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Something’s tickling his neck.
Something’s tickling his neck?

Dean feels his face scrunching up, he’s grimacing. What’s that?
He’s slowly starting to be conscious and it’s only a matter of time before he awakes completely, he knows it. He wishes he could sleep just a little bit more, though...
That’s when he hears a small moan, a sort of groan- he’s not really good at defining things, but it definitely did not come from his own throat.

That’s what wakes him up for good.

He rubs his cheek against the pillow, groans... and opens his eyes. The sun’s blinding him- did he forget to close the curtains? Why?
The flashback.
That’s right. It happened.

He can still feel the consequences. His body is way too sore and his head is thumping quietly- a headache is patiently waiting around the corner, ready to attack whenever it wants. He doesn’t feel good at all- but he felt worse. This flashback wasn’t the worst- but no matter its ranking, a flashback rarely meant good stuff.
In his case, it means rough hands, pain and stuffy smell.

He’ll never go back to sleep with those thoughts floating around.
He better just gets on with his day and hopes for the best.

Still grimacing, he decides to focus his stare instead of glaring at the ceiling.
That’s when he forgets how to breathe.

Seth is pressed against him, forehead against his chest and legs between his. Hair tickling Dean’s neck, a slight frown, an arm around his own waist.

Right behind him, Roman. It seems like he’s spooning Seth, arm just under his... and Dean’s hand on his forearm, right where he traced the inked lines before. He’s the one quietly groaning.

Dean startles when Roman groans again, big eyes fixed on his face. He wonders if he’s having a nightmare.
And it’s always when he’s wondering that things get worse.

What are they going to say? Obviously, they won’t just ignore what happened. They’re not going to forget about the flashback. They won’t see him the same way they did before. Will they think he’s weak? Stupid? Useless? Will they try to leave? Maybe they’re going to go see Becky, ask her to have a new teammate.
Dean can’t even blame them if they do- that’s a weakness. He’s weak.

Is he weak? He must be- strong people don’t end up curling up in a ball and crying like a baby about things that are supposed to be in the past, do they?

His right hand starts moving on Roman’s tattoo again while his other starts scratching his collarbone.
He can’t stay with them. What are they going to think? He’s starting to breathe too fast. It’s too much. It’s always too much. He’s fucking weak. He hates it. He hates it so much.

“Mph.” Seth sleepily says, pressing his cheek right where Dean’s nails are scratching his collarbone. Tentatively, he quietly moves his shaky fingers and let them play with Seth’s hair, wrapping restless locks around his index. It seems to calm Seth down. A satisfied noise leaves his throat and he takes it as a victory.

“You’re good with him.”

Dean tries not to elbow anyone in the face but his round eyes talk miles about how scared he is. They quickly meet Roman’s gentle stare and it’s enough to make him relax almost instantly - what’s wrong with his body? "Fuck, didn’t know you were up.”

"Sorry, Deano." His voice is a bit rough and, still half-asleep, he manages to bump his forehead against Dean’s. "Want to sleep more?"

Seth is all squeezed between the two of them but he makes another happy noise- Dean decides to take it as a good sign. They don’t move more after that, Dean trying to close his eyes and drift off to sleep again... which seems impossible. "Don’t think I can. You- you can." His tongue fumbles on the words, trying to keep them in or out.

Roman doesn’t miss that- Dean can feel him frowning against his forehead. "Sorry, didn’t- I didn’t think Seth’d get this close- and I’m close too- I’m sorry- Are you- is it not okay? I can..." He’s already starting to move away with a blush on his cheeks. "I’m really sorry, I was just out of it and I didn’t think and even the headbutt- sorry Dean.."

"No, wait, it’s, uh, it’s alright." His voice sounds so small, so weird. It’s all new to him. He knows a part of his brain must be freaking out but he’s too sleepy anyway to care. Not that he can actually fall back asleep. But this closeness feels safe and comfortable. “It’s- it’s okay.” He doesn’t know if his words are for Roman or if they’re meant for himself. It doesn’t matter because it seems to work on both of them.

It’s all quiet again and Dean would have thought Roman had fallen back asleep if he couldn’t feel the slight sighs. Their foreheads are not touching anymore but Roman is close enough - Dean doesn’t dare meeting his stare, but he’s sure that if he did, he’d be able to see very clearly his eyes color.
Yet, he can feel Roman burning holes on his face. It doesn’t make him really nervous; there’s just this weird feeling that makes him want to swallow and clear his throat again and again.

