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Tourniquet, SSBB 33

  • Nov. 6th, 2011 at 10:56 PM
neomeruru: (the end is nigh)
Don't mind me, I'm just reposting my [livejournal.com profile] bb_shousetsu submission over here so it lives on my journal too! If you haven't read it yet, it sure would be nice of you if you considered this your chance. :)

Tourniquet
with illustrations by [livejournal.com profile] lihsa
for Shousetsu Bang*Bang, issue 33 - Myths and Monsters

content notes: zombies, boyfriends, zombie boyfriends, awkward fail sex, off-screen racism, animal-related gore, general bodily discomfort mixed in with the porn; about 15k words. Expanded author notes and a bonus zombipocalypse soundtrack here.



Sam had always thought he'd be doing something more thematically appropriate when the dead started coming back to life. Like walking through a graveyard, or getting trapped in a mall, or even waking up in a hospital after the apocalypse had already happened -- that was a popular one. He thought it would at least happen at night, or during a storm, or maybe in a deep, atmospheric fog. Instead, it's three o'clock on a brilliant July afternoon, and he's trying to get his hand down his boyfriend's pants.

"Boys, come out here, something's happening on the news," says Emmett's mother, through a door that had been closed for good reason.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," mutters Emmett, shifting a little under Sam's weight. "She has, like, the worst timing ever."

Sam grins and kisses him instead of moving, running his hands through Emmett's army-buzzed hair.

"Seriously, come on. She'll come in here," Emmett says, a little less sure but still maddeningly resolute. His hand slides between their chests, unsticking them where the summer heat has melded their skin together. The backs of his knuckles brush lightly against the tented front of Sam's jeans, then pull away.

Sam nips down to worry Emmett's lip between his teeth. "Fine," he says, muffled as he peppers Emm's face with short kisses, over the column of his throat, into the flexing dip of his collar as he moves to roll away. "Later, though," he says, then flops over on his back to watch with amusement as Emmett's self-conscious gaze follows his line of his body, skin dark from the summer sun already.

"Yeah, later," replies Emmett, pulling his t-shirt over his head to hide the way his face lights up, still a little ashamed. Still a little new, as fragile as an eggshell after it's been cracked. Sam reaches out for his hand and turns it to kiss his palm. Like he knows what he's doing, either.

---

They file into the living room a few minutes later, imagining themselves inconspicuous as they stand a family-safe distance apart. The room is dark, too masculine for a house with four women in it: the ghost of fathers past. Emmett's mom and three sisters are already there and clutching each other on the couch. Sam feels his stomach do a little flip, the kind you get when you've just realized you're asleep, and you've dreamed up something you're horrified came from your own brain.

THE DEAD COME TO LIFE, reads the television news channel headline.

"--has released a report detailing the spread of the phenomenon," says the anchorwoman, looking more earnestly concerned than usual. "Though initial studies of this unknown and highly contagious illness have been inconclusive, the CDC's plan of action is similar to that for viral outbreaks. The public is advised to stay indoors, avoid contact with the infected, and report all new incidences to the hotline on your screen--"

Behind the hotline, the network plays shaky footage of a crowd forming around a small group of ashen-looking infected. The crowd stands frozen, cow-like in their curiosity and too slow to move, as the infected moan like dying things and lurch into them. The camera jerks wildly, screams distorting the sound feed.

The video changes to a man in a suit, addressing the camera before a cloud of anxious-looking scientists. "We're asking for the public's help in gathering as much information as possible. If you or your loved ones experience pain localized to recent wounds, fever, cramps, vomiting, or aches after coming into contact with someone who may be ill, please call the CDC hotline as soon as possible."

"Have there been any deaths from the disease?" someone off-camera asks.

"I'm sorry, what?" asks the man in the suit, face pinched tight and looking like the wrong side of a long day.

"Has anyone died from this mystery illness?"

A babble of voices on and off camera threaten to drown out the man's next words: "The numbers are still unclear. Previous we reported what appeared to be deaths from the disease. However, these patients seemed to enter, and recover from, what we believe to be... to be a... a death-like state. Er, physical recovery, that is, with diminished mental capacity, and still highly contagious. It's still unclear--"

"Is this a joke?" Emmett asks.

Mrs. Dawson-Baxter shakes her head without saying a word. She is clutching a tissue in her hands and staring at the television even as the channel starts in on amateur videos: broken windows, screaming, cars on fire, glassy-eyed people shuffling through the streets.

