A/N: I don't really know what caused this. I normally don't want anything to do with zombies, and then I was like, "Hey! I wanna a zombie AU!" ... Whatevs. The title of this comes from a line in 'Apologize' by OneRepublic.
Warnings: Hank/Alex, slash, zombie!AU, apocalypse!AU, no set time period (could be 1960s, in-between, or present day), some gore, some sex, language.
Disclaimer: I don't own XMFC.
As far as Hank knows, zombies never sleep.
That makes sense, since after all, zombies are technically dead. Well, the living dead. Their brains still function, to a certain extent, but they're motivated by instinct. They can walk and run and make animalistic grunting and groaning noises. But since they're not people (not anymore), they don't need to carry out many bodily functions (except, of course, eating).
Still, he's hesitant to approach the person lying on the floor. Could it be a zombie? An infected human (the last of his kind, perhaps)? Or is he just what he appears to be – a sleeping man? It's been months since Hank last saw a normal person, but it feels like longer, and he's almost forgotten what other people look like, without crusty lesions and deathly pallor and yellowed eyes.
The person on the floor is breathing deeply, but every few moments (Hank's been standing deathly still for quite a while now, watching him) he'll shift, twitch, and occasionally mumble something under his breath.
Hank takes a slow step forward, unsure of what to do. He should probably just leave; he can find another place to spend the night, after all – if he keeps with the road he's been following, there might be another remote spot. But this empty warehouse has plenty of room for two, and it's a good location. Packs of zombies are usually attracted to lights, noise, color, and life – so a big, gray warehouse is perfect, really.
Hank walks around the man on the floor, his large feet moving quietly, but apparently not quite soundlessly enough, because the person on the floor abruptly awakens. He sits up, looks around, notices Hank, lets out a grunt of, "Shit!", and scrambles backwards.
Hank lifts his hands instinctively, trying to convey harmlessness. "Wait!" he says. "I'm not – one of them."
The man – or boy, because he looks to be around Hank's age – freezes, staring at Hank for several seconds. Hank takes the opportunity to study him in return; the dim moonlight filtering in through the large windows high up on the metal walls provides just enough light for him to see by. The boy's beautiful, Hank notes (but then again, anyone looks beautiful compared to a zombie). He's got short-ish, messy blond hair and sharp eyes that glint in the moonlight, a handsome face, and he looks somewhat healthy. However, he also bears the look of someone who's been living off of scraps for quite some time – he's muscular but definitely too thin, and his skin looks milk-white. Then again, Hank's pretty sure he doesn't look too great, either, not after months of not having to care anymore. His button-down shirt is un-tucked and dirty, his khakis worn out and baggy. The other boy looks fairly clean, at least.
After a minute, the boy speaks. He's got a deep voice, strong and masculine. "I can tell," he says. "You haven't tried to eat me yet. Jesus Christ, what's up with your feet?"
Hank looks down at them. He'd almost forgotten that his feet are strange. Even after years of psychological bullying from his peers, the need to survive trumps his body issues, and Hank can outrun any danger while barefoot. Hence, no shoes. His toes clench up automatically as he tries to hide them, normalize them, to no avail.
"Mutant?" the boy questions.
Hank nods slowly. "Yes," he says. "And you –?"
"Obviously. I'm alive, aren't I?" The boy gives him an 'are you stupid or something?' look.
Hank nods. "Yes. You're – you're the first living person I've –," he stammers. He's still in shock, really. He can't quite comprehend the fact that there's someone else alive, someone else living on their own – a mutant who managed not to starve, get sick, or be murdered by zombies. Hank had always hoped there would be others, other survivors searching for him as he searched for them. "You're the first living person I've met in a while."
The boy stares at him, then sighs and says a bit begrudgingly, "I'm Alex Summers."
"Hank. Hank McCoy," Hank responds shakily. He steps forward to where Alex is still seated on the floor, extends a nervous hand. Alex stares at him, then sighs and shakes Hank's hand. Alex's palm is warm and calloused, and his hand is smaller than Hank's. It's been a while since Hank touched someone else's skin, and he grips Alex's hand for just a second too long.
Alex pauses again, scrutinizing Hank some more. Then, he says, "So what's your story, Bigfoot?"
Hank was eighteen when the outbreak began.
He was already three years out of Harvard – having graduated magna cum laude at fifteen – and was working for the government, living at a base in Virginia. He'd been one of the many scientists called upon to study the virus when it first appeared.
The virus had been morbidly fascinating to him at first – it killed weaker victims, and the young, strong, and healthy turned into strange, primal creatures that seemed completely focused on killing and eating. Hank had spent hours poring over charts, readings, X-rays, blood samples, microscopes, watching endless footage of the creatures (zombies, God, it was like something out of a horror film – and we had no idea, no idea how much more horrifying it would get . . . )
"We didn't know what to do," Hank tells Alex, now. "The virus was – is – like no other."
"Don't bother trying to explain the science to me," Alex says, but he doesn't ask Hank to stop talking, so Hank doesn't.
The humans had tried quarantining at first. Zombies and the ill (the effects of the virus seemed to show up just a few days after infection) were sent to camps out West, in the heart of the desert, to be studied. But the disease kept spreading (through the air, the food supply, the water supply, everything), too fast to stop, attacking and zombifying everyone who contracted it, and their attempts at quarantining, containing, and eliminating the virus failed. No drugs seemed to help, no "cures" showed any evidence of working. Panic broke out, naturally, but faded away as the number of remaining uninfected and living humans dwindled lower and lower. It seemed as though no one could avoid falling ill.
"Except mutants," Alex says. That news had been released to the public before communications systems went down. Mutants (freaks, abominations, weirdoes) seemed to be the only ones completely immune to the virus.
"Right," Hank says quietly. "Except mutants."
Hank had been the first and only mutant in his family, as far as he knew. When the panic broke out and the virus became classified as a full-on worldwide pandemic, Hank borrowed a car from the government – well, actually, he took a car that had probably belonged to a scientist (who very well could have already been a zombie when Hank acquired his car). Nationwide communications were almost entirely down, so he'd driven all the way home to Illinois in search of his parents, hoping against hope that perhaps they'd somehow avoided infection. It was an irrational, illogical hope, but he'd gone anyway – they were his parents, after all.
"I was right, in a way," he tells Alex distantly, trying hard to keep his voice from shaking. "They weren't infected."
The front door of the house was wide open when Hank arrived at his childhood home. That told him almost everything he'd needed to know, but he'd gone inside anyways, unable to accept it.
What remained of Edna McCoy had been in the kitchen, nothing more than a bloodstain on the linoleum, scattered bones surrounded by swarming flies, and shredded clothing. Hank can still remember the ruined dress on the floor – an old one of hers, a soft light blue dress that had been nearly unrecognizable then, turned rust colored from blood and ripped by ravaging, unnaturally strong zombie hands and gnawing, moaning mouths. Hank had screamed, stumbled away, and bolted from the room. He didn't see his father as he hurried through the house to the back door, but when he reached the back porch, what had happened to Norton McCoy became clear.
There were bloodstains on the porch, but Hank could see a few footprints – some bare, some not – in the stains. He also saw a large handprint, smeared into the dried blood on the white porch, and knew. His father had been carried away, possibly alive, maybe still conscious, still screaming – and had met the same fate as his mother somewhere else.
Hank had flung himself off the porch, staggered towards the neck-high white fence that surrounded the yard, and vomited everything in him and more onto the overgrown grass, choking and sobbing, the metallic scent of blood all around him. He'd fallen to his knees, shaking and struggling to breathe, and had simply sat there in his old backyard, praying for sudden death by anything but zombies. Anything to get him out of this world, this new, bizarre world of disease and turmoil and death – anything but the same ripping hands and tearing teeth that had killed his parents.
"But after a while," Hank tells Alex, "I knew I had to get up. I knew I had to get out of there, before a pack found me, or before I lost my will completely. I knew my parents were smart, they – they always planned for something like this. An apocalyptic event, that is. It always seemed crazy, but really, I suppose it wasn't . . ."