Finally, after five minutes where the only sounds are Seth’s quiet noises, Roman talks again. “No matter what we’re doin’- if you, uh, ever feel uncomfortable or anything, please, tell us. Just to know if you need space or if you need somethin’…”

Dean doesn’t even have time to protest- Roman’s already slightly scowling. “I’m serious, Dean, and it’s not about you being weak or whatever the hell you’re thinking about. It’s about all of us, learning how to react around each other - and it’s about us learning each other’s boundaries and limits.”

“God, you make it sound like we’re married or somethin’.” He tries to avoid his stare and the topic for as long as he can.

“I get what you’re doing but I won’t insist. Just know that it’s alright.”

Dean opens his mouth to say something - anything, at this point - but something moves.

In a second, Seth sits up - like a fucking zombie, which scares not only Dean but also Roman, whose eyebrows are almost touching his hairline. His eyes aren’t even open, he’s just sitting there, hair sticking up all around.
He doesn’t talk, and Dean’s not sure if he should talk. Throwing a look at Roman, he sees that this is new… but not totally. They both wait a bit longer and Seth lets out a low growl.

“Toilets?” Is the only thing he asks, and he still hasn’t opened his eyes. Which he finally, reluctantly does.

“Uh. Out of the room, the second door in front of you.”

Seth just nods - a sort of thank you. He gets up, starts walking… and hits his toes against the closet.
He doesn’t even say something, doesn’t even groan. He just stays still for thirty seconds.

Dean is scared. Dean is terrified.
Who is this guy? Who can stay quiet while hitting his toes hard?
After a few more seconds, Seth turns and walks out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Dean eventually remembers that he has to breathe, and faces Roman with round eyes. “Is that- is he human?”

“I believe so.” Roman looks a bit surprised too but less terrified. He chuckles and shakes his head. “He’s often out of it when he wakes up but he gets like that when he sleeps too much or too little.”

“He looks like he slept well, though.”

“Probably did. He sleeps better with people around, and I’m not even talking about cuddling.”

Dean tries not to blush too much at that. Do they cuddle? Isn’t that a thing partners do? Well, okay, when he’s sick, Becky and Charlotte cuddle with him until he falls asleep. And Bayley does, too, every time they’re sleeping next to each other. But that’s just Bayley. She’s just like that.
Maybe people cuddled more than he thought.

He’s starting to get anxious because of the silence when the door opens again, Seth coming back in. He doesn’t look much better, still in his zombie form, but shirtless this time.
Dean doesn’t know why, doesn’t know how, but his eyes roam freely on his chest.

Seth is muscular. He’s really well-built and doesn’t look like he has even a tiny bit of fat on him. His skin is tan, but Dean can see it’s not natural; he must have exposed himself a few times outside. When he bends down to get some clothes from his back, Dean sees a tattoo on his back, following the upper part of his spine and stopping at the beginning of his neck. It’s in a language Dean doesn’t understand; a few symbols that look like it’s from Asia. He wonders what it means and, in the meantime, lets his eyes wander on his back.

He can say that Seth is someone who takes care of himself. Perfect skin, muscles everywhere- he must even have creams and masks and whatever the hell people use to have good, beautiful skin. Even after the world ended.

His eyes eventually end up on Seth’s butt and he’s not one to be ashamed of it anyway. Seth certainly looks like he put a lot of work on his bottom as he does with the rest of his body; Dean can understand. He feels strangely respectful and doesn’t look more at his butt.

Seth eventually looks back up at him and they share a quiet moment before he talks- one word, again. "Bathroom?"

"Uh, the door next to the toilets. Separate rooms."

Seth nods again, steps back with his clothes and disappear.

When Dean turns to look at Roman, he catches him staring too and it makes him feel a tiny bit better.

The morning goes by quietly, Seth taking half an hour to get ready and to start talking. They all dress up and meet up in the corridor.

The place being an old gym, next to the stairs is a sitting place with beanbags, chairs and a few small tables. They choose to eat their breakfast there, Dean enjoying the comfort of the beanbag.

He has half a cereal bar in his mouth when Seth clears his throat- after half an hour spent in the bathroom, he looks a bit more alive, now. "So, about... about yesterday."

Dean eats his cereal bar in silence, feeling anxiety pooling in his stomach, pressing down against his lungs. He tries not to show any of that, instead throwing the paper of his breakfast in the little trash bin he has to take out of town once a month.

