"Stop," Jude said, voice pitched low, and his four companions did so without question. They had learned to trust each other out here. "Do you hear that?" he hissed, cocking his head to the side to capture the sound better. A rumbling growl echoed faintly through the burned-out buildings on either side of the road the five of them were walking down.
"Biters?" Marcus asked, glancing around.
"No, definitely not," Liam, muttered. "The noise is too consistent."
"It sounds like a bunch of motorcycles." Jasmine said. "Ever been to Daytona Beach during Bike Week?" she asked with a chuckle.
"Can't say that I have," Marcus replied.
“It’s getting louder,” Jude said. “We should probably get off the road.”
“We’re not gonna find food if we don’t follow the road,” Liam argued. Technically that wasn’t true. There were plenty of things away from the road that could be food. The problem was that none of them knew how to hunt or forage them. They relied solely on what they could scavenge from cars, stores, houses, and other buildings. Which typically meant they followed the road.
“Well, we’re not gonna be alive to eat any food we might find if another group kills us first, now will we?” Jasmine said, backing up Jude. Liam sighed and they veered off behind some buildings, towards a group of trees in the distance that was probably some kind of park, putting some distance between themselves and the road as they went in the opposite direction as the noise.
They hadn’t been walking for long before they saw the first of the walkers coming out of the trees they were headed toward. The girls were in the front, and they started forward to take them out since there were just a couple of them. Jude pulled his combat axe from his belt and got ready, just in case. Then he saw the movement in the trees, and realized there was a lot more than just a couple. It was just a blur to him, but he knew what he was seeing. The girls saw it too, and they froze before they’d taken more than a few steps.
“Holy fuck,” he breathed as the herd began to stumble out. There were only a small handful that were close enough for him to see clearly without his glasses, but the blurred shapes moving in the distance across the open grass, and the reactions of his group, told him all he needed to know. He gripped Samantha’s hand tightly in his as they started to run in the opposite direction. Back toward the road and the noise of the other group. It was too late to hide from the dead, now, they’d already been seen.
“So, just to be clear,” Liam panted as they ran through the buildings, “we’re heading towards what is presumably a group of bikers in the hopes that they’re a safer choice than a group of walkers?”
“I guess so, yeah,” Jude gasped back.
“What if we’re wrong?” Marcus asked from ahead of them, out-pacing them all.
“It’s not like we have much of a choice,” Samantha said with a grim look on her face. “They’re right behind us and there’s nowhere safe to hide!”
Their shoes pounded on the pavement as they hit the road running. Jude could see a warehouse up the street with a truck, van, and a handful of those damn noisy walker-magnets parked near it. There was also a car parked on the road. At least the group was large. Hopefully that meant they’d stand a chance. He didn’t want to think about what would happen afterward, not now. They’d cross that bridge when they came to it.
What a sight they must be, sprinting up the road with a swarm of corpses behind them. Jude only hoped the group didn’t shoot them on sight.
Instead of running right up to the warehouse, though, and startling the people who were there, the group veered off the street, weaving through alleys between buildings along the same street the warehouse was on and coming out onto the street behind it.
Leading the walkers right to food, so they could get away clean while the other, larger group fought them off.
The herd attacked the group at the warehouse behind them, just as they'd planned. Some of the guys outside were taken out quick; they could hear the screams and gunshots. Jude and his group were beginning to tire, but threading through the alleys helped to disperse some of the herd that was still chasing them.
They slowed down a bit, gasping for breath. Jude let go of Samantha’s hand and swung around to meet the biter that had been right on their tail, cracking its head open with his axe as it lunged.
“Fuck,” Samantha breathed when she turned around and saw how close it had been, her hand tightening on her hammer as she stared at it, other hand reaching out blindly to grab at Jude’s arm, reaching for his hand again.
“We need to keep moving,” Liam said, pushing them both forward lightly.
They trotted down the street, ahead of the small group that was still following them and veering toward the buildings on the other side of the street to look for shelter. At the end of the street, ahead of them, a couple of lowriders sped across the intersection, headed in the direction of the warehouse.
“What is this, a gang war?” Jude said incredulously.
“We’re not sticking around to find out,” Liam muttered as they veered into another alley. They’d taken a few steps down it before they realized there was a low wall at the end that didn’t look like it would be easy to climb. It was too late to turn back now, though, the herd was right behind them.
They sprinted for the end of the alley. Liam was up and over the wall before anyone batted an eye. Jude didn’t fault him for it, just huffed in dark amusement as he leaned down to boost Samantha over after him.
