed to repopulate but what about dogs and cats and goats and whatever we could get on a boat?"

"Have you seen any?" Ryan looks back over his shoulder to meet Luke's eyes. "The only animals I've seen for months were dead and mostly devoured. Even the birds, when they can catch 'em."

Luke frowns and glances at Alex. "I think so. I know there were dogs and cats in the village, and I'm sure I saw stray dogs in the some of the fields we passed," but he's lost all track of time and when that was.

"We'll find some," Alex promises, empty as the words are. Because he'd promise to fucking move the heavens if it would reassure his lover. He blows out a breath. "What do you think about Keira getting pregnant?"

"I think it's amazing she wants to," Luke responds. "It would be really easy to go the other way and not want to bring anyone into this world."

"Yeah, that's kind of the way I'm thinking," Ryan admits, scrubbing a hand over his eyes. God, he's tired. They all are, he knows. Bone-weary. "I hope it doesn't happen until things are more settled. Safer."

"Look at it like this," Alex suggests with a darkly mischievous grin. "Now everyone will want to double protect you, so that you're safe to deliver the baby." Ryan responds with a silent middle finger in the air, and Alex laughs.

Sam's so focused on the road it takes few minutes for the conversation around him to filter through. ...deliver the baby. What the fuck? "What baby?"

"Keira's baby," Ryan answers, warily watching his lover. "In case she gets pregnant, because she says she wants to."

Sam glances at Ryan, his eyes quickly back on the road and his jaw tightening.

With a mental sigh, Ryan reaches out and clasps Sam's shoulder, connecting with his lover for a moment. A reminder that they're linked. And he resolves to try and work some words out of him later. "We're slowing down," he notices, and sits up straighter in his seat, straining to see through the windscreen.

Logan pulls off into the driveway of the first decent house they see. Two storey, chimney, door and windows intact. "What about this one?" he asks Antony when he pulls the humvee in beside him.

Antony nods. It's getting darker - and later - than he'd originally wanted for finding a place. "Looks good. You want to check it out?"

"Sure." Logan gets off his bike. "Someone want to come with me?"

"Yeah, I'll come," Clive shoulders his weapon and pushes his damp hair back from his face.

Biting her lip, Jess hesitates. Then nods and moves to stand by Logan.

"I'll keep watch here," Ryan says, already circling behind the Humvee so he can see if anything comes up on them from the south. He shivers, worried that they might have to start dealing with hypothermia before too long. Just one more damn thing.

Logan starts up the driveway, very conscious of Jess beside him - and Clive beside her. "I hope this place works out," he says softly, pulling his collar up against the rain, scanning the fields around the house as they go. "We're going to lose the last of the light soon."

"Yeah." Clive squints up at the sky in disapproval, then shakes his head. "I'll go that way," he points. "Circle 'round back and meet me." He says the words like any others, but he keeps an eye on Jess for her reaction. When she seems to grow no more anxious at the thought of being alone with Logan, he nods once in satisfaction. "See you in back."

They make their way as quietly as they can, sticking close to the side of the house and ducking beneath windows before risking glances inside. It all seems benign, the house and grounds lingering in an air of abandonment. Jess stops Logan with a hand on his arm. She gestures towards a small side yard. It's hard to tell with the rain... "How fresh do you think those graves are?"

Logan steps out from the side of the building to take a closer look. "They're all pretty old except that one," he says, pointing at the last in the row. "But unless someone named their kid 'Ruffy,' I don't think it's even human."

A beat, and then she giggles, tension flowing from her body. "Good point. And I'm not even tempted to make a pet cemetery joke." They inch along, and she's relieved to see that Logan is right about the burials being long past. The garden has grown wild, untended, and a low stone wall runs the border of the property. "At least no one can really sneak up on us back here," she says, nodding towards the open field just beyond.

"No, it looks good from back here," Logan agrees, wishing for a moment they could just fortify this place and settle down here. Anywhere. The island sounds amazing - the guarantee the walkers couldn't get to them - but it's still so far and the thought they might lose any of their group on the way... it's something he doesn't even want to consider. "Hopefully it's the same inside."