Roman looks up at that from the book he has been reading ("hey Dean, are the books all yours? Can I take one?"), brown eyes barely visible above the pages. "Actually, about that. I don’t want to put pressure on you about it. Just know that it’s alright."

"No... pressure abou’ it?" Dean confusedly asks, frowning like a lost puppy. "I don’t- I don’t understand. What d’ya mean by tha’?"

"Well, you know. I won’t ask stuff. It’s... only up to you if you want to talk about it but it doesn’t change the way I see you." Roman looks at Seth for a second. "I don’t know about you."

"Uh, yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. I don’t think that it gives us the right to ask and remind you about everything so, yeah, we will listen if you want to talk about it but we won’t force you."

"You... you won’t force me?" His voice is shaking when he talks and his face is scrunched up in confusion. "People- people don’t do that. They, uh, they ask, and then, then, they get pissed off and they yell..."

"People suck. We won’t do that. I just think we should maybe talk about triggers?"

At Roman’s words, they both look at him with raised eyebrows. He raises his hands innocently. "Don’t look at me like that. I know a thing or two about psychology and everythin’." Roman, then, looks at Dean with a soft smile. "We just need to know what’s off-limits. Don’t go into details, just... what’s not okay. What is definitely going to make you freak out."

They stay quiet and Dean knows it’s his turn to talk. But triggers? He wasn’t expecting that. In fact, he thought they would ask and force their way through his answers...
"Uh, I don’t- I..." He loses his words every time he thinks about something. It doesn’t come out of his mouth and he’s left blushing a bit and mostly pissed off at himself. He worked through all of that during therapy. He did it there, why can’t he do it here?

"Maybe we can ask questions, if you’re okay with it?" Seth helps him out and when Dean nods, he thinks for a second. "What are usual triggers?"

"Uh, crowds? Are they a trigger?" Roman provides with a frown, a bit hesitant.

Dean thinks. Are crowds a trigger? Does he feel like crowds are bad for him? "Not- not a trigger. But I’m a bit afraid of crowds. Don’t like it."

"Okay... Is there somethin’ with smells or taste? Let’s get that out of the way directly, it’s easier, maybe?”

“Alcohol- I, uh… It’s-“ How can he explain it? He tries to find something to explain but it’s so hard. He sighs and shakes his head. “A trigger and- uh, used it to cope- but it’s a trigger, yeah.”

“Okay, no alcohol. Smells? Like… A perfume or something else?”

He rubs his nose, grounds himself a bit, scratches his collarbone. “Stuffy smell. Uh, basement kinda smell. It- happened in a basement.” He looks down at his feet, his toes pressing down against the ground. “Smells, uh… Burnt- burnt skin.” His fingers find the scars on his back, the ones on his thighs, too. “Dirty water? Stagnant water…”

“Okay, at least they’re not common smells.” Seth says, noticing that Roman’s jaw is clenched. “Is that everythin’ with smells? Taste too?”

“Uh, just…” He licks his lips, leans back down against the beanbag until he feels wrapped in it. “Havin’ something in my mouth- like, like a gag or a… piece of cloth…” Roman looks like he wants to say something but doesn’t dare. “I- I can handle things on my mouth but not, not in…”

“It’s alright, Dean. We’re almost done. It’s just to make sure we don’t accidentally trigger you.” Seth quickly says, looking so serious Dean can’t ignore the fact that they do try to help him out. He’s not sure how he feels about it. “Anythin’ else?”

“If- if I say no if you try to touch me, please, uh, don’t keep going? I think- I think, uh, my therapist, he… he used to say I was getting better with contacts so- it should be alright, but I’m not sure so…”

"Of course, it’s alright. When you don’t want, we won’t force anything. Are touches alright in general?" Dean is pretty sure Seth would have blushed a bit if he wasn’t so involved in the discussion. It makes him feel warm and respected... which isn’t often.

"Uh, I’m not- really good at... that... but I didn’t- I didn’t have a problem with it until now so- it’s, it’s okay."

It actually went well during the morning. Dean tries to think back, tries to remember every time they touched him... and the feelings that went with it.
He can’t remember a single negative feeling so he just nods again.

Seth looks a bit relieved, at least. "Okay... remember that you can always tell us if something isn’t good. You don’t have to be ashamed or anything. Right, Ro?"