So he'd crawled over to the cellar doors, retrieved the spare key from its position underneath a flowerpot that contained one of his mother's dead geraniums, and opened the doors, pulling them wide open with trembling hands. He'd gone down into the cellar as quickly as possible (a stupid, silly childhood paranoia about being trapped in the cellar with his nightmares had never quite left him, and now that there were real zombies in the world, he wasn't about to take any chances). He'd discovered two packs, one loaded down with as much non-perishable food as it could safely hold, the other bag containing a kit with first aid supplies, two extra outfits for his parents, two metal canteens, and a few more packages of dried fruits and meats. Also in the cellar were a pistol, a butcher knife, and a baseball bat. Hank took the knife and gun (even though he'd never shot a gun before – and besides, it wouldn't be of much use to him for long anyways, as bullets might be hard to get a hold of), the few items from the first aid kit that he deemed necessities, and as much long-lasting food that he could conceivably fit into the bag. He'd put on one of his father's short-sleeved shirts underneath his own, tied a jacket tightly around his waist, and set off. For where, he'd had no idea.
The car had been a no-go, obviously, as it would've run out of gas before he even made it to the city limits. So he made a decision; he took off his shoes and started running. It was hard, at first – he could run fast but wasn't used to running far, and certainly not when he was laden down with a very heavy pack. But it quickly grew easier. It was like he was born to run free and wild. (Well, technically, he was.)
That's how Hank has lived for the past several months – running from place to place, carefully rationing his parents' food and getting food and water from other places (abandoned homes, grocery stores, factories, and whatever he can find in the natural environment) whenever possible. Hank's been glad for his brains and his mutation in this past year – combined, they've kept him alive for this long. He's met zombies and zombie packs plenty of times, and he's always been able to outrun, out-jump, out-climb, and outsmart them.
"So you've been looking for survivors from here to Illinois, and you haven't found any?" Alex questions, frowning.
Hank shakes his head. "That doesn't mean there aren't any. I just . . . didn't find them."
Alex gives him a skeptical look. "What would you have done if you'd found any?" he asks.
Hank frowns. "Lived with them, I suppose, if they would have me. 'Two heads are better than one' and all that. Especially . . . these days." He's honestly hoping that Alex won't run him off – Christ, it's been so many months since Hank spoke to anyone, even if Alex doesn't seem to be particularly talkative or friendly. But he's a person, a living, thinking person, and he's survived this long after society's collapse, so he must be smart and resourceful (or perhaps just incredibly powerful). Hank could probably benefit greatly from a partnership with him.
Alex stares at him again, eyes narrowed slightly. Hank can feel his cheeks heating with a blush, and he's grateful for the relative darkness. "So you think you're going to hang around with me?"
Hank bites his bottom lip, shifting awkwardly, his pack rustling on his back. "I – I can leave," he says. "It's just – we can help each other out. I'm pretty good at finding food and shelter . . ."
Alex seems to be seriously thinking about something. "Obviously. You've made it for this long."
"You have, too," Hank says, quietly.
"God knows how," Alex mutters. He shifts slightly, looking away from Hank, frowning. Then, he looks back at Hank. "Alright."
A glorious feeling fills Hank. He has a partner (of sorts). He's not alone anymore. "Really? I – okay. Thank you."
Alex shrugs, shifts on the floor, drawing his legs up to his chest. The position looks almost vulnerable to Hank, but Alex's body is still tight and tense. He doesn't trust Hank, that much is clear, and frankly, Hank doesn't blame him. "No problem. If you're as smart as you say you are – I guess it won't hurt to have you around. But don't try to take anything from me."
Hank shakes his head vigorously. "I won't," he says, and means it. He's too honorable for that, even now, when it would only be too easy to starve. "Speaking of which – how and where do you get food and water? How long have you been here?" he inquires.
"There's woods near here. I eat whatever I see birds eating. There's a little river that runs through the woods, too, and I lucked out and found some netting type shit in this warehouse, so I fish, with limited success. But hey, food is food. And I dunno, a while. I haven't seen any people around these parts. Haven't seen a single car go by, nothing. No zombies, either."
"Too remote, probably," Hank says. "They're attracted by color and motion – usually. That's not to say that a pack of them couldn't wander by at any time. Especially if there's a town nearby, which I'm sure there is."
Alex's expression hardens slightly. "I know."
Hank hesitates, then takes off his pack and sits down a few feet in front of Alex. He sits with his legs folded underneath himself, trying to keep Alex's attention away from his feet. "What's, um, your story?" he asks, repeating Alex's earlier question.
Alex sighs. "It doesn't matter."
"But I told you –,"
"It doesn't matter," Alex repeats shortly. Hank finds it quite unfair that Alex won't tell anything at all about himself, but Hank decides not to press on that issue. Alex doesn't look like the type who can be wheedled into talking about something, and besides, the last thing Hank wants to do is annoy his newfound survival partner. But there's one question that he's got to ask.
"What's your mutation?" he queries. "Can I see it?"
"No," Alex says flatly. "I'd kill you."
Hank is flabbergasted. "Erm . . ."
Alex sighs, then elaborates, "I make these huge rings of red energy around my chest. Basically, I can blast shit. I don't exactly have great aim, but it damn sure is deadly."
"Oh," Hank says, blinking. Now he feels vaguely uncomfortable sitting even this close to Alex, but Alex doesn't look like he's about to blow something up. "That's incredible."
"Yeah, right," Alex mutters. "Incredible for killing people."
Hank hesitates, then says, "Zombies aren't people anymore. They don't retain their minds, their feelings . . ."
Alex scoffs. "I'm aware, McCoy. That was your last name, wasn't it? McCoy?" he says offhandedly.
"Yes," Hank says quietly.
"Alright, then," Alex replies, quite neutrally.
By the end of that week – well, six days later; Hank doesn't know what week or month it is anymore – they've already developed a give-and-take sort of partnership. Hank builds their cooking fires, Alex boils their water to sterilize it and cooks their food. Hank develops a more efficient way of netting fish, Alex cleans and cooks the fish (using pans and bowls he claims to have found in the warehouse). They divide their food and water very carefully, and generally don't talk very much unless their conversation involves food, water, zombies, or the weather.
Hank notices a pattern, though, by around the fifth night. They sleep in the same area of the warehouse, about eight feet away from each other on the floor. Hank sleeps using his jacket as a pillow, and Alex uses his own beat-up leather jacket as a cushion against the hard concrete. But Alex barely sleeps.
Sure, Hank found him asleep – but since that night, Alex hardly ever seems to rest. Granted, Hank sometimes has issues getting to sleep as well – summer is coming early, and the nights are already uncomfortably warm, so he spends quite some time lying on the floor feeling sticky and disgusting – but whenever Hank's awake, Alex is. Alex constantly has dark circles under his eyes, too. He's also usually very snappish, but that's probably just part of his natural personality. He's kind of a . . . prickly individual, Hank quickly finds out.
By the end of their first month together (approximately), Hank has to ask about it, even though he really shouldn't be worrying much about Alex's sleep schedule. He waits until a morning when Alex is in a rare good mood (this is clear because he greets Hank with a "hey, McCoy" instead of "Bozo" or "Bigfoot", his favorite insults/nicknames for Hank) and casually asks over their breakfast of berries from the woods, "Did you sleep well?"
Alex raises an eyebrow at Hank. His lips, Hank notes, are stained purple from berry juice, and the stubble on his jaw glints golden faintly in the constantly dim atmosphere of the warehouse. "Uh, yeah."
"Are you sure?" Hank asks, using a splash of water to clean his hands. "You still look a bit tired."
Alex gives him a look. "I'm fine, thanks, Bozo."
Hank recognizes the warning tone in Alex's voice – that's the way he sounds whenever Hank is asking too many questions, prying, or just generally bugging him. That voice is a step past 'normal', a level between 'annoyed' and 'pissed off'. (Alex seems to only have three emotional settings, which he shifts back and forth between erratically.)
"Alright," Hank says carefully, his long toes curling uncomfortably in response to the mockery. But it's not the cruelest he's ever heard, really. Alex doesn't say anything else, just nods curtly and takes a sip of precious, lukewarm water.
Things continue normally for the next three days – until Alex wakes Hank up in the middle of the night. Not on purpose, but while in his sleep.
Hank squints and fumbles around on the floor for his glasses. When his eyes have adjusted to the darkness, he can just barely make out Alex's form on the floor. But he can definitely hear Alex – wiggling, squirming, breathing a bit too harshly, and then muttering "no, no" under his breath.
