Gavin shut the door as quietly as he could, and was silent. He listened as a swarm of Drained ran by, knocking each other into walls and tripping on their own pale feet. He sighed quietly as the hallway outside went silent. He cautiously moved to the broken windows of the apartment building he was in. He peered out the shattered glass and withered wood. A few drained wandered the street, but otherwise it was empty.
“Damn it, Pike. Where are you?” he whispered.
Pike hit the floor hard, scraping his hands on the rough concrete. He grunted and forced himself back up, his feet scrambling beneath him. He finally got his footing again and headed for the door. He felt the tight grip of a Drained’s hand on his neck, and was jerked back roughly. He heard more than felt the unsettling snap in his neck and winced. As the man began wailing on his upper body with gray fists, Pike tried to crawl away. He finally managed to land a solid blow to the Drained man’s jaw, which sent him falling backwards. Unhurt, he sat up and reached for Pike again. Pike didn’t give him the chance, and was gone before he could do any more damage.
The sharp stinging pain ran up and down his neck and upper back. His hands were bleeding from his fall, and he hadn’t eaten or had any water in the three days he had been evicted from the group. He fell to his knees in the middle of the street, ready to just wait out the rest of his short life in that very spot. He raised his heavy head and looked with sagging, drooping eyes at the crashed van. It had, at some point, slammed into a street light, and the hood was crushed. The drivers side door was flung open, the seat belt hanging not far from the ground. Blood smeared the seat. The back doors had also been flung open, probably by looters not long after it crashed. It had been picked clean of anything useful a long time ago, but there was one thing that drew Pike to it.
It had a mattress.
That simple, stained, bare mattress seemed like the holy grail at that moment. With legs so weak that his knees shook he lifted himself from the dirty ground and stumbled to the van. He pulled himself in, and laid down on the mattress. Several springs jabbed at his injured back, and a corner of the cheap mattress was soaked with some mystery substance, but it was so wonderful it almost made him cry. He sighed a sob of happiness and looked at the doors of the van.
‘If I could just close them, it would be dark,’ he thought to himself, mind dizzy and wandering in the haze that was starvation, dehydration, exhaustion, and Drain withdrawal. For some reason, the dark sounded almost as nice as the mattress. With a shaking hand, he pulled himself up and shut one of the door. He reached for the other, but as he watched his pale hand struggle for the handle, he blacked out.
Gavin had given up. Pike was gone. Subconsciously he knew that the reason he was giving up was because, despite what people used to say on those mystery shows about ‘not knowing’ being the worst part, he didn’t want to find Pike’s mutilated body on the street somewhere. He would rather not know. He didn’t have a whole lot of hope left in the world, but Pike was one of the few sources of the nearly extinct emotion he had left.
He picked up a crowbar off the ground of the apartment he had hid in, and left. The hallways were now empty, and he walked quickly but quietly through them. He stepped out onto the street, bare and gray, and began heading back to the warehouse. He was sure the group wouldn’t be there anymore, but he had nowhere else to go. He had been walking for almost four days, and knew it would take him even longer to get back now that he was exhausted and not well rested like he had been when he left his small band of survivors. He kept his head down as he walked, looking at the ground in front of his feet. It was a dangerous thing to do, especially in a big city like Vegas. But he knew that if he looked up at the ruined decay of the city he would lose it. How was a man supposed to keep his sanity when he had nothing left to be sane for?
As he stepped over a piece of soggy newspaper that had been trampled and rained on so much it was now illegible, he felt the need to finally look up. Before thinking about it any farther, he glanced up. The sight before him made him nearly heave. A large white delivery van sat, crashed on the side of the road, and in the back was a man. A man with black hair that was dull from malnutrition, and pale hands to match. His head dangled off the back of the van, as if he had passed out while attempting to close the door. This wouldn’t have bothered Gavin so much, he had seen more than his fair share of corpses in his time as a survivor it was weird to NOT see a street filled with piles of people who weren’t strong enough to survive. The real chilling part wasn’t the man, but what was next to him.