Roman looks up, his face switching expressions in a second. Dean saw anger on his face and it makes him tense up a bit, feeling his fists clenching almost as a reflex. But what comes out of his mouth isn’t bad at all. "Yeah. Do you have anything to add about this? Do you want to stop talking about it?"

Does he? He’s not really comfortable but, well, he understands... it’s actually really to help him out. To avoid flashbacks. And avoiding flashbacks is important. He can’t go back to how he had been after the trauma. He has to get better. "Uh, I... thank you." He looks at his feet, frowning. He doesn’t like thanking people but they clearly deserve it. Awkwardly, he says the first thing that comes to his mind. "I, uh, you... I have PTSD. You know. Just so. Just so you can kno’ what it is. To understand. I guess."

"Thank you for telling us." Roman sounds a bit emotional, as if Dean had told him a sacred secret, something huge and pure when it is, in fact, just a shame. "Can I ask what... what happened yesterday? You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. No pressure."

Dean takes a breath. Nails burying themselves in the skin of his collarbone. "A flashback. It doesn’t... usually happen but I’m fuckin’ dumb and I triggered myself."

"It probably happens to other people too, you’re not dumb." Roman jumps in, tone authoritative - and Dean doesn’t try to argue with him, too tired to do that.

"What do you need us to do during things like that?" They genuinely look concerned and worried and strangely... it doesn’t feel like they’re pitying him. They’re not forcing him to talk about the trauma nor are they saying he’s inventing it. That’s already something.

"Mh, mostly groundin’ me? Things to make me... remember that I’m ‘ere. Feelin’ stuff works well. Like... ice cubes?" He frowns a bit. "Strong smells and sensations? Peppermint’s a good way. Always got some on me." When he notices that they still look a bit lost, he bites his bottom lip. “Uh, because… It was a flashback, yesterday? Not the TV kind of flashbacks but… It’s like… living trauma again. Uh, you know, really living it, takes your senses as if you were back there…”

“So you need to remember that you’re in the present…” Seth summarizes which gets a nod from Dean and a comprehensive look from Roman.

Nobody talks much more after that, finishing their breakfast quickly- a poor excuse but hey, it’s the apocalypse, they can’t make scrambled eggs and bacon every morning. Roman and Dean both disappear in different rooms to get ready.
It gives time to all of them, allowing them to think about the whole situation.

Dean thinks in black, he thinks that he messed everything up. He thinks that he needs to put distance between all of them because if he doesn’t do it first, they will. They will realize that he isn’t normal, that he’s fucked up. His mind is a dark place and the flashback triggered every negative thought he had.

Roman thinks in blue, worry and concern sneaking up into every thought he can have, whispering theories and squeezing his heart until he feels like physically wrapping his arms around Dean to protect him from the world - but there’s no world to protect him from, no desire to be protected. It leaves him feeling useless, powerless, but he understands how Dean is feeling and he can’t really blame him for that.

Seth thinks in red, connections in his mind leading to a soft, bubbling anger. He can’t erase the pleading sounds Dean made, and the thick tears on his cheeks. He can’t forget the blood under Dean’s nails because of how much he scratched his collarbone. Then, he thinks in green, every new theory bringing up more disgust because someone must have done something awful to Dean and just the thought makes him sick.

They don’t say a word about their thoughts when they decide to go back to the motel. Despite that, their actions talk for them, Roman always keeping an eye on Dean and a hand on his shoulder and on Seth’s, Seth losing himself in his thoughts and Dean trying to avoid their stares.
They go down with their stuff - after Seth insisted that they definitely should leave a bunch of clothes just in case they lose their bags, to still have something, somewhere safe. After that, well, they don’t talk a lot.

Seth carefully avoids the traps, Dean checks that everything is alright with his only safe place beside the motel, and they leave. Maybe the girls would send them back to make sure they work out together and spar and get along well. But maybe they’ll have a job for them. With two new guys anyway, Dean’ll soon have to go around town and maybe he’ll even have to go to the towns around to find some food.

Once again, the walk back is very quiet but something seems off. At first, Dean ignores it. Things always seem off when it comes to him. Well, usually, it’s not because he’s crazy, but because something is actually wrong but… He’s barely recovering from his flashback. Maybe it just affects him more than he thought it would.

But it’s weird. He can feel his body tensing up, warning him… but why? The word is leaving his mouth before he can stop himself. “Somethin’ is wrong.” He hisses, looking around. The street is deserted, quiet.

