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if you could call it livin'

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Na Jaemin’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse for Beginners:

  1. Don’t engage with corpses unless absolutely necessary. The odds are not in your favour.
  2. Don’t travel anywhere alone. Watch each other’s backs.
  3. Always have extra ammo and weapons on hand. Spare weapons should be knives, bats, etc. that don't require ammo, in case you run out.
  4. Don’t go too long without food or sleep. You can't fight corpses if you're exhausted. (Well you can, but you won't win.)
  5. Don’t hesitate to kill a corpse, even if it was once someone you loved. They won't hesitate to kill you.

“Uh, thanks,” the new guy says, studying the crumpled piece of paper Jaemin’s just handed him. “Did you come up with these yourself?”

Jaemin nods. “Yeah. Learned a couple of them the hard way.”

Jaemin’s pretty sure he gets his point across, because new guy just stares at him, and he looks a lot like a deer in headlights who's just realized he should probably get the fuck out of dodge. Only problem is, he can't get out of the apocalypse. Not alive, anyway. “Which ones?”

Jaemin frowns. “Well. All of them, really.”

“Oh.” There's a tense pause as new guy processes that. “Sorry.”

I don't think “sorry” really covers the apocalypse, but thanks. “It's whatever. What's your name?” he asks, just to change the subject.

“Donghyuck.”

“Nice to meet you, Donghyuck. Welcome to hell,” Jaemin says cheerily before spinning on his heel and walking toward the center of camp, Donghyuck in tow.

“Where are we going?” Donghyuck asks as Jaemin pulls him along by the forearm.

“You gotta meet the rest of the squad,” Jaemin says over his shoulder. “We’re gonna spend a lot of time together from now on, so I hope you like them. Not that it matters if you don’t. If you do anything that puts us in danger, I’ll kill you.”

Donghyuck scoffs, like he doesn't think Jaemin is serious. “Is that what happened to the last guy?”

Jaemin laughs without mirth. “Yeah. It wasn't his fault, though. Mark got bitten, I had to do it.”

Donghyuck’s face immediately falls. “Oh. Number five.”

“Yeah, number five.” Jaemin slows his pace to match Donghyuck’s, falling into step beside him so he can size him up out of the corner of his eye. He doesn't let go of Donghyuck’s arm, though. “Jisung was number three, he always hated carrying knives. Ran out of bullets, and contrary to popular belief the butt of a gun is pretty much useless for self defense. Renjun was number four, but he didn't die. We had his back - hence number two. Number one was Chenle, dumbass was always looking for a fight. The more you fight, the greater the chances are that you’ll lose. Statistically speaking.”

“Holy shit,” is the only answer he gets. He hadn't really been expecting much else.

“I told you I learned all that the hard way.” Jaemin stops, and Donghyuck stills beside him. “Anyway, we’re here. Look alive, Hyuckie.” Jaemin flashes him a smile that's all teeth.

Donghyuck looks like he's about to protest the nickname, considering they've known each other for all of ten minutes, but the apocalypse has a way of throwing propriety out the metaphorical window. Donghyuck can deal with it. That's like, the least of his problems. Jaemin opens the door to the house he shares with his two best friends, pulling Donghyuck over the threshold before he can argue.

Jeno looks up from cleaning his rifle when he hears the stomping of their boots on the hardwood floor. “What's up, Jaem? Got new meat?” he asks way too enthusiastically for Donghyuck’s liking, if his scowl is anything to go by.

“I'm not -” Donghyuck starts to say, but Jaemin cuts him off.

“Yeah, his name’s Donghyuck.” Jaemin nudges him forward, and Donghyuck stumbles in Jeno’s direction.

“Nice to meet you, Hyuck,” Jeno says, throwing an arm around Donghyuck’s shoulders. “What brings you to Paradise?”

Paradise is a horrible misnomer for the city center, where a giant wall has been constructed to keep corpses out and, by extension, people in. It's the exact opposite of paradise, really - a prison at best, if you ask Jaemin. Nobody asks Jaemin, though. He'd much rather just fuck off to the woods and sever all human contact except for Jeno and Renjun (and maybe Donghyuck, now, but the jury's still out on that one) but that's not likely to happen any time soon. Or ever.

“My, uh. My parents got eaten,” Donghyuck mutters to the floorboards.

“No shit? Same,” Jeno says, shaking Donghyuck’s shoulder softly in solidarity. “We have so much in common, we’re definitely gonna be friends.” He shoots Donghyuck one of his signature eye smiles, and it's almost bright enough to make the world seem a little less fucked.

“Everybody’s parents got eaten, dumbass, that's how the apocalypse works,” Renjun says as he steps into the room. “New guy?” he asks, nodding toward Donghyuck.

“Donghyuck,” Donghyuck says, clearly giving up on any kind of formality. He looks like he wants to facepalm, or maybe just run away forever and never look back. It could go either way.

“Renjun,” Renjun answers, and leaves the room again. He's probably sharpening his knives for the fourth (fifth?) time this week. It's a nervous habit - and the end of the world tends to grate on everyone’s nerves. Everybody’s gotta cope somehow.

Donghyuck just nods mutely, clearly not knowing what the fuck anyone expects of him. He did just lose his parents, too, so that’s probably not helping anything. Grief fucks you up.

And what better way to get Donghyuck’s mind off of his dead parents than throwing him into a fight to the death? “Hey, Hyuckie, I have a question for you.” Jaemin smiles as he says it, but by now Donghyuck has probably figured out that his smiles are nothing but a residual glimpse into the Jaemin that existed before the world went to shit. Fake it till you make it, or whatever. Not that Jaemin anticipates he’ll ever go back to the way he was before, but it’s compulsory at this point.

“Yeah?” Donghyuck says, eyeing Jaemin warily. As he should.

Jaemin cocks his head, searching Donghyuck’s face for something he can’t name. “Me, Jeno, or Renjun?”

Donghyuck’s brows furrow immediately. “Huh?”

Jeno snorts from where he’s still messing with his gun. He’s as bad as Renjun and his knives. “Just answer the question,” he offers helpfully.

Donghyuck shakes his head and turns back to Jaemin. “What about you, Jeno or Renjun?”

“Just pick one,” Jaemin says, like that clears anything up.

It doesn’t, obviously, but at this point Donghyuck just wants to be put out of his misery. “Uh. Jeno?”

“Oh shit!” Jeno hollers as soon as he says it. “Nobody’s picked me in forever!”

“Seriously, why do they always pick Renjun?” Jaemin huffs petulantly.

Jeno shrugs as he puts his rifle back together in record time. Jaemin would think it’s hot if he hadn’t known Jeno back when he still wet the bed. (Which he will eternally tease Jeno about, by the way.) “They probably think knives are easier to beat.”

“They’re sadly mistaken,” Renjun throws over his shoulder as he appears out of nowhere, walking by Jeno to stand next to Jaemin and Donghyuck.

Jaemin and Jeno snicker, which prompts Donghyuck to force out the most awkward laugh Jaemin’s ever heard. He turns to Donghyuck, whispering, “Don’t underestimate Renjun. He once took a knife to a gun fight and won.

