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Snowpocalypse Now!

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Phil adjusted his glasses and tried one more time.

 

“I’m telling you,” he said, fists and teeth both clenched. Under one arm, he held a tattered old book. “My data don’t lie. This snowpocalypse is real, and it’s coming for us all.”

 

“And who told you that?” scoffed Dick, his scientific rival for many years now. “Your animal friends, Snow White?”

 

The gathered government officials and scientists all broke into loud laughter.

 

“Well, yes, but—“ Phil tried to say, but it was too late.

 

“Get him out of here,” said Colonel Buzzcut, the one who had called the meeting, and two large MPs grabbed Phil by the arms and dragged him out the door, not letting go until they’d dumped him on the pavement outside the nondescript government building.

 

Phil hung his head, frustrated and tired. But he couldn’t give up. Too many lives were in danger.

 

He clutched his ancient book closer to his chest and stood.

 

 

**

 

“I’ve…met someone else.”

 

Dan couldn’t believe this was happening. His boyfriend, Jeryk, was stood in front of him, brow wrinkled in a sympathetic expression, and he was breaking up with him. At work.

 

“You what?”

 

“She’s really great,” Jeryk said. “That doesn’t mean you aren’t great too, it’s just—“

 

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Dan hissed, looking anywhere but at the customer who was trying very hard to pretend he wasn’t there. “I can’t believe you’re actually breaking up with me in the middle of serving a customer.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Jeryk said. “I hope we can still be friends.”

 

“Friends?” Dan repeated, incredulous.

 

“Oh,” Jeryk said, holding up a coat with his other hand, the coat that Dan had worn to work today, as a matter of fact. “I’m taking my coat back too.”

 

Dan could feel flames of anger licking up the sides of his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but—

 

“Maybe I should just go—“ his customer said, standing suddenly and making for the door. He was tall, with a reddish-brown quiff and a pair of smart-looking glasses.

 

Dan was about to let him go when he realized the guy hadn’t paid.

 

“Wait!” he called, shoving Jeryk out of the way and chasing after the dine-and-dasher. That guy moved fast.

 

He was already on the pavement outside, about to step into the road when Dan finally caught up. Dan reached for him, and then he saw it: the big pick-up truck rounding the corner, about to squish the customer before he could pay.

 

Dan grabbed the guy’s arm and yanked him back onto the pavement.

 

“Uff,” he said as they both lost their balance and the guy fell on top of him, crushing him against the concretee.

 

“Oh god,” the non-paying customer said from where he was lying on top of Dan. “You just saved my life.”

 

“Yeah, cuz you still owe $13.57 for that lunch I just served you,” Dan groaned, shoving the guy off him and standing up.

 

He held out a hand.

 

“Oh,” the guy said, scrambling to his feet. “But I didn’t eat any.”

 

“Still gotta pay,” Dan said, waggling his fingers. “Otherwise it comes out of my paycheck.”

 

“That’s a crappy rule,” the guy grumbled, but he pulled out his wallet and forked over the money anyway.

 

“Thanks,” Dan said, starting to turn away.

 

“Wait,” the guy said. “Have you seen anything strange around here lately? Like…birds behaving oddly or— Or dogs or cats or anything?”

 

Dan looked around for anyone who could share a disbelieving look with him, but sadly no one was nearby.

 

“No?” Dan said, turning to go back inside again. This time, it was the guy who grabbed his arm.

 

“Listen,” the guy said. “My name is Phil. I’m a scientist, and I’m trying to stop us all dying in the Snowpocalypse.”

 

Dan shook himself free of the guy’s grasp and shoved the money into his apron pocket.

 

“My boyfriend just broke up with me in the middle of my work shift, a rude customer,”—he paused to raise his eyebrow—“just tried to run out on his tab, and to top it all off I just got knocked on my ass on a dirty pavement. I don’t have time for this kind of bullshit today.”

 

And with that, he yanked open the door and hurried back inside the diner.

 

 

**

 

Phil trudged off down the street, disheartened. He’d been here less than a day, and so far he’d made no progress on his plan. Worse, no one would listen to him—not the military, not the government, not his fellow scientists, not even that hot waiter.