A one eared orange tabby cat.
“Mongo?” Gavin said out loud. The cat, who had been staring at him the whole time, meowed at him loudly. “Pike!” Gavin broke into a run, reaching the dead man in second. As he lifted his head, he was met with a small groan of pain. Not dead, just unconscious. He nearly cried with relief.
“Pike, wake up. It’s Gavin. Pike, I found you!” He tried to coax the smaller man to open his eyes, but the pale lids stayed shut. A roar from behind him made him shiver. He looked over his shoulder but saw nothing.
“Mongo, get in the van,” he said to the purring cat, who listened and jumped up on Pike’s back, walking down his legs and flopping over on a part of the back of the van that wasn’t covered by the mattress Pike was lying on. Gavin stepped over Pike, and pulled him all the way into the van. When he made sure he wasn’t sitting in some awkward position, he moved to close the door. He froze and backed up when the slender figure of a drained woman walked by. He knew any sound or movement would get her attention, even closing the door. The small sliver of light that was left from the back of the van, allowed her shadow to dance over Pike’s pale face, and Mongo as he stared at the door, tailed puffed up and looking like he was ready to bolt any second. Gavin knew he wouldn’t, he had survived with Pike this long, he knew to be quiet when he needed to be. As the woman passed by, Gavin listened as her footsteps faded away. He sighed with relief and peeked outside, before shutting the door of the van.
Now in the complete darkness of the delivery van, Gavin reached into his single bag, and pulled out the small portable lantern he kept for emergencies. They had very few batteries, but this seemed like a good time to use it. After he set it up for a little light, he pulled out his last bottle of water, less than a quarter of the way full, and a protein bar. The small bars were pure gold in this harsh time. Quick and easy meals meant to fill you up and give you energy. He had found the bar a long time ago, when his group first made their home in the store, and had kept it for a dire time. He figured this was as dire as any.
“Pike, Pike wake up. I have food,” Gavin pleaded. Pike groaned when Gavin tried to hold his head up. Lifting the bottle of water carefully, and flipping the red cap on it up, he carefully dribbled a few drops of water onto Pikes dry tongue. His eyes opened, and Gavin couldn’t help but notice flecks of gray clouds in the once blue eyes.
“Gavin?” he asked, licking his lips in search of more glorious water.
“Shh... just drink,” he carefully held the smaller man while he drank the last of their water. When he finished what was left of the bottle, his eyes were already clearer.
“M-more?” he rasped.
“That’s all I had, I’m sorry.” Gavin threw the bottle aside. Mongo let out a small meow and ran to check out the discarded trash. “Here, eat this. It will make you thirsty again, but you need the energy,” Gavin unwrapped the bar and held it to Pike’s lips. He expected the man to argue and refuse, complaining it was Gavin's last bit of food, but he didn’t. Instead, he graciously took the chocolate cookie dough flavored power bar and chewed quickly, swallowing the bar in seconds.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“A few days away from the warehouse. I went looking for you after Rick made you run,” Gavin anwered.
“The others?” Pike asked, rubbing his head. Gavin was still cradling him in his arms and neither seemed to really notice. Gavin just shook his head in response to the question.
“Are you hurt?” Gavin asked. Pike seemed to think for a minute. What did hurt mean anymore? Hurt meant you were dying. It used to mean you were in pain, but everyone was in constant pain now. You were always bruised, or scraped, or hungry, or thirsty. You were always hurt.
“No,” he said, not sure if he was lying.
“Sit up,” Gavin said, they were speaking in hushed whispers. He supported Pikes back and helped him sit up, the man grunted, and put a hand to the back of his neck. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know... I got grabbed... or something?” Pike shrugged. “I’ll be okay,” he nodded. His hands were crusted in dried blood, and his knees were just as bad. As Gavin looked him up and down, he noticed the black colored veins that ran up and down his limbs. The gray shadows in his eyes were still thick, he wondered if it clouded his vision.