“What the fuck? How?”

Jaemin shakes his head. “You’ll find out some other time. Today you’re fighting my man Jeno right here.” He sticks his arm out in Jeno’s direction in a grand gesture that’s way too dramatic for the situation.

All the blood instantly drains from Donghyuck’s face. “I’m sorry, did you say fighting?

Jaemin nods solemnly. “Before you join our group, you have to fight one of us. You chose Jeno. Whichever one of you makes it out alive can stay.” He crosses his arms, planting his feet in the most intimidating stance he can muster.

Donghyuck looks like he’s gonna throw up, so Jeno steps in, because he doesn't enjoy teasing as much as Jaemin does and Renjun can’t be bothered to care either way. “Shut up, Jaem,” he says as he brushes past so he’s standing next to Donghyuck. “I’m not gonna kill you, dude. And you don't have to kill me either. We just need to see if you can fight or not, that’s all.” He flashes another smile, and miraculously it seems to work.

Donghyuck takes a deep breath, and his shoulders visibly relax even as he admits, “I’ve never fought anyone before.”

The other three shoot each other glances before Renjun blurts out, “How the fuck have you lasted this long?” right as Jaemin says, “This should be quick, then.” Jeno just blinks at Donghyuck like he’s insane. Which having no combat skills in the apocalypse kind of is, to be fair.

“Alright boys, enough talk. Let’s get this over with,” Jaemin orders as he opens the door and motions for the others to walk through. As Donghyuck is about to cross the threshold, Jaemin grabs his arm. “Not you, sunshine. You’re coming with me.”

Jeno shoots Donghyuck an apologetic look as he and Renjun go off ahead and Donghyuck asks, “Where?”

The smile that creeps onto Jaemin’s face is wicked and definitely the most genuine Donghyuck has seen yet. “I’ve gotta get you battle ready.” Jaemin almost misses the “oh fuck” that Donghyuck mumbles under his breath. His smile only gets wider.

Getting Donghyuck ready turns out to be as much of a challenge as Jaemin assumed it would be. In theory it should be a simple process: take Donghyuck to the armory, let him pick out some gear and weapons, and send him on his way so he can get demolished by Jeno. Jaemin’s done it countless times with other newbies, it’s basically routine at this point.

The only problem is, Donghyuck has no idea how to do anything even remotely in the realm of combat. Jaemin starts off like he always does, asking Donghyuck his fighting style and which weapons he prefers and how much gear he can comfortably carry - but Donghyuck doesn’t know any of the answers. Eventually Jaemin gives up on the discussion and just starts strapping a bulletproof vest to Donghyuck’s torso.

“Why the hell do I need to be bulletproof? Corpses don’t have guns.”

Jaemin rolls his eyes as he wrestles with one of the straps to tighten it. “You dumbass, you’re not fighting corpses right now, you’re fighting Jeno. And I don’t know if you noticed, but Jeno’s a sharpshooter.”

“Oh. Yeah. He does carry that gun around with him everywhere.”

How can somebody be so fucking oblivious? “Yeah, and you should really figure out which weapon you wanna use so you can start carrying one too.”

Donghyuck doesn’t move, just studies Jaemin for a good minute. “What about you?”

“What about me?” Jaemin retorts as he stands back and gives Donghyuck one last once-over.

“What do you carry?” Donghyuck looks pointedly at the rifle in Jaemin’s hands. “Besides that, because I know you have more shit hidden somewhere. I read your stupid rules, remember?”

Jaemin sighs, setting the gun on the floor. “They’re not stupid, asshole.” He pulls two knives from where they’re strapped to his thigh, and four more from a harness on his chest, tossing them on the ground while he slides off the belt that holds his spare magazines. Which reminds him, he needs to stock up on bullets while he’s here. “There, you happy?”

“Yeah, I just -”

Jaemin holds up a finger. “Oh shit, wait.” He grabs the knife he forgot he’d hidden in his boot, tossing it onto the pile. Donghyuck looks exasperated. “You were saying?”

“I just wanna know why the fuck you have all this.” Donghyuck gestures vaguely at everything Jaemin just removed from his person. “Seems a bit excessive.”

Jaemin cuts him a look as he gathers the weapons up and puts them back in their respective places. When he straightens back up, slinging his gun across his back, fingers tapping absentmindedly over the knives against his leg, he falters almost imperceptibly. (He can tell Donghyuck notices, though. Maybe Donghyuck isn’t as inattentive as he pretends to be.) “Can I tell you a story?”

Donghyuck is clearly caught off guard, but shrugs. “Sure.”

Jaemin nods. “But pick out your weapons while I’m talking, we don’t have all day.” Actually I just can’t have you looking at me while I say this. Please take the hint. Donghyuck takes the hint, because he actually is perceptive (a good survival skill, very useful) and walks over to start messing with a handgun he finds on the table closest to them. 

Jaemin takes a knife off of his thigh so he can spin it around in his hand. The weight of it is grounding. “I didn’t always carry all this shit. When this whole thing started, I just kept my gun with me. No backup ammo, no extra weapons - shit, half the time I forgot to wear a bulletproof vest. Not that the vests stop the corpses, but we didn’t know that at the time. Anyway, I watched my friends die one by one: first Chenle, then Jisung, then Mark turned and I had to kill him myself. We thought we were gonna lose Renjun, too. I saw their mistakes, and I had to learn from them so I didn’t end up dead, like they did. And now it’s been what, a year? And the number one thing I’ve learned about the apocalypse is that you can never be too prepared. Being over prepared means you stay alive. Do you get it?”

Donghyuck just looks at him. “So your idea of being over prepared is carrying an entire arsenal with you at all times?”

Jaemin breathes out a laugh that’s more hot air than anything. “Well yeah, part of it. But that’s what I have to do. Jeno’s our sniper, so he’s got our backs. But who has his? I’m usually on the ground with Renjun, but if Jeno’s in danger I have to be ready to shoot, too. That’s why we need you. It’s a lot easier to have each other’s backs when you can split up in pairs. I can’t protect them both forever, even if I’d do anything to keep them safe.”

Donghyuck’s grip tightens around the gun he’s holding. “Even kill them if they turn? Like you did for Mark?”

Jaemin smiles sadly. “Just like I did for Mark. I had his back too, y’know. Up till the moment he died.”

Donghyuck puts the gun down, turning around to face Jaemin, and it feels like he’s staring straight into Jaemin’s soul. Like he knows more than Jaemin wants him to. “You know, you’re not as shitty as I thought you were. You’re a good person, even if your attitude sucks.”

Jaemin laughs more genuinely now, stepping forward to ruffle Donghyuck’s hair. “Back at you, Hyuckie. You’re one of us now, so I’ll protect you too, okay?” Donghyuck nods, tears welling up in his eyes ever so slightly. Jaemin doesn't mention it. “Great. Now hurry up and choose a weapon, I wanna watch Jeno kill you.”

 


 

“Hyuck, relax, I’m not gonna kill you,” Jeno reassures him for probably the fifteenth time in a span of five minutes. “We just need to see how you fight so we can help you get better.”

