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Head to Head (with the undead)

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From the monstrous fuss people make about marriage proposals, Lindsay kind of expected the morning after to feel different somehow. Really it's no different to any other day. He wakes up slowly, scowling and grumpy and squinting at the sunlight with a dead arm and the chemical taste of Valentine's hair in his mouth from where the idiot's stuffed his head so close under Lindsay's chin it's like he's trying to climb inside his jugular.

"Get off," he mumbles, trying to wipe congealing drool from the corners of his mouth with his pyjama sleeve. Valentine just farts in his sleep and, incredibly, manages to press even closer still. There's about an acre of empty bed behind him and Lindsay's very aware now of how precariously he's balancing right on the very edge of his own side of the mattress. Any more and he's going to fall right off and crack his head open on the corner of the bedside table – which might not be all that bad, really. If he died it'd mean no more arguing over wedding plans. Engaged five hours and asleep for three of them and it feels like they've argued more in that time than they have throughout the entire seven years they've known each other, which, given their history, is a bit ridiculous.

"Off," he repeats more loudly, bracing himself with a hand on the bedstead and trying to hip-bump Valentine back so he's got enough room to sit. For a moment Valentine seems to wake, peering through his eyelashes and mumbling some incoherent sort of protest – then he rolls away back to his own side and passes out, and Lindsay's instantly, ridiculously in love again, gazing down at him like a moronic mooning teenager until he pulls himself together and goes for a bath. It would be nice if Valentine slept forever, he lies to himself idly as he's running the water. Boring, probably, but nice.

It's almost two o'clock when Valentine finally decides to stop being a lazy bastard and get out of bed. Lindsay closes his book when he hears the first thuds of staggering footsteps upstairs; there's no hope of any more peace now Valentine's awake, and it's always a good idea to claim control of the TV first before the day gets wasted on blaring music videos and crap American sitcoms. He starts flicking through the news channels, and when Valentine finishes pissing and comes downstairs to lean over the back of the sofa and give him a toothpastey good morning smacker on the cheek he pretends to be annoyed by it and shakes him off, but that goes about as well as it always does; he knows Valentine can feel the movement of his smile against his lips.

"Morning, starshine." He's cuddly this morning, slipping his arms around Lindsay's shoulders from behind and staying there for a while, gently rubbing his stubbly cheek against Lindsay's beard. "Them news wankers still outside? I ain't shaving unless I'm gonna get a camera in the face."

"You won't get a camera in the face if you stay in."

He feels the soft breath of Valentine's laughter on his cheek. "We can't stay in here forever."

"No reason why not."

Then Valentine starts kissing him on the neck, swift and gentle like little bullet points. "I ain't got no conditioner left. Hospital appointment. Promised Lillian I wouldn't miss no more hockey matches. Still have to talk more to the police. Karaoke night at Princess tomorrow. Massive wedding crisis meetings with Tess and Olly since you're pretending like it ain't even happening now you've asked."

"The only part of that I heard was 'massive wedding' and—"

"No, you can't un-ask me so don't bother trying." He stands up straight then and Lindsay, goose-pimpled from the little brushing kisses he still can't help pretending to hate, misses the warmth and scent of him immediately and twists back to look at him. Valentine, wild-haired and wearing only stupid Christmas socks and the t-shirt and Y-fronts he slept in, is framed like a portrait by the huge back window, stretching carefully so half his body and the clump of white bandages covering the side of it show pale between the hems. "You know them mornings you just need to stretch but you can't cos you don't want your liver to fall out?"

Feigning unconcern, because that way maybe he'll trick himself into not feeling like he's on the verge of a panicking breakdown every time he remembers the spewing blood flowing over his fingers and not knowing where to press to make it stop, Lindsay goes back to flicking through the news channels. "It's two o'clock. And I'm not stitching your guts back in, just so we're clear."

"Babe, you can't even sew a fucking button on, you mummy's boy."

Valentine's figured out this way of draping himself over Lindsay and half the sofa which he claims makes his stab wound hurt less but Lindsay suspects is just an excuse for more casual contact than he's usually comfortable with. He shuffles along the cushion to make room anyway, letting Valentine prop himself between the sofa arm and Lindsay's body. Valentine's bony knees come up, resting against Lindsay's chest and then tapping him gently there until he decodes the message and starts running his fingers up and down the pale skin, knee to hip and back again like he's some fucking automated stroking machine. Valentine would love that, decadent little bastard.