“You look sick,” Gavin whispered, not sure he wanted to hear the words. Pike looked down, anywhere but at Gavin.
“It’s the withdrawals,” he whispered. His hands shook and there was a thick sheet of sweat on his paler than usual skin. Gavin stared at him for a moment, before pulling one of the small vials out of his pocket. Pike’s eyes went wide. Without a word he reached for the gray liquid desperately. Gavin pulled it just out of his reach and their eyes met.
“We need to talk,” Gavin said. Pike glanced at the vial again, and nodded, leaning back against the wall of the van. Gavin lowered the vial out of Pike’s reach, but kept it in his lap. “You lied to me,” he whispered, anger lacing his voice.
“Can you blame me. I saw how you all reacted,” Pike pulled his knees to his chest. It hurt his back but he needed something to hold to keep his body from shaking with pain.
“We reacted like that because you put all of us in danger! All of us, Pike!” Gavin lost his temper and shouted.
“I didn’t mean to,” he whispered. “I tried to stop, I swear I did. But believe me, it gets a lot worse than a little sweating,” Pike wiped his forehead, several beads of sweat falling from his hand and in seconds his forehead was coated again. His cheeks were flushed, the only part of his body that had any color. He looked like a corpse.
“If you just stuck it out-” Gavin started.
“You don’t think I tried? Do you think I just quit until I could find a new vial?!” Pike yelled. Everything went quiet for a moment while they both cooled down to an angry simmer. Pike took a deep breath. “It gets so much worse. Last time I tried I started going blind, and my hearing was going too. My veins get like this,” he held up the nearly white arm with black throbbing veins, “and start to swell until it feels like my limbs are nearly going to fall off,” Pike explained. “I... I saw someone once... who couldn’t find a fix,” he continued. Tears were beginning to form in his eyes and slowly began to roll down his cheeks. “They just rotted away while they were still alive,” he finished in a whisper. “Drain makes you nearly invincible... as long as you don’t stop,” Pike clenched his jaw as he stared at Gavin with cold stone like eyes. Tears rolled down his cheeks faster, and he was rocking back and forth the smallest amount, Gavin doubted he even knew he was doing it. He wiped away Pike’s tears, realizing they were a thick stormy gray color. He pulled him in close for a hug, and pressed the vial into his hands.
“I’m going to go look for more water. Whatever you do while I’m gone is your business. I won't be here for this.” He stood up and opened the van door, vanishing before Pike could say a word.
Pike had gotten lucky. He found a bag of half eaten stale chips, and a whole bottle of water. He had been gone just over two hours and was nervous about going back. He had never seen someone use Drain. Would he be all high as if he was on speed? Or would he be mellow like he had taken sleeping pills? Would the effects still be there after two hours? Would he return to find the van shaking and roars coming from inside?
As he walked down the dark streets, he was happy to see the van was not roaring or shaking. He opened the door, and what little sunlight was left as it set washed over Pike. An empty vial lay on the floor of the van, rolling towards Gavin as it fell out of the van and broke on the street. Pikes skin wasn’t healthy looking, but it was no longer white. The black veins had gone, and his eyes were clear again. He even smiled at Gavin as he stepped inside and shut the door. He had been sitting in the dark before, but Gavin turned the light on now.
“Dinner,” he tossed the bag of chips at Pike, who flinched and lost his smile as Gavin moved to the opposite side of the van and sat down, refusing to look at him. He held the bottle of water in one hand, not opening it.
“G-gavin... I’m sorry... you have to understand I-”
“I don’t have to understand anything. I told you, whatever you did while I was gone is your business. I don’t care,” Gavin snapped. It was a lie, of course. How could he not care?
“Then don’t be a dick to me about it,” Pike snapped back. Gavin looked at him and both of them shared a cold glare.
“Don’t you know how much I care about you? Shit, Pike. I thought it was obvious from a couple of nights ago. That wasn’t just a quick way to get off,” Gavin said. “I wanted to be close to you,” he sighed, and put his head in his hands. It was silent for a moment and then Pike moved. He shut off the light and crawled over to Gavin in the dark.