Donghyuck starts protesting again, something like, “Shouldn’t we start with training and then get to the fighting?” but Jaemin’s not really listening. Renjun’s flicking one of his knives around in his hands, spinning it between his fingers like he used to do with pens back when school still existed. He’s bored.

“Alright, alright, enough,” Jaemin cuts in, because Jeno is too nice and he’ll listen to Donghyuck’s objections all day if no one stops him. “Jen, you know the rules.” Jeno nods, giving Donghyuck one last fleeting concerned look before traipsing off to find his starting position.

“I don’t know the rules,” Donghyuck reminds Jaemin, just in case he’s forgotten. Which he hasn’t. Renjun snorts.

“I know, Hyuckie. I know,” Jaemin says somewhat patronizingly as he throws an arm across Donghyuck’s shoulders and leads him out into a clearing in the center of Paradise. “See this?” he asks, swinging his free arm around at everything in their general vicinity.

“Yeah?” Donghyuck says it like a question.

“This is your playground.”

“All of it?”

“Yep.” Jaemin pops the “p,” because he enjoys being obnoxious for no reason. “Jeno’s already off finding his favourite spot, probably. Now you just need to figure out where you wanna start.”

Donghyuck looks around cautiously. “Then what?”

“Then I’ll shoot off a flare, and you’ll fight.”

Donghyuck stares at him for several moments, like he’s waiting for something. When it doesn’t come, he says, “That’s it?” incredulously.

Jaemin shrugs, the motion sliding his arm off of Donghyuck’s shoulders and back to his side. “Yeah. Did you want something else?”

Donghyuck looks like he might pop a blood vessel. “Uh, yeah? Like maybe rules or some shit?”

Renjun snorts again, walking over to stand on the other side of Donghyuck. He puts the hand that isn’t holding his knife on Donghyuck’s shoulder, giving it a condescending pat. “Oh honey, there are no rules in the apocalypse.”

“Excellent point, Junnie!” Jaemin agrees. “Now, you have thirty seconds to find your starting position. Go!”

Jaemin and Renjun shove Donghyuck forward at the same time. Donghyuck stumbles a bit to get his footing then runs off randomly, all the while arguing about how unfair it is that Jeno’s had way more time to get ready, which only prompts a shouted lecture from Renjun reminding him how nothing about the end of the world has ever been fair. Jaemin backs him up, obviously.

After half a minute, Jaemin grabs the green flare from where it’s hooked to his belt and fires it into the sky. He knows Jeno can see it wherever he is, though Jaemin guesses he’s probably not that far, anyway. His favourite spot is the empty building on the south end of the clearing, and it’s not far from where they stand now.

Or well, where he and Renjun stand. They can see Donghyuck a small distance away, scampering around, simultaneously looking for cover and also Jeno. Jaemin and Renjun share a look, shaking their heads. “Should we help him?” Jaemin asks, because Donghyuck’s total incoherence is actually giving him secondhand embarrassment.

Renjun stops spinning his knife for a moment, switching it over to the other hand as he considers Donghyuck. “Nah. He needs some experience.”

Jaemin can’t argue there. “Standard procedure?”

Renjun grins, nodding. “Standard procedure.”

Standard procedure, as Donghyuck soon finds out, mostly consists of Jaemin and Renjun following a safe distance behind and yelling things like, “Your form is sloppier than my ex!” and “My dead mom has better aim than that!” It’s not very constructive criticism, and he keeps shouting back that if they keep causing such a commotion Jeno will be able to spot him a mile away.

“Newsflash dumbass, he already can! He has a scope and you suck at taking cover!” Jaemin yells, cupping his hands around his mouth so he’s sure Donghyuck hears him loud and clear. (Which he does, but it’s not like it helps anything.)

“Why did you wear red today? You’re a fucking walking target!” Renjun chimes in.

“It compliments my complexion, you asshole!” Donghyuck shouts back as he widens the distance between them.

“He’s not wrong,” Renjun points out, and Jaemin has to agree. Even if red is like, the worst colour to wear in the apocalypse. At least Donghyuck will look hot when he dies.

Speaking of dying, a moment later a bullet ricochets off the wall next to Donghyuck’s head and nearly sends him into a panic attack. He dives into the nearest doorway, rolling into the dirt as he screams about how Jeno’s gonna kill him for real and he’s lucky Jeno missed.

“He didn’t miss!” Renjun and Jaemin shoot back in unison. “That was a warning shot!” Jaemin clarifies.

“He almost hit my face!” Donghyuck says through shallow breaths.

“Key word there is almost, dude!” Jaemin laughs.

“Don’t worry, he knows to aim for the vest!” Renjun tries to reassure Donghyuck, but if the rapid rise and fall of his chest is any indication it isn’t working very well. “God, he’s a fucking disaster.”

Jaemin nods solemnly. “Should I tell Jeno to get this over with?”

“Yeah, before Hyuck gives himself a heart attack and dies for real.” Renjun’s back to playing with his knife, now that the fun’s almost over. He keeps his eyes on Donghyuck though, just to be safe.

Jaemin turns away and jogs a few feet off to the right, where he knows Jeno can see him around the building he and Renjun had been standing behind. He waves his arms, and when Jeno sees the movement he turns his head ever so slightly so he can see Jaemin better in his peripheral vision. His eye never leaves the scope. Jaemin slices his hand across his neck in the universal sign for “kill him already,” which Jeno nods at. Jaemin gives him a salute that’s only half joking and runs back to Renjun, who now has a knife in each hand.

“You’re not gonna throw one at him, are you?” Jaemin asks.

Renjun pouts, putting the larger knife back in its sheath against his bicep. “You’re no fun.”

“He’s gonna shit his pants when Jeno shoots him, just save the knife throwing for your turn.”

As if on cue, another shot rings out through the air, and this time the bullet hits Donghyuck square in the chest, right over his heart. He instantly drops to his knees, wailing like he’s dying because he probably thinks he is. His hands are over his chest in a heartbeat, feeling around for a wound, or blood, or any sign that he’s in mortal danger.

“I told you to make sure you wear a vest,” Jaemin says snarkily as he and Renjun walk up to where Donghyuck is kneeling on the concrete.

“You’re lucky Jaem wouldn’t let me throw a knife at you,” Renjun points out as if that will help the situation in any capacity. Jaemin swats his arm halfheartedly.

“You were gonna throw a knife at me?!” Donghyuck shrieks. “I’m already dying!”

Jeno strolls up now, moving to stand beside Jaemin. “First of all, you’re not dying. If I wanted to kill you I would’ve gone for the head.”

Donghyuck frowns at him, still breathing heavily. “What’s second of all?”

“It doesn’t hurt to overdo it,” Renjun says, spinning the knife around in his hands again. The blade glints in the sun, as if for emphasis.

 


 

If Jaemin’s being completely transparent here, Donghyuck is catching on to the whole survival mode thing way faster than he expected. They still don’t know much of anything about Donghyuck’s past (he never brings it up himself, and they won’t make him talk about it) but over the course of the past week they’ve realized he lived a pretty sheltered life, by apocalyptic standards. Like, fuck, he didn’t even know how to start a fire without a lighter. That’s not even survival 101, it’s like a prerequisite course. What the fuck. It’s seriously a miracle he even lasted long enough to make it to Paradise from wherever the hell he was before.