 

Just ahead on the other side of some parked cars, something caught his eye—a fox! Wait, scratch that, it was a whole group of foxes, maybe twenty or thirty of them, all running at top speed in the same direction: south.

 

It was just as he’d feared. The animals knew, even if the humans refused to believe. He started toward the group of foxes when a voice drew him up short.

 

“Lester!”

 

Slowly, he turned, a scowl overtaking his face.

 

“I should’ve known you would be here,” the voice said, accompanied by a sneer on its owner’s face.

 

“Dick,” he said. “You followed me.”

 

The other scientist let out a loud, derisive laugh.

 

“Followed you?” he repeated, then crossed his arms and let out another laugh. “No, Lester. I didn’t follow you. I followed the animals.”

 

Phil’s jaw dropped.

 

“You knew!” he cried, betrayed. “You knew I was right all along.”

 

“Oh, I knew,” Dick said, smiling, smug. “I just didn’t want you to get the credit.”

 

“You- You-! You dick,” Phil yelled, throwing himself toward the evil, smug scientist.

 

“Hold it, Lester,” said another voice, and then a pair of muscly arms were wrapped around Phil’s chest, pulling him back. “You wanna hurt this asshole, you gotta go through me.”

 

He turned around to find himself staring into the chiseled jaw and expressionless sunglasses of Johnson, Dick’s CIA agent bodyguard.

 

Phil sagged against Johnson’s firm pectorals and rock-hard abs.

 

“Whatever,” he said, and Johnson let him loose again.

 

“Why don’t you just go back to your sorry little underfunded lab?” Dick sneered.

 

Phil wanted to lunge at him again, but Johnson was still there, big as a mountain and just as stoic.

 

Phil’s shoulders slumped and he turned away, trudging back off toward his bleak motel room.

 

**

 

It was late, and Dan was finally getting off work. He was so done with today, so exhausted that he didn’t even bother taking off his work apron. He went to grab his coat and then remembered. Right. Jeryk had taken it.

 

He pushed outside into the cold and the snow. Snow? At this time of year? It never got this cold in Somewhere, USA at this time of year.

 

Oh, well, Dan thought. My apartment’s not that far. I can make it.

 

He wrapped his arms tight around himself and headed off down the street through the ever-deepening drifts of snow.

 

Movement off to his right caught his attention, and his jaw almost dropped when he saw a flock of sparrows wheeling through the sky just above the rooftops. It had been dark for hours now. What were sparrows doing out flying at this time of night?

 

Dan shook his head and hunkered down against a sudden, biting wind. He didn’t have time to worry about something like that.

 

He trudged on for a while, shivering more and more, his legs growing tired from pushing through the snow. How had the snow built up so fast? They rarely got more than a foot here in Somewhere.

 

He was so cold, and he was so tired. And Jeryk had fallen in love with someone else. A few tears slipped down his cheeks. He reached up to swipe at them but found that they were already crusting over into ice.

 

He blinked, and ice crystals fell from his eyelashes. What in the world?

 

He pushed on ahead. Just a little farther. Just a little farther, and he would be safe home—but he was starting to feel strangely warm and so sleepy. There was a bench up ahead, just in front of that motel. Maybe he could just sit down for a moment. He made his way over to it, sitting down and then slumping over onto the cold, hard, snow-dusted wood.

 

 

**

 

Phil was shrugging his shirt back on over his pale chest with its light dusting of hair when a knock came at his door. He grabbed the towel from the bed and began rubbing at his hair, still wet from the shower, as he made his way over and yanked the door open.

 

“Johnson?” he said, taking a step back in surprise as he saw the man stood on the other side.

 

“Can I come in?” the agent said, adjusting the sunglasses that he still wore, even now in the middle of a nighttime snowstorm.

 

“Uh, sure,” Phil said, stepping aside as the CIA agent strode through the door. Phil peeped his head out to make sure Dick was nowhere to be found. He kind of couldn’t believe that Johnson would abandon his charge like this, but apparently…

 

He closed the door and turned to find Johnson stood tall and erect in the middle of his hotel room.

 

“You should leave,” Johnson said, voice cold and beefy arms crossed over his muscular chest. “Dick may be, well, a dick, but he’s got the full backing of the military and the government. You simply haven’t got the resources to stop this thing. He does.”

