The next morning began with Lora pounding on his door. It set Grayson's teeth on edge and his blood pressure began its climb to a peak that was certainly unhealthy for someone so young.
He swung open his door violently, breeze fluttering what was left of his loose leaf paper to the floor. He found he was just the last on Lora's list—Jim and Tyler were glowering behind her, and Chevy was leaning against the doorframe, caught somewhere between exhausted, annoyed, and uncertain. The twitch of his eyebrow brought a flood of images to Grayson's mind, none of which he felt awake enough to sort through right now.
He stood aside for the four of them to barge in and shut the door as Lora started in. "What the hell are we going to do about Dowager?" She started pacing; something Grayson got the feeling she'd been doing all night. Even though he doubted anyone had any coffee left, he wouldn't have been surprised to find out Lora had a cache of caffeine somewhere.
"What?" He asked, mind still in a fog. He took a few deep breaths for focus, but everything seemed to be moving too fast. And he didn't like the way Chevy was eyeing him.
So that he would at least look useful, Grayson pulled out a few chairs for Jim, Tyler, and Chevy. Chevy ignored his and flopped onto the couch, patting the cushion beside him. Grayson turned away. "Lora! Stand still. I can't think with you bopping around like that." He growled, limping to the kitchen for a glass of water.
She stopped, spun around to face them, and said again, "What the hell are we going to do about Dowager?"
"Jesus, Lora, why the fuck couldn't this have waited an hour?" Jim groaned.
She narrowed her eyes, "Seriously? What if it was you stuck in zombie-jail? Don't you think every second counts?"
Chevy snorted, "Zombie-jail?"
"What, you think he's there voluntarily?" She said. Grayson tipped back a second glass of water.
"Okay." He said, slamming the cup down on the counter. "Lora, sit down. Everybody keep quiet and let's think about this for a bit."
He limped towards his desk, and winced as he came down a little hard on his ankle. "You shouldn't be putting any weight on that." Chevy said quickly. Grayson made a point of ignoring him. Which was stupid—he really shouldn't be walking around on it.
"So," he said, sitting in his desk chair and swiveling to face them. "What the hell are we going to do about Dowager?" God knows he had no idea.
"We have to rescue him, obviously!" Lora shouted.
"That's ridiculous." Said Jim, "First off, he's a zombie now. Second, we don't know where he is. Third, how do you suggest fighting off who-knows how many other zombies to get him out of there?"
"Well we have to try!" She wailed.
"Lora, quit acting like a 5-year old." Chevy muttered.
"Oh, you're one to talk, Chevy." She threw back, "At least I don't act like a teenage boy!"
He rolled his eyes, "I am a teenage boy, you dumbass."
Tyler chuckled suddenly. Both Lora and Chevy shot him death glares. He raised his hands in surrender, "Relax, relax, it's just kind of weird to think about age. I sort of forgot about it until now."
"How old are you?" Lora asked, furrowing her eyebrows.
"Dunno, 30 something. Four, maybe? You?"
"Me, too." Grayson threw in.
Jim groaned, "So I'm the gramps here, I see. I'm 39."
"I'm 19." Chevy said quietly, after no one asked him. Grayson didn't feel so bad about that. Before the hit, it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary for them to be together. Grayson blanched. Where the hell had that thought come from?
"Dowager?" He prodded angrily. The others looked a bit embarrassed with themselves.
"Right," said Tyler, "Well, I'm with Lora on this one. We can't just leave him there."
"I loved Dowager as much as the next guy, but I really can't see a way to help him out of this one." Jim said. "We can't just march out there and start looking for him."
"No, we'd need someone who knew how to get there." Grayson mumbled. He wondered if John would come back after last night. If he were him, he'd send a messenger next time. Machine guns were typically a powerful incentive to stay away. Especially they were manned by someone as temperamental as Chevy.
"Wait," Chevy said, "Didn't that Zombie say something about not giving Dowager's room away? Doesn't that mean he's thinking about coming back himself?"
Grayson blinked. "You're right."
Chevy grinned, but didn't meet Grayson's eyes.
"How long d'you think that'll be?" Lora said, hopping up to pace again. Grayson didn't mind as much this time; he was having trouble keeping still as well.
"I don't know." He said, honestly. "And what are we going to do when he does come back?"
Nobody said anything. Were they really going to let zombie Dowager just move right on in? Just like that, Grayson felt sapped for energy again. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against his chair. It made his neck twinge painfully.