"What's happening, is David Bowie dead yet?"

"You know one day I'll have to say yes to you and it'll break my heart."

"As if it will, you love causing me pain."

"Not that sort of pain." He finds Valentine's arm where it's resting on his body near the bandages, wraps his long fingers around the tattooed wrist and slowly squeezes until Valentine's giving him that smirking look of 'come on then' through his eyelashes – then he releases him because he knows it'll cause maximum annoyance, and carries on talking as though nothing happened. "Looks like riots in the East End again."

Valentine seems determined not to rise to it, although he rubs his wrist sulkily. "What is it this time, socio-economic pressure or grabby little shits wanting free stuff?"

"Don't use long words. I don't know who you are when you do that."

"Lindsay!" Bingo. He's cracked early today. Must still be tired. Lindsay fights not to smile because it's such a stupid victory, but any victory at all feels enormous these days now they've gone so content and domestic so he gives in and goes for it, arranging his face into the most infuriatingly smug smile he can manage until Valentine scowls like thunder and sits on him for a vicious kiss and grope, which is his answer to just about anything.

He's kissing back, spreading his hands wide against Valentine's arse and dragging him close, pressing an apology of kisses down his neck in that ticklish snuffly way that always makes him laugh, when Valentine suddenly shrieks, "What?" and clambers off him, lunging for the remote and turning up the volume.

Confused, Lindsay echoes, "What?" but gets no reply; Valentine's mouth, still wet from kissing, hangs open in a face turned sickly white.

"Thought I'd heard wrong," he says in a trembling little voice, just as Lindsay finally looks at the carnage on the screen, shaky phone camera footage of people running and screaming, and the banner headline at the bottom: EAST END ZOMBIE VIRUS.

"This is a joke, surely," Lindsay mutters. He snatches the remote back and flicks to another channel. ZOMBIE ATTACK SHATTERS TOWER HAMLETS. The next channel: ZOMBIES MOVE WEST.

He finds his phone somehow without taking his eyes off the shambling corpses on the TV, and for the first time since they got back from the hospital he turns it on. Beside him Valentine's doing the same, and the electronic sound of dozens of texts and missed call notifications seems to last about a year.

"Phone Olly," Valentine says, already holding his own phone to his ear.

"I'm phoning my mum."

"Your mum's in Spain, Olly's in fucking Shoreditch, phone Olly – Mum? Hello? Dad? Pick up if you're there. Fuck!" He ends the call and starts flicking through his contacts to try more numbers, pacing up and down with his free hand tugging at his hair. "Christ, Lindsay, do something, don't just sit there like a fucking blob!"

He can't stop staring at the TV. Someone just had their arm ripped off and eaten. It's a joke, surely. They've been holed up longer than he thought and it's April the first.

"I swear to god, Lindsay!"

His hands feel numb, it takes a few attempts to finally make the call, then when Olly picks up his mouth feels too numb to speak.

"Pip? Thank fuck, the signal's going in and out like—"

"It's Lindsay. Are you alright?"

"I didn't know you cared enough to check!"

"I don't, Valentine made me." On the other end of the line Olly sort of laughs – how? How can laughter still be a thing when people are having their limbs eaten on live TV? He tries to breathe slow and deep, tries to calm down. "I care about the children," he amends. "Sam, anyway."

"Sam's fine. We're all fine. I mean, we're sort of on the roof–"

"Daddy, is that Pip?" someone asks in the background.

"It's Linda."

"Tell him hi!"

"You wanna take this seriously, Lil? Go and help Sammy throw some bricks."

"Jesus," Lindsay mutters. "This can't be real."

"Fraid so, mate, we've got a hell of a view from up here and I'm telling you I never seen nothing like it."

"Well, are they–" He can't actually believe this is an actual thing he's about to say. "Are they in the building?"