A soft whistle brings her head up, and Jess waves across at Clive, peeking around the opposite corner. He waves back, and joins them after another minute.

"All clear 'round that side. It feels like no one's been here in a while," Clive says. "There's an overhang back by a shed where we could bring the vehicles."

"That'd be good," Logan nods, well aware it's not just walkers they have to fear. "Do you guys have a regular procedure for clearing houses?"

Clive dips his chin in agreement. "Rattle the cage, wait a couple seconds, then spread out inside," he replies as they move to check out the back door leading into the garden. "Let's try here so we won't be seen from the road." He bangs firmly on the door three times, then steps back to listen. After a couple moments of silence from within, he tries the doorknob, not wholly surprised to find it unlocked. And slips inside, Jess on his heels.

Logan's instinct is to bring up the rear but at Clive's instructions he spreads out in the opposite direction, clearing his side of the first floor, bedroom, bathroom, living room, without incident.

"There's a cellar," Jess says quietly, slipping out of the gloom to join him again in the foyer. "Should we wait for Clive?"

"One of us should," Logan whispers back. Walkers can't handle stairs and they should be safe leaving it but somehow that doesn't feel right. "I don't want him going upstairs alone. How about you stand watch and I'll quickly check it out?"

She touches his arm in alarm. "Wait, you're going down there by yourself? That's not what I meant," she exclaims. "Something could grab you and you'd never see it coming and..." A shiver.

"I'll see it," Logan assures her, although he stills when she touches him, already aware of how unusual that is. "Remember, I trained for this sort of stuff," he adds with a smile.

"Oh, right. And usually you're used to them shooting back, I suppose," she says with a soft laugh for herself. "Okay. I'll wait for him. But yell if you need us, okay?" It's kind of a given that they yell when they're in a pinch, but she figures it doesn't hurt to say so regardless. Logan is so quiet, though, and seems stoic to boot. She catches herself and wonders when she started worrying about other people again.

"I will, I promise," Logan says, staring at her for a moment before he catches himself. "I'll be right back," he promises before easing open the door and descending into the darkness.

When Clive finally returns, it's to find Jess pacing back and forth in front of the cellar door. "He's down there," she whispers, but now that he's back she's not waiting a second longer. "Logan, we're coming downstairs," she calls softly before taking another step, getting her flashlight ready, Clive on her heels.

The cellar's much deeper than they usually are in this part of the country and Logan doesn't hear Jess, having made his way back to the cold room. He's standing there when they join him, mouth slightly ajar, staring at his find, his stomach starting to rumble. "I think we struck gold," he says quietly, adjusting his headlamp so he doesn't blind either of them.

"Oh, my god." Her jaw drops and she stares, dumbstruck, at the wide shelves full of home-canned foods. "Onions, carrots, eggs, sausage..." All neatly labeled and grouped by type. She lifts a jar and runs her finger over the top, shaking her head in amazement. "The seal is even still good."

"These people were actually ready for the apocalypse," Clive murmurs, taking a mental tally. "So, where the hell are they?"

"They left," Jess says, and angles her light on a gap on a shelf. "Look at the dust rings. Some jars were taken recently. Maybe... maybe they escaped."

"We haven't seen too many walkers recently," Logan suggests. "Maybe they thought it was safe to leave? See what was happening out in the world."

"Maybe they were right," Clive murmurs, and answers Jess's look with a shrug. "It could happen. Let's clear upstairs and then maybe we can get everyone in here for the night."

They make quick work of the upstairs, the previous inhabitants appearing to have simply got up and gone. Standing in the doorway with Jess while Clive goes for the others, Logan thinks about what they'd said. "We should talk to Antony about taking some kind of radio over with us. Just in case."

"That would make things easier," she murmurs. "At least we have batteries now, so it should work out." She bites her lip and muses in silence for a long moment. "What do you think about Keira getting pregnant?"