Seth and Roman both look at him with surprised faces and interrogations in their eyes. “What? Do you see something we don’t?” Roman asks in a whisper, also looking around them.

“I don’t… I don’t know. I’m not sure. A feelin’.” He can’t stop himself from checking behind them twice, fists clenched. “Something’s wrong and I-“

“Deano, man, ’t’s been a while!”

Dean’s face automatically switches into a relieved-yet-not-so-much expression, a sigh leaving his lips. Behind him are three black men, wearing colorful outfits and… pancakes?
Roman and Seth both look lost and torn between Dean’s tensed up stance and the three friendly faces in front of them.

“Oh, wait, wait, are they… the new… guys?” The biggest says, eyes shining. His smile must be as big as he is- and even Roman isn’t sure he could take him in a fight. “Ouh, man!”

“Oi, Woods, when I said- Hey, lads! Fancy seeing you here!” Now Becky appears, running behind the three new guys with an annoyed look. When her eyes fall on the Shield, a small grin appears on her features.

“Becks, we were actually on our way to-“

“Yeah, well, change of plan. I need the three of you down the Mall road, usual stuff, maybe kill a few bastards.” She looks a bit more tired than she did before, bags under her eyes and nervous tics. “We got new people. Around five, actually. Didn’t see all of ‘em.”

“Five? Man, hope they’re cool. Dude, Breezango are cool but I’m not up for two other clowns!”

“Five?” Dean also repeats, worry starting to fill in. So many new people. Sasha and Bayley certainly work hard on their plantations but it will never be enough for as many people. And if they’re not fighters… “That’s… A lot, Becks.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I actually need all of you searchin’ fo’ some food.” She looks behind her, probably ready to fly back to the motel. Things must be going fast. “Uh, also, Roman, d’you have family ‘round?”

Roman visibly tries not to look too confused but he fails. “Uh, yeah. I mean, got a few cousins here- I have a big family but they’re mostly away… why?”

“Ah, ‘cause two of the five new people have tatts. Look like yers… thought it might be someone you kno’!”

Dean can literally feel Roman’s surprise and excitement and confusion… and pretty much one hundred emotions rolling out of him in waves. “Two? Were they twins? Black hair?”

“Uh. Probably? They look alike. And they actually look like ya, now tha’ you mention it.”

“Roman? Do you think-“

“Yeah, Jey and Jimmy. I knew those fuckers were alive.” He can’t fight the big smile on his lips and the happy tears- even if they stay calmly in his eyes for a few seconds.

“Well, I’ll tell ‘em you’re ‘ere but they’re actually goin’ through the other side of town to get a flat an’ everythin’. And we really need food.” She’s firm and authoritative… and Roman doesn’t look like he minds.

“Yeah, I get it. Just tell ‘em I’m here and fine. Seth, too. I’ll talk to them tonight.”

“Yeah, perfect, fab. Thanks, guys. Oi, now, time to work! See ya.”

And she disappears just like that. They all stay quiet- of course with the New Day, not for long. “Well, you heard the Man too! We have t’go. Deanie beanie, you’ll introduce us later, yeah?” Kofi says with a smile while Big E high fives him and Xavier pats his shoulder. They go the other way, walking and talking loudly, as always.

Seth is the first one to move, hands on his hips. “Well, you heard them. Let’s move.”

“Uh. Yeah. Okay. The motel’s too far, we should get goin’. And I think… yeah, Finn’s not that far. We’re gonna stop there, to grab some weapons, some empty bags.” He thinks while walking, fingers going around the handle of his knife, anxiously playing with it.

“Uh, and, who were the three dudes with Becky?” Roman eventually asks with raised eyebrows which reminds Dean that he didn’t talk about the New Day at all.

“Oh, the New Day. Big one is Big E, small one is Xavier and the last one’s Kofi. They’re loud but they’re really useful. They fight and they work all the time ‘round town. They help Bay’ and Sasha quite a lot…” He rambles, guiding them through the streets with easiness, eyes constantly guarding the place. Thankfully, it has been quite a while since the last time people with bad intentions (alive or not) broke into the town. It’s not like they have walls all around, but they patrol a few times a day around, keeping people out of town if possible.
At least, the town isn’t near a crowded place and they didn’t suffer from the virus that much.