Hank doesn't think, just scoots across the floor in Alex's direction. He touches the other man's shoulder and then shakes him. "Alex?"
Alex jerks awake almost violently and his body abruptly grows frighteningly hot, his chest glowing a faint shade of red. Hank withdraws his arm very quickly and lies motionless, hardly daring to breathe, until Alex stops glowing.
"Y-Yes? I'm right here."
"What the fuck?" Alex hisses, his voice low and rough. "Are you fucking crazy? You stupid bozo, I could have killed you!"
"I'm sorry," Hank says quietly, squinting to better see the outline of Alex's face in the darkness. "You – um – sounded like you were having a nightmare, so I woke you up."
"I could have killed you," Alex repeats harshly. "Don't ever wake me up like that again."
"Alright," Hank says, crawling back across the floor away from Alex. "I'm sorry, Alex."
Alex doesn't respond, and the two of them lie in silence for the rest of the night, neither sleeping and neither speaking.
Another week passes awkwardly, but normally. (Strange, Hank muses at one point during the week, that this sort of life can seem normal at all.) They don't bring up that night, and after a day or two, Alex's extremely antisocial mood shifts back into his regular, ordinary, semi-antisocial mood.
One night – nine days after the night Alex almost blasted Hank to a crisp – Hank can tell Alex is having another bad dream. This time, it's not as severe as the other one, judging by the lack of thrashing. But he can still hear Alex shifting and turning, letting out faint whispers and whimpers as he sleeps. Hank wants to wake Alex up, partly because he's scared Alex might go off in his sleep – blast and kill one or both of them – but also because he doesn't like listening to the soft, frightened, desperate noises Alex is making. But Hank doesn't move, remembering the dangerous way Alex's skin glowed, the sheer heat of his body, the angry way Alex reacted. He waits a while until Alex quiets, then dozes off himself, and doesn't mention it in the morning.
But it happens consistently for the next few weeks – the few times Hank notices that Alex is even asleep, he's usually wiggling around, restless, and muttering in his sleep. One night, three weeks after the initial nightmare incident, Hank has to do something.
Alex is legitimately talking in his sleep now, muttering things like, "Please don't, Haley, no." Hank crawls over, tentatively reaches out, and touches Alex's back. Alex doesn't immediately awaken this time, and Hank hesitates, before carefully rubbing Alex's back through his thin shirt. It's a soothing gesture, and Hank's face feels hot. He's probably going to get punched for this.
Alex shifts slightly, rousing with a soft noise, and Hank stops moving instantly, his hand still pressed flat against Alex's upper back, between his shoulder blades. As he waits for Alex to say something, he notes, in the back of his brain, that Alex's skin still feels a little bit too warm, even when taking into account the heat of the night. Alex is like a furnace, and Hank knows exactly why, remembering that dangerous red glow.
After a long pause, Alex speaks, his voice very low. "You woke me up again."
Hank pulls his hand away automatically at those words, already moving to slide back to his own space. "I know, I'm sorry – I tried not to startle you this time, but you . . ."
"I was talking, right? Rolling around?" Alex says, and Hank stops moving at the hollow tone in Alex's voice. "Fuck, sorry. You probably think I'm nuts."
"I don't think you're . . ." Hank tries to say, but Alex won't let him finish.
"I might be a little crazy, I'll admit it. Half the time I can't fucking sleep, I just lie awake, wondering whether I'm gonna die tomorrow. Thinking about how much easier that would be, to just drop dead. And then when I do sleep, I'm dreaming. Every single night, the same dreams, over and over."
"What do you dream about?" Hank asks. He's probably – no, definitely – pushing it by asking Alex questions, but he's curious.
"You really wanna know?"
"Zombies," Alex says flatly. There's a short pause, then Alex continues, his voice dull. "I'll start at the beginning. My parents died when I was a kid, right? Yeah, tragic, I know. My brother Scott and I got separated and put into foster care, and after a while, I got adopted. And a few years later . . ."
"The outbreak," Hank guesses. Alex sighs.
"Yeah. They got sick. Then one morning I woke up with my foster sister trying to eat me. She was eleven. She was so sweet, when she was . . . alive."
Hank winces sympathetically. He's had nightmares before of similar situations, being attacked by zombies, but he's never gotten close enough to a zombie for it to actually happen. But he still thinks of his parents' fate sometimes – his mother, screaming and struggling on the floor where as a toddler Hank had once put together puzzles at her feet while she cooked dinner. His father, perhaps running for help, only to be dragged away across the back porch that Hank had helped paint when he was seven. Hank's not sure whether their fate was better or worse than infection.
Alex keeps talking. "I freaked out. Couldn't control myself. I blasted her and my foster parents. One of the blasts sliced her clean in half. But she still kept wiggling."
Hank feels mildly nauseous at that. He can picture it, a young girl, her skin deathly pale and her eyes wide and yellowed, mouth gaping, her upper body writhing on the floor even after it had been separated from her lower half. He can imagine the horror Alex felt – it would have been similar to the sheer horror Hank experienced when he saw his mother's bones on the kitchen floor, his father's handprint on the back porch.
"I dream about that. Then sometimes I dream about the first couple months after, when I was all alone. I got food from hospitals and soup kitchens, but eventually that stopped being an option, because there was no one around to give away food anymore. Then I was starving. I headed out of town because I figured that would be the best way to avoid zombies, found this place, and eventually I figured out how to stay alive. But I dream about being all by myself, wasting away, and then zombies come for me and – then I . . . fucking hell, I'm . . ."
Hank reaches out again in the darkness and presses his hand against Alex's back, gently and soothingly. Alex's muscles are extremely tense, so Hank kneads lightly, just barely pressing his fingers in. "Hey," Hank says quickly, before Alex has time to say anything else. "You're okay, alright? I mean, you're not crazy. It's – it's normal to have bad dreams, and insomnia, and . . . and you're okay, alright?"
When he speaks again, Alex doesn't sound quite as out of control as he had moments before, but he seems almost nervous now, skittish, like a restless animal. Hank figures Alex must be about as used to touch as he is. "Thanks, Bozo," Alex mutters, rolling over to lie on his back so that Hank has to remove his hand. "Go back to sleep, okay? I'm sorry I woke you up."
Hank has the sudden urge to go over and give Alex a hug, to squeeze all his fears away, but he doesn't, of course.
The next morning, Alex doesn't mention anything about the night before – in fact, he goes out of his way to talk about other things, which is unusual for him. Alex must be simply unaccustomed to intimacy, even just intimacy between "friends" (okay, Hank has to consider them friends, because they live together in the ultimate sense of the word, but he doesn't know Alex's views on the matter), so all the physical contact and talking must have freaked him out a bit. But Hank's got an idea now, an idea to help Alex, and he's going to at least try to put it into action. Assuming Alex doesn't kill him for trying first.
Hank waits until that night after they've eaten their usual modest evening meal (well, all of their meals are 'modest'). Alex is preparing for bed while Hank cleans up their small mess. Once Alex is lying down, his back to Hank, Hank says hesitantly, "Alex?"
Alex lifts his head slightly, turning his neck so that he can see Hank. "Yeah?"
Hank's feet scrunch up nervously, and his cheeks heat up slightly with a blush. "I – I was going to do something tonight, to try and help you sleep. If you're amenable to it."
Alex's eyes widen slightly, and he says, "Huh?"
Hank pauses, confused. "I was just going to try rubbing your back. It might relax you and help you sleep better."
Alex blinks. "Oh. I thought for a second there that you were gonna suggest . . ."
Hank pauses, and then his big brain finally catches on. "Oh," he says, cheeks reddening even further, to the point where Alex can probably see his blush even in the funny light created by the setting sun outside and their small cooking fire. "Well, uh, intercourse of some sort would probably, um, help you sleep. But that, uh, wasn't what I was –,"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Alex cuts him off, saving them both a bit more embarrassment. "But I don't know if, uh, rubbing my back is a good idea."
Hank bites his lower lip. "I just want to help you."
Alex shifts his gaze. "Why?"
Saying 'because you're the only person I have in the world and I care about your wellbeing' sounds a little too serious, so Hank says, "You let me stay here with you. I owe you."
Alex rolls his eyes. "Hank, you contribute plenty to keeping us both alive. You don't owe me any more help, you bozo."
"I just – will you let me try, Alex?"
Alex pauses, then gives a rough, exasperated sigh. "Fine."