Jasmine, their best marksman, had drawn her gun and she was stepping forward to take out the biters that were nearing. Jude winced at the sound of the first gunshot, knowing it would draw unwanted attention. Six more came after that, taking out nearly half of their small herd, but Jude was counting bullets, and hoped she was, too. She didn’t have many more left. Not enough for the amount of walkers that were left, anyway.
“Baby, come on,” Marcus urged, pacing back to her anxiously.
Jude hesitated, not wanting to go over the wall without them.
“Jasmine, let’s go!” he called. She popped off two more rounds and two more biters fell. She had two rounds left, by his count. The walkers were steadily streaming into the alley, though. More than he’d first thought. Way more than they could handle.
Jasmine had used her last two rounds and seemed surprised to be out already. Marcus took out a biter who lunged for her while she was distracted, and then the two of them raced for the wall. Jude helped her over, but before Marcus could climb up, the herd reached them, taking Marcus down. Jasmine screamed for him and tried to reach down for him. Jude pulled her back, over the wall with him, knowing they couldn’t help Marcus, murmuring apologies and reassurances to Jasmine to get her to cooperate.
Samantha was crying, too, as she grabbed Jasmine’s hand and pulled her forward. Jude couldn’t let himself feel Marcus’ death right now, they had too much to worry about. He’d gotten good at compartmentalizing his emotions like that. Later, when they were safe, it would hit him hard.
Liam lead the way through the alley and into the street on the other side. Jude brought up the rear, making sure the girls didn’t fall behind. They weren’t being chased any more, as far as they knew, having left the herd on the other side of the wall, and the street they were on now seemed a lot clearer than the previous one.
Jude turned in a circle, trying to get his bearings and remember in which direction they’d left the Jeep. They still needed to find gas for it, but they couldn’t forget where it was or the task would be pointless. The distance was just a blur, because of his near-sightedness, but he remembered which way they’d come from, and how many turns they’d taken in each direction. They’d have to make a wide circle and go all the way back around the warehouse to get back to the Jeep safely, now that there were so many walkers in the area. Maybe they’d get lucky and encounter some gas along the way.
“That way, right?” Jude checked with Liam, pointing up the road.
Liam nodded. “Seems like it. We’ll take the road on the left and it should bring us back around eventually.”
They could hear gunshots, rumbling motorcycles, and shouting in the distance as they jogged up the road. The sound was magnified by the echoes bouncing off the buildings all around them, making the noise sound like it was coming from every direction at once.
Standing on the porch, staring at the closed door wasn't getting him anywhere. Sam was here for a reason, and he couldn't get on with that reason until he knocked on the damn door.
He couldn't even bring himself to lift his hand, though. He remained frozen in the hallway, staring at the blank grey door, as the endless doubts and what-ifs that had plagued him for the entire plane ride here pushed themselves to the forefront of his mind. He tried to shove them aside again, like he'd managed to before, but they were much more persistent now that he was so close to his goal.
What if he doesn't want to see me? What if he didn't miss me at all? What if he's already moved on? What if he's happier without me? What if things are never the same between us? What if he can't forgive me? What if he doesn't even want to? What if I ruined everything by staying away?
He didn't have an answer to any of those questions, because he had avoided asking any of their mutual friends about Dylan ever since he left. They all knew better than to bring him up; the relationship was a touchy subject. For both of them, apparently. But that was the extent of what he knew about Dylan, in the time he'd been away.
He tried to remind himself of all the things that could go right, but he couldn't actually come up with anything. He couldn't imagine it going right, because he knew how badly he'd fucked up. At the time, he was sure what he was doing was for the best, in the long run. He was ashamed of himself for how long it had taken him to realize that the opposite was true. That he was just hurting them both unnecessarily. That he missed Dylan so much, he didn't think it would ever go away.
He and Dylan had met in college, and became fast friends almost immediately. Which was strange for him, because he'd never made friends easily. In fact, all the friends he had now had been Dylan's friends first. Some days, he didn't get why they were even still friends with him, after what he'd done.
Dylan had broken through Sam's prickly, standoffish, introverted exterior and made himself a place in his heart, against all odds. Sam made it quite hard for him, at the time, but Dylan was stubborn and persistent. Sam had no idea what Dylan saw in him that made him worth the effort, but he was sure Dylan regretted it, now.
When their friendship had turned into something more, it had felt like such a natural progression that Sam hadn't even batted an eye. At least, not until he talked to his therapist, and she had pointed out how big of a deal it was, for him. Not that it had ever felt like a big deal, with Dylan. Understanding, considerate Dylan, who was always so careful of Sam's strict boundaries, and endless emotional baggage, that had come from growing up in a series of problematic foster homes.