Logan grins. He can't help himself. "I think it's amazing. Scary as hell but absolutely amazing. I can't imagine a world without kids and as bad as things are, it's sort of the ultimate f-you to what's happening." He smiles at Jess. "What about you? What do you think?"

She blinks, taken aback by the brightness of his smile. It's just so... "I think it's adorable that you didn't say 'fuck' in front of me."

"I've said it before," Logan points out, although now he's blushing. "But I try not to swear." Especially in front of Jess.

Her lips purse and she fights back a giggle. "Do many men in your line of work try not to swear?"

Okay. So now the blush has moved right down from his cheeks to his chest and it's heading right for his toes. "No. Not usually. But it's different swearing in front of you. To you," he amends quickly, because it's not like he's been doing very well on the other front since he arrived.

Jess smiles. And god, she's nearly overwhelmed by a sudden urge to kiss him -- her first instance of spontaneous desire since-- "Oh. That's okay," she says, ducking her head, her skin crawling. "I'll just curse double to balance things the fuck out."

Logan laughs. "My mom's favourite actress was Katherine Hepburn. She looked like a lady but she swore like a sailor. I always thought that was awesome."

That fetches another smile from her, despite her intense discomfort. "Maybe I should take up smoking. Get that husky smoker's laugh going on." She looks up at a blur of motion from outside. "They're coming in. Are you going to put your bike in the back?"

"Yeah," Logan nods, gaze lingering on her - and that smile - for a moment, "I'll go grab it."

She watches him go, her gaze automatically sliding to his ass. Then she shivers, and shakes herself with a stern mental warning. Because, honestly.

They make quick work of unloading their supplies into the foyer - it's nearly down to a science now - and then Alex wants to see the cellar for himself, like he needs to actually see the bounty before he can believe in it.

"You're always making shit harder for yourself," Ryan grumbles, eyeing the stairs.

Alex just waves him off and quietly asks Luke, "Can you help me?"

"Of course," Luke says, although inwardly he's biting back a sigh, in agreement with Ryan. Luckily the stairs are surprisingly wide for a house this age and he's able to get an arm under Alex, supporting him on the way down.

Controlling a wince, Alex steps off the last stair and shifts to hold Luke's hand. "For a creepy zombie cellar," he says, shining his light around, "this actually isn't too terribly creepy. Wow." He lets the beam settle on the pantry of jars and cans.

Luke laughs, the sound ending on a soft gasp. "Wow is right," he says, leaning in against Alex's side without putting too much pressure on him. "Think we can eat it all tonight?" He grins up at his lover.

"...No," Alex decides, and he grins back. "How amazing is that?"

Luke doesn't even bother answering. Just shifts and kisses Alex, hard on the mouth.

Even though Alex had been planning to jump Luke - as best he could, anyway - he's surprised. He whimpers softly, then brings his arms up to embrace his lover, fisting a hand in his shirt and kissing him back just as hungrily.

Luke moans into the kiss, his body responding eagerly, as it always does, despite their circumstances. "I want you," he whispers fiercely, his hole fluttering, aching to have Alex's huge cock inside him.

"Yes," Alex whispers. He couldn't say whether he's so hard from deprivation or from Luke, but it doesn't matter now. "I found this," he says, slipping a small bottle of baby oil out of his pocket. "Before Sam could get to it."

Luke grins. "You're amazing," he says, taking the bottle from Alex and pulling him back further into the cellar, into a dark, quiet corner, where hopefully no one will see them. "I'll brace myself," he offers, already dropping his jeans and slicking his fingers.

Alex wishes he'd washed his hands, that he showered, that they could take their time... Hell, might as well wish a comfy luxurious bed for them while he's at it. He drops his jeans instead, and trails his fingers down Luke's back, feeling the bumps of his spine beneath his shirt.

The touch draws a soft sigh from Luke. "One of these days we're going to have the time and safety and privacy to do this properly," he says, quickly opening himself up, well aware that anyone could come down at any point.