Alex turns back to lie on his side again, and Hank puts out their cooking fire before slowly walking over to lie down beside Alex. He lies on his side as well, but props his head up with one hand. After a minute, he tentatively rests the other hand flat on the middle of Alex's back. As Hank had expected he would, Alex tenses at the touch.
"Just tell me if this is . . . weird," Hank says, even though this probably is pretty weird. Most friends don't rub each others' backs, or soothe them to sleep like sick children. Most guys generally don't touch each other at all – not this gently, at least. Not that either he or Alex really fall into the category of 'most guys', and not that Hank has a problem touching other men, because he certainly doesn't, he just hasn't had many opportunities – okay, shut up, McCoy, Hank tells himself. This is not about that. You're trying to help him sleep, not molesting him. Calm down.
Hank rubs Alex's back in small, gentle circles. It takes quite a while, but Alex gradually relaxes into the touch. Hank keeps rubbing, and after a while, the steady motion almost begins to soothe him, as well. It's quiet and warm inside the warehouse, and everything is dark and still around them. After around an hour and a half, Alex's body is limp, his breathing steady. Hank slowly stops rubbing his back, and he doesn't stir, so Hank figures that must be a good sign. Hoping Alex will stay asleep, Hank quietly rolls away, takes off his glasses, and falls asleep himself.
The next morning when Hank wakes up, Alex is still asleep, one arm underneath his head like a pillow and the other curled around himself. When Hank stands up and stretches, he can see the side of Alex's face. Alex's lips are slightly parted, expression slack and uncharacteristically peaceful. Hank smiles, lets him rest, and sets about making breakfast.
Even Alex, with all his attempts to maintain his asshole attitude, can't deny that he's quite a bit more pleasant to be around when he's had decent sleep. He actually ends up being more cheerful than Hank most of the time, since the heat of the summer makes Hank grouchy and lethargic but has little to no effect on Alex. (Hank theorizes that Alex's higher body temperature and resistance to heat are results of his mutation, and Hank would kill for a chance to get into a lab again and study him. But that's not going to happen any time soon, if ever.)
Gradually, the nightly ritual of Hank soothing Alex to sleep becomes normal to them. Every night after dinner, Hank will rub Alex's back until he falls into a fairly deep sleep. Then, if Alex wakes up in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep on his own, or becomes distressed from a nightmare, Hank will help him through it with murmurs of "It's okay, you're alright" and rub his back until he's out again, then Hank will go back to sleep himself. It does, in fact, end up being a calming process for the both of them. Hank's never had much experience with physical contact before, but it's surprisingly nice to just touch another person, to consistently remind himself that he's not alone.
(And maybe he also likes the feel of Alex's strong back through his shirt. And it's possible that he finds the little sighs Alex makes during good sleep to be oddly endearing.)
One evening, after a particularly humid day, a massive storm starts, complete with thunder that rattles the large windows and crackling lightning that splits the sky outside with jagged yellow-white bolts. The storm makes them both a bit edgy, but Hank figures it'll be over by morning.
He lies behind Alex as usual, his body a respectful distance away but his hand resting on Alex's back. It only takes twenty or thirty minutes for Alex's body to go still and slack as he falls asleep, but Hank doesn't stop immediately, wanting to make sure that the blond is as deeply asleep as possible. After a while, the storm calms for a few moments, and Hank finds himself oddly lulled by the warm, damp semi-silence, the light pitter-patter of rain on the metal roof a strange comfort.
When he wakes up the next morning, the first thing he's aware of is that it's raining again. The second thing is that he fell asleep with his glasses on. The third thing he notes is that there's something warm pressed up against him.
He blinks blearily in confusion, and then realizes that it's Alex. They're pressed much closer than they normally lie, with Hank's chest to Alex's back (after a minute, Hank's still-wakening brain labels the position as 'spooning'.) Hank's hand is curled loosely around the jut of Alex's hipbone. And some deity out there must really enjoy toying with them, because Alex's shirt has ridden up slightly and he wears his pants low, meaning Hank is touching bare skin.
Hank knows very well that he should move his hand, scoot away, and count his lucky stars that Alex seems to still be asleep, but he looks down at his hand on Alex's hip and is oddly fascinated by the sight for a moment. He likes the feel of it, too, the warmth and softness of Alex's skin. Alex's body feels nice against his own, too nice, and for some reason Hank wants to get closer.
Hank absentmindedly rubs his thumb against a small freckle on Alex's hip, and Alex shifts slightly, but Hank barely notices. He moves his hand up slightly and over, skimming his long fingers over Alex's flat stomach, props his head up with his other hand so that he can see over Alex's body and watch. Alex's stomach is pale, and there's a trail of golden blond hair that leads from his navel to underneath the waistband of his pants. Alex shifts again, the muscles in his abdomen quivering under Hank's fingers, and Hank gulps at that.
Alex is awake now, Hank can tell, but he doesn't move away or say anything. Hank, with boldness he doesn't actually possess, slides his fingers down, over that trail of hair. Alex's breath hitches, the sound just barely detectable over the rain outside, and Hank gulps again. It would be easy to move his hand down even further, press himself up against Alex more firmly, and Alex would let him, because Alex is letting Hank touch him right now –
There's a sudden rumble of thunder outside, but it's so quiet between the two of them that they both jump, Hank's hand flying off of Alex's stomach in his alarm. Suddenly embarrassed, he rolls away onto his back, and Alex abruptly sits up. He looks rumpled and rather sexy, if Hank is to be perfectly honest.
For a minute they just look at each other, and Hank's cheeks heat up to an uncomfortable temperature while Alex just studies him. Finally, Alex speaks. "Think the storm's gonna blow over soon, Bozo?"
Well, that's a jarringly mundane question, after what just transpired (not that anything really happened). Hank sits up as well, then shrugs slightly. "Maybe," he says awkwardly, reaching up to push his glasses farther up on his nose.
Alex pauses, then nods. Hank can't think of anything else to say after that, so the rest of the morning progresses awkwardly. They eat leftover berries and agree to just wait out the bad weather, which, as far as Hank knows, could potentially last for days. Alex sits on the floor and gazes out one of the high windows at the gray sky, while Hank stares in silence at the equally drab ceiling. It's quiet between the two of them, and whenever he sneaks glances at Alex, Hank can still feel that tension that was there for a moment in the morning, that brief urge to press close and to touch.
It finally quits storming again around noon, but everything is so bogged down and flooded that neither of them feels like foraging for very long, so they just pick some berries and eat them for dinner. It's definitely not the healthiest of meals, but Hank can manage and Alex has lived on less. After dinner, they prepare for bed, same as every night, but there's an awkward hitch when Alex lies down. Hank hesitates, not sure whether he should lie down next to him like usual, or if this morning changed things. He isn't sure whether he's permanently altered any friendship they've developed, made things strange between the two of them, or if maybe –
Alex doesn't let Hank teeter uncertainly for too long. He rolls over onto his back, propping himself up on an elbow, and pats the ground beside him. "Come on, Hank."
No 'Bozo', no 'Bigfoot'. Hank's not sure whether that's a good sign or not. He goes over and assumes his usual position, and after a second's pause, Alex rolls over onto his side again. Hank reaches out, presses his hand against Alex's back, and starts rubbing in small circles.
It feels too quiet after so many hours listening to the rain, and Hank's opening his mouth before he can stop himself. "About – uh – this morning. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to . . . make you uncomfortable, I just didn't . . . think . . ." he mumbles.
Alex huffs softly. "When don't you think, Hank?"
Hank's unsure how to answer that. "Well, I suppose I do have a tendency to over-think things."
Alex shifts again, turning his body slightly, angling his neck so that he can see Hank's face. It's dim in the warehouse, of course, but this close Hank can see Alex's features rather nicely. "It's okay, Hank."
Hank nods, nervous, and he still feels compelled to explain himself. Thus, he starts babbling a little. "I just – I guess I just wanted to touch you, and I'm –,"
"Shut up," Alex tells him, and then he scoots closer to Hank, tilts his head in a way that is probably fairly uncomfortable, and brushes his lips over Hank's.
Hank's brain freezes, and then reactivates, whirring back into motion, surprise hitting Hank like a truck. He just kissed me.
"Alex," he says, stunned.