 

Phil frowned, crossing his arms over his own still-bared chest.

 

“Maybe you’re right,” Phil said. “But I’ve been tracking this thing for years now, and god damn it I’m going to see this through!”

 

“You’ll get killed,” Johnson said, not sounding like it mattered much to him.

 

“We all will, if someone doesn’t stop this!” Phil shouted, throwing his hands up into the air.

 

“And you think you’re the one to do it?” Johnson asked, raising one manly eyebrow above the edge of his sunglasses. “Just you? All alone?”

 

“The spell’s the only way,” Phil shouted, dropping his hands to his sides again and clenching his fists. His eyes darted for a moment toward the crumbling book that lay on the bedside table. “And I’ll do it alone if I have to.”

 

“Fine, then,” Johnson said, shrugging and heading back over to the door. He paused there with one massive hand on the handle. “It’s your funeral, Lester.”

 

He flung the door open, marching off into the swirling snow without a backward glance—and without bothering to shut the door behind him.

 

Shivering in the sudden burst of cold air, Phil hurried to the dingy motel room door and was about to shut it when something outside caught his attention. Out across the car park, next to the empty street, there was a bench just beneath a street light. Barely visible through the falling snow, Phil could make out a figure lying upon it.

 

He shuddered as more cold swept into the room. Someone was sleeping on a bench? In what he was only too certain was the beginning stages of the very Snowpocalypse he’d come here to prevent?

 

He dashed back inside, the door slamming shut behind him.

 

 

**

 

Dan came to slowly. He couldn’t stop shivering, and his head was pounding. There was the sound of running water nearby. Huh. That didn’t seem right.

 

He cranked open an eye to find himself surrounded by bright light with a fuzzy face hovering above him.

 

“Oh, thank god,” said a voice that sounded vaguely familiar.

 

“Hmm?” Dan moaned, trying to move and hearing a strange sloshing noise. “Who’re you?”

 

“Phil,” said the voice, and then the face disappeared. “We met earlier,” he heard from somewhere more distant a moment later.

 

That’s when Dan at last realized he was naked. And wet. He sat bolt upright, flinging a hand over his chest and wrenching his eyes further open.

 

“What did you do to me?”

 

“Do?” said Phil, who Dan found standing across the room with his back turned. It was a tiny bathroom, in a motel if Dan had to guess. “I saved your life. You were sleeping on a bench in the middle of a snowstorm without so much as a coat to keep you warm.”

 

Dan frowned down at his naked body. That sounded kind of familiar actually…

 

Then it all came flooding back to him, and he jerked his head up to look at Phil again.

 

“H-how did you find me?” he asked. It made sense now, why he was naked. The bathtub was filling with warm water, and the longer he sat in it, the less he seemed to shiver.

 

“You were right out front of my motel,” Phil said and shrugged. Then he leaned over, still not turning around, snatched a towel down from the shelf over the toilet, and set it down on the edge of the sink. “There. I’ll be, uh, out there. If you need me.”

 

And without another word, the other man slipped out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

 

 

**

 

Sometime later, Dan exited the bath with the towel wrapped around his waist, showing off his smooth, bare chest. He found the other man sat cross-legged on the motel room’s horrid floral bedspread, papers spread out around him and a laptop on his lap.

 

“What’s all that?” he asked.

 

“My research,” Phil said, frowning down at the laptop. Then he glanced up at Dan, blushed, and looked away again. “Let me, uh, find you some clothes to wear.”

 

When Dan was dressed again and Phil had dug out some leftover takeaway Chinese for him from the tiny motel refrigerator, the waiter perched on the edge of the bed and started looking over the scientist’s papers.

 

There were many charts, graphs, and complicated words. Also, various pictures of animals, usually in large groups and exhibiting unusual behaviors.

 

“I first noticed it about five years ago,” Phil told him, and Dan looked up to find the other man curled over his laptop, glasses pushed up into his hair and fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose. “The way the animals in this part of the country were behaving strangely. First, it was the insects, then the birds, more recently the mammals. I tracked them all here, to Somewhere.”