“I don’t want to know how much you care about me,” Pike said quietly, “because if I care, that means it will just hurt more when I lose you. It’s hard enough to survive in this world now, Gavin. I don’t need to pile on extra grief while I’m at it,” he whispered, obviously having a hard time getting the words out.
“There’s a simple solution to that, Pike,” Gavin said.
“What?” he asked.
“Don’t. Lose. Me.” Gavin punctuated the words with a kiss in the darkness of the van. Pike returned it without hesitation, wrapping his arms around Gavin’s shoulders, and running his hands up through Gavin’s hair. Gavin framed his face and held him tighter. Their tears mixed on their cheeks, and as they finally pulled apart for air, they chuckled a little bit. “I need this, Pike. I need something to want to survive for,” Gavin whispered.
“I know... me too,” Pike nodded in the darkness.
“You can survive for me, and I’ll survive for you,” Gavin whispered. Gavin felt his head move up and down, as Pike nodded again.
“I’m sorry,” Pike whispered again.
“I know... I don’t blame you for it... I just... I’m just angry,” Gavin said. Pike nodded a third time in the dark, unable to force out any words. “How often do you need it?” he asked.
“Every couple of days. It’s getting harder and harder to find though,” he replied.
“We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry,” Gavin said. Pike kissed him again, and they shared another moment of togetherness, before they sighed and Pike slipped down to rest his head on Gavin’s chest. Gavin massaged his neck with one hand, rubbing his lower back with the other. They were lying down on the mattress, propped up on the wall of the van. Mongo purred loudly, and climbed up Pike’s back and laid down on his head, just under Gavin’s chin.
“Can you survive for Mongo too?” Pike chuckled.
“I guess I don’t really have a choice,” he smiled in the dark, and pet the stray alley cat.
“So what’s the plan?” Pike asked, as he pet Mongo.
“I don’t know. Do we try to meet back up with the group or go at it on our own?” Gavin asked. Pike seemed to think a minute.
“We should try to find them. Even if they don’t want me to be with them, you can still-”
“No, remember what we just said?” Gavin asked. “We’re here for each other. I’m with you, no matter what,” Gavin held Pike’s hand to his chest. Pike nodded.
“Okay. Then why don’t we meet up with them anyways. If they reject m... us... then we’re on our own. Or we’re on our own already. Either way, finding them first gives us another potential option,” Pike shrugged. Gavin nodded.
“Where do we look?” Gavin asked.
“Behind you,” Dana’s voice reached their ears. Both men jumped and turned around, looking at the small group of survivors.
“Jesus Christ,” Gavin put a hand over his heart as it pounded in his chest.
“Boo,” David chuckled.
“How did you guys find us?” Gavin hugged all of the members of the group.
“It’s not hard. In an empty city, if it’s not roaring, it’s friendly,” David shrugged. “You weren’t roaring,” he laughed and slapped Gavin on the back as they hugged.
“Yet,” Dana added, bitterly glaring at Pike, who kicked the street with his eyes down.
“Yeah... about that. He can’t quit. I’m not the leader of our group anymore, if you want us back, I’ll gladly take that role again if you want me to, but I’m with Pike.” Gavin wrapped a hand around Pikes slim waist and pulled him to his side. The members of the group all looked at each other.
“Gavin... we can’t risk it,” David shook his head.
“I know it’s a risk. But what isn’t a risk anymore?” Gavin reasoned. They all seemed to hesitate.
“He’s a waste of resources. As far as things go, he’s already dead,” David said. Gavin resisted the urge to lash out at him, mainly because he knew what he was saying was true.
“He’s not dead yet,” he whispered in a low voice. David sighed.
“Whatever, but if anything happens it’s on your heads.” David poked Gavin in the chest and looked at Pike, both men nodded.
“Now, can we please get out of this place?” Another member of the group asked. As mongo hopped out of the van, the group headed for city limits as fast as possible.