"We will," Alex agrees. "I believe it." He slicks up his cock, tender and aching, and spreads Luke's cheeks apart with his thumbs. Slowly pushes inside to just the crown, sucking in a breath at the intense pleasure. Then starting to rock himself deeper.

"Oh god, yes," Luke breathes, his cock jerking in front of him, his nails digging into the soft cardboard of the boxes in front of him.

Alex groans, his grip shifting to Luke's hips. His thrusts are shallow at first, but gradually even out until his full length is buried deep inside. It's absolute bliss. He licks at the nape of Luke's neck, hungry, tasting sweat and rain and that elusive flavor of the man himself just beneath.

"Oh, fuck," Luke curses softly, wishing more than anything he could make noise. Yell, scream, shout out how fucking good this feels. "Fuck me," he urges, arching his throat to give Alex a better angle for his mouth. "Fuck me hard."

"You'll feel it," Alex warns, in a way that's really not a warning at all. It's a promise. "You're gonna feel me for days." His hips speed up and he digs his fingertips into pale flesh, hoping like hell the boxes hold. In only a minute it's too much for him, starved for touch the way they all are. He tries to distract himself by sinking his teeth into Luke's throat.

And that's exactly the way Luke wants it. He cries out, unable to help himself, every muscle seizing tight as he comes hard, without being touched, his hole stretched wide open on Alex's cock.

Upstairs in the kitchen, Clive's head comes up at the sound. Jess stares at him in alarm, then turns to wrench open the cellar door. "Alex--? Oh, Jesus fuck." She slams the door behind her and all Clive can do is laugh.

"Shit!" Alex thrusts twice more, three times, bottoming out inside his lover and exploding, hot and messy and dissolving into laughter. "Oh, Jesus fuck," he snickers, dizzy, and licks over the angry red mark on Luke's throat.

Luke blushes hard, mortified even as the last ripples of pleasure thrum through his frame. "I'm sorry," he whispers, cursing under his breath, although it's obviously too late for that.

"Everyone okay?" Logan asks, sticking his head in the kitchen, having boarded up the windows and got some blankets into place with Ryan's help.

"--The fuck are you sorry for?" Alex mumbles, grinning against Luke's nape, languor seeping through his blood so that all he wants to do is give in and cuddle up to his lover in slow motion. "I'm not sorry. You're fucking perfect." The words slip out before he can even think about stopping them. "I think I love you."

"You think, do you?" Luke says after a moment, giving Alex the chance to shrug off the words, dismiss them as a slip of the tongue or teasing. His heart pounding in his chest.

"I'm pretty sure," Alex answers, slipping out. He turns Luke in his arms and kisses him softly, searching but not demanding. "I'm in love with you, Luke. It's got nothing to do with everything else." He'd fall in love meeting him on the street in the old world, he's certain.

Luke's throat tightens and he starts to tear up. "Good, because I'm in love with you too," he confesses.

It's the craziest of things, this moment. Alex's grin spreads like sunshine in the dark and damp of the moldering cellar. "You love me too," he whispers in wonder. Kisses Luke again.

///

A further investigation of the cellar and pantry had led to the discovery of a stash of homemade peach brandy. Sickeningly sweet, it was nevertheless actual alcohol and after a dinner of stuffing themselves with various pickled vegetables and a huge platter of home fries and onions Luke had managed to fry up, precisely cutting out the bad bits of potato for ages, they found themselves sitting in the living room, the gang all together for once, one of the lamps burning while Logan topped up everyone's glasses with the contents of the third, no maybe fourth bottle.

"Enjoy it, everyone," Alex advises with a broad smile. "This might be our last night off for a long time. Because once we get to the island, it's going to be work, work, work..." Despite his words, he looks delighted with the prospect.

Jess snorts a laugh; she hit the giggle stage on her previous glass, and tries to ward off Logan's refilling attempts. "I think you've been enjoying enough for all of us. There might not be any left."