"That would have been much better if you'd moved your lips, too," Alex says, and there's just a bit of a smirk on his lips, but there's also a hint of something in his expression, vulnerability or perhaps nervousness.
Alex kisses him again, this time firmly, confidently. Hank doesn't have much experience with this – this gentle crush of lips and tongues and teeth – but he's nothing if not a fast learner. Alex parts his lips first, and he tastes like sweet berries. It's a pretty nice taste, in Hank's humble opinion.
After a minute, Alex reaches up to wind his fingers through Hank's over-long hair, shifting so that he can get even closer. Hank is strangely excited by that, and he drags his teeth over Alex's lower lip when he pulls back to breathe. Alex lets out a surprised huff at that and murmurs, "Hank . . ."
Hank kisses him again, and before he even realizes what he's doing, he's pushing Alex over, onto his back, and pressing up against him, bracing himself over Alex, still kissing him with fervency. Alex is responding eagerly, reaching up to grip at Hank's shoulders, helpfully aligning their bodies.
It's not long until they're touching each other all over, Alex's hands traveling down to grip at Hank's ass and one of Hank's hands pushing up underneath Alex's shirt to properly canvas the torso he'd barely touched earlier. Their hips are pressed together, and Hank realizes he's begun to rock slightly when Alex lets out a soft, "Fuck, Hank." between their lips.
Hank hesitates a second, then whispers, "Alex, I want to – please –?"
"Uh-huh," Alex murmurs quickly, and Hank shudders at the sound of his voice, deep and thick and sexy, husky from kissing. Hank pushes Alex's shirt up slightly, fumbles with the button on Alex's pants, then pushes them down.
A moment later he's got his hand around Alex. Alex grunts, hardening quickly in Hank's hand, and Hank doesn't even think about it, just starts moving his hand.
It's not long at all before Alex is jerking his hips slightly, rocking instinctively into the motion of Hank's hand, and saying, "Fuck, Hank – little bit faster – fuck."
Hank obliges him, listening eagerly to the little grunts and groans Alex is making, relishing in the feel of Alex in his hand, finding Alex's lips occasionally in the darkness. It's so hot around them and between them – Hank is sweating and Alex is sweating and then abruptly Alex is coming, moaning once and jerking under Hank. Hank presses his lips to Alex's forehead and soothes him afterwards, staying still until Alex relaxes. Hank's hand is uncomfortably sticky and he's trembling slightly with how hard he's trying not to beg Alex to touch him, but he doesn't push, just gives Alex a moment to breathe.
After another minute, Alex shifts and makes a soft noise, and Hank moves his head so that Alex can kiss him lightly. Then Alex's hand is at Hank's waistband, undoing his button and zipper. There's a pause while Alex spits into his hand, before Alex's warm hand wraps around Hank, and Hank moans at the feel of it, hips jerking uncontrollably at the first touch of Alex's skin against his cock. Alex strokes him quickly, his grip firm, tugging all manner of embarrassing noises out of Hank.
Hank's so close so fast, and Alex must be able to tell by the way Hank's bucking into it now, because he tilts his head slightly and mouths at Hank's ear, licking the shell and sucking on Hank's earlobe, making Hank groan.
"Yeah," Alex murmurs encouragingly, his voice sinful in the heat and darkness. "Yeah, Hank, come on."
Hank comes then, shuddering and gritting out, "Alex." Then, it's Alex's turn to soothe – after he strokes Hank through it, he uses his clean hand to pet at Hank's hair while Hank tries to calm down. They're both sticky and hot, but Hank can't bring himself to move, not just yet.
After a few minutes, though, Alex shifts and murmurs, "Let me go get some water." Hank clambers off of him and listens as Alex fumbles around in the darkness until he finds a water bottle. He crawls back over to where Hank lies and they both take sips, then they use the remaining water to try and clean themselves a bit.
Alex lies back down beside Hank, and after a pause, he says, "Well?"
Hank's body and mind feels sluggish, both from heat and post-orgasmic endorphins. "Well, what?" he responds.
"Was that just a one-off, or no?" Alex's tone is carefully emotionless, but Hank doesn't read too much into that. Alex is very careful about showing emotion, Hank's noticed.
"Do you want it to be a . . . one-off?" Hank queries.
"Don't answer a question with a question, man."
"Sorry," Hank says. "I – um – I want to do that again."
Alex chuckles, and the sound is surprisingly warm, considering who it's coming from. "So do I," he replies. He pauses, then says, "I want to do that several more times, actually."
Hank grins briefly, then bites his lower lip. "But wait – um – what does this mean? For you and me, that is?"
"You mean like, what are we?"
"Does it matter?" Alex asks. "We're just me and you. There's no one around to care, remember?"
He has a point. There's another slight pause, then Alex moves closer, his body right next to Hank's. "Sleep now," he suggests quietly.
"Do you need me to rub your back?"
"No," Alex murmurs. "I think I'm good tonight. Just stay beside me."
Hank smiles. "Okay."
It rains again briefly the next morning, lightly and pleasantly, and they decide to take advantage of the free shower, so they strip naked and stand outside like a couple of nut-jobs. But they end up stumbling back inside to fool around, their bodies slick from rain and their moods unusually bright. Their dynamic has changed; it's a big shift, a sudden shift, and it leaves Hank feeling a bit lopsided, but in a good way. If that's possible.
Sometimes over the next few weeks, it's possible to forget that their lives have turned into something out of a science fiction book. It's possible to not remember the fact that at any second, monsters from a horror film could wander right up to the warehouse that is their very humble abode. But the reality of it all is still inescapable in certain moments – moments when Hank hears a couple of innocent squirrels scampering about in the woods and spends the rest of the day twitching and constantly listening out for tell-tale groans, moments when Alex wakes in the middle of the night choking out unintelligible words in blind panic, convinced that cold, dead hands are on him. But at least they trust each other now – fully trust each other, that is. That makes it all a bit better.
Eventually, Hank has the idea to run to the nearest town and search for an abandoned store or house where he might be able to find nonperishable food with which to replenish his pack. Alex isn't too pleased about the idea of being left alone while Hank runs miles away, Hank can tell by his scowl and tone of voice, but he knows good and well that they're certainly not going to always be able to live off of nuts, berries, and small fish.
The town, it turns out, is not very far up the road at all (at least, definitely not to Hank). It's also seemingly deserted when Hank arrives, the streets eerily silent (that's always an unnerving sight, to see sidewalks and buildings that would have once been full of people and activity completely devoid of life), but Hank isn't stupid. A zombie, or worse, more than one, could turn the corner at any moment.
Hank does indeed find a store with some edible canned food on its dusty shelves, and he stuffs his pack quickly before getting the hell out of dodge, leaving behind the small town that, judging by all the nice buildings and homes, probably once held many middle to upper class residents. He's back with Alex well before noon that day.
"I was thinking while you were gone," Alex says, as he inspects the contents of Hank's bag.
Hank bites his lip to hide a smile. "Really? That's incredible, Alex."
Alex narrows his eyes. "Hey. I'm the sarcastic asshole here, not you."
"Sorry, sorry. What were you thinking about?"
"Maybe we should start looking for other survivors. You know, do what you used to – go around, searching."
Hank raises his eyebrows. "You want to? Why?"
Alex shrugs. "It'd be more people for us to worry about, yeah, but also more people to have our backs. More people to prove that – that it's not just us, you know?" He looks away quickly when he says that, but Hank knows how he feels. Even with one other living person around, things are still lonely.
"Besides," Alex adds, "it's still hot as hell right now, but in a couple of months, it'll start getting cooler. Then it'll get downright cold. Winters up here can get really nasty, trust me. We could head south, maybe."
He has a point there – Hank's definitely not looking forward to winter, when there will be snow, freezing temperatures, and a shortage of food to worry about. It'll at least be a bit warmer the farther south they go.
"You realize it'll be very slow going, right?" Hank queries. "You can't run like me."
There's a pause, and Hank notes a change in Alex's expression. "You're right, I can't. If you think I'm holding you back, you can –,"
"No, no," Hank says quickly, reaching out before he even realizes what he's doing and squeezing Alex's shoulder reassuringly. "You aren't, of course. I'm happy to be with you, you know that."
Alex's lips twitch as he struggles not to smile. "Alright, Bozo. So we'll head out. Maybe there's someone out there waiting for us."