"I dunno, I don't think so? They ain't that good with doorhandles I don't think. We're taking out the ones who get too close, there's all sort of junk and shit up here. Looks like they're moving on though, they come through our street like a wave. They're streaming into Islington now. Is Pip– good shot, Dais! Get him too, that bastard with the leg – listen, I'm gonna go, we're picking off the stragglers now then gonna try and get out of town when the coast's clear. Look after Pip else you're getting bricked on the bonce too."

The line goes dead and Lindsay stares at his phone for a bit because this is not real. Not. Real.

"Fucking hell, Mum, why weren't you answering, me and Lindsay's having heart attacks!" Beside him Valentine collapses on the couch in a heap, half-laughing with relief and babbling a string of panicking questions without bothering to leave space for replies. "You seen the news? Are you alright? Zombies round your way wouldn't be killers, surely, ain't your poncy neighbours all dead smug vegans and stuff? They'll probably just make a mess in Peppercorns and fight over some hummus."

Not. Real.

"I just checked out the windows, all the news pricks buggered off but I can't see no zombies yet but we're like seven miles away so we're probably safe here for now, is Dory alright?" Then his hand clamps onto Lindsay's leg in a grip so hard it feels like his fingers are trying to plunge right through and meet in the middle. "Stop panicking. Stop. Mum. Stop it. We'll go and fetch her, alright? Look after Dad, he's the first fat bastard they'll eat. I'll ring you in a bit. Fuck!"


Valentine's got that same look on his face as he had when he knew Lindsay was about to argue with him about why Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve was the worst idea ever. "Mum and Dad's surrounded and Dory's at karate and Mum can't get hold of anyone so we're gonna rescue her and if you don't fucking pull yourself together and be a hero me and you are getting divorced before we're even married. Find us some weapons. I'm gonna put some trousers on."

* * *

For a while there was nothing that out of the ordinary, just a weird mix of eerily deserted streets and shit driving from people panicking too much to avoid lamp posts and other cars. Lindsay swears viciously about dickheads in Jaguars as he swerves around one of them zigzagging through Peckham, even though he's a bit of a dickhead in a Jaguar himself - "You wanna hurry up?" Pip says, trying to stop himself from stamping the passenger side footwell as if that's going to help, and Lindsay snaps, "Speed cameras!" like anybody's supposed to give a fuck about speed cameras when their six-year-old sister's probably been ripped to bits by zombies already.

"Oh my god, Lindsay, who cares, it's-"

"Haven't we talked about back seat driving before? Isn't that a conversation we have every fucking time you get in my car?"

"Well seeing as I ain't in the back seat-"

"One more word, I swear to god." He reaches into the door pocket and whips out a carving knife - one of the least shit weapons he managed to gather from the kitchen while Pip was throwing clothes on, at least better than the stupid cheese grater he picked up in his panic and then flung across the kitchen with a murderous look on his face when Pip asked him what the fuck he was playing at - and waves it vaguely in Pip's direction as he swings round a corner past Morrison's. "I will turn this car around."

"You fucking won't," Pip tells him, parrying sideways with the riding crop he'd grabbed from the bedroom. He starts laughing then by accident, even though nothing about this is funny and he's not been this scared shitless in years, not since choking on the metallic stink of gunshots and Lindsay's gushing blood in the back of that stolen police car. It's part panic, part Lindsay's offended face. "Told you this thing wouldn't be wasted."

"This isn't exactly what I thought you had in mind for it."

"Maybe later, hey? If we survive. If Dory survives," he adds after a moment, and the sickening prickle of goosebumps rushes up his arms. He's thankful when Lindsay doesn't make some comment about not bringing her name up in the same breath as his disgusting sex toys, but puts the knife back and reaches for his hand instead, squeezing gently in a way that's always been better than words. "Fucking hell, babe, I wish to god you still had your guns."

"Didn't plan to need them any more."

"Emergencies, though."

Images flare up in his head: the calm, effortless way Lindsay had killed that mugger with his bare hands on New Year's Eve. That was an emergency he'd reacted to so automatically and efficiently it was like it happened every day, as methodically as stacking the dishwasher or making perfect coffee. This new thing, though, zombies - it's making him more volatile than usual, it's making him panic. It's like the bits of his brain that snap to life and let him be this genius brilliant (fit as fuck) alpha boss hard man when he needs to have broken and left behind only the nasty bad-tempered middle-aged librarian who doesn't like other people driving on the road and sometimes threatens his boyfriend like it's still 2007. It's weird. It's wrong. It shouldn't be happening but apparently it is and alright, Pip thinks, I've fucking got this.