"Nonsense, there's always more enjoyment to be had," Alex argues, although it strikes him that it's surely an alien viewpoint. When did he turn so goddamn happy? Oh, yeah, he realizes, and stretches his arm around Luke's shoulders, snugging up against him. Then he looks Jess dead in the eye and says, "Oh Jesus fuck."

She bursts into giggles, nearly crying with laughter, even as her face flames red. "I am so embarrassed about that. How come I'm the one who's embarrassed, and not you?"

Alex salutes her with his glass. "I honestly have no idea."

Keira snuggles in against Clive's side, reaching for his hand and nodding at Jess. "It's nice to see her laughing," she whispers, careful not to be overheard even though the general din pretty much guarantees it. She'd been worried earlier that they might be overheard outside but a quick check had reassured her that the thick stone house -- along with their boards and blankets -- was keeping its secrets.

"Yeah." The past few days have been nothing short of miraculous to him. "A week ago I couldn't have imagined any of this. I couldn't even imagine anything different from what was." He hugs Keira to him, thinking that even if they never get to the island, this moment right here has made it all worth it.

Ryan smiles, soaking in the unexpected serenity. The brandy carries a hell of a kick, and he cut himself off after the first cloying mouthful. Nonetheless his veins flow golden with the mellow mood, and he looks up at Sam from his perch on the floor. Nods his head towards the staircase before he gets to his feet.

"We're calling it a night," Sam announces to no one in particular, downing the last of his brandy before following Ryan, a grin on his face.

"Hopefully they're quieter than you two," Antony says with a nod at Alex and Luke, his eyes crinkling.

Alex shrugs and smiles, comfortable with the teasing. He's got nothing to worry about with Luke in his arms.

Upstairs, Ryan ducks into the bedroom where he stowed his stuff earlier. A huge crack of thunder crashes over his head, startling him, and he shines his light on the ceiling, relieved to find no water spots or leaks. With a soft sigh he begins to undress.

"You okay?" Sam asks, having just caught the sigh. He leans against the doorjamb, gaze trailing over Ryan's bared chest.

"Yeah." Ryan looks back over his shoulder with a smile, and unbuckles his belt. "It's just... letting down our guard. Laughing. It feels amazing, you know? Like this huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders." He slips the leather from his belt loops and prowls barefoot towards Sam. "Anyway, I was thinking that it's such a special occasion and all..."

"Yeah?" Sam's still caught up in staring at his lover, at how incredibly gorgeous he is, like some statue of a god come to life.

"Maybe..." Ryan tries to quell the army of butterflies in his stomach. "Maybe we could try out some of that lube you've got stashed."

There's a 'seriously?' on the tip of Sam's tongue but he quickly (and smartly) bites it back, nodding instead. "I'd like that," he says with a smile, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. There's no lock but he grabs a chair from the desk and props it under the knob, making sure it'll hold tight before fetching a bottle of lube from his pack.

Ryan smiles at the precaution, but he appreciates that Sam is trying to protect their privacy. And things are about to be uncomfortable enough even without him looking over his shoulder. "Do you want me to...?" He trails off and drops his jeans.

"I want you on the bed, on your back," Sam says, his gaze clearly appreciative as he sets the lube on the bed and undresses.

The vulnerable posture makes Ryan a tinge self-conscious. His legs naturally fall open, but that feels weird, so he bends his knees and puts his feet flat on the bed, and of course that bares everything. He can't decide which is worse.

"I can hear you thinking from here," Sam teases, getting on the bed beside Ryan and pressing close.

Ryan huffs a soft laugh. "Yeah, sorry," he says, slipping an arm around Sam and rolling to face him.

"If you need me to stop, I'll stop," Sam assures him softly, brushing their lips together, "and if you don't like it, we don't have to do it again. I don't have any complaints about what we've been doing."

Watching him, Ryan slowly breathes in the scent of his lover, the startling intimacy he hadn't expected to ever feel again. He nods. "All right. Tell me what you want me to do."