They still have him on a pretty rigorous training regimen though, for obvious reasons. Jaemin, as unofficial squad leader, made the call that Donghyuck won’t be allowed outside the wall till he can at the very least hit a target from a few meters away. (It’s gonna be a while.) He’s also a little apprehensive about the fact that Donghyuck chose a fucking axe, of all things, as his backup weapon. He’s even more apprehensive about the fact that Donghyuck handles it way better than a gun. He seems almost...comfortable with it. Not that Jaemin can judge. His group does have weird taste in secondary weaponry.

Since Donghyuck is doing much better with the axe than any gun they’ve tried so far, he mostly sticks to training with Renjun. Jaemin offered to help, but he enjoys target practice more than swinging knives around aimlessly, and he’s shit at explaining hand to hand maneuvers. That’s always been more of Renjun’s thing. Plus, it’s kind of hilarious seeing Renjun kick Donghyuck’s ass even though the only weapons he carries are about 1000 knives and a metal baseball bat. He gave Donghyuck a concussion the first day, even though the kid had a fucking axe to block the bat with.

Plus - and Jaemin will never admit this out loud - he really loves watching Jeno work. Like, sure, he’s eerily good at sniping a dummy from a couple thousand meters, but Jeno behind the scope of his rifle is the calmest Jaemin’s ever seen him. It’s weird how the apocalypse does... that. They’ve known each other since they were kids, and it took the end of the world and a gun in his hands for Jeno to finally feel safe. There are reasons for that, Jaemin guesses - they all have a past, but none of that really matters anymore. Once people started eating each other’s brains, they had to learn to live in the moment. Jaemin wishes he was better at that.

Jeno notices Jaemin hasn’t fired a shot in several minutes (which is slightly surprising since he’s usually too in the zone to notice much of anything else), and he slings his rifle onto his back as he turns to face Jaemin. “Everything okay, Nana?”

Oh, fuck. He only calls me Nana when he’s really worried. “Uh,” Jaemin starts intelligently before clearly his throat lightly. “Yeah, just thinking.”

“About Hyuck?” Jeno doesn’t stop looking at him, so Jaemin averts his eyes.

“Not...exactly. I mean, kinda, yeah.” He kicks a rock near his left foot just to have something to do besides meet Jeno’s gaze.

“Wanna talk about it?” Jeno asks as he reaches over his own shoulder to grab the bow he keeps strapped to his back at all times. (Yeah, he has a thing for shooting people. Jaemin’s tried to tell him so many times that the whole point of a backup weapon is to choose something that can’t run out of ammo, but he shut up about it once he saw Jeno decapitate a corpse with just the string of his bow and brute force. Sometimes Jaemin thinks they’re lucky that Jeno hates close combat.)

Jeno nocks an arrow, pulling it back against his face so the string of his bow is taut. He breathes in deeply for a heartbeat, then exhales and lets the arrow loose. It hits the dummy right between the eyes. He reaches for another arrow, and Jaemin knows he’ll do this all day if he has to because Jaemin won’t talk if Jeno’s looking at him. He doesn’t do well under scrutiny, probably because he analyzes himself more than anyone else ever feels the need to. “Well, no, not really. I just miss them, y’know?”

He doesn’t have to say what he means; Jeno already knows. “We all do,” he points out as he lets another arrow fly. It hits the first arrow.

Jaemin nods, because of course they all miss their friends. “I know, but - I don’t know. I should’ve been better. I could’ve saved them.”

Jeno’s hand stutters a little as he reaches for another arrow, but his stance is perfect once he strings it. “Nana, it wasn’t your fault. I was there too, remember? I’m here to protect you guys, and a corpse bit Mark right on his fucking neck. I didn’t even see the damn thing coming, and that’s my whole job, to see threats and eliminate them before they cause actual damage.” He releases the arrow. It lands in the dummy’s forehead, right above the others.

“Jen, you know it wasn’t your fault either, right?” Jaemin closes the distance between them with a few strides, putting his hand on Jeno’s so he’ll lower his bow. “It’s the apocalypse. Shit happens. We’re lucky we still have Renjun. And each other,” he adds, because he really doesn’t think he’d make it if he ever lost Jeno.

Jeno frowns at him. “You say that, but do you believe it? Yeah it’s the apocalypse, but do you think we should just accept it?”

“I don’t think we really have a choice. And don’t take this the wrong way, but believing we can change it only makes us blame ourselves when shit goes wrong. Like Mark.”

Jeno looks at him for approximately an entire lifetime like he’s trying to find the answer to a question he doesn’t know how to ask. “Okay, then don’t blame yourself for Mark either.”

Jaemin shakes his head. “That’s different and you know it.”

“How?”

“I killed him, Jen!” Jaemin shouts unintentionally. Renjun and Donghyuck look over at them from where they’re sparring several meters away, but quickly lose interest when they don’t see anything obviously wrong. “I fucking shot him in the head.” He’s kind of starting to hyperventilate. Wonderful.

Jeno moves closer, pulling him into a hug. His arms have gotten a lot bigger since the world ended, Jaemin notices. Shit, when was the last time they even hugged? The apocalypse really does fuck with human interaction. “You did what you had to do. Renjun and I would’ve done the same, and I know that’s why you did it first, even if you don’t realize it. You were protecting Mark from turning when you shot him, but you protected me and Renjun from having to live with being the one to pull the trigger. You’re braver than you give yourself credit for, Nana. And you’re still the best person I know.”

Jaemin can’t help it. How can Jeno say shit like that and expect him not to cry? Jesus. “I’m so sorry.”

Jeno just cards his fingers through Jaemin’s hair like he used to do when they were kids and still had sleepovers and Jaemin had a bad dream because he missed his mom. The only difference is, Jaemin can’t wake up from this nightmare. “Don’t be sorry. Not for any of it.” He swipes a thumb across Jaemin’s cheek, temporarily drying the moisture there. Jaemin’s breath hitches in his throat. “Cut yourself a break, yeah? You deserve it.”

Jaemin hates that Jeno always knows just what he needs to hear. He wraps his arms around Jeno’s waist, sobbing into his shoulder like he’s wanted to for so long. It’s hard to ask for the little things when there’s something so much bigger going on around them.

It isn’t until they separate that he notices his own shoulder is damp, too.

 


 

Jaemin has a routine; a pregame ritual, of sorts.

First, he tells the others. “We’re going on a supply run.”

Donghyuck visibly brightens at that, which is weird because Jaemin was expecting him to avoid the outside world as long as physically possible, all things considered. “When?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Jaemin answers, and Donghyuck deflates just a little bit. Maybe he’s getting tired of only fighting Renjun after all, plus he’s probably pissed as hell at the corpses who ate his parents (rightfully so). Maybe it would be good to get all that anger out. Therapeutic, even.

“Uh, Jaem?” Jeno starts, but Renjun gets right to the point.