"Wish there was a kitchen knives and bedroom flogger option in Resident Evil," he says grimly as they pass through into Bermondsey. Lindsay makes a weird snorty sound that's probably supposed to be laughter, and Pip's relieved to notice that the white pressure of his knuckles gripping the steering wheel lessens very slightly. "Whatever. We can do this, hey? Bit of banter, car stunts, rescue the girl, power ballad over the end credits. Easy. Bonnie and Clyde against the world."

"Bonnie and Clyde got shot."

"Yeah," Pip says, lifting Lindsay's clasped hand to his mouth to put a kiss there, "but they never got eaten."

* * *

"Oi, zombies!" Ray yells from the boat. "Get the fuck out of my East End!"

The crackle of bullets explodes from his gun and cuts through the zombies' legs like a scythe on the first sweep, through their heads on the second where they've fallen flailing on the bank.

"Jesus, I hope they are all zombies down here," Andy mutters, and Katy shoves him with her elbow in a way that, coming from her, sort of feels like a hug.

"If there's any tourists still hanging round like mugs with their selfie sticks they deserve every bullet they get."

It makes him laugh and he leans there on the railing beside her, struck by how weird it is to be able to laugh about anything at all after the day they've had. It's not even laugh-or-you'll-cry, it's not hysteria, just overflowing relief and thundering adrenaline. Beside him Katy's wearing that sideways smirk she puts on when things are going her way, and he wonders whether she's found her calling at last at the end of the world. No more hotwiring and petty crime: she should be a bloody superhero the way she took out those zombies while he fell apart and fumbled his shots.

He's just trying to figure out a way to say it that won't make her pull a face and call him a mushy cunt, but then a movement catches his eye and he's distracted by it - a flash of metal and windows on Tower Bridge, the howling shriek of scraping tyres, a solid thunk as the car swerves around an abandoned crash and slams into a pair of zombies with enough force to send the bodies sailing right over the side to land with a splash of guts and blood in the river. Ray's on it within seconds, turning the gun on the exploded remains just to be sure and squinting through his glasses up at the now stationary car as if he doesn't trust what might be inside.

In the silence after the shooting and crashing stops, Andy hears words. Someone's shouting. Zombies don't shout.

"Fucking hell, someone's alive!"

"Not for long," Katy says, gesturing urgently with a nod of her head at a shambling group of corpses on the bank who seem to have heard the voices too. She speeds to the other side of the boat, reloading as she goes, and immediately takes out two like a sniper. "Hamish, Daryl, with me. Peggy, steer us in.

"But we're safe here," Eric starts to say, until Katy's hard stare wilts him like an old flower.

"We're gonna sail safely down this river for the rest of our lives, are we? No we ain't, we're stopping as many of these undead pricks as we can." Emma and Terry step up silently, one either side of her and Andy, the old folks joining them as fast as their creaking hips allow, and Doreen hands Andy a rifle with the same moony smile on her face that she used to wear every time she gave him sweets and patted the arm on her chair to entice him to sit next to her on his visits.

As the boat turns towards the bank and the bullets start to fly like deadly hail, something weird happens:

One of the people from the dented car peers through the bridge railings and yells, "ANDY FUCKING MACGUIRE NO FUCKING WAY!"

* * *

Ray slides the bag of money under a seat with his foot while the newcomers come aboard - can't be too careful, and that tall one's got shifty eyes. The little one, the fairy with the cowboy boots on, he looks like he'd mug his own nan for a twenty pence coin as well. Ray's trying to figure out where he knows him from when all at once it clicks - it's George's Phil, the one from Andy's class at school who used to sit on the bench at rugby idly putting plaits in his hair while he waited to be subbed on if they got desperate enough. Always knew that boy was a nancy, he thinks, but bleeding hell. He watches with narrowed eyes as the greetings start, Terry and Andy and Katy and Phil all attacking each other with ferocious hugs and backslaps and exclamations, not seen you in years! and alright stranger! and Jesus Katy you shot them fuckers right through the eyes!