"It's on all the channels," says Emmett's youngest sister, cell phone open in hand but the screen dark, forgotten for a while. "On Twitter, too."

"Oh," says Sam, and the room goes quiet and tense again as everyone watches the television as if committing it to memory.

Emmett's hand finds Sam's and squeezes. Sam clenches back just as hard, almost afraid to turn and look at Emmett, at the expression he would find there, at the sharp military-approved haircut he'd worn since enlisting in the Reserves before their graduating year.

"I'm going to fight zombies," Emmett breathes, barely loud enough for Sam to hear.

Sam swallows, watching stock footage of troop deployment play on CNN. "Me too," he promises.

---

The next few months are not as bad as expected. Informed by decades of zombie movies and primed by influenza hysteria, the world proves surprisingly well-equipped to deal with an actual undead crisis.

Airplanes and highways close almost immediately, stopping the spread of the disease and keeping it contained even in the big commuter cities where the threat would have been most dire. The CDC issues multiple timely warnings. The news continues to repeat safety tips and evacuation information. People turn themselves in to the authorities rather than linger with their loved ones and put them in danger. The military quarantines the worst hit areas, and their barricades become fences, to eventually become concrete walls. The infection is contained before it becomes a true pandemic, hidden away from the public in tidy little islands of dead city centres.

Unlike any story ever told about the pandemic that would take down civilization, this one simply... doesn't. Never let it be said the human race is anything but resilient.

The irony machine grinds into motion. Soon, pretty girls are posting zombie-inspired make-up tips on YouTube, joining amateur video of self-styled samurai wading into slow-moving hordes with mall-bought swords and frat boys in Hummers careening down the streets with baseball bats. A few people try to seek shelter in malls or pubs, and meet with varying degrees of success. The 'pray for the undead' movement comes and goes on the wind of a wildly successful charity auction.

The world survives, the news cycle continues as it always does. Gradually the attention of the world focuses on other things, other tragedies. Another oil well erupts in the Caribbean, and in the winter a Middle Eastern regime has some sort of cataclysmic meltdown -- Sam knows he should care more, but it's on the news while Emmett is packing for deployment so he doesn't much remember the name or the details.

Deployment. It sounds so strange, and then Sam feels guilty for finding it so strange -- like, how could the undead still be a threat if they hadn't been a trending topic for weeks? But people had died in those quarantined areas by the thousands. And they had come back to life, just as numerous. The barricades protected the rest of the world, but behind those walls the undying still choked the streets, and it was a grim task to set soldiers to flushing them out and reclaiming the cities for humans.

So, Emmett goes off to war. He laughs at the phrase, and at Sam's pantomiming the army girlfriends in the old movies they'd watched together. He isn't even leaving the country, how could it even be war, it's practically a video game -- but under the laugh, a brittle anxiety keeps them both too taut. Emmett's mom and sisters fill the spaces in their conversation with tears and smiles and awkward laughter, smoothing over the ways they're too afraid to touch, to kiss goodbye in the parking lot of the army depot where three yellow buses wait to spirit the reservists away.

Emmett's face is pale and solemn behind glass, distorted by distance and the foreign feeling of tears Sam can't let come to the surface. As the bus pulls away he looks at the bright morning sky filled with cheerful little tufts of pollen, feeling frustrated and ambivalently angry at a world that steadfastly refuses to recognize the gravity of his situation.

Inside, the recruiting officer asks him if he's sure. He thinks of Emmett and says he's sure enough.

---

Thirteen weeks of Basic Training teach him quite a bit. Like: while the physical entrance requirements look no worse than gym class, their purpose is to lure you into a false sense of security. Like: it's possible to pull literally every muscle in your body and still find a way to hurt yourself even more.

How to shoot something in the head from five hundred meters away. How to choke down two thousand calories of lasagna in one sitting while someone is yelling at you. Troop movements. How to find good cover. Multiple impressive but increasingly paranoid ways to enter a house. How to shower in a room full of naked men without getting an erection. How to drink a truly astounding amount of beer and still manage to make muster the next morning. How to miss someone so badly it makes you physically ill.

At night he turns his identity tag over in his hands, feeling the neat, punched out letters now familiar under his fingers: S J GALLAGHER, NRE, AB/POS, CDN FORCES CDN. He thinks of Emmett, of his hands, his sweet smile and the way he flushes when Sam needles him. His solemn face when they put his good-for-nothing father in the ground, and the way he only cried when they were alone afterwards.