 

“What does it mean?” Dan asked, gazing down at a printout of a scientific paper titled The Snowpocalypse Is Coming and We Aren’t Ready. The byline read “Dr. Philip Lester, PhD.” Dan glanced up at Phil, and for some reason, he felt sexual tension building between them as they continued the conversation.

 

“It means the animals know that Armageddon is coming for us all,” Phil said, looking up and pinning Dan with an intense blue gaze. “They’re on the run. We humans should be, too, but no one wants to listen.”

 

“I’m listening,” Dan said, setting the paper down. “Snowpocalypse,” he said slowly, repeating the word he’d just seen on the paper, the word this man had told him earlier. “What even is a Snowpocalypse?”

 

Phil didn’t say anything at first. Instead, he got to his feet and crossed to the room’s one window in a couple of long strides. My, but the man had very long legs. Once there, he grabbed the window curtain and flung it back.

 

“Look outside,” he said. “You see that?” He thrust a hand toward the window, outside of which Dan could see that the snow had already piled to unprecedented heights and was still falling thickly. “That’s only the beginning. If we don’t do something, that snow is never gonna stop.”

 

“Never?” Dan asked, frowning. “How can that be?”

 

“It’s science,” Phil said, dropping the curtain and striding back over to Dan. “I could explain it to you, but you’d probably only hear a bunch of mumbo jumbo.”

 

Dan’s eyes widened and his heartbeat sped up.

 

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

 

“It’s my life’s work,” Phil said, sinking down onto the bed again, looking dejected. He reached his fingers out and stroked them over an old book that Dan had only now just noticed lying there. “If only someone would help me.”

 

“I’ll help you,” Dan said, sitting up straighter and clenching a fist in determination.

 

“R-really?” Phil asked, raising his head and gazing at Dan with those startlingly blue eyes. “But…I don’t even know your name.”

 

“Dan,” said Dan. “It’s Dan. So what do we do?”

 

 

**

 

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” Dan groaned when he found himself stood outside in the already-knee-deep snow, wrapped up in an actual parka. They were out in the middle of some forest, just outside of town, the snow muffling everything into an eerie silence. “What are we even doing out here?”

 

“We need a branch from a pine tree that’s at least a hundred years old,” Phil shouted from where he was kneeling beneath a tree several yards away. “We aren’t going to find that inside the city limits.”

 

“You really think some supposed magical spell you found written in a book is going to fix everything?” Dan said, arms wrapped tight around himself against the cold.

 

“I think the ancient Etruscans knew far more about protecting the balance of nature than you or I could ever hope to,” Phil returned. As Dan watched, he reached up and, using the small handsaw he’d brought with him, began sawing off a low branch of the tree.

 

He was just pulling it loose and standing again when a nearby voice made Dan whorl around.

 

“Well, well, well,” said a man who was standing there, a man who looked particularly dick-ish in Dan’s opinion. “If it isn’t Little Lester, still trying to save the day with his witchy woo woo.” He cast a sneering glance at Dan. “Who are you, his witch docotr?”

 

“His waiter, actually,” Dan said, returning the man’s sneer.

 

“We don’t have time for this,” came another voice, and a man in a dark suit that fit his well-formed frame to perfection and inappropriate sunglasses appeared from the shadows. “Snow’s coming down fast now.”

 

The snow was, indeed, coming down very fast now.

 

“Come on, Johnson,” the sneering dick-man said. “We’ve got more important matters to take care of.”

 

Just then, a bear jumped out of nowhere and mauled the awful dick-man.

 

“No!” cried Johnson, whipping out a very sleek-looking gun and shooting at the bear. The bear gave a loud bellow and ran off into the woods again, leaving the sorry excuse for a human being lying shivering and bleeding in the snow.

 

Suit-man dashed over and dropped into the snow beside him, checking his vitals as though it was something he’d been trained to do. All Dan could tell was that there was a lot of blood.

 

“He’s alive,” said the suit-man—Johnson the dick-man had called him. “But we need to get him to a hospital, now.”

 

 

**

 

“Coffee?”

 

Phil looked up to find Johnson looming over him. It had been a difficult drive through the deep snow and low visibility of the storm, but they’d finally got Dick to the hospital. The staff had wheeled him off behind some swinging doors just a few minutes ago.