"Since, when was it, two thousand and fucking seven?"

"Must be, I been moving all over, Wales and France and stuff, you still in Hackney?"

"Hackney til I die, bruv, bit of a mess at the mo but we'll sort it out."

Then Phil spots Ray over Terry's shoulder, and beams as though the memory of his old rugby coach isn't really as shit as Ray thinks it probably is. "No way, that ain't your grandad too?"

"Yeah, mate!" The briefest of beats, then Andy's eyes slide to the tall fella with the beard and bumped head, and he smirks. "Is that yours?"

"Don't fucking call me grandad!" they both explode together, and Ray sees Katy's eyebrows fly up as her mouth wobbles around a smile she's trying to hide.

"Alright, Robson and Jerome, keep your hair on. I'm Katy," she says to the boyfriend. "Who are you?"

"Lindsay," he answers faintly, looking not at her but at all the old folks with their machine guns and machetes and belts of grenades. "Do you know how to use those things?"

"Saved your soft northern arse, didn't we?" Peggy says defiantly, and Ray decides he's going to ask her to marry him as soon as all this is over.

"Listen," Phil's saying, "can we borrow a couple of these?" Where the fuck that boy learnt to use guns is a mystery but he's helping himself to all sorts from the bags, checking sights and ammunition like a pro and then suddenly changing, a subtle shift of features that turns him from determined business to beseeching charm. Ray remembers now with a pang of irritation how he'd always been like that, even at twelve years old - there was some sort of magic in him, this knack of twisting people so tight around his little finger they never even noticed until afterwards, like all those times he'd gone easy on the boy because of some faltering excuse and a sly little glance from beneath his long pretty lashes. "Can't stay and catch up, my baby sister's in Islington, we need to find her but muggins over there got rid of-"


"What? You seen how much gear they got, nobody's gonna care you used to have a couple of piddly little pistols, fucksake. Where'd you get all this, anyway?"

The lads start explaining while Katy kneels down beside Phil and starts emptying a bag for him to pack some stuff in. Ray sits above the heap of stolen cash with Peggy on his lap, watching the boys and Katy and that shifty bleeder with the girl's name, catching Phil's eye half a dozen times before that old magic manages to crack him open just like before and he folds like a wet flannel.

"What are you gonna do, prance four fucking miles in them heels like you're doing a fun run for charity? I don't think so, son. Your grandad saved my life in the army and I never got to pay him back, but I reckon stopping you from becoming zombie shit long enough to rescue that little girl's enough to settle the score." He doesn't expect the flying hug he and Peggy get then and isn't really sure how to return it, eventually managing a few gruff slaps on the back before he shoves the kid away. "Katy, sweetheart, I ain't condoning theft but I think we're gonna need another bus."

Terry's helping her load a crossbow onto her back - a fucking crossbow - and she grins at Ray over her shoulder. "Hoped you'd say that," she says. "Come on, you lot, cover me."

The old ones watch the young ones go, Katy and her cousins and Emma and Phil all crouch-running along the dock with weapons ready like this is a jolly game of paintball. "They're actually enjoying this," Lindsay mutters as he shakily lowers himself into the nearest empty seat. "The end of the fucking world and the children are having fun."

"Better than snivelling on a boat with a bunch of geezers twice your age," Ray snaps, and that shuts him up for a while.

* * *

The metal sign Tess swings at the zombie is heavier than expected and slips in her hands when she lifts it from the path, pinging off a couple of false nails; that flips her stomach even more than the explosion of blood and bone when the base connects with the thing's head, and she throws the sign down on top of the twitching corpse to rub the sickened goosebumps from her arms. Shelley's Nail Bar she reads, and rolls her eyes heavenward until her hangover protests and she slumps against the nearest wall with her face in her hands. Stubble prickles her palms and her headache seems to be throbbing against her fingertips. Like she's in the mood for a zombie apocalypse today, fucking seriously. At least the streets are empty. Zombies are one thing, but an afternoon walk of shame through Clerkenwell in last night's dress and a deflated wig with no judgey stares? That's a novelty.