Sam graduates Basic in acceptable standing but with exemplary marksmanship, a skill he attributes to far too many hours playing Resident Evil with Emmett. After an additional five weeks of intensive training he qualifies for a sniper position, and shocks his parents by requesting a transfer to the west coast -- to Emmett's last known base -- rather than the more local quarantined zone. His mother goes on a tirade more Japanese than English. His dad, who had already given Sam the awkward 'look what I found in your browser history' talk, just gives him a knowing look. His transfer is approved, and a few weeks after graduation he's on his own bus to the front, to Emmett.

---

Travelling from southern Ontario to the Vancouver containment zone is an overly complex affair, involving first a bus, then an airplane, then another airplane, and finally another bus. The last leg is longer than it should have been because the previous regional army base had long since been overrun. The new transfers fly into a residential airport well past the suburbs and board a refurbished school bus to take them the rest of the way.

Sam spends the entire trip in and out of a fitful sleep, finding the novelty of military travel worn off after the first few interminable transfers. Still, the late summer sun is only just beginning its descent by the time the bus rumbles up the forest highway to the new base, a collection of buildings that used to be an international college. It's ringed on all sides by tall trees, and the previous chain link fence around the periphery is supplemented by a second, taller fence that looks electrified. A deep trench rings the base even further, a further precaution even this far out from the quarantined zone.

He doesn't expect it to be so easy to track down his erstwhile boyfriend, but surprisingly it's the easiest thing to happen for him a long while. They're barely off the buses and past the guarded gate of the base before a familiar-looking face holding up the brickwork makes Sam stop in his tracks and cause a minor foot traffic collision behind him.

"Emm? Emmett!"

Emmett turns his head to the sound, looking a little annoyed, eyes scanning the group until he sees Sam. He looks good, Sam thinks, broader in the shoulders and leaner everywhere else, his dark hair grown out a little. Shock registers in Baxter's eyes for a fleeting moment, vanishing as quickly as it came. "Private Gallagher," he replies, voice cool. "It's Corporal Baxter, here."

"Baxter?" Sam echoes. Up close, it looks like Emmett's shrunk a few inches; maybe it's the hunched shoulders from holding up the wall.

Or, as he turns fully towards Sam, it might be all that empty space where his left arm should be.



Sam's mouth is moving even before the words have registered in his brain. "Holy fuck! What happened to your arm?"

Emmett narrows his eyes and his mouth drops open to respond, but not before the voice of Sam's transportation handler rings out over the crowd and makes them both snap to attention, Pavlovian: "Gallagher! Get back in with your group!"

"Piss off," Emmett finally manages, practically spitting with disdain. Sam feels his stomach flip a little as his memory of Emmett is drastically shoved aside by this bizarre, cold reality of Baxter. "What are you looking at?" he sneers. "Get back in line."

Sam does, feeling even more bewildered than his first day of boot camp. They file into rank formation on the green, where a collection of officers wait to welcome them to the base.

He listens with only a portion of his attention, the rest of it focused on bizarro-Emmett, who hangs around the edges of the group like a wolf. The staff sergeant yells at them for a good long while about respecting the history of the place they've co-opted for their impromptu base.

They're finally let go with orders to take the rest of the evening to sort out their bunks and get some sleep before the real work begins, and they file off of the field green where Emmett and an assortment of other senior members wait to show them to the barracks. As they march through the small compound, the more experienced soldiers take turns telling the knot of new arrivals about the various rules of the base, locations of different buildings, the daily itinerary and times for muster and lights out. Emmett doesn't say anything, just marches at the rear of the group to keep them moving along.

When they are dismissed to find their own way to the commissary for bunk assignments, Sam hangs around to talk to Emmett.

"Corporal Baxter?" he asks when the group has dispersed, feeling ridiculous for the formality.

One of the other corporals is talking to him, but Baxter nods him away as Sam approaches. "I've changed my mind," he says, with a look in his eyes that dares Sam to challenge his judgement, "Just Baxter is fine, if no one else is around. You know, considering everything."

"No, I meant... Baxter? I thought you weren't going to use your dad's--"

"Don't talk about my dad," Emmett cuts in, eyes narrowing.

"...Okay," Sam manages, drawing out the O in disbelief. It tastes like confusion and loneliness in equal measure. He remembers with acidic clarity the drunk who wouldn't let him play with Emmett until he apologized for Pearl Harbor.