“Hyuck’s not ready yet.” Donghyuck gives an indignant squawk from where he’s sitting on the couch with Renjun’s legs in his lap. Renjun just keeps sharpening his axe for him. “Not by a long shot.”

“I know, Junnie.” Jaemin puffs out a sigh, the force of his breath making the pink tips of his hair dance. God, he wishes hair dye was still a thing. The pink’s almost gone now. It kind of feels like he’s losing the last piece of the old Jaemin he had left. “And I tried to tell them that, but we can’t ditch our responsibilities forever.”

Renjun looks at him funny, but Jaemin can’t read his face. “Was that their words or yours?”

Jaemin leans against the arm of the chair Jeno’s sitting in, and his back is barely touching Jeno’s shoulder. It’s enough to make him feel safer. “Both. We have to do our part, or they’ll kick us out. You know that.”

Donghyuck raises his hand, like that’s necessary. Maybe old habits die hard, but school hasn’t existed for over a year. You’d think he’d be over it by now. “Hey, quick question,” he says when Jaemin doesn’t immediately acknowledge him, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of raising his hand anyway. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“The situation here is...delicate,” Jeno offers, since he has more tact than Renjun or Jaemin can ever bother to muster. “We don’t really have one person in charge. It’s more like there’s an unwritten rule that everybody does their part to keep the entire camp running.”

“So you’re socialists?” Donghyuck asks, unimpressed.

“I mean, strictly speaking, yeah. I guess,” Jeno concedes because it’s way easier than delving into the whole story about the initial fight for power, or how it almost tore the camp apart, or how there really is strength in numbers so everyone has to carry their own weight, blah blah blah. Typical apocalypse stuff.

“The point is,” Jaemin cuts in before they can get too wrapped up in the politics of it all. (Is it still called politics if there’s no more government?) “We need to get ready to go. We only have like, twelve hours till we leave, and Donghyuck needs a crash course.”

Donghyuck chokes on his own spit. “I thought the past month was my crash course!”

Renjun gives him a blank look. “Yeah, your crash course in combat. That’s not the only thing you need to know, idiot.”

“Speaking of combat,” Jaemin says over Donghyuck’s expression of his disapproval at being called an idiot (which he is, in Renjun’s defense, at least right now). “We need to talk about our...arrangement.”

Jeno and Renjun nod, because they’ve probably already figured out what it is. “You and me, and Renjun and Hyuck, yeah?” Jeno asks, just to be sure.

“Why am I with Renjun?”

Jaemin rolls his eyes. Of course Donghyuck would ask that. “Because, dumbass, you’ve basically only been training with him for the past month. Your chemistry is the best with him, since you’ve spent the most time with him and you know how he fights.”

“Chemistry?” Donghyuck repeats, making fake gagging noises. Renjun puts him in a headlock.

“Is that really all you got from that?” Jaemin pinches the bridge of his nose. “Anyway, you’re also shit with a gun, so you can’t be a sniper. You’d probably kill all of us before you ever hit a corpse.”

“Hey!” Donghyuck protests with way more confidence than someone who’s currently being choked by the best knife fighter in Paradise should reasonably have. Jaemin wonders if Renjun might accidentally kill him. “I’m laying cover fire! Hit all the bases, y’know?”

“That’s not what cover fire means,” Jeno mumbles. He’s most likely given up on arguing with Donghyuck, though. They all have, for the most part.

Which is why Jaemin just says, “Shut up, Hyuckie,” and turns to Jeno to explain the particulars of their outing the next day. It’s pretty standard, just grabbing some food and a few basic supplies, then getting the fuck out of there and back to Paradise as quickly as possible.

“We got this, Jaem,” Jeno says with a warm hand on Jaemin’s shoulder and a reassuring smile. “Renjun’s got Hyuck’s back.”

Jaemin looks over to where Donghyuck is currently turning purple. “Junnie, let him go.”

“Okay, he will have Hyuck’s back.”

Jaemin just gives him an absentminded look. “He better.”

 


 

Part two of Jaemin’s pregame ritual is the planning.

He takes it upon himself to run the logistics - how many weapons they’ll need, how much ammunition, the best route to take, what supplies they can carry back without hindering their self-defense. It’s a lot of gambling, if he’s being honest, because facing the apocalypse is really more of an art than a science. If they had any sort of science to explain this shit, they probably would’ve stopped it a long time ago.

Part three is an irritating lack of sleep. He thought he’d be used to this bullshit by now, but evidently even a year of constant near death experiences doesn’t actually make the possibility of dying any less scary. Weird how that works.

Part four is climbing into Jeno’s bed because of the aforementioned inability to fall asleep. He doesn’t even ask anymore, just pads over to the bed and crawls under the covers as quietly as he can even though he knows Jeno isn’t sleeping either. When he lays there with his back against Jeno’s and his eyes squeezed shut, it’s easy to pretend they’re ten years old again and he’s only in Jeno’s room because it’s the weekend and “I just really missed your cats, Jen.” Eventually his breathing slows to match Jeno’s, and he can finally relax enough to drift off.

Part five is the final part, and definitely the most superstitious. See, the thing is, since this whole apocalypse thing went down, there aren’t many reliable sources of power. And what little power still remains (which amounts to a total of six solar panels, for the record) is reserved for necessities. Which is fine, makes sense, but it also makes charging a phone pretty fucking hard.

Jaemin doesn’t care about his phone specifically, considering everyone he might call is either dead or fighting the undead with him, but he does care about music. Which sounds pretentious as fuck, but seriously, listening to corpses rip your friends’ faces right off their skulls is not a sound you want burned into your memory forever. Jaemin would know.

So yeah, to prevent that particular nightmare from happening ever again, Jaemin’s figured out that if he blasts music through some half-broken earbuds he found on a raid half a year ago, he can pretty much drown out the symphony of death that the outside world has become. A lot of people have argued that it’s really fucking stupid to make yourself deaf to any auditory signs of danger, but Jeno’s got his back and Jaemin’s gotten pretty good at fighting without his hearing. Even if he has to carry a bedazzled baby blue portable CD player because you know, the whole thing about phones being reduced to useless bricks without a usable power source around. It’s kind of fun, anyway. Making mix CDs is one of the small pleasures he gets in life since the end of the world. (Even if he has to use CDs he steals on raids and his technically unauthorized laptop to do it.)

Anyway, the music sets the tone for the day, right? He’s accumulated about ten mix CDs at this point, to suit most of his moods and the missions they’re assigned. Today’s looking really shitty if the bags under his eyes are any indication - not to mention the fact it’s Donghyuck’s first day out in the real world - so he grabs his favourite hype mix and pops it into the player before draping the cord of the earbuds over his neck and walking out to meet the others.

“Sleep well?” Renjun asks, the little shit. Jaemin flips him off.

Donghyuck seems much more lively, walking up to Jaemin practically bouncing on his heels. “Jeno said we’re going to get food today?” He says it like it’s great news.

“Uh, yeah,” Jaemin slurs, because he’s still half asleep and there is no reason for Donghyuck to have this much energy at ass o’clock in the morning. “It’s basically just rummaging around in an abandoned convenience store for whatever’s left.”