When he opened his eyes again, Chevy was looking at him concernedly. He was annoyed with the attention until Chevy fixed his expression into a smile and said, "So, who's up for breakfast?"
All five of them threw up their hands in agreement.
After shoveling through a bowl of oatmeal, Grayson felt slightly more prepared to deal with the task at hand. "So we need to tell everyone what happened. Maybe some of them will have a better idea of what to do about Dowager."
"Should I call a meeting, then?" Lora said excitedly.
"I need a shower first." Tyler chimed in, slurping up the rest of his oatmeal.
"Yeah, can we wait like, twenty minutes before you say anything to everybody? I have to tell my wife first or she'll kill me when she finds out I kept it from her." Jim said.
Grayson nodded, "Everybody go, do your thing, meet back here in a half an hour. And yes, Lora," he smiled at her deflated look, "you can be the one to call the meeting."
She brightened and practically scampered out of the room. Tyler and Jim followed her out, but Chevy stayed, sitting awkwardly at the kitchen table. Grayson felt uncomfortable. "Don't you have something do to?"
Chevy blushed and avoided looking directly at Grayson. "Not really. I just—I wanted to make sure you weren't, like, mad at me."
"For Christ's sake, Chevy," he sighed, harsher than he meant to.
Chevy's chair scraped loudly against the linoleum floor as he stood up to leave. Grayson hobbled to block his path. "Oh, let me leave, Grayson. I'm sorry if I pissed you off by wanting you so bad, but, god damn it—it takes two to…" He trailed off lamely, looking trapped.
Grayson let his head fall against Chevy's neck. "Tango?" He finished. The smarter part of his brain was sounding the alarm. He didn't even know this kid. Well, he knew him, but, yeah.
Chevy's arms hesitantly circled Grayson's waist. His nose nudged into Grayson's hair. "—shouldn't be walking around. You'll jack up your ankle," he muttered.
It was at once too much and too little for Grayson, who'd never really been in anything even resembling a relationship before. And now, when either of them could die from a fucking paper cut if one speck of dirt got in it, he was white-picket-fencing it with a 19-year-old punk. But there was something about it that made his chest ache a bit, in a way that wasn't entirely awful.
"I don't know what I'm doing right now." Grayson said, tilting back to gauge Chevy's expression.
His eyebrows dropped and the side of his mouth lifted, "We don't have to make a big deal out of it or anything."
And that was all Grayson needed to hear. He felt the skin on his lips crack painfully as he smiled. "I pegged you for a big-deal kind of guy."
Chevy lifted a shoulder and shuffled his feet a bit. "Don't know what would give you that idea."
Grayson chuckled. No, he fucking giggled. "Come take a shower with me?"
"Race you there."
Any feelings of giddiness that Grayson may have built up in those thirty minutes faded quickly away as he stepped into the community room.
Lora skipped over to him and leaned in conspiratorially. "I warmed up the crowd for you, boss."
He rolled his eyes, "Thanks."
Everyone looked hyperaware of him. His throat went dry. Speeches were not his thing. He didn't really have a thing, come to think of it, but he knew that speeches were definitely not it.
"So, I'm sure Lora's told you all about what happened last night." Blank nods. He was suddenly struck by a memory of being forced into an ice-breaker during one of his college classes in order to "stimulate community engagement." He almost wished he could remember the structure of it so he could use it now, because for the life of him he couldn't think of anything else to say.
His mouth opened and closed a few times and he pinched the bridge of his nose. Finally, "We're going to need a watch team for the next few nights, as usual, in case Dowager manages to break free or something. Or in case—" John comes back, "Yeah. And whoever takes the sniper position, try and spot which direction he-it-he's coming from."
"Do you think they've got Jenny, too?" Somebody piped in. Grayson winced. Here it comes.
"What about Sam?"
"I don't know. I only know about Dowager." He said tiredly.
"Well don't you think it'd be a good idea to find out?" someone said.
"And whose idea was it to let a zombie into the building anyway?"
"Look," Chevy snarled, "If any of you have a better idea about how we do this thing, let me know. Until then, shut the hell up."
Grayson rolled his eyes, but nobody said anything. "So, who's going to cover tonight?" More silence. "Jesus, guys, I know the five of us aren't the only ones who know how to shoot a zombie."