Emmett -- no, Baxter -- makes a sound of derision, cocking his head to the side and looking Sam up and down like someone would look at a car they weren't sure they wanted to buy. His eyes rest on a freshly-sewn patch on his shoulder.

"Sharpshooter," he says, curiously. The look in his eyes goes from measuring to proud, if only in increments. "That's good. You don't want to be on a ground unit; they call themselves the chum team for a reason."

"That's what I heard," replies Sam. "I was a lucky shot."

"A skilled shot, more like it. I'm..." Baxter pauses for a split second, then changes tack. "You'll be safer, off the ground."

"Are you a sniper...?" Sam's eyes drift down to the Baxter's empty sleeve. "...I mean, still?"

Baxter presses his lips into a fine line and nods.

Sam, irrevocably, decides there's never a time like the present. "Are you going to swear and pull rank on me again if I ask you how it happened?"

Baxter has the decency to look a little amused before he nods again, but his eyes are hard still. "Tragic boating accident."

"Okay," Sam says, crossing his arms.

They look at each other in stony, awkward silence for a few moments. Before Basic, Sam had nurtured military-flavoured fantasies about tracking down his boyfriend and abolishing their respective virginities, a noble project which had been put on hold by the end of the world. And during Basic, there wasn't enough room any thought other than how badly he wanted to be warm and stationary for longer than six hours at a time. After graduation, he went right back to fantasizing about Emmett with the vigor of someone who'd spent the last thirteen weeks eating, sleeping, and being comfortably -- and sometimes uncomfortably -- naked around more fit guys he'd ever seen in his life. And now, standing in front of Baxter, all he can think of is... that he expected this to go a lot smoother, honestly.

Sam clears his throat. "I don't think there's a Starbucks around here, but we should... make time for each other, or something. It's been over a year."

Baxter laughs. "I don't think that's going to help."

Sam feels his eyebrows knit together, confused for not the first time that day. "Help with what?"

The only response is silence, Baxter refusing to meet Sam's eyes.

"Come on, with what?" Sam presses, stepping closer to Baxter than strictly professional.

"Don't make me say this--"

"Say what?"

"I didn't ask you to follow me," Baxter bites out, his mouth tight.

"You weren't exactly telling me not to!" Sam hisses right back, acutely aware that they've chosen the worst place in all of history to have a lover's quarrel. A pair of technicians peers at them curiously as they pass, and Baxter goes even more rigid.

"I'm not the same person I was a year ago," says Baxter, quietly.

"That's kind of obvious," replies Sam. "In more ways than one."

"We're not stupid teenagers anymore. This is real, this isn't like being in school -- people die out here, and they... come back to life... and I've seen..." Baxter trails off, scrubbing his hand over his face. "This can't happen. We can't do this, not here."

Sam doesn't even have anything to say to that, so Baxter continues, "That's not who I am anymore."

Sam feels a weight drop in his stomach. "What, like, you're not... you're not gay, or whatever, anymore?"

"No," Baxter responds, too quickly. "I'm not... I'm just not the kind of person who can... I'm not like you."

"What the fuck does that even mean?" Sam explodes, a little more loudly than anticipated.

Baxter pushes Sam back a few steps, hand coming up as if to cover Sam's mouth but stopping short of touching him. "Fuck's sake, keep your voice down. I mean, things are different. I'm different."

"And...?" Sam prompts, with the dire determination of someone ready to flog something until it stops moving. "So am I. I told you I would come with you, so now I'm here."

Baxter looks Sam right in the eye as he soldiers onward: "Well, I don't want to be with you any more. Too bad you came all this way for nothing."

Sam resists the abrupt and alarming impulse to punch him in his stupid mouth, clenching his fist and breathing through his teeth until the creeping shock of hurt condenses down into a sick pit in his stomach.

He leans over to pick up his duffel bag, heaving it on to his shoulder just to have something for his hands to do that isn't grabbing Baxter and shaking him until he relents. "I won't ask if I'm dismissed, then, it's pretty clear," he mutters, not meeting Baxter's eyes. His face feels hot and red from either embarrassment or anger, though probably both. He turns and starts climbing the steps into the barracks.

“Sam, wait--" he hears, though he doesn't turn around. "...Uh, how’s your mom?”

Sam feels the bitterness rise in his throat, decides at the very last minute that telling a corporal to go fuck themselves would probably not end well, no matter how much they deserved it. He pretends he doesn't hear Baxter as the barracks door shuts behind him.

---

Thoroughly rebuffed and still smarting, Sam spends the next day covertly trying to learn more about the man Emmett Dawson-Baxter's become.