Donghyuck looks disappointed. “That’s a lot lamer than it ever was in the movies.”

Jaemin doesn’t know what he expected. “Nothing about the apocalypse is as cool as it was in the movies.”

“Points were made,” Donghyuck concedes, which is mildly unexpected. He’s usually a lot more argumentative - maybe he’s more nervous than he lets on.

“We ready?” Jeno asks as he steps into the room. Jaemin nods, and they all busy themselves with putting on their boots and strapping on their weapons.

Once Jaemin’s finished with his own arsenal, he goes over to inspect Donghyuck. He’s travelling light, as suggested by Renjun, so all he has is his axe and a small handgun for emergencies. Renjun’s told him to avoid using the gun if at all possible, though (he didn’t even give Donghyuck any spare ammo). They’re trying to avoid getting shot by one of their own squad members.

Donghyuck looks good, and Renjun and Jeno can handle themselves, so Jaemin gives the signal for them to move. He stops by the armory on the way to grab a flare (red this time, since red means actual help is needed), and they make their way to the gate of Paradise. They check in with the guards - who they know by name at this point - and then the gate is swinging open and they step out into the world, gate closing securely behind them. Jaemin thinks maybe there’s a metaphor somewhere in there, but he’s too preoccupied to see it.

Everyone’s on high alert, obviously, even though corpses don’t dare come this close to the wall. Corpses may be dead, but they have some sense of self-preservation, at least. Or instinct, or something, who the fuck knows. The point is, they aren’t gonna run into any of the undead for at least a kilometer. It’s the calm before the storm.

Donghyuck doesn’t know all that, and he seems jittery. It looks like Renjun’s trying to console him where they’re walking several strides in front of Jaemin and Jeno, but he’s probably not helping much. They’ve all gotten pretty bad with emotional connection since the end of the world. The constant fear of losing the people you love will do that, Jaemin guesses. You can’t miss them if you never get attached in the first place.

Despite Donghyuck’s restlessness, they do eventually find their target: a convenience store just a few blocks from Paradise, nestled on a corner next to a bookstore that Jaemin used to love back when it was still functional. Since the world ended he’s gone back and looked for books, actually, but they’ve all been taken or just plain torn up, probably in a fight. He only found one that was salvageable - an old paperback copy of Paradise Lost. It’s all he reads now, for obvious reasons. He could probably recite it from memory if he wanted to.

Once they reach the store, Jaemin and Jeno head up to the roof of a restaurant across the street because it’s got the best vantage point of the front doors, where Renjun and Donghyuck are currently standing. Once Jaemin gives the signal, they’ll go inside and grab as many supplies as they can find, then head back out and meet up with Jaemin and Jeno at the front of the building. It’s a simple plan, efficient even. They’ve done it countless times before. It’ll be fine.

Once he’s settled in position with Jeno off to his right, Jaemin puts the earbuds in and hits play before thrusting his fist in the air to let Renjun and Donghyuck know they’re good to go. They disappear into the store, and Jaemin lets the music drown out his fear while he runs on pure adrenaline. Jeno’s a lot calmer; he gets weirdly serene when he’s stressed. Like his body just goes, nope, we’re not doing that today, and channels all his tension into an almost superhuman amount of muscle control. It’s part of why he’s such a good shot.

The corpses come soon enough, because they have this uncanny ability to smell human flesh from who the fuck knows how far away. They’re like sharks or some shit, except Jaemin’s always liked sharks. He wonders if the whole apocalypse thing turned them into corpses, too. That would be metal as fuck, to see a zombie shark.

But he’s not seeing undead sharks, he’s just seeing regular old corpses, and it’s kind of sad how “same old, same old” this whole ordeal is. Jaemin’s got solid aim, even if he isn’t a literal assassin like Jeno (well, he isn’t either, but he could be), so it’s not all that difficult to eliminate the threat. It wasn’t a big group of corpses, anyway.

Jaemin drops his empty magazine and switches it out for a new one from his belt, bobbing his head to the song playing through his earbuds. He looks over to Jeno to make sure everything’s good over there too, but Jeno’s not paying any attention to him. Jaemin takes that as a good sign, since Jeno’s eye only ever leaves his scope if something is seriously wrong. Like, someone is about to die, wrong. So yeah, Jaemin’s glad Jeno’s just doing his thing.

Another group of corpses approaches about ten minutes later, and it’s bigger this time, which doesn’t usually happen. Jaemin isn’t sure if the undead try to avoid drawing attention to themselves or they just don’t like crowds, but either way this group of corpses is one of the biggest he’s seen. Yikes. He isn’t sure he’s gonna have enough bullets; he only brought one spare magazine since this was supposed to be a short mission and he hadn’t even expected to need a reload.

Which, speaking of, where the fuck are Renjun and Donghyuck? Jaemin and Jeno finish picking off the second wave of corpses, but now Jaemin’s out of bullets and Jeno only has one magazine left and Jaemin is really starting to stress about the possibility of more corpses showing up. He walks over to Jeno, who doesn’t even flinch when Jaemin crouches down beside him, pausing his music and popping his earbuds out.

“I’m out, Jen.” He drops his unloaded gun onto the concrete of the rooftop. “You got a visual on Junnie and Hyuckie?”

Jeno studies his scope, turning his head a few degrees each direction to try and spot them. “Nope. They’re probably in the back.”

Jaemin nods. “I’m gonna go see what’s taking so long.”

Jeno reaches out to grab Jaemin’s forearm without ever letting the storefront out of his sight. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I mean, I’m no help up here without bullets, am I?” Jeno lets go of his arm. “Those idiots probably just can’t find something on the list, and I wanna get the fuck out of here. Too many corpses out today.” He stands, brushing off the knees of his pants where they’re dirty from kneeling.

“Be safe, Jaem.”

“Always am!” Jaemin calls over his shoulder as he heads to the fire escape.

Once he’s on the ground, he immediately notices that it’s way too quiet. That’s such a cliche thing to say but like seriously, it’s the end of the goddamn world, it’s meant to be chaotic. Jaemin grabs the knives off his thigh, spinning one in each hand to keep them occupied. Plus it keeps him sharp, according to Renjun. He isn’t sure if that’s true, but it seems to work for Renjun (who’s pretty fucking deadly with a knife) so whatever.

He peers through the sliding doors of the convenience store first, through the crack where they’re still half-open from when Renjun and Donghyuck pried their way inside. He can’t see much from here, just the first couple aisles, and there isn’t so much as a glimpse of either of his friends. What he does see, though, is a corpse wandering down the aisle off to his right. Shit.

He moves back over to the wall, body pressed against the brick so he can get his bearings. He has no idea how many corpses are inside, or if Renjun and Donghyuck even know they’re in danger, but in the end it doesn’t matter either way. He promised them he’d protect them no matter what, so that’s what he’s gonna do, even if it means fighting a horde of corpses by himself.

Before he goes back inside, he catches Jeno’s attention and gives him the sign for “corpse,” flipping his hands over in front of his body and then touching them to his chest before lowering them down his torso. Jeno lifts a fist in confirmation, a silent, “I’ve got your back,” and Jaemin nods before putting his earbuds in, hitting play, and shoving his way into the store.