 

“Thanks,” Phil said, and then the built CIA agent plopped down in the seat beside him, bringing his own coffee cup—comically small in his meaty hands—up to his lips.

 

“They say he’ll make a full recovery,” Johnson said in his emotionless tone. “But it’ll take a while. I’ve just spoken to my superiors. Dick’s out. You’re his pinch hitter.”

 

“Fine,” Phil said, sullen. “But we’re doing this my way.”

 

“That’s fine by me,” Johnson agreed, “As long as you’re sure you can stop this.”

 

“He’s sure,” came Dan’s voice from Phil’s other side. Phil looked up, smiling faintly at the waiter’s flushed cheeks and curly hair. It had been straight earlier, before Phil had had to dunk him in a bathful of water. “Phil,” Dan said. “I found the last ingredient.”

 

Phil’s eyes fell to the item Dan held in his hand—a vial of human blood.

 

“Good,” Phil said, his voice grim. He turned back to Johnson. “All right. It’s now or never.”

 

 

**

 

 

They were in a car now, a sleek, black SUV that Dan thought must belong to the suit, Johnson.

 

Johnson, of course, was driving, with Phil in the front seat, an ancient, crumbling tome gripped in one hand while his other traced over a map spread across his lap. Dan had been relegated to the back seat, where he’d scooted all the way forward so that he could lean in between the other two.

 

“According to the book, the ancient burial ground can’t be much farther,” Phil muttered.

 

Dan glanced at Johnson. His square jaw was looking extra-square just now.

 

“I need something more exact,” he gritted out. “Can’t see a fucking thing through all this snow,” he muttered, leaning forward to squint out the window.

 

“There!” Phil cried, flinging out a hand toward a tiny side road just barely visible through the thick forest and the snow.

 

“Shit,” Johnson said and turned the wheel sharply. Dan was flung across the car by the sudden movement and let out a yelp.

 

“Hey!” he said when he’d righted himself.

 

“Put your seatbelt on then,” Johnson called back, squinting ahead again as they crawled forward down the narrow dirt road.

 

Dan grumbled, but he did as he was told.

 

“Where did that book even come from?” Dan asked as he watched Phil hold it up to the car’s light and frown down at the strange writing inside.

 

“The tomb of an ancient Etruscan priest,” Phil mumbled. “This isn’t the first time this has happened, you know. World-destroying weather events like this? They repeat in patterns. The Etruscans knew that. They found a way to stop it.”

 

“Did it work for them?”

 

Phil cast a glance back at him and then turned his eyes on the book again.

 

Johnson let out a snort of laughter.

 

“You seen any Etruscans walking around lately?” he muttered.

 

Dan’s eyes went wide, and he turned his attention back to Phil.

 

“You mean the spell didn’t work?”

 

Phil shrugged a single shoulder up and down.

 

“It doesn’t mean the spell can’t work. They just…messed up.”

 

“Oh god,” Dan squeaked. “We’re doomed, aren’t we?”

 

“No,” Johnson called back over his shoulder, “Because we aren’t going to mess up. Right, Lester?”

 

Phil leaned further over his book and let out a long sigh.

 

“Not if I can help it,” he muttered.

 

 

**

 

“So,” Dan said, neck cranked all the way back to gaze up at the awe-inspiring sight in front of him. “This is it.”

 

“This is it,” Phil confirmed from beside him where he too had his neck cranked back.

 

“S’bigger than I expected,” Johnson grunted, also staring up at the massive cliff face rising above them.

 

“Come on,” Phil said. “Sooner we start climbing, the sooner we can save the world.”

 

 

**

 

It was slow going, with all the wind and snow and the narrow path carved into the side of the cliff. Dan could barely keep his eyes open, even with his parka hood blocking the worst of the driving snow.

 

Johnson was going up first, followed by Phil, with Dan in the rear.

 

Suddenly, Phil’s foot hit against an icy patch and he lost his footing, teetering on the edge of the path with nothing but a fifty foot drop below.