He’s telling them that while walking, only reaching Finn’s place ten minutes later. The building looks abandoned and almost hostile, shattered windows and doors on the floor. The walls look ugly and old, as does the rest of the building anyway. Dean knows the place but still doesn’t feel completely fine in it. Even though he understands that people wouldn’t come to look there.

“Hey, yo, Finn, you here?” He shouts while stepping on the door, waving a hand around his nose to push the dust away. He notices Seth’s hesitation and Roman’s carefulness and is not even surprised by it. “There’s nothing dangerous here, you can follow me. I swear.”

Seth looks at him with round eyes, deer caught in headlights kind of look, but nods and follows him inside, Roman just behind him.

“Dean?” Eventually, Finn appears from another room, looking a bit tired but certainly better than he did back at the motel before. “Oi, hello lads. Need somethin’?”

“Uh, yeah. Becks wants us to go get food. Some new peeps are around. We need to get empty bags and some weapons, if you have a few that you don’t use.”

“Oh, ‘kay. Under the couch. I’m gonna go too.” He looks slightly worried, and Dean understands why. There’s also a sick feeling in his stomach. They work really hard to give anyone enough food to do at least two meals a day but with new people? If they manage to have a meal every day, it’d be a miracle. At least, if they’re Roman’s family, they might be fighters. Maybe they will help.

Scratching his collarbone, he moves to lift the couch. Under it, there is a small closed box. He types the code quickly and it opens up, revealing a few guns and more small weapons, going from knives to hammers and even nunchakus. “Ro, Seth, come here and take something.”

They both walk closer, peeking inside the box. “Why does he have so many weapons?” Seth asks while squatting down to inspect the knives.

“When he met us, he told us we were not prepared enough so we robbed a gun shop. Since his place is the most discreet one - like, who would walk in this building? -, we decided to let them here. Also, he takes pretty good care of ‘em so it was really the best option here.”

Seth hums in answer while taking a knife and playing with it. On Dean’s other side, Roman goes straight for the guns, already sliding a handgun in a holster - Becky really thought about everything. “We should all take a handgun with us. To keep us safe if it’s not safe enough to use knives or hammers or whatever.”

Dean takes the advice and also grabs a handgun. Seth seems a little bit more hesitant, his hands going for the nunchakus first. “Can you shoot?” The words are leaving Dean’s mouth before he can stop himself, already starting to think about everything with this new probability.

“I- yeah. I just… really dislike it. Can’t I just take something else? Not a gun?” He asks with a slight frown, a small, relieved smile replacing it when Roman nods.

“Still, you should take one. Just in case you’re surrounded and we can’t help right away. No need to use it except in very urgent situations. Are you okay with that?”

Dean sees the way Seth’s face fall a little bit but he doesn’t comment. He can understand both of them; he’s not a fan of guns either, but it’s mostly for safety purpose. If he had had a gun before, he wouldn’t be injured now. Even if he’s not comfortable with guns… well, he has to.

After that, they let their bags in one of the empty rooms to take empty ones. They also choose some light weapons and a few minutes later, they’re gone, Finn following them for a bit and then, going the opposite way. Dean trusts Finn enough to let him wander around alone- he’s strong and fast. He can make it out alive.

Being with the two almost feel natural and it scares Dean a bit. He’s not used to trusting people that much that soon. But it feels like it’s not something new, as if they had always been there, right next to him. It’s not the case.

And since they’re new, they need a briefing. “Uh, so, there’s like, this huge mall at the center, right.” It’s a known place so they just nod. “And the road leading to it basically goes through the entire town and used to be, you know, shops and restaurants an’ everythin’.”

“Yeah, I used to go get coffee not far from the mall. Are we gonna get food from the mall?”

“Nah, already did.” Dean shakes his head, still very careful of their environment. They can’t get surprised. “The mall’s almost empty now. I mean, except the clothes and dumb stuff. Not useful. The shops around are pretty much empty too. I know a few discreet places that might still have something but… if we can’t find enough food, we’re heading to the next town. It’s smaller but that means people usually don’t really try for that.”

They all seem to think it’s a good enough plan so they go for that. They walk and walk in silence, the sun not strong enough to actually burn their skin but present enough to keep them warm. The winter had been awful but for now, the summer doesn’t look too bad; it seems like a cold one… which isn’t something awful.
They don’t see any survivors. Nobody lives around the mall- if people from other places try to rob something, they’ll be there. The rest of the town is where they hide to avoid troublemakers. It works well enough.