You tell yourself you’re not the one, you won’t get hurt when the damage is done.

He runs up to the nearest corpse, the one he saw from the doorway, and stabs a knife directly into the back of its head, at the base of the neck where the skull is softest. There’s no blood splatter, since dead bodies don’t bleed, but it does fall face first into the tile floor with Jaemin’s knife still lodged in its skull. He yanks the knife out, wipes the chunky blood off onto his pants, and keeps moving.

You tell yourself it won’t happen to you - it’s the same old story, there’s nothing new.

He’s barely taken three steps when he runs into another corpse, and this one spots him immediately. Thankfully Jaemin’s got better reflexes since he’s alive, so he uses that split second to throw a knife at the corpse’s head. It lands perfectly in the corpse’s left eye, and Jaemin’s already walking by and grabbing the knife before the body has even hit the ground.

Can’t be the one, the one to lose. You won’t be wearing someone else’s shoes.

He turns a corner, making his way toward the back of the store. He still hasn’t seen a flash of anything that looks like Donghyuck or Renjun, which is concerning, but he tells himself it’s okay because he’s here now so everything will be fine. He doesn’t let himself dwell on all the times that wasn’t true.

Can’t you read it? It’s up on the wall. How can someone so big be so small?

After a couple aisles with nothing but a disturbing lack of movement, he sees it. Donghyuck’s stupid ass red sweatshirt that he insists on wearing incessantly because it used to be his dead dad’s favourite. (Which he only admitted after two weeks of friendly roasting from Renjun.) And like, it’s a horrible decision, tactically speaking, but Jaemin does have a heart so it’s not like he was gonna tell Donghyuck no. Plus, it’s coming in handy right about now.

You’re nothing without your friends.

See, the thing about the red sweatshirt is it’s really easy to spot, but it does make it a lot harder to see the blood running down Donghyuck’s chest. Jaemin doesn’t catch it till he’s standing next to him and Donghyuck is gasping out something that sounds an awful lot like “Renjun.” It’s kinda hard to tell through all the gurgles, though. Jaemin turns, and Renjun is only a couple meters away - and he looks worse than Donghyuck. His face is bruised, and he’s got a huge gash on his neck, and his arm is definitely broken. Jaemin thinks he might suffocate under all the pressure in his chest as he squeaks out a quiet, “Junnie?” Renjun just looks at him. Jaemin turns back to Donghyuck, whose ankle is bent at a decidedly wrong angle. He wants to ask what happened, but neither of them are in any position to explain right now.

They’ll be with you till the bitter end.

Jaemin looks up, and several corpses are walking through the store in their direction. They must’ve heard Jaemin and gone to investigate, but now that he’s not a perceived threat they’re back to finish off Renjun and Donghyuck. Jaemin can’t let that happen, so he grabs a knife, slashes his forearm, and books it to the front doors. The corpses follow, because fresh blood is always better.

You’re nothing and you’ll find out what this world is all about.

He makes it outside, barely, and he has to kick a corpse off of himself while Jeno shoots all four of them in record time. Jaemin’s bleeding everywhere, and he probably shouldn’t have cut so deep because fuck that’s gonna leave a scar, but he couldn’t care less at the moment. Jeno rushes down to meet him, and Jaemin frantically rips his earbuds out and explains that “Renjun and Donghyuck are dying, Jen,” which prompts Jeno to go inside and check them out while Jaemin fires off the flare. He goes back inside to help Jeno attempt to move them outside, at least, which proves to be a lot easier said than done. Renjun and Donghyuck are heavier than they look, and Renjun’s unconscious at this point. Jaemin can feel the tears running down his face, and it hurts more than the blood running down his arm.

He would say he’s never been so scared, but that would be a lie.

 


 

“They’re stable, Nana. Get some sleep.”

Jaemin realizes that Jeno’s just trying to help; he knows pretty much all of Jaemin’s tragic backstory because he was there for most of it, and since therapy isn’t an option anymore, his best friend is really all Jaemin’s got. (Which in itself probably isn’t healthy, either.) That doesn’t mean he’s gonna listen to Jeno’s advice. “I can’t. I have to help them.”

He stands up, but Jeno puts a firm hand on his shoulder. It’s not actually stopping Jaemin - he could push past if he really wanted to - but it gets the point across. “You already did enough,” Jeno argues, because well, yeah. He did.

“Enough isn’t enough,” Jaemin says, even though he knows it sounds stupid even as he says it. “I have to do everything I can to -”

“That’s the thing, though. You don’t have to do everything.”

Jeno’s not wrong, but that doesn’t matter at this point. “The doctor said they need more medicine, or Renjun’s neck will get infected, and they need splints for their broken bones. I can get them.”

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.”

Jaemin looks down at the dagger in his hands. Renjun gave it to him for good luck, in case Jaemin went back out there while he was still out of commission. “I promised them I’d protect them.”

“You did.” Jeno means it, Jaemin knows he does, but that doesn’t make it more convincing.

Jaemin feels his eyes welling up with tears again, and hates it. “Not well enough.”

 


 

Pregame ritual complete, Jaemin treads up to the gate of Paradise with his ragtag team of volunteers to go search for medical supplies. It’s a weird assortment; a middle-aged couple, a girl who’s probably about Jaemin’s age, and a boy who looks like he’s like, fourteen. Not exactly the group Jaemin would’ve picked, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? It’s funny, not many people are willing to risk their lives for people they don’t know, even in the apocalypse. You’d think they would feel his pain, or some corny shit like that.

Anyway, he’s got his gun, his lucky knife, and his CD player, so he’s good to go. He’s already explained his rather particular method of dealing with the soundtrack of the end of the world (which essentially amounts to replacing it with his own), so they know that verbal cues won’t work. Jaemin will be on the ground with the old people and the kid, because apparently the girl is some amazing sniper that doesn’t need any help. Okay. Sure, Jan.

Speaking of snipers, Jeno shows up uninvited approximately three milliseconds before the gates are opened, which is so inconvenient for so many reasons. “What are you doing here?” Jaemin asks, because what the fuck is Jeno doing here?

“I’m coming with you,” Jeno says like it isn’t the most annoying thing he’s said in a while. “Hey Johnny,” he adds to the guard closest to them, which prompts Johnny to tell Jeno his latest crazy story about whatever shit he sees when he’s on watch duty.

Since Jeno’s distracted, Jaemin walks over to Jaehyun (the other guard, and Jaemin’s personal favourite). He doesn’t even have to say anything before Jaehyun is whispering “I got you,” and moving over to shove Johnny’s noodle body out of the way and open the gate himself.

Jaemin calls for his squad to move out, and they rush out the gate along with him as Jaehyun hurries to close it before Jeno can follow. That’s what he gets for making small talk when Jaemin is on a mission. “Take care of Hyuckie and Junnie for me!” Jaemin tosses over his shoulder as he leads the group off into the world. I can’t lose you too. Anyone but you.