She's just looted a pack of aspirin from Boots - in a very British, guilty sort of way, with a fifty pence and an apologetic note left on the counter - and is crossing the street to do the same with a bottle of something restorative at the offy when another pack of the bastards staggers around a corner and spots her. She considers throwing a shoe at them, or possibly both, but that's two shoes and five zombies so if there's no chance of saving herself by sacrificing them then she'd rather die looking her best.

Then a yellow Duck boat speeds past, and suddenly she starts laughing because obviously it's a dream, of course it is. Too much booze, not enough sleep. It's one of those fun dreams where you know you're dreaming and you can do what you want, so she grabs that Goldschläger and a six pack of Red Bull from the offy and goes back outside to watch the show.

Someone's shooting, several someones are shooting, all hanging out the windows with rifles and bazookas, and two of the lads high-five as they shatter the last zombie's head. Then there's a flurry of words that all jumble together - I seen someone, yeah me too, someone alive, yeah I reckon so, you sure mate, yeah I'm fucking sure she was like seven foot tall! - and then the very last person she expected to be dreaming about appears in one of the back windows, looking as sour and disapproving as ever.

"Apparently everyone's been evacuated from round here by the army. Thought you'd be the first person to run in the direction of soldiers."

"Hello, Lindsay." She pinches herself hard, suspecting that maybe this isn't a dream after all, and watches his eyebrow slide a fraction higher. "May I just ask what the merry fuck you're doing on a Duck Tour in the middle of a crisis?"

"It's not a tour, it's a stolen vehicle." His eyebrow slides back down again, followed by the other. That scrunchy frown is so cute, especially when he does the sulky lip thing as well - and it's a sign he actually likes you, Pip said once, if he don't like you he does that scary blank thing but if he likes you then you get to see him have feelings and stuff so I spose you should feel honoured really.

"Is Pip-"

There's another rattle of bullets and he appears beside Lindsay, looking exhilarated and extremely smug. "Eleven of the fuckers! Get on board, we're gonna rescue Dory, what the hell are you doing out here anyway? It's like some fucked up reunion in here!" The Duck takes off again as soon as Tess clambers on board and she stumbles at the unexpected motion, falling heavily into the lap of an old man who looks delighted by the fact as though he's won the Lottery.

"Hamish," he says, taking his hand off the gun that's duct taped to the zimmer frame beside him and offering it to Tess; rather than shaking hers he kisses it, rheumy eyes gleaming saucily, and she feels this sudden warm urge to giggle. Been hanging round Pip too long, she reckons, getting some weird residual older man kink like bloody radiation poisoning. She starts to pull her hand away, but since there aren't any spare seats anyway there's not much point of getting up and if she's sitting on his knee they might as well be holding hands as well.

"Tess. What's going on, who are you lot?"

Pip starts making introductions as one of the old women speeds the Duck north. "Yeah everyone this is mine and Lindsay's mate Tess, and you know me, you know Lindsay, you're sitting on Hamish, that's Daryl and Eric, Peggy driving, Grandad's mate Ray, me and Katy and Andy was in the same class at school, and that's Emma and Terry and Andy's bird Doreen."

"Not Andy-Andy?" Tess asks in surprise. There's a hazy memory somewhere: drinking mojitos in her dressing room and trying to teach Pip how to fix eyelashes on without glueing his eyes shut, giddy breathless laughter as the padding and corset laces moulded him from Philip to Ophelia for the first time, sparkling wide blue eyes reflected in the illuminated mirror and a faint blush that looked a hundred times prettier than makeup. I mean it's alright if it was a one off, but if it weren't that's alright too. He weren't that good but at least he's nice to me, hey? "Twelve-second Andy?"

"Fuck off, Pip, you said you wouldn't te-" He stops abruptly, for a moment looks like he might stop faffing with his gun and shoot himself in the head with it, then backtracks with a sunny grin and, "Yeah, mate, I heard that rumour and all, actually my record for getting a girl off's fifteen seconds but-"

"What fucking world have I woke up in today?" Ray asks out loud, and stomps to the back of the Duck to shoot all his ammunition, even though there aren't any zombies in sight, while Lindsay beside him narrows his eyes and glares like death.