"He's a squad killer," says a cagey-looking corporal over a game of low-stakes poker. "Like our own personal Thunderdome. Ten men enter, one man leaves."

One of the mess hall ladies tells him that Baxter ate only vegetable broth and toast for two weeks after his injury, until one day he asked for three pieces of meat as rare as they could make it. "Where does he think he is, his mother's house?" she said, hands on her broad hips and creamed corn splattered on her apron, "He can eat it when it's done."

"Unless you're here to donate marrow, you can piss right off," says the chief medical officer.

"His shooting accuracy is off the charts, even one-handed, and he's still the best eye in the business," says the quartermaster. "He might not be my first choice for rifles, but he's a damn fine soldier. Wouldn't keep him around, elsewise."

Sam corners one of Baxter's bunkmates and really lays on the hangdog but he's my only friend in the entire world expression. "He's an okay guy," she says, finally exasperated, "Quiet, keeps to himself. I don't hear him snoring at night, and that's fine by me. Picture-fucking-perfect soldier, except for the arm thing. Why do you care?"

Sam isn't sure why he still does.

---

Eventually, it's his mom who gives him the idea. All the soldiers get a half-hour of phone time a week, and while Sam looks enviously at people calling their boyfriends, girlfriends, anyone who is not his mother, he knows better.

After the requisite ten minutes of nodding redundantly into the phone and throwing in the occasional 'yes, mom' and the more common 'I will, mom', the topic gets on to Baxter.

"Samui, that next-door boy, is he there with you? His mom come over yesterday, she say he not called in months."

Sam closes his eyes tightly. Emmett-- Baxter was the last person he wanted to talk about, especially with his mother, who even after twenty years in Canada still felt the need to harangue her son as if a silent audience of her grandmothers were grading her on it.

"He's -- he's fine, mom," he hedges, "He's here, mostly."

His mom does that thing she does where she beams her impatience directly into his brain. Sam cringes a little, surprised it works even without direct line of sight.

"He's... a little different," he wavers, "He lost his arm."

His mother makes a noise of disbelief. "No! They send him home!"

"Not really," Sam answers, shifting the phone on his shoulder. "People don't really get injured here and, uh, survive, normally, and no one wants to come here voluntarily, so they keep you if you still want to fight. It's his left arm, so... I guess he's still useful?"

"His mom not tell me? He not tell his mom? Why you not ask him?" she asks. "You still friends, right?"

Sam pauses, mouth hanging open trying to conjure up a concise answer, and then closes it again. More than friends. "Um..." he stammers, "it's more complicated than that. And he... he's not really the type to... share."

"You two inseparable," replies his mother, half incredulous and all reprimand, "You find him, tell him he stupid. And tell him too, call his mom."

"I--"

"Actually, tell him, first call his mom. Second, then tell him he being stupid. Then, tell him he lose arm, no reason to be stupid."

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefingers. "Okay, mom."

And that's that.

---

They all share the more menial tasks on the base, making sure the laundry gets done and the vegetables get peeled and the vehicles get washed. Sam checks the duty board and finds Baxter scheduled for overseeing the kitchen receiving for that day.

He gets turned around a few times, ending up in a labyrinth of back rooms. The dishwashers send him down a winding hallway that comes out in a nearby weight room, and when he backtracks they have a good laugh at his expense and send him in the right direction. He walks through the kitchens to the loading bay, which has a bunch of boxes piled up at the open garage door. The dolly is missing, though, so he just tries nearby doors until he gets to something that both looks like a storeroom and is unlocked, and figures it's close enough.

The storeroom is huge and dark, significantly colder than outside. A few fragmented beams of light filter in from a line of small windows tucked up under the roof. All Sam can see are rows of shelves, like the world's best-stocked hurricane shelter. The dolly is just inside the door, which is a good sign.

"Emm?" he calls, but there's no reply.

Sam starts walking down the length of the storeroom, peering down the rows of shelves. There's no noise but his footsteps for quite a while, until somewhere between the tinned tomatoes and the sacks of dry beans the silence is broken by... well, Sam doesn't quite know what it is, exactly. It sounds... wet. And then there's a clatter, like something metal hitting the ground.. His heart leaps into his throat.

He grabs the handle of the knife in his belt -- they don't carry sidearms in the base, though Sam finds himself sincerely wishing for the comforting weight of one as he pads carefully around the shelves of dry goods. The sound gets louder, wetter, and soon Sam can hear something moaning along with the squelching. Please let it be people having sex, Sam thinks uncharitably. Please don't let me be the first person to die in an army storeroom.