"Well they're not just zombies anymore, are they?"
He sighed, defeated. "I'm up for it," Tyler said quickly.
"Me, too." Echoed Chevy and Jim.
They all looked at Lora. She grinned, "Uh, obviously."
Grayson couldn't think of anything he wanted to do less than spend another night on duty. "Fine." He muttered. It wasn't like he could say no. Not with everyone watching him like they were. Not with Chevy grinning at him like he was. "I'm going back to bed, then."
He hurried out of the room before anyone could stop him and made a point of locking his door behind him. The last thing he wanted right now was company. Even Chevy's. Especially Chevy's.
He settled into his bed, nesting the comforter around him and closed his stinging eyes. He felt like he hadn't slept in a week, but his brain wouldn't keep still long enough for him to drift off. So he lay still and let random thoughts flash and flicker through his mind.
The images went quicker as he stopped trying to hold on to any of them and before he knew it, his breathing evened out and his limbs warmed. He felt like he was a kid again, after a long day in the sun. You'll sleep well tonight, Gray. His mother would have said, scooping him up and carrying him to his bed.
You'll sleep well tonight.
When Chevy came to wake him up for their watch, he wondered, for a brief while, if he'd dreamt everything. If maybe Dowager was just a regular zombie and this was just regular procedure. But when Chevy leaned in for a heated kiss, those hopes were dashed.
"I can't stand Lora tonight. Will you take roof duty with me?"
Grayson shook his head, "We've all got to be alert."
Chevy smiled, "What are you saying?" He captured Grayson's lips in a kiss that made his knees weak. "Can't trust me?" And another one.
Grayson shrugged. "No?"
Chevy's hands were on his chest, thumbs stroking his collarbones. Grayson shuddered as teeth brushed his earlobe. "That's probably a smart assessment."
"Chevy. We've got to—" He hated the way his voice came out in a whine. Hated the way Chevy's lips scorched a trail down his neck. Hated the way he couldn't stop shaking. "Chevy."
Chevy chuckled against his skin, "Alright, alright." Grayson head reeled at the loss of contact. He caught himself before he could reach out for him.
He cleared his throat, trying to look unaffected. "Well," he raised his eyebrows, "What're you waiting for?"
Chevy gave a mock salute and marched out of the room. "Off to my duties, then!" he called. And it was all cute in a way. Like Grayson might have actually had a thing for him before the hit. They could have been—shit. He really needed to cut this crap out.
He hooked his arms over his crutches and hurried down to his position by the stairs. The light was faltering on the horizon, sending the buildings' shadows over the floor like teeth. There was a bright flash as the sun eclipsed behind the cityscape, and then a soft purple haze.
Grayson kept his eyes focused on Linden Street.
The next three nights went pretty much the same way, so none of them were really prepared when on the fourth night, John came back.
Grayson saw him just before Lora radioed, "Hey, it's our zombie buddy back for more!"
"Chevy, stay where you are. Lora, get down here with me. We're going to meet him at the front this time." Grayson radioed back.
He knew he'd hear about it later, but he couldn't risk Chevy going off the handle and running John off again. He was too revved up to be playing mediator either.
Lora flew past him on the way down, pausing for a brilliant smile before disappearing down the next flight of stairs.
By the time Grayson made it to the ground floor, John was only a few feet off, hands raised in surrender. "You're fine." Grayson called out, "We recognize you."
"I'm going to remain as unassuming as possible until I get out of that lunatic's range." He answered, pointing toward the roof. Grayson rolled his eyes. Leave it to Chevy.
Once he made it to the doors, he lowered his arms and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Listen," he started gravely, "Dowager's not doing so well."
Grayson felt his cheeks heat up. "Is he—what does that mean?"
John shrugged, "Could mean a number of things. For some people the change is just really awful. But…how much iridium got in him?"
Grayson faltered, "I-uh-I don't know. We don't—"
"Can we see him?" Lora interrupted. "Maybe it would help if, if there were some familiar faces or something."
"I don't think that's a good idea." John said quietly.
"Why?" Jim asked suspiciously, "How do we know you're not making all this up, anyway?"
"If you were him, wouldn't you want somebody there?" Tyler asked.
John barked out a laugh, "Would've been nice, I suppose." He looked to Grayson, "One of you can visit him. Just not that kid on the roof."