 

“Phil!” Dan screamed, leaping forward, grasping at the other man’s arm. For a heart-rending moment he felt nothing, but then—

 

His fingers closed around cloth, and he yanked, tugging Phil hard against him, his momentum pulling them both up against the hard cliff wall with Phil’s body pressed all against his. For a moment, they could only stare into one another’s wind-chapped faces, both breathing hard, feeling the adrenaline course through them as their hearts pounded wildly inside their chests.

 

“Thank you,” Phil breathed out, his lips only inches from Dan’s.

 

“Close call.” Johnson’s voice snapped them out of it, and Phil moved away, his gaze turned back up the path to where Johnson stood. “Watch your step, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Phil said, nodding. “Yeah.”

 

He turned partly back, not quite enough to meet Dan’s eyes. For a moment, Dan thought he was going to say something, but then he turned away, beginning his slow ascent again.

 

 

**

 

Some time later, they found themselves stepping through a narrow opening in the cliff face. Inside was a cave with a dirt floor. Johnson pulled out a lantern, lit it, and then raised it in the air to reveal walls painted over with mysterious figures and swirling designs. On the dirt floor,  a series of white stones marked out a path forward.

 

Suddenly, the entire cave shook around them, dust and small rocks raining from above, and they all wobbled back and forth, nearly losing their balance.

 

“What was that?” Dan said when the shaking had subsided.

 

“It’s starting,” Phil whispered, face pale and drawn in the lantern light.

 

“What’s starting?” Dan whispered back.

 

“The Snowpocalypse,” Phil replied, then shook his head. “We have to hurry.”

 

 

**

 

The path spit them out into a huge cavern with more of those paintings on the walls. In the center of the cavern was a huge pile of rocks which had clearly been shaped by human hands into something resembling a dais and an altar. There was a series of shallow rock steps leading up to the dais, and upon the altar stood a bowl carved from stone.

 

“It’s really here,” Johnson breathed out. Dan turned at the sound of his voice, in time to see the agent at last remove his sunglasses. His expression as he gazed up at the altar was one of pure awe. “You were right, Lester. You were right all along.”

 

“No time,” Phil panted, stepping up onto the first step. “Dan—“ and he reached a hand back.

 

Dan took it and allowed himself to be pulled up the steps behind the other man.

 

When they reached the altar, Phil laid the book out carefully, along with all the other supplies they’d need: the pine needles, the blood, some of the snow from outside, several other mystical-seeming elements that Phil hadn’t bothered to explain.

 

“Now’s the tricky bit,” Phil murmured. Sweat was beading upon his forehead despite the cold.

 

“What is it?” Dan whispered, trembling.

 

The earth gave another quake then, and Phil shook his head.

 

“The translation,” he yelled over the sound of grinding stone. “No one’s ever fully translated the Etruscan language. If I read this wrong—“

 

“You won’t,” Dan yelled back, reaching out and squeezing Phil on the shoulder. “You’re the smartest man I’ve ever met. If anyone can do this, it’s you.”

 

Phil gazed at him, his eyes full of emotion.

 

“He’s right,” Johnson called from behind Dan, where he was bracing himself against a massive boulder. “Now just bloody get on with it.”

 

Phil closed his eyes, took a deep breath, nodded, and then looked down at the book and began reading. As he did, he solemnly mixed together all the ingredients in the stone bowl.

 

The quaking was getting worse now, larger rocks being shook loose from the ceiling to fall all around them.

 

“Hurry!” Johnson yelled as a particularly large rock crashed into the ground mere feet away.

 

Phil cast a glance at him and then nodded his head frantically, speeding up his reading.

 

All of a sudden, the sound of Phil’s voice came to a halt.

 

“Phil?” Dan cried. “What’s wrong?”

 

“It’s…I can’t…. The phrasing here, I can’t—“

 

A huge shake tossed them all askew, knocking loose some stones from right over head. Dan ducked, but one of them hit Johnson square on the forehead, knocking him to the ground. Dan dashed over, feeling his pulse. He was alive, but he appeared to be out cold.

 

“He’s okay,” he called up to Phil who was gazing down at the prone, extremely fit man in horror. “Please, Phil,” Dan begged, “Please, you’ve got to try.”

 

Phil’s entire face was drenched with sweat now, but he nodded and looked back down at his book.