He puts his back to a shelf and peers cautiously around it, pulling his knife out of its sheath. He catches a glimpse of someone's back, hunched over at the end of the row. The sound of ripping flesh is getting louder.

Sam swallows, willing himself not to freak out. "Emm?" he tries again. Nothing. "Baxter?"

The wet noises stop, as does the weird, rasping moaning. Sam clenches his fingers around the hilt of his knife and steels himself as the hunched-over figure turns and steps out of the shadows.

It's Baxter. Of course it is.

Sam lets out a breath and relaxes minutely. "Don't do that to me, I already got hazed by the dishwashers today, I have a limit--"

He stops, squinting into the dusty gloom. "What's up with your face? What've you got--"

The rest of his words die in his mouth.

Baxter's got a lump of fur and guts dangling from his hand, the rest of which is smeared across his face from chin to cheekbone. Blood drips freely from his mouth, cakes his hand to the forearm. As they stare at each other for something like a thousand horrifying years, the rat carcass drops from Baxter's hand and lands on the floor with a wet plop.

The look in Baxter's eyes tells him everything -- the guilty, fleeting look of someone who knows they've been caught doing something completely irredeemable and is watching every excuse strike out in real time. "Sam," he groans, voice breaking on the vowel. "I--"

"What. The fuck," is Sam's eloquent answer to that.

"Sam--" Baxter tries again. The inside of his mouth is red and gory like a wound.

Sam claps his hands over his face and recoils, "Don't even. Jesus. Christ. What the fuck, Emm, Jesus. What the fuck is wrong with you?!"

Baxter takes a few short steps towards him but Sam jerks backwards like being repelled by magnets. "Don't get any closer, you -- what--"

"Sam, wait--"

Sam shakes his head wildly and presses himself as far against the shelves as he can get. "No. No. Fuck you. I don't know who you are or what the fuck you're doing, but no." He scrambles along the shelves until he gets to the main row, and tries to make a dignified exit without turning his back on the bloody-faced horror with the face of his first boyfriend.

"Sam! Please!" he hears after him, but Baxter doesn't make any move to follow him through the shelves. He throws open the door and runs outside, slamming it behind him and leaning on it. He feels like he's going to be sick, stomach in his chest, hands shaking so badly he can hardly sheathe his knife. He starts walking, anywhere, he has no idea. Just away.

He is halfway down the hallway when a pang of regret stops him in his tracks.

Memory is a funny thing that way.

"Fuck... fuck..." he mutters to no one in particular, hand to his forehead. He thinks of his eleventh birthday, a Superman-themed party, a cake with terrible buttercream icing that turned everything it touched blue. They had made monster noises at each other in the mirror for an hour, wagging their blue tongues around and terrorizing Emm's sisters.

And later, huddled together with a flashlight under a perfectly-erected birthday fort, Emm asking him in hushed tones, So you like my sisters or something?

Sam remembers making the kind of face only made possible by true revulsion, Emmett laughing at him until Sam got fed up and tackled him into the fort pillows. Rough-housing until they got tired, collapsing into the exhausted giggles of boys up too late past their bedtimes -- too old for bedtimes, at all of eleven and eleven-and-seven-months.

I don't like any girls, he remembers saying. Do you?

And Emmett's sombre face looking up at Sam, the way he shook his head a little sadly. I don't think I like girls at all, he whispered, like imparting the secret of the cosmos.

"Then I don't like them either," Sam had said, flopping down to rest his head on Emmett's shoulder. It'll just be us forever.

The plaster wall makes a satisfying noise when he turns and smacks his palm against it. "Fucking -- dammit!" he curses, then leans heavily against the wall with his head pillowed on his forearm.

Fuck it, Sam thinks, so my boyfriend drinks the blood of rats. It's not like there aren't stranger things happening, like the fucking dead coming back to life.

He steels himself with a few shaky breaths. Yeah, I can work with that. That's okay.

When Sam slips through the row of shelves again, Baxter is still standing in the same place, looking down at the broken rat corpse on the floor. There's a red smear across his face and the back of his hand, like he'd tried to wipe the worst of it away.

"What?" he says, eyes narrow and defensive.

Sam needs to swallow and take a deep breath before he can continue. What he expects to say is something magnanimous, like I miss you so much, or I've loved you since we were kids and I'm not stopping now, or maybe something like if I survived your father, there is nothing on this earth that can drive me away from you. He would have settled for even a what's a little rat's blood between friends?