* * *

There's blood in the hallway. Pip's seen enough of it by now that it shouldn't make him falter like this, but then again none of the blood out in the infested city is likely to be his sister's. The others are behind him, silent and still with guns raised ready, waiting for his signal to move on - but he's frozen for a second, heart thudding hard in his chest and through all his pulses, until two things: Lindsay's hand moves to rest on the small of his back, and there's a noise deeper in the building. Then, suddenly spurred into bravery - or recklessness, which is almost the same thing really - he takes off running through the corridors and up two flights of stairs, faster even in his stupid cowboy boots than Lindsay is in cons. Far behind him he hears someone say Put Eric and Hamish in the lift, Grandad and Ray snarling back Don't call me Grandad! and then pounding footsteps as he starts to slow and everyone without hip replacements starts to catch up. He skids to a halt outside Dory's classroom, catching himself on the door frame so he won't topple over and feeling the nauseating rip of stitches in his side. There's blood here too, congealing and sticky on his hands when he snatches them away, and he's too scared to look through the pane of glass in the door, never mind open it.

"Lindsay," he says. The word breaks like a sob halfway through and he backs away from the door to the other side of the corridor. His foot treads in something squishy then, something with hair and bone stuck to it, and he hides his face in the crook of his elbow so he can't look any more at what he's stepped in and the others can't see how close he is to crying. "Lindsay, if I got Dory's brains on my shoes please lie to me."

"You haven't," he says. His voice sounds funny and Pip feels like puking.

"Is that a lie?"

"Come here." Still hiding, he feels the gun being taken from his grip, and then Lindsay's fingers wrap around his wrist and pull his arm from his face. "Trust me. Look."

It takes a few deep breaths to get up the nerve to look through the glass, and he's glad of Lindsay's arm sliding warm around his waist when he does because what he sees makes his knees go pathetic with relief: twenty little kids in karate gear, sitting on the floor drinking Ribena juice boxes and chatting like the world outside is no different to yesterday. Dory's there in the middle of them doing something with a pack of cards, maybe showing off because Lindsay taught her how to play poker, maybe playing snap like any normal six-year-old - whatever it is, he interrupts it by throwing the door open so hard it bangs back against the wall and then he and Lindsay nearly trample a dozen children so they can lift her up and hug her so tightly between them that she squawks and starts thumping them both on the back.

"You're late. Our teacher went out for a fag and she come back in with like fifteen other people and they all went mental so we pushed them out the window and Jeremy's a little bitch and started crying saying we're all gonna go to jail but I was like Jeremy we're six we ain't going to jail, anyway they deserved it cos they tried to bite us and biting ain't nice. Hi Tess. You got a ladder in your tights."

"Hello, sweetheart," Tess says faintly, looking around the room like she thinks she's probably still in some messed-up hangover dream. Beside her, Terry and Andy lower their guns awkwardly and try to hide them behind their backs so the kids can't see them. Emma and Katy don't seem to care about that, checking the windows and then firing a sudden drumroll of shots that make everyone jump.

"We have to get back to the boat," Emma says urgently, "it's almost surrounded and that's our only way out of here. We'll make sure the coast's clear. You boys look after the children and follow us in a minute."

Dory's mate Rishi takes offence at that. "Like we need looking after!" he says scornfully, pulling some karate poses that would be hilarious if not for the deadly serious look on his face and the reality that, actually, these children are barely out of Huggies and still managed to take out a zombie swarm with their bare hands. Pip reaches down to fistbump him and he settles down looking pleased with himself.

"Alright, twerps," Pip yells over everyone's excited chatter, stalking up and down in front of the kids like a king in some old film talking his troops up before battle. "Anyone wanna go on a Duck Tour?"


"Alright, listen, buddy system like school trips, yeah? Find someone you like and hold their hand-" He reaches for Lindsay's and entwines their fingers "-and don't let go no matter what. Repeat it so I know you understand."


Beside him, Lindsay squeezes his hand gently and lets out a shaky breath. "Sounds like the sort of trite rubbish you'd write in your stupid vow," he mutters - and Pip leans against him and laughs as the raggedy crocodile of children starts following Terry and Andy out of the room, because of course it takes the fucking end of the world to get him talking about wedding plans.