 

“Ve-vestos,” he began again, his voice wavering at first but growing stronger as he read on.

 

The shaking had grown so strong that Dan could no longer stand. He got down on his hands and knees and crawled over to where Phil was braced against the altar, huddling against its stone side. Then Phil’s voice stopped again.

 

Dan glanced up in time to see Phil slam the book shut, drop it on the altar, and then raise the stone bowl high over head. He screamed out one more word in the strange language before slamming the bowl down on the altar, where it shattered, spilling its contents and allowing them to flow into a series of grooves carved into the surface of the stone.

 

Phil dropped to his knees then beside Dan, turning a lost gaze upon him.

 

“Th-that’s it,” he sobbed as the shaking and falling stones continued all around them. “That’s all I know how to do.”

 

Dan threw out his arms and pulled Phil close.

 

“I-is it working?” he cried, gazing at the destruction occurring all around them.

 

Phil shook his head and then leaned back to stare into Dan’s face.

 

“I,” he sobbed. “I don’t know, but—“ His voice broke and he drew in a deep breath. “But if it didn’t work, Dan, and the whole world is about to end—“

 

He didn’t have a chance to finish that sentence because Dan gripped the front of his coat and pulled him in, pressing their lips together in a desperate kiss.

 

For the space of a breath, the whole world seemed to fall still as they both got lost in the feel of one another’s warm, soft lips.

 

Then suddenly Dan pulled back and looked around them.

 

“Phil,” he breathed. Then louder, “Phil. Phil, it worked!”

 

Phil pulled back and gazed around too, at the settling dust and the quiet cave. Slowly, a grin broke over his face.

 

“I….I did it?” he said. “I did it. I did it!”

 

He leapt to his feet, dragging Dan with him.

 

“I did it! I did it! Wahoo!” And he threw his arms around Dan, and together they danced and cried and yelled, excited just to be alive.

 

 

**

 

All was chaos.

 

The three of them limped back into town to find it buried in snow, with crumbled buildings, burning cars, and desperate and injured people littering the horizon.

 

They paused at the end of Main Street, gazing around at the destruction. Dan and Phil had the injured Johnson propped up between them. They’d had to walk the whole way. For some reason, their car had exploded, most likely epically.

 

“Nothing’s ever going to be the same, is it?” Dan whispered as he watched a dirt-covered mother and child dash across the street to huddle in the doorway of a broken-down building.

 

“No,” Phil agreed. “But at least we’re all alive.”

 

“Yeah,” Dan said, drawing in a deep breath. “At least we’re alive.”

 

As they started forward again, a figure appeared from darkness.

 

“Dan?” it called, and he turned to find Jeryk dashing toward him through the piled snow, arms thrown wide.

 

Dan found himself enveloped in a warm embrace, held tight against a strong, familiar chest. He breathed deeply of Jeryk’s scent of sweat, petrol fumes, and cologne.

 

“Dan, you’re alive,” Jeryk whispered into his hair. “I couldn’t find you. I called your cell so many times, and you didn’t answer. I was so worried.”

 

“I’m fine,” Dan muttered into his boyfriend….well, ex-boyfriend’s chest. After everything he’d been through in the past twenty-four hours, it was kind of nice to have something so solid to lean against.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Jeryk said. “I was wrong. I should never have left you.”

 

 

Dan pushed back a little, staring up into those teary brown eyes with a startled expression.

 

“R-really?” he asked.

 

Nearby, Johnson sagged against Lester as the scientist watched the touching reunion with an expression like a wounded puppy.

 

When the twinky waiter at last broke away from the lumbering side of beef who’d had him wrapped up in tight in his hunky arms, his cheeks were flushed and his eyes were bright. Johnson heard Lester audibly whimper and rolled his eyes, now safely hidden once more behind his favorite pair of Oakleys.

 

“Uh, so, this is Jeryk,” Dan said as the pair drew near, the beefcake trailing along behind like a faithful pet.

 

“I remember,” Lester snapped out, and now it was the twink’s turn to look wounded. He opened his mouth to respond, but Phil cut him off. “Johnson, I think that’s our cue to pack up and head back to Washington.”

 

“Oh,” Dan said, crestfallen. “Well, uh. It was….”