Unfortunately, what comes out sounds a little more exactly like, "At least you're not a zombie."

Baxter looks blank for a second, then squints like he can't decide whether Sam has just said something offensive. "What do you mean?"

"I -- uh," Sam stammers, momentarily thrown off his groove. "I mean, so you, uh, drink blood. I didn't sign up to fight vampires. Just zombies. So, it's a good thing you're not a..."

"I'm not a vampire," Baxter interjects, flatly.

"And that's good! Great, even. So, what I mean is, this doesn't have to be..." Sam clears his throat, "Emm, I've known you since Boy Scouts. And this is just... this is just the fighting, and you lost your--"

Baxter makes a disgusted noise.

"--So if you, uh, if this is your way of getting through it, that's... I can handle that. Because I can't imagine a world where we're not..." Sam swallows, the exact words for what he wants to be to Baxter stuck in this throat. He remembers, suddenly and vividly, all the times when they'd snuck out together at night as kids to ride their bikes around the neighbourhood, which somehow effortlessly became all the times they'd done the same only to smoke a joint and make out, giggling and lazy.

"...I just ... miss you," he finishes, lamely.

"Huh," Baxter says. "Really."

Sam runs a hand through his close-cropped hair. "Yeah, really. So I want to get a reset on this boyfriends thing."

Baxter smiles in a way that doesn't quite reach his eyes: fragile, wary. His teeth are a little shiny in the dim light, red around the edges with wet blood.

Sam's carefully-constructed bravado falters a little. "Just remember to brush your teeth," he laughs, remembering a little too late to keep his tone light.

Baxter's expression shutters again, pursing his lips back into a distrustful line. "Fine," he bites out, "Meet me in the barracks in five minutes."

Sam nods and leaves, feeling dismissed, heart tight and uneasy in his chest.

---

Sam has his doubts about the privacy of the barracks, but when he arrives there the building is quiet. The barracks are the old school dormitories, small spaces made even smaller by the addition of bunk beds, six to a room intended to board two.

Baxter is waiting for him in his room, the collar of his jacket wet from when he must have washed his face. They stare at each other in silence for a while, until Baxter stalks forward and reaches around Sam to turn the lock on the door. It brings them into proximity: Sam's back to the particle board door, nearly chest-to-chest with Baxter, Baxter's arm braced in front of him on the door.

Sam wets his lips unconsciously and looks down at Baxter, who still looks defensive. He lays his hands on Baxter's shoulders and they just stay there a moment -- then Baxter moves forward and lays his head in the crook of Sam's neck, inhaling deeply.

He can feel Baxter's lips moving and the vibration of words press into his collarbone, but they are too muffled to hear. "What?" he asks.

Baxter shakes his head and withdraws. "Nothing," he mutters. "Are we gonna kiss, or what?"

"Uh--" Sam responds, eloquently. "Yeah, I guess? I mean, we did before?"

Sam's hands are still on Baxter, so he supposes it falls to him to bring their lips together. It's not exactly a proper kiss at first; Baxter is slow to respond, arm ramrod-straight against the door, subtly keeping their bodies apart. Sam slides his hands down Baxter's sides, pulls him in by the belt loops until Baxter's elbow buckles and brings them flush.

The startled noise Baxter makes gives Sam enough room to deepen the kiss, flicking his tongue across the open seam of Baxter's lips. Not to be outdone, Sam supposes, Baxter catches up and meets Sam's tongue with his own. He kisses like it's a dare.

Together they walk backwards until Baxter's knees hit the bottom bunk, which is at about the same time as his head hits the top bunk. He makes a disgruntled sound into Sam's mouth.

"Sorry," Sam says as he pulls away, a little breathless.

Baxter grunts and shakes his head. "Whatever." His hand comes up around Sam's neck and then he's pulling him down to the mattress, shuffling backwards awkwardly. Sam plants his knees on either side of Baxter's skinny hips and leans forward, taking them haltingly down to the bed.

Sam presses Baxter into the hard mattress with his body, running his hands over his face, down his neck, following the trail with his mouth. When he strokes his hands from Baxter's chest to his shoulders, and then down his arms, he is momentarily stunned again by the sudden termination of Baxter's left arm, the rolled-up cuff of his jacket.

Still as he is, he can feel Baxter tense up underneath him. "Get off," he growls, pushing Sam's hands away.