They gather what little they have, squeeze all of their supplies into Hank's pack, then leave the next morning. They pass a few more buildings along the sides of the road, but eventually it's just the road and trees on both sides. No cars and no people, of course, but no zombies, either. Hank hasn't seen a zombie in this area, and he's feeling rather optimistic. Which is foolish, he knows.
It is incredibly slow going, though, compared to what Hank's used to. It takes them hours to walk a handful of miles, and Alex isn't used to traveling, so his initial upbeat pace slows quite a bit after an hour or two. Plus, it's obnoxiously bright outside thanks to the sun, and there are plenty of mosquitoes around. All of these factors combined give Alex plenty to complain about. But Hank doesn't really mind too much, because even if he's trudging along in the heat with a heavy backpack on listening to Alex gripe every few minutes, at least he's got a companion. And it's Alex, after all. Even if Hank had the nerve (or the stupidity) to tell him to stop moaning and groaning, he wouldn't.
They walk for most of the day, then stop late in the afternoon to "set up camp" on the side of the road. Hank starts a small fire for light as dusk approaches (there's no need to cook anything), and they sit just inside the tree-line to eat dinner, leaning up against a large tree trunk together. After a few minutes of idle chatter, Alex shifts slightly and rests his head on Hank's shoulder. Hank tilts his chin and shyly kisses the top of Alex's head.
Alex snorts. "You're a sap."
"You put your head on my shoulder first," Hank points out reasonably. "That makes you a sap, too."
"Does not. Your arm just gets the honor of being my pillow."
Hank smiles. "Well, you just received the honor of my kiss, then."
Alex laughs, then lifts his head to kiss Hank on the mouth, light and almost playful. "Bozo."
Hank sighs lightly at the name, then leans back in and kisses Alex, this kiss more firm than the previous one. He moves to run a hand up Alex's stomach and chest, and Alex makes a noise and then pulls away reluctantly. "Not tonight," he says apologetically. "I'm tired. Tomorrow night, I promise."
"Alright," Hank says, and smiles reassuringly at Alex. Alex's lips twitch as he tries not to smile back. He leans his head against Hank's shoulder again.
After a moment, Hank says, "There's another town about five miles from here. We'll need to go there tomorrow, to find some more water."
"How do you know there's a town?"
"We only passed half a dozen road signs."
" . . . Was I supposed to be looking at those? Well, at least you know what the fuck you're doing."
Hank smiles wryly, idly looking into the glowing fire. "It's not that big of a deal. We just need to get near a water source."
"I know," Alex says, yawning. It seems like it's going to be a good night for him, which is surprising; Hank had expected that Alex would have trouble sleeping in such an unfamiliar environment. But it has been a long day of walking, so it makes sense. Tired himself, Hank tilts his head to the side and kisses the top of Alex's head again, then shuts his eyes.
Hank wakes up to hear Alex screaming.
Hank's eyes fly open just as the world around him goes bright with red light and heat, and he instinctively moves into a defensive position, his arms covering his face and his legs pulled up to his chest. A moment later, he lowers his arms so that he can see. Most of the trees around them are on fire now, thanks to Alex's blasts. (It's honestly a miracle Hank wasn't hit, too.) Alex is a few feet away, illuminated by the light from the fire around them. There's someone, something, on the ground near him – something that's charred and still twitching, little grunting moans still wheezing out of it.
"Oh, Jesus," is what comes out of Hank.
Alex turns. He's clutching his right shoulder with his left hand, and Hank can see blood running from underneath his hand, but what must have happened doesn't really register in Hank's mind just yet. "Hank," he gasps, panicky. "Hank, we have to go. There are more – don't you hear them? Jesus fucking Christ –"
Hank does hear it now – the moaning, growing louder and louder as the zombies approach. They'll be in a frenzy thanks to the light-show Alex just provided – Hell, it must have been their fire that attracted the one Alex blasted in the first place. God, how could he have been so stupid, to just leave it burning like that, to think that they could just sleep outside, how could he have thought they were safe –
"Hank!" Alex shouts. "Hank, come on!"
Hank nods, then scrambles to his feet, snatching up his bag and yanking it onto his back. He's at Alex's side in a nanosecond, grabbing him by the elbow and yanking him along, heading deeper into the woods and away from the moans of the undead. All of Hank's IQ points mean nothing right now; he's relying purely on instinct. And his instincts say run, run, get away, hurry, just run. But he can't – he at least knows that much. He can't leave Alex. So he drags the other mutant along as they stumble, blind in the night, through the trees and underbrush.
Hank keeps a firm grip on Alex's arm as they move, keeping his other arm extended in front of himself to prevent collisions, and they keep going for what feels like ages, staggering and tripping, panting and cursing. Then, Alex falls, tugging Hank to a stop and nearly bringing him down, too. Alex doesn't get up off the ground, but instead just lies there, his breathing ragged.
"Alex?" Hank says, dropping to his knees. He can't see worth a damn right now, not with the trees around them blocking all traces of moonlight. "Alex, are you alright?"
"No," comes the reply. Alex sounds breathless, and Hank can feel his body shaking.
"I've been bitten," Alex says, voice low. "That fucking thing bit me when I got up to take a piss . . . I was so sleepy that I didn't even notice him – it, but the next thing I knew, the motherfucker had its mouth on my shoulder . . . Bit right through my shirt like a fucking animal and I could feel it trying to grab me and eat me –,"
"You're okay, though, right?" Hank asks, nervously. "I can't see anything –,"
"I don't know," Alex says. "I – I think the bleeding's stopped, a little bit, but I feel lightheaded and it hurts like hell . . . Jesus, Hank, I'm not going to turn in to one of them or something, am I?"
"Of course not," Hank says reassuringly. He doesn't mention to Alex that he's never actually studied the results of a mutant receiving a direct bite from a zombie. But back when he was studying the virus, in any case he'd heard of that had involved a human somehow surviving a zombie attack with nothing but a bite, the infection had always come on stronger, and the end result had usually come more quickly.
"Can you get up and keep moving, Alex? I don't think –," Hank begins, but then he stops himself as something hits him. "Oh, no."
"What?" Alex questions, his body tensing next to Hank's.
"It's just – we've been running in all directions and – I don't know if we'll be able to find our way out, even during daylight. This is my fault, I should have run towards the road –,"
"We would have run right into them," Alex cuts him off. Hank suddenly wishes that he could see Alex's face right now. "We'll find our way out, and if we don't – well. We'll be okay . . . right?"
" . . . Right," Hank agrees faintly. "We'll be okay."
When dawn finally rolls around (after what feels like years of sitting crouched in darkness, ears pricked for the telltale sounds of approaching zombies) and it grows light enough to see by, Hank takes a look at Alex's shoulder. The bite isn't incredibly deep, but there's plenty of dried blood on Alex's arm and shirt. Hank cleans the wound as best he can with water and he bandages it using gauze from the roll he's kept in his pack. There's nothing more Hank can do but keep Alex's wound and bandages as clean as possible and try to keep the bite from bleeding again.
However, they do need to keep moving – there's barely any water left in either of the canteens, and Hank really doesn't feel safe just sitting around in the woods when there are definitely zombies in the area. However, he'd been right when he'd told Alex during the night that they might not be able to tell which way they came from – it had been so dark the night before that now Hank doesn't recognize any of the trees around them. So they eventually just start walking, slowly making their way through the woods – towards what or where is anyone's guess.
It's around midmorning when Hank starts noticing changes in Alex. While he'd previously been moving slowly to avoid hurting his injured shoulder in any way, he starts moving almost sluggishly, and stumbles over several fallen branches and tree roots on the ground. Hank eventually grabs Alex's left hand and holds on, worried he might actually trip and hurt himself. Alex doesn't even complain about the protective gesture, which worries Hank greatly.
They come upon a small, half-dried up creek, and Hank scoops water into the small pan they brought with them from the warehouse, lights a very small fire, boils the water, then lets the water cool some before he carefully removes Alex's bandage. The skin around the bite is red, inflamed, and hot, even when compared to Alex's naturally high body temperature.
"How do you feel?" he asks Alex worriedly as he re-cleans the wound carefully and applies new bandages. Alex's face is drawn tight in a grimace.
"Fine," he replies.
There's no way Hank's going to believe that. "Are you dizzy? Nauseous?" Hank inquires, reaching out to press the back of his hand to Alex's forehead. He's warm, but it's difficult to make a diagnosis of fever when his skin always feels warm to Hank.