 

Lester gave a curt nod.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “It was.”

 

Then the idiot tried to use the arm he was supporting Johnson with to turn them away, probably back toward Lester’s disgusting motel room so he could pack up and flee with his tail between his legs, but Johnson had had just about enough of these two.

 

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he cried, wrenching himself out of Lester’s grasp and nearly falling over in the process. “You,” he shouted, raising a finger and jabbing it toward Dan, who stumbled back as though pushed, “You don’t have the least bit of interest in getting back together with that brainless lump of meat there, do you?”

 

The waiter blinked for a moment but then cast a wide-eyed glance toward Lester and shook his head.

 

“And you,” Johnson continued, only somewhat mollified, and he turned his accusatory finger on the cowering scientist beside him. “You’ve got the hots for him, right? Well, then go and get him, you dunce.”

 

As Phil turned to look at Dan’s flushed, smiling face, sweet music began to play from somewhere nearby, swelling to a crescendo as, at the same moment, they both threw their arms wide and ran, throwing themselves into an embrace that ended with locked lips and fingers shoved into hair.

 

“Hey!” Jeryk objected, mouth falling open in surprised disgust, but Johnson was ready for him. With a firm hand on that well-developed chest, he easily held the man back from jumping into the fray. Jeryk looked down at the hand and then at the muscular forearm it was attached to. He raised an eyebrow, impressed, and gave Johnson an appraising up and down.

 

Johnson just smirked.

 

**

 

It was a warm day in Washington, D.C., at least as warm as it got these days. The world post-Snowpocalypse was a decidedly colder one. No one across the globe had been left unaffected by the near-disaster, but they were all coping. At least, for now.

 

Johnson turned his face up to the sun and took a moment to relish its warmth before, reluctantly, pushing open the sleek, black-tinted glass of the door to an extremely nondescript building.

 

Inside, it was far cooler, but he shrugged off that thought as a security guard hailed him and stopped to check his badge.

 

“You and that boytoy of yours still coming over for the big game tonight?” he asked when he’d given Johnson the all-clear.

 

Johnson offered a nod in response but maintained his usual stoic calm. Now was not the time for chit-chat. He had very important business to attend to.

 

“Get on with you then,” the security guard said, nodding his head down the corridor in the direction he knew Johnson was headed.

 

He had to pass through several more security checkpoints and several body scanners, but at last he found himself before the heavy metal door that marked the entrance to the top secret, retina-scan-protected lab that was his destination.

 

He leaned forward and let the little light pass over his eyeball before the lock on the door flashed green, and he heard a clicking noise. He paused a moment to straighten his tie and square his shoulders before pushing inside.

 

It was an extremely high-tech lab, which was obvious from the number of blinking lights, busy screens, test tubes, and bulky, metal objects it contained. However, as Johnson stepped into the center of it, he frowned. Why was the lab empty?

 

The same moment his eye came to rest on a distinctive apron tossed over the back of chair, the silence of the lab was disturbed by the sound of a distant crash.

 

Johnson lowered his forehead to his palm and sighed. Of course.

 

In three great strides, he strode across the lab and rounded a set of shelves.

 

Sure enough, there behind them were Lester and his favorite twink, smushed up against one wall of the lab (and each other), necking like a couple of teenagers.

 

“Ahem,” Johnson cleared his throat, and the two sprang apart at once, glancing around with an air of startled guilt. “Am I…interrupting?”

 

“Johnson!” Lester exclaimed, clutching one hand to his chest. “Oh, god, I was afraid it might be someone important.”

 

Johnson raised an eyebrow.

 

The twink let out a snort.

 

“No, wait, I mean. That is— I didn’t mean—“ Lester floundered as his loverboy snickered.

 

“Let’s just pretend you didn’t say that,” Johnson said, “and that I didn’t just catch you two making out mere feet from billion dollar equipment, shall we?”

 

They both nodded vigorously.

 

“Good,” Johnson said, unable to suppress a satisfied smirk. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a file folder. “Now,” he said. “Let me tell you how you’re about to walk back into that war room and steal all of Dick’s thunder.”

 

The grin this brought to Lester’s face was worth more than all the equipment in this lab combined.