"I want you to kiss me, touch me, whatever keeps your focus on me, on how good you and I feel together, and not what I'm doing," Sam says with a smile, slicking his fingers with the lube and canting his hips to press their cocks together.

"All right... wait, you are going to do it? Lube me up, I mean," Ryan says, pulling back just enough that he can see Sam's face. "That doesn't, you know, put you off?"

Sam stares at Ryan for a second. "No, it doesn't," he says, resisting the urge - for now - to ask Ryan why he would even think that. "It's hot, it's foreplay, it's all part of me making this good for you."

"...Oh." Ryan stares at Sam for a long moment in turn, like he's considering arguing. But then he relaxes back once more, rubbing his hands restlessly over Sam's back and shoulders.

Sam kisses Ryan again, licking into his mouth, their tongues tangling as he trails his slicked fingers between his lover's cheeks, stroking lightly over his hole.

Jumping a little at the contact, Ryan exhales softly and lets his legs fall apart, making room. And he decides to take the recommendation and focus on the kissing, moaning softly into Sam's mouth, fingers tangling in his hair.

Sam groans into the kiss as well, every inch of him on fire as he forces himself to take the time to do this right, to make it the foreplay, the slow building pleasure he promised Ryan. He circles Ryan's hole with the pad of one finger, feeling the muscle ease a little.

Ryan wants to relax, he really does. His insides are just in knots, though. But the teasing touch of Sam's finger is light enough that he can tell himself it's not an intrusion, not an invasion. Simply a lover's caress.

Licking into Ryan's mouth, Sam presses closer, letting Ryan feel how aroused he is by just this alone as he presses the tip of his finger slightly in, a barely there insinuation before pulling back and rubbing over his hole again and again, the same slight insinuation initiated every few passes. Letting Ryan get used to it, hopefully relax, start to want this, want more.

The tease works. Ryan moans softly and draws one knee up, making a little more room without thinking. Biting at Sam's lower lip.

"You feel so good," Sam whispers, kissing Ryan again and again as he gently pushes the tip of his finger inside him. "I could kiss you for hours."

Ryan laughs out loud. "Yeah, it's amazing how things change without flat screens and internet. We're rediscovering kissing." He strokes over Sam's neck, his shoulders, trailing his fingertips along the well-defined musculature. Letting the sensations fuel his own desire.

"I'm rediscovering everything," Sam says, kissing his way down Ryan's throat, his finger pushing slightly deeper. "Like how fucking good you smell." The scent one of sweat and musk and Ryan, strong but not overpowering since they keep managing - so far - to find places to wash every few days.

With a soft moan, Ryan arches against him. He shifts to get some friction on his cock, rubbing against his lover however he can. Opening up to him.

Muscle gives just enough for Sam to push his finger deeper, slowly fucking it in and out of Ryan's hole as he keeps licking, sucking and biting at his skin, his own cock rigid, aching, wet at its tip.

Ryan gasps softly, feeling warmth begin to spread. It's not as bad as he feared it'd be. And hell, it's better than he thought it could be. "Sam," he whispers, pushing down onto his lover's finger.

"Y'okay?" Sam murmurs, taking the way Ryan's moving as his cue to pull back and gently add a second finger.

"Yeah." Ryan winces at the intrusion, but it's in anticipation of pain that doesn't come, and strain begins to flow from his muscles once more. "I like that."

"Good, because it'll all feel like this," Sam promises, still taking his time, heedless of the world outside this room, this house, this moment.

"Not sure I believe you," Ryan whispers, but it's with a laugh. He wouldn't have thought Sam would be this gentle, so patient, much less that he could be, and it's stirring a warmth deep inside him. Something completely aside from touch.

"You'll see," Sam says with soft laugh as well, kissing Ryan again and again, his fingers moving inside him, twisted just so to rub over that bundle of nerves.

Ryan stiffens at a shock of pure pleasure, his breath stuttering. He stares at Sam in the dim light, then nods. "Again."

Sam grins. "Gladly." His fingers very deliberately moving over that same spot.