At some point, Dean raises his hand- he’s not sure about the gesture but Roman and Seth both stop. Nothing feels wrong but Dean stays extra careful in that part of town. It’s risky, not too dangerous… but certainly not safe either. “You follow me. Quietly. There might be… bad people. Robbers. Foreigners in general. Stay careful. Always have a knife in your hand… and if you hear a noise, get your gun out. Just to threaten if it’s human. Probably no hungry guys around, though. If I click my tongue once, it means that something is wrong or coming our way. If I click twice, it means danger. Get it?”

Dean follows Roman’s hand when it goes for the two hammers he put in his pockets. Seth nods, also taking out his knife. Dean does the same, and they start moving on the big road. They stay hidden but not too close from the shops; Dean gestures toward the windows, telling them to be careful not to be grabbed from inside.
Their signs are a bit confused at first but they soon start talking with their hands to each other in a clear and fluent way. A few minutes later, they start hunting, going into the first shop Dean believes to be full.

It’s not, but they manage to get a few tin cans which is already not too bad for a beginning. Seth got himself a cap, which seems to make him very happy, and Dean stole some cigarettes and some gums- pretty useful to not feel hungry.

After that, they go back to walking around, staying quiet and checking every corner and every dark spot. Even if they eventually find someone, they have to see them first to avoid the surprise effect. Dean knows for a fact that this can quickly change someone’s fate. He lost fights because of that effect in the past, but also won some all thanks to that. It’s all about being more clever than the enemy.

Time goes by. They check shops, fast foods, even get a few books from a library. The street is empty but their bags are half-full. It’s nowhere near Dean’s goal but it’s an effective day; he went back to the motel with less than that before. Especially since they have two more bags which are almost full.
It’s not going to save everyone but it’s certainly going to help. If they can do the same the next day, they should all be good. Especially if the new guys start doing it too.

He’s grabbing a lonely tin can when he slowly stands back up. Seth and Roman aren’t as lucky, looking everywhere in vain.
Dean gestures that they should go back. No matter if it’s back at Finn’s or at the motel; the closer, the better. They just need to get rid of the bags- they’re resources and he doesn’t want to be robbed. Even though he’s fast, he doubts Roman and Seth would do as good; they don’t know the city as well as he does.

He’s about to get out when he hears a sound. Almost instantly, he clicks his tongue once and gets down, fingers wrapping themselves around his knife. He takes his bag off and hides it behind the counter, nodding when Roman and Seth do the same. The bags have to be safe first. They need food.

After that, they stay silent, not moving, observing the street. What was that sound?
It could just have been an object that they previously moved. Maybe it fell down.
Maybe the wind moved something outside. Leaves. Anything, really. Maybe there’s a stray cat.

Or maybe there’s someone. A survivor. A hungry guy. Something.

He can’t let Roman and Seth get injured. That would be his fault, his mistake. He can’t let that happen. They need to go back.
It’s not safe.
What should he be doing?
If he had been alone, he would have been far gone. But Roman is heavier. He, himself, is injured. They don’t know the city. If they have to lose someone by using small paths they won’t know and won’t find him back right away. They can get lost. Captured. Killed.

The best option is to wait it out. If they don’t hear another sound in thirty seconds, they’ll grab the bags and escape through the back door as quietly and as quickly as possible. If they hear another sound, they’ll evaluate the situation and see what’d work best.

It stays quiet for twenty good seconds. Dean is about to tell them to move when he feels something. As if his mind couldn’t let him go right now. He tries to focus. Something must be wrong. The sounds. The sight. The smell.
The smell?

He smells again. Again. There’s another smell. One that isn’t Roman’s welcoming scent or Seth’s calming one. It’s not his either. What is it?

He barely has time to click his tongue. The next second, sounds are exploding in his ears. And when he realises what is happening, he’s almost knocked out by a very strong kick. A hand goes on his mouth and nose- a tissue. Something almost immediately burns his nostrils and his tongue, a heavy scent settling in his lungs.
He doesn’t have to be a doctor to know what it is. He experienced it before.
And it’s not good.

He tries to fight the big arms, manages to see a man with dark hair and a beard - is it a fucking trend? He also tries his best to punch and bite and he’s pretty sure something he did is what caused the strangled cry. He hears struggling around, muffled sounds, a heavy bump. He feels something touching his hand.

Just after that, his eyes close because he inhaled too much of the scent, and he’s out that easily, unable to help his boys. Unable to save them. Unable to save himself.