Dylan had problems of his own, too. Things Sam understood all too well, which is why they had bonded so strongly, right from the start. Dylan wasn't the sweet, gentle, caring guy everyone thought he was. Not naturally, anyway. He worked hard to be that way, to make himself care about others, when his natural impulses were toward violence and callousness. "Fake it 'til you make it," he would say jokingly.
Sam preferred having Dylan all to himself, because when they were alone, Dylan didn't have to put on an act. The Real Dylan was infinitely more fascinating and compelling than the Dylan he pretended to be for everyone else's sake. He was never shocked or offended by Sam's rudeness or lack of interest in other people's problems. He never hesitated to
When other people were around, though, he was like a different person. Sam didn't fault him for it. He knew it was just part of Dylan's own emotional baggage, from his own tough upbringing. He was just glad they could let down their walls around each other. Other people didn't matter.
All through college, they knew that their careers would take them to opposite sides of the country, once they graduated. That they would be forced apart. It was something that was always hanging over their heads, but which they chose to ignore, right up until the last minute. Which had probably been their downfall, Sam thought. If they had talked about it more... maybe things would have turned out differently.
Or, maybe not. Because it was Sam that had fucked up, after all. Sam's own doubts, and fears, and insecurities that had made him cut things off with Dylan, without even an explanation. He hated himself for it, for how selfish it was. He had stopped taking Dylan's calls. Stopped calling him in return. Ignored his texts. Because it was easier to do that than to face the agonizing pain of being apart from him. It was easier to compartmentalize his pain away when he didn't have Dylan's voice in his ear, reminding him how much he missed him.
His new therapist hadn't been much help, either. The guy told him to do whatever he thought was necessary, to keep it together. He basically encouraged Sam in cutting Dylan off. He didn't know about Sam and Dylan's history, and how important Dylan was to him, and Sam couldn't even bring himself to tell him, because talking about him was too hard, when they were so far apart.
Sam knew it was all his fault, and that it was up to him to fix it, if it was even fixable. Which was why he was here, at the apartment Dylan lived in, now. The one Sam had never been to, never seen, never even heard Dylan gush about, the way the rest of their friends had. It was much nicer than the place Sam had left behind.
When the opportunity for a transfer had opened up with his company, he had been the first to volunteer. He hoped that, even if Dylan didn't want to be in a relationship with him anymore, that they could still be friends, at least. It would be difficult, but he was completely lost without him. He doubted it was the same for Dylan, but he wondered if it could be.
That thought, more than anything else, is what made him finally take a deep breath and knock on Dylan's door.
It opened immediately, almost before he'd finished knocking, and he wondered how long Dylan had been aware of him standing out here. How long he'd been waiting patiently for Sam to be ready. Just like always.
"Sam," Dylan breathed, like a sigh of relief, when their eyes finally met for the first time in over a year. He didn't look angry, or upset. He just looked... relieved. And hearing his voice, saying Sam's name, made his heart flip over in his chest. Just like always.
They stared at each other for a long time, both of them cataloguing all of the changed in the other. Sam's hair was short now, not the long mop it had been in college. Also, he had a beard. Dylan, though... looked... incredible.
"Wow," Sam, breathed, and it was all he could say for a moment. Dylan's gaze, sharp and assessing, softened at the word. Then he quickly stepped back, out of the doorway.
"Come in! Please. If you want to, I mean..." The uncertainty in Dylan's voice broke his heart.
"Yeah, of course," Sam muttered quickly, slipping inside and shutting the door behind him.
Dylan was standing just inside the door still, and didn't move away when Sam entered, which put them standing nearly up against each other. But Sam didn't mind the proximity, like he would have with anyone else. Dylan was the only person in the world he wanted to be close to.
"I missed you so fucking much," Sam breathed, unable to tear his gaze away from Dylan's for even an instant.
"Me too," Dylan replied, eyes wet, but gaze still locked on Sam's.
"I'm so sorry--" he started, but Dylan was shaking his head.
"I don't even care. We can talk about it later. I'm just glad you're here now. Can I hug you?"
All this time, after everything Sam had done, and Dylan was still intensely aware of his boundaries and hang-ups, and still cared enough to be careful of them. Sam's relief was almost palpable. Of course Dylan understood. He always understood.
Sam never should have left. He would not make the same mistake twice. He'd give up everything, anything he had to, if it meant not being parted from Dylan again.
"God, yes," Sam replied, dropping his bag and opening his arms just in time for Dylan to launch himself into them. He held him close, and breathed him in, the tightness in his chest easing for the first time in over a year, now that he finally had Dylan back in his arms. He was never letting go, and based on the strength of Dylan's grasp on him, he felt similarly.
They still had a lot to discuss, but he hoped Dylan would be at least as excited when Sam asked him to marry him.