He doesn’t turn his music on yet, because he doesn’t really know these people (he can’t even be fucked to learn their names) and he doesn’t exactly trust them either. They make their way toward the largest pharmacy in town, which is the only one sort of likely to have what they need. It’s slow going, because these people act like they’ve never seen the end of the world before, Jesus. Jaemin’s this close to just leaving them behind, but he knows that wouldn’t go over well with the rest of Paradise. Even though they’re idiots, these people have friends and families too. Maybe. They might all be dead, who knows.

After an unnecessarily long, very excruciating trek a couple blocks to the east, they find it. The glass doors are smashed in, unsurprisingly, so they don’t have to worry about that, at least. Jaemin turns to the group, demanding their attention by setting his shoulders and crossing his arms like a disappointed dad. “Okay, you know the plan. Stick to it. I’m putting my earbuds in now, so I won’t hear you if you yell at me or whatever. You remember the signals?” They all nod, and Jaemin really hopes they mean it. “Alright, let’s go.”

The girl wanders off to find her sweet spot, and Jaemin wonders if he should go up there with her. He’s no Jeno, but he’s a decent sniper, and it makes him nervous only having one. Then again, he isn’t exactly confident in the three on the ground either, and he’d really like to make sure they actually get what they came for. He sighs. It’s hard to tolerate people who suck at the apocalypse. He puts his earbuds in and presses play.

Your love is like bad medicine - bad medicine is what I need.

He walks to the back, scanning the boxes on the shelves for the names he’d been told to look for. The others are in the front looking for the more basic stuff like splints and gauze, because Jaemin feels like that’s harder to fuck up. He doesn’t trust anyone else to find the drugs that will save Renjun’s life. 

Shake it up just like bad medicine, there ain’t no doctor that can cure my disease.

He finds one box of the antibiotic he’s looking for, which he really hopes is enough, then moves on to searching for the painkillers. His plan is just to grab as many as he can, because Renjun and Donghyuck are both in a lot of pain and he has no idea how long that will last.

Bad medicine.

He rummages around a bit more, grabbing generic stuff like allergy medicine and cough syrup just in case they happen to need more back in Paradise. Plus, the others are taking their sweet fucking time up front, so he’s got time to kill. He could go up and help them, but to be honest, he doesn’t want to deal with that. He just wants to get this over with and save his friends.

I ain’t got a fever, got a permanent disease and it’ll take more than a doctor to prescribe a remedy.

There’s a suspicious burst of movement toward the front of the store, so Jaemin ducks behind a shelf as soon as he catches it in his periphery. He peers over the bottles of pills, and oh fuck. There are like, eight corpses inside. Brilliant.

Gonna take more than a shot to get this poison out of me, and I got all the symptoms, count ‘em one, two, three.

Jaemin leans against the shelf, tossing the bag of medicine off to the side so it (hopefully) doesn’t get caught in the crossfire. He checks his weapons, takes a deep breath, and stands up. He immediately sees two corpses, which he shoots without any difficulty since he has the element of surprise. Or well, had the element of surprise. Now that he’s killed two of them, the corpses are pretty aware of his presence. Thankfully, most of them are already too busy stuffing their faces to notice him. Wait.

First you need, then you bleed.

Jaemin cannot seriously be the only one left. It’s ridiculous, the shit he has to deal with, and now he’s gotta explain to everyone that they sent him on a mission with the most incompetent group in the whole goddamn apocalypse? How did these people even make it this long? Jaemin sighs. He really has to do this himself. Fine. 

And when you’re on your knees, that’s what you get for falling in love.

He lets loose. It’s kind of freeing, actually, being the only one left, because it’s a fight he knows he won’t win, so he might as well have fun with it. He does all that stupid shit they do in the movies, like shrugging his harness off so he can show more of his chest, or cocking his gun unnecessarily (he wonders if it makes him look as dumb as he feels) right before shooting a corpse point-blank and then kicking her chest so her body falls backwards instead of onto him. Then he fires off a flare out the window knowing it won’t do shit, but he wants to do one of those dramatic hair flips that go into basically every action movie and the light from the flare really sells it. It’s usually the female love interest doing it, but who cares? The world is over, Jaemin’s gonna die, and he knows he’s cute. Let him have his moment.

Now this boy’s addicted ‘cause your kiss is the drug.

He points his gun at another corpse, but something feels off, his body moving on its own. He goes for the heart, not the head, and he has no idea why. The corpse pops the bullet out, unfazed, and locks eyes with Jaemin. He’s definitely undead, all rotted and gross and generally a nightmare, but his eyes look almost...human. Which should be impossible, but - wait, shit, why is he getting closer? Jaemin pulls the trigger again, and there should be a bullet right in the middle of the corpse’s forehead but the bullet never fires. His magazine’s empty. Lovely. He sinks to the ground, earbuds getting caught on the handle of a medicine cabinet and slipping out of his ears in the process, yanking the CD player to the floor. It’s only then he hears his own shaky breaths and realizes he’s crying.

The corpse is kneeling in front of him now, breathing loudly, and Jaemin really wishes he would just get the whole eating his brain thing over with because just sitting here listening to a dead body pant is really not ideal in any sense of the word. Then the corpse makes this horrifying throaty noise, and it kind of sounds like he has a piece of something (or someone) stuck in his throat but Jaemin refuses to think about that. He doesn’t really have time to dwell on it anyway, because the next second the corpse is running his hand down Jaemin’s face, leaving a trail of god knows what that smells like actual ass. Jaemin can’t help but gag, and the corpse actually gives him the “shut the fuck up” sign. How dare he. He eats people, he should get his own shit together before he goes around telling other people what to do.

Jaemin’s seriously considering just booking it out of there, even if he knows that would be a futile attempt. But he’s gonna die anyway, right? Might as well make this corpse work for his food. Except the corpse is standing up now, sticking an arm out and possibly having a seizure, Jaemin can’t really tell. But who cares, because then the corpse actually speaks. “Safe.”

“What?” Jaemin blurts. As in, what the fuck do you mean? But also - what the fuck, you’re talking?

The corpse grabs Jaemin and pulls him up to stand next to him, which Jaemin has a lot of mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the corpse is probably about to eat him. Or feed him to his friends. Or both? But on the other hand, the corpse has really pretty eyes. And Jaemin can tell he was totally hot before he went and got himself turned into a zombie like a dumbass. Plus he’s tall - and he’s taller than he looks, because his left leg is all fucked up so he can’t stand completely upright. Also, the hand on Jaemin’s arm is really big. God. It’s always the hot ones that turn into zombies. The world is so unfair.

Jaemin’s too preoccupied to notice another corpse smelling him for like, a solid minute. But then this corpse speaks too, which is just as jarring as it was the first time. “Go.” Hold on. Go where?

It doesn’t matter, really, because hottie with the rottie over here is grabbing Jaemin’s arm like his life depends on it, which maybe Jaemin’s life does. He whispers, “Go,” into Jaemin’s ear, and what the everloving fuck? That’s so uncalled for. Jaemin is not emotionally stable enough for this right now.

They start walking to fuck knows where, and Jaemin has no idea what’s going on but he really hopes Renjun’s right about his knife being lucky. He’s gonna need it.