"Tired," is all Alex says. "Can I have some water?"
Hank boils more water, lets it cool to a tolerable level, and then watches as Alex slowly drinks it. He wishes they had cool water, ice, anything cold, because the warm water is just plain unpleasant – but at least they've got water now.
Hank watches like a mother hen as Alex forces down a can of food, then insists that he rest for a few minutes. Alex grumbles a bit but complies, sitting up against the trunk of a tree and closing his eyes. Hank tries to get some sleep as well – the amount he got last night before their encounter with the zombies was definitely insufficient – but eventually he gives up, too edgy to relax.
After about an hour, Alex stirs. He blinks blearily at Hank, looking confused and licking at his dry lips.
"Alex? We should keep moving," Hank murmurs. "If you're capable of it. I – I'm worried. You need medicine."
Alex smiles mirthlessly. "Good luck finding that . . . Am I turning into a zombie or something?"
"No," Hank says. "But you need antibiotics. A zombie's mouth – it could have had all sorts of bacteria in it . . ."
Alex shakes his head slowly and doesn't reply, his expression unreadable and his brow furrowed. After a moment, he holds out his uninjured arm, and Hank carefully helps him to his feet.
They spend the next few hours walking, and Alex progressively gets worse. He's pale and easily winded, his eyes always slightly unfocused. Eventually, Hank has to wrap an arm around his waist to keep him from walking into a tree or falling over sideways.
The trees thin out a bit, but Hank isn't really optimistic, even when they come to a very small, winding road (it's more like a lane, actually). It'll be nearly impossible to find medicine – at least, not in time for it to do any good. Still, if they find some place safe to stay the night, then – well, Hank doesn't really want to think about what's going to happen. He knows that Alex is more than likely suffering from sepsis – in layman's terms, a severe infection – and that's not good. That's the opposite of good. That's deadly. Alex is probably not going to survive this, and that thought turns Hank's insides icy.
I can't lose him, Hank thinks. Not now. I just can't.
They're still walking when Alex says something hoarsely that catches Hank's attention. It sounds almost like "gate".
"Beg your pardon?"
"Gate," Alex repeats a bit more loudly, jerking his head forward slightly. "I said, there's a gate."
Hank looks, and there certainly is a gate up ahead, and a metal fence that disappears into the woods – he can't believe he hadn't noticed it first. As they approach, he notes that it's a very ornate iron gate, and there's a large letter X on it.
"I'm going to climb over the fence and see if I can get the gate open," Hank tells Alex. "Lean up against the fence, okay?" He helps Alex over to the iron fence, then sets the pack on the ground and proceeds to nimbly climb over. He hurries over to the gate, and Lady Luck must finally be smiling on them, because all he has to do is unlatch a few bolts and drag it open.
He and Alex slowly continue up the lane, and Hank has no idea what they're about to see when they turn a bend. He certainly wasn't expecting a castle. (Well, it's not technically a castle, but it's a very large mansion.)
"Christ," he says, surprised. "Alex – come on, let's get up there . . ."
Alex sways slightly against Hank. "I don't . . ."
"Please," Hank says, his tone slipping towards the territory of 'desperate'. "Please, just make it to the house. I'll take care of you there, I promise."
Alex nods slightly, and Hank tightens his grip around Alex's waist and supports him as they trudge along. It feels like it takes hours to reach the house with Alex stumbling and swaying like he is. They're halfway across the lawn when the front door abruptly swings open.
Hank jerks to a stop, yanking Alex even closer instinctively, already prepared to bolt. But standing in the doorway is a short, rather unintimidating man who looks to be in his late twenties or early thirties.
"Oh, my God," Hank says, surprised at the sudden appearance of another living person, only the second he's met in recent months.
The man jogs towards them, slightly too-long brown curls bouncing against his forehead. "I felt you coming – can't believe I didn't notice you sooner," he says, revealing a polite, cultured English accent. "We can help you here."
"Please," is all Hank manages. The man turns slightly to face the house, and a moment later, another man emerges, as though summoned. This one is tall, thin, and dark-haired, and he strides towards them quickly.
The shorter man turns towards his counterpart and says, "We'll need to get him to the lab, and quickly –,"
The taller man eyes Hank and Alex with cool gray eyes for half a second before nodding at them. "Well, come inside."
Hank's still a little bit in shock as he's watching the two men (who quickly identify themselves as 'Charles' and 'Erik') hook Alex up to IVs and start pumping him full of antibiotics and fluids. Hank doesn't think either one of them is a medical doctor, but they both seem competent (and they have a dark cabinet full of medicines and a very well-equipped scientific lab, which implies to him that they have some idea of what they're doing), so he just sits quietly and watches as they work on Alex, who lies on a small cot in the corner of the lab. Alex closes his eyes as soon as his head touches the cot, and he doesn't open them again, even when Erik carefully moves him to take off his shirt, unflinchingly peels off his bandage, then slathers some sharp-smelling antibiotic cream directly onto the wound with a gloved hand.
When they've done as much as they can, Charles walks over to Hank, and smiles kindly at him. "I'm sorry we didn't properly introduce ourselves to you, Hank – it seemed more important that we take care of your friend Alex first. I'm Charles Xavier, and this is my house. That's Erik Lehnsherr; he's . . . a friend of mine."
"How do you know –?" Hank begins.
"Your names?" Charles finishes for him. "I'm a telepath. I didn't mean to pry, but when I noticed you coming, I scanned your thoughts. Terribly sorry about that."
"It's fine, really," Hank says. He looks at Erik. "What, er, what can you do, sir?" he inquires curiously, but hesitantly. Erik gives off a serious vibe, unlike Charles's friendlier, more personable aura.
"I can manipulate metal," Erik says, and abruptly several large pieces of equipment start levitating above the ground. Hank blinks at the display, awed, and a moment later the devices float safely back down to their proper places.
"You're welcome to come meet the others," Charles continues, still smiling warmly at Hank. "We'll be eating dinner in a few hours – I'm sure you're hungry."
"There are more people here?" Hank questions. He's still absorbing all of this, trying to process what's going on – he can't believe their luck, to stumble across a huge mansion in the middle of the woods with multiple mutants living in it. And now Alex has medicine – though it'll still be a waiting game to see if he makes it or if it's too late, the infection too strong. That thought makes Hank's insides twist even more with fear at the frightening idea of losing him.
"Yes," Erik answers for Charles. "Four mutants, besides the two of us."
Hank glances at where Alex lies on the cot, unmoving except for the slow rise and fall of his chest. "I – I appreciate the offer, but I don't want to . . . leave him."
Charles and Erik exchange a quick glance, then Charles looks back at Hank and says, "Of course." He pauses, then adds, "I'm sure he'll be alright, Hank."
Hank wonders, abruptly, whether Charles knows what Alex is to him – did he garner that from Hank's thoughts, or can he simply tell? "I hope so," Hank says quietly. "Thank you very much for helping him. He would have almost certainly died if you hadn't." He still might, but thank you anyways.
Charles and Erik leave him alone with Alex, and Hank quickly scoots the chair he's in over so that it's right next to Alex's cot. He feels Alex's forehead, gently brushing his hand over the pale, hot skin, then he removes Alex's scuffed, nearly-worn-out Converse sneakers so that they won't completely ruin the pristine white sheet on the mattress. Then, for lack of anything else to do but worry, he sits back down, reaches out, and takes hold of Alex's hand.
He's still sitting like that some time later when the lab door swings open. He lets go of Alex's hand and in walks a naked woman carrying a small tray of food.
(Well, more importantly, it's a scaly blue woman, but the first thing Hank happens to lay eyes on are her bare breasts.)
Hank blinks at her for a second, heat creeping up over his cheeks. "Um – hello."
"Hi," she says, as though it's perfectly normal to just walk around without a stitch of clothing on. Hank is simultaneously envious of her confidence and made uncomfortable by it. "I brought you some food."
"Thank you," he says, as she hands him the tray. He sits there awkwardly with it in his lap as she gives him a once-over. When her eyes land on his feet, she grins.
Instinctively, he curls up his toes, trying to hide. He still doesn't feel comfortable when Alex looks at them, let alone when some naked stranger starts smiling at them.