"It's okay, I just--"

"I don't like being pinned down," Baxter mumbles, looking away.

"Oh," replies Sam, feeling a little small. He scrambles backwards, watching impotently as Baxter struggles to right himself and move over on the bed, leaving enough room for Sam to lie down instead.

They end up in much the same position as before, only reversed. Baxter is leaning over him, supporting himself on his arm, and Sam keenly feels the absence of a second hand as he arches against Baxter through too many layers of clothing.

The initial thrill of kissing his boyfriend wears off and Sam tries exceptionally hard to not think about the flavour of Baxter's mouth, but it's inevitable. He tastes almost entirely like toothpaste, mingled with the slightly bitter smell of military issue soap clinging to the skin of his face.

And underneath, earthy. A little like metal. Sam pulls back a little, keeping his tongue inside his own mouth. If Baxter notices, his only reaction is to pull back as well, setting himself to sucking on Sam's lower lip.

Sam tries even harder not to feel frantic when he feels Baxter's teeth tugging on his lip, finds himself pulling back a little more. He turns his head and buries his face in the slope of Baxter's neck. The bitter soap smell is even stronger here, and this time the association makes him recoil completely.

"What?" Baxter snaps, raising his head.

"I-- I just, um," Sam says, "Let me take off my shirt."

Baxter leans back, vaguely unimpressed, and Sam strips off his undershirt. His hands go to his belt and he looks up at Baxter, who regards him with one arched eyebrow.

"By all means," he says, mawkish.

Shaking off the feeling he's the butt of a joke he doesn't understand just yet, Sam unbuckles his belt and unzips. Baxter shuffles on his knees to the end of the bed, pulling on one pant leg as he goes. Sam has to bend to get the other one himself, avoiding Baxter's eyes as he does so.

When Sam lays back he's almost fully naked aside from his boxers, contrasting sharply with Baxter who still has everything on, including the heavy woolen jacket with the sleeve pinned up. He feels like he's on display in an operating theatre, aside from the way his cock juts up from his body and tents the soft material, leaving a dark grey wet spot.

Baxter smirks and runs his palm over it, making Sam hiss and arch into the touch. He wastes no time on teasing, just slips his hand inside the elastic of Sam's boxers and pushes them out of the way with his wrist, closing his fist around Sam's cock and stroking firmly.

Sam groans in encouragement, all thoughts of copper-scented blood pushed out of his mind by the sweet insistent pull of his boyfriend's hand on his dick. He throws his arm over his face and breathes into the crook of his elbow. This is familiar.

So, he's taken a little by surprise by a sudden wetness on his cock. He looks down to see Baxter's lips working his cockhead, tongue stroking earnestly as his hand gently urges the foreskin back.

Sam makes a sound then he couldn't put words to if he tried, his head thumping back against the pillow. Baxter makes a self-satisfied noise and takes him a little deeper, hand stroking down his shaft, working lower and lower until Sam's whole length is disappearing into Baxter, and he can feel himself butting up against the roof of his mouth with every thrust.

It's warm, and wet, and close around his cock, unlike the familiar dry comfort of his hand. Baxter's teeth are tucked against the flesh of his lips but still present, scraping down his shaft. Every so often, they catch against the ridge of his head.

For one horrifying moment, Sam thinks of rats.

"A-ah, fuck!" he cries out, pushing Baxter off his cock with both hands. He goes, mid-suction, with a wet pop and a noise of dismay.

"Seriously?" Baxter says, supporting himself on his knees so he can wipe his mouth with the back of his hand.

Sam exhales and shakes his head, trembling a little in adrenaline-soaked fear. "Yeah, I just... I need a moment," he says, squeezes his eyes shut and waits, unable to face whatever emotion Baxter is undoubtedly covering up with stoicism. The inside of his eyelids are the colour of blood.

Baxter waits a few seconds, but Sam refuses to open his eyes. He can feel the bedsprings shift and creak as Baxter swings his weight off of his legs and then off the bed entirely, leaving Sam's rapidly softening cock wet and cold out in the open, like a worm after the rain.

"I'm sorry," Sam says, turning his face to the wall to escape the feeling of Baxter's gaze dissecting him, finding him to be a callous prick. "I just... I can't... it's--" he starts, trying to tuck himself back in his underwear self-consciously.

"Fuck you," interjects Baxter, but without venom. He sounds resigned.

"I'm sorry," Sam repeats, and when he turns his head away from the wall and opens his eyes, Baxter is gone.

part two