"Ohh, god." Ryan drops his head back, arching into Sam's touch. Streaks of fire lick through his body and he gasps, moving on Sam's hand.

"Lie back," Sam orders, moving between Ryan's thighs and sliding down his body, never once letting up, his fingers playing over Ryan's prostate as he nuzzles his face against his lover's hard leaking cock.

"Holy christ yes," Ryan mutters, obeying. Hell, he'd give Sam anything to keep him touching him like this. Can't help but lift his head to watch his lover's gorgeous face, that delicious mouth so tantalizingly close.

Sam flicks his tongue over the head, slowly working a third finger into Ryan as he does, lapping the precome from the tip, licking into the slit.

Ryan whimpers under his breath and scrabbles at Sam's shoulders. "If you're gonna do this, do it," he gasps, his body clenching tight. His nerve fading at the spike of pain that pushes through the pleasure.

"You sure?" Sam asks, but even as he does he's rising up, reaching for the lube, another palmful slicked over his aching cock. And then he's fitting head to hole, hips canting slowly, as slowly as he can fucking manage, forward, pressing through that first still-tight ring of muscle.

His whole body stiffens up again, and Ryan grinds his teeth into his bottom lip, ordering himself to breathe, to relax. Ha. He blows out a sigh and bears down, drawing Sam in. Tasting himself on his lover's lips and plunging his fingers into Sam's hair.

Sam groans into the kiss, cock throbbing violently at the tight heat that encases him. "Oh, fuck," he breathes, smears against Ryan's mouth, pushing deeper, his hand reaching between them, curling around Ryan's cock.

Crying out in surprise, Ryan bucks his hips. He can feel Sam slowly filling him and it's fucking bizarre but it's not bad and ohgod his cock is so goddamn sensitive right now. "Sam--"

Sam kisses Ryan again. Swallows anything he might say, hand moving on his lover's cock, stroking him as he shifts still deeper, all the way in before starting to thrust.

Everything is starting to blur together: the discomfort, the pain, the pleasure, the intimacy. Ryan's brain can't make sense of it anymore and so he checks out, reverting to being fully grounded in his body. And his body knows what to do. He wraps his legs around Sam, hooking his ankles together at the small of his back, and kisses him deeply, licking into his mouth.

If he could, Sam would make this last forever, but he's too aroused, too close, too lost in how good Ryan feels wrapped around him. His hips move faster, his hand stroking as much as he can with their bodies pressed together, holding his climax at bay at long as he can.

It's a heady combo, Sam on him, surrounding him -- it's abruptly too intense and Ryan goes off like a rocket, muffling his cry by sinking his teeth into his lover's shoulder, his seed slick between them.

Wet heat fills his hand, the clench of Ryan's body and that bite combining to shove him over, hard. Sam comes, teeth gritted, hips pumping, emptying himself into Ryan on wave after wave of pure pleasure.

Ryan jerks, shock roiling through his body in an instant. Having Sam inside him was nothing to having Sam come inside him. He stiffens, mellow afterglow peeking over the horizon but held off by the confusion of his senses.

"Hey, you okay?" Sam says, already reaching for his t-shirt to quickly wipe his hand and Ryan's stomach before dropping back down, his weight resting more fully on his lover.

"Yeah," Ryan answers, the lie rising automatically to his lips. He shakes his head slightly. "No. Kiss me."

"Gladly," Sam murmurs, doing just that, his lips soft and warm, everything he feels for Ryan poured into that kiss.

The touch of Sam's lips seems to melt him to his bones, and Ryan moans under his breath. "You're really good at that," he whispers when they break for air. Idly smoothing his hand over his lover's back, just to touch.

"What? Kissing you?" Sam grins.

"Yeah, that," Ryan murmurs, a little shyly. Kisses him again.

"Did I keep my promise?" Sam asks, brushing his lips across Ryan's.

"Yeah." Ryan's face heats when he thinks of the care Sam took with him. "You did."

"Good," Sam says, smiling. "Because that's how it should be."