Her smile doesn't fade. "Your feet are amazing. You should stop trying to hide them – I'm not exactly hiding my mutation, am I?"
Hank slowly uncurls his toes, biting his lower lip. "Well, no. I, um, I appreciate the compliment."
"You deserve it," she says. "By the way, I'm Raven. I'm Charles's sister." There's a pause, and she adds, "His adopted sister.", thus clearing up any questions Hank may have had about the complete lack of family resemblance.
"I'm Hank McCoy," he says.
She nods, then glances at Alex. "So, what's wrong with your friend?"
"He was bitten by a zombie," Hank replies.
Her yellow eyes widen almost comically with alarm. "Jesus, is he a human?"
"No," Hank says hastily, shaking his head. "No, of course not. The bite's infected."
"Oh," she says. "Is he going to be alright?"
"I don't know."
"Oh," she says, her yellow eyes drifting several times back and forth between Hank and Alex. "Well – Charles told me to ask if you need anything. Besides a bath, a shave, and a change of clothes, of course."
Hank clears his throat awkwardly. "That about sums it up, I think. Thank you."
She smiles again, her teeth glinting whitely against her blue lips, and says, "You're welcome."
Alex spends the next week cycling between delirium and heavy sleep. Hank is allowed to take care of Alex at all times (he doesn't request it, but the morning after he and Alex arrive, Erik comes into the lab with another folding cot floating along behind him), which he's thankful for, because he doesn't think Alex would appreciate having more than one person hear him mumbling and whimpering feverish nonsense. It's painful for Hank to listen to, and it's especially uncomfortable during the times when Alex doesn't seem to recognize him (Hank goes from "Scott" to "Dad" to "Doctor" and back again), but the longer Alex pulls through, the easier it seems to get for him.
Then, finally, a morning about a week and a half after Alex started his journey to death's door, Hank wakes up and looks over to see Alex conscious and looking around the room, his eyes focused and his expression calm. Hank gets off his cot and walks over to Alex's bedside, biting his lower lip. "Alex?" he says softly. "How do you feel?"
"Kinda shitty," Alex says hoarsely. He looks Hank up and down slowly. "You clean up good, Bozo."
Hank smiles awkwardly at that. He's clean-shaven now and his hair has been cut and combed into a respectable style, and he's wearing clean khakis and a blue polo shirt (which, according to Raven, actually belong to someone named Darwin, who Hank still hasn't met yet as he's barely left the laboratory). "Thank you, I guess."
Alex shifts on the cot. "Come down here."
Hank bends over obediently, and Alex lifts his head to press their lips together. "I missed you," Alex confesses after their lips separate.
"I've been with you this whole time," Hank murmurs, frowning slightly.
"I figured," Alex says. "But everything's kind of – muddled up in my head. How long have I been sick?"
"A bit over a week," Hank says. "You scared me pretty badly."
Alex murmurs, "Sorry.", and he sounds so sincere that Hank has to kiss him again, kneeling down by the edge of the cot and leaning across so that he doesn't have to hover over Alex.
Alex smiles ever so slightly when their lips part again. "You smell good," he says. "Like soap."
"You don't," Hank admits.
Alex actually manages a weak grin. "Fuck. You."
"As soon as you're up for it," Hank replies without even hesitating, and the next thing he knows, he's laughing, and then abruptly there are tears in his eyes and he feels like a mess.
Alex frowns at him. "Are you going to cry?" he asks, sounding shocked, if weakly so.
"No," Hank says hurriedly, reaching under his glasses to brush at his eyes. "I – it's just – you really scared me. I thought you might die, Alex. And I didn't want you to die. I mean, obviously I didn't, of course not, but what I mean is, I – I couldn't lose you, and I'm – I'll stop talking now. Sorry."
"No, it's alright," Alex murmurs. "I get what you're saying."
"Of course I do, you bozo. And I love you, too."
Hank blushes. "I didn't exactly say that."
"Don't tell me you didn't at least mean it . . . or else I'm going to feel really stupid."
"No," Hank says, smiling shyly. "I did. I meant it."
It takes four more days, but eventually Alex is able to get up and around, although he's so weak that he needs Hank's assistance to do anything more than go to the bathroom. They get him clean and shaven as well, and he gets fresh clothing, though he still has to stick with his beat-up sneakers. By that fourth day, however, they end up actually making it to dinner with the other residents of the house for the first time since their arrival.
Raven's the one who leads them to the dining room, and Hank's grateful, because otherwise they would have almost assuredly gotten lost in one of the many long, winding hallways. In the dining room they find Charles, Erik, two young men, and one young woman.
Charles smiles at them from his position at the head of the long table. "Ah, here they are. Everyone, meet Hank and Alex."
"Hey," says a freckle-faced boy with a mop of vibrant orange curls. "I'm Sean."
"Armando," says the man seated next to Sean. He smiles charmingly at them. "But please, call me Darwin."
"Angel," the girl across from Darwin says, giving them a small wave.
"Please, sit down," Charles says, nodding towards the empty chairs. Hank sits between Raven and Alex, trying not to look as awkward as he feels. After all, he's been staying in this house for two weeks now and still hasn't met half of the people who live here – not to mention Alex has been using up some of the antibiotics that were probably there in case one of them came down with a sudden illness. Charles tells them all to dig in, but Hank forces himself to eat slowly so as not to appear greedy and uncivilized. Beside him, Alex eats slowly as well, but that's probably because his stomach can't handle too much right now. Even though Alex is clean and groomed now, he still looks pretty awful from his illness – he's pale and his bones jut out uncomfortably far. Hank abruptly wishes he would stuff his face.
While they eat, Charles, Erik, and the others explain to the two of them exactly how they all came together. Charles, a geneticist, had been living in England with Raven when a human CIA agent (Charles's expression sobers dramatically at the mention of her, and if Hank couldn't have already guessed what had happened to the agent, he would have known then) came to find him and bring him to America to study the virus's effect on mutants (this was before international travel was prohibited, of course). Charles had been the scientist to discover that all those with an X gene were completely immune to the virus, and had met Angel, Sean, Darwin, and Erik while researching. Shortly after, the outbreak had gotten out of control, and Charles had used his family fortune to purchase several years' worth of survival equipment before bringing them all here, to his childhood home.
"I never found out why exactly it didn't have an effect us," Charles says, his tone morose. "Nor could I fgure out what caused it . . ."
"I studied it, too, when I worked for the government," Hank says. "We couldn't figure out anything, really. Nothing. The government's best scientists were just sitting around scratching their heads."
"Have you met any other survivors?" Erik inquires. Both Hank and Alex shake their heads.
"There's gotta be more out there, though," Alex says abruptly, speaking for the first time since they entered the dining room. "If me and Hank survived on our own, and you guys have been living here . . . what's to say there aren't more out there?"
Erik nods in agreement. "We wanted to search – but there's only so far Charles's mind can reach, and leaving the safety of the house to look seemed foolish. No one's come through this area until you two came along, fresh from a zombie attack."
Something sparks suddenly in Hank's mind, and Christ, how could he have forgotten about that? He opens his mouth to speak, but Alex beats him to the punch.
"About that," Alex says. "Um. Thank you for letting us stay here and for giving me medicine. You guys saved my life, and you gave us food and clothes. We won't freeload off of you forever or anything, but –,"
"Wait," Raven interjects. "You're going to stay here, aren't you?"
Alex hesitates, and Charles says, "I thought we made it clear that you're welcome to live here with us. If you choose."
Alex turns his head to look at Hank, his expression questioning. The look in his eyes is asking, do you want to stay here? As if Hank could want anything else. They're safe here – there's food, medicine, warm beds, clothing, water, other survivors. That was what they'd been looking for when they set off on their search, and they'd been lucky enough to find it. Hank raises an eyebrow at Alex, returning the questioning look, and after a moment, Alex nods slightly and turns back to the others. "If you guys'll have us, we'll stay."
"Of course," Charles says. "Excellent." He pauses for maybe half a second, then looks at Hank. He smiles, as if already pleased with what he's about to hear. "Hank, is there something you wanted to say?"
Hank looks at Alex for just another second, and Alex smiles slightly at him. Hank smiles back at him, then turns to Charles. "Well, you see, sir, when I worked for the government I was in the process of building a device – I was going to call it Cerebro . . ."
A/N: Reviews are greatly appreciated.