"We can't just send one—we can't risk that." Grayson muttered. "Two of us. And a gun." John shot him a look that sent shame rushing through his chest. "Look, I'm sorry. It's just—I've got to be sure. Nobody's going to shoot without a reason."
His lips set in a thin line, John nodded. "Fine. Two of you and a gun. Who's it going to be?"
"Tyler and I." Grayson said. Lora made a disappointed grunt.
"Okay, here's how we're going to play this thing. Dowager is going to need at least a day to get used to the idea—build up some control before you see him. So, I'll come back this time tomorrow and you'll follow along. You won't be able to stay for long, half-an-hour at best."
"And I need to know how much iridium got into his system. What happened to him?"
"The kid got lost—Hector. He wandered off and we had to find him before dark. We found him at the park on Madison—but so did a horde of zombies. Dowager and I ran for Hector. But they-the zombies, I mean-did that, you know, trampling thing they sometimes do when they-you-they get on a run. Ran him down. He was, I mean it was pretty bad. We didn't stay to assess the damage because, well we just didn't." Grayson didn't know why he felt bad about that. But the way John's eyes shone made his gut twist uncomfortably.
"Okay." was all he said, "Same time tomorrow night. You, you, and one gun. That's all."
"Yeah. Tomorrow then."
John walked away slowly, arms raised again. "'d appreciate it if he'd learn some manners before next time." He said, jerking his head towards the roof.
Lora snorted, "Wouldn't we all?"
The corner of John's mouth tugged into a grin before his features blurred out in the dusk. The four of them barricaded the doors and headed up the stairs.
Lora started in as soon as they'd made it up a flight. "Why the hell does Tyler get to go to zombieville and not me?"
"For one, he's the best short-range shooter we've got. For two, you're the second best sniper we've got and we need you to stay alive."
"Nice to know I'm so dispensable." Tyler grumbled.
"You know that's not what I meant." Grayson said. He nearly groaned when Chevy came barreling down the stairs.
"Why the hell wasn't I down there? What if something had happened? Jesus, Gray, just because the thing has a name doesn't make him any less than a zombie."
"Oh please," Lora muttered, "Let's cut the drama. It's clear you and zombie boy hate each other's guts. Couldn't have you in the same vicinity obviously."
"Pretty much." Jim agreed.
Chevy heaved a sigh. "Well what happened?"
Grayson crumpled against a wall and waved his hand for someone else to answer the question, even though he knew it was directed at him.
"Dowager's not doing so hot." Tyler said, "Grayson and I are going to go see him tomorrow. Lift his spirits, hopefully."
Chevy looked taken aback, "You're gonna go see him? Just going to march on in there? Grayson that's ridiculous."
Grayson just shrugged in response. He didn't know how much more of this he could take.
"I'm coming with you." Chevy said.
"Oh no you're not!" Lora cried, "If anyone else is going, it's me."
"No." Grayson cut in sharply. "John said two, so only two of us are going. And it's Tyler and me. So drop it."
Chevy opened his mouth. "Chevy, shut the fuck up." Jim growled. "Just take a god damned order for once. We're all tired, and I've got a wife waiting. So," he threw a glance at Grayson, "are we done here?"
Grayson nodded and watched Tyler, Jim, and Lora head up. Once they were out of hearing range, he sighed, and looked at Chevy, ready for whatever outburst was waiting.
Instead, Chevy just plopped down onto a step and dropped his chin onto his fist.
"No temper tantrum?" Grayson asked, sitting beside him.
Chevy's head fell lightly on his shoulder. "This is what happens when you keep me up all night with sex. I get grumpy-tired."
Grayson snorted. "I keep you up?"
"Mmmhmm." Chevy mumbled, forehead hot against Grayson's neck.
They sat like that for awhile. So long that Grayson's butt started to go numb. He didn't want to move though, so he looped an arm around Chevy's back and pulled him closer. "D'you want to stay with me tonight? If I promise not to keep you up?" He laughed.
"Yeah." Chevy yawned. "I do."
"Up and at 'em, then." Grayson said, nudging Chevy to sit up.
They trudged up the stairs and fell in a heap on Grayson's bed. Chevy yanked the covers over both of them and tugged Grayson to his chest. "G'night."
"Night." Grayson said, eyelids drooping heavily.
You'll sleep well tonight.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed and added this story to their favorites/alerts. On a different note, I love how the ad on my profile is "Zombie Yourself." Nice, fictionpress, nice.